Thursday, December 31, 2009

Welcoming 2010

Tonight -December 31- traditionally marks the beginning of a New Year and the ending of the old, accompanied by joyous celebrations.
But, it will also be special for other reasons too, including a rare event involving the moon.

Even though local cloud cover may obscure it, tonight is the second full moon to occur this month -which makes it a so-called 'blue moon' .
And, because this is also happening on New Year's Eve, it is even more rare, with some cultures considering it a particularly auspicious event.

I am personally glad to see 2010 arrive because 2009 was mostly a time of discomfort, inactivity and stress for me.
Fortunately, I have now received a clean bill of health and am steadily regaining strength and a degree of normality in my life.

The year 2010 is considered another Chinese Year of the Tiger. [my 7th since I was born in 1938]
And, since I'm also a Sagittarius, the combination of these two zodiac signs may explain a few of my traits and preferences.
Horoscope aficionados might have fun analyzing that.

Also, this is the time of year for good football games, both college Bowls and professional play-offs.
[I wonder if you can get a mild concussion from just watching too much football?]

For the most part, the New Year means a time of renewal and reflection, a time to reset our priorities and outlooks.
Those things are clearly beneficial and do not constitute a real interruption to the continuity of life.

So, let's welcome this special time of year and use it to conceive of ways to improve our collective human condition in 2010.
Wishing all a Happy & Prosperous New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

County Council: Appointment or Disappointment?

As predicted by Dec 15th's Gristle column in the Weekly;
In any event, Pete—who has spent the last year cannily splitting the differences and then mending them on a variety of issues in front of County Council—will undoubtedly appoint someone who best benefits the aims of his administration.

Also, my own blog of December 12 supplied my logic and preferences to this process.

Herald articles from yesterday sum up what actually happened plus a few reactions

Turns out Pete picked Ward Nelson, an existing Council member who was to retire at the end of this month.
He did not pick Dan McShane, a previous Council member who ran for election this year for the other District 1 seat, but was narrowly defeated.
I believe - like others - that deferring this appointment to Pete allowed him to demonstrate his true political preference, and restructure the Council in a way that does not challenge his well-known 'do-nothing' agenda.

Not that Nelson is a poor choice, but his political leanings and history do NOT align very well with his predecessor, Bob Kelly, a progressive who resigned last month.

Also, Pete essentially ignored the fact that Nelson recused himself and therefore did not receive 3 votes of support from the current Council members. Instead, he simply substituted his own choice -as the Council in its dysfunction allowed him.

I am not surprised by Pete's action, since I have observed his management style and preferences fairy closely over the last 10 years.
He does not like to be challenged by either Council members or the Council itself, which has happened during the last year or so.
Just witness Pete's unusual step of endorsing Carl Weimer's opponent - and indeed the entire 'conservative' slate - during the last election.
Think that wasn't out of resentment for being out-maneuvered on the Flood Tax issue and a few other things?

But, Pete's recent veto of the budget changes recommended by the Council seemed to be the real tip-off as what he was up to.
[Only Nelson and Brenner opposed the Council's recommendations.]

With one conservative [Nelson] leaving the Council and two [Knutzen & Kershner] being elected, means a net gain of one.
And with three progressives [Kelly, Caskey-Schreiber, Fleetwood] leaving the Council and one [Mann] being elected, means a net loss of two - depending upon Pete's choice of appointment.

So, inside of one month, the political balance of the Council has shifted from a 4-3 majority favoring Progressives, to a 5-2 super majority favoring Conservatives -partly thanks to Pete's choice of Nelson.

Pete surely has to be more comfortable with the new political 'balance', don't you think?
He ought to be, because he now has tighter control over what that mischievous Council might do.

And, actually DOING something isn't anywhere near the top of Pete's agenda. At least that's been my observation.
After all, DOING something might further polarize this County!
"it is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing." - Thomas Jefferson 1787

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Hallelujah, Halleluyah and Alleluia!

The Senate's early Christmas Eve vote on healthcare reform was another step in this slow, but necessary and overdue process.
Although some folks disagree, I welcome this as tangible progress addressing an long-standing issue of great importance to millions of Americans, and therefore clearly a reason to rejoice.

But, more hurdles must be overcome before any of the anticipated benefits are manifested.
The Senate and House bills must be reconciled and the all-important final approving votes cast, before the measure can be sent to the President for his signature.
Then, the real work begins of explaining and implementing the changes over time.

Will this measure address all the identified problems to every one's satisfaction?
Of course not, but it is the best that could be agreed upon for now.

As likely improvements are proposed and defects are discovered, these will provide valuable impetus for further refinements.
Often, initial progress on an issue is the hardest part, and the difficulty witnessed during this year's debate certainly fits that profile.
But, like it or not, adversarial debate is the primary method by which this country changes its policies and regulations.

And, despite all the vitriol, posturing rhetoric and costly lobbying, a majority -actually a super majority- of our elected Congressional representatives have supported the respective House and Senate bills now awaiting melding into a single bill that both bodies can approve.

The process has been anything but pretty to watch, fueled by unusually nasty partisan politics, ideological arguments and outrageous claims and speculation.
But, this issue is one that our President prioritized during the past election, so its debate should been no surprise.
What was a surprise -at least to me- was the partisan ferocity exhibited by those calling themselves 'conservatives', who seized upon this issue as a way to stir up public anger and frustration to help sway voters during next year's elections.

That kind of mindset and motivation has become all too prevalent lately.
While elected members of Congress do represent different constituencies, they also share the responsibility for representing all Americans and what is in the best interest of our Country as a whole.

To achieve that goal, some degree of true bipartisanship is necessary to forge workable compromises.
I find it very hard to accept that there were NO Republican Senators willing to demonstrate the caring and courage to vote their conscience instead of political party line!

The three main elements of any healthcare reform are ACCESS, COSTS and QUALITY, with their priorities in the same order.

Who really believes its not important to make some level of healthcare access to over 30 million citizens who don't have it?
Whose interests are served by continuing to ignore this situation and deny no reform is necessary?

And, who doubts that healthcare cost effectiveness can be dramatically improved by more competition, less paper shuffling and less reliance on for-profit healthcare providers?
You know, government run healthcare in this Country is pretty well administered; just think of MediCare and the Veterans Administration.

I have had MediCare as my primary health insurance for the last 2 years and find it remarkably good and easy to use, despite my earlier, uninformed doubts.

As far as healthcare quality is concerned, that is generally considered pretty good.
But, as healthcare expands to cover millions of new people, more doctors, nurses and technicians will certainly need to be trained and qualified.
Perhaps equally important is the emphasis on healthy diets and habits and wellness programs which can help prevent many illnesses and disabilities before they become major health problems.

While there will remain healthcare gaps, inequalities, financing difficulties and new methods of providing timely care, I believe the first step now being taken, is a step in the right direction.
And, it is something for which most Americans can rejoice during this Christmas season!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

US Healthcare: Big Tent or Big Top?

Doesn't it seem like the more things change, the more they stay the same?
Over 2 months ago it seemed like the national healthcare reform debate in Congress was nearing a conclusion, but here we are 2 days before Christmas and the Senate still has not voted on this issue.
Of course, the Senate bill now under discussion bears but limited resemblance to the collection of proposals that existed 10 weeks ago.

One constant is the vehement delaying tactics being employed by the 'Party of 'No', which is embarked on a scorched earth policy designed to obstruct, delay, water down and hopefully kill any measure that comes to vote.
And, if that doesn't work, expect more misinformation/scare campaigns backed by big money, phony 'Tea Parties' and election tactics to match.

For one party to opt for non-participation, then claim not having their views heard and considered is ludicrous!
Last time I witnessed such behavior probably dates back to elementary school, maybe kindergarten.
That our Congress has come to this type of spiteful dysfunction is a real pity, but the seeds of this type of conduct have been evident for a while.

Just look at how the current administration contrasts with the previous one.
The 'W' White House years in office never advocated anything approaching a 'big tent' philosophy.
Quite the contrary, W pursued his own agenda and R ideological dogmas from the very beginning.
And the D's gave him the benefit of the doubt, much to their later chagrin.

It was only after 6 years of W's damage had been done that the D's regained a majority in Congress.
And, two years after that when Obama was elected with an ambitious agenda and an inclusive, 'big tent' approach to governing.
That is an admirable goal, but also inherently difficult to achieve.
The R's have exploited this by essentially boycotting it and substituting a militant form of obstructionism, in hopes of political gain.

