Monday, August 6, 2007

Either Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way!

Lee Iacocca, former Chairman of Chrysler Corporation, became famous for his inspirational, aggressive and goal oriented management style. In fact, that was why he was chosen to turn-around that troubled auto maker, which was in such dire straits. The title of this piece was the punch line in one of his ads, which also seems to have applicability here in Whatcom County.

That is the subject of this piece.

Lois Garlick -my friend- a spry and environmentally engaged senior citizen -an octogenarian at that- was the only person who actually stepped up to oppose the entrenched incumbent -Pete Kremen- as County Executive.
Others did consider it, but for various reasons did not decide to run, which is a shame.

Maybe they thought Pete was too difficult an opponent, maybe they weren't up to a gruelling campaign, maybe they had to continue supporting themselves and their families with more certainty at their jobs, maybe they felt unqualified, maybe they did not have sufficient name recognition, maybe they didn't have enough political backing and financial support, maybe they just didn't want to, maybe other reasons, I don't know, but that's not important now.

The fact is, most people probably don't know Lois, and many who do, don't think she has a chance to unseat Pete, and therefore aren't doing much to even help her get her message out. Maybe she is a dark horse, so what? She's running because Pete needs to be held accountable, and respond to questions about things which he has had the responsibility and authority to do all during his 12 years as County Executive.

Don't you believe Pete needs to be held accountable for a few things he hasn't done, or even tried to do? I do. That's why I've decided to not only vote for Lois Garlick, but to help campaign for her. Because, when you think about it, Pete Kremen doesn't respond to anything but political pressure, and without it he's just on cruise control for another 4 years. That's not OK with me, and I think many others feel the same way.

I recently received a reminder from the Whatcom Democrats -of whom I am a member- to support and vote for the candidates they endorsed. Well, I'm not necessarily going to do that, for more than one reason. One is that Pete Kremen got an endorsement, but kindly Lois Garlick did not!

What is wrong with that picture? Other elective offices even got multiple endorsements -and of course no one can support them all- but not the office of County Executive? Probably some good, bureaucratic reason for that little oversight, but the real point of this is to call attention to the excellent General Platform the Democrats adopted to support their endorsements.

Here it is:

"We support candidates who will ensure that our communities are great places to live, work, learn and play and:

Plan for and Manage Whatcom County's Growth Effectively

• Preserve our agricultural lands
• Retain and enhance neighborhood character
• Manage traffic and provide transportation alternatives

Protect our Environment

• Protect Water Quality in all Watersheds
• Clean up hazardous waste sites
• Restore and protect wildlife habitat

Manage Our Local Governments Responsibly

• Balance and Manage our Tax Dollars with Integrity
• Provide opportunities for citizen input"

That Platform sounds pretty good to me! It also fits pretty closely what Lois Garlick's goals are, as printed on her flyer.

What doesn't fit is that these good things were supposed to be the values that Pete Kremen stands for and will honestly try to implement to the best of his ability. And not Lois Garlick? Give me a break! That's just backwards, but as they say 'politics makes strange bedfellows'.

Then, the thought occurred to me that this admirable Platform could form the basis for a real life comparison between what Pete Kremen HAS done during the last 12 years, and what Lois Garlick promises to do in the next 4 years. How's that for serendipity?

So,following the Demo's Platform, here's a few questions for Pete to answer:

I. Plan for and manage Whatcom County's Growth Effectively

Please explain what you have done to make this happen? Is your plan working?
What happened to the overworked Planning Staff that quit almost en masse?
What about the land supply analysis needed to help the County adequately plan without sprawl? What is the result you would support?
What about the County's commitment to help the City meet its goal of accommodating over 50% of the County's 20-year projected growth?
Why was the County cited by the Growth Management Board for non-compliance?
Have those problems been corrected?

I. a. Preserve our agricultural lands

Why isn't there an adopted Purchase of Development Rights [PDR] program?
How many AG acres have been preserved without it? How many are needed?
What is the County's target PDR funding level and its source?
Why are there enough vested 5-acres lots to take ALL the growth for 20 years?
Why is the County still advocating and allowing conversion of Forestry lands to development?
When will the County make a determination of what would constitute sufficient AG lands to make AG a sustainable business in Whatcom County?

