Council got a lesson with SMP

Without clear direction and regular monitoring, well-intentioned members of boards or commissions can sometimes stray into areas they were never intended to go. When that happens, things get messy.

The City of Olympia Planning Commission’s work on the Shoreline Management Program (SMP) is a prime example. After years of meetings, disagreements and controversy over replacing members, the commission turned in a plan that most certainly will require major revisions to win approval from the Department of Ecology.

The lack of control over the SMP process inspired the City Council to write a formal charter for the update to its nearly 20-year-old comprehensive plan. The charter outlines a scope and timeframe for the commission’s public process and deliberations.

The council also specified, in writing, the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved in the comprehensive plan update – the council, its Land Use and Environment Committee, the commission and the commission’s leadership.

Councilman Steve Langer, chair of the council’s Land Use and Environment Committee, will act as a direct liaison with the commission, and the mayor has made himself available for clarification of the charter.

The charter clearly states that the commission will focus on policy instead of a line-by-line review of the plan. This should help it stay on track. If it cannot, the council’s commitment to have direct communication will provide regular opportunities to check on the commission’s work.

By putting tighter reins on the comp plan process, controversies and challenges should rise to council’s attention more quickly, thus avoiding the SMP quagmire, and producing a draft that will more closely resemble the final plan. The idea is to build changes into the comprehensive plan update with agreement among the parties.

By setting clear goals, defining responsibilities and creating a mechanism for adjustments, the council is showing it learned lessons from the SMP process.