No beef with the land bank | Guest column

by Cindy Wolf

San Juan County Council, District 2

There has been much distress expressed over the council resolution regarding negotiations with the San Juan Preservation Trust, but I suspect much of it originates from the same source as my advocacy for not extinguishing a few of the development rights on the fabulous property just acquired for the people of the county through the Land Bank.

Many people are, as I was, missing crucial information about the flow of information and paperwork leading up to the Resolution adopted at the June 14 meeting. For instance, from the time the land bank director first came to council to discuss the first offer, I repeatedly brought up preserving rights to development of the upland portion of the property against the day when another county department might purchase that land for county worker housing or whatever else the community might dream up. I still had no idea on June 14 that the San Juan Preservation Trust was interested in purchasing a conservation easement over anything more than the shoreline.

The council is the elected body responsible for the land bank. There are dedicated funds, but as with all public funds, a body elected by the public must ultimately be accountable for their use. Because Land Bank is an arm of the county government, this incident tells me that preventing future damage to the land bank’s relationship with the San Juan Preservation Trust will require the council to ask for timely, thorough written documentation of any understandings come to between our employee, the advisory board to his department and any third party before any funds or authorization to do business in the name of the county can be granted. It is true this can slow down transactions. I advocated with council and counsel in this case to trust the land bank director’s word and honor his request that we move ahead with the purchase and work out the conditions of the proposed sale of a conservation easement for the preservation trust afterward. Since the purchase had closed, I thought that “working out” was what we were doing on June 14.

I agree that we should address this issue in an open public meeting. I also think we can talk about helpful future policies in an open public meeting and I hope all parties can come to the table to establish clear communication moving forward. Sunshine will surely help us see more clearly.

The rumor that I requested disciplinary action is not true. I was in Peru on a family vacation from the afternoon of June 14-July 1, completely disengaged from county business. It was not until I got back that I found out the SJPT and the Land Bank Commission had very different information than we did regarding the proposed easement. At that point, the land bank director asked to speak with me directly, but I think an open public meeting with the full council and hopefully, the land bank commission and the preservation trust is the more appropriate next step. Before I got back, one had been scheduled for July 19.

To critics who say a housing project should have been proposed to the land bank commission if it was desired, that might have made sense if there was a project to be proposed. I was interested in preserving the possibility of wider public uses for the part of the land that is not the feeder bluff or the fantastic shoreline and near shore habitat we now have the opportunity to preserve and enhance. The desire for mixed use of public land, including use for worker housing, is a sentiment that has been widely expressed in the community. Speaking for myself, I was never working from desire to “force” anything, just to do each piece of county business in a way that creates the maximum number of possibilities to meet community needs, whatever they may be. I look forward to the good things public ownership of this land will bring to our ecosystem and the people of our county.