LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Burien’s Shoreline Master Program Requires Citizen Involvement
Burienâ€™s Shoreline Master Program will not accomplish its goals without the active involvement of Burien residents.
The largest owner of shoreline property is the City of Burien, and city managers have chosen a hands-off approach to managing over 170 acres of shoreline parks.
One remedy for this would be a Park Ranger systemâ€”something that will never happen unless Burien citizens ask for it.
The first four goals of the Shoreline Master Program are:
- The Shoreline Master Program shall result in no net loss of shoreline ecological functions and processes.
- Regulation and management of Burienâ€™s shorelines should be guided by ongoing and comprehensive science.
- The City should be proactive in managing activities within the shoreline jurisdiction.
- Implement an adaptive management approach to respond to changes and to ensure continued effectiveness.
The requirement of â€œno net loss of shoreline ecological functions and processesâ€ is the same requirement we have always had since the Shoreline Management Act was passed 38 years ago. During those years, I have walked along the beach at least several thousand times, and I have witnessed gradual and continuing degradation. While I have not seen new bulkheads, and few if any new houses have been built near the shore in the last few decades, I have seen an increase in off-leash dogs, graffiti, vandalism, and trash. These types of shoreline degradation come from public parks with no enforcement of laws or park rules. The City has not been â€œproactive in managing activities within the shoreline jurisdiction.â€ They have been entirely inactive.
Every day, I witness people walking their dogs to the park, usually on a leash, and when they get to the sign that says â€œObey Leash and Scoop Laws,â€ thatâ€™s when they let their dogs off leash. They usually donâ€™t grab any blue bags from the dispenser. At Seattle beaches, it is a $500 fine to have your dog at the beach at all, so people drive to Burien to let their dogs run free, where they know the rules will never be enforced. I have three dogs, I live next to a Burien park, and I drive to Grandview or Westcrest to let my dogs run free, legally and safely. Since Burienâ€™s incorporation in 1993, Iâ€™ll bet that not one single citation or arrest has ever been made for off-leash dogs, vandalism, graffiti, littering, or fires in Burienâ€™s shoreline parks. If anyone from the City can provide documentation that proves me wrong, I would like to see it. I know that on my several thousand visits to the beach I have witnessed tens of thousands of violations of the rules, and never once have I seen any sort of enforcement officer asking anyone to change their ways. It is a small minority of park visitors that disregard the rules, but these same people come back day after day, inflicting damage on shorelines owned by all of us.
What would it cost for Burien to have a Park Ranger system? It might cost about $300,000 a year, or it might cost as little as $40,000 a year if the City hired a volunteer coordinator and implemented a volunteer Park Ranger system like the City of Kirkland has. With either a volunteer system or paid professionals, the emphasis could be on education and encouragement rather than strict enforcement and punishment. If the regular park abusers knew that someone was watching, and that enforcement was even a possibility, most of them would change their ways. Whatever the cost of a Park Ranger system, it has to be measured against the cost of having no enforcement at all. This daily abuse of our public spaces by a handful of miscreants costs all of us real money. The environmental degradation they cause is not some abstract concept. I canâ€™t give you an exact dollar amount of the damage because government has not amassed the â€œongoing and comprehensive scienceâ€ the Shoreline Management Act requires. I do know that Burien citizens have suffered millions of dollars of lost property value. Many studies have shown that property values decrease up to 15% in areas with graffiti and vandalism, such as is currently allowed in our parks. Burien homes and businesses are worth billions of dollars, collectively, and even a 1% loss of property value would total millions of dollars. Not having a Park Ranger costs all of us real money. If the citizens of Burien require their government to comply with the Shoreline Management Act and â€œbe proactive in managing activities within the shoreline jurisdiction,â€ then the environment and the citizens will benefit.
As a member of the ad hoc Shoreline Advisory Committee, I have attended about a dozen meetings over the last two years. It is my impression that the process of developing the Shoreline Master Program is merely a formality, a process the City is required to go through. No one in government or on the Shoreline Advisory Committee believes that the final document will actually result in â€œNo net lossâ€ as required by law. All this document will do is to create a new set of rules that gather dust on a shelf somewhere, ignored like the old rules have been for decades. Only when the citizens of Burien take this seriously and demand environmental protection will real change happen on our beaches. Please attend one of the upcoming meetings and ask that the City begin to enforce environmental regulation, for the benefit of us all.
– Jim Branson
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