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