Former Park Directors Against Park District Proposal

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Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 1:36 pm  //  Guest writer

Guest writers Byron Elmendorf and Paul Leuthold provide this jointly written article.  


During our over  60 years working for City parks departments with over 30 years as the Bellingham Parks and Recreation Director, we have always been supportive of funding proposals for improving parks systems.  However, the formation of Chuckanut Community Forest Park District is not a funding option we can support.

Paying off a political loan and promise is not the purpose for establishing a new independent junior taxing district such as the Park District.  This forms another layer of government within Bellingham’s Southside neighborhoods.  We already have citizen input with a City Parks Board and separate Greenway Committee.  Unfortunately they were not involved with the property purchase and loan, or meaningfully consulted on the Park District proposal. The Chuckanut property which the City has acquired at over $8.2 million is the most expensive park land ever purchased.  Yes, it is a special piece of property and the neighbors have fought for many years against any proposed housing development.  The fact that the City did not have the funds to fully fund the acquisition has resulted in the outstanding $3.2 million 5 year loan from the Greenway Endowment Fund which the community tax payers had already supported.  

We think this proposal sets poor public policy in developing special interest districts within our City.  The location of community parks based upon the ability of a neighborhood to pay versus need is not a good community goal.  The selected Southside precincts have always been supportive of past Park funding proposals.  This issue might have a negative impact on future City wide park proposals or waterfront development support. 

These are good folks supporting the Park District and they are trying to fix a complicated future problem.  They have a concern that the City might sell a portion of this property for future community housing needs to pay the debt.  Yet, City regulations would still protect the sensitive areas within the development.  An issue against development in their backyard shouldn’t be a reason for such a funding mechanism like this Municipal Park District.  

We encourage you to support your existing community-wide park system, not establish a new layer of government, by voting NO on the formation of the Chuckanut Park District.

Dan Pike  //  Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 2:16 pm

Since before the City purchased Chuckanut Ridge, many have expressed the belief that the City should not use either additional parks funds, nor place a reliance on future Greeways levies as means with which to pay off the $3.2 million balance of the loan the Council provided, from the Greenways Endowment Fund.  (To be clear, the Greenways Fund is being repaid at the same interest rate as the City would have garnered through its normal approach of investment of the funds in a mix of bonds and other investment instruments.) Another approach recently advocated is the sale of transferred development rights from the site.  Unfortunately, in nearly two decades of attempting to establish a workable TDR program, no working program has ever been established—but now it will magically happen within the next three or four years.

The only workable approaches these folks have been open to are repayment through outside funding—i.e., from non-City sources—or selling off part of the property.  Fundraising for any public purpose is extremely difficult in the current economic environment, and is likely to remain so for some time to come.  The Campaign for the Arts to help with the new museum did not meet original expectations, and is now plagued by unfulfilled pledges, years later.  Another ‘fundraising’ approach is using the Metropolitan Parks District creation to tax ourselves—those of us living in the vicinity of Chuckanut Ridge—to fund the shortfall.  Absent that, the only solution left is selling off enough of the property to pay off the balance.

I have no doubt the latter approach would work.  One developer even approached me when I was in the process of negotiating the purchase from Washington Federal, to see if I would sell him approximately the part mentioned; I declined.  I am not a big fan of backdoor deals, and I also believe this is an integral piece of the overall parcel.

The choice at this point seems pretty clear:  if you think all the property should be preserved, vote yes for the MPD.  If you are comfortable with a significant part of it being sold, and you are against ensuring preservation of the entirety of the property, vote no.

Frank James  //  Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 4:08 pm

It is not surprising that people with centralized power and control would not want to share that power or think that community control or participation democratically is not a good idea.

But why would Bellingham be so special that it could not tolerate a Park District, even one of very limited scope, when Park Districts work very, very well in 80 other places in our state?

It would seem better to listen too the community rather than tell the community what it should want.

The other issue is that development on this parcel will mean significant traffic congestion and a significant increase in the taxes everyone pays for the infra structure. I hesitate to mention the study by Eben Foder that one of our former parks directors responded to very unprofessionally, but what it showed was that the cost of this type of development to all the rest of us is very substantial, likely more than the cost of paying for the land in this case.

This Park District makes sense and the more those that live outside the district tell us that we can not have it the more community members that do will be committed to completion of this long worked toward goal.

Why not listen to the very community that has been very, very supportive of parks and Greenways for years rather than telling them what they need and what is good for them?

Vote in favor of your Park District to preserve the integrity of the Chuckanut Community Forest.

Donald Duck  //  Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 6:43 pm

Yes had the former parks directors been consulted, we could now be enjoying the dismal impacts of the proposed Fairhaven Highlands 739 unit subdivision.

John Watts  //  Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 8:03 pm

I agree with the 2 former Parks Directors, both whom served us very well. Mr James is incorrect; a former public works director responded to the deliberately misleading information providing by Mr Fodor, who was hired by CR advocates to confirm their pre-ordained rhetoric.
The CR acquisition was definitely a ‘political’ decision, aided and abetted by former Mayor Pike and a cabal of Councilmembers who allowed themselves to be pressured and even bullied by CR supporters, some of whom appear often as commenters on this forum.
There is no real problem with allowing the development of about 25 acres of this property, but CR proponents who consider any developer in pejorative terms prefer to continue to hyperventilate and grossly exaggerate their arguments. While the First Amendment does allow wide latitude for free speech, CR advocates have been guilty of grossly misrepresenting their wishes into emotional appeals designed for those ignorant and incurious enough to believe.
I thoroughly detest that type of political tactic and find it difficult to give full credence to those who engage in it. But, it does happen periodically, mostly masquerading as populism and narrow, selfish self-interest. That kind of activity simply degrades our community by diminishing the credibility of elected officials, by bending their judgement to the will of those favoring silly issues of small importance to the detriment of anything more socially important.
I posted a comment in an earlier NW Citizen article called ‘Wise Owl’ on this subject.
It is certainly legal to have a special parks district to pay for overspending on the part of a former Mayor and Council, but there are much more worthy issues and needs that demand our attention and priority.

