This is the time of year when we pray for peace and goodwill on earth, and resolve to do better in the future. We need some of that peace and goodwill to wash ashore on the rock right about now.
It’s been a tough year for peace and goodwill on Whidbey Island. We rock dwellers, usually so blissful and content, have become stranded at the intersection of Jets = Jobs and Jets = Deafness, hung up by the nexus of Tourists = Dollars and Tourists = Crowding, tangled in the Gordian knot of taxed too much versus not enough services.
Since everybody else has, I may as well join the verbal jousting. Here’s how I see it: We live on a small island, finite in space and resources. Nobody gets everything they want. Either we share and share alike, or, like petulant children, we scream and pout.
Point One: Navy jets are loud, and there are a more of them here than there used to be. Even if you don’t live by Outlying Field, you may feel your car shake and your fillings hurt as you drive by during a touch-and-go practice.
Point Two: Navy pilots are brave patriots. They put their lives on the line for all of us. Their mission is essential; their training is vital. But, for most, home is elsewhere. A few stick around. But most just touch-and-go. How much empathy can you have for people you fly over, but don’t talk to?
I hope the Navy commanders make a New Year’s resolution to spend more time thinking about the people who live near the OLF as the Navy’s neighbors and not just as unavoidable collateral damage.
Point Three: Those who object to jet noise sometimes bark as if the Navy is an evil, alien enemy that must be defeated. The Navy’s defenders, in response, bark right back that the objectors are whiners, elitists or traitors. Our military has been on the rock since the Spanish-American War. It has been prepared to ward off Spanish and Japanese invasions through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Go visit Fort Casey if you need a history lesson. Today, the Navy trains here to ward off threats from China, North Korea and God knows where else.
How do we, the “fly-over” people, support those efforts and yet help the Navy understand that our legitimate concerns are also a part of its mission?
There is a middle ground if we stop ignoring and insulting each other. Let’s make a New Year’s resolution to have our jet noise dialogue sound more like the civil and polite Whidbey we love and less like a cable talk show.
Point Four: The growth of tourism has also been disturbing the rock’s peace and goodwill. It’s one of the few private economic sectors that is actually growing. But summer traffic is becoming America-like. Finding a good parking spot in Langley or Coupeville is a fool’s errand. Some say we’re losing our way of life.
Others argue that we ought to follow the lead of communities like Walla Walla and build a new economy around our unique rural and agricultural heritage. Promote agri-tourism, foodie travel, reunions, conferences, weddings, etc. Will that turn us into Whidbeyland? It could, if we aren’t smart about it. Let’s make a New Year’s resolution to get serious about this.
Point Five: I shake my head with pity at our beleaguered Island County government. There is no joy in Coupeville. Anybody who has ever stood in line, sought a permit or tried to get a quick answer knows the problem. County government has been starved to the point of emaciation. Everybody who works there is swamped; everything is backed up.
A lot of this results from lower property tax revenues caused by the collapse of home prices and new construction during the Great Recession. But it’s been made worse by the escalation of loud anti-tax voices that insist we shouldn’t spend another dime on anything.
It’s just about impossible for the county to do real long-term planning. We end up getting only what we could afford yesterday. Those here before us formed a consensus that public investment helps build our communities. Let’s make a New Year’s resolution to get it back.
OK, I’ve made my points. Snark away, if you must. But please resist posting signs on my lawn.