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.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Growth Management: An Exercise In Futility?

We constantly hear reams of blather about minimizing sprawl by densifying urban centers, but when you get down to it people living in those urban centers don't want changes that affect their 'neighborhood character' and their 'quality of life'.

So, are the concepts of sprawl and infill mutually exclusive?
Are the real games being played 'drive until you qualify' and 'somebody else's problem musical chairs'?

Lot's of folks get excited about these discussions, but the answer almost always means 'somebody else' gets to shoulder the responsibility, an externalization that has become ludicrous.
No one benefits from this constant 'push-me-pull-you' exercise, except maybe those cynics who enjoy seeing incessant senseless turmoil that is almost always non-productive.

Just look at the planning efforts that have been undertaken for years.
How many have realized what was intended?
How many have become dusty, forgotten and expensive shelf art?
Mostly they seem to be palliatives and placebos that do reflect some desirable outcomes, but lack the commitment -and teeth- to meet the objectives intended.

And, after repeated failings to produce results that seem reasonable, fair and predictable, who can be faulted for losing confidence in the process used to determine these growth planning exercises?

Bellingham's current debate with Whatcom County about what proportion of projected growth it should plan to accommodate is just the latest example.
Whatcom County thinks the City ought to do a better job of infilling existing neighborhoods, and -of course- they are correct.
But, do these folks have a clue as to what that simple concept entails?
I don't think so!

If you think existing neighborhoods are likely to willing embrace significant new density, there is a bridge for sale in Brooklyn.
Of course, there are exceptions; high-rise buildings in downtown areas; redevelopment areas like the waterfront; newly annexed areas -accepted on the condition of urban levels of development are the main three that come to mind.
Yet, each of these also has hurdles to negotiate.

• Downtown becomes an attractive living place for folks who like walking to work, shopping and entertainment, and who don't opt for home and lawn maintenance.
Then, there's the little matter of high-rises impacting someone else's view and/or solar access. Otherwise, they are creating a new neighborhood character that is inherently denser and vertical.

• Redevelopment sites like the Waterfront require major investments from public and private funds, and they take time to materialize. Until necessary cleanup, construction and connections are settled, these sites wont likely be fun places to work, live, shop or recreate, all of which make infill uncertain. But, a new neighborhood character will eventually emerge that will utilize access to our shoreline and conveniently connect with the existing downtown.

• Newly annexed areas that are zoned for urban development also must be built in phases and require transportation corridors to connect them with existing urban centers. But, that can certainly be done even though some may think it strange that it happens on the outskirts of the City. Just think of all those ancient and medieval towns where abrupt walls were all the rage to keep out the barbarians and protect the residents! Since there is no existing neighborhood, its character gets a chance to be created, and its density can be determined with more certainty to be urban.

• Of course, there are a few areas that already exist within the City where significant infill is not only possible, but logical.

Several years ago, the Birch Street development was approved with the potential for its maximum allowable 176 new dwelling units, providing a second, full-time access road was provided. That process was painful, particularly to existing neighbors who had grown accustomed to relative quiet and uncongested living next to a forested area that they, or the City, did not own.

REMIND you of another place? Chuckanut Ridge? If the City doesn't allow infill where zoning allows it, then the County is right in its assessment that more land supply is wasteful and unjustified. But, the County can't force the City to take infill, just like the County can't force itself to prevent rural sprawl.

Recently, a number of articles on Crosscut have addressed this issue, using Seattle and its surrounds as examples.
Readers may enjoy links to some of these treatises, especially today's piece by Douglas MacDonald entitled Our region is losing the race against sprawl on the related transportation issue.

Other Crosscut links are Dense, denser, densest and
Why Seattle won't grow as fast as planners say

The close connection between Transportation and Growth Planning is well established, at least in principle.
The problem is in actually understanding and achieving what is meant by concurrency.
To that end, I'm pleased that the City of Bellingham has now bought into the idea of a Transportation Commission to advise it on how best to fully utilize the Transportation tools it has in planning for future growth.

The Herald's article 'Bellingham seeks applicants for new Transportation Commission' explains this idea further.
I'm glad the City has decided to go forward with more focus on Transportation Oriented Development, as was discussed over 2 years ago.
I may even apply myself for one of the 9 seats envisioned.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Three Topics: Healthcare, Climate, NOAA

Ever tried to figure out what your health insurance policy says?
healthcare terminology

Think climate change might impact national security?
climate & security

More on Bellingham's NOAA loss from Crosscut
noaa loss explanation


Parks: Woodstock Farm & Inspiration Point

This article on Woodstock Farm, the City's new special use park off Chuckanut Drive, appeared in today's Herald and is worth checking out.