Wendy Harris  //  Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 8:28 pm

I do not think comparisons to other parks projects reflects well on the City.

Chuckanut Ridge may be the most expensive land every purchased, but it is not the most expensive Parks project. The Cornwall overwater walkway is over $8 million dollars and this Parks Department project creates a concrete pedestrian bridge over tidelands leased from DNR. It duplicates existing transportion routes and is environmentally harmful. It was done in violation of Lummi Treaty rights, and the City has still not obtained tribal concurrence after 2.5 years of negotiation. The Parks Department is raiding Greenway funds for this, and also hired a lobbyist to obtain ear-marked federal funds. And there is more.  The project is peppered with public process violations. 

In contrast, the Chuckanut park protects an important natural resource, purchases actual land, and is being well vetted through the public process. If the park district is approved, it will be pursuant to a democratic process. 

Dudley Evenson  //  Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 10:41 pm

It is interesting to read Brian’s comments. In the 23 years we have been working to save this precious urban forest, Brian never was in favor of purchasing this forest.  I agree with this statement “These are good folks supporting the Park District and they are trying to fix a complicated future problem.  They have a concern that the City might sell a portion of this property for future community housing needs to pay the debt.”  Yes they do which is why this Park District is being proposed.

He also said something else that concerns me and many others “City regulations would still protect the sensitive areas within the development.” In other words, there would be some serious development along Chuckanut Drive that would impinge on the integrity of the property.

He said “An issue against development in their backyard shouldn’t be a reason for such a funding mechanism like this Municipal Park District.”  This is not a Nimby issue. This forest next to the Interurban Trail is used by people from all over Bellingham and is an attraction for out of town visitors to our area. (which helps keep that old economy humming).

Alex McLean  //  Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 11:43 pm

There already is “serious development” spangling Chuckanut Drive—there is a 40+ acre bollard of massive houses directly across the street from this property. I’m no fan of poorly-planned development or even excessively large houses that outstrip our human needs. That said, however, there is a compelling argument that SOME development on this property would not be the environmental apocalypse that proponents have stated it would be. Is there anything wrong with allowing a few more people, perhaps even a few hundred, to live close to Fairhaven’s amenities, close to the abundant trails and parks, and close to these other, blessedly located, houses?

I’ve been beating the drum of economic justice on this proposal for the past week—months if you include my first e-mails to Dan Remsen—and I’ve heard no response for why people like me, living in the shadows of I-5 and encroaching apartment towers, should have to pay for this minor and unequivocally constrained and environmentally ham-strung sliver of land.

Let’s start hearing a debate about infill and presume that at least ONE of these proponents understands that people are still having babies and, more than ever, people want to move to and live in urban areas and not in far-flung suburbs.

Lastly, perhaps a TDR would not work—I am happy to defer to mayor Pike’s analysis on this—but I am guessing that if proponents put a tenth as much effort toward allowing a TDR to happen as they have invested in thwarting Chuckanut Ridge’s absurdly high zoning overlay ... well, something would happen. From the era of Responsible Development Now! to this sad juncture, the one thing proponents have proven is that they can lobby hard and effectively to get their way.

Unfortunately, while I have PRECISELY ZERO gripes with protecting this forest, the proponent’s way is going to plunder my wallet for their special interest cause and, very likely, sour any future chances for Happy Valley to see an expansion of its current trail and parks allotments. Were it my money to fritter away, and if $800-$1,200 didn’t sound like a lot of money to me, I would do what I have done in the past; give it to a proper conservation organization and know that they will do nothing with it other than fixate on ecosystem protection for maximum preservation impact and minimum financial expense. Save your trees with your dimes. Quit doing what realtors try to do to me when, ever ambitiously, they claim my freeway-bound hovel is somehow magically “in Fairhaven.”

Although the forest is decent enough, this debate isn’t about an ecosystem or about providing significant additional trails or parks to the already opulently green maps of this area. This is, no matter what, an urban area with a former state highway ripping through it. Proponents need to let some of the air out of their “ecosystem” rhetoric and answer the other questions of urban infill and economic justice that this Zero Development rhapsody of theirs implies.

Wendy Harris  //  Fri, Feb 01, 2013, 1:58 am

Alex, I suggest you let the air out of your “economic justice” rhetoric. It is really offensive when a concept like economic justice is distorted to justify homes for the affluent and profits for developers.  I sincerely doubt that low income, handicapped or marginalized people will be moving into new homes at Chuckanut Ridge. Under federal law, economic justice considerations specifically apply to tribes. Economic justice is better served by protecting biodiversity, water quality and ecosystem functions necessary for native fish species and Lummi treaty rights in Bellingham Bay.

Alex McLean  //  Fri, Feb 01, 2013, 4:49 am

You are right, Wendy, it is offensive. Happy Valley is bailing out the wealthiest neighborhoods in the county for their pet project. I find it offensive that they want me to pay for their development firewall—your sacred forest—while my neighborhood, and its salmon streams, gets hammered by ever-increasing housing. I don’t care two boiled farts what Federal Law says “economic injustice” is. If it tickles you to parse it through Harvard terminology, go ahead. I’m calling it street-by-street and, since I have two eyes, I know what it looks like when I see it.

