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Regional Leaders Start To Envision 2050

"20040812 11 Tacoma, WA" by David Wilson is licensed under CC by 2.0

Members of the Puget Sound Regional Council are starting work on a three-decade plan called Vision 2050, which will guide development across King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap counties.

For the council, made up of representatives from the four counties and dozens of cities, the challenge is getting everyone on the same page as they continue to face a tidal wave of population growth. 

"There's all of these really huge things that are facing our region," said Ryan Mello, a Tacoma City Council member who is playing a leading role in the Vision 2050 effort. "Doing this together, as a region, is a much better and more efficient strategy to success than asking 300 individual municipalities to do it on their own."

Part of his job is overcoming skepticism by some members.

Leaders in some less-populated corners of the region perceive the council's work as too Seattle-centric, he said, or feel that "folks in Seattle or this multi-county agency are trying to tell Eatonville what to do, or Fife what to do, or Puyallup what to do." 

"Dispelling that and being really clear about what Vision 2050 is and what it is not, and what the Puget Sound Regional Council's role is and what it is not, it is really important to reaffirm so we can put the conspiracy theories to bed and then roll up our sleeves," he said.

It's been a decade since the council put out its last long-range plan, called Vision 2040. Since then, the council said, the region has grown by 400,000 residents. 

Mello said the 2050 plan will address concerns that have grown over the past decade, including controlling housing costs and preserving diversity. 

Nancy Tosta, a Burien City Council member who is working on the 2050 plan, is among those calling for an evidence-based approach.

Tosta worked on an early long-range plan, Vision 2020, when she was a staffer at the Puget Sound Regional Council in the 1990's. She said the council should gather data on how effective that plan has been at shaping the region's development.

“Planners have an interesting mentality of ‘We plan it and it will happen,’" she said. "As an evaluator, I would step back and say, ‘I don’t know what percentage of the time it actually happens when you write a strategic plan.”

The council relies in part on the cooperation of counties and cities in meeting shared goals. But local leaders have incentives to play along: If they don't, they could be left out of competitions for federal funding, which the council has a role in distributing. 

The Puget Sound Regional Council's goals generally mirror those of the state's Growth Management Act: concentrating development in urban centers and preventing sprawl into more pristine areas.

Tosta said that has mostly panned out, but not totally. 

"I think we've seen different levels of success," she said. "Some of that is a result of where each of the jurisdictions started in the mid-90's or early 90's. The zoning that was in place in some counties was, let's say, smaller parcels in rural areas than in other counties. There was a fair amount of grandfathering that went on." 

Tosta said that is her impression, but data could clarify the picture as the council works on its next plan. Mello said that analysis is already underway. 

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.