In Our View, Jan. 16: Cheers & Jeers

State’s eminent domain law is too loose; silly political correctness erupts in Olympia

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Cheers: To a bipartisan effort to reform our state’s eminent domain laws. The law provides that in certain circumstances, government can compel the sale of private property to a government agency.

The law is necessary but too loose. A Washington Policy Center study finds that since 2000, officials have tried to use eminent domain to affect private property rights of 71,000 Washingtonians.

Vancouver is home to one prominent example. Nearly 10 years ago, the private developer of the West Coast Bank building sought to purchase the Monterey Hotel, an ugly century-old residential hotel on Main Street. The owners declined to sell. The city stepped in and, using the eminent domain law, compelled its sale on the grounds that it was needed for parking for the new office building. The hotel was demolished at taxpayer expense, and nearly eight years later the site remains a vacant lot.

The reforms, pushed by Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna and legislators of both parties, would make it more difficult to seize property under the guise of economic development or reducing blight, only to sell it to private developers.

• Jeers: To state Sen. Rosa Franklin’s proposal to waste state time and money combing through every state law and changing words describing “at risk” children to “at hope.” Franklin, D-Seattle, worries that labeling poor kids as being “at risk” carries a big stigma. Maybe. But does relabeling them in official documents as “at hope” reduce these children’s burden? Not likely. Instead, it obfuscates real problems with political correctness. Franklin and her fellow legislators should quit worrying about this kind of trivia and concentrate on the pressing problems facing the state and its youth.

• Cheers: To U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell’s announcement that the National Weather Service will start sending a patrol plane over the Pacific Ocean to look for approaching winter storms. We don’t have the advantage of ground-based radar seeing hundreds or even thousands of miles to our west, providing ample warning of approaching weather systems.

The patrol planes will feed data directly to global forecasting centers, according to Cantwell’s office, and result in as much as a 15 percent improvement in the accuracy of precipitation forecasts. They will help forecast storms three to six days before they hit, giving us valuable time to prepare.

There’s more good news on the weather front. Last month Washington received enough money to blanket the coast with Doppler radar, which will greatly increase the accuracy of short-term weather forecasting.

• Jeers: To Clark County Commissioners Marc Boldt and Tom Mielke. Their latest move again makes the public suspicious that builders get unfair breaks. Boldt and Mielke recently voted, over the objections of colleague Steve Stuart, to freeze a set of county development fees that pay for new roads.

The break is worth up to $21 million if development surged to pre-recession levels.

Boldt and Mielke say the break could stimulate the county’s slow demand for new homes. But Stuart wisely points out that a similar break last year had unproven results, and that by charging the builders less, the general public ends up paying more.

Though we all share the arterials, The Columbian believes the buyers of new houses should pay the largest portion of the cost of new roads to those houses.

• Cheers: To six orcas born to Puget Sound pods in the past year. Scientists aren’t sure why there was a baby boom (it might be due to more salmon) but it’s great news in the fight to preserve an endangered species.