Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Greenways: Herald Article Reprise

Right“"I don't see much sense in that," said Rabbit.

"No," said Pooh humbly, "there isn't. But there was going to be when I began it.

It's just that something happened to it along the way."” - Winnie the Pooh


Today's Gristle got it right, again, in assessing the Chuckanut Ridge acquisition.
Don't have the money, no problem; just leave that little detail to those who will follow to sweat through!

Here's the Herald Article link I thought I'd reprise, and here's the same article reprinted, with my comments -and emphasis- interspersed in red at intervals:

Bellingham council sees partial Chuckanut Ridge sale as last resort


BELLINGHAM - The City Council is taking steps to clarify its strategy for covering the $8.2 million cost of the 82-acre Chuckanut Ridge purchase.

Right, after-the-fact from the action already taken!

On Monday afternoon, Sept. 26, the council finance committee met to discuss the matter and all seven council members attended. The key issue is finding a way to repay as much as $3.3 million of the purchase price that is being covered with a loan from a city parks Greenways endowment fund that is supposed to be used for maintenance, not land purchases.

If less than $3.3 Million is repaid, how will the balance be paid?

Even more importantly, how will the maintenance be paid for! Think that doesn't count? Why was it ever designated in the first place?

Attempts at verbal jujitsu seems in evidence here.

Councilman Seth Fleetwood said it was incorrect to say the council has no plan for repayment of that loan. Ultimately, Fleetwood said, the property itself serves as collateral for the loan, and some portion of it could be sold for residential development to pay the loan back, if no other revenue sources can be found.


Of course some portion could be sold; that should be Council's first option!

"Nobody hopes that this happens," Fleetwood said.

I do, and so do many others who take City fiscal matters seriously!

Mayor Dan Pike agreed.

"The ultimate fallback plan is we sell off as much of the land as we need to," Pike said.

Huh?, again!

Does ultimate fallback mean the same as last resort?

Didn't these guys figure all the deficit monies would have to be paid back?

Go ahead, kick that last resort into the dim future and hope no one is watching!

Good luck with that.

Council members agreed to consider adding language to that effect to the ordinance authorizing financing for the Chuckanut Ridge purchase. The seller is Washington Federal, the bank that obtained the property through foreclosure. The property had previously secured loans made by Horizon Bank, and Washington Federal took over those loans after regulators shut down Horizon in early 2010.

The ordinance was slated to come before the full council for a final vote late Monday, with an addition that reads, "Until paid in full, the 82 acres of real property shall serve as collateral for any unpaid balance" from the $3.3 million loan from the endowment fund.

Big deal, stating the obvious; although with this bunch, just getting that into the ordinance was a step they could take and maybe save more criticism.

How's that working out?

The council has six years to repay the money.

Who says so? Why they do, of course! You see, they, and only they, are the deciders!

Don't forget that, especially at election time.

BTW, how many of these guys will still be in office 6 years hence?

Also at the Monday committee meeting, council members appeared to be backing away from any insistence that loan repayment could not come from a new Greenways IV levy that would, if voters approve, replace the current Greenways III levy that expires at the end of 2016.

Is that really surprising?

After all, that was their first option in the thin air of Council's exhilaration after the 'buy it all now' decision was first made.

At a Sept. 22 finance committee meeting, committee members recommended that the city not rely on potential Greenways IV revenue for Chuckanut Ridge, since that reliance might turn some city voters against the future levy.

You think? Count on it!

Pike said the content of the next Greenways levy would be up to a future Greenway advisory committee and City Council, and said the current council has no business trying to dictate that levy's possible uses, years in advance.

Huh? The first part of that almost sounded kinda - right!

But, notice he left any mention of his -or a future Mayor's- role out of this statement?

And, oh sure, a future Greenway advisory committee could be just as ignored as the current one has been!

But this is the kicker: ...the current council has no business trying to dictate that levy's possible uses, years in advance.

What is he saying by analogy?

Is it that the previous Council had no business trying to dictate what the current Council has now undone?

Well, that certainly clarifies this Mayor's thinking about things, like binding commitments, duly passed ordinances, carefully considered procedures, and all the heavy lifting done by those who have set the table for this current bunch to mess with, any way they want to, doesn't it?

No wonder Pike is having troubles; he doesn't even know what he's saying from one mouth-opening to another!

But, maybe my interpretation has more to do with semantics?

Like, the reporter didn't get it just right?

I don't think so!

The reporter got it right, but Pike often seems to need the last word, just to clarify what he means to those who weren't there to hear it for themselves!.

Bye, bye Pike!

Both also said they thought it was up to the mayor to develop a financing plan for the land purchase and to bring the plan to the council for review and approval.

Shouldn't this have happened before the Council voted to buy CR?

Where's the Council's due diligence in this?

And, why are they pointing fingers in any direction except the mirror?

Pike agreed, suggesting that the matter was becoming a political issue. [Yeah! It's always been a political issue!] He faces a re-election challenge from former state legislator Kelli Linville.

"I think what I would like to do is come back (with financing ideas) some time after the election is over," Pike said. "Everything will be calmer."

Think so? Why? Because we'll have a new Mayor, with better 'skill sets'?

That's one way things will be calmer for you!

Your unwise grandstanding about buying CR wasn't about trying to gain a political advantage?

Can't have it both ways, Pike!

He also took the opportunity to defend both the land purchase and the price. Many city residents had been urging public purchase of the wooded site for years, and the bank's asking price was a fraction of what previous owners had been quoting, Pike said.

True, but that fractional price was still much more [$3.5 Million] than the City could afford to keep, without spinning back a chunk of it!

Previous owners were concocting a virtual pyramid scheme that had to fail, unless the full 739 dwelling units were actually built and sold.

[Maybe the Twilight Zoning that a previous Council and Administration allowed, largely contributed to the current situation? You bet it did! Maybe THAT Council should not have had a binding impact on the current Council & Administration, either! So why didn't Pike and THIS Council simply ignore the grossly excessive zoning? You know, what goes around, comes around -at least according to Pike's reasoning!]

Also, a little bird told me that it was the City's Finance Director who took it upon himself to ask the Bank to consider reducing the price by 5 to 7%, which was the approximate property devaluation that occurred over the past year, since the first appraisal was done.

The Bank immediately responded to this request and lowered its asking price by 7.5%, or about $700 Thousand.

Now, that ain't exactly chump change, but even that reduction left a price of $8.23 Million that the Council chomped on like a hungry trout to a fly!

Not much time to have a repayment plan developed, was it?

If the city failed to move quickly, Washington Federal could have chosen to auction off the property, leaving the city to try to negotiate a deal with a less motivated seller, he said.

There may still need to be an auction!

How else will the $3.5 Million be ultimately repaid?

"This is just an example of 'No good deed goes unpunished,'" Pike said.

Exactly what good deed was that?

You were just doing your job, right?

Instead of moving toward some kind of firm commitment to a specific strategy for loan repayment, council members agreed to collect public input on the issue, using the city's website.

That's the ultimate takeaway here; no firm commitment to a specific strategy for loan repayment! The Council ate the dessert, but left their veggies untouched and the dishes for a future Council to wash!