The public's prolonged exposure to the congressional 'sausage-making' around healthcare reform has managed to tarnish its original beneficial objectives.
Instead, what could have been an enlightened national discussion about a very important issue has been deliberately turned into a protracted ugly squabble, with an outcome not likely to not satisfy anyone.
We may be on the verge of seeing this debate turn into a debacle, which would be most regrettable - especially after 60-plus unproductive years of failure to significantly improve healthcare in the country.

Unfortunately, the 'big tent' envisioned is instead being used as a 'big top' to house a circus with several unfunny clowns competing to be the Ringmaster!
Maybe it has always been this way, but this time it's just more visible.
Democracy isn't always pretty to watch, but militant, mean-spirited obstructionism is really ugly, and demeans the public as well as the spirit of our Constitution.
I hope the art of compromise with civility can be restored, but that kind of reform might be even more difficult, unless, we -the public- demand it with our voices and votes!

Winston Churchill once said he admired the Americans because they always get things right... after they have tried everything else!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Affordable Housing Toolkit: Inclusionary Zoning

Rarely has there been a topic that engenders more instant heat than zoning proposals.
And, whenever the word 'inclusionary' is included that heat is turned up to high.

It seems the development community, including land owners/speculators, builders and the real estate industry see inclusionary zoning as a threat to their very existence; a slippery slope to be avoided at all costs - despite the clear potential for generating some very tangible and beneficial results.

Actually, these folks are simply protecting the status quo, which they know and want to keep - and in the process, their profit margins.
That's OK, but it does externalize the often heard problem of housing affordability to 'others', including financially strapped local governments.

Here, I must make clear the definition of 'affordable housing' that I'm talking about; it is the HUD definition used by the US Government that is based upon actual household income, compared to local averages.

While there are some private developments that are built specifically for lower income households, our local Housing Authority, the city's Community Development Department and other non-profit organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Kulshan Community Land Trust [KCLT] provide for most of this housing, whether for rental or purchase, rehabilitated or new.

But these organizations chronically fall short of meeting affordable housing needs.
The Housing Authority generally has a waiting list of 2 years or more.
Community Development Block Grant [CDBG] funds from the US Government are inadequate and have steadily fallen most of this decade despite growing needs.
A few years ago, Habitat for Humanity reported the lack of building sites as its greatest single need.
Kulshan has been very successful in both raising grant monies and promoting the creation of opportunities for permanently affordable housing in our area, but the need far outstrips its ability to provide this type of critical housing.

Both Habitat and Kulshan have found their homeowners to be excellent citizens who truly appreciate the housing provided, which is largely scattered in neighborhoods throughout the city.

What inclusionary zoning [IZ] can provide is a more steady supply of building sites for affordable housing, concurrent with new development.
The State of Washington legally allows IZ as long as certain guidelines are followed, but it is up to individual municipalities to take advantage of this provision.

Two articles by Jared Paben appeared in the Bellingham Herald recently on this subject which illustrate some history and pro and con arguments.
The first dealt with a City Council proposal and related information at this URL.

The second listed a synopsis of a study on possible IZ impacts at this URL.

A few years ago the City Council considered inclusionary zoning as a fair and reasonable way to provide more building sites for affordable housing.
That effort morphed into a countywide task force which took about 18 months to conclude it couldn't agree on recommending IZ.
Instead, the task force ended up essentially reviving an old study done in 1991.

I think Bellingham should adopt a reasonable IZ policy on its own.
Here is a summary of my rationale:

• Up-zoning creates an instant windfall for landowners, sometimes increasing value by 10, 20 or 50 times.
Transfer of Development Rights [TDR] -based Zoning was proposed over 35 years ago as a means for sharing windfalls with municipalities to help pay for public improvements.
Unfortunately, this concept never caught on widely, but remains a useful potential tool.

• If the cost of growth is to be fairly shared by development, system development charges, impact fees and inclusionary zoning are mechanisms to help achieve this result.
Otherwise, the municipality, taxpayers and rate-payers end up over subsidizing new development.

• As onerous as permitting fees, sdc's and impact fees seem to be, they are preferable to having none, for the reason above.

• City policy is to create livable neighborhoods with ready access to schools, jobs, parks and transportation, not exclusive gated developments. IZ can help do this.

• Since the cost of a lot may cost up to one third [1/3] of home costs, setting aside lots for affordable housing can dramatically lower their cost.

• Setting aside 10% of lots in a multi-dwelling unit development is a reasonable policy that can greatly help insure affordability by effectively leveraging scarce public funding and charitable gifts.

• In lieu of land dedication, payment of a reasonable monetary amount could be allowed.

• Inclusionary Zoning should not be considered a panacea, but another tool in the city's toolkit to benefit the entire community.

• Inclusionary Zoning probably fits urban areas better than rural areas or small towns, so it is no surprise that the countywide CHAT Task Force failed to agree in recommending it.
That should not prevent the City from adopt this idea on its own.

• Scare tactics and misinformation loudly proclaimed by elements of the development community should be taken with a grain of salt.
There is no reason why a well-considered Inclusionary Zoning policy can not work for the greater good of Bellingham.
But, voluntary compliance doesn't work very well, which is why a fair, mandatory regulation is necessary.

There are likely other thoughts that could be added to this list, but this will suffice for now.

I'm glad the City Council has renewed its interest in this subject, but it will still take perseverance and courage to get a reasonable ordinance ready for public comment and eventual approval.
That is often the way it is with controversial issues.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

County Council: Who Would You Appoint?

A recent Herald blog reflected a brief interview with County Executive Pete Kremen about whom he might appoint to take Bob Kelly's place as interim Council Member for next year.

I suspect Pete already has an idea of who will be on his 'short' list, but may take his time to let the excitement simmer at reduced heat, plus further evaluate the political tea leaves.
There are several clues that may have bearing on what is now Pete's decision:

• Whoever is selected must have been nominated by the Council, per the list of 25 names shown below.

• Preference would likely be given to those applicants who attracted 3 Council votes. [no one got 4]
By my reckoning, 11 applicants received 3 votes - 8 'liberal-leaning' and 3 'conservative leaning'.
This would eliminate 14 applicants.

• Since Kelly was elected 2 years ago and considered 'liberal-leaning', maintaining the Council's voted political balance would mean appointing an applicant with similar views.
This would eliminate 3 additional applicants.

• Since this appointment is only for one year -until another 1-year election next November - there is little time for an appointee without prior experience as a Council member to adequately come up to speed on his/her responsibilities as well as the important issues under consideration.
Accepting this logic would eliminate 7 more applicants, leaving Dan McShane as the clear favorite.
Only McShane and Ward Nelson fit this criteria, but Nelson also did not get 3 votes since he abstained from voting for himself.
Also, I can't think of a better appointee than McShane if Pete wants the DNR Reconveyance of forest lands around the Lake Whatcom Reservoir to succeed. [unless he doesn't want to share the credit]

• The notion of barring whoever is appointed from running for reelection is not a good idea, and likely could not be enforced anyway. Not long ago, the City Council experienced a similar situation with the untimely death of Joan Beardsley. In that case the City Council was able to gather the 4 votes necessary to appoint a 1-year replacement, Don Gischer, a former Council member. Gischer ran for reelection the next year for a second 1-year term, but was unsuccessful as Stan Snapp was elected.
The following year Snapp ran for reelection to a full 4-year term and was unopposed.

Late in 2006 the City Council also had to appoint an interim mayor when Mark Asmundson resigned unexpectedly. At that time, some Council members did think it important NOT to give any new candidate the appointment because that might tend to create the advantage of incumbency later, considered an 'unfair' advantage over any challengers. We were fortunate that former Mayor, Tim Douglas, garnered the 4 Council votes required for the appointment. Also, he was not keen to run for reelection.
I believe that the position of Mayor was considered more demanding and has much more responsibility than the position of a single Council member.

I must say that I find it ironic that Barbara Brenner, the current longest serving County Council incumbent, should be the one so concerned about an appointee being allowed to run for reelection.
When I was appointed to the City Council over 10 years ago, I thought it important to convince that Council that I would take the job vary seriously and and at least be prepared to run for election the following year.
That did seem to work out OK, but I do understand the kind of disappointment and jealousy that politics can engender.

So, how about it Pete?
After all, McShane did run for office even though he lost narrowly to a newcomer.
And, he does know the County issues well, plus he closely reflects the voted political balance that has prevailed this year and last.
Please don't make this decision based on anything other than simple common sense.
And, make it sooner rather than later.
The citizens of Whatcom County deserve to know they will be well represented, at least until another election can occur next year.

