OLYMPIA - State lawmakers are considering legislation that would revamp the structure of the Growth Management Hearings Boards.
House Bill 2692, introduced this week by 15th District Rep. David Taylor, would replace the three regional boards with a single panel, whose seven members would be chosen by county commissioners rather than by the governor.
The regional panels were created in 1991 to review cities' and counties' compliance with the 1990 Growth Management Act (GMA).
The GMA requires cities to plan for growth while protecting rural areas and natural resources. The three-member boards were given the authority to determine whether local government growth-control laws complied with the GMA. The panels were intended to be a quasi-judicial body that would help resolve disputes about GMA implementation between citizens and local governments.
"Unfortunately, it became a policy and law-making body that strayed far beyond its original intent, and there have been erroneous interpretations of GMA requirements," said Taylor (R-Moxee).
"There's a lot of criticism out there that board members were environmental extremists. Based on what I've heard and observed, there's a strong belief that the boards had a west-side mindset in matters affecting rural land use," he added.
There were three original growth-management boards: Central Puget Sound (King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties); Western Washington (all other counties west of the Cascades); and Eastern Washington (comprising all counties east of the Cascades). The three members of each board were selected by the governor.
"Members were named to six-year terms with neither Senate confirmation nor other outside checks. That process raised concerns, and people have been frustrated because they had no voice in who was selected to serve on the boards," said Taylor.
He added there have been concerns that the boards had too much power and lacked accountability.
Under Taylor's proposal, the seven members of a new consolidated board would be chosen by the commissioners in the counties represented by each seat. Appointees would be limited to two six-year terms.
The bill would eliminate the board's ability to use hearing examiners. It further provides that three members of the board may hear a case, but requires that one of the members reside in the county where the case originates, and one member be from the same region in which the county is located.
The consolidated board's principal office would be in Olympia, although the bill would allow satellite offices in each of the regions where the former three boards were located.
A restructuring of the Growth Management Hearings Boards has been a foregone conclusion.
In a budget cut, Gov. Gregoire moved to consolidate the hearings boards' administrative functions, and currently there is only the Olympia office. Board members have been working from their homes and hear cases in the regions they represent.
A bill similar to Taylor's also has been introduced, and while the consolidation elements in the measure are comparable, board members would be appointed by the governor rather than by county commissioners.
"The major goal of my legislation is to ensure that local governments are the decision-makers in choosing members of the growth management hearings board," said Taylor. "There needs to be balance, and we want to make certain that the people who serve are representative of local citizens."