And what good is asking for public input, after the fact!

Heck, they even ignored public input given before-the-fact!

Council didn't even have the common decency to hold a public meeting, instead ducking into their safe little internet!

Guess maybe it's not as hot that way?

Whimps, and irresponsible ones at that!

My 2 cents.....after the fact

Reach JOHN STARK at or call 715-2274.


OK, that's off my chest, but not out of my memory!
After all the jawbone baloney about not using future Greenways dollars to repay the $3.5 Million deficit, this remarkably stupid Council is apparently locked into doing just that!
Surprise, surprise.
If selling a bit of the property itself is considered 'a last resort', what -pray tell- are the earlier resorts?
Stay tuned.
It ain't over 'til its over.....

“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind. "Pooh?" he whispered.

"Yes, Piglet?"

"Nothing," said Piglet, taking Pooh's hand. "I just wanted to be sure of you.”

A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh


“I'm not lost for I know where I am. But however, where I am may be lost.”

A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh


Coal: Floyd McKay's Latest Crosscut Article

Here is a link to Floyd McKay's recent crosscut article on this issue.
This discusses multiple locations where coal shipment projects are being proposed.

Politics: Finding The Sweet Spot Sour?

Somewhere between the lazy liberals and the constipated conservatives, there's got to be a happier middle ground.

Today, an old acquaintance whom I seldom see, chanced upon meeting me at a local business that deals in technical toys, namely cell phones and accessories.
He recognized me from behind before I even saw him, possibly because he does follow local politics, including my wee stint in that arena.
He asked me if I missed being in politics, to which I replied 'yes, like I miss the measles'!
A little strong maybe, but what I meant was I missed being an active part of important decision-making.

With measles, one does develop a certain immunity, but with politics - not!
Once it gets in your blood, it remains there at some tangible concentration.
Somehow, this guy suggested that I was known as more of a 'radical moderate' in his thinking.
And, you know, he was right!
Actually, I was somewhat flattered by that label, because that is also how I choose to see myself.
He did pretty much nail me, for better or worse.

Of course, I did also manage to mention this blog, if he ever wanted to test his perception by things I've bothered to write and stand for, sometimes rather forcefully.

He may do that, or not; either way I do believe he actually got what I like to think is consistently aiming at whatever might be called the 'sweet spot' in deciding issues - particularly the hard ones that set lasting precedents that most folks seem to prefer over the long haul.

I thank him for that!
Recently, our local trusted City officials managed to not find anything close to a sweet spot in their less than admirable decision to pretend to be the Federal Government and purchase the property known as Chuckanut Ridge with money they do not have!

Yes, that's what I said - money they did not actually have to spend, $3.5 Million of it!

They did it because of silly politics and that undeniable urge to become heroes - cheaply, without earning it.
Remember that old E F Hutton Ad; 'We make money the old-fashioned way - we EARN It'!

Lord knows, I've done my best to argue, advise, cajole & reason with our current City Council and current Mayor on this matter, but I have failed - and miserably.
What they can't see themselves, all the king's horses won't lead them to understand, much less do.
That is truly too bad, not just for them, but for every citizen who expects consistent, good & fair decision-making from their elected officials.
So, what else can I do?

Roundly castigate these bums as incompetent laggards?

Continue to request better accountability?

Try to inform people of the unacceptable gap between what has happened and what should have?

Lower my expectations?

Actively campaign for replacing those officials who are so unlucky as to have political opponents?

Actively seek candidates to compete against those with no opposition?

If you think the answer to all the above is 'yes', you'd be correct!

So, let's get started.
  • Pike as Mayor has been a major disappointment who has promised, or seemed to promise, way too many things that he has not been able to deliver. Apparently being Mayor is not one of his 'skill sets'. Imagine a guy who has just waded through almost 4 years of fiscal austerity - including threatening to veto a minimal, routine 1% property tax increase - then sticking the public [us] with an unfunded Greenways purchase of about $3.5 Million - equivalent to a 17% property tax increase! Of course, there are several other beefs that I have with Pike, like the damage he has done to the City's relationships with Whatcom County, the Port of Bellingham, State of Washington, various businesses, etc. Plus, the loss of several very qualified City Department Heads & all their institutional memory and incurring the costs of recruiting replacements; the lack of tangible progress on preserving the Lake Whatcom Reservoir, the gross lack of rapport with valuable City employees, etc. One or two other things, he argues a lot, always seeming to need the last word. And, he likes to be seen leading the parade - never mind there isn't one. Ever noticed that? These things are not merely matters of smarts, but of attitude & judgement - traits that are not readily discernible at first glance, especially with relative newcomers! Is there any wonder that I am strongly supporting Linville, because I know she can do a much better job on all these fronts!
  • Buchanan hasn't impressed me much either, despite his rather ordinary credentials. He seems sleepy & doesn't do much to attract sincere plaudits; but maybe that's more of a strategy to keep a low profile and stay off the radar, except when the urge to pander becomes overwhelming? Its often a winning formula around here; not to create controversy, even when it might be the right thing to do. His opponent, Cathy Lehman, is the real thing, and deserves a chance to demonstrate it. Her work ethic, energy, knowledge of important issues, true caring and effective pursuit of key endorsements and voters, earn her my unqualified support, and I hope, yours!
  • Fleetwood, unfortunately, has turned out to be essentially, a nebbish-like cipher. Despite good credentials and visibility in the community, he very often fails to develop positions that are well-defined or compelling. Worse, he seems to suffer from a lack of self-confidence, backbone & energy, but an overabundance of a sense of elite entitlement - a bad combination for anyone seeking to earn the public trust. His opponent, Larry Farr, is a straight shooter, has the ability and served this community in a number of volunteer capacities, though none elective, so far. [pun intended] From observing his years serving with the Transportation Commission and its predecessors, it is obvious he can do the job well and is deserving of public support, including mine.
  • Two Council Members, Knutson & Weiss, have no opponents and will skate through the elections for another term. That's particularly too bad for Knutson, who relies on simple populism way to often; you know always against raising the money to pay for all the stuff he votes for, that kind of thing - Chuckanut Ridge is only the latest example. Also, his tendency to say one thing and do another is off-putting, as is his periodic grandstanding, at which he has clear ability. And, as one of the 4 co-conspirators who almost killed Greenways back in 2005/06, he participated in an illegal connivance that he finally owned up to - 3 years later - when most folks who might have known had forgotten. Knutson should have excused himself from even voting on the CR purchase! [as should have Bornemann, who never confessed] Think about it; with two recusals, the CR vote would have been 3 to 2, not enough for passage.
  • Two years hence, the positions occupied by Bornemann, Lilliquist, Fleetwood [only if reelected] & Snapp [probably not running again] will need to be filled again. The first two need opponents if they run, as does Fleetwood if he's still there. And, also time for a new face in Ward 4. That makes four good candidates are needed. Anyone game?
That's about it from here for now, but stay tuned for a little reprise to Tuesday's Herald story on the decision made Monday night to 'kick the can down the road' on actually paying for their purchase of the entire, discounted pricey CR property.

Cool, leave the $3.5 Million mess for others to clean up later; and maybe the stupid public won't even notice!