And you know very well that none of Chuckanut Ridge’s potential development has to look like the mansions across the street. City Council, with heavy pressure from the likes of you and me, could zone it LEED or co-housing or Infill Toolkit or ... what the hell, let’s shoot for the moon and demand LBC.

You are smart enough to understand a map and I’m suspecting that any casual glance at my neighborhood, especially here in the densest tracts of Happy Valley/I-5 corridor, looks radically different from theirs. I’m happy for wealthier people and aspire to be one, but I’m not going to get there by financing their pet unicorn while I live miles away from any prospect of benefiting from it.

As to your resentment over the Overwater Walkway (OWW!), implied by your effort to impugn me with racism for not knowing what “real” economic injustice is, I simply disagree with you there. I think the OWW would be really cool, with minimal impact compared to the millions of pounds of imported rip-rap that BNSF dumps along that shoreline, and it will be an extension of a proven asset to this community.

Except for a portion of the funding, it is largely out of Greenways hands: the OWW is part of the six-year TIP and Public Works is acting on it as a non-motorized element of their process. Honestly, I haven’t followed the details as closely as I should—it just seems really far away from getting built right now. But the central arguments that work on me are that Wharf Street may be vaporized as an on-street crossing (as part of the deal to get BNSF to move the tracks) and, in any case, building other routes of access to Cornwall Beach Park will be a bear: crossing the railroad, alone, is going to be a $multi-million goat-show. Trying to widen an elevated Wharf St. for sidewalks (again, it cannot have a street-level crossing) likewise will cost millions. People will therefore be expected to either drive into or backtrack along the upland trail—a long, long, way if Wharf goes away—to gain access to the meat of the park. Put in this context, your notion that it is a redundant trail only looks correct now, this minute, but will look like poor planning 20-30 years hence. Furthermore, the current waterfront plan is mulling some sort of high-speed bike lane adjacent to or above the moved tracks. (An “interim commuter bypass trail,” meanwhile, is proposed until the tracks get moved) and this smart transportation option will look really dumb going to a dead-end at a beach when it could be connected to Fairhaven or, jeepers, the densest neighborhood in Bellingham, Happy Valley. With 350,000 annual users on the existing walkway, I would not want to put a price on how valuable this route is to getting people out of their car seats and commuting into downtown or into Fairhaven. Dollar-wise, it is an expensive outlay for a trail. Still, I’m trying to ponder how many users per-dollar we will be buying for this $3.2 million phantom slice of Chuckanut Ridge that we are talking about?

Whatever the tangle is with the Lummis on the OWW, I have no doubt it can be worked out. You, and you alone, will be able to add millions to any settlement scenario by stirring up the waters as you have so successfully done so far. Beware, however, of depriving either the Lummis or this community of a mutual benefit in order to save such an environmentally compromised shoreline: it is not a pristine maritime wilderness due to that railroad, just like Chuckanut Ridge is a lot different than a forest that doesn’t have a roaring former State highway abutting it, and pumping up the costs for something the community wants seems like the same sort of tactics that, um, well ... I’ve heard that real-estate developers do that, as well.

If the inland side is not navigable for fisheries (it seems like it wouldn’t be, but I’ve heard claims to the contrary) then I’m guessing that neither of us are going to cry too hard about creating a de-facto marine preserve within that arc.

Steve Wilson  //  Fri, Feb 01, 2013, 9:18 am

  Well, I guess US Secretary of State William Seward ran up against the same kind of wall when he advocated the purchase of Alaskan territory from Russia in 1867.  Imagine the reasonable arguments presented at that time to avoid spending all that money.
  I also just finished reading The Big Burn and discovered how difficult it was to establish the US Forest Service in the early 1900’s.
  Yes, there are powerful forces working to prevent any and all land acquisition that precludes development.  It’s no surprise that we are seeing it around this initiative to create the Park District.
  There are well intentioned people opposing the creation of this district.  They have come forward advocating many creative alternatives to funding the purchase of this property.  My question to them is this…Will you work diligently and lead the effort to save this land from development if the District is not established?  If so, please state this in public, on this forum and others means of public communication.  I want your personal committment on record, especially Mr. Zaferatos, Mr. Servais and Mr. Geyer.  No wiggle room here guys…I’m asking for your promise to work for NO future development on Chuckanut Ridge for the next five years or until the debt is retired.
  I’ve committed the last eight years of my ‘spare’ time towards this goal.  I’m ready to hand off the baton if this District isn’t created now. 
  Thanks for your kind and immediate attention.

Nicholas Zaferatos  //  Fri, Feb 01, 2013, 8:57 pm

In response to your comment, Steve, where you specifically call out several previous contributors, including myself, let me start by paraphrasing a dangerous maxim, “If you’re not part of [your] solution, you’re part of the problem.”

I tend to refrain from publishing my opinions on blogs, as many authors that offer counter opinions quite often get verbally assaulted, and I hate feeling the need to rebut and further perpetuate antagonism. That’s not the intent of the publishers of open forums like NW Citizen who try to encourage collegial dialogue. It concerns me, Steve, especially in light of having known you for some 40 years and generally sharing a common persuasion on many community issues, that you now refer to me as a “Mr.” as in a “Mr. developer” kind of way,  just because my opinion doesn’t fall squarely in line with your “support without questions asked” position. (On a side note, in fact, I have been a developer, proudly devoting over 20 years in a public development management role in the service of helping Indian tribes move out of persistent poverty to achieve economic self sufficiency). To answer your very pointed challenge to me and others, no, I am not willing to assume responsibility or to devote my next 5 years, and I say this with no “wiggle room”, to working diligently on a financing solution should voters reject the measure, nor would I work to guarantee that no future development occurs on the CR property. Perhaps if I were an adjacent property owner, like you, my position might be far more emotionally charged and hardened.  I believe its squarely the duty of our elected officials to determine a ‘best’ solution on behalf of the broader public interest, and they have committed to this. So why do you ask that of us?

