The REAL Problem With Costco

Permalink +

Fri, Aug 17, 2012, 12:50 am  //  Wendy Harris

There is a problem with Costco, but it does not involve Canadians. The problem is found much closer to home and involves an offer of municipal assistance for a private development project that lacks public transparency and disclosure.

In July, the Bellingham Herald reported that Mayor Linville was talking with Costco about relocating to a new site to expand operations.  While no details were provided, the mayor indicated her desire to keep Costco in Bellingham, but assured the public there would be no backroom deal.  She stated, "nothing will happen in private that the public should know about."  Turns out, this was not such an accurate prediction. 

On August 3, 2012, the Herald revealed that the mayor offered assistance to Costco in replacing its existing store. In a letter dated June 20, 2012, obtained by the Herald through a Public Records Act request, the mayor offered $1.5 million in road construction to improve store access from I-5, subject to city council approval.  The mayor also offered Costco the assistance of experienced Planning and Public Works staff for site-specific questions and concerns regarding state and federal agencies. Other proposed forms of assistance listed in the letter were redacted. 

The city administration and Costco appear to be in agreement over the proposed development site, nine acres of undeveloped land along Bakerview Road.  It is noteworthy that Costco has already hired a consultant, Ed Sewall of Sewall Wetland Consulting, Inc., to work on this project. There has been at least one meeting, and a number of email communications between the administration and Costco.

This would be less concerning if Costco had a permit application on file, but it does not.  Assisting a large corporation to expand operations at an undeveloped site containing wetlands regulated under local, state, and federal law, before permits are filed and public notice is issued, is the essence of a backroom deal. 

In contrast, the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers refused to meet with Costco in advance of a submitted application, and limited its assistance to pre-application information. The Costco consultant notified his client that the U.S. Army Corp. “won't commit to any guarantee of approval or anything at this point,” and then solicited input and suggestions from city employees regarding the situation. 

The Department of Ecology (DOE) wetland specialist went on a site tour with Costco, and then sent an email detailing mitigation requirements for the state permit required for site development.  Again, the Costco consultant shared the DOE email with city employees. 

While federal and state governments are engaged in efforts to enforce the requirement to avoid environmental impacts, including infill of wetlands, unless it is proven to be necessary, the mayor’s letter states that “the City is prepared to offer Costco the project management expertise of our Planning and Public Works staffing addressing site specific questions and concerns that might arise from State and Federal agencies.  Obviously, questions and concerns about state and federal permits are best answered by state and federal employees. There is evidence that Costco’s consultant is contacting City staff after obtaining information and instruction from DOE and U.S. Army Corp., instead seeking advice on how to respond to state and federal mitigation requirements.  It is a conflict of interest to direct City staff, responsible for processing and approving Costco’s City permit application, to assist Costco with its state and federal permit applications.

By far the most disturbing part of this story is the administration’s refusal to respond to a Washington Public Records Act request filed with the Bellingham Herald.  The June 20, 2012 letter from the mayor to Costco was redacted based on asserted application of the “deliberative process exemption.”  The city is attempting to stretch the reach of the deliberative process exemption beyond established legal boundaries.  The authority for its position is less than clear and is the lengthy subject for another blog post.  This particular exemption expires after negotations are complete, although it is unclear how this is defined by the city in this situation or how the public will know. (Other cases involved union contracts and lease contracts.)   

However, the consequences of the city’s position are unequivocal. The mayor is setting precedent for hammering out secretive proposals with large developers before a development permit application is even submitted, essentially undercutting regulations that govern development proposals and public process.  Sure, these regulations will still be followed, but the outcome of city staff review is predetermined, and the city council will afford greater deference to a proposal personally negotiated by the mayor. This reduces citizen influence on a process that is supposed to be transparent. 

We all understand what is really going on.  The Mayor is trying to sweeten the pot to keep Costco from relocating.  None of this, however, justifies actions that whittle away our rights to an open and transparent government operating under fair and objective standards.

Larry Horowitz  //  Fri, Aug 17, 2012, 9:10 am

Thanks again, Wendy, for keeping a watchful eye.

I agree with your concerns but had a question about the $1.5 million in road construction offered by the city to Costco.

Will Costco be required to pay the standard transportation impact fees (TIF) or has the city offered to reduce the TIF?