Is it any wonder this country got so deep in debt?
Hey, you know this crap has to start somewhere; this is just an example at the local level - Bellingham, the City of subdued something. Accountability?

On that cheery note, as Bugs Bunny used to say, that's all folks....

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Greenways: Pooh Bear Cares

When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it. -- Pooh's Little Instruction Book, inspired by A. A. Milne

Today is a rare two post day.
This is the second one, which along with the earlier one were both e-mailed & hand delivered to the City Council and Mayor.

The occasion for the hard copy delivery was the Council Finance Committee meeting to discuss 'funding options' that the Council failed to identify -with certainty- before it made it's very questionable decision to purchase the so-called 'Chuckanut Ridge' property for $8.23 Million, of which only about $5 Million was actually available.

So, now its the public's 'mission impossible' assignment to cover the Council's collective ass.
Fair enough, that's what this post tries to help do.
Several 'publics' like me were present to listen to the proceedings, take notes and -please the court- make a few comments, for which the Council extended 15 minutes -until 12:30 PM.

Four Councilors attended, supported by the Council Legislative Coordinator [who audio-taped the meeting] and David Webster, City Deputy Administrator.
Mssrs. Lilliquist, Fleetwood, Buchanan and Weiss participated and each had comments and ideas to share, with Lilliquist, often as not, expressing what seemed like contrary opinions.

It will require more time to make sense from this session, but my initial impression was that
more was discussed than we'll likely see in writing. Jawboning? Doublespeak? Maybe.
Councilors did seem mostly agreeable to the twin ideas of not committing any more Greenways funds toward this acquisition, both the current GW3 or any future Greenways levy that might be brought to ballot 6 years hence.

They also seemed inclined to 'clarify' language in the acquisition ordinance before it reaches its 3rd & final vote, currently scheduled for Council's September 29 meeting.
Actual closing with the Bank is set for October 11. So, theoretically, a meeting to record a 3rd & final vote and discussion could be scheduled for Oct 10 -the day before.

I did detect some odd reluctance to even add an addendum to the Council Agenda which is required to allow further discussion and/or amendments prior to the 3rd & final vote, since no Agenda Bill had been previously been anticipated for inclusion.
[A 24-hour notice is legally required to add agenda items]
Language for both the suggested ordinance clarification, plus any agenda addendum is likely to be drafted by David Webster for Council consideration.

More later on this, including a list of public visitors and summaries of their comments.

But, here is what I submitted -on Pooh's behalf- as an idea to raise private donations to help pay for this extravagance:

This message adds to the public record comments submitted earlier regarding the City's options for raising sufficient, unencumbered funds to pay the significant, unfunded debt incurred in the unwise purchase of the property known as Chuckanut Ridge, aka Fairhaven Highlands.

These words were entirely inspired by the memory of the true Pooh Bear, a lovable character created for children by A A Milne years ago.
I know my son was particularly fond of Pooh, being gifted early with his own stuffed version, with which he played and slept with for s few years, until poor Pooh was well & truly worn out!

Several years ago, I was gifted my own Pooh Bear, a bright orangey-yellow version, by a generous owner of the property now owned by the City and named Woodstock Farm, home of Inspiration Point.
I was touched at the time, because of the fond memories Pooh had for me from my son's early childhood.
So, this smiling version of Pooh has graced my home for a time as a nice reminder of happy times. [See above]

But, more recently, Pooh has begun to remind me of some things that are not so pleasant, too.
So, being the inherently benign, happy & generous creature that he is, my Pooh wants to help make things right in the 'Hundred Acre Woods'.
Therefore, he has volunteered to became the property of the highest bidder in a public auction to raise funds to pay down the debt incurred on his former, local 'home'.

By copy of this e-mail, I hereby give custody of orangey-yellow Pooh to J Lynne Walker, Legislative Coordinator to the Bellingham City Council, to safely hold until such time arises that it is time to leave with another kind person who will care for him and his memory.
Should this kind person be so inclined, they may donate money to help pay for the large stone egg that Piglet wanted so badly.
That would be very nice, and I'm sure Pooh & his many admirers would like that very much!

Kind regards,

PS - I started the bidding for Pooh Bear at $100 to initiate this funding idea.
PPS - Here's Pooh's story.

The hardest part is what to leave behind, ... It's time to let go! -- Winnie the Pooh

Greenways: Comfortable? What Say You, Cardinal?

“Give me six lines written by the most honorable of men, and I will find an excuse in them to hang him” - Cardinal Richelieu
Today's public meeting seeks input on how to actually finance an $8.23 million purchase the City Council has already agreed to make.
Doesn't that seem a little backward to you?

But, the Council is entitled to a little fun, isn't it?
And now, we -the public- get to have the fun of helping them out of a really expensive predicament!
Sounds fair to me, as long as the Council not only listens, but takes the action recommended by common sense.

But, that does beg the question; why didn't they just listen to common sense BEFORE they went out and bought something they couldn't afford, had no reason -except political pressure- to swallow whole, and violated the trust of many in our community in their collective ability to make a rational and prudent decision?
Just asking....

Maybe a few written responses will help shed light on the mindset of our erstwhile Council Members.
Back on September 4, I had received this prompt response from the Honorable Council Member Michael Lilliquist to questions I had forwarded earlier:
[Note, he gave me more than six lines]

Excellent questions, with some answers not yet available and still in the works. We have our job cut out for us.

If you watched City Council that night, you'll see I pointed out the problem of the $3.3 million+ funding gap, so that it would be out in the open from the start. No one is ignoring this.

You'll also recall that I lost some southside support for refusing to make the "$8 million dollar promise." And we did not use all $8 million, only $4.5 as in the most recent Greenways DRAFT plan (not approved, nor officially even passed by Greenway Comm). That leaves $3.5 for other past and future southside acquisitions, to say nothing of the $12 million for northside acquisitions. I'm comfortable with those numbers.

Yes, we have some big unanswered questions. But to be clear, I think this is a good purchase and a huge step forward. All things considered, $8.32 million for all 85 acres was commonly considered beyond our reach. We caught a lucky break.

Let me put it in a nutshell, if I can:

The question is not "should the City buy Chuckanut Ridge?" That question has already been answered when the Council voted "yes." We also have $5 million in appropriate funds, so we also know how most of the property will be paid for. That's not in question either.

So the real question is a narrow one: How do we cover the approximately $3.5 million remainder, and do so in a way that is realistic and does not compromise other important greenways and open space needs across the entire city?

Discussion to follow! :)

from Blackberry of
Michael Lilliquist
Nothing new here, except the 'being comfortable' part.

I also received a copy of the Honorable Council Member Michael Lilliquist's response from two other constituents:
[Again, much more than six lines!]

Both of you tried to contact me prior to Monday night's vote, but unfortunately I was busy and did not receive your calls and/or have time to call you back. (I had a Lake Whatcom policy group meeting in the morning, then lunch, and then straight to the afternoon work session, etc.) I ask for your understanding.

As you know by now, the City Council passed the financing plan that came forward to us (including the loan), but we deleted the language that implied repayment of the loan from "all funds for park acquisitions" or some similar, all-inclusive language. I felt that that language promised a repayment scheme that we had not yet discussed let alone agreed upon. Being presented with an immediate purchase opportunity, we seized the opportunity -- albeit via a process that did not follow the usual order of things.