More information is available on the City's website at this URL:

Additional details on next Sunday's public event appears here:

For those wishing a little more background on how this new park opportunity came about, an earlier blog is available at this URL:

This latest event in a series held over this summer, is set for 1 to 5 PM next Sunday afternoon, August 23, with parking available at the North Chuckanut Trailhead parking lot, with shuttle service to the site.
Exhibits, refreshments and entertainment will be provided at what is being termed an Inspiration Jamboree with the Woodstock Farm Conservancy.

I hope folks will come and see this tranquil and historic gem of a place, which thankfully is being preserved for the enjoyment of our posterity.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Humor: Genealogical Convolutions

Years ago, I remember hearing Willie Nelson sing a funny song, called 'I'm my own Granpa'.

As an amateur genealogist, I was intrigued by how that could occur, without gross incest happening multiple times.

But, it turns the lyrics to this song were actually diagrammed to demonstrate how this might happen, which it turns has - in England!

So, I asked Mr Google and found this blurb from Wikipedia:

Also, a Youtube animated song and familytree diagram version from Ray Stevens:

Finally, here's the printed lyrics:

I'm My Own Grandpa
(Sung by Lonzo & Oscar in 1947)

It sounds funny, I know,
But it really is so,
Oh, I'm my own grandpa.

I'm my own grandpa.
I'm my own grandpa.
It sounds funny, I know,
But it really is so,
Oh, I'm my own grandpa.

Now many, many years ago, when I was twenty-three,
I was married to a widow who was pretty as could be.
This widow had a grown-up daughter who had hair of red.
My father fell in love with her, and soon they, too, were wed.

This made my dad my son-in-law and changed my very life,
My daughter was my mother, cause she was my father's wife.
To complicate the matter, even though it brought me joy,
I soon became the father of a bouncing baby boy.

My little baby then became a brother-in-law to Dad,
And so became my uncle, though it made me very sad.
For if he was my uncle, then that also made him brother
Of the widow's grown-up daughter, who, of course, was my stepmother.

Father's wife then had a son who kept him on the run,
And he became my grandchild, for he was my daughter's son.
My wife is now my mother's mother, and it makes me blue,
Because, although she is my wife, she's my grandmother, too.

Now if my wife is my grandmother, then I'm her grandchild,
And everytime I think of it, it nearly drives me wild,
For now I have become the strangest case you ever saw
As husband of my grandmother, I am my own grandpa!

I'm my own grandpa.
I'm my own grandpa.
It sounds funny, I know, but it really is so,
Oh, I'm my own grandpa.


Ever think this sort of thing might also happen in politics?

Healthcare: More Perspectives

'If you don't read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.' - MARK TWAIN

As frustrating as it has been at times listening to our national healthcare debate, the more discussion occurs, the more facts and perspectives do emerge.
This is good -even essential- despite the overcharged emotional climate that has predictably evolved.
Of course, those people exist who will not be persuaded of anything other than their own biases and opinions, but isn't it always that way?
One can only hope these do not represent a majority, or sufficient numbers to seriously test the courage of those entrusted with representing the best interests of our country as a whole on this important issue.

Rather than expound from my personal perspective any more than necessary, I will trust these three links to express their own views:

First, from the NY Times this article by Timothy Egan on cooperatives:

Next, from today's Crosscut, this article by Ted Luce, an experienced user and administrator of the British health care system, entitled The Socialized Medicine' Red Herring.

Last, from the website, this statement from Mitt Romney:
Brief. Why should Obama NOT be listening to 'liberals', and since when is a delay in healthcare reform a concern of Romney's?

The first two citations help explain and clarify some misconceptions that have been in evidence recently.
Charitably, these might be called 'urban legends', but uncharitably are accurately termed lies, half-truths and deliberate mis-conceptions.

As Richard Abanes wrote about an entirely different subject, the novel The DaVinci Code:
"The most flagrant aspect … is not that Dan Brown disagrees with Christianity but that he utterly warps it in order to disagree with it … to the point of completely rewriting a vast number of historical events. And making the matter worse has been Brown's willingness to pass off his distortions as ‘facts' with which innumerable scholars and historians agree.