I have opined that exploring more equitable funding strategies that could achieve the common end for preserving this invaluable landscape in perpetuity is the right thing to do. Its really disheartening to be targeted by fellow Southsiders just because I endorse the exploration of alternative solutions.  I’m a big supporter of grass roots movements and of public service, and have devoted a fair share of my time over decades to public service – two plus terms on the planning commission, the board of adjustment, and several other appointed positions. And I have stood up plenty of times opposing what I considered to be “bad” development policies and projects, So please don’t so readily cast me as a pro developer of the “Woods” just because I don’t align with your proposed approach.

The Woods are saved, even though the proponent’s literature leads us to believe this vote is about saving the woods in peril from development. Let’s be a little more honest here. The land is in public ownership. The controversy is about best financing solutions. Don’t so quickly dismiss ideas like TDRs just because its not your preferred option. Yes, it’s a complicated approach, as Dan attests, and has some very tough political obstacles that need to be reconciled, and yes, it would take time and legal effort and money to set up an effective system of development rights exchange, and yes, it requires correcting the imbalance between ‘cheaper’ development choices in rural areas and more ‘expensive’ development choices in town. And let’s not fool ourselves, it would also likely have negative consequences such as raising the cost of housing which runs counter to our public policies encouraging affordable housing. But along with the potential pitfalls, it offers a far more reaching and equitable solution as we enter the new policy arena that emphasizes sustainable urban infill and smart growth – and, without meaning to beat a dead horse, we already purchased, at a premium cost to taxpayers, hundreds of development rights. If we don’t figure out a way to market those development rights through a system of exchanges, well, the taxpayers will have just bought a bunch of assets that will end up worthless. If TDR and PDR programs can work in so many other communities, why should they not work in a progressive community like Bellingham? It should be a city-only program, for in-city transfers, at least at the start.

Let’s not be too overly myopic here. I appreciate how much time you and other movers and shakers have invested in both the earlier oppositional movement to CR development, and in formulating and carrying out an ambitious funding plan. I understand your frustration when neighbors raise questions or suggest counter measures that might derail your preferred solution. And I honestly applaud you for so diligently helping to stop a development that should have never been permitted, as Tip aptly suggests, and bringing forth one solution that, if passed, would permanently settle this issue once and for all. Should the measure pass, I will have no qualms in contributing my share of taxes to repay the fund, because that’s the democratically right thing to do, even though I don’t use the property, nor do I use over 90% of the other great Greenways acquisitions projects. I continue to support Greenways because its programs have been widely supported by the entire community, and they are good for Bellingham. The Municipal Parks District taxing programs is one solution, but there are other solutions, too, that should not be prematurely taken off the table.

Christopher Grannis  //  Fri, Feb 01, 2013, 9:31 pm

The purpose of forming the Chuckanut Community Forest District is to repay the loan acquired to complete the purchase and secure the permanent protection of the park. The candidates for commissioners who want to preserve the forest make this very clear. They are committed to $.28 per thousand assessed valuation for only ten years.

Are community interests special interests? The Park District Proposal gives the community that has been trying for decades to preserve the hundred acre woods the opportunity to tax itself a small amount to do so. People choose to live in SW Bellingham to be close to natural areas and now they have the opportunity to finally secure the forest’s protection for less than many people spend on lattes.

Will City regulations protect the sensitive areas? The Fairhaven Highlands developer planned to remove all of the trees, all of the top soil, and blast the high parts of 60% of the property in order to put up huge multifamily buildings. The City said their regulations would protect the sensitive areas. Not many people fall for that argument.

Yes, good folks are trying to solve a problem that they were asked by the City Council to help solve. The choice is clear. Folks can vote to tax themselves to preserve this ecological treasure, or subsidize high density multifamily development that would severely compromise the Chuckanut Community Forest.

Please vote yes for the Chuckanut Community Forest District.

Delaine Clizbe  //  Fri, Feb 01, 2013, 9:41 pm

With all due respect Mr. Grannis, you paid signature gatherers from Ferndale to get this gem on the ballot.  That is not “community interest”  that is called a Political Action Committee that was put in place by the likes of “Responsible Development” and “ReSources” to ram this thing down our throats.  If you can’t be honest about that…...

Bill Geyer  //  Fri, Feb 01, 2013, 11:42 pm

The situation is not one of promising forever that no development will occur on the Chuckanut Woods site.  That precludes valuable community buildings that may be needed on this site in the future.  An all or nothing approach 60 years ago would have prevented facilities we enjoy today at our major parks – Fairhaven, Cornwall, and Bloedel-Donovan.  We cannot close off opportunities for future generations. 

I also believe any financial solution should be fully explored before a tax is levied.  This includes considering options for selling a portion of the site and/or selling the development rights to another location.  The latter tool is not presently functional due to existing deficiencies in the City code, a condition resolved by code amendments through the regular ordinance process.

However, you and others raise an important point, one I advocated during my 2007 City Council candidacy, and one I maintain today.  Chuckanut Woods’ natural resources must be protected.  Before 2011, the community’s best tool was application of City development regulations to a private sector development proposal.  Now, the citizens own Chuckanut Woods.  We paid for it with our hard earned money paid into Greenways taxes.  We are now in a much stronger position to protect the natural resources. 

