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Legislative leaders present GMA

Voices from the Legislative Branch

Representative Joe King
Representative Jennifer Belcher
Representative Mary Margaret Haugen
Representative Busse Nutley
Tom Campbell
Steve Lundin

Voices from the Executive Branch and CTED

Governor Booth Gardner
Representative Wayne Ehlers
Steve Hodes
Michael McCormick

Voices from the Growth Strategies Commission

Dick Ford
Nan Henriksen
Mary McCumber
Lucy Steers

Other Contributing Voices

David Bricklin
Charles Howard
Enid Layes
Ron Main
Joe Tovar
Dave Williams

Crafting the GMA: A Scrapbook of Photographs

"Toward a Growth Strategy for Washington State"
Executive Order: Establishing the Growth Strategies Commission
Laws of 1990, Ch. 17, Growth Management
Initiative 547
1990 Pledge Letter Signed by the "Four Corners"
Laws of 1991, Ch. 32, Growth Management-Revised Provisions
1995 Challenge to the GMA, Initiative 164, Referendum 48

CTED Brochure: "An Overview"
CTED Publication: "Creating Livable Communities"

GMA in the News: List of Articles
History Link: "Washington Legislature enacts Growth Management Act on April 1, 1990"
Washington Environmental Council: "Managing Growth Ten Years after GMA"

Growth Management Acts 1990, 1991


The following essays and oral history interviews presented in this Turning Points presentation were created and produced by the Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development (CTED) with the assistance of the Oral History Program. We are pleased to host this important project and make this valuable history available to the public. The Program has supplemented the CTED project with additional documentation of the critical legislation and Initiative 547 and other resources. All photographs are courtesy of CTED.

Timeline of Main Events:

• 1989 City and County Planning Directors of Washington create “Toward a Growth Strategy for Washington”

• 1989 Creation of the Growth Strategies Commission

• 1990 Legislature passes Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2929

• 1990 Growth Strategies Commission issues “A Growth Strategy for Washington State”

• 1990 Voters defeat Initiative 547

• 1991 Legislature passes Reengrossed Substitute House Bill 1025



The Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development (CTED) collaborated with the Secretary of State’s Oral History Program to provide the public with the narrative account of the history of the Growth Management Act (GMA). It is arguably one of the most important and wide-reaching pieces of legislation passed in this state in recent decades. And it is certainly the single most important legislation in terms of land use and planning for local governments.

The GMA is a two-part story that took place during the 1990 and 1991 legislative sessions. The 20 participants who contributed to crafting the bills tell the story from diverse perspectives in this oral history project. We wanted to know the impetus for the GMA, how it was orchestrated politically and passed into law despite some fervent opposition. We wanted to know its original intent, and how those who originally conceived it regard it today.

In honor of the 15-year anniversary of the GMA’s passage into law in Washington State, we interviewed many of the key people instrumental in its creation. We acknowledge there was a wider network of those involved in many aspects of its origination and that there are additional stories to be told, so this is not a definitive list. The 20 interviews do, however, broadly represent the numerous people who had a hand in researching information, participating in commissions, drafting the bills, negotiating the details, and fighting for its passage.

The process for choosing the participants for the GMA oral history project developed incrementally. Initially a number of people featured prominently in the early discussions of growth management and in the efforts to create the legislation were interviewed. These players led us to an array of others who significantly shaped the GMA. Not all who were requested to participate chose to do so, but we believe these interviews portray an accurate representation of the process, and the wide cross-section of views that contributed to the inception of the act.

Each interview was taped and transcribed. Participants were given the option to edit the transcribed interview. A few participants edited extensively and others not at all. Those interviewed provided their own brief biographies to provide context and to illustrate their roles in the GMA.

The GMA interviews illustrate the visionary agenda and complex negotiations that went into establishing Washington’s growth management law; one of the most significant pieces of legislation passed in the state in modern times. Washington is one of only 13 states in the nation to pass a growth management law to date. The GMA offers tools that local communities can use to achieve their vision for the future as they grow through use of public participation and deliberative planning. It is helping local governments, with assistance from state agencies, develop workable, livable communities that meet the needs of their citizens.


In 1990 the Legislature found that “uncoordinated and unplanned growth, together with a lack of common goals...pose a threat to the environment, sustainable economic development, and the health, safety, and high quality of life enjoyed by residents of this state. It is in the public interest that citizens, communities, local governments, and the private sector cooperate and coordinate with one another in comprehensive land use planning.” (RCW 36.70A.010)

This is the foundation for the Growth Management Act. It requires all cities and counties in the state to:

• Designate and protect wetlands, frequently flooded areas, and other critical areas.

