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!