As you also know, as Finance committee chair I now find myself unexpectedly in the position to lead the discussion and exploration of repayment options for the $3.4 million interfund loan. I am improvising the process as I go along, in the hopes of taking the time (now that we have it) to follow an open and constructive public process. To that end, I have scheduled a special work session of the committee for next Thursday at 11:15 am in the Mayor's Boardroom. This will certainly not be the last meeting or the only opportunity for public input. One of my goals at the work session is to establish an outline of process the committee would like to follow. For my part, I am asking people to submit written comments, addressed to the whole council, with attn: to the Finance committee in particular. I want to establish a public record of ideas and comments, for all to see.

As I said on Monday, I believe this is not the time for a debate about the purchase or the purchase price. The Council has decided. Nor is this the time for another discussion of the Greenways levy or of Council's thoughts and intention years ago. That, too, has been decided by the current Council: $4.5 million from Greenways has been allocated and spent. The Council has decided.

The matter before us, as I see it, is both smaller and more difficult. The task before us is how to repay the loan in a way that respects the voter-approved Greenways allocation scheme and that does not harm important interests throughout our community. It is smaller, because now we have only a $3.4 million loan to consider. It is more difficult, because we have already used the funds available in Greenways and Park impact fees, and in my view we cannot draw water from those wells again.

I thought you might also appreciate hearing some of my personal thoughts on the matter, which I wrote in a reply to email from [REDACTED]:

"And so [on Monday] I drew a clear (I hope) distinction between the financing the purchase on the one hand and the repayment of the loan on the other hand. Last night we accomplished the former, and we have yet to grapple with the latter. That's the next step.

I don't think it is entirely accurate to say that we have "no repayment plan." Rather, I'd say that we have many repayment options, and no agreement yet on which to follow. At present we have at least three "fall back" options, some of which are not particularly attractive. The first option is to dig deeper into Greenways funds, which I oppose and which I believe a majority of this or any subsequent Council will reject. The Council (I sincerely believe) will not sacrifice the needs of other parts of our community. Period.

The second repayment option is a subsequent Greenways levy, which could retire a portion of the loan as part of broader package. As I am hearing people, one widely held view is that greater emphasis should be placed on development and maintenance. Each Greenways levy has been unique. I can imagine a fourth levy that is perhaps less than half the size of the current one, with maybe 1/10th devoted to retiring the debt, and the other 90% directed to other worthy purposes. But this is just my out-loud thinking, and I know that some on the Council and in the community don't like the idea of using a new levy to retire old debt. So let's call this 1/2 of a fall-back repayment option.

The third fall-back repayment option is sale of some portion of the property (or perhaps some other South neighborhood public property in the same general area) to recoup the balance owed. I see this as a valid option, but also as a measure of last resort. It has the advantage of being entirely within our control: we can rezone and repackage and draw boundaries as best serves the community. This is why I see that there is very little "down-side risk:" we possess valuable collateral that we can use to prevent any other "worse case scenario" from occurring. The public is protected; our basic Council responsibility is met. Also, given the current down market in real estate, there is every reason to hold off such a "fall back" plan for a few years. In fact, even if we wanted to sell some property, it is probably best to wait a while.

In other words, it is not that "we have all the time in the world" but it is true that since we are in control of the property, the Council does not need to act in haste. We can create the time and space to evaluate our options, to raise private funds, to seek institutional support or grants, to evaluate special assessment districts, etc. As Finance chair, I can't solve this problem alone, but I can re-start a public discussion and seek a full range of input and opinion. We know the "fall back" options. Now we need to hear the "move forward" options! Please direct any and all constructive suggestions to the Council's finance committee."

Thanks for your time, and I look forward to your suggestions and ideas on this subject.


Michael Lilliquist
Bellingham City Council, 6th Ward
It seems to me that Mr Lilliquist has already figured everything out, that he really doesn't need more ideas from the public, and that if we all just cooled it and let things ride, ALL WILL BE MAGICALLY RESOLVED SOMETIME IN THE DIM FUTURE, EITHER BY DIVINE PROVIDENCE _OR MORE LIKELY AT THE EXPENSE OF OTHER PRIORITIES!

I get it, Michael; you have no clue, no apology and no courage to settle this matter -in full- right now!
How's that for describing how COMFORTABLE I am with trusting you with screwing this up worse than it is now!

Please know that I am not singling only you out for criticism; the entire Council acted in very poor judgement on this matter!
Some have later admitted this, attributing it to 'buyer's remorse', or some other type of brain-fart.
Yours happened to be one of the more reasoned and candid responses, which I really do appreciate!
What I least appreciate is the arrogant silence and banal, on-camera C-Y-A pronouncements of some other members, which have mainly served to only make matters worse - our illustrious the Mayor included.

Now that's off my chest, get on with spinning off sufficient property to balance the books on this poorly conceived acquisition.
No one really expected the City to acquire the entire property anyway.
It was only the depressed economic conditions that allowed the Bank to sell it for $8.23 million-still too big a bite to swallow.

Now, imagining property values to rise before unloading any part of it is called sheer speculation -something the City's fiscal policy has never called prudent.
Also, such a plan would AGAIN telegraph the City's intent and likely skew legitimate offers AGAIN!

Surely you can understand how this works by now, since all the ill-advised public jawboning by City officials about its intent to buy, undoubtedly acted to raise expectations of price that would be paid.
That was plain stupid, if not borderline illegal!
Even if the property value was believed to be relatively 'low', it is still outside the City's [prudent] ability to pay!

That's the exact kind of thinking that got us into the present dilemma!
Notice I said 'us', because you have now -unnecessarily- externalized this problem to every citizen in Bellingham.

I certainly hope this Council is NOT comfortable with its previous sorry decision; you are not elected to be comfortable!
You are elected to be uncomfortable, especially in making dumb decisions and not using normal advisory recommendations, or public input BEFORE committing more funds than you have on anything less than a true emergency.

OK, if selling an unneeded portion of the 82 acres does become officially recognized as the preferred option, here are a few ideas:

1. The entire property was purchased, which likely was the deal that was offered.
Now, that the City legally owns it, a rezone can be done much more easily, which would have to be done anyway for any portion that is to remain PUBLIC.
Some decisions must be made about what areas and acreage should remain protected as parks & wetlands.
There is a substantial portion -maybe 30%- that seems very well-suited for some development, and because it is inherently desirable property, it is valuable as undeveloped land.

Larger, attractive homes -already prevalent in the surrounding area- ought to be considered here.
Alternately, some affordable housing and/or charitable entities specializing in care/housing for disadvantaged citizens might be considered. [Habitat, Kulshan Land Trust, Halfway House, Homeless Shelter, Oxford House, etc
But, probably not the new County Jail, Public Works Palace or Mayor's Mansion.....

2. Along with this property comes a bundle of property rights, like development rights, timber rights, mineral rights, water rights, rights of way, etc.
These are valuable within themselves, especially the development rights -which apparently now total 739.
These can be sold in amounts to be determined and allocated to specific build able lots, or transferred [TDRs] somewhere else to a receiving area where higher density is more desirable [infill sites, waterfront, urban villages, UGAs, etc], or simply retired and rescinded.

