Wonkabout Washington: We’ve Got Their Attention

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The 2020 legislative session promises to be like nothing we’ve seen before due to the impacts of Covid-19. Legislators will be meeting entirely virtually, providing both new opportunities for constituents to engage on legislation and limitations on the number of bills that will be up for consideration. On top of all this, the legislature is facing down a multi-billion dollar budget hole.

This strange context is why Futurewise’s Washington Can’t Wait campaign is off to an early start. We know we have to pass updates to the Growth Management Act (GMA) in 2021 if we want to have an impact on the Central Puget Sound counties comprehensive planning process. Specifically, we’re looking to add a climate element to the GMA, update the housing element and incorporate environmental justice principles throughout the Act. But given the constraints on legislators listed above, we also know that we’re going to organize extra hard to keep their attention.

November 16th – 20th marked a Week of Action hosted by Futurewise to inspire people across the state to engage their legislators on these critical GMA updates. More than 400 land use activists from Benton to Whatcom counties sent emails, made calls and mailed postcards to their legislators asking them to take action next year to update the GMA to respond to the crises of climate change, housing affordability and environmental injustice. Some superstar volunteers hosted their own organizing parties from a poetry reading to a Zoom blast with local electeds. Others submitted letters to the editor and op-eds in local papers outlining the urgency of the campaign.

Here’s what people are saying:

“The next set of Comprehensive Plans are in 2023 for the City of Seattle, and 2024 for King County. 2023 and 2024 may sound like a long time from now, but the planning and community engagement will start soon so it’s critical the GMA updates are in place before they do. These plans will determine the next 10+ years of growth in our community, impacting the air that we breathe, the homes where we live, and the sidewalks where we walk.” – Serene Chen in the International Examiner

“The pandemic laid bare the risks of housing insecurity and demonstrated the increased risks of mortality from Covid-19 in areas subject to higher rates of pollution. July saw a peak in infection rates and then, in late August and early September, out-of-control wildfires across the state resulted in weeks of lethally unhealthy air and hundreds of thousands of acres of burned land. As the summer made clear, Washington cannot wait to mitigate climate change and increase community resilience. Nor can it wait to address decades of state policies negatively affecting communities of color, or resolve the growing crisis of housing insecurity.” – Jennifer Calkins in The Urbanist

“If there is anything that the wildfires this summer have taught us, it is that climate change has arrived at our doorstep in Washington and we are running out of time to take substantive action on an issue that is having disproportionate impacts on our communities. No matter your race, class, creed, or political party, we all have a stake in ensuring that Washington is a healthy, sustainable, and equitable place to live for this and all future generations.” – Warren Neth in The Columbian

What’s Up Next

In the next few weeks, we can expect to get bill numbers and final outlines for each of our priority bills. The legislature will decide on a new committee structure and we’ll get guidance on which committees will be hearing our bills. The first day of the legislative session will be January 13th; from then, our next big deadline will be February 7th, which is the deadline to pass bills out of committee. 

Washington Can’t Wait graphic envision a city under a reformed GMA. (Futurewise)

Our campaign team is taking a few days to prepare for this next phase of the campaign. If you’re not already signed up for updates, be sure to get on the list to stay in the loop about next steps. And save the date for Friday, December 11th, 1pm to 2pm for our next organizing meeting. We’ll give you all an update on the campaign and marching orders for what’s next. 

Many thanks to the hundreds of people across the state, including many Urbanist readers, for getting this campaign off to a strong start. We can’t wait to keep up the organizing with you.

The featured photo is by Markus Spiske via Unsplash.

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Futurewise works throughout Washington State to encourage healthy, equitable, and opportunity-rich communities and to protect our most valuable farmlands, forests and water resources through wise land use policies and practices. Founded to help support implementation of the first-in-the-nation Growth Management Act, we focus on directing equitable growth into our urbanized areas and preventing the conversion of wildlife habitat, open space, farmland, and working forests to subdivisions and development.