Community

Langley City Council agrees on way to ride herd on new policies

City Council says public will not be ignored in process

LANGLEY — A bitter aftertaste from the recent rewrite of Langley’s growth plan has led a Langley resident to continue questioning the city’s new policy on wrapping up changes to the plan.

Criticism over the process that’s been suggested to wrap up work on new development rules and other changes to the city code bubbled over at the Langley City Council meeting last week when some voiced concerns about the way city officials would track changes to Langley’s rules. Some claimed the process would limit public input.

Councilman Robert Gilman introduced a plan last month that outlined a new process to guide the ongoing work.

But Eric Levine, who had authored a controversial greenbelt proposal during the rewrite of the growth plan that was later set aside as inappropriate for the plan, told the city council that he feared citizens’ ideas that may be unpopular or controversial could fall by the wayside.

Gilman’s original plan suggested naming a policy progress coordinator to receive and keep track of new policy drafts.

Elected officials and staff would then prioritize changes and integrate them into the work needed to be done, before such changes would be further researched and crafted into draft code.

Gilman, who was criticized at the outset for his plan, has since revised the procedure.

At last week’s meeting, some in the audience feared that the new process would limit early public participation or would allow a single policy coordinator to spike suggestions based on his preferences.

Gilman said there will be now four policy coordinators — the mayor pro tem of the council, the chairman of the Planning Advisory Board, the city planner and the city clerk.

He also stressed that the process coordinators are not “gatekeepers of ideas” and won’t rank the suggestions that are submitted. They are simply collecting information for others, Gilman said.

“It’s not a decision-making group,” he said.

Levine was concerned that the process coordinators could stall a proposal like the one he had proposed earlier.

Mayor Paul Samuelson said he acknowledged that Levine had a negative experience during the process to rewrite the growth plan, but said the council was trying to set out clearly the process they would follow as city rules are refined.

Others had also feared that Gilman’s earlier plan would take away power from Langley’s Planning Advisory Board.

Gilman has since changed his proposal to include a provision that would send planning-related issues to the Planning Advisory Board for review.

Marianne Edain of Whidbey Environmental Action Network wanted to know how the city could guarantee that the public would get a chance to have its say during the process.

City planning director Larry Cort said the only way someone can be sure to have a specific suggestion considered for the city’s growth plan is to pay a fee for an amendment.

“The idea that somebody buys consideration is distasteful to me,” Edain said.

The council and city planner agreed with her, but Cort said that’s the closest thing to a guarantee.

Gilman said that under the new system, ideas had a better chance than ever to make it through to the city council.

“You have a better chance with that now, than with no system at all,” he said.

Samuelson said another way to make sure that city council members are aware of a particular proposal is to come to a city council meeting and speak up.

Councilwoman Rene Neff suggested that citizens could stay informed about progress is by checking the city’s Web site.

Code changes to support the new policy flow will come before the council on April 2.

Michaela Marx Wheatley can be reached at 221-5300 or mmarxwheatley@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

Community Events, April 2014

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