Both designated lots and/or TDRs can be priced at market values to be purchased by anyone who might benefit [property owners, developers, charitable donations, conservation easements, various public uses and the like.
The main purpose of using marketable lots and TDRs is to recover value to the City to help pay down the excess debt incurred by this purchase.
Some simple arithmetic; 20 lots times $150,000 equals $3 million.
Fiddle with this to get the money needed!
Whatever gets built here pays its way, with low-impact standards required.
That's the deal, take it or leave it.

3. 'Other Sources' is too general a term.
REET money has got competing needs, so don't use it for something that is NOT needed.
Parks Impact Fees have already been tapped into big time, but is a few homes get built on excess property, why not also dedicate these PIFs?

A Local Improvement District [LID] might also work to ensure owners in the area are obligated to pay their fair share of costs toward roads, curbs & sidewalks, utilities, lighting, sanitary & storm sewers, and other amenities needed.

Donations would also be nice, but so far I haven't heard of much being volunteered by groups such as 'RD' or other vocal advocates.
Maybe selling inscribed bricks [like Fairhaven Village Green], commemorative icons [like Market Depot Square], benches [like Parks in multiple locations] would help raise a few bucks, too.

And don't forget naming rights!
How about 'Knutson's Kompromise Knoll', or 'Bornemann's Bog', or 'Ryan's Rock'?
Or, 'Fleetwood's Fir Fantasy', 'Buchanan's Botanic Bivouac', or 'Lilliquist's Little Lily Pond'?
Hey, what about 'Pike's Place'? Sorry, that's already sorta taken.
But, then again, how much could be raised from the principals, I mean by this idea anyway?

Seriously, if you can think of anything new that might work, please let me know -or better yet let our illustrious Council know that you expect much more than a list of ideas; you expect sufficient of these ideas to be ACTED upon to bring this expensive -and largely unnecessary acquisition- back within the realm of affordability!

Until then folks, we're stuck with a mostly unneeded property that has been euphemistically called 'ultimately and honestly, the solar system’s most splendid over- grown gravel pit.'
"Show Me the Money"
- a well-known phrase uttered by characters in the 1996 film Jerry Maguire


"Everything Counts" by Depeche Mode
Songwriters: GORE, MARTIN LEE

The handshake
Seals the contract
From the contract
There's no turning back
The turning point
Of a career
In Korea, being insincere
The holiday
Was fun packed
The contract
Still intact

The grabbing hands
Grab all they can
All for themselves
After all

The grabbing hands
Grab all they can
All for themselves
After all

It's a competitive world
Everything counts in large amounts

The graph
On the wall
Tells the story
Of it all
Picture it now
See just how
The lies and deceit
Gained a little more power
Taken in
By a sun tan
And a grin

The grabbing hands
Grab all they can
All for themselves
After all

The grabbing hands
Grab all they can
All for themselves
After all

It's a competitive world
Everything counts in large amounts

The grabbing hands
Grab all they can
Everything counts in large amounts

The grabbing hands
Grab all they can
Everything counts in large amounts

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Greenways: Read It & Weep, Or Demand Making This Right!

This morning I received this communication from Jack Weiss, a Council Member with a conscience, and, fortunately, a very good memory!

Please digest this for a pretty clear perspective of what has recently transpired around the so-called 'Chuckanut Ridge' property acquisition that has many in our community up in arms about the unfairness, arrogance and what borders on the gifting of public funds - funds that we don't have and funds that we have no credible plan for obtaining without seriously impacting other priorities!

I certainly share Council Member Weiss' concerns on this matter, which has been allowed to occur despite clear direction and guidelines hashed out over years ago, and now substantially ignored by our current crop of small town political opportunists!

Now, they need to make this right by the voters who thought they were voting for a result much more fair and responsible than what we've seen so far.
The idea of committing to a purchase for which the City cannot pay for without financial improprieties is absolutely repugnant in the extreme, and those responsible need to be held accountable now - before they make matters worse!

Either reduce the amount of property to be kept, or find another source from outside the City's coffers; that is the clear choice, so let's stop beating around the bush about it.
Much has been made of the City's intent to pay back any inter-fund loans that might be required to pay for this out sized purchase. Of course, these must be paid; but from what source? That is the question! Is the idea to keep loaning ourselves the money, accruing substantial interest to be repaid forever?

These guys need to solve this dilemma - which is of their making - right now, before any of them are re-elected, or just gone.
Do not even think about dodging this richly deserved heat and leaving it to others to make right!

Anyway, here's the Weiss statement:

I had two completely opposite speeches prepared tonight depending on if the Council was responsible in its dealings with financing the Chuckanut Ridge property. It pains me to read to you this version.

The Council has been given two explicit charges in the City Charter: to make and pass ordinances and to control City finances and properties. I would add that to carry out these charges the City Council has the obligations to facilitate public process and citizen input into its decision-making. To meet this obligation, the City has citizen advisory boards and committees that focus on specific city programs and provide recommendations to the council. In this case, Council decision to purchase all of Chuckanut Ridge, those groups were not consulted or allowed the opportunity to comment on this purchase, as was the case on all other approximately 125 Greenways acquisition transactions since 1990.

Here is the one question everyone in this community needs to ask: Is the Council meeting its fiduciary responsibility by choosing not to identify a fair and certain payback plan for the loan from the Greenways Endowment Fund as a condition of the loan appropriation ordinance? Council responded to an artificial deadline and entered into a purchase agreement that the City cannot afford without fulfilling its obligations to complete responsible due diligence.

Banks who are able to stay in business have rock solid and enforceable guarantees when they give out loans. Horizon Bank made exceptions to that model and look at what that got them. When we hear people and council members use confidence-building terms like “we have lots of time to figure this out” or “Greenways 4 is a sure bet” or “put faith in the community because they will fundraise the balance” or “don’t worry, be happy,” I begin to think the City is going down the Horizon Bank path with all of its unintended consequences.

Let’s be clear about Chuckanut Ridge. Look at the written record. Look at the language of the last two levies and the plans set forth by the levy stewards, the Greenways Advisory Committee. I am pleased that the goal of the Greenways Program to provide a trail corridor connecting Fairhaven Park with the Interurban Trail has been achieved through this purchase. While the critical areas such as the wetlands and buffers would have eventually been deeded to the City at no cost anyway, it is good to know that these areas are also preserved.

By buying this property, we did even more than that. A month ago, many Chuckanut Ridge supporters would have been ecstatic with a deal that would have acquired developable land on the northside of the property and include the wetlands. Other than an extremely small and vocal group mostly within spitting distance of the property, this would be considered success. The bottom line is that the taxpayers of Bellingham have done the hard work securing what we need.

Acquiring the ENTIRE property, however, exceeds the basic needs for Greenway trails and open space in this part of the City. The additional perk of land on the southside of the property is a want by nearby residents. The burden for its purchase should not fall on the entire Bellingham population or Greenways 3.

