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News / Opinion / Columns
The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

Local View: Be proud of council’s leadership on growth plan

By Steve Horenstein
Published: May 14, 2023, 6:03am

Clark County councilors are elected to safeguard the quality of life we enjoy in this corner of Southwest Washington. They have the responsibility to provide leadership by establishing informed policies to shape our future. In the case of the population forecast, this decision will shape the vision of what Clark County is to become over the next 20 years.

The Columbian editorial (“Population projection process leaves bad taste,” In Our View, May 7) oversimplified a complex process and did not give the councilors credit for some very good work.

Having actively participated in the previous three comprehensive growth management plan updates undertaken by the Clark County Council (and its predecessor county commission), the 2025 update has heightened everyone’s attention. Now more than ever, Clark County is experiencing challenges due in part to unprecedented growth, some of which was not factored into previous comprehensive plan updates due to underestimating previous population forecasts.

The former Clark County Council saw fit to note this underestimation in the state law required Vacant Buildable Lands Report. The report stated that 2016 population projection assumed an annual average growth rate of 1.26 percent over the 20-year planning horizon. However, for that planning cycle, the growth rate was 2 percent each year from 2015-2020.

It makes sense that in this planning cycle Clark County Council members would not choose to make the same mistake again after the 2016 projection was missed by 0.74 percentage point. With a population of now more than a half-million and growing, 0.74 represents a significant number of working-class households in our community that have not been accounted for.

In the current planning cycle, council members have pursued a transparent vetting of the 2025-2045 population projections. They did not blindly select, nor are they required to select from the low, middle or high projection provided by Washington’s Office of Financial Management. Instead, they did what they have been elected to do, lead.

The council led this community through an open and public process. As part of the public process, the council hosted work sessions, presentations and public hearings to gather input. They remained accessible to advocates of all points of view throughout the process. They urged Office of Financial Management to show their work and asked pressing questions about each resource offered. And, they did their own research.

Not being comfortable that Office of Financial Management had made proper allowances for unique aspects of Clark County in their data, the council asked for clarification from its own planning department. Based on historic population growth, Clark County Community Planning presented a 20-year trendline based on actual growth rates. As many in the community knew and advocated for, the trendline based on historic data identified a trajectory of 1.4 percent annual growth rate. The result, the Clark County Council unanimously approved 1.4 percent annual growth rate for the 20-year planning horizon.

It is clear from the methodical approach Clark County Council members took to digest the data from OFM, Clark County Community Planning and historical sources that our council members are intent on getting it right. They put their energy toward approving a forecast based on historical data, expert consultation and input from the community.

There is much work ahead to complete the 2025 Comprehensive Plan Update. Clark County should be proud to have the leadership of Chairman Karen Bowerman and council members Gary Medvigy, Michelle Belkot, Sue Marshall and Glen Yung guiding Clark County through this arduous process.

Steve Horenstein is an attorney with the firm of Schwabe, Williamson and Wyatt. His practice focuses on business, real estate, land use and government relations.