> By Tony Ahern
Feeling a little confused about Measure 37 and this local recall? Join the crowd.
In Jefferson County, the county commission has been wondering how to handle Measure 37 since it was approved by voters in the fall of 2004. The measure left several questions unaddressed, if not unanswered, and fuzzy points left up for debate. The commission has endeavored for months to seek answers and establish policies.
After months with no firm, permanent policies, Measure 37 claimants have taken steps to force the county's hand. They've dropped the R bomb -- recall.
Commissioners Bill Bellamy and Walt Ponsford have been targeted as being roadblocks to Measure 37 claims. Both recently had recall campaigns launched against them. Commissioner Mary Zemke, who has evolved from a staunch farmland protectionist when she was elected in 2002 into a champion of fast-tracking Measure 37 claims, is spared.
How Bill Bellamy remains the target is hard to figure. He acquiesced nearly the whole store for the pro 37 gang at the June 28 county commission meeting. His motion -- passed two to one, with the other recall target, Ponsford, dissenting -- allows for Measure 37 project applications to bypass the planning commission. The bypassing of the planning commission, expected to shave months off the development approval process, is on top of an earlier commission decision to force only two standards on Measure 37 projects: have a sanitation plan and be accessible to emergency vehicles.
No systems development charges, no parkland setasides, no roads up to county standards, bypass the planning commission. Seems to me the recall has already been successful. That's a pretty sweet deal.
Still, Bellamy remains a target. I understand Ponsford still being in the pro-37 crosshairs. He has been wary of 37 since its inception. As a longtime Agency Plains resident and part-time farmer, being a farmland protection advocate is in Ponsford's DNA. At least he's been consistent through the turmoil.
I can't figure out the political strategy of the recall group. They want Bellamy and Ponsford gone. That would leave the Republican Central Committee to essentially appoint Bellamy's successor and the Democratic Central Committee to appoint Ponsford's. I doubt the Republicans would name anyone more 37 friendly than Bellamy has become, and the Democratic Central Committee is somewhat liberal, last time I checked, and generally supportive of philosophies behind land-use regulation.
It seems the goals of the recall -- finding a way to fast-track Measure 37 claims -- has already been reached. Why not focus the effort on displacing Ponsford, if still a group goal, in the November election? Recalls are the ugliest and most damaging aspects of politics, they scare people away from future service, and should only be used in the rarest of instances.
On the flip side, some of the testimony that those fearful of Measure 37 have given the commission have been loosely veiled personal attacks, claiming 37 claimants were greed-driven, without any regard for fairness or for what's good for the county.
It's these personal attacks that are unfair. There have been 50 Measure 37 waivers approved by the county, covering 4,000 acres with plans ranging from four homes to 150. If I had a Measure 37 claim, I might be right in line for a waiver. You might too, and we aren't bad people, are we? Yes, they are motivated by capitalistic reasons, in another word, greed -- pretty much the same reason I got out of bed and came to work this morning.
What's more, the recall group and Measure 37 claimants have a very good argument: the measure passed statewide and locally by comfortable margins, they note, and they are tired of county government blocking its execution. They want 37 enacted to its most liberal extent.
My point is that Bellamy's adopted motion generally does that. It should cool the recall.
The recall faction promotes the fact that 65 percent of the county's voters back Measure 37, when it was very well packaged politically as a private property rights issue to help older folks reap some benefits of their property, which government essentially stole from them via land use regulation. Now, many view it less as a private property rights issue and more of a wealthy (or want to be wealthy) developers' issue.
It will be interesting to see if the recall effort gets a groundswell of support, or fades away; if Bellamy's appeasement efforts remove him from the hitlist; and if Ponsford is actually helped politically by it, becoming a champion of the controlled growth mind-set, if indeed that is a viable political group in Jefferson County.
Personally, I think Measure 37 could be good for our economy, in the long run. It could establish more high-end housing developments, making the market more buyer friendly, and add to our property tax pool. It seems, though, that we could have better guaranteed the greater good for the community had higher development standards been adopted -- which is essentially what Ponsford advocates.
But then I guess policies based on the "greater good" instead of private property rights is what got us into this mess in the first place.