And this apparently describes the origin of the term 'urban legend':

The term “urban legend,” as used by folklorists, has appeared in print since at least 1968. Jan Harold Brunvand, professor of English at the University of Utah, introduced the term to the general public in a series of popular books published beginning in 1981. Brunvand used his collection of legends, The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends & Their Meanings (1981) to make two points: first, that legends and folklore do not occur exclusively in so-called primitive or traditional societies, and second, that one could learn much about urban and modern culture by studying such tales.
Brunvand has since published a series of similar books, and is credited as the first to use the term vector (inspired by the concept of biological vectors) to describe a person or entity passing on an urban legend.

Do you know anyone around here who can be credited with being a VECTOR, creating, or promulgating, an 'urban legend'?

"I was brought up to believe that the only thing worth doing was to add to the sum of accurate information in the world." -

"All schools, all colleges, have two great functions: to confer, and to conceal, valuable knowledge. The theological knowledge which they conceal cannot justly be regarded as less valuable than that which they reveal. That is, when a man is buying a basket of strawberries it can profit him to know that the bottom half of it is rotten." - MARK TWAIN [1908, notebook]

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Potpourri Of News: Port Primary & County Growth Management

Things are happening all the time, but significant results and their reporting tend to bunch up at intervals.
That's what has happened this week.
Since I was out of pocket yesterday, here are comments on two issues of local interest:
'In war, you can only be killed once, but in politics, many times.' - Winston Churchill

'My experience in government is that when things are non-controversial and beautifully coordinated, there is not much going on.' - John F. Kennedy

Local Primary Elections

An updated Auditor's Report will be issued today, but preliminary results were posted Tuesday evening, and can be found at this URL.

KGMI and The Herald also posted summary articles at their respective links, with some commentary.

I am particularly delighted with the Port of Bellingham results, which show challengers John Blethen and Mike McAuley as leading vote-getters.
But caution must be offered since the General Election is coming, which is time the big money comes into play to attract what should be a larger turnout.
That is the race that really counts, so let's not be lulled into thinking this election is over!

BTW, I appreciate today's NWCitizen blog labeling me as 'conservative'. I take that in the best sense of the word, just as I do the word 'liberal' which has also been applied to me with some frequency.
Too often these terms are tossed off as lazy and over-simplified pejoratives, which is a disservice to everyone, especially readers.
So, I guess being called both terms may qualify me as somewhat 'balanced' in my views? Hope so.
The quotes cited above come from a Conservative and a Liberal.

Growth Management

Both The Herald and KGMI reported on our County Executive's recommendations on Whatcom County land use, information that has been very slow in coming, at least until the County Council requested it while recognizing a real deadline is coming on December 1.
The County is over 2 years tardy in correcting and completing its Comprehensive Plan, and these recommendations -along with any Council modifications and eventual approval- are needed necessary to avoid actual State penalties, in the form of lost opportunities for grants, and possibly even fines.

Directionally, the County now seems to be on a better trajectory, at least in updating its Comp Plan under last-minute pressure. But, will this make any difference? Only time will tell.

The idea of reducing the size of Urban Growth Areas [UGAs in Govt jargon] isn't all bad, either for zoning purposes or for their eventual annexation to cities.
Often, disparate areas were lumped together without much thought it seems. One example is the Dewey Valley area which applied for annexation to Bellingham, but was rejected due to its overall size, location, disparate uses and potential fiscal impacts on the city. That particular result might have been avoided had the Dewey Valley area been more compact and easier and cheaper to serve.

I am assuming that the County's recommendations will also extend to the so-called '5-year Review Areas', which the County also designates from time to time. This designation is preliminary to an area even becoming an UGA.

It remains to be seen whether existing UGAs [county's jurisdiction] can be easily downsized without administrative, legislative or legal challenge.
Also, presumably, the respective cities would have to agree.

In the case of the Geneva and Hillsdale UGAs, I believe the City of Bellingham might agree to a change in designation, but only after an in-depth discussion about whether equal or better protections to Lake Whatcom could result.

Years ago, when the decision was made to include Geneva and Hillsdale as UGAs, there were clear pluses AND minuses involved, but in the end they were designated UGAs.
Now, with more stringent land use regulations -especially STORMWATER requirements- and the fact that significant buildout, facilitated by the independently operated Water District, and restrictive land preservation acquisitions and easements, have occurred may change these weighting factors.
Also, there is the little matter of compliance with mitigating and remedial requirements of the TMDL Study issued by the Dept of Ecology.
Of particular concern are those areas with Geneva and Hillsdale that are unusually susceptible to runoff from upslope development, either in the UGA or in unincorporated areas -like Squalicum Mountain, Toad Lake and Galbraith/Lookout Mountain.

The net effect of downsizing county controlled UGAs may include the following;

• general reduction in areas zoned for high density use of any type- could be positive, unless buildable land supply reduction unduly increases prices.