It is up to our elected representatives to define the protection.  The City Council, with assistance from the Mayor, can define the exact boundaries of the protected areas.  They can define the exact areas to be sold (if any) for future development.  They can also define the exact number of development rights to sell, and when to enter the market.  In short, our City Charter empowers our elected Council members with the fiduciary duty to properly manage the asset we call Chuckanut Woods for the benefit of all residents.  They have until December 2017 to complete this task.

The Council’s actions to date lead us to the current situation.  Their constituents asked them to buy the site.  They did, with partial payment from their $3,200,000 loan from the Greenways Endowment Fund.  The sale closed, we now own the property.  Unfortunately, some south side neighbors proposed hasty formation of a new taxing district with vast powers to raise taxes to repay the loan.  This is unfortunate as the resulting election (Proposition 1) precludes the measured, informed action required by Council to repay the loan in a timely fashion.  I believe petitioning for this election was premature.  The result is the community is sidetracked into an electoral process when our resources should unify the community towards a solution we can support to the Council.  That measured process would give Council the confidence to take definitive action. 

In plain terms, here is what should occur.  The Mayor and Council should assemble a team of experienced private sector professionals in the appraisal field, real estate development, community planning, banking, site planning and environmental analysis.  The team should include community representatives committed to implementing our Comprehensive Plan.  The task should be to define areas to be protected, developed (if any), the entitlements necessary for each alternative, a strategy to take each one to market, and the prospective economic return.  That is what a professional developer does each day.  It is what I have been doing in various capacities for 35 years.  It is the informed way to achieve our common goal – to protect Chuckanut Woods while creating funds to repay City Council’s loan. 

Steve, we have known each other since my children attended your school almost 25 years ago.  I had the honor of serving as the City’s Planning and Development Director, followed by a successful private sector career since 1991.  My professional skills served many clients to build homes, offices and urban villages in Bellingham.  I built over 100 median priced homes in infill subdivisions, own and manage two wetland sites, lectured at colleges and high schools, served on company boards, and was fortunate to participate in the capital campaign for the Bellingham Food Bank. 

During this time, I had the pleasure listening to community leaders Nick Zaferatos and John Servais and many others.  They taught me (and many others) the value of open discussion to obtain new solutions.  Nick’s comments above attest to his qualities.  His integrity is well known, his professional experience of the highest caliber.  John’s fervor for transparency and quality is equally clear.  These are the skills that will bring a solution to the current financial need.  These are the skills that I will commit to bring to the issue, regardless of the results of the current election. 

Steve Wilson  //  Sat, Feb 02, 2013, 8:54 pm

Thanks for response Nick and Bill.

Nick, sorry to put you on the spot.  I, too, don’t often respond to these forums, but am thankful that NW Citizen insists on identifying writers.  It also helps me to know the commitment level of writers beyond the printed page.  This helps me gauge the likelihood of ideas moving into reality.  I felt like I asked an honest question, and I appreciate your honest reply.

In response to both of your views it’s quite clear that the financing options you are advocating include some that are quite complex and untested here in our locale.  It’s not that they couldn’t work, but in my humble opinion they are unlikely to work given our time frame and the absence of an organized plan, which seems to be the case.  And, in the event that they do work they can be folded into the deliberations of the Park commissioners to reduce the levy accordingly.

In my opinion, looking to City Council for leadership on this issue is misplaced.  Council is not a finite entity over time.  Members change, interests waver, and attention is not easy to maintain over several years.  I strongly believe Council is looking for direction from it’s citizens to resolve this debt issue.

I was not on the committee that reviewed options and prepared the levy to create a Parks District.  However, I do know these people very well and trust their judgement.  I admire their ability to take time from their busy lives, and voluntarily commit to this overwhelming task.  In my opinion the levy offers a realistic approach to the retirement of existing debt.  And, most importantly it supports a commitment to NO residential or commercial development of this mature forested wetland.  This has the support of every southside neighborhood association. 

I’m content with my decision to VOTE YES for the creation of the Park District, while I respect your choice to voice a different opinion. 

Wendy Harris  //  Sun, Feb 03, 2013, 2:22 am

Bill, was that a blog comment or a campaign speech?

Bill Geyer  //  Sun, Feb 03, 2013, 7:55 am

Thanks for the response.  Always a pleasure to discuss issues with you.  Two technical points may ease your concerns regarding TDR’s.  They may seem complicated to the general public, but they are tried and tested in many parts of the country and WA.  As to timing, the City has until late 2017 to sell them for cash, a very long time on market to secure a buyer.  Price will determine if they would sell within 1, 2, 3 or 4 years.  But there is one key deficiency today.

The accredited professional planners (AICP) in City Planning understand TDR’s very well.  The recent appointment of Mr. Greg Aucutt as the Assistant Planning Director is timely to address this issue.  (Greg shepherded the 2006 Comp Plan to completion and the recent Fairhaven Neighborhood Urban Village Plan.) Unfortunately, the problem lies at the policy level with the Council’s reluctance to adopt code language that would make TDR’s functional and marketable.  The Council borrowed the funds to purchase Chuckanut Woods, they control the value of the site, yet they have not made necessary code changes to ease the sale of TDR’s.  Do that, and Council can repay their loan to benefit all Bellingham taxpayers. 

Your other comment defined another piece to the puzzle - looking to the Council for leadership is misplaced.  Agreed.  Dan Remsen, Joe Yaver and I discussed this at length over coffee in December.  We discussed a path for community leadership showing the Council the benefits of many financial solutions other than a taxing district.  I believe that effort should begin immediately after the election.  My response to your prior posting affirms my commitment. Not to pressure Nick here, but his expertise would be valuable.  Your voice as a resident would be valuable as well.  Imagine, you and I and many supporters and opponents to Prop 1 presenting Council with a step by step approach to place TDR’s into the market to repay the loan within 2-3 years.  I think Council just might follow our lead.

