Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Waterfront Redevelopment: Can We Get On With It Now?

Now that some folks have gotten riled up, maybe cooled off a bit, and now are hopefully listening to good sense again, perhaps we can get on with the essential task of continuing progress on actually realizing the worthy goals envisioned by this community for redeveloping its blighted waterfront.

Last Monday night's City-sponsored meeting at the Market Depot Square seemed to help by airing comments in a public setting, after a somewhat rocky start as reported by the Herald.
At least, members of the Port's management team decided to attend this meeting!
Information that had been communicated more bluntly than some preferred, was again communicated, perhaps more nicely and more importantly, more tellingly with a listening public audience.
But, time will tell, as it usually does.

Then, Tuesday afternoon's regularly scheduled Port Commission meeting attracted more than usual attention -and input- from the public, including Bellingham Mayor Dan Pike, who reiterated two letters that he and former Mayors Mark Asmundson and Tim Douglas had signed and sent on November 14 and 17.
Both letters were brief and to the point, and may be be posted soon on the City's website.

But, here are the contents of both letters that I have retyped from copies:

November 14, 2008 - letter to Governor Christine Gregoire:

Dear Governor Gregoire:

We write today in follow up to a letter you recently received from the Port of Bellingham Commissioners. Our goal with letter is to affirm that the City of Bellingham is committed to moving forward with the Port as a partner on the waterfront redevelopment project.

Throughout each of our administrations, the City has recognized the complexity of this ambitious project. City officials remain committed to honoring our agreements with our partners and moving forward on this project.

The Port, as a special purpose district, by statute, has a different focus than the city. The broad responsibilities of a city require consideration of a vocal and diverse constituency and involve a wider range of municipal functions and goals. It is not surprising that our two governmental entities differ in the approach to this project. Undoubtedly over the decades during which this project will be fully implemented, there will be differences between the city and the port. We believe that both the city and the port will retain an ongoing commitment to resolving issues as they arise. The current city administration is committed to working through these issues. Studying the options before us and understanding what is at stake is essential to the success of this project. Adding to this complexity is the period of unprecedented fiscal uncertainty.

What we are facing - and what you have been apprised of - is essentially a difference of opinion between two well-intentioned local governments. The City is committed to continuing this local process, along with the corresponding community dialogue. Compromises will be made, and the end result will serve the citizens and taxpayers of Bellingham and Whatcom County, as well as those of the region, the state, and the nation for many decades to come. We will continue to keep you informed as we move forward on this ambitious project. We reiterate our gratitude fr your continued support of the city and the port as we move forward on this project.

Copies of this letter were sent to those listed below:

Bellingham City Council
Port of Bellingham Commissioners
Jim Darling, Executive Director, Port of Bellingham
U.S. Senator Patty Murray
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell
Congressman Rick Larsen
State Senator Harriet Spanel
State Senator Dale Brandland
Representative Kelli Linville
Representative Doug Ericksen
Representative Jeff Morris
Representative Dave Quall
Commissioner of Public Lands Doug Sutherland
County Executive Pete Kremen
President Bruce Shepard, Western Washington University
President Tom Eckert, Bellingham Technical College
Jay Manning, Director, Department of Ecology


November 17, 2008 - letter to Port of Bellingham Commissioners and Jim Darling, Executive Director:

Dear Jim and Commissioners:

We are writing today to make sure that you are aware in advance of a letter we are sending to state and federal representatives and officials. That letter, addressed to those who received your letter of Nov. 10, is enclosed.

Please know that we send this letter in a good faith effort to ensure that these leaders, many of whom are key partners in our waterfront progress to date, understand that the differences our organizations are facing are neither insurmountable nor deal-breaking. We believe strongly that Port and City officials are acting with the best of intentions on behalf of their constituencies, and we look forward to each agency working hard to resolve their differences.

Throughout each of our administrations, the City has recognized the complexity of this once-in-a-lifetime project. City officials have in the past and remain committed to honoring our agreements with the Port of Bellingham. A strong, collaborative partnership between the City and the Port is essential to the successful redevelopment of Bellingham's waterfront. City officials today remain poised and eager to continue this partnership, complete a mutually acceptable master plan, and move forward with the many steps awaiting our joint leadership.

We expect this process, along with our interjurisdictional and community dialogue, to continue in earnest, with the end result serving the citizens and taxpayers of Bellingham, Whatcom County and beyond for generations to come.

Today's Cascadia Weekly got it exactly right in both its Gristle and its Feature Article entitled RETRENCHMENT.

But, so have the scores of citizens, elected officials, City staff got it right, because they also attended the many meetings, discussions and work sessions that have brought us to where we are in the process of carefully scoping this visionary and inherently worthwhile redevelopment undertaking.

These are the people who know what is the desired outcome of this project, and they will not be easily persuaded to accept a poorer substitute for it.

Good for them, and good for us!

People do know something about what's been going on, because they have participated in it and remember what transpired.
Now, we should not be put into a position of accepting less than what was determined to be best for this community.

That's the power of public process; the kind that is properly done with thoroughness, inclusiveness and integrity.
I salute Bellingham for a job well done - up to now.

The 2004 Interlocal Agreement agreed to by the City and Port was essentially 'an agreement to agree', but it also went further than that and actually did agree on those principles which the parties shared, or were the result of majority compromises on other points.

Two of the points, which I preferred, did not survive these year-end compromises; permanent public ownership of the redeveloped property [lease, not sale to tenants], and the creation of a Public Development Authority to oversee the faithful implementation of whatever plan was agreed to by the parties.

Public ownership might have eliminated the Port's concern about the possible future need for an EIS every time it sold redeveloped land to a private party.
It also would have assured a continuous revenue stream well into the future, at the sacrifice of a heavier infusion of up-front cash from direct sales.

The PDA idea is not a new one, but a proven method of accomplishing major, long-term projects with predictability and professional -and public- oversight.
It is interesting that both the City and WWU have decided to establish PDAs to oversee their projects on the waterfront, while curiously, the Port has strongly objected to that concept.

One has to wonder why.
Surely, a desire for credit, or avoidance of blame are not the reasons for this stance.
Because, who at the Port is likely to still be around in 25 years.

The people who will be around in 25 years are those citizens of Bellingham who are younger than me, and their children and grandchildren.
Those are the people for whom this effort is really meant.
Let's don't lose sight of that.