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AGO 1992 No. 28 - November 18, 1992
AGO Opinion Header Image
Ken Eikenberry | 1981-1992 | Attorney General of Washington

GROWTH MANAGEMENT ACT--COUNTIES--CITIES AND TOWNS--Applicability of the Growth Management Act to Cities Located in More Than One County

1.   RCW 36.70A.040 provides that if a county is required or chooses to adopt comprehensive land use plans and development regulations under the Growth Management Act, each city located within the county must also adopt comprehensive land use plans and development regulations under the Act.  This requirement applies to cities located partially within a county planning under the Act and partially within another county.

2.   A city that adopts comprehensive land use plans and development regulations because it is partially located in a planning county must adopt plans and regulations for the entire city, even that part of the city located within a county that is not planning under the Act.

                                                                 * * * * * * * * * *

                                                               November 18, 1992

The HonorableLinda A. Smith
State Senator, District 18
102 Institutions Building, MS 0418
Olympia, Washington  98504-0418       

                                                                                     Cite as:  AGO 1992 No. 28

Dear Senator Smith:

            By letter previously acknowledged, you have asked for our opinion on two questions relating to the applicability of the Growth Management Act, chapter 36.70A RCW.  We paraphrase your questions as follows:

            1.         Is a city required to adopt comprehensive land use plans and development regulations pursuant to RCW 36.70A.040, if the city is located partially within a county planning pursuant to RCW 36.70A.040 and partially within another county that is not planning pursuant to RCW 36.70A.040?

            2.         If the answer to Question 1 is yes, is the city required to adopt comprehensive land use plans and development regulations for the entire city, even that part of the city located within the county that is not planning pursuant to RCW 36.70A.040?

The answer to both questions is yes.

                                                                BACKGROUND

            The Growth Management Act (GMA), chapter 36.70A RCW, was enacted in 1990 to provide comprehensive and coordinated land use planning and regulations.  The legislative findings state:

                        The legislature finds that uncoordinated and unplanned growth, together with a lack of common goals expressing the public's interest in the conservation and the wise use of our lands, 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 andcoordinate with one another in comprehensive land use planning.  Further, the legislature finds that it is in the public interest that economic development programs be shared with communities experiencing insufficient economic growth.

RCW 36.70A.010 (emphasis added).

            Certain counties are required to adopt comprehensive land use plans and development regulations, and cities located within these counties are also required to adopt plans and regulations.  RCW 36.70A.040(1) provides in part:

                        Each county that has both a population of fifty thousand or more and has had its population increase by more than ten percent in the previous ten years,and the cities located within such county, and any other county regardless of its population that has had its population increase by more than twenty percent in the previous ten years, and the cities located within such county, shall adopt comprehensive land use plans and development regulations under this chapter.

(Emphasis added.)

            Even if a county is not required to plan under the GMA, it may choose to do so.  If a county makes this election, cities located within the county are required to adopt comprehensive plans and development regulations.  RCW 36.70A.040(2) provides:

                        The county legislative authority of any county that does not meet the requirements of subsection (1) of this section may adopt a resolution indicating its intention to have subsection (1) of this section apply to the county.  Each city, located in a county that chooses to plan under this subsection, shall adopt a comprehensive land use plan in accordance with this chapter.  Once such a resolution has been adopted, the county cannot remove itself from the requirements of this chapter.

(Emphasis added.)

            Thus, the Legislature has provided that certain counties are required or may choose to plan under the GMA.  If a county does plan under the GMA, cities located within the county must also plan.  Cities do not have the ability to opt out of the process once a county is engaged in the planning process.

            In addition, the GMA requires that the comprehensive plans of planning counties and cities be coordinated and consistent.  RCW 36.70A.100 provides:

                        The comprehensive plan of each county or city that is adopted pursuant to RCW 36.70A.040shall be coordinated with, and consistent with, the comprehensive plans adopted pursuant to RCW 36.70A.040 of other counties or cities with which the county or city has, in part, common borders or related regional issues.

