On September 28, 1990, the leaders of both houses of the state Legislature, Democratic House Speaker Joe King and Republican Senate Majority Leader Jeannette Hayner (1919-2010), sign a letter proposed by King in which they promise to work to strengthen the Growth Management Act (GMA) that the Legislature enacted the previous spring. The well-publicized letter is also signed by the minority leaders of both chambers and becomes known as the "four corners" letter because it encompasses all four party caucuses. The legislative leadership urges the public to reject Initiative 547 -- a strong growth-management proposal promoted by environmentalists -- and allow the Legislature to continue addressing the issue of rapid and unplanned growth. The legislators' letter, along with similar commitments from Governor Booth Gardner (1936-2013), will help defeat I-547 in the November 1990 election, and the Legislature will deliver important new GMA provisions in 1991.
"Who's Planning That?"
The GMA was part of a growth management "revolution" triggered by voter frustration over the effects of rapidly increasing, uncoordinated development, especially in the central Puget Sound area. Traditionally, zoning and land-use regulation was the domain of local rather than state government, but as farmland and forest disappeared and surface water runoff and pollution threatened salmon streams, activists and politicians alike began to suggest that Washington emulate the handful of states that had adopted growth-management laws to coordinate land-use and transportation planning.
Joe King, a Democratic state Representative from Vancouver, Clark County, who became Speaker of the House in 1987, was one of the first legislative leaders to promote growth-management legislation. King frequently told the story of how he came to realize the need for growth management. Soon after becoming Speaker, while caught in a traffic jam in King County, he saw hundreds of new apartments being built along the already-jammed highway. King recounted:
"I was already stuck in traffic and you had five hundred new apartments. I said, 'I wonder who's planning that? Who's coordinating some of that?' And the answer was 'no one,' as I looked into it. So we worked on the legislation" ("Colleague's Commentary").
Although King was a leading proponent of the GMA, his Senate counterpart, Republican Jeannette Hayner of Walla Walla, played a key role in the Act's adoption. A staunch conservative who led a narrow but tightly disciplined Republican majority in the Senate that gave her the ability to block legislation advanced by the Democrats, Hayner was no fan of growth management. Indeed although King made growth management a high priority in the 1989 legislative session and led a bill through the House, that legislation died in the Senate.
Compromise and Initiative
However, Hayner faced a different political climate in the next session. In the fall 1989 elections, Snohomish County voters shocked the political establishment by ousting several incumbent county commissioners in favor of slow- or anti-growth challengers. With Puget Sound voters demanding action on growth, Hayner's political advisers warned her that the Republicans could lose one or more Senate seats in the region -- and their one-vote margin of control -- if the Legislature did not act on growth management. In addition, environmental activists, prompted by recent initiative successes, filed I-547, which would have imposed state-controlled growth management on all Washington counties and cities. In 1990, Hayner, who had had a good working relationship with King, helped craft compromise legislation that required a special session but eventually passed on April 1, 1990.
Though it created Washington's GMA, that compromise left many questions unanswered and left environmentalists unsatisfied. After internal debate, the environmental coalition decided to proceed with the campaign to pass I-547, which contained far more environmental protection than the Legislature's GMA. For much of the year, polls suggested I-547 would pass easily. However, even many political leaders who favored growth management, including King and Gardner, did not suppport the initiative, arguing that the complex issue of regulating growth was better dealt with in the legislative process. Hayner, along with other Republicans and business leaders, strongly opposed I-547.
Commitment to Legislate
It was Tom Campbell, a staff member for King, who suggested to the Speaker that he ask Hayner to sign a letter committing to support legislation strengthening the GMA if I-547 was defeated. King and Campbell recalled in oral history interviews that Hayner was reluctant but eventually agreed. Dated September 28, 1990, and also signed by the minority leaders of both chambers -- House Republican Clyde Ballard and Senate Democrat Larry Vognild -- the "four corners" letter was addressed to Richard D. Ford (1930-2013), chair of the Growth Strategies Commission appointed by Governor Gardner to develop growth management proposals.
The legislative leaders called the 1990 GMA "a first step," identified further growth issues, and stated:
"While we cannot guarantee the outcome of the legislative session, as leaders we believe the 1991 legislative session must deal with these issues and they should pass.
"The Growth Strategies Commission recommendations provide the basis for establishing a less intrusive and more accountable and efficient growth management system than the alternative provided by I-547."
Governor Gardner also promised to ensure that the Legislature acted on the GMA if I-547 was defeated. Observers credited these commitments with turning the tide, and I-547 lost in November 1990 by a wide margin. However, the failed initiative, and the letter that it prompted, did influence the GMA. On election night, I-547 supporters waved the "four corners" letter on TV and called on the leaders to honor their commitment. The Growth Strategies Commission's new GMA proposals that Governor Gardner presented to the 1991 legislative session, although not as protective as I-547, were stronger than expected. And when the "five corners" (the four legislative caucuses and the governor's office) reached agreement on the new GMA legislation, it was Jeannette Hayner who fended off challenges from the business community and ensured that the legislation passed as agreed on. According to King, she did so based on having signed the letter:
"It was a commitment. One thing you can say about Jeannette, her commitments were rock solid" ("Colleague's Commentary").