If the City is to be further involved with this want, then a financing plan must be put in place in a timely way to protect the assets of the Greenways 3 levy program that voters supported. I have provided ideas from others and myself to the Council that would ensure a proper finance plan. So far, the sentiment is ‘let’s kick the can down the road’ and some other Council will make the final decision on the source of funding for the additional purchase.

I want the whole property too, but as a councilmember and taxpayer, this attitude entering into a purchase agreement without a secure source of funding is unacceptable, irresponsible and fails to meet the Council’s fiduciary responsibility to control and ensure appropriate management of City’s financial resources.

Integrating the purchase of a need with the purchase of a want, places the city’s financial resources at risk. The City does not have a good track record for enforcing agreements with community groups. An example is the decision to allow the Caretaker House in Fairhaven Park to be a part of a community project to develop the Rose Garden into the Center for Local Self-Reliance instead of selling the house and allowing it to be moved. The City had a firm agreement that the group would do fundraising to finance the repair the house that never came to fruition. It is a great project idea and the volunteer contributions are commendable, but the bottom line is that we never enforced the fundraising agreement.

I look back on the past few years when the Council made mistakes or poor decisions. These oftentimes happen because the Council was rushed to a decision, they chose not to follow a plan or process set forth before them, or the loudest voices in the room got their way.

The most obvious examples concern the waterfront. We chose to give our responsibility for SEPA control over to the developer, the Port. We signed an Interlocal agreement with the developer absolving them of paying impact fees transferring these costs to the taxpayer. We did not question the basic assumptions surrounding the building of a marina for yachts and gave a regulatory pass on what could become a white elephant like it has for the City of Bremerton due to the economic failure of a similar yacht marina. Council was told in an emergency special meeting with the Port on April 20, 2009 that because of a grant application that was to be turned in within a few days, that public and advisory board review would be suspended. Further, we would need to approve a plan that was 180 degrees opposite of what was agreed to in 2006. The unsuccessful grant application for this emergency situation was not turned in within a few days but was actually submitted five months later. Through that 4-2 vote, the Council has created a mess that it has ignored during the last 2½ years while staff, with our blessing, digs us in deeper.

The new Museum offers a similar financing example that we should carefully consider if we think kicking the can down the road is a good idea. Because of the economy, the capital financing scheme of the Museum is a mess and most likely will require the City to bail them out in the near future. Kicking the can of our financial responsibility down the road has not been successful in the past. Why do we think it will be for this purchase?

For those with some memory, look at the process and decisions around buying Hoag’s Pond, over-designing the Alabama St pedestrian bridge, agreeing to unnecessary 10th Street parking, putting Caitac in the Comp Plan, and allowing tens of millions to be spent by others on infrastructure on Yew St Road without ever doing an annexation analysis. I have many others.

But the most glaring example of bad Council business is the misunderstanding of what the Greenways 3 levy said and what it didn’t say and it haunts us even today. Revisionist history has been lurking over the years about whether any written commitment to Chuckanut Ridge for $0, $2 M, $6 M, or $8 M was made by the Council or by the voters. To think, as a few people have convinced themselves, that the City Charter also allows a Mayor to commit financial promises for property in the heat of an afternoon long session in 2006 is simply absurd. Council never made this issue clear and in writing and it continues to create confusion and resentment. Yet, here we are, on the verge of making another squishy decision that will be misinterpreted for years to come.

With Chuckanut Ridge financing (actually the lack of financing for the $3.4 M loan), I don’t want to be part of this list of bad decisions made under bad timing, bad advice, and bad planning. Ever since I was a child, I always felt that I should learn from the mistakes of others and try not to make them myself. I have learned a lot over the last few Councils. And I certainly have been paying attention to national and global financial decisions to let someone else at some other time make the hard choices.

I am glad we are purchasing Chuckanut Ridge. I wish we could afford all of it – BUT WE CAN’T. It would be easiest course of action to ask voters five years from now to cover our backsides and pay for this decision – BUT WE SHOULDN’T. The financing plan for the loan repayment must be enacted sooner rather than later and be a secure revenue stream that is not a hope and a dream.

I wish that people who want to keep the property whole would raise the money to do so – BUT THEY WON’T. I say that with some experience. Of all of the people who have spoken up over the years claiming some sort of $8 million quid pro quo with Chuckanut Ridge commitments, only Jody Bergsma, Brad Rose, and Joe Yaver gave any money to the Greenways 3 campaign. $410 out of $12,383. 3% of the campaign. That’s it. (From the Council, Barbara Ryan and Joan Beardsley kicked in a total of another $300.)
Of all of those same people, only 6 of 796 signed campaign endorsements for the levy. These names were included in the only flyer during the campaign (Jody Bergsma, Michael Chiavario, Brad Rose, Gail Smedley, Bobbi Vollendorf and Joe Yaver). All 7 councilmembers at that time endorsed.

Telling, isn’t it. All the people that try to tell the community that black is white when it comes to the levy but it is obvious they (except for the above mentioned few) don’t believe in the levy enough to support it. And we are hitching our horse up to that post?

I have been working on this issue for 15 years. I have been on the Greenways Committee for 10 years and had close to 200 meetings and property site visits over this time, many of them with fellow committee members Seth and Stan who also have put in the time. By comparison, the rest of our Council, put together, has attended less than a handful of Greenways meetings and that was a result of invitations and begging by the Committee.

If I wanted to be smug, I would leave it at that. But I bring up this experience to say that a lot goes into a property purchase and we can easily make mistakes by thinking that some cool solution will come to us five years from now. Should we ask our Finance Director if he would prefer an air-tight financing plan now and not later? Why would not the Council prefer, no, demand the same?

I don’t believe responsible money management is too much to ask at a time when a northside neighborhood has to do a $600 fundraiser this year to pay for four-months use of a rental port-o-potty for its small neighborhood park. The rest of the year the park has no facilities. Or that a number of recent northside park acquisitions will stay a collection of weeds because the City has no development or maintenance money to provide the same recreational experience as southsiders have. Come up with your own list of northside deficiencies and southside excesses of things that make a livable community (not just Greenways) - it does not take long to understand the problem.

For recreational and open space opportunities, the City has a mechanism to review and rectify the problem. Unfortunately in this situation, this Council action has usurped the role of the Greenway levy stewards (citizen’s Greenway Advisory Committee) that has been honored since the inception of the Greenways Program and the goals approved by Council in the city Parks and Recreation Master Plan. The Greenways Advisory Committee has the responsibility to represent the “needs” of the community. These 11 volunteer community members spend the time necessary to evaluate each potential acquisition based on how critical it is for fulfilling the community’s vision of the creation of a community-wide system of trails that connect us with each other and with destinations - parks, open space, and other special places in all of our neighborhoods. Public oversight doesn’t stop there. The citizen’s Park and Recreation Advisory Board reviews every decision made by the Greenways Advisory Committee. Both of these groups forward their recommendations to the City Council. In this Chuckanut Ridge purchase the essential element of citizen oversight was bypassed. The Council took the driver’s seat and made the decision without ANY citizen review, putting community faith in this cherished program at serious risk.

