Spokane Journal of Business

New group to question GMA work

Packet Engines founder says he wouldnÂ’t bring a new venture here today

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Packet Engines Inc. founder Bernard Daines is organizing what he envisions will be a grass-roots citizens group that would call into question and perhaps push for the reversal of steps city and county government officials are taking to bring Spokane County into compliance with the states Growth Management Act.

Daines, who sold Packet Engines in December, has hired Spokane land-use attorney Jerry Trunkenbolz and an Olympia-based political strategy firm to help launch the group. Organizers say the groups primary goal would be to educate businesspeople and property owners here about the growth-management planning process and about errors they believe have been made in that process.

Trunkenbolz and Daines have been making presentations to local businesspeople, and the political strategy firm, Matson & Associates, has conducted focus groups here to gauge concern that property owners might have about the growth-management planning process and to measure possible support for a citizens effort to challenge it. They hope to organize a formal group soon and to raise about $100,000 initially to fund it.

Daines says his dissatisfaction with local growth-management efforts began when he found out an 80-acre parcel he personally owns in the Spokane Valley was left outside of the interim urban growth area (IUGA) boundary that was written in 1997. Land that falls outside of the final urban growth area wont be eligible for urban development.

Daines and other property owners here have appealed the IUGA to the Eastern Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, but Trunkenbolz says that Daines now believes that pursuing change through those channels has been too slow and that taking a more political tack might have more impact. Trunkenbolz contends that although Daines entered the fray because of the GMA processs adverse effects on his own land, The amount of time and money Bernard Daines has invested in the process is far more than he can ever get in return on his land. Hes doing it because hes from Spokane and he wants to see it prosper.

Daines interest in the matter may also serve as a wake-up call to city and county leaders. Packet Engines, the high-tech company he created here and then sold for $355 million to French electronics giant Alcatel, has been touted by economic-development leaders as a highly coveted feather in Spokanes cap, yet Daines says hes getting the opposite message.

I wouldnt bring my business here today like I did two years ago, because Im not wanted here. Im simply not wanted, he told a group of business-people last month.

We have city and county officials who dont care about their constituencies, Daines said. They only care about their own agendas. We should be able to expect that our government officials will have our interests at heart, and at the very least, as the Hippocratic oath says, do no harm.

At the crux of Daines problems with the growth-management planning process thus far is how officials are allocating expected population growth to the various municipalities in the county and how the city of Spokane, specifically, analyzed its available land to determine how much additional growth it could handle.

Trunkenbolz asserts that the Growth Management Steering Committee of Elected Officials, which is made up of representatives from the cities in the county as well as the Spokane County Commission, acted improperly by allocating a share of the countys expected population gain to the city of Spokane and then having the city analyze how it would accommodate that growth. He contends that instead, cities should have determined how many additional people they could accommodate within their current boundaries, and that the county would designate a similar urban growth area in the unincorporated areas to handle the rest.

Further, he claims that in its analysis, the city exaggerated the amount of population it could handle, by counting as developable land sites that cant be built on for geographic or regulatory reasons. What that in effect does, he asserts, is leave less anticipated population gain available for urban growth elsewhere in unincorporated Spokane County, and thus requires a tighter-than-needed boundary in the Valley and elsewhere.

The result is that the overall growth boundary was substantially smaller than it should be to accommodate the growth that will occur in this area, Trunkenbolz wrote to prospective backers.

City Planning Director Charlie Dotson says Daines and Trunkenbolz are absolutely wrong.

He (Daines) is totally ignorant of the law; he and his attorneys ought to go read the law, an irritated Dotson said early this week when told about the effort to launch the citizens group.

Dotson contends that the steering committee acted properly in the methods it used for allocating population and drawing IUGAs, and that the city has followed state statute strictly in its growth-management planning, including in its analysis of developable land.

He asserts that its very clear from both growth-management law and the rulings of growth-management hearings boards across the state that designated urban growth areas should either be part of a municipality now or intended to be part of one in the future.

He predicts that the battles brewing over growth-management planning here will become hotter, especially next fall when the steering committee begins mulling the citys recommendations for a final urban growth area boundary. City staff unveiled three possible scenarios for that boundary late last month, at least one of which raised the ire of some county officials, who believe the city wants to lay claim to tax-rich unincorporated land for future annexation.

Were going to continue to have these struggles, Dotson says. Were concerned about going further down this path. If we disregard what the law says and instead seek a political compromise, well end up back in front of the hearings board and ruled out of compliance. Two years from now well be back doing what we should have done in the first place. Its irresponsible to waste city dollars doing that.

John Mercer, Spokane Countys lead growth-management planner, couldnt be reached for comment.

Seeking support

Trunkenbolz, meanwhile, says the group Daines wants to spearhead has yet to be named, but Daines intends for the group soon to begin reaching business and property owners with informational materials about the growth-management process, and to encourage them to participate in the process.

Linda Matson, a principal at Matson & Associates, the Olympia political strategy firm, says the focus groups her firm conducted here indicated that there is huge dissatisfaction with local government, pessimism about the Spokane-area economy, and concern that there is a lack of infrastructure planning being done.

To effect change in the Spokane growth-management planning process, the group will have to put a focus on education. You have to teach people how to play the game, she says. We have to tell them that this (growth-management process) isnt a done deal yet.

Trunkenbolz says the group Daines plans could even decide to use geographical data provided by the city of Spokane to draft its own proposed urban growth area boundary, a process Trunkenbolzs associate Cary Driskell told the Spokane Club audience could take as little as two weeks to complete.

Says Trunkenbolzs letter to potential supporters, We believe that the coalition that will be created will be sufficient in depth and resources to change the tide of what is now threatening to be a devastating financial typhoon that could destroy the economic vitality of Spokane for years to come.

  • Paul Read

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