City Action Days: Panelists review issues ahead for municipalities

It may not feel like it, but there are pressing issues unrelated to funding education, and a panel at City Action Days, hosted by the Association of Washington Cities, looked over some of those issues Wednesday afternoon.

Well water

Bill Clarke, policy director for Washington Realtors, said one of the more important legislative issues had to do with water.

A court case decision from last fall, called “Hirst” puts the onus on counties, rather than a state government agency, to evaluate whether there’s enough water for a property owner to drill a well.

“That was not what the GMA was intended to do,” Clarke said on why he disagreed with the court decision.

The Hirst case has been the subject of criticism, particularly from rural lawmakers who say the judge’s reading of the Growth Management Act could push burdensome costs onto property owners, rural residents and counties.

“Until that changes that is the law unfortunately,” he said.

Clarke pointed to legislation on the table addressing water mitigation post-Hirst.

Homelessness

Nick Federici, government affairs consultant for the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, said homelessness is becoming an increasingly challenging hurdle for municipalities to address. He argued the way to get people off the streets would be through strategic investments, accountability in spending and a flexible budget for those providing services.

Federici pointed to increasing rent rates as one of the core causes of spikes in homelessness.

“There’s frankly – in many places – just not anywhere for people to go, or not anywhere for people to go that’s affordable,” he said.

He said it will be a multi-faceted fix and, to be effective, will need to include: Building housing and bolstering available resources and mental health care. Putting people in low-barrier housing, he said, could ultimately cost cities less because it could help keep folks from situations where they’d be more likely to need an ambulance or spend a night in jail.

Marijuana business

Vicki Christophersen, executive director of the Washington CannaBusiness Association, explained how she saw retail marijuana getting recognized as not just a legitimate business, but a thriving one.

The excise tax on retail marijuana alone has brought in close to $1 billion in revenue for the upcoming biennium. There’s nearly 500 retailers and 1,300 producers in the state, Christophersen said.

When it came to legislation, Christophersen said she supported municipalities deciding on their own whether to allow marijuana retailers within their limits.

She did note that there’s uncertainty when it comes to the federal stance on legalized marijuana.

“We will be ok, I believe, as long as we continue to have a highly-regulated – well-regulated – market,” she said.

Erin Fenner: erin@washingtonstatewire.com, @erinfenner

The Morning Wire: Keeping you informed on Washington politics, policy, and political economy