Comment: State, county can’t wait for climate change action

Washington Can’t Wait seeks updates to state law that will address climate change and housing needs.

By Kristin Kelly and Kate Lunceford / For The Herald

It’s been a grueling 2020 for everyone.

Not only has the coronavirus pandemic brought with it immense new challenges and sacrifices, but here in Washington state we continue to be challenged by climate change and its impacts on our air and water quality, lack of housing affordability for everyone, and the need for racial equity in land use and environmental decisions.

As long-time residents of Snohomish County who care deeply about our communities, we are optimistic that our country and Washington can be at the forefront of tackling all these challenges. That is why we support the Washington Can’t Wait campaign (, spearheaded by the statewide organization Futurewise and supported by 46 leading organizations.

In 1990, Washington state adopted the Growth Management Act (GMA), which has to do with the way we shape our built environment and preserve (or don’t preserve) natural habitats. The GMA exists to help our cities and counties accommodate growth while protecting what makes the Evergreen State a great place to live, from vibrant cities to working farms and forests. But it hasn’t been updated since its creation 30 years ago!

Under the GMA, Snohomish County has the weighty mandate to manage growth and impacts to our cities, towns and rural communities. Our communities continue to struggle with quality of life and environmental problems because our county has had and continues to have the fastest growth in the state. Unnecessary urban sprawl over the last two decades has increased traffic that has exacerbated greenhouse gas emissions, decimated urban forests for unaffordable housing subdivisions, increased pollution to our streams and rivers which negatively impact wildlife and fish habitat as well as our drinking water supply, and priced too many Snohomish County residents out of a home.

The Snohomish County Council is in the early stages of an update to our county’s 2024 Comprehensive Plan, which will guide where growth and development will occur over the next 20 years. The Washington Can’t Wait campaign would enable county government to meet these crucial growth challenges.

Our state’s biggest source of climate pollution is transportation. A major contributing factor is excessive sprawl that places people further from everyday needs like jobs, schools, medical facilities, child care, groceries, restaurants and more. Updating the GMA with better land use and transportation planning will result in more livable communities and reduce climate pollution at the same time.

Updating the GMA can also help communities plan to protect against the impacts of climate change: drought, wildfires, sea level rise and landslides.

The GMA plays a critical, if unseen, role in your quality of life. You can pick out a beautiful bunch of carrots from a farm nearby at your local farmers market because the GMA protects local farmland. You can seek respite in a park when the pandemic cramps your style, because the GMA protects open space and incentivizes smart growth and accessible communities.

Specifically, the Washington Can’t Wait campaign hopes to pass in the state Legislature this year the following changes to the GMA:

• Require that the 10 largest counties plan for climate change by reducing greenhouse gases and vehicle miles traveled, and that all counties plan to mitigate the effects of a changing climate, prepare for climate impact scenarios, foster resilience to climate impacts and natural hazards, and protect environmental, economic, human health and safety.

• Support housing development for all unit types and income levels. This component helps address housing affordability, financial and physical accessibility, and will require jurisdictions to identify and make plans to undo the impacts of housing policies that have been racially biased and exclusionary while taking measures to prevent community displacement from market forces.

• Require local jurisdictions to integrate environmental justice and equity into the local comprehensive plans. This will help address disproportionate environmental impacts, work toward equality in community investment (like access to parks, healthy foods and housing), and ensure greater equity, outreach and community participation in the planning process.

Please join with us and contact your state legislators now and urge them to support the Washington Can’t Wait campaign. This update to the 30-year-old GMA will help ensure a brighter future for our children and their families as more and more people move to beautiful Snohomish County and Washington state.

Kristin Kelly served on the Snohomish County Charter Review Commission in 2006 and 2016, and is a land use consultant. Kate Lunceford is president of the League of Women Voters of Snohomish County.

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