Cities advising Counties?

by: Posted on: October 08, 2012

Editor’s Note: Cynthia Pruitt is the Coordinator of Snohomish County Tomorrow. Read on to learn about the power dynamics at play between cities and counties in Washington State.

What is Snohomish County Tomorrow (SCT) and how did it start?

Snohomish County Tomorrow (SCT) is an association of 19 cities and towns in Snohomish County, Snohomish County government and the Tulalip Tribes. It serves as a forum to develop and recommend growth management policies to the County Council. SCT fulfills the Growth Management Act requirement that each county, planning under GMA, work in cooperation and collaboration with its cities, towns and federally recognized Indian tribes. SCT is not a legal entity.

SCT provides city/county growth management discussions at five different levels [committees]. These range from the elected officials (Steering Committee, Executive Committee) to staff (City/County Managers and Administrators Group, Planning Advisory Committee and Infrastructure Coordinating Committee) to citizens (Community Advisory Board).”

Snohomish County Tomorrow (SCT) began in March 1989 as a voluntary association of cities, towns, the county and the Tulalip Tribes. Its genesis was a meeting held in the City of Snohomish. Organized by Snohomish County and sponsored by the City, the meeting called attention to the new wave of growth that was causing concern among elected officials and their constituents. This meeting signaled recognition by city and county officials that growth-related impacts on road systems, public services, and resource lands were too far-reaching to be managed on a single jurisdictional level. Acknowledgment of this problem came prior to passage of the Growth Management Act (GMA). At the time, trust between governments was low and no forum existed to foster communication and coordination between the elected leaders in the county. While no vote was taken, the consensus of the group at this first meeting was to create the interjurisdictional forum called Snohomish County Tomorrow.

The first SCT General Assembly meeting (all elected officials from Snohomish County, its cities, towns and the Tulalip Tribes) was held in October 1989. One of the first actions taken was to appoint an ad hoc committee to propose an organizational structure and operating guidelines for the newly created association.

Both the resulting structure and guidelines reflected the outcome of the early discussions and the decision by elected officials to form a group somewhere between a formally chartered entity and a loose association with decision-making at the Steering Committee to be by consensus and restricted to elected officials. Officers were chosen to reflect a balance between the city and the county, as well as between large city and small city representation.

By October 1990, the Steering Committee had reached consensus on a number of goal statements set out in a document entitled “Snohomish County Tomorrow Goals.”  These goals were adopted by the SCT Assembly and represented the regional vision and framework for growth management for the county, cities, towns and Tulalip Tribes.

In July 1991, and in response to the latest round of amendments to the Growth Management Act (GMA), Snohomish County Tomorrow’s goals became the basis for establishing countywide policies required by RCW 36.70A.210 (Countywide Planning Policies). The county and the cities represented on the Steering Committee adopted the Snohomish County Tomorrow process as the legitimate method to fulfill the requirements of the Growth Management Act and, in particular, those set forth in state statutes. GMA called for the creation of a “countywide planning policy” to be used solely for establishing a countywide framework from which county and city comprehensive plans are developed and adopted.  Finally, on Dec. 9, 1992, the Steering Committee acted by consensus to approve the Countywide Planning Policies and recommended that they be reviewed by each jurisdiction prior to their final adoption by the Snohomish County Council. Twenty years later, these are still the basis for countywide planning.

Currently, Snohomish County Tomorrow provides an indispensable forum for discussion. All changes, recommendations, and additions to the Countywide Planning Policies are the responsibility of SCT. All amendments to the CPPs move through the SCT process. The SCT technical staff committees actively use the Snohomish County Tomorrow process to reach agreement on population and employment allocations to cities and unincorporated areas. These allocations become the basis for land-use plans. SCT also coordinates countywide transportation planning, makes recommendations to the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) on federal transportation funding allocations, and is an arbiter in the siting of essential public facilities.

What issues does SCT focus its energy on? How is SCT’s approach to dealing with these issues unique and effective? (Please include an example here).

SCT’s primary function is to recommend amendments and updates to the Countywide Planning Policies (CPPs). SCT also recommends transportation projects to the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) for federal funding.

SCT’s consensus-based approach is unique. SCT recently won an award under the Governor’s “Smart Communities” program; the judges felt that the collaborative approach between jurisdictions merited special notice. As our application for the Governor’s Award stated:

“In Snohomish County, GMA’s requirement that counties coordinate with cities (RCW 36.70A.020 (11)) is accomplished through the five committees of ‘Snohomish County Tomorrow.’ In the case of the update to Snohomish County’s Countywide Planning Policies (CPPs), County staff worked with a subcommittee of the Planning Advisory Committee (PAC) for 18 months to create a proposal for the CPP updates. [1] Once a draft document was completed, the full PAC reviewed and edited the CPPs, candidly raising their concerns and at the same time working with other jurisdictions at the opposite end of an issue to craft language that fairly and feasibly met the interests of all.”

Does the Snohomish County Council have any legal obligation to listen to or implement SCT’s suggestions?

The Growth Management Act (RCW 30.76.A) clearly grants authority to counties to draft and adopt CPPs. SCT’s role is, by design, to make recommendations only.

How do you see SCT growing in the future? Will its influence broaden to other issues?

As time permits, SCT committees have held informal discussions on other growth-related issues in addition to the CPPs. Those forums have resulted in new efforts. For example, while they were reviewing the Housing CPPs in 2009, the PAC identified the need for a different approach to affordable housing. As our Governor’s Award application stated:

“[SCT members collaborated in] the discussions on housing and futility of reliance upon affordable-housing targets that helped lead to the interjurisdictional effort [to form a multi-jurisdictional housing organization implementing CPP HO-5].” (Paul Krauss, City of Lynnwood)

As SCT continues to provide a forum for jurisdictions to discuss growth issues similar projects may emerge.

What is SCT’s internal governing process? Are decisions unanimous?

The Steering Committee’s Operating Guidelines call for actions to normally be by consensus. The other SCT committees usually strive for consensus, also.

Do you see SCT’s structure of regional collaboration as a potential new model for political and governmental structures?

There are many models already available for organizations to use if they want to increase their level of collaboration internally and externally. SCT’s mode of operating could certainly be included for consideration along with those other models if a jurisdiction wished.



[1] The PAC is composed of the Planning Director or lead planner from every SCT member jurisdiction.




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