It Is Not a Vote to Save The Forest

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Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 12:26 am  //  Guest writer

Guest writer Margie ( Hanson) Haskell 

Vote no on Prop. 1, metropolitan park district. This is not a vote to save the forest, as I believe proponents say. It is a vote for some Southside neighborhoods to become an metropolitan park district. People from all over Bellingham own and enjoy Chuckanut Woods, not just those neighborhoods, and therefore all Bellingham taxpayers should repay the loan the city owes for this purchase. Creating a park district with five commissioners adds a layer of government bureaucracy and levies new property taxes on those few Southside owners.

Proponents say the tax will be 28 cents per $1,000 of property valuation, but state law permits up to 75 cents per $1,000. And the commissioners may buy land and take on additional debt inside or outside of the metropolitan park district. Proponents say it will end in 10 years, once the loan is paid off. Dissolving a metropolitan park district is possible only by RCW 35.61.310. I believe it is highly unlikely to ever happen.

They chose a few Southside neighborhoods to be the metropolitan park district because they think that is where most of the wealthy people live. However, there are also low-, middle- and fixed-income households who may end up paying for future acquisitions, or whatever the five commissioners decide to acquire. They may expand boundaries.

Rather than pitting neighbors against each other over what I believe to be an unfair tax hike, city government should find a real solution to the problem they created. They have five years to pay this loan off.

Steve Wilson  //  Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 7:36 am

Surprised to find another guest columnist rehashing the same mis-information. Sorry Margi, but this IS a vote to keep the forest intact.  And, in response to your assertion that city government should find a solution to the problem I would reply, ‘when the people lead, the leaders will follow’.  Give democracy a chance and become part of the solution.  You might just enjoy it.


John Lesow  //  Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 10:36 am

Would an assessment of $78 per year on a $250,000 home be worth the investment in retaining the entire Chuckanut Ridge property intact?  Absolutely.  I don’t live near Chuckanut Ridge, but I would gladly contribute $78 a year to preserve this unique civic treasure.

The acquisition of Lily Point in Point Roberts was possible in part because of Conservation Futures funds—public money.  Due to it’s remote location, one could argue that Lily Point does not offer the public benefit of easy access to the vast majority of County taxpayers.  However, the environmental value of Lily Point far exceeded the speculative value of development.  Had the proposed plans for condos and a golf course for the Lily Point property been realized 20 years ago, the result would have been a loss for investors and owners.  Witness the $10 million loss for investors in the first ill-fated Point Roberts Golf and Country Club in 1994. 

The short term benefits of home construction in inappropriate locations are always outweighed by the infrastructure costs of servicing lots that should never have been approved for development in the first place.  Current development on the slopes below Chuckanut Ridge has resulted in private and public costs due to slope instability, runoff, etc. 

There is no public benefit in the development of the land in question, nor is there any reasonable assurance that other suggested methods of funding the purchase will succeed.  The initiative that has been proposed is a responsible one and should be approved by the voters.


Christopher Grannis  //  Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 11:07 am

Here are statements from 6 candidates who are committed to the single purpose of paying off the loan at the stated rate of $28/$100,000 Assessed Value for 10 years and preserving the property as a park, forever, and to then terminate the Park District.

Position 1:
Cathy McKenzie, South Neighborhood
For the past decade, I have been actively involved in efforts to preserve the Hundred Acre Wood for the long-term benefit of future generations and to promote responsible infill within our neighborhoods. Maintaining the integrity of this keystone habitat block is essential if we want to encourage dense infill along our existing Southside commercial and transportation arterials while protecting the Padden, Chuckanut, and California Creek watersheds; maintaining a functional wildlife corridor for sensitive species which depend on travel between the Mount Baker wilderness, the Chuckanut Mountains, and Bellingham Bay; and providing a real connection to nature within walking distance of those urban dwellers who most need it.
As an Earthwatch volunteer, I recently spent several weeks on a research expedition in Madagascar, where 90% of the native forests have been destroyed by human activity. I want to help prevent Bellingham from continuing on a similar path. Here, the Chuckanut Community Forest is the only remaining mature forested wetlands ecosystem within City limits. Its educational, ecological, and recreational value depends on it remaining intact and publicly owned and managed. 
I support the proposed Chuckanut Community Forest Metropolitan Park District because it is the only viable, democratically representative way to ensure that the $3.2 million Greenways III inter-fund loan is repaid and the property remains unfragmented and is protected and remains publicly accessible in perpetuity. If elected as Commissioner, Position 1, I will do whatever I can to represent your interests and ensure:

  the tax levy does not exceed 28 cents per $1,000 assessed property value;

  the district is narrowly focused, as intended, on paying off off the inter-fund loan and securing long-term protections and publicly reflected management practices; and

  if the community so desires, the MPD will dissolve as soon as the loan is repaid and adequate protective agreements/conservation easements are in place.

Position 2:
John Hymas, Happy Valley
I recently submitted my application with the County Auditor’s Office as a candidate for one of five Chuckanut Community Forest Park commissioners that will appear on the February ballot for part of the Southside.  The main issue is to create a self-taxing park district to pay back the City for finally buying the “One Hundred Acre Wood”/”Chuckanut Ridge” outright.  Dedicated Greenways funds were used for most of the purchase, but the Greenways Endowment Fund was tapped for a 3.2 million loan to complete the deal.  Questionable rezoning of this environmentally precious property in the 1980s sparked the three successful Greenways Initiatives since then without properly securing the entire parcel.  If the Initiative passes those residents will be taxed 28 cents per $1,000.00 assessed value in property taxes for ten years.  It will then be preserved in the City park system for eternity.
After nearly 30 years of community opposition to the threatened destruction of a critical forested wetland jewel in the City, we have the chance to protect it, and bail the City out of the embarrassing situation of having to sell off a large portion to repay the Greenway Endowment Fund.  Most of us on the Southside love and use our parks and trail system.  Many take them for granted.  I don’t.  Vote for the initiative and vote for me.