My tabulation of nominees:

* Beattie 3-3 L
* Dupre 3-3 L
Franklin 2-4 C
Gorman 0-6 L?
* Grah 3-3 L
* Hansey 3-3 C
Helm 2-4 C
* Hunter 3-3 L
Jacoby 0-6 ?
* Keys-Halterman 3-3 C
Kole 0-6 ?
* Lysne 3-3 C
* Melious 3-3 L
McRoberts 1-4-1 C?
* McShane 3-3 L
Nelson 2-3-1 C
Pros 0-6 L?
Quinlivan 2-4 C
* Schissler 3-3 L
Smith 2-4 C
Starcher 0-6 L?
* Starr-Culverwell 3-3 L
Sygitowicz 2-4 C
Thorndike 1-5 C
Ungern 2-4 C

* Applicants receiving 3 Council votes
L or C denotes my perception of political leaning

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Endurance & Politics

Since mid-October [when my last blog was published] I've learned more about endurance than I thought possible.
Now that my chemo treatment has finally been concluded, I have been declared free of cancer and am now on the mend.
While it's good to again have the energy and interest to formulate and share thoughts and perspectives, likely I will become more selective about subject matter.
Anyway, to those who care, I'm back and slowly getting stronger.
And, thanks for your support!

Monday's Herald contained this article:

Last night's County Council meeting produced 2 more applicants, for a total of 25!
That's truly remarkable, considering the appointment is only for one year -actually less.
What is illustrated by this unusual show of interest?

Here's what I think:

• The Council has had a progressive slant for the past 2 years, with 4 of seven members generally sharing similar views.
Now, with 'progressive' Bob Kelly resigning, the balance of power is at stake.

• Several hot issues are pending resolution, not the least of which can be broadly categorized as property rights related.
Zoning and growth management issues always seem contentious, but also lately the 'TEA Party' organizers have succeeded in stirring up political interest, particularly outside of Bellingham, which accounts for about 40% of the County population.
That we are now in the midst of an economic downturn just adds to latent discontent.

This morning's Herald blog published this report, along with the actual voting on each candidate:

That last night's Council meeting produced no majority agreement on any candidate is not so surprising given the level of dysfunction that exists among the 6 Council members who could have made this decision.
That, despite 2 of the candidates included both a current and a recent Council member, neither of which could garner 4 votes!
For a 'non-partisan' elected office, it is regrettable that the Council's non-action leaves this appointment to the County Executive, who says he will wait until the end of the month [year] before deciding.

Talk about endurance! There aren't that many candidates who would willingly endure this type of dysfunction for even one year!
No wonder Kelly decided to leave early, but what does that say about his ability to endure?
He did run for a 4-year term and many people helped him get elected.
Somehow, it doesn't sit right for him to summarily resign after less than 2 years on the job.

In 2006, I seriously considered resigning from the City Council after 3 years of my 4-year term, but decided against it when Mayor Mark beat me to it. So, I know the temptation can be strong, but in the end -barring unusual circumstances- the voting public expects its elected representatives to understand and honor their commitments.
Often that requires a good measure of endurance.

But, there is another kind of endurance that isn't so desirable.
That is the habit of some elected officials to use their incumbency primarily as a vehicle for their own repeated re-election.
You don't have to be a close observer of local politics to know who some of these folks are either.
They are the ones who have a penchant for grandstanding, tooting their own horn and generally avoiding taking courageous stands on important issues.

If you don't believe in the power of incumbency, try to explain why 25 applicants show up for an appointment, while we are lucky to get 2 candidates per office for an election!
The only ways I know to lessen the power of incumbency are term limits, or simply getting more qualified candidates to run for office.
Until one or both of these things happen, we will be forced to endure the dysfunctions of the status quo.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Healthcare: Trick or Treat Time

In politics its either too early to tell or too late to do anything about it.

Politics is the art of the possible.


As Halloween approaches, so does the moment of truth for National Health care Reform, or whatever will pass for it.

So far, its been a lot of stated objectives, posturing and behind the scenes roiling and boiling which have fed the media coverage, such as it is.

Lots of speculation, predictions and cautions being thrown about, but really no one knows what will result and become the new law of the land.

I think I know, but only in general terms; less than what some hope for and more than some want.

No need to worry about the 'perfect becoming the enemy of the good', because there is no such thing as perfect that can be agreed upon comprehensively by either Congress or the people they represent.

That is why we need accept what can be passed now, but also agree to revisit it periodically for improvements that become necessary or desirable.

Like maybe the 'trigger' idea for initiating a 'public option' suggested by Senator Olympia Snowe, the only Republican with enough personal integrity and courage to buck the party of 'NO'.

Or, Senator Ron Wyden's idea that seems so sensible.

Or, making existing Medicare reimbursements more fair.
Things like that.

In talking with a number of medical professionals, I find clear support for health care reform, although some are certainly fearful or adverse to what they think will be forthcoming. And change can be scary.

One respected Doctor- who is strongly opposed to reform as is now now being discussed- sees the issue this way.

A three-legged stool of important issues; ACCESS, AFFORDABILITY, QUALITY OF CARE.
He rates them in the order given, with ACCESS clearly the top priority.

The AFFORDABILITY question is of course also critical, especially with something closer to universal coverage.
His fear is that if a 'public option' is ever adopted, that would sound the death knell for the private insurance industry.

That is also what the health insurance industry wants us to believe, plus that health insurance costs will actually rise dramatically - as their 11th hour bogus 'report' claimed. Seems it left out any anticipated savings! How could that happen?

Interestingly, some of the big unions are also having concerns about partially financing health care reform by taxing so-called 'Cadillac' health care plans.
Now why would they do that?
Could it be that they see their mission as negotiating 'Cadillac' health care plans for their members?
Taxing these same plans would tend to reduce those benefits, wouldn't it? Can't have that!

But the unions are also touting a public option, which is a good idea.
But, one has to wonder if they think -as my Doctor friend does- a public option would destroy the private health industry.
Apparently not, but maybe that's a moot point since it appears NO public option is likely to be authorized this time around by our illustrious Congress.

One thing is certain, every truly progressive and comprehensive piece of legislation ever passed has had a struggle, often along partisan lines.
This one is no exception.
So, while a bi-partisan approach may be desirable, it doesn't appear likely - except token exceptions, like Sen Snowe.
And, that's OK with me.

This is something that has been needed for a long time, without any substantial resolution,
It is also something this President was elected to deliver.
And, it is something that most Americans support, despite the hype and misinformation they have to contend with.

But, I think most folks are used to that stuff and see it for what is is.
Too bad our Bill of Rights doesn't specify we are entitled to the truth!

Let's hope we get more treats than tricks when Congress gets around to voting on this important issue.

Saturday, October 3, 2009


I don't know about you, but I still haven't gotten over the spectacle of behemoth NFL players running around in lime green jerseys.
Don't know if that contributed to the Seahawks again 'rescuing defeat from the jaws of victory', but it might have.

Lime green is a good accent color, with the Seahawk's eye and narrow pinstripes, but that's about my limit.
I had noticed more use of the accent creeping in, with ball caps, gloves, shoes and the like, but never thought that a silly marketing ploy would would begin to make the Seahawks look like 'girlie men', as the 'Governator', Ahnold might say.

When I watch part of the next game, I hope not to see any of the following uniform modifications in lime green, or any other color for that matter;

• fuzzy helmet stripes configured as Roman style 'mohawk' markings

• iridescent fish-eye helmet stickers to reward good plays

• tutus

• lime mesh stockings, knee pads or braces

• shoe pom-poms

For several other sports, lime green is more OK as a main color; soccer, cycling, track, T-Ball, cheerleading and the like.

But, please, don't handicap the Seahawks any more than they already are!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Fairhaven Highlands: DEIS Summary Findings

My previous blog on Sep 28 gave a web link to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement [DEIS] released that same day.
Since that time I have reviewed some of that extensive information, received a summary statement [Findings] from comments were that were used on KGMI Radio, and arrived at a few preliminary conclusions of my own about which of these alternatives alternatives seem preferable.
First, the Findings:

The major differences among the seven alternatives are the internal road layout and vehicular access to the site, amount of development coverage, and the areas of disruption between forested wetlands.

Significant impacts could occur from conversion of this forested property but there are significant policy trade offs in environmental impacts. For example, the reduction of one type of impact could increase an impact of another type. Examples:

• Not developing the site could result in growth occurring outside city limits, resulting in an increase in greenhouse gas emissions from people driving into the city, the employment center of the County.

• The original alternative (1A) has the most impacts to the environment (wetland and buffer impacts, forest fragmentation, greenhouse gas emissions, etc.). The applicant subsequently proposed an alternative with fewer impacts (2A).

• Building the required “24th Street Connector” would alleviate congestion from increased traffic and provide more circulation in the area but could affect the quiet neighborhood character.