• gradual slowing of growth and development, either real or perceived -could be positive, unless concurrency of housing and transportation infrastructure is thrown more out of balance.

• more unincorporated land retained, whether for agricultural, forest, open space -could be positive, unless more sporadic county rezoning and low density development occurs [already a known problem].

• appearance of compliance with GMA guidelines - a definite positive.

• a likely net reduction in county annual revenues from development, but also longer retention time of lands in county jurisdiction.

Regarding the proportion of countywide growth to be accommodated by the City of Bellingham, the debate between 38% and 42% probably brackets the best number available.
And since actual growth rates and land absorption are only known from history, why quibble?
A 1.4% long term growth rate is likely OK; but 2.something is excessive.
This seems to be largely about asserting more control over another jurisdiction than is necessary or justified.

The County is charged with the responsibility of countywide planning, with the cities part of that plan.
The individual cities certainly know their history of growth, limitations and expectations better than the County ever could.
So, just make these elements fit!

From the report it appears that some cities prefer more projected growth than does Bellingham.
And, the estimated numbers are not so big as to be impossible to change around a little and still total the amount approved.
Why not do this?

[Alternatively, the County might want to reconsider supporting the Waterfront Redevelopment, which itself might accommodate the difference between County & City preferences. Here, I know the County's EDI [Economic Development Incentive] funds are not supposed to go for 'residential development', but is a dense mixed use redevelopment of a blighted area and expected to create hundreds of new jobs, intended to be included in this definition?]

'All progress has resulted from people who took unpopular positions.' - Adlai E. Stevenson

'Society, community, family are all conserving institutions. They try to maintain stability, and to prevent, or at least to slow down, change. But the organization of the post-capitalist society of organizations is a destabilizer. Because its function is to put knowledge to work -- on tools, processes, and products; on work; on knowledge itself -- it must be organized for constant change. - PETER F. DRUCKER

Monday, August 17, 2009

Healthcare: More Heat Than Light?

Our national healthcare debate, such as it is, ought to be seriously continued every year until we develop a system that serves us much better than the current mess.
If this sounds like I doubt that a single, comprehensive program can be adopted at any one time, your interpretation is correct.
The reason is that politics is simply the art of the possible, and Congress lacks the unity, courage and visionary insights to do this job right.
Of course, President Obama and his administration don't get off the hook either, but since when has an operating manual come with our highest office?

Obama's biggest problem is that he is trying to be too inclusive and flexible under the circumstances.
That is being perceived as either weakness or waffling by both sides, for different and varying reasons.
That is a no-man's land that is unlikely to yield any productive result, save maybe one; agreement that certain aspects of healthcare do need to be changed.
Once that consensus is reached, the job becomes a little simpler, but also longer term in nature.
Simpler, because sufficient votes can likely be garnered for incremental changes that both parties can support.
Things like providing and extending at least catastrophic medical coverage for all citizens.
Or maybe even some tort reform.

Yesterday's Crosscut article by Ted Van Dyk provides a useful perspective on this general strategy.

The longer term nature of debating the healthcare issue, means that Congress and the Administration must find a way to commit to continuing good faith discussions well into the foreseeable future.
Why not bring this up every year as part of a national debate that also ties into whatever economic conditions exist, and our annual budgetary approval process?
That way, it would be harder to dismiss making controversial decisions based upon 'the time not being right'.
When is the time ever right? Especially for those who perpetually resist change?

What I'm talking about is a form of 'phased implementation', where the cumulative impact of incremental changes can fit into and become part of an evolving national healthcare strategy that leads toward a sensible system that doesn't create too many short term dislocations -either real or imaginary.
I have learned that taking heat one time is preferable to taking it multiple times, but that mainly applies to a single issue -think Lake Whatcom for example.
But, the basic weakness with trying to solve a big problem at one stroke is that it simply doesn't work very often -even if sufficient 'votes' can be garnered!
There are always new twists and turns, things that weren't anticipated, new elected officials and fiscal realities.
Think it's easy? Think again.

Maybe the best example of what I'm trying to illustrate is our own Constitution.
As good a document as that is, with its high-minded principles and visionary wisdom, it was adopted by a very slim margin and based upon the best compromise available at the time.
Since then, even our sacrosanct Constitution has been changed or modified several times by amendment, the Bill of Rights, and possibly by judicial interpretation.
As wise and courageous as our Founders were, they also understood that a democracy needs to adjust to circumstances and changing realities over time.
Just look at some of the issues they failed to adequately address over 200 years ago, like slavery and universal suffrage.
Don't you think the Founders meant for our Constitution to be a 'living document' that allows some very careful adjustment from time to time?
I know I do, and history easily demonstrates it.

