Don’t even think about annexation

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

Published:

 

Hoping to minimize the vigilante uprisings that occur every time I mention the word “annexation,” let me make one thing perfectly clear here in the first paragraph: Officials with the city of Vancouver have no plans to annex Hazel Dell or Salmon Creek in the foreseeable future … or probably ever. They wouldn’t dare. Public sentiments in those two parts of the county lean strongly toward remaining unincorporated.

But things are different in the Minnehaha, VanMall and Orchards areas, and in far east Vancouver in the Harmony neighborhood. Unlike residents in Hazel Dell and Salmon Creek, most folks in these four areas receive water and sewer services from the city of Vancouver. And as residents of Fire District 5, they’re protected by the Vancouver Fire Department.

The only reason I bring this up is in response to U.S. Census figures released last week. Vancouver remains the fourth-largest city in the state, but as I have maintained in several columns, this ranking is misleading. Vancouver would have more than 200,000 residents if the city did the right thing and annexed areas where it already provides crucial services. And remember, these city services were granted with the full understanding by residents — in most cases their written acknowledgement — that some day they would be annexed.

In fact, in a 2005 survey of 300 residents in these areas, 28 percent of the respondents mistakenly believed they already lived inside Vancouver city limits!

According to the recent Census report, Seattle is the state’s largest city with 608,660 residents, followed by Spokane (208,916), Tacoma (198,397) and Vancouver (161,791). The four Vancouver areas that I mentioned are believed to contain about 50,000 to 65,000 residents. Annexing those areas would move Vancouver into its rightful spot as Washington’s second-biggest city.

First question: So what?

Of course, the anti-annexation crowd will quickly ask why this even matters. After all, as stock car driver Ricky Bobby insisted in the “Talladega Nights” movie, “If you ain’t first, you’re last!” And three-time statewide election loser Dino Rossi could tell you a thing or two about the magnitude of Seattle’s status as population king. So maybe I’m tilting at this windmill for purely macho reasons. Still, it seems to me second is better than fourth if only for the figurative clout to be gained.

And I’m not alone in my yearning for Vancouver to be properly recognized. In the summer of 2007 — back before he was ousted by an opponent who preached unflagging opposition to bridge tolls — Mayor Royce Pollard said: “Moving from fourth-largest to second-largest would make us a much bigger player. With size comes clout, and with clout comes pork. The people of Vancouver deserve the best services that the city and the state can offer.”

Alas, Pollard and I might as well cool our heels. The economic crisis has quelled any and all annexation efforts by Vancouver, at least for awhile. Massive budget woes have city leaders properly believing now is no time to get bigger. As leaders of police and other departments wrestle with staffing challenges and dwindling resources, they’re not real eager to talk about expanding their service areas.

Two relatively small annexations have occurred in the past year or so: 148 acres at the former Alcoa smelter site, annexed at the request of the Port of Vancouver; and 330 acres near the intersection of Southeast 192nd Avenue and state Highway 14. Otherwise, Vancouver’s annexation efforts are mothballed. But when the recovery kicks in and we’re all rolling in clover, here are three things to think about:

Many people who have Vancouver mailing addresses and whose kids attend Vancouver schools go absolutely ballistic at the thought of being annexed by Vancouver. Go figure.

Unincorporated urban areas are meant to be incorporated … some day. Same thing for urban growth areas.

City governments are meant to serve urban areas. County governments are meant to serve rural areas.

Unless, of course, you’re talking about Hazel Dell or Salmon Creek. Don’t be messin’ with those folks.

John Laird is The Columbian’s editorial page editor. His column of personal opinion appears each Sunday. Reach him at john.laird@columbian.com.