• Similarly, while providing two entrances (as opposed to one across from Viewcrest) and more roadways within the development provide a traffic benefit, they result in more impacts to wetlands and wetland buffers and result in fragmentation of the forest.

• Other than the original alternative, all of the alternatives provide some protection for wetland and wetland buffers, but some species will be lost due to the fragmentation of the contiguous forest. The “split site alternative” (3D) provides the most connectivity, though it’s impacted by the 24th Street Connector.

Mature forested Category I wetlands were identified during the development of the DIES. As a result, wetland buffers 150 feet wide have been suggested as a mitigation measure to protect wetland functions that support a mature ecology and substantial wildlife habitat. Other mitigation measures are proposed for a variety of impacts.

A traffic analysis was conducted for the affected street system, traffic volumes, traffic safety, transit, and non-motorized facilities associated with the site including 30th Street, Chuckanut Drive, Old Fairhaven Parkway, Viewcrest, Old Samish Highway, and 24th Street.

The traffic volume (at full build out) would generate trips ranging from 4,390/day to at most 5,000/day (1A).


The first 'alternative' given is a no-action alternative, where nothing would be built on this site.
That seems counterproductive since the site is already zoned for residential development and has had an active proposal under consideration since 2005, later modified in 2007.

The main impacts of a 'no action' would be the loss of potential housing within existing city limits, forcing sprawl elsewhere.
To quantify this, the 739 dwelling units proposed in phases are expected to accommodate about 1550 people, or approximately 5% of the population attributed to potential growth between now and 2022.

Related losses would be those accruing to the developer and his partners, the time and effort devoted by tax-paid City government, plus the the very substantial loss of future revenues from taxes, rates, fees, as well as developer-paid public infrastructure, including community enhancing road/trail connectivity.

Then, would come the question of what to do with this property?

Some would have it simply become more city parkland, which is substantially out of the question because of both cost and the lack of available funding.

And, the owner(s) do expect a reasonable return on their valuable investment. If the development plan under consideration does not not produce adequate results, the owners will find recourse, either through sale to others, legal action or otherwise.

No one knows what will eventually occur with the Fairhaven Highlands proposal, but something certainly will, and someone will most likely oppose it.

Years ago, Theodore Roosevelt used the phrase 'the greatest good for the greatest number' in setting goals for our country. That was [and is] a very good policy!
But some, over history have not agreed with how this is determined.

John Muir, for example, fiercely fought the damming of the Tuolumne River at Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite, thinking that pristine river ought to have been preserved in a wild, untouched state forever.
But, another idea prevailed -using the very same policy- that a permanent drinking water supply for San Francisco was equally or even more important.
In the greater scheme of things, both were important goals, but who will doubt having a protected, pure source of drinking isn't the more valuable today?

Alternates 1A and 1B were in the initial 2005 proposal, but at that time, the City added Alternative 1C.
I'm glad they did that because a development this large will cause more congestion to areas already prone to congestion, some even approaching LOS F at times.
And, transportation concurrency with land development is something to take seriously, especially when substantial mitigation is possible.
But, in order to pay for these type of effective transportation mitigation, the developer must find a way in his pro-forma to recover the costs.

2.5.4 Alternative 1C – 2005 Application with Access to 24th Street
Alternative 1C would be developed as described for Alternative 1A, except that the eastern emergency access road connecting to 22nd Street would instead be a fully developed two-lane street connecting the project site to 24th Street. This would involve removing two and a half additional acres of vegetation and adding one and a third more acres of impervious surface than Alternative 1A. Approximately 1,000 square feet of wetland and 72,000 square feet of regulated wetland buffer would be impacted by the 24th Street Connector. Twenty-five acres of 1 Regulated wetlands are those considered to be regulated by the Bellingham Municipal Code Chapter 16.50. See Section 3.4.3 Plants and Animals for more information.
September 2009 Alternatives 2-23
Fairhaven Highlands Draft EISFairhaven Highlands Draft EIS landscaping would be installed, one acre less than Alternative 1A. Alternative 1C would involve the most vegetation removal, wetland and wetland buffer fill, and impervious surface coverage of all development alternatives.
Later, in 2007, the developer proposed modifications which, among other things, did effectively decrease the impacts of this proposed development.

2.5.5 Alternative 2A – Enhanced Buffer Plan
Under Alternative 2A, the property would be developed based on the proponent’s reports submitted to the City of Bellingham in 2007. The reports describe construction of 17 single- family units and 722 multi-family units. The multi-family units would be a mixture of townhouses and up to 5-story apartment buildings. The project would also include a 4,000- square-foot community building.
Approximately 41 acres of vegetation on-site (50 percent of the property) and half an acre off- site would be removed to accommodate the project, the least amount of vegetation removal from the project area among the development alternatives. Approximately 20 acres on-site (25 percent of the property) and one-third of an acre off-site would be covered by impervious surface including roadways, rooftops, and driveways. Alternative 2A would have the lowest impervious surface coverage of the development alternatives. Twenty-one acres of landscaping would be installed. It is estimated that about 200,000-210,000 cubic yards of soil would be excavated and around 60,000-70,000 cubic yards of soil would be used for fill, with a net off-site export of 140,000 cubic yards.
Alternative 2A includes buffers around most wetland areas that are larger than what is proposed for Alternatives 1A, 1B, and 1C. Approximately 24,000 square feet of wetlands and 65,000 square feet of wetland buffers would be filled, the least amount of fill among the development alternatives.
Vehicular access to the site would be provided on the east side of the existing Chuckanut Drive/Viewcrest Road intersection. Two emergency-only access roadways would be provided to the site (one via Chuckanut Drive, near 16th Street, and one internal road connecting the southeast portion of the site with the northeast portion of the site.
In the event Alternative 2A was unacceptable, the developer preferred either Alternative 2F or Alternative 4F, as briefly described below.

My own preference is along the lines of Alternative 3D, also shown below.

2.5.6 Alternative 2F – Enhanced Buffer Plan with Additional Road
Under Alternative 2F, the property would be developed as described for Alternative 2A, except that the 16th Street and Wetland JJ connectors would be fully accessible roads, rather than emergency access only. This would result in approximately half an acre more impervious surface than Alternative 2A. Compared to Alternative 2A, the construction of the connectors would result in minimal increases in vegetation removal and wetland and wetland buffer fill.

2.5.7 Alternative 3D – Split Site Alternative
Alternative 3D includes construction of 17 single-family units and 722 multi-family units. The multi-family units would be a mixture of townhouses and apartment buildings up to five stories tall. A 4,000-square-foot community building would also be built.
Approximately 40 acres of on-site vegetation (49 percent of the property) and 3 acres of off-site vegetation would be removed to accommodate the project, the least amount of on-site vegetation
2-24 Alternatives September 2009 removal among the development alternatives. Approximately 22 acres on-site (26 percent of the property) and one and a half acres off-site would be covered by impervious surface including roadways, rooftops, and driveways. Nineteen acres of landscaping would be installed. The amount of soil excavated and used for fill would be similar to Alternative 2A.
The site plan includes buffers around most wetland areas that are larger than what is proposed for Alternatives 1A, 1B, and 1C. Approximately 26,000 square feet of wetlands and 115,000 square feet of wetland buffers would be impacted.
The design of the internal roadway network is similar to Alternative 2F, except that there would not be a road between Wetlands CC1 and KK. Another major difference is that vehicular access would be provided to 24th Street. The remaining features of the roadway network would be the same including vehicular access on the east side of the existing Chuckanut Drive/Viewcrest Road intersection, and a second access farther north on Chuckanut Drive near 16th Street.

2.5.8 Alternative 4F – Enhanced Buffer Plan with Single-family Development in Southern Portion
Alternative 4F is similar to Alternative 2F except that the southern portion of the site would be entirely made up of single-family units, with a larger number of multi-family units clustered in the northern portion. A total of 51 single-family units and 688 multi-family units would be constructed.
The roadway network would be identical to Alternative 2F. The project would have a similar amount of impervious surface coverage as Alternative 2A and 2F. The amount of soil excavated and used for fill would also be similar to Alternative 2A.
Approximately 51 acres of vegetation on-site (62 percent of the property) and a little more than half an acre off-site would be removed. Approximately 26,000 square feet of wetland and 108,000 square feet of wetland buffer would be impacted.

Readers should note that the several Alternatives listed in the DEIS were culled from a total of about 30, on the theory that the several selected for inclusion substantially represented most of the reasonable configurations possible.
Also note that NO PREFERRED ALTERNATIVE has yet been determined. That will happen only after the Public Hearings and other due public process has been completed.
It is possible that some mixing and matching of various concepts and components will occur as a result of the public process to come.
These things will become a part of a Final EIS, which would be basis for any official approval action(s).