I. b. Retain and enhance neighborhood character

Why have Neighborhoods in the UGA been allowed to develop without full density, and City levels of service for Parks and connecting arterials?
Why has the County resisted the City's policy of requiring annexation before extending water and sewer utilities?
Why aren't the use of City standards and zoning required in the UGA? Wouldn't this help simplify the permitting process and make infill more certain?
Does anyone in the County Planning Dept have an urban planning background?
Why hasn't the County supported the new Local Infrastructure Financing Tool [LIFT] legislation passed especially to help redevelop Bellingham's Waterfront?
Does the County expect to contribute any Economic Development Incentive [EDI] funds to the Waterdfront Redevelopment? At what level? When will this happen?
Do you understand that Waterfront Redevelopment will not only clean up a badly contaminated area, but also aid Economic Development of our entire County, provide citizens with greater access to the Bay, and substantially assist the City in meeting it's goal of accommodating infill of 3000 to 6000 people?
Do you understand that LIFT assistance would only occur as progress is actually made toward these goals?
Do you understand -and can you explain- why existing Bellingham neighborhoods will be increasingly impacted, and housing affordability will suffer, if insufficient additional UGA land supply is made available by the County?
Do you appreciate how much work must be done to bring the City's development codes up to standard? Have you discussed this problem with the Mayor and/or City Planning Director?

I. c. Manage traffic and provide transportation alternatives

Why doesn't the County require traffic impact fees?
Why does County continue building expensive, unnecessary roads to support sprawl? What are the criteria for building or improving County roads?
Why is the important Public Works Director position still vacant? Is there also a problem in attracting and retaining Public Works professionals?
Does the County coordinate arterial planning and prioritizing with the City?
Are the siting of park and ride locations part of County transportation planning?

2. Protect our Environment

Please explain what you have done about this? What happened to the touted Lake Whatcom phosphorus reduction program? Who's assigned to this program? At what level of effort?
What happened to the Planning and Public Works Staff assigned to the Lake Whatcom Management Program for this purpose? Will Bruce Roll and Sue Blake and other experienced staff members be replaced? Can their experience be replaced?

2. a. Protect Water Quality in all Watersheds

What happened to the WRIA 1 countywide water planning effort that spent $4.3 in public funds million before it was halted?
When will this effort be re-started?
Why did the County oppose the City's efforts to acquire and preserve the Lake Whatcom Reservoir watershed?
Why hasn't the County established and funded a stormwater management system of its own to help preserve Lake Whatcom?
Why does the County continue allowing development in the Lake Whatcom watershed outside the UGA, without sufficient access to water and sewer?
While you live in the Lake Whatcom watershed, and also own developable lots there, what conflict of interest may exist between the goal of protecting the lake and your personal affairs?
Why hasn't the County enforced its own regulations, including seasonal restrictions on clearing & grading?

2. b. Clean up hazardous waste sites

What's happening about the former Nooksack landfill?
Why didn't the County support LIFT to assist the City and Port in their efforts to clean up the G-P, other contaminated industrial sites and former landsfills on the Waterfront, to facilitate its redevelopment?
Doesn't the County's Comprehensive Plan's Economic Development Chapter emphasize supporting exactly this type of redevelopment?
Please explain why this policy was NOT followed on LIFT?

2. c. Restore and protect wildlife habitat

Please explain what have you and the County have done about this?
Was protecting salmon habitat supposed to be a big part of the WRIA 1 effort? Since WRIA 1 has been stalled, has this goal been achieved?

3. Manage Our Local Governments Responsibly

Explain how you have been able to achieve a balance between frugality with public funds and providing the services that citizens need and want?
Why has the County accumulated unanticipated funds well beyond established reserve levels?
What is being done about the perpetual shortage of Sheriff's deputies?
What is being done about the need for a larger and more modern County Jail?
Why has the County resisted expanding Emergency Management Services to accommodate the post 9/11 needs of Cities and citizens?
Why is County staff morale and retention been valued so lowly that it has become an ongoing problem?
Why has the County Council found it necessary to hire its own staff, and attempt to take control of the County's planning function?
What does the County actually mean by 'collaboration' with other jurisdictions? How do you, and the County, decide when and how to 'collaborate'?
Why does so much back-biting and blaming of others continue to happen? Is this practice considered useful as a substitute for actually addressing and fixing problems?
Does your trying to avoid a DUI arrest help foster public trust?
Why did it take 3 ballot measures to get the County to fully support EMS?

