Letters to the Editor

Conservation? Land Bank is transparent, CAO is not | Letters

We are considering two very different models to preserve our rural landscape: an extension of the Land Bank’s charter and revisions to the county’s Critical Areas Ordinance. Each represents a fundamentally different model to achieve the goal of preservation.

The Land Bank imposes an excise tax on buyers of real estate and indirectly increases real estate taxes on property owners by removing taxable parcels from the county’s rolls. These taxes are transparent and, to a reasonable extent, shared.

The Bank acquires properties at fair market value from willing sellers. This process requires no bureaucrats, no stacks of unfathomable regulations, no hired experts to shape the rules, and no lawyers to interpret them. A friend of mine characterized this model as “honest”.

In contrast, the CAO seeks to achieve preservation through regulatory action and fines. It involves hundreds of pages of regulations that are incomprehensible to the ordinary citizen — pages replete with legalese, acronyms and rules for special interests. The costs are hidden, unquantifiable and not equitably shared.

The regulations expropriate private property values with no attempt to compensate. Politicians not surprisingly prefer the regulatory approach. It has the appearance of being a free lunch. Preservation is achieved without taxation. It creates a corrupting environment to solicit campaign contributions. It empowers politicians and inflates their status in their role as arbiters of the uses of private property.

Other powerful interests also prefer the regulatory approach. Lobbyists and activists use it to craft rules in favor of their clients, all buried from public view somewhere within pages of inscrutable regulations. It grants lawyers a permanent and lucrative seat at the lunch table. It awards guaranteed employment to those now anointed as experts.

The wealthy also prefer regulations to a transparent tax. They hire the necessary lawyers, experts, and influence peddlers to get what they want. The other 99 percent of us are cowed into submission by the crippling costs of appeal.

Whether or not the voters support the Land Bank, its model of transparency and fairness is far preferable to the CAO’s model of regulation. One is honest. The other is not.

Robert deGarve

San Juan Island


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