I hope this synopsis is helpful to those who find it daunting to wade through hundreds of pages of documentation.
While most of us will not have a direct vote in whatever the final outcome may be, we all do have a role to play in fully informing ourselves about what alternatives are being considered and what their relative pros and cons may be.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Fairhaven Highlands: Entertainment for Silly Season

After a little break to bone up on Ancient & Medieval History, it may be time to revisit what passes for Modern history in the making.

This announcement just entered my e-mailbox earlier today:

Fairhaven Highlands Draft Environmental Impact Statement released

Posted: September 28, 2009 11:35:14 PST

City officials announced today (Monday Sept. 28) the release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the Fairhaven Highlands development. Tim Stewart, Planning Director and State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Official for the project, said that along with the draft DEIS an updated schedule also has been released that includes a 45-day public comment period.

A public hearing on the DEIS is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 20 in City Council Chambers at Bellingham City Hall. If necessary to accommodate a large number of speakers the hearing will be continued to 6 p.m. Wed. Oct. 21.

Fairhaven Highlands is a development proposed in April 2005 by Greenbriar Northwest Associates, LLC, located within Bellingham city limits between Chuckanut Drive, the Interurban Trail, Old Fairhaven Parkway, and Old Samish Highway. This planned development proposal includes 739 units of single- and multi-family residential units and related public and private infrastructure.

In February 2007, Greenbriar requested that the City's Planning and Community Development Department initiate the preparation of an EIS for Fairhaven Highlands. The City contracted with ESA Adolfson to conduct the EIS process. A public hearing to hear feedback on the DEIS will be held October 20, and the public comment period extends through November 12, 2009.

"The purpose of the EIS is to provide fair, objective and factual information about the site and its environment," Stewart said. "Good information, generated in an open and transparent process, will result in higher quality decisions about the proposal, the site and ultimately the land use and development permits that will be required before any development may occur. The EIS process allows us to seek the very best information before any decisions are made about the permits," he said.

Copies of the DEIS are available to review at the Bellingham Public Library, the Planning Department, and hard copies and CDs are available for purchase in the Planning Department. The entire DEIS is also available to view online at the city's project page at An updated EIS schedule and timetable has been posted as well as all sub-consultant reports. Please see the city's project page at for more information.


Media Contact:
Nicole Oliver, Communications Coordinator
Planning & Community Development Department


Here are more links for those who may be salivating:

Fairhaven Highlands Draft Environmental Impact Statement released

Most info is posted at this City website:

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bellingham's New Transportation Commission

A recent Herald article reports Bellingham is seeking applicants for new Transportation Commission

The City's website provides information on its new Transportation Commission:

This sub-website explains the rationale behind establishing this new Commission:

Basically, the new Commission expands its previous role(s) into longer range planning, while also continuing the prior functions of advising the City on Bicycle/Pedestrian and Parking issues.
Because the Growth Management Act requires Transportation CONCURRENCY in planning for Growth, the new Commission's role is intended to help fill some gaps this effort.

For example, I can see some clear possibilities of jointly meeting with the Planning Commission, the Whatcom Council of Governments [Regional Transportation Planning Agency], the Waterfront Redevelopment Project, and Public Works regarding the City's annual Transportation Improvement Plan [TIP].

Because of the increased depth of scope envisioned, care must be taken in selecting members willing to undertake these important assignments.
Additionally, use may be made of task forces and sub work groups as may be necessary and prudent.

Transportation projects often share at least two main characteristics; they address multiple long term needs and they tend to be relatively expensive.
Both of these are reasons that strongly justify an expanded Transportation Commission.

I hope citizens will seriously consider volunteering to be a part of this new idea.
Although the deadline for initial applications is September 18, there will be new appointments made at least yearly for the first three years.
A normal term of appointment, thereafter, is 3 years.

The following Questionnaire provides some food for thought for potential Applicants:

City of Bellingham
Transportation Commission Inventory

A broad cross-section of our community is expected to declare interest in the nine (9) seats that are available on Bellingham’s new Transportation Commission. Please help us assess the attributes you could bring to the Commission by highlighting your vision, knowledge, philosophy and experience related to transportation issues while answering the following questions. Please keep your responses to a total of no more than three one-sided pages, using a font of at least 11 points. Submit your responses to the Mayor’s Office, 210 Lottie Street, Bellingham, WA 98225. Thank you.

1. As part of a 9-person body, what unique perspective or experience do you feel you would bring to the Commission?

2. What are the challenges, as you see it, to meeting the transportation needs of Bellingham and even Whatcom County?

3. What are some specific ways the city can address these issues or challenges?

4. If you had a symbolic $100 in public money to spend on any transportation system improvements you saw fit, how would you allocate the sum (use whole dollars only)?

5. What transportation modes do you personally use as...

Your primary means?

Periodic alternative transportation (e.g. once a month or more)?


6. If not selected for one of the Commission’s nine seats, would you be willing to serve on a select limited-term work group or a standing subcommittee? Check one: 0 YES 0 NO

Name: Phone:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Local Politics: 25 Reasons?

Beware of candidates claiming their inexperience as their main virtue.
I'm just now returning to the present after a short interlude to the past, studying ancient & medieval history.
That was interesting, but I must say we have it better these days, notwithstanding the habitual lying and dishonest posturing on political matters.

For example, I'm pleased that another local blog, Latte Republic, published a document -plus responses to it- entitled

The original list of '25 Reasons' purports to support 4 brand new candidates for County office by trying to smear 4 other candidates, three of whom have actual experience in that office.
[Note McShane has been out of office since 2007 and Mann has never held elected office]
Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the 25 'reasons' are bogus and don't hold water, but since several are on the subject of water, I'll get back to that.

Anyway, this particular political piece ends this way:

Please ask your friends, families and neighbors to review this list. All of these statements are factual. Make sure everyone you know understands that the current County Council has lost sight of what is important to the people of Whatcom County. The 'Gang of Four' (Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan) must be removed from office.

And finally, this admonition:
We Must Support Kathy Kershner, Mary Beth Teigrob, Michelle Luke, and Bill Knutzen!

Note that none of these favored four have any experience at all in public office, which is being touted as a virtue.
Instead, their clever handlers are speaking for them by using this poorly aimed broadside.
A fitting, and more likely result will be actually to turn the 'favored four' into political cannon fodder, a hard lesson for not being careful with the truth, or with whom you let speak for you!

This reminds of a quote nearly 60 years old: 'The GOP would do well to remember the warning of Maine Republican Margaret Chase Smith, who worried in 1950 that her party was trying to achieve victory on "the Four Horsemen of Calumny -- Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear."'
Guess we could also add simple lying and deliberate misinterpretation of facts.

Of the 25 'Reasons' several are related to important water issues, so this piece will focus on them.

1. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan advocated for, and voted to raise taxes without offsetting the net cost to the taxpayer. This has not otherwise occurred in the 14 years Executive Kremen has been in office. Carl initially advocated for more than double the increase that was finally passed by a slim Council majority.

Carl's response: This refers to the increase in the Flood Tax which amounted to less than $1/month on the average house. This small increase was needed to start to implement the Lake Whatcom stormwater plan, meet other mandated water quality issues, and shore up the flood fund that was dipping below what has historically been the level set to meet emergencies. Luckily this increase happened when it did because the January 2009 flooding required a big chunk of this emergency money.

My response: This 'increase' actually was a partial restoration of funding necessary to accomplish water related work considered vital to this entire county. Formerly, the so-called 'Flood Tax' was used to fund the WRIA1 Program [Water Resource Inventory Area #1], a comprehensive planning effort supported by 5 'Initiating Governments', Whatcom County [Lead entity], City of Bellingham, PUD #1, Lummi Nation & Nooksack Tribe and several stakeholder groups. About $4.5 million was expended in this effort over several years, before the effort was undermined by those -including the development community- who felt threatened by it; quite possibly by some of those who are still attempting to discredit water planning as a necessary task.
Whatcom County retains the serious, legal responsibility for providing water-related services, and to give these priority without providing the necessary funding would be irresponsible, thereby inviting costly legal actions the County would likely lose.

2. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan increased the taxes to pay for pet projects, one of them directly benefitting a friend and campaign advisor. This of course was for the "Shellfish Bed Inventory" portion of the designated uses for the Flood Tax increase. Geoff Menzies will assist in this work, and gain financially.

