Letter from Larry Bailey

(360) 468-3217
January 12, 2017

Chairman Hughes,

I want to apologize for speaking out of turn at the end of Tuesday’s Council meeting. I hope you will forgive me for that misstep. My only excuse, and it is not a good one, is that it is extremely difficult to remain quiet when proponents repeatedly make statements that have no basis in fact.

As I recall, you asked Lincoln Bormann what was represented to prospective donors to the Community Clure Fund. He responded that the contributors understood that their funds were nonrefundable as long as the project proceeded. Earlier in his introductory presentation, he had stated the Land Bank had not committed to final purchase of Parcel B. (Please note: In that walk-away scenario from Parcel B, the Land Bank and the Public would then end up paying $50,000 more than the current appraised value for Parcel A.)

Bormann’s response is not what the Land Bank has said to the Public in its community fund raising solicitations.

So, what are the facts?

In its 11/15/16 solicitation to the public, the Land Bank stated:

Preserve Lopez Shoreline
Please join the Lopez Island community in raising funds for the Land Bank’s acquisition of the Lopez Shoreline Preserve. Your donation is tax deductible and will be fully refunded in case the acquisition is not completed. Pledge Now.

“Roughly two miles of nearly pristine beach on the west side of Lopez Island may become accessible for nature viewing and long walks… Fronting the San Juan Channel, the shoreline with its wild and remote flavor is one of the longest publicly owned tidelands on our island… The Land Bank has secured a purchase and sale agreement on two parcels allowing community access to the beach… The Land Bank is asking the Lopez community to contribute $50,000 to close the sale. The amount is also necessary for obtaining state grants by demonstrating the community’s commitment.”

This Statement is quite different than the one the Land Bank presented to the Council for approval in its 9/16/16 2nd Amended Acquisition plan:

“The Clure property descends gradually to the shoreline of San Juan Channel offering the public the opportunity to reach nearly two miles of secluded beach.”

“ACQUISITION PLAN: While acquisition of the northern parcel (Parcel A) alone would allow public access to the shoreline, the Clure family requires some level of commitment for acquisition of both parcel A and the southern parcel (Parcel B), because of their concern that creation of public access would devalue the remaining parcel. In order to move this project forward, the Land Bank Commission is recommending moving forward with the purchase of Parcel A; closing on the property by the end of the year encumbered with a deed of trust to be paid in two annual increments ending in 2018. The Commission is also recommending that the Land Bank purchase Parcel B, but not outlay a deposit for this acquisition. Rather, the purchase and sale agreement will specify that the Lopez community will raise $50,000 toward this end. This commitment would be non-refundable. This property would also be subject to a deed of trust with an additional payment not required until December of 2018.

“The Land Bank would seek grant funding for this purchase through the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program Water Access Account and through the state Aquatic Land Enhancement Account in the next biennium starting in 2018. Should either or both of these grant applications succeed, the Land Bank would move to satisfy the deeds of trust on both parcels. However, should these efforts fail, and the community prove unable to raise additional funds, the Land Bank would only pay off the note on Parcel A . The contract on Parcel B could be assigned to another party or the Commission could decide to default on the purchase without having committed any public funds toward its acquisition.”

In addition to this misstatement, proponents made numerous other misstatements:

1.Public Support.

Kirm Taylor, the leader of the Lopez Trails Network, said that the 300 members of the Network supported the acquisition, as well as other Lopez Community members.

The Facts: There are approximately 300 names on the Trails Network mailing list. This list includes many Lopezians in our group who strongly oppose the acquisition. Mr Taylor did not advise mailing list members of the Clure proposal until after it was announced in The Islands’ Weekly on 11/15/16. They were not even informed or consulted. None of the Network members in our group received any requests asking for their support, so if members were solicited for their support, Mr Taylor did it very selectively.

The first time Lopezians not in the Trails Network had the opportunity to express their opinions to the Land Bank was at its 11/18 meeting, which was also the first time the Clure Purchase was ever listed on its Agenda. 63 members of the public attended: 19 spoke in favor of the acquisition and accessing a two mile beach, while 18 spoke in opposition to it.

The Land Bank/Trails Network set up a Facebook page on November 14, preservelopezwestsideshoreline, to assist its community fundraising effort. The first sentences in its solicitation state: “Around 2 miles of nearly pristine beach on the west side of Lopez Island may become accessible for nature viewing and long walks. You can help preserve it.” The site lists 90 un-named followers. LopezRocks.org promoted the fundraising site and posted a direct link to it. It represents itself as “a community website for and by Lopez Island” and states its purpose is “to provide a forum for communication and interaction between residents of Lopez Island and of the the San Juan Islands in general…” It also solicits contributions from the community to support its operation, but does not disclose its finances. In fact , it is a private enterprise owned and managed by one of the leaders of the Trails Network, who is also the husband of Tracey Cottingham who presented the Clure proposal to the Land Bank at its May 20 meeting. When supporters of the Clure proposal posted comments misstating facts and urging community support, leaders of our group responded with the facts and issues we have raised with you. This resulted in almost all of us being immediately banned by the owner from making any further public comment on Lopez Rocks.