Bill Geyer  //  Sun, Feb 03, 2013, 8:23 am

Yes, that was a blog comment.  I provided some personal history to illustrate the point we all have many facets of our lives.  Nick and others properly chastised the use of identity politics to marginalize someone’s opinion.  On this blog, Prop 1 supporters frequently assign the term “developer” to marginalize someone with an opposing view and to misdirect the reader from the factual argument.  Our community needs to rise above this sophomoric tactic and elevate to the facts.

The Prop 1 debate is informed by expertise in the development field - neighborhood planning, site design, environmental analysis, appraisals, entitlement procurement, code review, public and private financing, marketing, and (most importantly) sales. I am grateful for developing expertise in all these areas over the past 35 years.  As I have done in the past and will do in the future, I often share my experience with neighbors to help further a community solution.  Such is the case here.

R.C., Bob Cunningham  //  Tue, Feb 12, 2013, 11:38 am

If the revenue is “owed” to greenways? Revenue belonging to the taxpayer, and the city cannot squeeze enough additional tax revenue from the populace? Perhaps “Greenways” could simply reposses said propety? Therby placing the “Park” in the hands of the people? No district needed, the end result being that the land IS open to the public?

Whatcom Chief Ferry: Urgent Questions

The Whatcom Chief, our Lummi Island ferry, has been running illegally over loaded. And the hull may be fatally corroded. County exec Louws is ignoring this dangerous situation.

John Servais
Fri, Sep 30, 2016, 8:53 pm
1 comments; last on Oct 01, 2016

Misleading/Incomplete Report on Rental Inspection Results

On 26 September the city's Planning Director provided a report to city council on rental inspection results that is misleading, incomplete and, intentionally or unintentionally, tends to understate…

Dick Conoboy
Fri, Sep 30, 2016, 3:37 am

The War Has Just Begun

Slum landlords are alive and thriving. Over this summer 50% [corrected] of rental units failed the city's initial health and safety inspection.

Dick Conoboy
Fri, Sep 16, 2016, 8:02 am
17 comments; last on Sep 30, 2016

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MNAC Paddy Whack Give the Dog a Bone

The vital role in city politics of the Mayor’s Neighborhood Advisory Commission (MNAC) has gradually diminished over the past five years and is now at an all time…

Dick Conoboy
Mon, Sep 12, 2016, 1:57 am
10 comments; last on Sep 24, 2016

Chapter 3: City Council Agenda Management

Anne Mackie writes the backstory that tells "the rest of the story" of how the August harsh attacks on citizens by the council had roots in July.

Guest writer
Sat, Sep 10, 2016, 1:02 am
1 comments; last on Sep 10, 2016

Housing Forum on Wednesday, Sep 14

The York Neighborhood is sponsoring a forum on housing concerns on Wednesday, Sept 14th at the Garden Methodist Church at 7pm.

Dick Conoboy
Wed, Sep 07, 2016, 8:09 am
4 comments; last on Sep 10, 2016

A Big “Never Mind”

Anne Mackie gives us an overview of the planning kerfuffle during August between citizens and the Bham city council. And the bad attitudes of some council members.

Guest writer
Wed, Aug 31, 2016, 4:59 am
5 comments; last on Aug 31, 2016

Coal Trains Blocked by Local Protesters

Updated on Monday. An elaborate tripod was erected over the railroad tracks on the bridge over Chuckanut Bay and protesters sat in a sling. 11 hour train stoppage.

John Servais
Sun, Aug 28, 2016, 4:56 pm
3 comments; last on Aug 29, 2016

Chapter 2:  Playing the race card

Three emails: April Barker writes about ADUs and her perspective; Anne Mackie and Dick Conoboy respond.

Dick Conoboy
Tue, Aug 23, 2016, 9:02 pm
6 comments; last on Aug 25, 2016

Temper Tantrum Taints City Council

Council President Pinky Vargas loses it over minor violations of the three-minute comment rule. Is this any way to run a council?

Dick Conoboy
Mon, Aug 15, 2016, 3:13 am
11 comments; last on Aug 29, 2016

Anti-Nuclear Weapons ship ‘Golden Rule’ to Visit

Ellen Murphy writes about the sailboat that sailed toward nuclear test site in Pacific in 1958 and will visit Bellingham August 20 - 22. Now protesting modernization of…

Guest writer
Sat, Aug 13, 2016, 11:19 am
1 comments; last on Aug 15, 2016

Hiyu ferry for Lummi Island service - Explained

Jim Dickinson writes: Why the surplus Washington State ferry Hiyu should replace the Whatcom Chief for our Whatcom County ferry service to Lummi Island.

Guest writer
Tue, Jul 12, 2016, 10:55 pm
6 comments; last on Aug 06, 2016

Lummi Island Drawbridge

The Lummi Island ferry is a very old and decrepit vessel. The state ferry system wants to give us a newer one in great condition. Whatcom County says…

Tip Johnson
Sat, Jun 25, 2016, 10:08 pm
6 comments; last on Jun 30, 2016

Options High School: Great idea, wrong site

Tim Paxton guest writes about the defects in planning for the Options High School.

Guest writer
Mon, Jun 06, 2016, 5:03 pm
5 comments; last on Jun 26, 2016

Ferndale volunteers build kids playground

Over 2,000 volunteers have just built a new playground in six days. We do a photo story.

John Servais
Sun, Jun 05, 2016, 8:29 pm
1 comments; last on Jun 06, 2016

Greenways may reverse heron colony buffer purchase this evening

The Greenways Advisory Committee meets this evening and may reverse their May decision to purchase the heron colony buffer woods.