Carl's response: This again refers to the increase in the Flood Tax ($12/year for a $300,000 property). The rest of the statement is a bald faced lie. There was no money included for anything like a “shellfish bed inventory,” or anything that Geoff Menzies would have in any way been paid for. There was money for shellfish closure response plans for Birch Bay and Chuckanut Bay because the pollution in those areas have closed shellfish beds and we are required by state law (and it’s the right thing to do) to develop recovering plans in such circumstances. We also enhanced the Flood Fund with $500,000 from the REET fund. Here are the ways that money was targeted.

• Increased Flood Planning, Implementation, and Response $555,000
• Shellfish Closure Response Plans (Birch Bay and Chuckanut) $70,000
• Code revision to add appropriate Low Impact Development standards for county roads, other developments $60,000
• Design and engineering for Lake Whatcom sub-basin natural drainage retrofit - $150,000
• Stormwater Low Impact Development Pilots for existing homes (Lake Whatcom) $120,000
* CAO/Shorelines Education and Enforcement (PDS) Additional FTE $85,000
• Enhance implementation of shoreline, salmon, marine restoration, and shellfish recovery plans $50,000
• Lake Whatcom Stormwater capital projects planning and construction per Lake Whatcom Stormwater plan $390,000
• Lake Samish stormwater plan development $110,000

My response: Drayton Harbor has a terrible problem related to high levels of fecal coliform that is evidenced particularly at low tide. As a historic shellfish habitat, addressing this problem and restoring a healthy shellfish production was considered a worthwhile task of the former WRIA1 program, and remains so.
The attempt to characterize this effort as personal and political is bogus and gratuitous. In other words, a lie!


4. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan are strong advocates to create a gigantic park around Lake Whatcom, rather than allowing for an environmentally, responsibly, and economically-managed (by DNR) undeveloped forested landscape to be maintained around the lake. While this removes revenue to the County, it adds a huge future cost-liability to the taxpayers with no other foreseeable reimbursement.

Carl's response: This refers to the proposal to reconvey about 8000 acres of DNR land around Lake Whatcom back to the County to set it aside as a low impact reserve. Yes some hiking will be allowed in the area, but those impacts will be minimal compared to the impacts associated with road building and logging. New studies have recently been released, and more are on the way, that show pretty clearly that logging in the watershed has a much larger impact on phosphorus loading to the Lake than previously acknowledged. While it is true that DNR does a better job than most private forest operations, in the Lake Whatcom watershed we need to get into place more stringent control on all logging if we hope to restore the lake. It should be noted that DNR recently increased their forest practice regulations, and the Dept. of Ecology has just started a huge process to address the scientific evidence which shows that the much touted Forest and Fish law is not adequate to protect water quality in general, and certainly not in the Lake Whatcom watershed.

My response: My position is clear from previous blogs, and can be briefly summarized as follows. Protection of the Lake Whatcom Reservoir, the sole water supply for half of Whatcom County, is important, and minimizing development and land/vegetation disturbance is critical. To the extent the County can fund and carefully manage the reconveyance of 8400 acres of forest lands around Lake Whatcom, the proposed reconveyance may be helpful, notwithstanding the loss of revenues from timber harvests. To date, I have not seen the land use plans nor the longterm funding source that would give me confidence this will work as anticipated. But, the potential for protecting the Lake and its watershed are considerable.

5. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan led the charge to create a costly and inefficient homeowner septic inspection program. Under this scheme, the property-owners of Whatcom County pay millions per year for needless inspections, with well over 90% of the results being 'everything's fine'.

Carl's response: The state legislature passed a law requiring counties to institute a system for the inspection of septic systems. The local Health Department estimates there are 30,000 septic systems in the county, although they don’t have any records for a third of those systems. That equates to somewhere in the area of 30,000,000 gallons of human sewage in the county that no one knows where it is, or if the systems are functioning properly. What we do know is that every stream in the lowland parts of the county are failing to meet federal water quality standards for fecal coliform pollution (the measure of sewage in the water). Sophisticated DNA testing in area streams shows that this pollution is coming mainly from livestock and to a lesser degree septic systems. The regulations we passed require an initial inspection by a professional so we can get a clear baseline of where all the septics are and how well they are working. After the initial inspection most systems can then be inspected by the homeowners themselves on a regular schedule after they take a class from the Health Department. The first year of data indicates that about 5% of the systems inspected so far a failing outright, and about 20% need maintenance. If these types of numbers hold for the rest of the county it would mean somewhere in the area of 1500 systems are failing county-wide (1,500,000 gallons of human sewage), and as many as 6000 systems need maintenance to keep from failing. The cost of an inspection is between $200 - $300 which is still a bargain compared to what people in the cities pay for sewer annually. The County is working on a low cost loan program for people who need to do expensive repairs to their systems The Council has also made it clear that once the initial baseline inspections are complete we will look at the data to decide whether it makes sense to then relax the inspection interval to even further lower the cost.

My response: What is it that is so hard to understand about following State law? The County's responsibility includes public health & safety. Get serious!

6. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan came up with a scheme to remove the authority of the County Executive to veto tax increases in one of the County funds. They did this to insulate the Council from veto, and it was this very fund that a slim majority of Council members ended up increasing.

Carl's response: This is referring to the Flood Tax again, and is not at all accurate. The Flood Control Zone District (FCZD), which sets the Flood Tax level, is set up in state law as a separate municipal entity from the County. Currently the FCZD Board and the County Council are one and the same, but under statute it doesn’t necessarily have to remain that way. There was an audit finding in the 1990s that pointed out that the County was incorrectly mingling the functions and money of the FCZD with that of the County. Correcting this error has been in the works on and off for years, and the need to do this surfaced again a couple years ago. The County Prosecutor, Council, and the Executive all agreed this was needed. Part of that separation of functions was to follow state law in the operations of the FCZD, which would not allow the Executive to veto the decisions of a separate municipal entity (the FCZD), just like he is not allowed to veto the decisions of the City of Bellingham. Another example of this incorrect intermingling was that the interest off the Flood Tax was being directed into the County’s General Fund instead of accruing for Flood Fund purposes. This intermingling still has not been completely fixed, but is in the works.

My response: It's good that some discipline has been imposed on the County in its accounting practices. Those who complain are being either ignorant or disingenuous at best! One of the reasons the County failed to continue diligent pursuit of its WRIA1 Program was the threat of legal challenge over legal use of its funds. Now, at least part of that is fixed.


8. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan championed one-size-fits-all shoreline regulations which require limiting or eliminating uses, such as homes and driveways, within 150 feet of the shoreline, with no supporting evidence whatsoever that somehow this would afford environmental protection.

Carl's response: There is tons of evidence (I have it) that impervious surfaces like homes, driveways, sidewalks, etc have a significant negative impact of our shorelines, fresh water, and ultimately Puget Sound. Most all of these studies show impervious surface totals in the 5-15% range have significant impacts on water quality. Saying over and over again that there is “no evidence” doesn’t make the evidence go away, although it may make people who do not want to have to adopt reasonable stewardship practices believe it.

My response: The Shoreline Management Program recently updated by Whatcom County is considered as an excellent effort by the Dept of Ecology and others knowledgeable in such matters. By its nature, the SMP must be fair and consistent to everyone. It's very hard to teach 'supporting evidence' to those who are being paid not to learn!


10. SKIP

11. Carl, Laurie, Ken & Dan are currently advocating and promoting an elaborate and costly stormwater-tax scheme for many areas around Bellingham and Ferndale.

Carl's response: This refers to a proposal that is being developed by the Executive’s Public Works staff to create a Stormwater Utility in the urban areas of Bellingham and Ferndale that are outside of the city limits. Much of the impetus for this is to create a dedicated funding source to address mandated water quality issues around Lake Whatcom (NPDES, TMDL). The creation of such a stormwater utility would help start to shift the cost for such programs to those that are for the most part creating the problems or will benefit from the programs (people who live in the watershed or drink the water), instead of requiring people that are not the cause of the problems, or people in Cities already paying stormwater fees, to subsidize the cleanup.

My response: Stormwater and its potentially harmful effects are well known and regulated. Not only erosion and flooding are the problem, but also chemical contamination going into our lakes, streams, estuaries and bays. The City of Bellingham had pass new stormwater rates in 2001 to support a number of mandatory program elements, including stormwater treatment -in perpetuity. The County is required to do the same, beginning with those areas adjacent to urban areas and critical water resources. Because we are all living in watersheds, there is a necessity for a cooperative effort, with each participant paying their fair share of costs.

12. through 25. SKIP

Now, returning to the author(s) of the '25 Reasons', and the request to potential supporters of their anointed acolytes;

Please ask your friends, families and neighbors to review this list.
All of these statements are factual.
Make sure everyone you know understands that the current County Council has lost sight of what is important to the people of Whatcom County.

