Why I am voting NO on the Park Disttict

By John ServaisOn Jan 30, 2013

I will be voting NO to the Park District - and I am not a developer. And I know this issue inside and out. I have at times led the effort to save trees on the southside, and have all my life advocated for our environment. This tax is onerous and will hamper future efforts for Greenways Four and the proponents are less than honest about what is in the ballot measure.

Voting for the Park District in order to supposedly “save” a very small part of the huge Chuckanut Park from possibly being used for homes is like giving a sledge hammer to a group of people for who like to hammer things when all we have to do is drive in one nail. They may well find other things to hammer - other things to tax us for and “save”. They may not sit with a sledge hammer for 10 years and do nothing.

First, the group is being - shall we say - less than honest in suggesting we have to save the forest. Gentle reader, the forest has been saved. Our Bellingham City Council and former mayor Dan Pike saved it in 2011 by buying the entire thing from the bank for $8 million. It is saved. Now. Already. It is ours.

We now have 5 years in which to figure out how to reimburse a city park maintenance fund that was used for $3 million of the purchase. Everyone - council, mayor, citizens - is willing to find a solution. A community wide solution - a city wide solution. This Chuckanut Park, along with Fairhaven Park and Larrabee Park and Connelly Creek Natural Area and Woodstock Park, are all treasures of Bellingham's southside and everyone from Bellingham, Whatcom County and Skagit County and the whole world can enjoy them. Now and forever.

There is a small part of less ecologically important land along Chuckanut Drive that might make great housing area and provide enough money to pay some or all of the loan. Or the next Greenways Levy might have sufficient money to pay it off. Or, some other solution can be found. No public process has tried to define options - not yet.

What has happened is some of our more green southside residents - and especially those who live near the park - have panicked and feel we must immediately resolve the loan issue. They do not trust in city hall nor Greenways committee. And I am hardly one to trust city hall or the secretive methods of the Greenways Committee and the manipulations of our Parks Department.

But creating a new government agency with the power to tax, condemn land, sell bonds, increase taxes and never go out of existence is very much the wrong move. I know that with good active citizenship and public effort we can solve this situation to the common community wide satisfaction.

The group behind the park district is not interested in any solution but their own - keeping every square foot a park. This may be foolish. The city bought a huge tract of land and all the high hills and wetlands are valuable and securely saved. But the group is hell bent to save every square foot of the land purchase for park.

And so, to drive a single nail - to find a solution to a single loan - we are not being asked for a community wide use of a hammer but are rather being asked to buy a sledge hammer and give exclusive use of it to a group for years.

In closing, my comments and all those who write against this park district, are being labeled “fear tactics”. In one sense the group is right - I fear giving this much power to another government agency. Where they are wrong is to think fear is inappropriate. This park district plan is irresponsible and reckless. It is a panic solution to a community problem which we have 5 years to solve.

Vote NO for the Metro Parks District. And if you oppose this, then it is most important that you vote NO because a simple majority will pass this. No minimum vote is needed. Not voting is a half vote for the park.

Update: If you vote no, also then vote for Anna Williams for the park district board. She is opposed to this park district but is runninng so we have a watchdog on the board who, even if a minority, can speak out from the board.

About John Servais

Writers • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John is super cool, and knows more about the news and internet-news business than just about any other guy around. He runs this website, and keeps an eye on everything. Read some of his articles, and let him know what you think.

Comments by Readers

Wendy Harris

Jan 30, 2013

There is no land of less ecological importance. The land along Chuckanut Drive is neccessary as a buffer that protects the ecological functions of the forest.

The park district protects the entire acreage. Any solution involving the City will result in some amount of development.


Frank James

Jan 30, 2013

John it is sad to see that your personal feelings are interfering with your objectivity and judgement. From your email “the proponents have attacked me”.

You also seem upset that folks are not using NWcitizen as the vehicle for discussion again from your email, “Proponents did not submit anything to NWCitizen until the opponents did.”

I am sorry your feelings are hurt but your parroting the misleading information of Bill, Ophalee and a handful of build it all out folks at any cost.

I am glad that you have pointed out that Anna is in fact against the park and the district, her very misleading flyer that has gone out gives the opposite impression. Another blow to honest in our community.