John Servais
Fri, Jun 03, 2016, 12:29 am
10 comments; last on Jun 07, 2016

We need to protect our Great Blue Heron colony

Bellingham's only heron colony needs forested buffer - and the land owner is willing to sell. Greenways has voted to buy it, but our city council must act.

John Servais
Tue, May 31, 2016, 9:51 pm
5 comments; last on Jun 01, 2016

Memorial Day 2016 - Thanking a True Soldier

This veteran, Chris Brown, deserves our deep thanks for his achievement with Growing Veterans as Executive Director, a post that he has left. He will continue as President…

Dick Conoboy
Thu, May 26, 2016, 5:23 am
3 comments; last on Jun 08, 2016

Singing the Comp Plan Blues

As the city council takes up consideration of the comprehensive plan, citizen input is critical. Otherwise in a few years and in response to housing and land use…

Dick Conoboy
Mon, May 23, 2016, 5:21 am

Proposed over-water walkway is dead

The planned concrete walkway from Boulevard Park to the Cornwall landfill, using millions in Greenway funds, has been abandoned by Bellingham. We again thank the Lummi.

John Servais
Sat, May 21, 2016, 4:32 pm
11 comments; last on May 26, 2016

Breaking Free: A New Age Ghost Dance

Jay Taber, a strong environmentalist for decades, guest writes a harsh critique of the 350 org anti-fossil fuel demonstrations at the Anacortes oil refineries last weekend.

Guest writer
Wed, May 18, 2016, 4:46 pm
2 comments; last on May 24, 2016

Missing Options High School traffic study

Bellingham School officials expect a slam dunk by Hearing Examiner and city council on street vacation and conditional use permit. By Patrick McKee.

Guest writer
Tue, May 17, 2016, 7:45 pm
2 comments; last on May 18, 2016

Uber: Supporting the Troops?

Uber, the cheap ride taxi company, is targeting the troops to become drivers in ads disguised as articles in publications such as the Army Times.

Dick Conoboy
Mon, May 16, 2016, 5:20 am

Herons or Oil: Which are long term?

The March Point protestors this weekend will hopefully show serious concern and not disturb the heron colony near the refineries.

John Servais
Sat, May 14, 2016, 9:34 am
2 comments; last on May 15, 2016

No Coal Terminal at Cherry Point - Final

The Seattle office of the Army Corps of Engineers has formally denied a permit for building a coal terminal at Cherry Point in Whatcom County. Updated at 4pm.

John Servais
Mon, May 09, 2016, 12:10 pm
4 comments; last on May 09, 2016

Boring, predictable Trump plays to conservative Lynden crowd

Supporters say he will beat Hillary Clinton.

Ralph Schwartz
Sat, May 07, 2016, 10:47 pm
3 comments; last on May 24, 2016

Citizens: BPD dismissive of people of color

Group cites failure to investigate assaults on anti-police-racism marchers

Ralph Schwartz
Tue, Apr 26, 2016, 7:04 pm
5 comments; last on Aug 25, 2016

An Open Letter to U.S. Representative Rick Larsen

Also to all U.S. Representative candidates in the 1st and 2nd U.S. Congressional districts for the election in 2016

David Camp
Tue, Apr 26, 2016, 3:46 pm
1 comments; last on Apr 27, 2016

Five districts pass; GOP incites conservatives to fight map in court

Republicans rolled over and approved the Democrats' map to set the stage for a legal challenge

Ralph Schwartz
Thu, Apr 21, 2016, 8:40 pm
3 comments; last on Apr 24, 2016

Unanimous Yes vote for 5 county council districts

GOP vote for Democratic plan to prevent locked committee and then county council becoming decision makers of districting boundaries

John Servais
Wed, Apr 20, 2016, 8:01 pm
1 comments; last on Apr 21, 2016

Report on City Council Retreat

The Bellingham City Council conducted a retreat on 16 April to discuss a number of issues, including a set of proposed strategies to ensure "sustainable services."

Dick Conoboy
Tue, Apr 19, 2016, 5:14 am

OregonLNG quits: Cherry Point may be new target

Liquid natural gas terminal is rumored to be in planning stages for Cherry Point as the Oregon proposed LNG plan is abandoned.

John Servais
Mon, Apr 18, 2016, 11:55 am
6 comments; last on Apr 19, 2016

Deck stacked against Republicans at Districting Committee hearing

Fate of new county five-district map remains uncertain.

Ralph Schwartz
Wed, Apr 13, 2016, 10:43 pm
5 comments; last on Apr 14, 2016

Don’t speak at tonight’s Districting Committee hearing

If you do, you better make sure you have something to say that's going to change someone's mind.

Ralph Schwartz
Wed, Apr 13, 2016, 9:09 am
3 comments; last on Apr 14, 2016

Bellingham Planning tries to sneak one through

The Sunnyland residents have just learned they have only today to comment on a huge impacting building project in their neighborhood.

John Servais
Mon, Apr 11, 2016, 1:06 am
11 comments; last on Apr 23, 2016

No sign of agreement as districting committee enters final phase

After a public hearing next week, the committee will be asked to vote on a five-district map for Whatcom County in two weeks.

Ralph Schwartz
Wed, Apr 06, 2016, 9:18 pm
5 comments; last on Apr 09, 2016

Proposed redistricting map for your review

The Districting Master (the official title) has submitted his map for review by the Districting Committee this evening. Here it is for your review.

John Servais
Wed, Apr 06, 2016, 1:14 pm
5 comments; last on Apr 07, 2016

BNSF: A casual approach to railroad safety

At Clayton Beach, we have tracked increasing erosion under railroad tracks and written to the railroads and federal inspectors. To no avail.

