Essential Public Facilities Ordinance is a weapon of mass destruction

At the Jan. 5 County Council meeting, the council began writing one of the most potentially destructive bits of legislation ever. It’s a new “Essential Public Facilities” (EPF) Ordinance.

Remember the days when people only needed air, water, food and shelter to live? Well, now the County Council thinks you need about 20 other things that are “essential”; air, water, food and shelter ain’t even mentioned. It’s all about airports, roads, ferries, schools, equipment storage, the electrical grid, water systems, sewer systems, etc., etc. It makes you wonder how humans could have become the dominant species on this planet without all their “essential” stuff.

Here’s the destructive part: If the council or any one with “influence” wants to bulldoze your house, or your neighborhood, or your island for something designated an EPF, pack up and move, because there’s no appeal process. Only thing you can do is go straight to Superior Court. Oh, haven’t got a spare $30,000? Sorry. Also, if they want something not on the EPF list they can add it, no problem.

That things like this can happen so easily in San Juan County illustrates how lopsided the power structure is here. The things on the EPF list aren’t essential for residents — they’re essential for development. They’re essential for the real estate industry, the construction industry, local business, etc. — in short, the growth industry. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. People and corporations in the growth field have every right, even a duty, to try to influence local government, that’s the way the game is played. The problem is, there is nobody on the other side.

There are more people in San Juan County who want to be a part of the landscape than those putting blots on the landscape. People who farm, garden, fish, make art, gather, who need quiet, clean air and water, low taxes. People living on pensions, Social Security, odd jobs, who can’t as individuals afford to go to court, hire lawyers, fund election campaigns or threaten the county government with lawsuits.

Yelling man interrupts: “Hey! I’m talking to you! There’s more of you than them! You can organize! The powerful and privileged are scared of you! You can win! It’ll be fun! Oh dear, Oh dear, what am I saying! They’ll never do it, the lazy sods.”

Yelling man exits, weeping.

Now the good news. There is another public hearing on the EPF ordinance on Jan. 26. We can fix this. EPFs that are proposed for areas where the zoning wouldn’t normally allow them should have to meet all the 10 criteria of SJCC18.80.100 and administrative appeal process as would any conditional use. Write a comment letter or show up on the 26th and make your comment in person.

You can contact me at for more info.

Steve Ludwig
Lopez Island