Now, back to healthcare.
I believe that ready access to some practical level of healthcare is a basic human right for citizens and residents of this country.
Determining what that level is and implementing a plan to provide it is what is being debated right now.
But, a simple, one-time debate won't likely do the job needed.
That's why addressing this issue every year is necessary, and Congress needs to do the one thing it is least likely to do; discipline itself!
Only after having its collective nose rubbed in healthcare every year will Congress & the Administration - or some future iteration of both - be forced to deal with it meaningfully.
OK, I know that hasn't happened regularly on Medicare or Social Security, but it needs to in the future - without unduly burdening the present 'debate'.

The current 'debate' exemplifies what has become a national embarrassment; the substitution of uninformed and emotionally charged opinion that is exceptionally well-financed, for a fact-based and rational discussion among responsible adults.
And, this debate does need to be conducted respectfully by mature adults -on behalf of children, others and themselves at some point in the future.
Failing that, we'll have to do what we're doing; flailing and flogging individual pieces of the healthcare puzzle, without knowing what the big picture is or needs to become.
That is where broad principles can be helpful in delineating what is truly important and of deservedly lasting value.
You know, kinda like our Founders did when they conceived, debated and adopted our Constitution.

Enough of the verbalizing of things that haven't even been written down or agreed to.
That is a phantom tactic that is built on the quicksand of lies.
We can do better than that.
Much better!
Let's get that message to our elected officials, despite their distractions toward being reelected.
Why did we elect them in the first place?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Entertainment: Pulp Fiction & Port Sport

I greatly enjoy a good suspense novel or movie.
Really good tales inspire both widespread attention and revenues.
Three that come to mind are Tom Clancy's The Search For Red October; John Grisham's The Pelican Brief; and Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code.

None of these are true stories, but pretend to be so well that folks buy into the fabric of myths that is so cleverly woven together.
There is just enough that is true, or at least plausible or tantalizingly so, to engender belief in the story told.
That relative rarity of a successful storytelling inspires copy-catting on a massive scale.

Of course, trying to reduce a unique success into a formula that can be replicated is tricky business.
While repetition of statements and concepts is critical to driving home a point, there comes a time when this effect is lost.
Also, credibility can peak and then fall off dramatically once people cease settling for merely being entertained and seek other perspectives.
When that happens, most of the audience moves on to its next entertainment event.

So-called 'infotainment' seems to be what sells easiest these days.
That's because it can be dispensed by quick sound bytes that demand little time, attention and critical thinking from the audience - us, the 'buyers'.

It seems so much easier to tear down than to build something, particularly something big, complex and controversial.
And, it doesn't take expensive tools and explosives to accomplish such destruction.
It just takes a series of lies, entertaining myths and half-truths, often repeated.
Just look at the current healthcare reform 'debate' for example.

Or, maybe even our own ambitious Waterfront Redevelopment?

The current issue of the Cascadia Weekly offered this Gristle, which was quickly supported by a blog on NWCitizen.
Both of these publications have been vocal critics of the Waterfront Redevelopment for years, which is certainly their prerogative.
For that matter, I have been critical of certain WR twists and turns myself, although I continue to support the basic idea as necessary to our long-term prosperity.

But, there is always room for improvement in any undertaking, especially those that rely on public support and funding.
And that brings us to what the Weekly, NWCitizen -and I- all share; we need this year's election to produce meaningful change in the leadership at the Port of Bellingham.
The best result we can expect is to replace the two long-time incumbents, Scott Walker and Doug Smith.
While that result would be desirable in itself, it would mainly serve to reconnect the Port of Bellingham to the broader goals and objectives that citizens of both City and County want and expect.

Gone are the days when any special district or agency can simply go its separate way without due consideration of the big picture, that includes the overall welfare of our area and region.
Social, fiscal and ecological realities are inextricably intertwined and must be addressed simultaneously as best we can.

While my view is that the social and ecological aspects to the proposed Waterfront Redevelopment are basically OK, the fiscal part -the financing and management- still leave much to be desired.
At least two important concepts have been totally rejected by the Port; permanent public ownership of its waterfront, and the establishment of an independent Public Development Authority to provide oversight the project.

Why the Port has so strenuously rejected these concepts is a mystery, but may be due to its desire to maintain sole control over its admittedly large commitment.
Maintaining public ownership would mean the Port could not recoup its investment as quickly as waiting for leases to be secured and paid over time.
But, it is ironic that public ownership MUST be retained long enough for the clean-up to be completed!
That's because no sensible private entity wants that liability, nor can it likely even get access to the State & Federal funds necessary to pay for it.