3. a. Balance and Manage our Tax Dollars with Integrity

Why has the County accumulated such a large surplus of unspent funds?
Is this reserves excess the reason County property taxes have not increased for 12 years?
If these 'excess' funds are not required or timely used, should some portion of these funds be returned to taxpayers?
Aren't there demonstrated needs for these funds, such as hiring critical staff?
Why does the County consistently prefer more regressive sales taxes over property taxes?
Why hasn't the County adopted a B&O tax, so that businesses have more incentive to locate in urban areas instead of sprawling?
Is the County over-collecting revenues from allowing sprawl in urban growth areas [UGAs] without providing urban levels of service?
Does this practice effectively under-utilize urban growth areas, thereby eventually adding to sprawl?
Is the County Flood Tax fair to smaller property owners?
Is the Flood Tax being shared equitably with cities?
What funding source has been identified for WRIA 1? Is it adequate?

3. b. Provide opportunities for citizen input

When citizen input is given, does the County really listen?
Why not televise County Council Committee Sessions, so citizens can see and hear what goes on, at their own convenience?
Does official input from other jurisdictions, like the City [40% of County population], count as citizen input?
Are County Planning Commission recommendations considered citizen advice?
Are City Planning Commission recommendations considered citizen advice?
Are City Council recommendations considered citizen advice?

The Whatcom Democrats are to be commended for the excellent Platform they developed and adopted. They are not responsible for who decides to run for office, but must make judgements on which candidates they will support. Perhaps, Pete Kremen is the candidate most capable of diligently pursuing and achieving the goals of ther platform. But, I do have serious reservations about him actually doing it, because his history has not supported that expectation. Also, endorsing a candidate is not the same as voting for them, so maybe there is more of a chance for Lois Garlick than anyone thinks?

I believe that all of the goals from the Demo's Platform, are critically important. The really good questions they suggest can also help us find clues as to what has been missing in Whatcom County government during Pete Kremen's 12-year tenure.
The County Executive is the one person we can hold MOST accountable for any deficiencies, as well as any lack of initiative to fix them. Excessive non-action on real issues is considered a major failure of both leadership, and management, that I and many others find it hard to accept, as citizens of Whatcom County!

I believe that Lois Garlick can do a better job than Pete Kremen has done as County Executive. Not only better, but much better! At a minimum, she will not be seeking re-election as her first priority, and that's for sure. And, I know she has the gumption, integrity and courage to hire the talent she will need to help her do this important job right!

Let's send a message to Pete Kremen that we expect much more from our County Executive than he has delivered. And, if Pete is re-elected, we will expect him to seriously address each of the Demo's Platform Issues.

What do we have to lose by voting for Lois Garlick? Well, we might just lose something we ought to lose - continued sub-standard leadership for Whatcom County. What is really hard to understand is that Pete is likely more capable than he has demonstrated, and he has a pretty good Council to work with that would support him in pursuing the Demo's Platform goals! So, why doesn't Pete get on with the program and get something more positive done than maintaining essentially a do-nothing 'status quo' posture that only makes worse his legacy, and the problems our children will face as their legacy?

As Lee Iacocca said, either lead, follow, or get out of the way!

Sorry Pete, I'm voting for Lois Garlick!

Parking Is Not Free

This piece was published in Whatcom Watch earlier this year:

Parking is not free. The land under vehicles — whether moving or at rest — is valuable and owned by someone, either a government entity or a private interest. Permission to park on public property is a privilege, not a right. Policy regarding parking is adopted by the elected body and administered by public servants according to established laws, regulations and practices.

Changes are always possible, but subject to deliberation and consideration of all reasonable impacts. Changes can be upsetting to established practice, but are sometimes necessary. Growth is a change with cumulative effects that happen over time. Compact growth exacerbates noticeable problems greatly and quickly, and must be dealt with carefully with a long-term view of fairness, flexibility and reality.

Parking is not likely to become either cheaper or easier to provide, rather, the opposite will happen. Old habits, customs and practices will need to change over time to adapt to the new realities that are evolving.

A comprehensive plan for parking citywide in Bellingham is needed, but will not be easy to develop except in its guiding principles to address change over time. A parking plan for specific, concentrated public areas should be much simpler to develop, implement and use.

Civic Center and Cultural District Parking

Such an area is the civic center and its adjacent cultural district in downtown Bellingham. Parking problems in this area have grown to the point that action is required without undue further delay. To the extent these specific problems can be reasonably and sustainably addressed would inform and encourage similar action elsewhere.

