These are mainly from a city perspective, and of course there are a lot more.
These are given to illustrate how defining and considering election issues is
our chief means of influencing the trajectory of our government. The problem
is that if we don't bother to try, or we punish and discourage those who do,
then the system is left to career along without countervailing force - a ship
with a locked rudder. So I hope infusing some ideas into the process will help
everyone think in terms of issues, instead of personalities.
1) The systematic exclusion of neighborhoods from the comprehensive planning
process - Before a crowd of about 600 citizens at Fairhaven Middle School,
former Mayor Mark Asmundson and then Planning Director Jorge Vega announced
that the City would no longer plan by neighborhoods. That was a direct violation
of Bellingham Municipal Code Title 20 (BMC 20.04.03(C)) and their oath to uphold
the law. Not one City official objected. The Asmundson administration's "Urban
Village" initiative was a direct threat to neighborhood stability. Without
adequate provision for public transit, public space and public facilities, the
so-called villages amounted to nothing more than potentially destructive infill
upzones. Neighbors rightly objected. Meanwhile, the critical issue remains:
Will neighborhoods be able to remain stable places for folks to put down roots
and build community, or will they be saddled with transitional forces that make
them a better place to conduct the business of real estate?
2) Piecemeal instead of comprehensive planning - After
giving up on neighborhoods - the legal basis for planning under our municipal
code (see above) - the Council laid low and showed no inclination to oppose
the piecemeal approach the City administration preferred for planning. This
resulted in a number of unsavory community results. The City concocted illegal
development regulations through a Memorandum of Agreement with the University
that allowed for development outside the comprehensive planning process. They
approved a disastrous roadway revision at 32nd and Old Fairhaven Parkway months
before the State's planning process for interchange improvements began. They
ignored long-standing commitments for openspace in the Cordata area. They delayed
amendments to the critical areas ordinance until projects, like Chuckanut Ridge,
could be vested under old rules. They doubled densities that threaten sensitive
environmental areas and salmon streams. They chose to allow various roadway
capacities to fail rather than have developers make improvements prior to construction.
The list, too long to print here, goes on and on, neighborhood by neighborhood.
3) The systematic abdication of the Council's authority
- During Mark Asmundson's mayoral tenure, the City Council incrementally approved
administrative initiatives abdicating their statutory authority to review and
condition projects. Some of this authority was transferred to the discretion
of the Planning Director and some was given to the new Hearing Examiner in the
new Municipal Court. Citizens would gradually discover that they no longer had
recourse to the council on controversial land use issues. Instead, they would
have to spend upwards of $750 to file a complaint and often post a bond to cover
any risk to the developer. They would be disappointed. They would then discover
that the Hearing Examiner always sides with the administration that appointed
4) The systematic usurpation of the Citizens' authority
- The City Charter is the instrument of, by and for the citizens through which
the terms for government representation is established. After years of malicious
interference with virtually every initiative or referendum qualified by petition
for the ballot, the City unilaterally imposed much stricter requirements on
direct legislation by citizens. Without fail, erstwhile citizen efforts have
been met with legal threats, actual lawsuits or sheer obstruction. The city
steadfastly continues to refuse a citizen-based charter review, instead taking
a piecemeal approach of allowing consideration only of amendments they support.
5) Repression of political expression - Since the inception
of our new Municipal Court under the last administration, at least 55 citizens
have been arrested and vigorously prosecuted for expressing their political
opinions. These were not even protests but simple gatherings advocating such
radical ideas as alternative transportation, clean air, public space or peace.
Typically, someone involved in these gatherings will step into the street -
exactly as one must in order to get into their car. They are then violently
arrested for "obstructing traffic". If they react to the standard pain compliance
techniques employed by the police, the charge of "resisting arrest" is added.
If they object to the police behavior, the charge of "disorderly conduct" is
added. If anyone else objects, they are arrested, too. The police may smash
your camera for taking pictures. Each of these arrests has been for behavior
which traditionally has been merely supervised. Not only would these prosecutions
likely have been dismissed in District Court, it costs at least twice as much
to administer cases in Municipal Court - not counting the millions already spent
on land acquisition and remodeling. Building the Municipal Court's new empire
has been costly, indeed.
6) Slavish compliance with the Port's plan to privatize
our waterfront - After intentionally letting G-P off the hook for their
local environmental disaster and committing millions of public dollars for a
pretend clean up, the Port and City have hatched a plan to spend millions more
of the public's dollars building infrastructure before selling the property
into the private sector. The entitlements envisioned would allow developers
to erect a wall of tall buildings between downtown and the waterfront, leaving
only a narrow fringe - and a couple areas too toxic to develop - for public
access. Spending millions to lose our best chance at a continuous public waterfront
is not our only cost. The Department of Ecology and the Port, both of which
were complicit in creating and supporting the disaster, are intent on leaving
most of the contaminated sediments in place. The chief toxin, mercury, is known
to actively degenerate brain neurons and is increasingly suspected of an ever
larger role in various cognitive dysfunction and chronic wasting illnesses -
many of which are inordinately prevalent in Whatcom County. The City administration
obstructed a citizen initiative that promoted a more thorough clean up. Finally,
the Port and City seem intent on achieving their predetermined goal of wrecking
the GP treatment lagoon to create a yacht basin for forty to sixty foot vessels.
