Election Q&A: Bellingham City Council, Part 2

This week, BBJToday.com is running a series of Q&As with candidates for the Bellingham City Council.

Part 2 features Bob Burr and Roxanne Murphy, candidates for the council’s At Large seat.

Part 3, which will be published on Thursday, Sept. 5, will feature current council incumbents Michael Lilliquist (Ward 6) and Gene Knutson (Ward 2), who are both running unopposed.

Part 1, which was published on Tuesday, Sept. 3, featured Clayton Petree and Pinky Vargas, candidates for City Council’s Ward 4 seat.

The candidates were asked three questions involving city business and the local economy:

1. With City Council now beginning its deliberations on plans for the Waterfront District, do you think the process is on the right track? What contributions do you want to make as the plans move forward?

2. What should the council’s strategy be when it comes to bolstering future economic development and vitality across Bellingham?

3. How would you describe the current relationship between the city’s government and local business owners and developers? And how do you plan to engage with the local business community?

The Q&As also appear in the September print edition of The Bellingham Business Journal.

This year’s general election is scheduled for Nov. 5.

Bellingham City Council At Large

Bob Burr

Question 1

Even though planning for the waterfront has been going on for a decade now, I believe the plan being deliberated upon by the council is seriously off track. The port and the City Planning Commission have not heeded the testimony given by the public. And, as testimony at recent City Council and port meetings indicates, the public is upset at having its input ignored.

Having proceeded at a snail’s pace, things are now going too fast. Bids are being taken for sub-area development before the overall plan has been approved. An attempt is being made to amend the well-researched Shoreline Management Plan to conform to the Waterfront Plan, which has not yet passed public scrutiny.

The current plan is to have the Waterfront District Plan all signed off upon before the new council is sworn in. I hope that is not the case.

As a council member, I will insist that the plan contain a community benefits agreement that would require those purchasing or leasing space to provide living wages and benefits to those they employ. Bellingham has a rate of poverty nearly double the statewide figure. The waterfront development must not exacerbate that situation.

The waterfront needs to be a working waterfront that attracts primarily those businesses that depend on water access. Shipping opportunities abound.

The EIS (environmental impact statement) for the waterfront is outdated. Habitat and habitat connectivity have not been sufficiently considered. And, the cleanup is mostly a “cover up,” meeting minimum state standards but still bothersome to the community that wants hazardous materials removed rather than buried.

My contribution would be to represent the public desires. These could be easily determined in a survey.

Question 2

The waterfront is critical for Bellingham’s future economic development. It can be a magnet for living wage jobs. It should not be a place for high-rise condos or office buildings.

Bellingham needs more vertical growth, but that growth should be downtown. The urban village approach is sound on paper, but not practical when neighborhoods adopt “NIMBY” stances. The Logos Bible Software proposal with potential participation by the city in a parking structure is precisely the type of development the city needs.

The city’s permitting processes are burdensome. Until they are updated and reduced, business relocation and startups in Bellingham will be deterred.

The new economic development chapter to the city’s comprehensive plan calls for more outreach by the city to business. That is, however, an executive rather than legislative function. The council sets the city budget, however, and is the group that must ultimately balance the dollars spent on various city functions.

Promoting and incenting business interests must be done within the context of the community as a whole and its values. Vitality is the key word. Adding more poverty level jobs hurts vitality.

Question 3

I would characterize the relationship as improving for developers and large businesses and as sad for small business. Mayor Linville is clearly somebody the developers can work with. She is pro-growth—some would say too much so. There needs to be more sunlight on the deals she cuts, such as that with the new Costco site.

Fortunately, once established, most small businesses in Bellingham do not have to deal often with the city. Those that must too often find the city non-user friendly.

It is bureaucratic. It has too many and outdated regulations. Permitting has too many hurdles. Some city employees have attitude problems and are non-responsive.

My engagement with the local business community will be primarily of the listening mode. One of the few things I pride myself upon is the ability to listen well to, and interact well with, different constituencies.

My history as a corporate executive and entrepreneur will be very helpful. My professional background is in research and development. I will attempt to get the city to do more surveying of individuals and businesses, particularly of the post-transaction variety.

The last survey conducted was in 2010, and it showed declining business owner satisfaction with the city. I believe the city was too quick to dismiss this result as a function of poor economic conditions at the time.

Another program I would push would be a mystery shopper program, where professional researchers pose as those applying for permits and report back on the experience.

Roxanne Murphy

Question 1

I support the community input that’s being provided to the City Council and the Port Commission regarding ensuring that the environmental remediation of the property is completed to the highest standard.

I like the way the current plan works to balance various interests in terms of park development, open space, environmental protection and maritime job development. Additional research should be done to see if the area is fit for residential development due to liquefaction considerations.

I also support the waterfront redevelopment plans so our people can have the kind of living-wage jobs that are so needed in our community.

Lastly, after canvassing many neighborhoods in Bellingham as a part of my candidacy, I believe that it’s critical to turn plans into action regarding the waterfront redevelopment. So many Bellingham residents have said that they’d simply like to see some form of action on the waterfront, which is why I think it’s important to open recreation trails as soon as possible. This could be just one way of thanking the community for their input, and showing that there will be the right kind of future redevelopment action in this area.

Question 2

I would like to see and would support the city of Bellingham creating sensible economic development.

I’d work to make sure this economic development happens in the areas where it makes the most sense to grow, including the waterfront, downtown, Fairhaven, Barkley Village, Old Town, along the Guide, Sunset Square and so on. Focusing development in these areas will also help with the important task of preserving Bellingham’s amazing neighborhoods.

I’m the candidate in this race with the strongest economic development background after working for the city of Tacoma’s Community and Economic Development Department. These experiences would be key in helping to attract and retain development and businesses in Bellingham.

I also have a background in creating the most effective community outreach to citizens so they can have the best input opportunities and understanding about current or future developments. I would ensure that this occurs so that economic development could happen with enhanced community understanding and involvement.

Question 3

I think the city could do more to improve its relationship with local business owners and developers, and I would love to assist in these areas.

I’m the most poised to offer this support with my professional background and it’s an honor to report that I’ve been endorsed by the Whatcom County Association of Realtors, which includes developers. This organization validated my understanding of how these relationships can be improved in various ways, including better outreach to the business community, policy evaluations, zoning considerations, reliable permitting and more effective public-private partnerships.

I’d also like to help the city enhance its relationships and support of our small business community, which again, could occur through outreach and better policies, zoning and permitting.

In closing, I will always encourage each of our residents to support our city in such a simple way: Buy locally!


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