And, don't forget, the Waterfront Redevelopment is not just about the Port either.
The City of Bellingham has former landfills, at or near the water's edge, which also must be remediated concurrent with the former G-P site and other industrial sites.
That this clean-up is both necessary and desirable should not be a matter of debate!
And, the clean-up Plan that has been approved is adequate for the purpose.
It is as senseless to advocate for returning the waterfront to an unrealistic pristine state, as it is to claim that the type and variety of remediation methods proposed are not effective.

You know, at some point there is a limit to what can be done with the resources available.
I would rather do what is feasible than simply delay further progress 'to starve out the Port'.
That is an unacceptably poor result, which carries its own dire consequences.

When you get down to it, this 'debate' is really about who gets to own this potentially very valuable waterfront property.
Of course, the thing that would make it even more valuable is the clean-up, which must be done with public funds.
Once that gets done, I'm sure the Port would enjoy a nice bidding competition among private developers, both to pay off its clean-up and redevelopment promotion efforts, and maximize it's future returns.

But, don't forget, it's not the Port's money! It's ours.
Whoever we elect as Port Commissioners will have the responsibility of managing the Port's funds in the best interests of the public it serves.
Please keep that in mind, regardless of what redevelopment scenario you may favor.

Some folks have had a great time criticizing the Port and the City, advocating outlandish ideas and concocting all manner of misinformation about what is being proposed and attempted on our waterfront.
Fair enough, have your fun.
Pretty cheap entertainment that fits our current economy.

At some point, the fun ends and the real work begins, as it already has - since 2004 and before.
And, maybe some folks will eventually tire of the same litany of beefs, phony or otherwise, and move on to their next entertainment.
All through this, the real hard work of preparation will continue - as it must, albeit at a somewhat slower rate.
Boring, I know, but necessary.
But, when it nears completion, watch out!
New fun will begin as the competition for ownership, use and public subsidies heats up.

Until that new fun begins, we still have a big, important job to do, and it must be done competently, and in sunlight.
Let's elect new Port Commissioners and get on with it!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Healthcare: The Status Quo Has Got To Go!

'To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.' - Winston Churchill

'The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.'
- John F. Kennedy

'Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have.'
- Winston Churchill


A few years ago, a local right-wing politico couldn't resist shouting out 'John Watts has got to go!'
That outburst actually embarrassed some of this politico's cohorts to the extent they came up to me after the meeting and apologized.

But, you know that politico was right.
I did need to go, just like everyone does at some time.
The thing is, I get to pick the time and place, which in due course, I did.
In retrospect, I might have stayed too long, but past mistakes and decisions can't always be easily corrected.

There is one rather large mistake that has persisted over a half century which can be corrected, but only if Congress has the courage to do it.
Of course, there is again, a large chorus of politicos who are using every means at their disposal to frustrate any kind of meaningful change in our healthcare system.
And this is despite the crying need for breaking the grip of our 'status quo'.

As predicted in an earlier blog, the cacophony of noise and misinformation is reaching a crescendo of meanness, to our great shame as a democratic society.
But, there are ways to deal with this kind of strategy and associated tactics.
It won't be easy, but worthwhile things never are.

The antidote is to keep listening, talking and thinking about more elegant and efficient ways to skin the healthcare cat.
Much of this has already been done, but more is probably needed before measures can be agreed to by both the House & Senate.
Just keep explaining, answering criticisms and pushing forward, without setting any artificial deadlines.
Practical deadlines are likely necessary, but a phased implementation over time makes sense.
If the opposition proves intractable -as it is acting- then something must be accomplished anyway, with or without their support.
And, regardless of attitudes, no entity EXCEPT the Federal Government can realistically take on this task.

It is interesting to see the contest between reasonable discourse and emotional distraction.
And, anger, fear, distrust and doubt can be effective weapons, but in the end their duplicity undermines their objective.

Advertisers understand that if a message is repeated often enough it will sell.
Repeat a slogan frequently and it is believed.
Repeated messages are inherent in advertising, religion, and politics.

But this reality cuts both ways, and I have confidence that principled progress will triumph over those who so ardently oppose it.

If you don't believe that, you may be part of the problem.
This country of ours has managed to slowly but surely change itself over its relatively brief history.
Just look at the egregious civil rights issues that have been improved, including slavery, universal suffrage and the like.
Not that changing our Constitution, laws or policies automatically solves a problem, but it can change our direction in ways that are difficult to reverse.