(Emphasis added.)

            With this background in mind, we turn to your questions.

                                                                    ANALYSIS

            Question 1:

            Is a city required to adopt comprehensive land use plans and development regulations pursuant to RCW 36.70A.040, if the city is located partially within a county planning pursuant to RCW 36.70A.040 and partially within another county that is not planning pursuant to RCW 36.70A.040?

            Most of the specific references in chapter 36.70A RCW referring to cities in a locational sense do so by stating "city located within a county".[1]  Essentially, your inquiry is whether "within" means wholly inside, or whether it means simply having some part of the city within the county.  If one were to conclude that "within" means wholly inside, then cities which straddle county lines would not be subject to the comprehensive planning requirement of RCW 36.70A.040, even if both counties were subject to that planning requirement.  Conversely, if any part of a city is enough to be "within" the county, then cities which straddle county lines must by necessity deal with two counties rather than one for comprehensive planning purposes.[2]

            When we interpret a statute, we must adopt the interpretation most consistent with the Legislature's intent.  Stewart Carpet Serv., Inc. v. Contractors Bonding & Ins. Co., 105 Wn.2d 353, 358, 715 P.2d 115 (1986).  Legislative intent must be derived from the language of the act as a whole.  Id.  Furthermore, in cases of ambiguity, legislative amendments are considered to clarify, not change, the meaning of statutes. Overton v. Economic Assistance Auth., 96 Wn.2d 552, 557, 637 P.2d 652 (1981).

            In this case the policy of the statute is to foster comprehensive and coordinated planning and development regulations.  The legislative findings in RCW 36.70A.010 conclude that uncoordinated and unplanned growth pose a threat to the high quality of life in this state.  While counties are fundamental units in the development of growth management plans, the Legislature has recognized the regional nature of such plans.  See RCW 36.70A.210.  The regional considerations of a comprehensive plan are reflected by RCW 36.70A.100 which provides:

                        The comprehensive plan of each county or city that is adopted pursuant to RCW 36.70A.040shall be coordinated with, and consistent with, the comprehensive plans adopted pursuant to RCW 36.70A.040of other counties or cities with which the county or city has, in part, common borders or related regional issues.

(Emphasis added.)  A further indication that the comprehensive planning is to consider matters that are beyond the county's boundaries is reflected by RCW 36.70A.210(2) which provides:  "The legislative authority of a county that plans under RCW 36.70A.040 shall adopt a county-wide planning policy in cooperation with the cities located in whole or in part within the county".  (Emphasis added.)  Thus, the consideration for comprehensive planning purposes of that portion of a city which is partially within the county's boundaries is consistent with the requirements of the GMA.  Interpreting "within" to mean wholly inside is not consistent with those requirements.

            As we have earlier noted in footnote 2, the phrase "cities located within" appears frequently in the GMA.  For example, RCW 36.70A.110(2) requires a county designating urban growth areas to consult with "each city located within its boundaries".  Each such city is to be included in an urban growth area, and urban growth is not allowed outside of an urban growth area.  Id.  To interpret "within" to mean only "wholly within" in this context would lead to an unlikely, strained, and absurd result.  Such an interpretation would mean that incorporated areas inside the county where urban growth had already occurred would not necessarily be considered or designated as an urban growth area.

            One simply cannot ignore the fact that when part of a city is within a county, that portion of the city is an urban growth area under the GMA.  Interpreting "within" to include cities located partially within the planning county avoids this absurd result.  Statutes are to be interpreted to avoid unlikely, strained or absurd results.  Ski Acres, Inc. v. Kittitas Cy., 118 Wn.2d 852, 857, 827 P.2d 1000 (1992);see alsoState v. Warburton, 97 Wash. 242, 247, 166 P. 615 (1917) (avoiding absurd result by interpreting "within" as "into").