This does not serve local area boating needs and will cost the public untold
millions more to replace the treatment capacity that will be needed to meet
future stormwater requirements or industrial treatment that can attract living-wage
jobs. Not one elected official will even discuss these hidden costs.
7) Inept and cowardly delay on protecting the Lake Whatcom
Watershed - Instead of responsibly serving their statutory obligations to
protect the public's health, safety and welfare, the City has pandered to a
few hundred owners of developable land in the watershed, doing too little, too
late, to prevent illegal service extensions, wasting huge amounts of money on
tracts of land that could be adequately regulated, standing idle while record
numbers of permits for development were approved, and actually increasing the
utility capacity for development. They have done nothing to prevent development,
instead dithering over land disturbance and fertilizer regulations, crowing
about the adoption of model provisions the state recommends for all watershed
- nothing designed to protect municipal water supplies. The City actively obstructed
an initiative that would have provided for the acquisition of lands for protection
of the watershed. Propaganda TV10 now even features a segment promoting "responsible"
motorboating on our drinking water reservoir.
8) A steady move toward phony public process - Many
factors combine to create this undemocratic trend: The chilling treatment of
dissent by the police, more difficult access to relevant documents, decisionmaking
done at afternoon meetings that most working folk cannot attend, an obtuse city
budget from which only two people in the finance department can discern actual
expenditures, a tendency to appoint "stakeholders" to advisory committees and
the increasing lack of any meaningful venue to object to legislative issues.
The cumulative result is that the administration has become adept at listening
ad infinitum to community concerns and then doing whatever they already had
planned. The Growth Forums were one example of this trend. Despite assurances
to the contrary, they mysteriously became the "widely disseminated" "public
participation process" required under Growth Management for Comprehensive plan
updates. In reality, there has been no GMA compliant PPP for our CP update.
The Waterfront Futures Group was a similar sham. Good people did good work to
make good recommendations, only to see them twisted or ignored. The daylighting
of Padden Creek is a stellar example. Said to be an important improvement for
fish, the reality is that Happy Valley cannot receive massive infill densities
until the channel capacity if increased to reduce the risk of flooding. Sadly,
the development will eventually destroy the existing fishery.
9) A sleepy Council and ambitious administration - Bellingham
has grown enormously in recent years and the issues have become more urgent
and complex, yet the Council - a lay board - still has no staff except a secretary
and no legal advice except the administration's. The Council is paid part-time,
insuring that only those with plenty of time on their hands or something to
gain from the process can afford to take a position and guide the city. Council
members routinely get hundreds of pages to read each week, full of administrative
recommendations buttressed by the advice of Department heads. It is small wonder
that they seem inept. They are. Please, please, please watch incumbents in action
on propaganda TV10 before you mark your ballot.
Bellingham utilizes an ethically questionable two-tiered wage scale. Supervisory
and exempt personnel are paid on a regional scale. The justification is that
this is required to attract and retain qualified personnel. Rank and file personnel
are paid on a local scale, since there are always plenty of applicants. Council
is paid a half-time wage on a local wage scale. Perhaps we have grown to a point
where the Council deserves either some staff that can help them and their constituents,
and/or a wage scale that will allow them to focus their attention on the job
10) Nonexistent intergovernmental affairs - Lake Whatcom
continues to be a problem at least in part because multiple jurisdictions at
cross purposes have no framework for unifying their priorities. The adequacy
of Emergency Services was threatened last year because jurisdictional squabbles
could not be resolved. The waterfront is also looming as a public interest disaster
because multiple jurisdictions are guarding their self-interests, whether it
is the State avoiding costs and liability, the Port wanting to stuff their coffers
with short term cash or the City unable to figure out what is important to the
community in the long term. The so-called Bellingham International Airport is
ideally situated to end up in the middle of our urbanizing area as Whatcom County
and the cities of Ferndale and Bellingham race to develop tax base to cover
the problems of development. That's not only a vicious cycle, but bad planning.
It is time for us to at least discuss some basis of regional government and
planning. Imagine the administrative cost savings we could accrue if, for instance,
fire and police were combined into a Public Safety service. Savings could leverage
additional service provision and all resident of Whatcom County could then enjoy
more equal protection. Likewise, protecting the water supply will yield immense
long term savings. Who will take responsibility when a jet crashes into some
new housing tract or the water supply needs to be replaced? It's totally unnecessary.
Regional government, at least in first baby steps, is an eventuality whose time
may have come. We need higher quality intergovernmental relations and better
public participation in those affairs is our best available means.