With the plywood snowmen now up around Coupeville and the plywood toy soldiers now up on Pioneer Way in Oak Harbor, it must be time for my occasionally annual Rock Dweller’s Christmas Wish List.
Consider this my modest attempt to meld our current disagreements, shortcomings, pleasures and accomplishments into a road map to where we ought to be going in this special place where we live.
1. Peace and quiet. The dialogue over the Navy’s preliminary decision to quadruple touch-and-go training flights at Outlying Field Coupeville has become so toxic that to me it’s become louder than a Growler a few hundred feet over my head. Both sides need to pay better attention to what the other is saying and start dealing with reality – instead of sticking to their adamant, unbending “positions.” The Navy has its mission and it’s vitally important to all of us; but there are limits to what its civilian neighbors can tolerate as it fulfills that mission. Let’s make a Christmas wish for real understanding, compromise – and neighborliness.
2. Change. The housing situation on our beloved Rock has reached a crisis stage. It’s not that there aren’t enough houses available – so long as you can afford the average price tag of more than $300,000, or often much more. The crisis is the shortage of affordable housing for working people making an average income. Try to find a decent apartment on Whidbey for under $1,500 a month. Yet it seems our planners and politicians are focused on building more single-family houses, not apartments and other multi-family units. Here’s a Christmas wish that our leaders will stop salivating over the potential for more property tax revenue from new houses and instead focus on making it easier to build the kind of multi-family housing units that are urgently needed here.
3. Unchange. The population of Island County is now almost 84,000. That’s up about 6 percent in the last five years. Consider this: we are Washington’s second-smallest county in geographic size (517 square miles) but we rank 15th in population among all counties – and we rank fifth in population density. That density is undoubtedly due to our small land space combined with the concentrated populations of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and Oak Harbor, our biggest town by far. We are facing increasing pressure to allow more development, perhaps even to change our longstanding requirement that new homes need five acres to be built outside incorporated areas. The five-acre rule is what has largely preserved our rural character, forests, trails, barns and scenic vistas. Let’s make a Christmas wish that we’ll find the will and means to keep our Rock the way we love it.
4. Warmth. As I awoke the other morning to heavy frost and a temperature below 28 degrees, I flipped on the furnace and enjoyed the heat. Then I checked an email and found an urgent request for volunteers at The Haven, the overnight homeless shelter in Oak Harbor, and a message from Ryan’s House for Youth seeking contributions to help teenagers and young adults on our island who have no place to sleep. I am proud to be living in a place where organizations like the Whidbey Homeless Coalition, Ryan’s House, Spin Café and the food banks do so much to help those with no place to turn. Here’s a Christmas wish that this good work continues and is rewarded with strong support from all of us.
5. Chill. Is there a more beautiful sight than almost any spot on Whidbey Island on a clear, crisp winter morning? Sky so blue your eyes almost burn; mountains in the distance blanketed in blinding white snow; trees green enough to seem almost surreal; frigid waters still filled with seals and seagulls in their endless, year-round search for food. Let’s make a Christmas wish that our skies, mountains and trees – and all those who live because of them continue to be healthy.
6. Feast. Our Rock grows a lot of great food – for both humans and animals. One of the joys of living here is eating local, hearing where every element of a restaurant meal comes from. Greens, eggs, meat, dairy, wine, whiskey, cider. We are able to eat and drink things produced within 50 miles of our homes; what a privilege not to depend on trucks burning fossil fuel to bring everything to us from thousands of miles away. And what pleasure to watch “local grown” really accelerating on Whidbey. Here’s a Christmas wish that all our farmers, livestock growers, wineries, distilleries and cideries have sun, clean water and an abundant harvest in the coming year.
• Harry Anderson is a retired journalist for the Los Angeles Times who currently lives on Central Whidbey.