I hope folks do review this list, because that could be a valuable lesson in what passes for political discourse in a significant portion of our population.
But, also review the responses, and also ask a few questions of your own, because that is how the truth gets known.
I don't believe a majority of the current County Council has lost sight of what is important to the people of Whatcom County at all.
Quite the contrary!
But those who believe that all the '25 reasons' are factual, do have a problem!
Accepting any of these statements as true without questioning does not serve anyone's best interests -including those who think they might benefit from it.

Candidates with integrity and competence always need to protect those valuable traits against such temptations!
I hope they will.

Friday, September 11, 2009

On Peak Oil

An oil industry consultant recently had the following article published in the New York Times.
You get to decide whether he's dealing with basic science or just disguised BS.

‘Peak Oil’ Is a Waste of Energy
A careful examination of the facts shows that most arguments about the theory of peak oil are based on anecdotal information, vague references and ignorance of how the oil industry operates.......
As has become my habit, I decided to ask 'Mr Google' and here are excerpts from Wikipedia on peak oil, including different opinions and perspectives.

“All the easy oil and gas in the world has pretty much been found. Now comes the harder work in finding and producing oil from more challenging environments and work areas.” — William J. Cummings, Exxon-Mobil company spokesman, December 2005

To pump oil, it first needs to be discovered. The peak of world oilfield discoveries occurred in 1965 at around 55 billion barrels(Gb)/year. According to the ASPO, the rate of discovery has been falling steadily since. Less than 10 Gb/yr of oil were discovered each year between 2002-2007.

Concerns over stated reserves
“World reserves are confused and in fact inflated. Many of the so-called reserves are in fact resources. They're not delineated, they're not accessible, they’re not available for production” — Sadad I. Al Husseini, former VP of Aramco, presentation to the Oil and Money conference, October 2007.

Al-Husseini's estimated that 300 billion (64×109 m3) of the world's 1,200 billion barrels (190×109 m3) of proved reserves should be recategorized as speculative resources.

Unconventional sources
Syncrude's Mildred Lake mine site and plant near Fort McMurray, Alberta

Unconventional sources, such as heavy crude oil, oil sands, and oil shale are not counted as part of oil reserves.
However, oil companies can book them as proven reserves after opening a strip mine or thermal facility for extraction.
Oil industry sources such as Rigzone have stated that these unconventional sources are not as efficient to produce, however, requiring extra energy to refine, resulting in higher production costs and up to three times more greenhouse gas emissions per barrel (or barrel equivalent).

While the energy used, resources needed, and environmental effects of extracting unconventional sources has traditionally been prohibitively high, the three major unconventional oil sources being considered for large scale production are the extra heavy oil in the Orinoco Belt of Venezuela, the Athabasca Oil Sands in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin, and the oil shales of the Green River Formation in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming in the United States.

Chuck Masters of the USGS estimates that, "Taken together, these resource occurrences, in the Western Hemisphere, are approximately equal to the Identified Reserves of conventional crude oil accredited to the Middle East."

Authorities familiar with the resources believe that the world's ultimate reserves of unconventional oil are several times as large as those of conventional oil and will be highly profitable for companies as a result of higher prices in the 21st century.
“I do not believe the world has to worry about ‘peak oil’ for a very long time.” — Abdullah S. Jum'ah, 2008-01

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah told his subjects in 1998, "The oil boom is over and will not return... All of us must get used to a different lifestyle."

Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens stated in 2005 that worldwide conventional oil production was very close to peaking.
On June 17, 2008, in testimony before the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Pickens stated that "I do believe you have peaked out at 85 million barrels a day globally."

Data from the United States Energy Information Administration show that world production leveled out in 2004, and an October 2007 retrospective report by the Energy Watch Group concluded that this data showed the peak of conventional oil production in the third quarter of 2006
The Hirsch report

In 2005, the United States Department of Energy published a report titled Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, & Risk Management.
Known as the Hirsch report, it stated,
"The peaking of world oil production presents the U.S. and the world with an unprecedented risk management problem. As peaking is approached, liquid fuel prices and price volatility will increase dramatically, and, without timely mitigation, the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented. Viable mitigation options exist on both the supply and demand sides, but to have substantial impact, they must be initiated more than a decade in advance of peaking."

Conclusions from the Hirsch report and three scenarios

1. World oil peaking is going to happen - some forecasters predict within a decade, others later.

2. Oil peaking could cost economies dearly - particularly that of the U.S.

3. Oil peaking presents a unique challenge - previous transitions were gradual and evolutionary; oil peaking will be abrupt and revolutionary.

4. The real problem is liquid fuels for transportation - motor vehicles, aircraft, trains, and ships have no ready alternative.

5. Mitigation efforts will require substantial time - an intense effort over decades.

6. Both supply and demand will require attention - higher efficiency can reduce demand, but large amounts of substitute fuels must be produced.

7. It is a matter of risk management - early mitigation will be less damaging than delayed mitigation.

8. Government intervention will be required - otherwise the economic and social implications would be chaotic.

9. Economic upheaval is not inevitable - without mitigation, peaking will cause major upheaval, but given enough lead-time, the problems are soluble.

10. More information is needed - effective action requires better understanding of a number of issues.

The report listed three possible scenarios:

• waiting until world oil production peaks before taking crash program action leaves the world with a significant liquid fuel deficit for more than two decades;

• initiating a mitigation crash program ten years before world oil peaking helps considerably but still leaves a liquid fuels shortfall roughly a decade after the time that oil would have peaked;

• or initiating a mitigation crash program twenty years before peaking appears to offer the possibility of avoiding a world liquid fuels shortfall for the forecast period.


While there are various optimistic and pessimistic predictions of future oil production, no one knows for sure when peak oil may occur, or if it has already happened.
But, is how important is this exact knowledge in a practical sense?

Doesn't it make sense to plan for contingencies rather than waiting for an 'energy 9/11' to happen?
After all, there is a finite limit to most material things.

And, if we have learned anything from history, it is that new technologies are there waiting for our discovery and application.
Some of those new technologies -like harnessing solar & wind energy- are already known and awaiting application, as are various energy conservation techniques.

It just makes sense that we use these new and less polluting ideas earlier rather than later, so we have the benefit of time being on our side in at least mitigating any peak oil calamity that might come our way -or come our children's or grandchildren's way.

My two cents.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Library: Consolidation Via Deus Ex Machina?

Fanatic: a person motivated by irrational enthusiasm (as for a cause);

"A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject" - Winston Churchill

The September Issue of Whatcom Watch carried yet a third article from Mr. Fred Volz on the subject of our Library system, the first two appearing in the March and June 2009 issues.
Sandwiched in between these first two articles was a clear and factual response in the May issue by Pam Kiesner, our Library Director.

Curiously, Mr Volz's second article was prefaced by an Editor's comment to the effect that some of his statements could not be readily verified and therefore ought to be considered as opinions. Good surmise!
Quite possibly, that may account for the fact that WW chose not to enable that piece for Internet reading.

Now, Mr Volz has again submitted a lengthy article that repeats much of his previous arguments, but also adds some rather presumptive speculations, thereby weaving a remarkable scenario that has an almost Alice in Wonderland quality about it, but not quite.
While it is apparent that Mr Volz has learned something from his various exchanges, the way he has chosen to apply this knowledge subtracts from his credibility.
This verified by the Editor's subtle -perhaps too subtle- lead-in byline; 'Deus Ex Machina'.

I had to look up Deus Ex Machina in Wikipedia
Here's briefly what it means:
A deus ex machina (pronounced /ˈdeɪ.əs ɛks ˈmɑːkinə/ or /ˈdiː.əs ɛks ˈmækɨnə/, or day oos ayks mokinah [1] literally "god from the machine") is a plot device in which a person or thing appears "out of the blue" to help a character to overcome a seemingly insolvable difficulty.

In fiction writing, the phrase has been extended to refer to a sudden and unexpected resolution to a seemingly intractable problem in a plot-line, or what might be called an "Oh, by the way..." ending.
A deus ex machina is generally undesirable in writing and often implies a lack of skill on the part of the author.
The reasons for this are that it does not pay due regard to the story's internal logic and is often so unlikely that it challenges suspension of disbelief, allowing the author to conclude the story with an unlikely, though perhaps more palatable, ending.
Sometimes the unlikeliness of the deus ex machina plot device is employed deliberately:

I don't know if the author used this device deliberately, or what his intention might have been in doing so.
Maybe, it was just to get another badly organized argument with multiple opinions and personal wishes out there for others to read, become misinformed or confused about and thereby aid and abet whatever agenda he is pushing.
There are better ways to advance a principled public discussion on this important issue than the method Mr Volz has chosen, which may end up mainly discrediting him.

