Seventh District's Rep. Joel Kretz talks property rights

Rep. Joel Kretz talks with Oroville Chamber of Commerce Members Patty Garret and Peggy Shaw following their Friday, Nov. 13 meeting in Oroville. Photo by Gary DeVon

Rep. Joel Kretz talks with Oroville Chamber of Commerce Members Patty Garret and Peggy Shaw following their Friday, Nov. 13 meeting in Oroville. Photo by Gary DeVon

OROVILLE – Washington State Representative Joel Kretz (R-7th District) believes Okanogan County’s new Comprehensive Plan, in its current form, is too restrictive of people’s property rights.

Kretz, a Wauconda-area rancher, spoke to the Oroville Chamber of Commerce at their Friday, Nov. 13 meeting. After talking about the state legislature’s efforts to fill a $9 billion hole in last year’s state budget, Kretz warned that revenues for the next budget are about the same and there will be few places the state can “rob” to fill the anticipated gap.

“We got the budget balanced last year, but it looks like we will have a $1 billion to $2 billion hole this year,” he said.

Kretz said everyone is concerned about education and that in the past property poor school districts could depend on Levy Equalization monies to help make up the difference.

“This year they tried to take away the funding for Levy Equalization and we didn’t have the votes to stop it. Luckily enough time went by and they didn’t get it done by midnight so funding was saved,” he said. “The Kettle Falls Superintendent said he was looking at eight pink slips on his desk.”

From there the legislator switched to issues closer to home. Kretz said his wife Sara, who was at Friday’s meeting, had attended several of the Neighborhood Meetings regarding the county’s attempts to update their 40 plus year-old Comprehensive Plan. He said he had read the draft plan, more than 700 pages worth, over a weekend and couldn’t believe how restrictive it was on property rights.

“It’s unbelievably restrictive, it will impact the way you use your land and run your businesses,” Kretz said.

“I was struck by the number of phrases that were used that were in bills that were in Olympia. Most of those were even too Looney Tunes for Olympia and struck down, so why were they put in Okanogan County’s Comprehensive Plan?” he asked.

The legislator said he feels many of the worst things in the Comp Plan came from the Methow.

“With some of the suggested restrictions I felt like I was reading the Communist Manifesto,” he said.

Although he feels the seventh draft of the plan is much improved, Kretz still worries about phrases like “best available science.”

“Best available science means something different in Olympia, they wouldn’t let (Senator) Morton add ‘verifiable’ to that phrase in the state senate,” Kretz said.

Kretz, who raises horses on his ranch, also worries about the words “wildlife corridors” too.

“Much of the language reminds me of the Yellowstone to Yukon Corridor where they tried to turn all of Eastern Washington into a wildlife corridor,” he said.

The new draft is an improvement as there is only one reference to ‘wildlife corridors,” according to the legislator.

“Words mean something, even though there is only one reference to wildlife corridors if a bill comes up in Olympia that restricts property rights they’ll say ‘look Representative Kretz, you have wildlife corridors in your own county’s Comprehensive Plan,'” he said.

Another phrase, “Balancing property rights with the public good” concerns Kretz as well.

“Either you’ve got property rights or you don’t,” he said. “We all need to be concerned about our neighbor, but the plan had much in it that takes away your right to decide how you develop or sell your land.”

Kretz said one of the biggest problems with the Comp Plan was the “mapping.” He said it was interesting that a lot of the things that have been stripped out of the plan are now in the underlying documents.

“About 90 percent of the land is currently labeled as resource land. You better like agriculture on your land because it may be impossible to change it. It makes it impossible to do anything else with it,” he said. “If it is currently used for cattle you can might get $500 an acre, but you might also be able to sell it for development at $3000 an acre. But if you can not change the use they have devalued your property by $2500 an acre with the stroke of a pen.”

Although the landowner may have no plans to ever change the use of the land, since it has been devalued he won’t be able to get an operating loan, according to Kretz.

“It is almost like a conservation easement has been placed on the land. You have to ask permission from the county to change anything. Any time you have to ask government for anything they can say ‘no’ to you,” he said. “Any neighbor that doesn’t like what you’re doing they can get a go at you.”

Kretz feels many of the land use regulations in the plan are hard to justify.

“People say if we don’t do it the state or feds will. If the feds could have done it to us they would have already,” said the legislator. “The local government’s response should be to stand up and protect the citizens of the county. I feel the best steward of my property is me.”

Kretz said Comprehensive Plans are not supposed to be regulatory, but instead are supposed to be a guide. He said he felt the county commissioners’ schedule to adopt a Comp Plan will be moved back another year.

“Their main question should be why do we want to do this in Okanogan County when we are not under the Growth Management Act (GMA). Why would we want to be more restrictive than King County?” he asked. “I don’t think we want to go down this road.”

Kretz said 18 months ago the people were sold a bill of goods that if the county didn’t update the plan they would have to under GMA when the population reached 50,000 and “that if they didn’t adopt it now the county would be killed.”

He said the Farm Bureau had looked at population trends and concluded it would be 25 to 89 years before the county reached that point.

“GMA doesn’t apply until the population reaches 50,000 and you must have 17 percent growth per year,” said Kretz, a Republican, who added that a Democratic county commissioner from another county said he wouldn’t sign off on Okanogan County’s Comp Plan.

To illustrate how restrictions can get out of control, the legislator told those at the chamber meeting that $200,000 of the cost of building a new home in Seattle could be directly attributed to fees and restrictions.

Kretz attended the last meeting of the new Property Rights Coalition where 850 people were in attendance. He said he encouraged the people of Okanogan County to continue to fight for a Comprehensive Plan that made sense for the citizens and protected property rights.