If Costco is paying the standard TIF, then a substantial portion of the road construction is likely covered.  If not, then $1.5 million is a substantial gift.

Does anyone have the answer?


Wendy Harris  //  Fri, Aug 17, 2012, 10:01 am

Larry; The redacted letter is posted on the Herald Politics Blog but I am unable to post the hyperlink.  Just go to the Herald Politics Blog. Jared has also listed the other emails I reference.

The relevant portion of the Mayor’s letter reads:
We understand Costco needs to ensure the Bakerview site is a good long term investment. The City is currently planning and seeking funding to extend Horton Road, which we anticipate will result in some relief at Bakerview/I-5 interchange. In addition, the City will commit to building the Division Street connector within the next 5 to 10 years. This connection will provide direct access from Dover to Pacific Highway just north of the Bakerview site. We expect this important connection will provide Costco customers with a convenient route to the Slater/I-5 interchange.

The Mayor goes on to say the estimated cost of the road work is 1.5 million and that the City will take the lead on Dover Street. It looks like the City is leveraging road construction that was already being planned, which explains why this portion of the letter was NOT redacted. It is the things being offered that were redacted that are of concern.


Larry Horowitz  //  Fri, Aug 17, 2012, 10:16 am

Yes, Wendy, I read the redacted letter when the Herald published it.

The point of my comment is that we cannot accuse the city of making a $1.5 million gift for road construction until we know if the city is also waiving all or part of the transportation impact fee.  Yes, the city offered to improve the roads in the vicinity of the new Costco, but will the city be using funds provided by fees paid by Costco?

Perhaps that hasn’t yet been discussed with Costco or perhaps that’s part of what’s redacted.

I ask again, “Does anyone have the answer?”

Perhaps someone from the city will respond…


Wendy Harris  //  Fri, Aug 17, 2012, 10:34 am

Larry, I am not accusing the City of making an improper 1.5 million dollar gift. I will leave that for you to develop. I am concerned about the offer of staff assistance and the conflict of interest, the redaction and asserted exemption to disclosure and the failure to follow normal rules and procedures for a land use development application, providing special privileges.


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
5 comments; last on Jul 18, 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

Reader paid for ads. Click to see all choices.

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
0 comments

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
0 comments

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
4 comments; last on May 03, 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
0 comments

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
0 comments

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
0 comments

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
0 comments

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
0 comments

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
0 comments

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
0 comments

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
0 comments

‘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

Stop the Rental Fires Now!

Inspections of rentals cannot begin too soon. Seven fires in rental units since 2011 and almost half with ONE landlord. No but the clock may be running out.

Dick Conoboy
Mon, Feb 08, 2016, 6:26 am
0 comments

Super Bowl 50 - Wretched Excess

From all the monumentally boring hoopla to the shameful rousting of the homeless Super Bowl 50 exceeds all expectations for greed and excess.

Dick Conoboy
Fri, Feb 05, 2016, 12:45 pm
4 comments; last on Feb 12, 2016

Harriet Spanel has passed on

Harriet Spanel was many years our representative in the state legislature and served Whatcom County and Bellingham very well.

John Servais
Wed, Feb 03, 2016, 5:49 pm
4 comments; last on Feb 04, 2016

Mayor Picks Lisa Anderson for City Planning Commission

Lisa Anderson will fill the remaining term of real estate broker, Cerise Noah. who left the Bellingham Planning Commission several months ago.

Dick Conoboy
Wed, Feb 03, 2016, 2:53 pm
0 comments

In White Skin

Talib Kweli played the Wild Buffalo a couple evenings ago and Ralph Schwartz was there. He writes a very personal take on the evening.

Ralph Schwartz
Mon, Feb 01, 2016, 4:00 am
2 comments; last on Feb 04, 2016

Say Nein to Uber

Uber has started a new type of public taxi service in many cities, including Bellingham. It is controversial.

Dick Conoboy
Sun, Jan 31, 2016, 12:04 pm
3 comments; last on Feb 04, 2016

WA State Minimum Wage Initiative - A Race To The Bottom

Raising the minimum wage to $13.50/hr by 2020 cements workers into permanent slave wages that cannot pay the bills.

Dick Conoboy
Mon, Jan 18, 2016, 6:35 am
1 comments; last on Jan 20, 2016

Eagles on the Nooksack

They are less famous than the eagles on the Skagit but closer to Bellingham, fewer people and still lots of eagles. A great January afternoon outing.