As a microcosm of parking related problems, the civic center and cultural district deserves our immediate attention, energy and action. Any resolution to the parking scarcity in this heavily and constantly used area will certainly help the institutions, facilities, businesses, patrons and others to use this area more efficiently and effectively. Done correctly, it could also encourage much greater use of public transit, bicycles and pedestrian walkways, as well as demonstrate the multiple advantages of planning for future urban centers.

Parking is what it is — currently an accommodation to conventional transportation, primarily private motorized vehicles. The space taken up by parking is now too valuable for that use alone. Fees, collected from meters, do not begin to cover the costs of land strictly dedicated to parking, and if they do, they won’t for long.

There is no denial of the need for adequate and conveniently located parking. That is certainly necessary; however, what citizens expected to be freely provided in the past is now becoming more costly and unrealistic each year.

Citizens have voted to voluntarily tax themselves for more green space, but not for more parking. That means that parking needs require a way to pay for themselves, either as privately provided incentives to shop or as parking fees to pay for structured facilities near where people need and want to go. A fiscally responsible alternate is to simply not provide free parking for private vehicles.

Periodically, there have been parking studies conducted, but none have been comprehensive, widely supported or their recommendations accepted and achieved. Some have been admittedly been limited in scope; others have simply begged creditability. Even the actions taken more recently by the City Council are still being questioned as necessary, fair or even in the right direction, despite their clearly expressed rationale.

What Needs to Be Done?

So, what is to be done? Nearly everyone agrees something needs to be done, whether it is to return to the prior system, providing cheaper or free parking downtown, or building costly structures to attract cars to support business, entertainment or visitors.

Most citizens agree that much better parking solutions should be provided in the civic center and cultural district, they just don’t want to pay for it themselves — preferring to externalize the problem and its solution to “others.” Perhaps the “others” should be the users? But these users will also likely need help to get traction toward visible progress.

What follows is an idea regarding the new library parking space that may serve to satisfy several needs, but certainly not all.

Both city and county governments are concentrated in one fairly compact area, and both have expanded significantly during the last several years, along with the general population and its need for services.

Necessary capital improvements has also occurred recently to make the publicly-owned Mt. Baker Theater and Whatcom Museum more viable in attracting the type of regional economic development envisioned and enabled by the Public Facilities District. A new Children’s Museum is being constructed and significant improvements to the streetscapes in the immediate area are underway.

All of these activities are expected to have the effect of making this area much more of a truly people place, much more of the time. The net result will be more people visiting the area and more businesses encouraged to invest in it. This is a scenario designed to create a greater need for both alternate transportation and parking, and it is happening!

Now, the time for investment in another well-used public facility in this same area is drawing near — the Bellingham Public Library. Planning for the next 50 years means that a larger and more modern building to provide the library and public meeting facilities is needed soon.

Fortunately, the block on which the current library stands is already owned by the city and can provide sufficient space for the new facility, as well as structured, underground parking for a significant number of vehicles that typically visit the civic center.

Use All Available Underground Space for Parking

Funding for any new library must come from a publicly-voted bond measure, which would typically include only a limited amount of parking directly associated with library operations. But, it would make sense to consider using all the available underground space to produce significantly more parking than the library requires or should be expected to finance.

It would also make fiscal sense to construct any parking beyond that needed by the library at the time the new library is built. Preliminary estimates are that up to about 250 parking spaces could be provided under the existing library land, providing an essential part of its foundation.

Most of this parking could be used for city and county civic use during business hours and cultural events parking afterwards as well. This new parking would be easily accessible and off the streets, but not free. It would need to charge the various users, as the preferred way of repaying any councilmanic bond passed to cover the costs of only that parking over and above the library’s needs.

Absent a comprehensive parking plan for the entire downtown, perhaps our local governments will consider the lack of adequate parking in the civic center and cultural district area a serious enough problem to address soon. It is the job of these governments to do so, and in a timely fashion.

Any parking plan developed for this area needs to be reasonable and fiscally sensible, with adequate sensitivity to soliciting, hearing and carefully evaluating the input of citizens. The library’s needs are real, as are the parking problems in the immediate area.

Perhaps, the consideration of both issues simultaneously can result in highly synergistic benefit to the city and county governments, the library, area businesses and institutions, and most all, the citizens. That seems a worthy goal!