You feel left out and you feel that the folks that want the wetlands left intact and the developers to keep their mitts off one of the most beautiful places in our city. These folks for the most part do not live in the district but want to tell those of us that do what to do in our community, it saddens me greatly that you have joined them.


John Servais

Jan 30, 2013

Frank, again you show how a personal attack is what you proponents prefer.  Not a word in your post about the issues.  You try to paint me as acting on emotion rather than the facts. 

Your citing of emails betrays you. Obviously you have been forwarded emails between myself and others.  As you bring up the subject of the proponents not submitting an article to NWCitizen, I will point out that in early January your steering committee had one member call me and ask that I NOT post my views as they knew I was skeptical.  In exchange I asked that the group submit an article so there could be public discussion.  They agreed. Then the group decided apparently to not send anything.  I was muzzled and duped.  And that is what I was referring to.  Normally I write and accept from those who want to post.

Your citing an email and citing it out of context is inappropriate and you should know better.  Try addressing the issues posted on this website. 

I have been on this issue longer than you and most of the proponents.  I have provided information to Bill Geyer and others - not the other way around.  Bill is a good voice in our community - even while we have been on the same side of some issues and opposed on some others.  It is shameful how you and the proponents have tried to marginalize his opinions. 

I have tried to keep this on the issues and not the personalities.  My article dealt with the issues.  Try it yourself.  One of the best reasons to vote NO is because you proponents refuse to address the issues brought up by those of us who are concerned.  Calling me a dupe probably does not go far with those who know me.


Steve Wilson

Jan 30, 2013

I am voting FOR the park district because I respect and trust the proponents.  I’ve known these folks for many years and find the work they do in our neighborhoods and larger community to be exemplary.  I believe them when they say they have looked at the alternatives and are putting forth the best of those options to vote on this election.  I also believe it’s our best chance to get this issue resolved.  None of us deserve to be held hostage any longer to the threat of development of this unique habitat at any time in the future.  I am proud to be a part of this solution.
If you believe the opponents will pick up the pieces and try to save the woods if the current proposal fails, well, I believe you are suffering delusions.  The only way opponents can get some attention is to send out a ‘shock and awe’ piece, complete with red, white and blue half-truths.
I’m not falling for it.  I’m voting for preserving the woods for future generations.  I’ve got my eyes on the prize, and I hope you’ll join me in making this a reality.  Vote YES!


John Servais

Jan 30, 2013

And again, the woods are already preserved for future generations.  They belong to us now - to the city - to Greenways - to the Parks Department.  They are already saved. 

And I guess I do trust our community at large.  And you proponents do not trust our council nor our mayor nor the Greenways Committee nor the Parks Department.  So please, the distrust is on both sides.  Steve, you and the others do not seem to recognize your own fear tactics and the huge distrust you all have.  There is a lot of distrust. 

I also have known most all the proponents for decades - and I know how the best of intentions can be swayed by new circumstances.  Giving such huge power to a small group is not good government.  Asking the residents of the southside to pay for a city park is not fair.


David Marshak

Jan 30, 2013

John wrote: And I am hardly one to trust city hall or the secretive methods of the Greenways Committee and the manipulations of our Parks Department.

I’ve been a member of the Greenways Advisory Committee (GAC) for two years. The GAC has monthly public meetings, the first Thursday of each month. Each meeting has a public comment section. Each meeting is open to the public, except for the section of the meeting in which members discuss specific potential rights or land purchases. This is required by law to be in executive session.

The GAC has had fewer than its potential maximum membership throughout the past two years. Any interested Bellingham citizen could apply for appointment to the GAC by the mayor.

The GAC also has a strategic plan posted on the COB website.

The GAC also has no legal authority to do anything other than make suggestions to the City Council. The Council makes every decision.

So much for “secrecy.” 

As for the Chuckanut Community Forest initiative—City Council members invited any motivated citizens to suggest a proposal for repaying the Greenways Endowment. The folks who organized the initiative stepped up and proposed this solution. I live in the taxing district, and I support this proposal.

I have not seen any of the opponents step up and offer any realistic alternative at any time since the purchase.


