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.