            RCW 36.70A.150 also speaks of cities within county borders.  It requires that a planning county work with "the cities within its borders to identify areas of shared need for public facilities" such as utility corridors, sewage treatment facilities, and schools.  The legislative scheme would make little sense if these requirements were limited to cities located wholly inside a county's borders.  A city located partially within a county's borders shares these needs for public facilities.  The GMA requirement that counties work with cities on these needs logically extends to cities located partially within the county's borders.  Any other interpretation is strained and not consistent with the legislative findings and goals of the GMA.  See RCW 36.70A.010, .020.

            Finally, and perhaps most conclusively, RCW 36.70A.210(2) requires that the legislative authority of a county that plans under RCW 36.70A.040 "adopt a county-wide planning policy in cooperation with the cities located in whole or in part within the county".  A county-wide planning policy is "a written policy statement or statements used solely for establishing a county-wide framework from which county and city comprehensive plans are developed and adopted pursuant to this chapter."  RCW 36.70A.210(1).  If "within" as used in RCW 36.70A.040 means wholly inside, RCW 36.70A.210 would be absurd.  It would require a county to consult with a city to develop a framework for a city comprehensive plan the city is not required to develop.  Again, interpretations that lead to strained or absurd results are to be avoided.  Ski Acres, 118 Wn.2d at 857.  Interpreting "within", as used in RCW 36.70A.040 to mean "wholly or partially within", avoids an absurd result here.[3]

            Considering the GMA as a whole, it appears that the Legislature repeatedly used "within" to mean "wholly or partially within".  We conclude that the Legislature intended that cities located partially within a planning county adopt comprehensive plans and development regulations pursuant to RCW 36.70A.040.  This conclusion is consistent with the legislative findings and goals of the GMA.  See RCW 36.70A.010, .020.

            Question 2:

            If the answer to Question 1 is yes, is the city required to adopt comprehensive land use plans and development regulations for the entire city, even that part of the city located within the county that is not planning pursuant to RCW 36.70A.040?

            We conclude that the city is required to plan for the entire city.

            RCW 36.70A.040 directs planning cities to adopt "comprehensive land use plans and development regulations".  The Legislature defined a "comprehensive plan" as "a generalized coordinated land use policy statement of the governing body of a county or city".  RCW 36.70A.030(4).  The Legislature's use of "comprehensive", "generalized", and "coordinated" leads us to conclude that the Legislature intended that these plans cover entire cities.  We have found nothing in the GMA that suggests an exception to the comprehensive nature of these plans for cities located partially within a planning county.

            Our conclusion is bolstered by the legislative findings accompanying the GMA.  The Legislature found that "uncoordinated and unplanned growth, together with a lack of common goals" pose a threat to the residents of this state.  RCW 36.70A.010.  Our conclusion that cities must adopt comprehensive plans that cover the entire city reduces this threat.

            We trust this opinion will be of assistance to you.

                                    Very truly yours,

                                    KENNETH O. EIKENBERRY
                                    Attorney General

                                    ERNEST L. RUSHING
                                    Assistant Attorney General

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    [1]There are three such references in RCW 36.70A.040(1).  There are also single references to the same in the following statutes:  RCW 36.70A.040(2), .040(4), 060(1), .100, .110(1), .110(2), .130(2), and .210(5).  RCW 36.70A.210(7) refers to "cities within the affected counties".

    [2]We do not believe that RCW 35.02.230, which only addresses which county is to provide county services within a city that straddles a county line, is applicable to this question.  We do not believe that growth management planning is a county "service" for the purposes of that statute.

    [3]While RCW 36.70A.210 was adopted in 1991 (Laws of 1991, 1st Sp. Sess., ch. 32, § 2, p. 2904), we view it as a clarifying amendment to the GMA.  Similar clarifying language was proposed for RCW 36.70A.040 but was not enacted.  Compare House Journal, 52nd Legislature (1991), at 1677 with RCW 36.70A.040.  We attach no significance to the proposed amendment or its rejection because it was coupled with additional amendatory language regarding matters other than whether a city was located within a county.

 

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