Councilmember Jon Quitslund Views

  1. December 5, 2022
  2. October 3, 2022
  3. September 16, 2022
  4. September 9, 2022
  5. August 8, 2022
  6. July 12, 2022
  7. June 30, 2022
  8. May 31, 2022
  9. April 28, 2022
  10. April 12, 2022
  11. March 28, 2022
  12. March 10, 2022
  13. March 7, 2022

Interpretation and Implementation of Our Comprehensive Plan

December 5, 2022

In its several different Elements, our Comprehensive Plan is open to many interpretations. What the Comprehensive Plan “says” – what it requires us to do, or to avoid doing – can be, and has been, discussed ad nauseum. Such discussions usually involve people with an axe to grind, and appeals to the Plan sometimes do more to stall decision-making than to promote sound policies.

In my opinion, the City Council and the general public would do well to focus less on competing interpretations of the Comprehensive Plan (as if it were a set-in-stone book of rules and warnings), and more on the interminable and creative work of implementing specific policy directives, amending the Municipal Code and improving the City’s programs and services.

In some respects, the Comprehensive Plan serves as our local government’s constitution, but unlike the federal and state governments’ constitutions, it is a planning document, consisting of policies rather than prohibitions and regulations. By law, it is subject to extensive revision at regular intervals. The long-range planning that we’re involved in now will produce several contributions to the revised Plan that is due to be completed at the end of 2024. I expect that, as in the past, the revision will closely resemble what it replaces, but we will have to take many changes in our circumstances into account, and our future isn’t what it used to be.

The Introduction to the 2016 Comprehensive Plan lays down eight Guiding Principles, and each is accompanied by several Guiding Policies. Many citizens can recite some of the Principles from memory – especially #1, “Preserve the special character of the Island, . . .” I’ll be very surprised if the principles are revised in 2024, but some of the guiding policies might be, based on what we have learned since 2016 and our obligation to plan with 2044 in mind.

The eleven Elements of the Plan (going from Land Use to Human Services) are each, in turn, aspirational in some respects, and down-to-earth in others. Each begins with a Vision statement, imagining what will have been accomplished in the twenty years after adoption of the Plan. Each of the Elements then sets out several Goals, and the goal statements are followed by several Policy statements.

If the guiding principles and the goal statements are the soul and the brains of the Plan, the Policy statements are its beating heart and limbs. Some policies direct citizens to do certain things, or to live in a certain way. Other policies tell policymakers and others in positions of authority what should be done to make real progress toward the stated goals.

For example, in the Land Use element, GOAL LU-2 says, “This Comprehensive Plan recognizes and affirms that as an Island, the city has natural constraints based on the carrying capacity of its natural systems. The plan strives to establish a development pattern that is consistent with the Goals of the community and compatible with the Island’s natural systems.” Following this, the first Policy states, in part, “Recognizing that the carrying capacity of the Island is not known, the citizens of Bainbridge Island should strive to conserve and protect its natural systems within the parameters of existing data. Revisions to the Plan should be made as new information becomes available.”

Here is a further Policy statement: “Establish a public education program to foster the community’s understanding of the natural systems on the Island and their carrying capacity.” There are many such directives in the Plan, and implementation of all of them may be too much to expect. In this instance, significant steps have been taken. City staff, consultants, and members of several citizen committees have been working on a Groundwater Management Plan that, I’m told, is about half-way complete. Information on this Plan is available on the City website under ‘City Projects,’ and from there you can download a four-page Groundwater Fact Sheet, prepared more than a year ago by members of the Environmental Technical Advisory Committee.

As I have said elsewhere in this collection of essays, it troubles me that in the past, the Council and the City administration have been very slow to revise land use and housing regulations in the Municipal Code, implementing specific Policy directives in the current Comprehensive Plan. Now that I’ve served on the Council for over a year, I’ve come to understand better why making such changes is never easy. We (the Council, the City Manager and Planning staff, and many others), can and must do better. Month by month in the year ahead, the pressure will be building.