John Servais
Tue, Jan 12, 2016, 12:18 am
1 comments; last on Jan 13, 2016

Earthquake lightly shakes Bellingham

Earthquake near San Juan Island felt in Bellingham late Tuesday night

John Servais
Wed, Dec 30, 2015, 1:15 am
0 comments

Kremen & Weimer tell us of Clinton & Sanders

What the campaign styles of local politicians Pete Kremen and Carl Weimer tell us about presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders

Whatcom Citizen
Tue, Dec 29, 2015, 12:06 pm
4 comments; last on Dec 31, 2015

Bye Bye

Shell Polar Pioneer floating oil drill rig left the Pacific Northwest for Norway today. Nice holiday gift for all of us.

John Servais
Fri, Dec 25, 2015, 11:31 am
2 comments; last on Dec 25, 2015

 

We Thank Our Sponsors

Click to See All Sponsors

About NWCitizen

Donations maintain site

Our writers
Thru the years

Election Links

Jeff Strung / WA Auditor

Mike LaPointe / US Congress

League of Women Voters

Calendar of Events

Home page
Videos of Districting Committee

Local Online News

Bellingham Herald

Bham Business Journal
Bham Politics & Econ
Cascadia Weekly
Coal Stop
Ferndale Record
KGMI
KPLU fm radio
Latte Republic
Lynden Tribune
Noisy Waters
Northern Light
Seattle Times
Twilight Zoning
Western Front - WWU
Whatcom Watch

Local Causes

Chuckanut C. Forest

City Club of Bellingham
Community Wise Bham
Conservation NW
Futurewise - Whatcom
Lake Whatcom
Lummi Island Quarry
N. Cascades Audubon
NW Holocaust Center
Powder River Basin R. C.
RE Sources
Salish Sea Org.
Save the Granary
Transition Whatcom
WA Conservation Voters
Whatcom Peace & Justice

Our Governments

- Whatcom County

Bellingham
Port of Bellingham
Skagit County
US House
US Senate
US Supreme Court
US The White House
WA State
Whatcom COG

NWCitizen 1995-2007

Early Northwest Citizen

Weather & Climate

Cliff Mass Weather Blog

Climate Audit
EPIC World Photos
Nat Hurricane Center
NW Radar
Two day forecast
Watts Up With That?

Local Leisure

Adventures NW

Bellingham Wins
Entertainment NNW
Recreation Northwest

Good Web Sites

Al-Jazeera online

Alaska Dispatch
AlterNet.org
Antiwar.com
Arab News
Asia Times
Atlantic, The
Change The Mascot
Common Dreams
counterpunch
Crosscut Seattle
Daily Kos
Daily Mirror
Doonesbury
Drudge Report
Edge of Sports
FiveThirtyEight
Foreign Policy in Focus
GlobalPost
Guardian
Gulf News
Haaretz
Huffington Post
Innocence Project
Irish Times
James Fallows
Jerusalem Post
Joel Connelly
Juan Cole
Julia Ioffe/New Republic
Le Diplo
Media Matters
Michael Moore
Middle East Times
MoveOn.org
Nation, The
New American Century
News Trust
NMFA
numbers
Online Journal
Palestine Daily
Palestine News
Paul Krugman
Personal bio info
Portland Indy Media
Progressive Review
Project Vote Smart
Reuters
Sea Shepherd
Slate
Stand for the Troops
Ta-Nehisi Coates
Talking Points Memo
TED
The Crisis Papers
The Intercept
the Oatmeal
Tom Paine.com
truthout
Vox
War and Piece
Washington Votes
WikiLeaks.ch
ynetnews.com

Quiet, Offline or Dead

Bellingham Register

Bhm Herald Politics Blog
Bob Sanders
Carl Weimer
Chuckanut Mountains
Citizen Ted
Citizens of Bellingham
Cordata & Meridian
David Hackworth
Facebook Port Reform
Friends of Whatcom
Get Whatcom Planning
HamsterTalk
Intrnational Herald Tribune
Jack Petree
MikeatthePort
N. Sound Conservancy
No Leaky Buckets
Northwest Review
Orcinus
Post-Oklahoman
Protect Bellingham Parks
Sweeney Politics
The American Telegraph
Wally Wonders