John Servais

Jan 30, 2013

David,  the GAC does have a culture of secrecy - and committee members have told me that directly.  Several - some current and some past.  It is complicated and involves work done outside the committee meetings and also the extensive time the committee spends in executive sessions.  There are current members on the committee who want to make the committee work more transparent. 

Secondly, to say no “realistic alternative” has been offered is to ignore or disqualify what Bill Geyer has brought forward.  Please see the support for TDSs that Nicholas Zaferatos presented in a comment to Bill’s article.  Nicholas is a former chair of the Bellingham Planning Commission.  David, there have been good alternatives presented by individuals - and what we need is a public process through our established city government to consider these and select the best solution.


Steve Wilson

Jan 30, 2013

  John, in response to my comments you really went out on a limb to characterize Park District proponents as ‘distrustful of city council, the mayor, Greenways Committee and the Parks Department’.  I know the proponents to be ‘critical thinkers’, but ‘distrustful’...really?  Hmm…
  Then you assert in a following rebuttal that you see promise in the Transfer of Development Rights concept.  Could you please share some successful examples of TDR’s in Bellingham’s recent past that lead you to such a conclusion?
  After listening to the deafening silence it might be easier to see exactly why a Municipal Park District makes more sense at the current time. 
  Once we have a park district established, and only then, do I think you opponents will be motivated to jump on the TDR issue. Then your fruitful efforts will help reduce the levy burden, and shorten the time in which a parks district needs to exist. I call this a win-win situation…and it’s about the most wishful thinking I can muster.
  It’s not too late to become part of the solution.  You’ll have to trust me on that assertion.


Frank James

Jan 30, 2013


The only email that I have read on this is the one that YOU sent me, I am perplexed by your comment and believe that your emotions are distorting your judgement, that is not a personal attack and is supported by this very observation. You also refer to “you” as if there is some monolithic group out there. The folks that put this on the ballot are folks well know to me and I have been very supportive of their effort but ‘they’ are not me. I am not a member of the Chuckanut Community Forest organizing committee.

The facts of the matter that you say you would like to discuss are straightforward. The community has been in dialog with the City Council, the Mayor, other parties that have managed these issues in the past, everyone from Land Trust members to former mayor (several) to Responsible Development, to those that were opposed and now are supportive.

There is broad consensus that the property is an integral whole and that the sale of the souther portion for construction projects would threaten biological integrity of the extensive category 1 wetlands on the rest of the property. IF you disagree please provide the details of what that is based on. Sarah Cooke, John McLaughlin, and the Cities own environmental review came to this conclusion.

It will take 10 years of collecting funds to pay off the property with the proposed Parks District and the City Council has agreed that that would be acceptable, how ever to say we have 5 year to develop a plan is simply not true. Did you read Wendy Harris comments just below your post?

The forest is not as you put it ‘saved’. It is currently the intention of some within the City to sell the southern most portion of the land to repay the loan and if there is no realistic plan to raise the funds that is exactly what would happen.

No one “panicked”, other than the folks that see their opportunity to make a great deal of money at the expense of the public slipping away. With regard to the ‘secretive’ Greenways Advisory Committee, I would refer you to the comment of a member of that group that has provided direct information about just how open the process has been.

With regard to the ‘manipulations” of our Parks Department I really dont know what you are referring to, the Parks folks and the community have done a very good job of cleaning up the property but that was done in broad daylight and in the most cooperative of fashions.

The intentions of the Park District are clearly to raise the money to pay for the property AND to put exactly the sort of restrictions on it so that it is not later sold off for development just like the Land Trust has done on many occasions within the City and County. NOTHING ESLSE, have you read the commissioners statements that were send to you for posting but which you have not yet posted?

There has been a broad discussion with many community members over many months to come up with this option, the terms ‘hell bent’ and ‘not interested in any solution other than their own’ simply are not accurate. Please let you readers know what your judgements are based on.

All the talk about a “new government agency” with the power to tax, condemn, etc IS fear mongering in that all of the current commissioners have pledged NOT to do anything other than pay off the land and get out of the way. If they have other intentions where is the evidence of that? Please provide some information if you have it.

Finally here is a copy of the email YOU sent ME that I was quoting from in my first post, just so you and everyone else knows that that is all I have read from you and there is not some vast conspiracy to discredit you based on private information.

