Clark County is bursting at the seams. Anyone who lives here or even attempts to pass through traffic on Interstate 5 knows we have a major growth crunch driving up costs and driving out affordable housing. These are serious problems derived from good things happening — they’re signs of a growing and prosperous community.
Unfortunately, how the state responds to this growth may spell the end of that prosperity.
Right now, the Legislature is grappling with the fallout of the Washington State Supreme Court’s Hirst decision, which determined that the state’s Growth Management Act severely restricts the use of household wells. Wells only account for less than 1 percent of water consumption in the state, but placing unreasonable limits on them hits families particularly hard in rural areas where it’s not possible to hook up to municipal water systems.
Now, people planning to build homes or businesses on their property are facing financial ruin because they can’t use the water on their own land. This only makes it harder to expand. Indeed, as Clark County council Chair Marc Boldt recently concluded, “This isn’t about water at all. This is about growth.”
The county is already undergoing a major overhaul of growth management with the creation of a new 20-year growth plan that has been appealed to further limit opportunities for growth. That’s why it’s more important than ever for state government to find solutions for responsible growth that allow for more affordable housing in Clark County and expand the opportunities that invite businesses to move here.
I’ve been working hard with my Senate colleagues to create solutions that can bring more affordable housing to our area. Unfortunately, these ideas are getting roadblocked by extreme anti-growth interests.
Restore property rights
The Senate passed a solution to the Hirst decision that would restore people’s property rights and free them to build their homes and futures on the land they own. That bill is now stuck in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, where Republican legislators are working to get talks started with Democratic leadership.
I also sponsored a bill to protect our builders from the constant shifting of the rules governing construction. Another recent court decision ruled that many new changes to development rules may be enforced retroactively. That means a building or development approved under one set of rules today can have approval revoked tomorrow if the government changes the rules, even if the builder has already started construction. That’s just plain unfair — and who wants to take the risk if the rules can change from day to day?
This ruling creates a chilling effect on any new building of housing or businesses — the very thing we need to create homes and jobs.
My bill to fix that problem, Senate Bill 5212, was never allowed to be debated and brought to a vote on the House floor, and there’s no sign that Democratic leadership has the will to deal with this very real and serious issue.
If we’re going to provide the affordable housing needed for people in the community and if we’re going to have businesses bring jobs and economic growth to our economy, we need to allow Clark County to grow. To keep creating anti-growth roadblocks that shut down the building of affordable homes and growing businesses is to put our heads in the sand.
We have unbelievable opportunities for working families to come and build a future in our thriving and growing community. But letting these bills die would be like hanging a “No Vacancy” sign at the border. That’s not who we are. Let’s pass these solutions and welcome them to the neighborhood.
Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, is in her first Senate term representing the 17th Legislative District after serving one term in the House of Representatives.