The other 1 percenters

I took it as a bad sign Wednesday when I arrived at commissioner board time and Marty Snell, director of the Department of Community Development, was at the white board.

Uh-oh, time for a lesson.

Snell was there to talk about urban livestock, which commissioners have been discussing recently in advance of a public hearing. Snell was clearly frustrated with all the vague talk about “grandfathering” and wanted to clearly establish who can be grandfathered in without worrying about being asked to file a management plan.

“Urban livestock,” if you’ve never thought about it before, refers to livestock within the urban growth boundary. “Rural livestock” refers to everything outside the boundary.

In Clark County, the rule is that since the urban growth boundary comes to you, you can keep livestock. And if people who move into the new subdivision raise a big stink about your cows, well, the farm was there first.

And don’t ask me how people love to complain about livestock. Just consider that the typically low-key Snell, on Tuesday, got in a shouting match about it with another senior official.

Snell, pointing to the whiteboard, said anyone who owned livestock before Jan. 1, 2008 (the last time the urban area boundries moved), are grandfathered in.

“People can complain about you all day long and you don’t have to do squat,” Snell said.

Snell proposed that people whose urban livestock — which includes smaller animals such as chickens and rabbits — came after that date will, if a neighbor calls the county and complains, have to go to community mediation services with the complaining neighbor.

If the livestock owner refuses mediation, the county will make the owner file a management plan, which is a minimal document that says how you will mitigate noise, smell and other issues.

A second complaint? The county will have to pay someone from the conservation district to evaluate whether the livestock owner is in compliance with the management plan. A third complaint gets turned over to code enforcement.

Commissioner Steve Stuart wasn’t sure he wanted mediation required with one complaint. He said two neighbors should have to complain before the county gets involved because he, and every other public official, are all too aware of “crackpot” neighbors.

“Bring me a second neighbor,” Stuart said.

Commissioner Tom Mielke said the first neighbor will just go around to other neighbors until he can find someone else to complain.

“That’s fine,” Stuart said.

Senior policy advisor Axel Swanson, who ends up taking a lot of the calls from people complaining about their neighbors, liked the idea of sending them to community mediation.

“This is the 1 percent of the population who just terrorize staffers,” Swanson said. “We end up mediating these things.”

Snell agreed to Stuart’s suggestion. At a first complaint, the county will just tell the complainer to go talk to his neighbor and try to work things out. At a second complaint, the two complainers and the livestock owner will be sent to mediation.

A few months ago a neighbor sent commissioners a photograph of a filthy rabbit hutch that was right next to the property line. Snell said last he’d heard, “rabbit hutch guy,” actually went to his neighbor and they worked things out.

Snell was clearly tired of the subject.

“I had a heated debate about this yesterday (with another senior official) and was uncharacteristically gruff and unprofessional,” he admitted to his bosses.

Before coming to work for the county, Snell was the planning director in Camas, which, to reference my favorite TV show, “Parks and Recreation,” is Clark County’s Eagleton.

Did you have to put up with this in Camas? I asked.

“No I did not,” Snell said.

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