“I have just posted up my reasons for voting NO on the Chuckanut Park
District. I am notifying you because the proponents don’t want you reading
what I think - and asked me to not post my views. Even in my trying to allow
both sides of the issue to present their views the proponents have attacked
me - one even threatening a lawsuit. It has been nasty. And so I am finally
posting my view.

Proponents did not submit anything to NWCitizen until the opponents did.
Since then it has not developed into anything resembling a civil discussion
of the issues. I am sorry to have to say that. My first article on Chuckanut
Ridge from 1996 is still online. I have long advocated for saving this area.

This is a south Bellingham issue, so if you live elsewhere you might prefer
to skip it. But if you have any friends on the south side, please forward
this to them so they can learn more about this issue before voting. Thank


John Servais, publisher”

I will assume the fact that my account at NW Citizen was disabled and I had to create a new password was just an accident. Thanks for creating this forum.



Gerry Wilbour

Jan 30, 2013

Thanks John for the opportunity to comment even though we strongly disagree.

I am confident that the CCFD will pass and I think it is our last best shot at preserving this property intact.  The citizens group that formed to find a suitable funding solution engaged in a very broad and inclusive process of examining all options.  Establishing a Park District was only one of a variety of options that were investigated.  In the end, it was the only one that really worked even though we knew up front it would not be easy. 

The ecological significance of this property and it’s ability to support active outdoor recreation in the context of an urban area is unmatched.  The nature of my job is such that I get to work in and visit many special natural areas in other towns and Cities in this State as well as other parts of the country.  I have never seen an unprotected natural area of this quality within a City.  It is that unique.

There are a variety of passions that drive people to support it’s preservation,  for many, it’s the unusual combination of high quality wetlands & riparian areas, deep forest and sandstone ridges that support 2 salmon bearing streams and an unusually large number of species.  It is a breading area and critical core habitat for critters that visit our nearby neighborhoods and greenways.  Some also value it as a resource for environmental education and see significant potential for greater educational activity here for students of all ages.  Some think it would be a great place for a “kids forests,”  essentially a series of child centered active environmental interpretive stations.  For decades, many have used the area for a running and walking.  Many younger people in the neighborhood have gotten away from their TV’s, Computer Games etc by riding their Mountain Bikes in the woods, creating jumps and banked turns that sharpen their riding skills.  There will be significant land management challenges going forward in creating a community based a stewardship plan that accommodates all of these uses and passions in a sustainable manner.  When viewed this way, the area that we have know is rather small.  To make it smaller by developing portions of it would make it dramatically more difficult and expensive to manage all of these interest in a compatible fashion.  To secure it all now means that we can move forward with much needed and an effective stewardship plan in the near future.

I’ve worked in a number of areas that have Park Districts that overlap a county or City with a Park Department.  I find the districts to be very focused on their core mission and very in touch with the community that they serve. There are over 80 of them in the State with three in Whatcom County, one in Skagit and two in Island County.  They all provide a wonderful additional service or facility that would not otherwise be possible.  They often collaborate with other governmental entities to make projects possible.  This is the largest Bellingham Greenways purchase ever. Since the rest of Bellingham will pick up the majority of the tab for this property, having the neighborhoods closest too it pick up the rest seems only fair.


David Marshak

Jan 30, 2013

In two years of Greenways Advisory Committee meetings I’ve never seen John Servais in attendance. I’ve never been asked about Greenways activities by John Servais.

In contrast I’ve had many conversations with Bellingham citizens about Greenways activities. I’ve shared the Greenways Strategic Plan with many folks as well. If you look at the Strategic Plan, the long term intentions of the Greenways project are very clear. There is nothing secret about this.

The only privileged material has to do with potential purchases of specific properties or access rights. And this material is privileged both by law and by reasonable operating procedures. Purchase negotiations are not conducted in public by any government.

The Committee meets in executive session only to discuss specific potential purchases. Sometimes this is brief; other times it goes on and on. Calling the length of executive session an indication of secrecy is ridiculous.

According to you, John, you know more about the Greenways Committee than I do.

I wonder why you’d think for a minute that I’d find your comments more credible than my own experience?

As for the Chuckanut Forest—no alternatives were framed and presented in a timely manner. If these folks had done so, we’d be discussing their proposals. Now we are voting. Timing matters.







