A Road Map to Washington’s Future
Washington State’s framework for managing growth is a patchwork of at least a dozen laws adopted incrementally over the past century. Each responded to the circumstances and priorities of its day, including the Growth Management Act (GMA) of 1990. The primary responsibility for growth planning and implementation rests with local governments, however, cities and counties operate under governance and finance rules designed to meet the needs of the last century, not the realities, trends, opportunities, and challenges of this one. To date there has not been an assessment of how well the GMA has met its goals, nor were the purposes, processes, and requirements of older laws ever reconciled with those of the GMA.
The challenges for maintaining and improving Washington’s economic, environmental, and human health in the future are great. By the year 2040, the current state population (7.3 million) could increase by 3.5 million people.[i] This is more than triple the combined populations of today’s Seattle, Spokane and Tacoma. However, Washington’s economic and population growth has not been evenly distributed across the state. Rapid growth in urban counties has worsened traffic congestion, restricted freight mobility, over-taxed crumbling infrastructure, and stressed ecosystems.
The housing affordability crisis commands headlines in the Seattle metro region, but housing costs have also risen dramatically in eastern Washington, up and down state.[ii] In rural counties, the agricultural, forestry and mineral economies are in transition and their communities struggle to attract economic development and retain population. Some question whether the regulations needed to manage growth in urban counties are appropriate for rural counties, where the challenge instead is managing to grow.
Also growing across Washington are two different but equally acute public health challenges. Loss of open space and access to nature erodes the physical and mental health of people in rapidly urbanizing counties. Residents of rural counties enjoy far more access to both open space and nature, but various factors contribute to surprising and unacceptably lower human health outcomes than urban residents enjoy.[iii]
Phase I – Assessment Purpose and Description ($100,000)
Washington’s communities are increasingly recognizing the linkages between housing costs, transportation, economic opportunity, environmental, and human health. Navigating this complex system and effectively meeting challenges and opportunities facing the state will require a collaborative “road map to the future.”
In response to queries from the Washington State Legislature and others, the William D. Ruckelshaus Center (Center) recommends conducting an assessment of Washington’s framework for managing growth including a process to articulate a statewide vision and collaboratively map a path to that future. The assessment and process for creating a collaborative road map would involve participants across the state helping to create a holistic vision of Washington’s desired future, identifying opportunities and current successes of state laws, institutions, and policies in moving toward that future, and areas for needed course corrections and support for future implementation.
To gauge support for this effort, the Center is now conducting a Preliminary Assessment consisting of a series of conversations with key individuals, groups, and organizations involved in various growth management efforts. Information and findings from preliminary conversations will be summarized in a Preliminary Report to be issued in mid-2017.
To date, none of the individuals, groups or organizations consulted have said that an assessment of our state’s growth management framework is not needed or not timely. Below is a list of individuals, groups, and organizations the Center has spoken with as part of this Preliminary Assessment, seven of which have become sponsors of the Preliminary Assessment. These Phase I sponsors, shown in bold below, have committed a total of $100,000 of seed money to support the Preliminary Assessment. We will be updating this list frequently as conversations continue.
- Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians
- Association of Washington Business
- Association of Washington Cities
- Building Industry Association of Washington
- Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Citizens Alliance for Property Rights
- Master Builders of King and Snohomish Counties
- Quinault Indian Nation
- Suquamish Indian Tribe
- Swinomish Indian Tribal Community
- The Tulalip Tribes
- Washington Chapter of the American Planning Association
- Washington City Planning Directors Association
- Washington Public Health Association
- Washington Public Ports Association
- Washington Research Council
- Washington Sewer and Water Districts Association
- Washington State Boundary Review Boards Association of Washington
- Washington State Association of Counties
- Washington State Department of Commerce
- Washington State Department of Ecology
- Washington State Department of Natural Resources
- Washington State Department of Transportation
- Washington State Farm Bureau
- Washington State Transportation Commission
Phase II – Comprehensive Assessment and Road Map to the Future ($600,000)
Based upon the findings in the Preliminary Report, and the breadth of support from various groups and organizations, the legislature may direct the Center to convene and facilitate a two-year process for the Comprehensive Assessment and Road Map to Washington’s Future. While still being refined, that effort would engage many groups, including those identified above, in a series of deep, candid conversations about a desired future for Washington state; and to conduct targeted research by the state’s public universities to help inform potential alternatives.
The Final Report would be a shared statewide Vision for the future and include actions to adapt the state’s growth management framework to achieve that Vision and to support long-term economic, environmental, and human health in Washington State.
[i] OFM estimates that Washington’s 2016 population of 7.2 million could increase by 3.5 million people to a 2040 population of 10.7 million. Office of Financial Management Population Report (2016).
[ii] Between 2014 and 2015, Seattle home prices increased by 12.4%. Significant increases also happened in Mount Vernon, (13.8), Longview (13.2%), Tri-Cities (7.8%), Bellingham (7.4%), Spokane (5.6%), Yakima (5.2%) and Walla Walla (4.8%). Seattle Times, 6/22/16.
[iii] For Washington’s rural counties, the rate for the five leading causes of death was 34% higher than in urban King County. Centers for Disease Control data cited in Seattle Times, 1/23/17.
Last Updated February 7, 2017
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