Something similar must happen in healthcare, and one hopes sooner rather later.
You can argue about the details, but not the need for change!
That is, if one truly values their own integrity, intelligence and compassion.

I hope our elected legislators get an earful before returning to their next Congressional session.
Then, I trust they will act to meaningfully improve our healthcare system.
If that doesn't happen, I will personally make this an issue that will not go away.
This is a promise, not a threat; it will be time for some elected officials to go!

'My experience in government is that when things are non-controversial and beautifully coordinated, there is not much going on.' - John F. Kennedy

'Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things. '- Winston Churchill

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

N.O.A.A: Crying In Our Beer?

I'm sure there will be some disagreement with these views, but what's new about that?
While it is a disappointment for NOAA to decide against relocating to Bellingham, it never was a certainty.
And, to set our expectations unrealistically high only invites more disappointment at a time when what is needed is resiliency and rededication to the formidable task of seriously rejuvenating our waterfront.
So, if Plan A doesn't pan out, what is our Plan B?
If no Plan B exists, THAT is a problem!

If things hold to form, many folks will feel honest pain, but some may use this as an excuse to say things like 'I told you so', and cheer for degrees of failure out of jealousy, spite or just, old-fashioned, plain ill-will.
Remember those folks who have nay-sayed waterfront redevelopment all along?
Or, those who make a hobby out of second-guessing everyone, including the Port?
It may be a temporary field day for some of these folks, but it will be temporary.

Bellingham is capable of achieving good results in whatever it sets its mind to do.
If you don't believe that, check out what happened with the Olympic Pipe Line explosion.
Of course, for the waterfront, it may take a little longer, require a different mix of politicians, more mature ideas, and an improved economy with a little unexpected good luck throw in.
But, we will get there.
Believe it!

Yesterday and again today, articles on the NOAA decision appeared in Crosscut, authored by Floyd Mackay and Bob Simmons.
Both have interesting takes, which readers can access through the links provided.
One other Crosscut article by Jean Godden.

Today's Herald article combines some of this info with local reactions.

It is fascinating how the NOAA development coincides so closely with the upcoming elections, especially since the Port incumbents can't deny some of the inherent weakness of their suppositions.
Of course, they can also blame the failure to land NOAA on 'vocal locals', their loud and outspoken opposition.
But, will that help?
I don't think so.

One way or the other, it won't affect my voting for John Blethen and Mike McAuley as new Port Commissioners.
Nothing personal, but it is definitely time for new blood and new thinking at the Port of Bellingham!
And, that is true -in my opinion- of ALL elected offices, local and otherwise.

One other point, which does not exclusively relate to the Port, concerns the continued beefs expressed about the legitimate use of executive sessions and/or lawyer/client privilege.
Neither of these are, of themselves, inherently illegal, no matter what may be claimed, suspected or spoken by those who enjoy using 'guvmint' for target practice sport.
In fact, as citizens, business owners or government entities, executive sessions and lawyer/client privilege are essential elements in our system of laws and representative government.
To be without them entirely would constitute real stupidity that would not be in anyone's best interest.
It would essentially paralyze many government decisions we generally take for granted, and that would not be a good thing!

If excesses or improprieties are suspected, then by all means we need to take the appropriate legal steps, especially if a government entity and/or monies are involved.
Of course, as citizens in this country, we are always entitled to freedom of expression, including speech and written statements.
But as RESPONSIBLE citizens, it is preferable that we are careful not to MISUSE this freedom either.

If more open public meetings and discussions are desired, let's require that our local governments record them for airing in public, whether people will choose to watch these or not.
That way, we actually get to see and hear what is said.
BTW, even though most City meetings are being televised, its hard to see many more people paying anymore attention to what's going on.
It seems it may be more fun for some to continue to speculate, listen to somebody else's biased opinion, or remain blissfully ignorant.
But, that's just my opinion.

Regarding the adverse NOAA decision, there is no use to cry over spilt milk, especially when it didn't belong to us anyway.
But, its probably OK to cry in our beer, at least for a few days.
Then, it will be time to buckle down, suck it up and get on with the real work of figuring out where we go from here.
That's a job better undertaken with with fresh Port Commissioners and executive Director.