This acquisition has already brought up a number of unintended consequences. Besides the breakdown in process as been described, there will be cries of property restoration soon. Who will do this and how will it get paid for? Will the restoration and the ongoing maintenance of Chuckanut Ridge be burdened to the already stretched Parks Department? You know, the staff that had to shut off water to another northside park setting up an unfair situation where adjacent neighbors pull garden hoses over to water parts of the park at their own utility expense.

This purchase has gutted our Greenways reserves and loan capacity. What will happen when acquisition and development opportunities elsewhere get lost?

How do we, as a community, instill empathy to some of the Chuckanut Ridge advocates that Bellingham has other issues and needs outside of this property? I read in the Herald a letter from a woman who says in part, “Please, City Council members, don't listen to the few loud complainers who possibly live in the north side of town. The south side does not have quick access to: an airport, BTC, Bellis Fair, industrial parks, etc., so should we shout that the distribution of conveniences (sic) isn't fair to the south side residents? Don't start complaining now.”

When I read something like this I just want to sit down and cry.

If fairness is to prevail in Bellingham concerning this purchase, we have a lot of work to do and soon.

[To have been read by Councilmember Jack Weiss on September 12, 2011.]


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Greenways: Passion- Like A Moth To A Flame

Yesterday's visitation to City Hall after almost 4 years of absence [abstinence?] left me thinking why I had bothered to show up at all.
I had taken tons of notes directly from the City Council proceedings in the afternoon and evening sessions, so as to inform myself on the details and status of the Chuckanut Ridge property acquisition, and was mulling this information around in my head trying to figure out what to do with it.
After all, I had elected to drive home early from a very pleasant vacation just to attend these meetings, leaving my wife behind to follow later.

It finally hit me last night about 3:30 AM when I awoke from a deep sleep.
It was my passion for the subject of our Greenways program which is a treasure to be nurtured, protected and sustained for the future -and present- enjoyment of all Bellinghamsters.

And, it was also about becoming well & truly bitten by local politics - a leftover from my 9 years as an elected City Council member.
For folks who have tried it, you know what I mean; once it gets in your blood, you can never really shake it.

Anyway, that's what's happened to me, and the proposed actions regarding Greenways woke me up to it anew.
I guess you might say I have a passion for politics, most particularly in due process, public process, honesty, fiscal responsibility and the overall good stewardship expected by the public - whether they trust government or not!

Think that isn't passion? Think again!

So, rather than fight my inability to go back to sleep after 2 hours, I decided to just get up and try to commit a few general thoughts to words. That's what I'm doing now, at 6 AM.

The Buddhists list three 'poisons' as the prime causes of suffering in all beings; passion, greed and ignorance,with ignorance the worst of the lot.
Of course, none of these is inherently bad, but an EXCESS of any one of them can be, and is from my experience.
The Buddhists therefore teach balance and moderation in all things as the antidote for suffering.
But, where's the passion in that?
That's the point; being serious about limiting suffering and actually doing something about it, is their passion!

Some examples of excessive passion are well known to us all; unwanted offspring, wars, injuries, financial deficits, criminal activity of all types, singed wings on moths, and on and on.
But, you do already know what I'm talking about from your own experience in this world, don't you?

So, when I hear people justify something -anything- on the basis of passion -either positive or negative- I have to stop and consider where this is coming from, but more importantly, where it is leading.
That pretty much sums up my concerns with the $8.23 million -plus acquisition of the Chuckanut Ridge property, too.

A vocal advocate of this purchase is Joe Yaver, a member of the organization that likes to be known as 'Responsible Development', and a nice guy, asked me in the hallway 'what my problem was' with this purchase happening just the way he wanted it.
That helped me see a big part of the problem; this is not a simple decision without 'unintended consequences; it does not have sufficient funding; its too big a bite to qualify as a need; public process -both past & present- has been intense and needs to be honored; it greatly impacts some other really desirable acquisitions in other areas of the City & its surroundings; etc.
You can see why a short, sound byte answer can't possibly do justice to such a question; but Joe's expectation, regardless of reality, obviously wasn't satisfied.

That's also a general problem, not just Joe's; citizens expectations need to be reasonably aligned with reality!

Among the audience, supporters of this purchase greatly outnumbered skeptics & opponents, lending an aura of public expectation that is sometimes irresistible to elected officials.
Seems passion is contagious, maybe even viral under such conditions.

The evening discussions were far more revealing than the afternoon meeting was, as to individual Council Members feelings and views.
The earlier meeting was muted, vague and mostly devoid of passion, under the almost directorial control of the Finance Committee Chair, Michael Lilliquist - a first term member, serious about his job.
A few concepts were mumbled, some passively agreed upon and the proposed ordinance amended, kinda, sorta.

Lilliquist decided to divide the discussions between agreeing to the purchase and then figuring out how to pay for it.
Seemed reasonable, except how do you really do that?
One part is inherently inseparable to the other!
No public comments were allowed in the interest of 'time'; yet this committee went 10 whole minutes past its scheduled plan! Big deal? You decide.

The evening session brought out more passion - MUCH more, in part, thanks to the audience and the opportunity to grandstand to those seated, as well as any who might stay awake to watch the film at 11.
Guess who were the most passionate grandstanders?
You guessed it; the two longest serving members -neither with an opponent this year- Gene Knutson & Terry Bornemann.

Gene passionately assured whoever was listening that this was a good thing to do; that he has faith the City will find a way to pay for it, because it always has; that citizens will step up again; that his fuzzy math really works; [fill in the bloviation of your choice here].
But, we've all heard Gene do this passion thing before....

Terry, of the waving arms, tried to outdo Gene with his brand of passion; quite a duel in a sense, except they were both on the same side!
Bornemann went a step further with his own brand of fuzzy history and tried to reconstruct for the current audience what had transpired 5 or 6 years ago.
Revisionist history can work as long as one tailors it to what the audience of the moment wants, but I was truly amazed at Terry's recollections, since it differed quite dramatically from my own - and I was there at the time!

But, no matter; our Supreme Court has decreed that political statements don't have to be truthful or accurate; that's for sissies and little goody two-shoes!
The Council discussions leading up to passage of the Greenways 3 levy in 2006 are a matter of record, if folks want to bother doing the research; but who wants to do that?

Suffice to say that both Terry & Gene again said what they said back then, too; when the levy almost didn't get on the ballot because of their complicity with partisan interests, who now loudly applaud this very purchase!
How's that for irony?
Following a predetermined path to a foregone conclusion.

Do you get the picture now of where my passion lies?
I certainly hope so, because I've lost enough sleep over trying explain it.

Fortunately and for the sake of some sort of balance, two Council Members, Jack Weiss & Stan Snapp voiced sufficient concerns to vote against the proposed slam-dunk acquisition ordinance.
This is largely symbolic at the moment, but important to what transpires next; how to pay for the obligation the City is on the verge of taking on.
That, my friends, is a very serious question which I have little confidence will be answered to my satisfaction.
After all, what couldn't be done before making a commitment, won't likely be done afterwards.

But, we'll see.
There are some ideas that can help us meet somewhere in the middle and not obligate future Councils, Administrations and citizens to clean up after any current, unwise decisions.
Don't you hate it when somebody leaves you a mess to clean up?
Whoops, sorry, another passions is being strongly expressed!