Having been denied freedom of speech on the only online public forum for Lopez, we set up our own website, savelopezshoreline.org, on December 10 , in an attempt to educate Lopezians about the true facts and issues of the Clure proposal. As of today, our site has 57 listed and named supporters.

On its website, the Land Bank states:

“Whenever possible, the Land Bank tries to meet community priorities by purchasing conservation easements.

Selection Criteria

“The following factors must be met for the Land Bank to pursue a project :

  • The property must provide an important conservation resource.
  • The property’s identified conservation resource(s) should be vulnerable to adverse change.
  • The proposed project must adequately protect the identified conservation resource(s) of the property.
  • The acquisition should make effective use of the Land Bank’s limited funds and resources.
  • There must be general public support.”

Given all the mis-information broadcast to the public about this proposal, it is not surprising that the supporters outnumber us, but a substantial portion of the Lopez Community are opposed to this action and a substantial number of Lopez homeowners are very negatively impacted by it. There is no question that the Community has deep splits over this issue, but even a magician could not conjure the above pro and con numbers into “general public support.” No matter how you want to assess the numbers, the Clure acquisition does not meet the Land Bank’s stated selection criteria.

2. Two Miles of Beach

Every presentation to the Land Bank, the Port of Lopez, the County Council, and now to the general public has lead with the representation that “the Clure purchase will give the public access to two miles of beach…” This is simply not true.

As responsible stewards of what many call “Lopez’s last wild beach,” the shoreline owners are united, except for one homeowner, in agreeing to defend our private property boundaries to the mean high water line and to the full extent of the law, including litigation if necessary. We paid high premiums to purchase waterfront properties, pay the highest per square foot real estate taxes on Lopez, and did not invest and choose to live in a beautiful, quiet seaside neighborhood to allow our properties to be converted to public use. This means that all the best sandy places and driftwood are on private property and will be off-limits to the public. We will not allow increased public traffic over our property to destroy this last remaining beach treasure that all of us have invested in, preserved and protected for decades. If we don’t preserve and protect it, this purchase will surely destroy it and that is not the legacy we want to leave to our children and grandchildren.

3. Trespassing

The Land Bank and the Trails Network claim that trespassing will not be a problem and that people, especially Lopezians, will respect private property signage. We all wish that was true but it’s not.

The Facts: As evidenced by numerous letters from homeowners, trespassing on private property is a constant problem for shoreline property owners. At the meeting you heard from George McCain about the irreversible damage to Big Rock caused by an illegal bonfire set by trespassers on the McCain’s private property. Further, the Trails Network leaders have preached that “all beaches should be public” and that “everyone has the right to walk any beach.” This has lead to many confrontations with landowners, to wit:

(a) From: Mysti McKeehan Date: Fri, Jan 6, 2017 at 11:44 AM
“Hi Larry, I am a resident of Sunset Acres. I live on the beach. My house is the most northerly house of the Sunset Acres Subdivision. I also own the meadow just north of the house (it is not part of Sunset Acres) including tidelands. My house being the fourth house south of Otis Perkins Day Park, I have had a lot of experience with people who refuse to accept that my beach and the Sunset Acres Beach are private properties despite there being County signage to that effect at Otis Perkins Park. Generally, I let this pass. However, many beach walkers have dogs that they let run free on the beach. They don’t bother to scoop poop (dangerous to sea mammals), and the dogs invade my yard and deck and chase the waterfowl. Members of the Trails Network are frequent offenders. I have no doubt that the Land Bank purchase is part of a plan to provide a beach walk from the Clure property north to Otis Perkins Day Park. The fact that the route would cross private property will not be a deterrent…..When I have talked to people about trespassing on my beach, they often rebut with the ‘all beaches should be public property’ or the ‘freedom to roam” argument.’ ”

( b) Another homeowner called to say that they have a constant problem with trespassers and once could not get a woman to move off their property. They had to call the Sheriff who was forced to threaten to arrest her to get her to leave. Mr Taylor confirmed all of this at the November 12 Port of Lopez meeting,where claiming to be speaking on behalf of the Land Bank in support of the Clure purchase, he related that his wife was almost arrested as she wandered the beach south of Otis Perkins Park. What he didn’t say was that she ignored the “No Trespassing” signs and the request of a landowner to leave, resulting in the Sheriff being called.