Dan Remsen, South
I am committed to limiting this effort to levying a tax sufficient to pay off the Greenways inter-fund loan ($28/$100,000 AV), securing permanent protection for this ecologically valuable city park, and terminating the MPD.  It is that simple.  If we want it, we need to pay for it.  Then let the City of Bellingham Parks Department and the Greenways program do what they have long done so well.

Position 3:
Susan Kaun, Fairhaven
As a candidate for the proposed Chuckanut Community Forest District, Position 3, I believe it is essential for the entire 85 acres of the new District to remain intact and permanently protected for the benefit of fish and wildlife in the Padden Creek and Chuckanut Creek watersheds, and the well-being of the citizens of Bellingham.
Best available science from the City’s Wildlife and Habitat Assessment, December 1995, prepared by Nahkeeta Northwest, identified and recommended this site as a ‘Significant Habitat Conservation Area’:
    “The total area is significantly valuable habitat…Preservation of wetland and upland habitats, as well as the Interurban corridor are necessary for the function of this area to support current species composition, which require both wetland and terrestrial habitats. Attributes include: significant intact wetland/upland complex, the greatest diversity of amphibians in the City, species rich and abundant breeding and resident birds, red fox and other uncommon medium-small mammals, a Sitka spruce community (rare within the City), fawning areas, presence of species of concern and species of local significance, major corridor connecting Padden and Chuckanut watersheds.”
If elected, my goal is to repay the loan the City of Bellingham made to purchase the site, so the City will not need to sell any of the land.

Position 4:
Vince Biciunas, Fairhaven
Many of us have been working for years trying to preserve the natural gem that we know as Hundred Acre Wood and Chuckanut Ridge.
We understand its value as a wildlife corridor between the Cascade Range and the Salish Sea. We appreciate the value of its wetlands, its streams and its forest. We rejoiced when the City of Bellingham was able to accomplish the purchase of 82 acres of the property in the summer of 2011.
Now we must complete the financing bargain of repaying the intra-city fund that needs $3.2M to be whole. The vehicle of a Metropolitan Park District is the best way to carry this out. We can do this with a levy on ourselves, the five south side neighborhoods, of $.28 per $1,000 valuation, and do it within ten years.
If we are unsuccessful in this endeavor, we will be the ones suffering the negative consequences of high-density development on these sensitive lands.
As a candidate for the commission’s Position 4, I pledge to hold the levy to this amount or less, conserve the land for wildlife protection and citizen education and recreation and if still in office, expect to sunset the park district as soon as the loan is re-paid.

Position 5:
John Brown, Fairhaven
If elected as Park District (PD) commissioner, I pledge to run for re-election when my term is up and to carry through the PD’s purpose:  to save the WHOLE of Chuckanut Ridge from development, and to retire the inter-city loan of +$3 million.  When the loan is retired, I anticipate that the commissioner board will sunset.  Saving the Ridge protects precious wetlands, ensures wildlife connectivity throughout the Chuckanut region, and allows southwestern neighborhoods of Bellingham to be responsible stewards of a mature riparian forests that thousands of citizens have always wanted to preserve for future generations.
I also pledge, if elected, to accept no salary as commissioner and to keep the tax levy at $.28/thousand (or less) of the assessed value of dwellings encompassed by the precincts voting.  I would never support proposals for asserting eminent domain–that is, condemnation of land inside and outside the park’s boundaries.

 


Dan Pike  //  Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 1:18 pm

In fact, it IS a vote to save the Forest.  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.


Alex McLean  //  Thu, Jan 31, 2013, 11:24 pm

Creating a fiefdom of five commissioners, with taxing authority, is not the same as “allowing democracy to work.”

Show me any elected position, besides a Supreme Court Judge, which last 10 years ... or more ... who knows, really? Since these five folks are the only ones who will get to decide when they are good and done with taxing us, I really want to hesitate to call this a vibrantly democratic proposal. We are being asked to create a special interest junta and, simultaneously, we are being told to shut-up and like it.

I’ll sign on to your pleas for trust if you sign on to my paranoia:

If supporters are so yodeling with confidence that no hijinks will be committed over the next decade (or several?) then they should be willing to sign a legally binding certificate that states as much. (I’d love to get the actual commissioners to sign one, but they can quickly vote to absolve themselves of that contract, by a majority of three, at any time.) If any individual proponent can sign a document for me that states these taxes will not be increased, that commissioners will not decide to pay for their annual conference in Tahiti, and that no other properties will be absorbed into this bargain, then they should have no problem signing another one that states they will pay me, directly, if commissioners should ever decide to violate this creed.

You want trust.

I want proof.

At least with our democracy we can vote people out of office. Former mayor Dan Pike might know something about this since, as reward for his falling on the sword of Chuckanut Ridge, the precincts surrounding the property mysteriously lost interest in him. (He still won the precincts, but not by the margins of his previous election and, perhaps, just enough of a loss to see his unseating ... so much for loyalty and gratitude, Dan, but we got what we wanted!)


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