Well. as long as I'm on a roll, and not yet ready for a nap, let's add a little more to this ramble, shall we?
OK, I know you've got better things to do than read this stuff, but I don't.

A disappointment for me last night was Seth Fleetwood's measured, less passionate, response, which didn't add much of substance, despite his unique role in previous Greenways levies and experience with both the Greenways Advisory Committee and Parks & Recreation Board, both volunteer organizations that have greatly assisted the City without much notice, or thanks for that matter.

These good Greenways & Parks folks are probably feeling a little discouraged right now, since their recommendations have been deliberately ignored, at the Council's discretion of course.
Hey, you know, you guys are only advisory and Councils can do that if they want to!

But, smart Councils are careful about such things, but this purchase -$8,23 million -the largest in Greenways history- is so special and heated that this Council just flat trumped all that advisory rigmarole!
Take that volunteers!
Good luck on finding volunteers in the future, especially ones that have some history, knowledge and dedication to fairness.
It's now likely gonna be positively feudal out there, to our sad detriment!

Seth could have provided a teaching [learning?] moment for the two newest Council Members, Barry Buchanan and Michael Lilliquist, both relative beginners at this stuff, but to me, he clearly missed the opportunity.

Barry seems content to just go along with popular currents without paddling very hard, except when he wants to.
Unfortunately for him, these currents seem likely to make him a one-termer in office.
He's not a bad guy, but did have the lapse in judgement of allowing the Greenways Strategic Plan to remain unadopted repeatedly, until now.
That turned out to be pretty convenient for those favoring Chuckanut Ridge as the first priority -above all others!
But, that's not a very good legacy for poor Barry I'm afraid.

Michael, on the other hand, has obviously worked hard at learning his job and is getting pretty good at it.
Problem is, Michael is so smart he thinks he's got everything figured out, including street credibility.
That can become a problem for him, and for us.
I suspect he won't let that happen, but this Greenways matter could become the beginning of his undoing if he's not careful.

I'll be looking closely at what transpires in Lilliquist's Finance Committee, for example, and particularly at what options are generated that can either raise additional funding for the CR purchase, or bring down the amount of property that is kept to lower the cost to the City.
Ideally, some combination of both will happen to harmonize assets vs liabilities.
I hope Michael's intent will go well beyond taking us to an overtime period or out of time, before the commitment Ordinance is due for its 3rd and final reading.
That will become obvious in 2 weeks; excruciating, but mercifully short!

So, possibilities still remain for the City Council to come up with a plan that gets a substantial part of Chuckanut Ridge purchased, AND paid for before any of the current members term of office comes to an end.
That should be the objective here; do not create an unnecessary mess for future Councils [or Mayor] to deal with!
Honestly. doesn't that sound reasonable?
Like Larry the Cable Guy says; 'get 'er done'!

OK, enough passion for one day.
Cheery bye for now....

Monday, September 12, 2011

Greenways: Show Me The Money!

I came back home early to attend today's City Council deliberations on the purchase of the entire Chuckanut Ridge property.
Unfortunately, the results were both predictable and substantially unsatisfactory, although the Council did agree to 'separate its actions regarding an Acquisition Ordinance from a Repayment Plan' - essentially opting to kick only a PART of the can down the road.
Hard for me to separate these topics, since they are inherently inseparable, but that's the temporizing placebo being offered by our often logic-challenged Council.

Without detailing my take on the proceedings and positions expressed in greater detail now, I will defer that until later.
But, rest assured, there will be more posted on this matter.

For those interested, here are my [cleaned up] remarks given during the Public Comment time:

City Council Members;

Tonight, your agenda states that you will consider voting upon an Ordinance that legally binds the City of Bellingham to purchase the subject property for a price of $8.23 million, plus ancillary costs directly associated with the purchase, which is presently set for closing on or about September 29, 2001 - about two weeks hence.

Please be careful about what you may pass tonight, because very clear & explicit language is necessary, both to explain your actions to the public and to protect the City's interests.

Even attending and listening carefully at this afternoon's Finance Committee discussion did not satisfy this critical concern to any real degree.
If I have doubts and questions unanswered, you can be sure many other citizens have them as well.

The Mayor addressed the 'confusion' among our community this afternoon, without ever acknowledging his role in creating this confusion.
Apparently, Council were not so 'confused' when they authorized the Mayor to initiate this purchase process, although now, some members may have become more aware of the widespread concerns being expressed.

There is good news and bad news here; the good news is that this property is preserved for City ownership and eventual use as an additional asset to our system of parks, trails & open space.
The bad news is the City has insufficient acceptable funding available to cleanly complete the purchase.
A deficit difference approaching $3.4 million or more is not a small deficiency!

Murphy's Law states that if anything can go wrong, it will - mostly at a most inappropriate time.
A corollary to this is that rushed and unclear decisions greatly speed up things going wrong!
That's what is happening here, unfortunately.

As far as clarifying the proposed Ordinance language, here are the concepts I suggest:

• Make this purchase to be made completely from Greenways 3 funding, plus any related funds specifically intended for this purpose, like Parks Impact Fees, etc.
A possibility of obtaining additional funds dedicated to Greenways 3 also exists, including but not limited to the following: future sale of a portion of the property purchased, gifts & donations, sale of property rights such as development rights [TDRs], timber rights, mineral rights, etc.

• Under no circumstances allow the use of other scarce City funds be used for this purpose, including but not limited to the General Fund, Rainy Day & Reserve Funds, and any future Greenways levies should they come to pass, etc.
If you do not specifically state this, these funds will most certainly need to be used.
Not acceptable, especially under the fiscal pressures that now exist!

• Greenways 3 funds tentatively allocated for other areas of the City need to be respected as closely as possible, with the understanding that 'robbing Peter to pay Paul' is not acceptable!
Such overages that might occur should also be corrected later in the event of future Greenways levies.
The Greenways endowment fund is critical to sustaining our Parks and should be restored asap.

These clarifications ought to clear up much, if not all, of the 'confusion' -as the Mayor calls it- over this acquisition.
The Council has an opportunity to make this property purchase much more palatable to our entire community, but only if these common sense ideas are incorporated into the Ordinance so that officially, the City will a definite repayment plan!

Please review these roles & responsibilities:

• The Council sets City Policy & approves all funding not officially budgeted

• The Mayor is charged with carrying out City Policy & respecting the rules & regulations in so doing

• City Staff has the duty to perform the necessary actions & tasks as outlined by City Policy & directed by the Mayor.

Council, this is your problem to resolve & it will be better for you to do it now, not later!

Do not opt to 'kick this can down the road'!

Do the right thing without additional delay and do not be 'jawboned' into silly, temporizing measures.
Otherwise, you will likely reap a whirlwind of citizen discontent.

The City has exhibited good fiscal restraint during the past few years, and you are to be commended for that discipline!
Don't risk that excellent track record on this potentially divisive issue!

I wish you well in these endeavors.
So do all responsible citizens, voters & tax-payers.

John Watts

I neglected to report the Council voted to pass an amended ordinance, 5-2. [Weiss & Snapp opposed]
3rd & final passage likely to happen at the September 26 meeting.