San Juan County Council updates

Over the last month, the San Juan County Council has discussed issues including population projection, a local immigration initiative and protection of Southern resident killer whales.

Population projection

On July 11, council accepted a population projection to build growth over the next 20 years. It forecasted population will be 19,423 in 2036.

The projection is part of the comprehensive plan, which will be completed next summer. Once submitted to state officials, the population will be used for future plans including infrastructure, utilities and land use.

The number, recommended by county staff last May, is based on the average percentage of the state population living in the county. Staff did not recommend using a projection based on the average percentage of annual growth because it was not as statistically valid.

The county planning commission unanimously approved to suggest this population to county council after a public hearing and discussion on June 16.

The commission initially voted on the lowest population estimate, given by the Washington State Office of Financial Management, but it didn’t pass by a 4–3 vote.

The state requires the selected population to be between the OFM’s lowest population projection at 13,123 and the highest population at 24,303.

According to the planning commission’s recommendation, the figure selected allows for flexibility when accounting for seasonal populations. Communities can decide to plan for seasonal populations without being mandated to do so by the comprehensive plan regulations, which are governed by the state’s Growth Management Act, said Community Development Director Erika Shook.

The Growth Management Act was passed in 1990 to curb rapid population and urban sprawl.

The county’s seasonal population is not included in the population projection. The final seasonal count will be calculated this winter in a study by several organizations, including the National Parks Service and the county parks.

Immigration initiative

Council held a public hearing on a local immigration initiative on Tuesday, Aug. 15. See next week’s Weekly for details.

The initiative reiterates the current practice of preventing San Juan County staff from collecting citizenship information from immigrants, for deportation, without a judicial order.

The initiative was certified on July 12, after the Immigrant Rights Group of the Orcas Women’s Coalition presented 2,382 valid signatures. It will appear on the Nov. 17 general election ballot, unless council adopts it on Aug. 15. If adopted, the text cannot be changed for two years.

San Juan County Auditor Milene Henley requested the decision be made before an explanation of the measure would print in the county’s voters’ guide on Aug. 18. That way, voters wouldn’t be confused about a measure printed in the guide, but not on the ballot.

At the July 25 county council meeting, about seven people asked the council to adopt the initiative during the public comment section.

“The initiative has overwhelming support from San Juan County,” said Mark Cohen of Orcas.

Cindy Wolf, of Orcas, said the coalition created the initiative so undocumented immigrants would feel safer when contacting law enforcement, especially about domestic violence.

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump requested local law enforcement agencies assist in deporting undocumented immigrants in two executive orders.

County deputies do not follow Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to hold aliens for deportation if it’s past their scheduled release dates unless warrants are issued.

The county has no official declaration as a sanctuary jurisdiction, but its current unwritten policy mirrors one. A sanctuary jurisdiction does not cooperate with federal efforts to deport undocumented immigrants.

At the July 25 San Juan County Council meeting, Councilman Bill Watson supported the local effort but encouraged the initiative supporters to look beyond the county.

“I think this issue is really important at a national level and the public conversation needs to be carried forward,” said Watson.