It may also be instructive to examine the reasons why Newport, OR was selected, and how that may have differed from what Bellingham had to offer.
Things like a more central location on the Pacific coast, direct access to the ocean- without excessive water traffic, proximity to major league, existing technical expertise, a less congested and growing area, and just possibly a more coordinated approach by local, regional, state and federal authorities, more certainty about what incentives are offered, etc.
Just a few things like that.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

August: Getting Started on the Right Foot

With respect to water, Canadians and Americans suffer from the same disease:
We say that it is priceless, but act as if it were absurdly cheap.
Most North Americans pay far less for their water than even just the cost of supplying it, cleaning it up and returning it to the environment.
Yet subsidizing water use is economically and ecologically disastrous.
In fact, heavy subsidization of water in the US is the cause of any water "shortages" that may exist there.
-Editorial, The Toronto Globe and Mail, 23 May 1998


Today is an exciting day for me since I expect my son, Tom, will arrive later this evening.
He is driving from North Carolina and enjoying seeing parts of the Country for the first time, including the State of Washington.
Right now, he's somewhere in Montana with a few miles yet to travel.
It will be fun showing Tom around this area, but that activity may slow down my blog production for a while, but who knows?
Maybe just the opposite will happen, with more short blurbs and photos.

I had another thought about yesterday's topic, which was preserving Lake Whatcom and our growing water treatment problem.
The idea of linking value to cost, or worth to price, ought to come into play more than it does.

Water rates, for example, only reflect the costs of treatment and distribution, by law.
Of course these costs also include the diversion system, monitoring water quality, acquiring & preserving critical watershed properties, public education, enforcement and the like, all of which are important aspects of reservoir preservation that we need to recognize aswe pay for them.
The raw reservoir [Lake] water itself is assigned no intrinsic value; thus, it's cost is ZERO!
That is because the waters of this state belongs to its citizens, not private corporations, which is as it should be.
But, that also means we, the citizens, are free to use these waters pretty much any way we choose, and that isn't always a good thing when it comes to saving good quality water for the future.

Part of the problem is that Washington State -unlike Oregon- long ago allowed mostly private ownership of its shorelines.
How does that fit with citizens being able to access and preserve their water?
I think it is a problem, and a big one that will be difficult to fix.
That is why the Shoreline Management Program now being reviewed for approval by the City Council needs to be as strict as possible, including for Lake Whatcom.
Because the City's portion of the Lake is mostly already developed, or platted and vested, the shoreline buffers are almost entirely less wide than is necessary.

But, that isn't a reason the lots, property and homes that encroach upon good sense should not be deemed 'non-conforming'.
If we aren't able to communicate clearly to ALL STAKEHOLDERS that there are good reasons for having effective shoreline buffers, doesn't that represent a major lost opportunity for education?

I know some people will complain and say such an act is unwise and unenforceable -now or later- but there are others who will willingly accept the idea and learn from it.
So, I hope the Council decides to increase the buffer width for Lake Whatcom, Silver Creek and other tributaries to at least 100 feet.
I don't know what Whatcom County has settled upon, but at least match their effort.
The Shoreline Management Program has not been updated substantially for close to 20 years, and now is considered as an essential adjunct to our Growth Management Act; some say it acts as a 14th GMA goal.

So, I hope the City Council decision reflects very thoughtful care for what the SMP can do for us over time, and not simple expediency, even though that may seem simpler.

I have always been a big advocate of tap water—not because I think it harmless but because the idea of purchasing water extracted from some remote watershed and then hauled halfway round the world bothers me. Drinking bottled water relieves people of their concern about ecological threats to the river they live by or to the basins of groundwater they live over. It's the same kind of thinking that leads some to the complacent conclusion that if things on earth get bad enough, well, we'll just blast off to a space station somewhere else. - Sandra Steingraber, Having Faith, 2001

I strongly agree with the above quote, because the idea of associating the water I drink with its source, care, custody and control, appeals to me.
For example, if you are out in the wilderness, what do you do for water?
Find a source of clean water and a relatively safe location to access it.
Fill a container and treat the water, either by filtering, dissolving chlorine/iodine or boiling.
Drink only this carefully treated water, except in extreme emergencies.

Why not think about using similar steps with our tap water?

A quick true story:
Years ago, a friend made his first business trip to Mexico City, being aware that 'Montezuma's Revenge' could be a problem if he weren't careful.
He checked into a modern hotel, but decided to not use the tap water for drinking or even brushing his teeth.
Instead, he purchased expensive bottled water to drink; little did he know how expensive!
He got a very bad case of 'M-R' and had to be treated medically.
Later, he found out the source was the bottled water he'd purchased; where it had come from nobody knew!
The tap water he'd avoided in the hotel was not only OK but of very good quality.

Think there may be a lesson here?
Lake Whatcom is our RESERVOIR, first and foremost!