John Servais
Mon, Apr 04, 2016, 8:17 pm
2 comments; last on Apr 05, 2016

$15 Minimum Wage - Assured Debt Peonage

Accelerating efforts across the U.S. to install a $15 minimum wage are playing into the hands of big business and codifying enormously insufficient wages for years to come.

Dick Conoboy
Mon, Apr 04, 2016, 5:25 am
2 comments; last on May 24, 2016

Cherry Point coal port development put on ice

Work on EIS put on hold as coal companies wait for Army Corps of Engineers decision. Well, it was not in March. This is not an April 1…

John Servais
Fri, Apr 01, 2016, 3:49 pm
3 comments; last on Apr 02, 2016

Fuller calls on Coast Guard to ‘stand on the right side of history’

Activist contests $10,000 fine for climbing on a Shell oil vessel. Rob Lewis guest writes this report.

Guest writer
Wed, Mar 23, 2016, 2:37 pm

Voting guide for Whatcom Conservation District

Updated Wed, Mar 16. Tuesday, March 15, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., any registered voter of Whatcom County can vote in person at the conservation district office.

John Servais
Wed, Mar 16, 2016, 8:26 pm

Will Cherry Point coal port be denied this week?

Updated 4:30pm. Helena, Montana newspaper says GPT may be denied this week by Army Corps of Engineers. US Rep Zinke panics and accuses Army of politics.

John Servais
Wed, Mar 16, 2016, 12:19 am
4 comments; last on Mar 24, 2016

Dems, GOP primed for legal fight over districts

Not even a letter from a coal terminal spokesman can save them now.

Ralph Schwartz
Tue, Mar 15, 2016, 12:04 am
2 comments; last on Mar 17, 2016

Districting maps E and F for reference

We post the next two maps to be discussed at the Districting Committee today, March 14. For the few who might study them and later contribute perspectives.

John Servais
Mon, Mar 14, 2016, 1:53 am

Democrats threaten legal action on districting

Legally threatening letter sent by Seattle law firm retained by prominent leading Democratic Party leaders.

John Servais
Sun, Mar 13, 2016, 1:06 pm
1 comments; last on Mar 14, 2016

The state of citizen journalism is strong: Two receive deArmond awards

The third annual deArmond dinner celebrated the work of Sandy Robson and Neah Monteiro.

Ralph Schwartz
Fri, Mar 11, 2016, 11:28 pm
2 comments; last on Mar 13, 2016

Potential Oil Exports From Cherry Point—Something else to put on your radar

What almost happened on the coast of Maine could happen here at Cherry Point. Portland, Maine, stopped oil exports - and Whatcom County can also. If we act.

David Camp
Wed, Mar 09, 2016, 11:20 pm

Durham, NH, - Surprise! - Rental Inspections Worked

Durham is an example of the efficacy of rental inspections, putting to bed the unsupported objections of landlords by presenting facts about conditions.

Dick Conoboy
Wed, Mar 09, 2016, 2:20 pm
1 comments; last on Mar 12, 2016

Dogged Pursuit of a Failed Vision?

Wherein, we correct some misassumptions but still ask the questions

Tip Johnson
Tue, Mar 08, 2016, 2:47 pm

Districting Committee: GOP accuses Democrats of gerrymandering

The Republicans made concessions on their district map but took a final stand at Nooksack, Everson and Sumas.

Ralph Schwartz
Tue, Mar 08, 2016, 1:15 am
6 comments; last on Mar 12, 2016

Idea for Our Times: Puget Sound Repair Project

Could this address the real problem with Puget Sound?

Tip Johnson
Mon, Mar 07, 2016, 10:40 am
6 comments; last on Mar 08, 2016

Districting Committee: Republicans lack legal compass

Republicans and Democrats remain far apart. Democrats have the legal high ground, but Republicans would go to court to challenge that if necessary.

Ralph Schwartz
Sun, Mar 06, 2016, 11:39 pm
1 comments; last on Mar 07, 2016

Punishing the Wrong Guys

Wherein someone's gotta do the right thing

Tip Johnson
Tue, Mar 01, 2016, 3:40 pm

D’Angelo undaunted by fine: ‘I had to make the moral choice’

Chiara D'Angelo comes across as emotionally intelligent and uncompromising in her high-stakes Coast Guard hearing.

Ralph Schwartz
Mon, Feb 29, 2016, 11:55 pm
1 comments; last on Mar 01, 2016

Elfo: Enforcement, Litigation or Risks?

Wherein inquiring minds want to know!

Tip Johnson
Sat, Feb 27, 2016, 1:24 pm

‘Goodwill’ wanted but lacking on Districting Committee

Republicans focused their efforts on torpedoing the Democrats' five-district proposal at the second committee meeting.

Ralph Schwartz
Tue, Feb 23, 2016, 5:01 am
4 comments; last on Mar 01, 2016

Anchor-chain activists face hefty fines

The Coast Guard has levied $30,000 in fines on two Bellingham climate activists. They will fight to have the fines dropped.

Ralph Schwartz
Thu, Feb 18, 2016, 5:01 am
16 comments; last on Feb 22, 2016

Jail Reform: Music to My Ears

Wherein sanity may finally be approaching a nagging jail issue

Tip Johnson
Sun, Feb 14, 2016, 8:54 pm
2 comments; last on Feb 19, 2016

Redistricting: Democrats may have upper hand

Republicans and Democrats traded barbs on the first day of the Districting Committee, but Dems may have won the first battle.

Ralph Schwartz
Tue, Feb 09, 2016, 5:02 am
5 comments; last on Feb 10, 2016


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