Perhaps, he will consider attending the public meetings of the Library Board of Trustees, joining the Friends of the Library, availing himself of the facts that are readily accessible on the various legalities, realities and methods available to initiate changes in the system we have, etc, if he has not already done these things.

Continuing to rely on some supernatural force, like deus ex machina or Superman won't help much.
Neither will casting dispersions on others who are doing what they can with the situation and resources available to even maintain the valuable library system we have now.

Instead of externalizing his perception of a problem to others, Mr Volz -and the public- would be better served by simply engaging in the hard and often thankless work of civic involvement.
Everything is not perfect, nor is it likely to be, unless one's imagination can conjure an endless array of deus ex machina devices at will, then believe they work.

News links:

Bellingham Public Library announcement

Herald article

CNN article -digital libraries

Crosscut article

' I cannot live without books.' - Thomas Jefferson 3rd president of US (1743 - 1826)

Monday, September 7, 2009

More on Cake Baking

Two years ago about this time I published as a blog, an earlier 2004 Guest Editorial on the subject of baking a cake.

With the Healthcare debate taking such a dysfunctional life of its own, maybe it's appropriate to repeat this generic writing, which seeks to remind our elected officials of what our highest expectations of them are, regardless of which issue is being discussed.

Excellence has been described as a habit, not any single act.
With that in mind, let's hope our legislators and other elected representatives decide to get in the habit of more productive discussion, debate and progressive action in resolving the battery of problems that beset us, including something so basic as healthcare.

On a more practical level, here are two cake recipes that I can personally attest to as being quite good.
Obviously, these bakers got their recipes pretty well perfected before going public.

Debbie's McFadden Chocolate Cake:

4 squares chocolate
1 stick butter
1 cup coffee
------- mix together----------
then add:

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk [with 1 1/2 tsp baking soda mixed in it]
beat in 2 eggs

use (2) 9-inch cake pans
bake at 350 F for 30 minutes
let cool and set


melt 1 stick butter
add 4 TBS Cocoa
add 5 TBS Milk [or coffee, juice, etc.]
-----Boil or microwave, then whisk-------

add 1 box powdered sugar
add 2 tsp Vanilla
[runny -let it sit a few minutes]

Alan's Carrot Cake

From Colorado Cache, A goldmine of recipes from the Junior League of Denver ©1978

Cover Mountain Carrot Cake with adjustments for gluten-free version

1 ½ cups vegetable oil (use olive oil)
1 ½ cups sugar
4 eggs, well beaten
3 cups grated carrots
2 cups unbleached flour (substitute rice flours as listed below*)
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground allspice (1/2 tsp ground cloves works well)
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup raisins
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

*Gluten-free substitute: 1 cup brown rice flour, 1 cup white rice flour, ¼ cup tapioca flour, 1 ½ tsp xanthum gum

Cream oil and sugar. Add eggs and carrots, and mix well. Mix dry ingredients. Add flour mixture to carrot mixture, a small amount at a time, beating well. When blended, add pecans, raisins and vanilla. Pour into a 10 X 14 inch greased and sugared pan and bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour. Cool slightly before frosting.


½ cup butter
1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
2 cups sifted, powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine butter and cream cheese with sugar and beat well. Add other ingredients, mix well and spread on cooled cake.


"They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent. . . The era of procrastination, of half measures, of soothing and baffling expedience of delays, is coming to a close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences." - Winston Churchill

Monday, August 31, 2009

Library: From Top Priority To Something Less

About 8 years ago, the Capital Improvements Advisory Committee completed over 2 years of work in evaluating the City's future needs and methods available to fund them.
Public Works projects were excluded because these needs are generally met from revenues collected from services, like water, sewer, stormwater, etc.
The main focus was on public facilities that need to maintained or expanded and modernized for future needs, like libraries, museums, Mt Baker Theater and the like, which rely largely upon public funding approved by special public ballot.

As it turned out, the Bellingham Public Library was identified as the top priority in the Committee's final report, since the existing facilities were nearing capacity and in need of serious upgrading to handle modern electronic and Internet systems.
Also, libraries usually require a separate bond issue to build facilities as well as reliable revenues with which to hire staff and buy books, equipment and materials.

One unexpected finding was the possible availability of another funding mechanism for facilities which are deemed part of a 'regional center' that enhances economic development in our area.
For qualifying projects, the State of Washington actually rebates part of the sales taxes already collected from an area and makes these funds available to pay for them.

What happened here was that Bellingham & Whatcom County joined to create a Public Facilities District to sponsor improving our existing cultural center in the downtown, and over $10 million in funds were received to pay for projects to achieve this goal.
This has been quite a success story that uses taxes already paid.
The main beneficiaries have been the Museum and the Mt Baker Theater, each of which has been upgraded and improved after a very careful and public process.
The most recent and visible example is the new Children's Museum.
The Mt Baker Theater improvements aren't quite so visible, but the extensive electrical and HVAC improvements are necessary for its continued use and maintenance.

The Bellingham Public Library was not a part of the PFD projects, and must be addressed by its own process and funding sources.
It is unfortunate that the BPL has to wait through some tough economic times before necessary modernization and expansion can take place.
It is also unfortunate that the severe budget crunch has made it necessary to reduce the BP Library's staffing so drastically, but that does serve to point out the importance both of efficient building design and library system structure.
Both elements do impact operation costs, as well as capital costs, which is the main point of this posting

The main Library building, although too small for current needs, has two entrances which requires some duplicate staffing.
And, each branch library also requires its own staffing as well as separate facilities which must be maintained, built or leased.
The point is, any distributed system is more likely to be more costly than a basic centralized system, and that is true regardless of public preferences.
In any case, a central library facility, adequately sized and equipped, is the necessary heart of a library system.
BPL is trying valiantly to serve that function, but needs our understanding and help in doing so for the future.

Some have suggested that BPL and the Whatcom County Library system, with its 8 or 9 branches, combine for efficiency.
These libraries are already fully cooperating and collaborating, but because they are separate entities by law, can't simply combine.
First, these organizations have different levels of service, as might be expected when contrasting urban and rural areas.
Second, applicable laws and funding mechanisms would need to be significantly changed, and this would take time and considerable effort even it were deemed desirable.
Essentially, if combining the BPL and WCL were to happen, a new central facility would be needed even more to adequately service the various branches.
If that's what the public wants, its OK - but the public must find a way to pay for it.
That is the bottom line.

In the meantime, enjoy the debate. Who knows, you might be the one with the bright idea that help solve the problem!

A few pertinent links:

Seattle's budget crisis forced Library closures, too.
Overdoing the Library's closure week

More Budget Cuts For Bellingham Library

With budget cuts, layoffs, Bellingham parks and library services decrease

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Waterfront Redevelopment: How Long Can You Tread Water?

Years ago a Bill Cosby album contained some of his funniest creations.
One of the best was a pretend conversation between Noah and the Lord.
In response to Noah's complaint about cleaning up after the animals he was supposed to gather in the Ark, the Lord said 'Noah, how long can you tread water'.
That definitely got Noah's attention!

Now, another NOAA has a tough assignment, that of explaining it's choice of Newport, OR as its new base for 4 research vessels.
How long can this NOAA take to reassess its site evaluation process and factor into it the fact that Newport is burdened by being in a 100-year flood plain?
Not that the ships won't lift with higher water, just like the Ark was designed to do.
It's the shore facilities that support the ships which seem to be the problem, because Federal law disallows them to be in a flood plain.

Think that little detail isn't important?
We're about to find out, now that Bellingham, Seattle and maybe others as the links below report:

Port of Bellingham will appeal NOAA selection of Newport, Oregon

NOAA's move to Newport hits a legal snag

Appeal filed over plan to move NOAA's fleet

Failing to follow the law is almost always a game changer, but we'll have to wait and see on this one.
Interesting to see the Seattle folks also thought they were the favorites.

Important decisions that threaten produce changes are almost always contentious, but the requirement to follow the law ought not to be.
If an applicable law has been broken or overlooked, that is a fair and objective reason to reopen the NOAA site selection process.
After that legal determination what remains is whether the entire site evaluation process will be redone, or if the second highest rated site is selected.
Bellingham could still become NOAA's new base for its vessels, and if that should occur it would be our great benefit.

Sometimes treading water is necessary, and it is definitely preferable to sinking.
But, having to wade through a flood plain to even reach a ship doesn't sound right, does it?
Maybe NOAA will come our way after all, and that would be a good thing.