Barbara Perry

Jan 31, 2013

Contrary to what you say, John Servais, the Chuckanut forest has not been saved.  Even you admit to allowing it to be opened for construction to pay for the existing loan and waiting for five years to get untrustworthy government officials to protect it for the future..

Sorry John, but you open your article about voting “No” on the Park District with much Pomp of your great knowledge, but in fact this issue needs secure conclusion. We have two active salmon streams in this area to protect as well as the whole forest.  It is in limbo now.  We need to vote yes for it to become secure. I am tired of going to meeting after meeting to protect Chuckanut Ridge.  Southsiders most benefit from this neighboring forest, and we have the obligation to protect it.  Because it is so close to us, it benefits us most.

The forest may be ours now but even you admit it is open for construction to help pay for it.  Sorry, you are being naïve in trusting the current government forces to adequately protect this forest. 

The following issue may seem irrelevant but it is not:  We citizens bicycle, walk, and live near the toxic hill of the too toxic to move dioxin recently dredged out of the sound and dumped in two piles just north of Boulevard Park and south of downtown.  The hill is covered with pretty white plastic because it is too toxic to move. A small warning sign exists reading:” Danger! No trespassing.”  In ignorance, Dogs and dog owners walk there anyway.  Politian’s have been legally obligated to tell us about these carcinogenic hills to get our comments, yet they have not.  Apparently the only safe method of disposal is quite expensive.  Look for this issue in the coming February 2013 issue of Whatcom Watch.  Thank you retired layer Wendy Harris for reporting on this issue.
And John, you expect voters to trust these same politicians to protect our forest?  Some of us are not that naïve.
The government will be so busy securing this toxic trail for tourist and citizen use, it will not have money for securing the forest. We Sounthsiders must do so ourselves.  We do not have five years to wait for a solution from our mayor who did not even tell us about the toxic mountain.  We came up with a solution for the forest ourselves.

John, the forest committee only exists for ten years and has no powers over the park district.  It is a voluntary board to recommend and watch over the land. Your “sledge hammer” metaphor of control is you creating fear to present your weak points. 
All these words are not as powerful as the two sentence comment from Wendy Harris replying to your argument.  Rather than have the reader search,  it follows:

Wendy Harris //  Wed, Jan 30, 2013, 10:42 am
There is no land of less ecological importance. The land along Chuckanut Drive is neccessary as a buffer that protects the ecological functions of the forest.
The park district protects the entire acreage. Any solution involving the City will result in some amount of development.



Alex McLean

Jan 31, 2013

Hi Barbara,

I live on 32nd St., which the MPD advocates generously included in their districting, and this forest is no less than 2.7 miles from my house—even farther for those thousands who are crammed in apartments and condos further up the road from me.

The goal of the Bellingham Parks Dept., and part of the guiding metric for Greenways strategic plan, is to provide some functional and significant park space for every resident within a half-mile radius of their homes.

This proposal, therefore, seems a few miles too long in the tooth for your broad-brush statement of, “because it is so close to us, it benefits us most.”

I’m probably less militant and/or passionate about this proposal than my rhetoric implies. (This isn’t coal trains, for example, and it most definitely isn’t the preservation of substantial ecosystem functions—the roar of Chuckanut Drive and the Edgemoore neighborhood have already sealed that option.) Still, I would really like to hear from some of the cuddly/wuddly peace-n-love tree-huggers out there about the economic justice elements of this miracle cure you are proposing. Isn’t this an issue, a bullet-point that needs to be checked off the list, in most every other environmental debate? Do we suddenly not care about robbing money from the ghettos along I-5 for the benefit of the wealthiest and most freakishly blessed Greenways recipients in this town? Or, perhaps, is it just that when you state that it benefits “us” the most you are really just looking at where your house is, or your family, or your lucky neighbors as the beneficial subset of “we” who will be paying for this meager sliver of this colossally over-priced land?

I’ve asked Dan Remsen about this and, although not directly quoting him, it appears that the goal/intention of the campaign was to simply troll wallets out in these populated hinterlands and, therefore, defray the larger costs that would sop those blessed enough to live on the forest’s boundaries.

You’re welcome, but, no thanks.