• Designate agricultural lands, forestlands, and other natural resource lands.

• Require evidence of potable water before issuing building permits.

• Determine that new residential subdivisions have appropriate provisions for public services and facilities.

In addition, 29 counties and the 219 cities within them have extra responsibilities in planning for growth. (These jurisdictions are the fastest-growing counties and the cities within them, as well as some others that chose to plan under the act.) The 29 counties with more extensive requirements contain about 95 percent of the state’s population.

Here are the basic steps that local governments planning under the act are to follow:

• Agree on county-wide planning policies to guide regional issues.

• Plan for urban growth within the urban growth areas that are adopted by each county.

• Adopt comprehensive plans with elements that fit together. The elements include land use, transportation, capital facilities, utilities, housing, shorelines, and (for counties only) rural.

• Adopt development regulations that carry out comprehensive plans.

Comprehensive plans and development regulations are to be guided by 14 goals that are summarized below:

• Focus urban growth in urban areas.

• Reduce sprawl.

• Provide efficient transportation.

• Encourage affordable housing.

• Encourage sustainable economic development.

• Protect property rights.

• Process permits in a timely and fair manner.

• Maintain and enhance natural resource-based industries.

• Retain open space and habitat areas and develop recreation opportunities.

• Protect the environment.

• Encourage citizen participation and regional coordination.

• Ensure adequate public facilities and services.

• Preserve important historic resources.

• Manage shorelines wisely.

The comprehensive plans are to provide for 20 years’ of growth and development needs. They can be amended once a year. Local governments are to update their plans at least every seven years. These deadlines have been extended for certain smaller, slow-growing communities. Update deadlines have also been extended for critical areas ordinances for some local governments.

When plans and regulations are developed, they are submitted to the Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Development for review. However, the department doesn’t certify the plans or approve the regulations. Plans are valid upon adoption unless a growth management hearings board finds that they aren’t in compliance with the act.

Three hearings boards, one for each region of the state, resolve disputes about whether a local government is in compliance with the Growth Management Act. The board may send a plan or regulation back to the local government for changes, if necessary. In exceptional cases, where the plan or regulation would interfere significantly with the fulfillment of act goals, the board may invalidate all or part of a plan or regulation. A local government may amend its plan or regulation to come into compliance.

The department is charged with being the central coordinator for state government in carrying out the act. Through the Growth Management Services unit, it also provides technical and financial assistance to help local governments manage growth.

For a list of state publications on growth management, call 360-725-3000. General information is available on the Internet at


Web References:

Growth management hearings board information:

Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development Web site:

Land Use Study Commission Web site:

Washington State Department of Ecology’s Web site:

Other Sources for Washington Growth Management History:

“15th Anniversary Success Stories,” About Growth, Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, Fall 2005

A Growth Strategy for Washington State, Growth Strategies Commission, 1990

Achieving Growth Management Goals: Local Success Stories, Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, 2000

Annexations Under the Growth Management Act: Barriers and Potential Solutions, Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, 2004

Crescent Bar Report: Toward a Growth Strategy for Washington, Washington City Planning Directors Association, 1989

DeGroves, John and Deborah A. Miness. Planning and Growth Management in the States, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Chapter 8, 1992

Designation of Agricultural Lands in Chelan, King, Lewis, and Yakima Counties, Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, 2004

Final Report, Governor’s Task Force on Regulatory Reform, 1994

Final Report, Washington State Land Use Study Commission, 1998

Get Smart Washington, Futurewise, 2000

Growth Management: It’s Beginning To Take Shape, Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, 1997

“The Growth Management Revolution in Washington: Past, Present, and Future,” University of Puget Sound Law Review, Spring 1993.

Growth Management Services Annual Report: July 1, 2001 to June 30, 2002, Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, 2002.

Growth Management Services Annual Report: July 1, 2000 to June 30, 2001,Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, 2002.

“Guidance for Growth,” University of Puget Sound Law Review, Volume 16, Number 3, Spring 1993.

Helping Communities Plan for the Future: A Two-Year Progress Report from Growth Management Services, Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, 2005.

Hope, Shane. Washington State’s Growth Management Act, Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, 1997.

How Growth Management Helps Communities Achieve Their Goals: Reports From Local and State Leaders, Washington State Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, 2005.

Lundin, Steve. Washington State’s Growth Management Act, Government Operations Committee, Washington State House of Representatives, 1996.