(c) Warren Demetrick, a 30 year resident on Eagles Roost Lane writes:
“Here are some examples of problems which I have experienced on my shoreline:

  • A group of 7 people decided to camp on our beach. It was mid July and the grass and bushes were very dry. They built a fire and sparks were being blown toward the dry vegetation by on-shore winds. If the fire had caught on the steep bank there would be no way of stopping it as it raced up toward the timbered properties above. I went with a volunteer fireman to ask the campers to put the fire out and they became belligerent and uncooperative but finally relented. An hour later they had rebuilt the fire. This time the fire department was accompanied by a policeman. The trespassers were suddenly much more meek and cooperative and were moved out.
  • Kids play in the driftwood logs and build stick houses,and have climbed in my shoreline trees to break branches for “a roof.” They leave this mess behind and it detracts from the natural order of the beach; on my property.
  • Someone has written graffiti on large rocks and driftwood logs on my shoreline. I found the graffiti very hard to remove; on my property.
  • People like to let their dogs run free on the beach. This is sometimes accompanied by shouts, barking, and dogs coming up into our yard.”

Need we say more ?

(4) Indemnification if you grant Trail Easements.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Bormann,stated that homeowners could indemnify themselves from damages for injuries to the public on their property by granting a trails easement.

This is a half-truth at best: any attorney for any injured person is professionally obligated to make a damage claim and eventually threaten to sue or sue every possible person and entity in any way connected to or involved in the property or the incident. You may be eventually reimbursed for any damages your personally have to pay out of pocket that are not covered by your homeowners policy but that is only after all the proceedings and claims are resolved.

(5) Lopez Needs this Access.

Lopez has numerous public access ways to shorelines and other recreational areas Numerous speakers for the proponents asserted their desire to be able to walk this beach and enjoy the western view, as if this beach was the only place this could be done. Really?

I have been told by many Lopezians that Lopez has more public shoreline access points than any other island in SJ County. I don’t know that for a fact, but I do know there are already at least six (6) public shoreline access points on the westside of Lopez, including Otis Perkins Park. It has almost a half mile of unobstructed waterfront where the Land Bank owns both uplands and tidelands, with the same amenities and views as the Clure parcels. This month, 800 more feet of tidelands are being added to the Park for $2000. What is wrong with this picture? Does it really make sense to spend a minimum of $425,000 of taxpayer money for the Clure Parcel A with all the issues involved, plus take this property off the tax rolls and increase everyone else’s taxes?

In addition to the westside access points, the public already has shoreline access to beaches on the east and south sides of Lopez, namely Spencer Spit, Watmough Bay, Agate Beach and Iceberg Point. When is enough, enough?

(6) Timing

In his opening remarks, Mr Bormann commented that he had been working on this project for 9 months.He went on to state that it had gone thru numerous public meetings and this was the third time he had brought it to the County Council.

The Facts:

  • The Clure matter was never placed on the Land Bank agenda until November 18, 2016;
  • The major stakeholders, the adjacent land owners, were never contacted;
  • The Land Bank did virtually nothing to investigate the property (other than physically view it, order a survey and an appraisal, and investigate access), until nearby landowners and other Lopezians objected and raised numerous questions and issues which the Land Bank had not investigated and to which it had no answers.

The only way an ordinary citizen could have known anything about the Clure proposal was to attend the Land Bank meetings (the November 18, 2016 meeting was the first held on Lopez since October, 2015) or download the meeting minutes and search for”Clure.” The County Council’s appropriation for the Clure property is buried in a non-scannable PDF “Emergency Appropriation” document linked to and from an agenda item entitled “PUBLIC HEARING: To Adopt the Second 2016 Budget Amendment.” We only were able to locate it because a member of our group is a computer techie and a skilled researcher. Since we are told the Land Bank does give the required 10 day notice of its meetings, it may have satisfied the minimum legal requirement for public notice, but it was hardly a good-faith, transparent attempt to include all adjacent homeowners as key stakeholders in the acquisition process. It certainly doesn’t meet any due process or fundamental fairness test of which I am aware.

Mr Chairman, at the end of the hearing, you asked Adrienne Adams how much “notice” people need of a proposal. I would submit notice should be given before a Commission has made a decision to take action. One major problem at this point is that the Land Bank Commissioners act offended that we would dare question their decision.They had worked with the Trails Network for almost 7 months putting together the real estate deal, apparently without ever questioning the basic assumptions inherent in this transaction (i.e. access to a “near-pristine” two mile beach, only Lopezians will use it, trespassing won’t be a problem, etc.,) or the resulting impact on the shoreline, wildlife, and the westside Lopez residents. No one else even knew about it. When one reviews the goals and policies of the state, county, and the Land Bank pertinent to the Clure transaction with an open mind, the conclusion is inescapable: this transaction does not comply with these publicly enacted goals and policies and we ask you to reject it.

Thank you for your time and service to our community.

Larry Bailey
On behalf of savelopezshoreline.org

Cc: Jamie Stephens
Bill Watson