Louise Bjornson

Bellingham City Council At Large

 

1. Do you believe the business community should have an equal seat at the table with other interest groups (neighborhoods, environmental community, etc.) in discussing the future growth of Bellingham? Why or why not?

Yes. People who own businesses have always been an integral part of our community. Many times business leaders are leaders in other areas of our community such as philanthropy, neighborhood groups or the arts.

I am proud to be known as a City Councilmember who attends many business and community meetings, listens, and works hard for our community. Now that Bellingham is showing up on all the “Best Places to Live” lists, it is critical that we work together to preserve our quality of life. Our quality of life is why we live here, and why businesses want to locate here.

I always attempt to make the public process inclusive. During my

first term as City Council President, I started the 15 minute public comment period, a time when anyone could speak with the City Council. I also receive many calls at home.

 

2. Are you supportive of the current Port/City partnership and their vision for redeveloping the New Whatcom site?

Planning for the New Whatcom site is an ongoing process with many stakeholders. We have a wonderful opportunity to redevelop our waterfront from an industrial area to a mixed use area with businesses, housing, parks and public access to the water. The City and Port sponsored the very involved public process with the Waterfront Futures Group, starting the community VISION for the redevelopment of the waterfront. With each step, we have more information to add to the next agreement.

By being a part of the process, the City and the citizens can influence the redevelopment of the waterfront to be a major asset to our lives and to the City of Bellingham and Whatcom County as a whole. As in other areas of the City, funds from many sources, including funds from grants and developers will help pay for infrastructure. Public access to the waterfront is a top priority as is better access from downtown.

 

3. When it comes to land use planning, should Bellingham work more closely with Whatcom County and other municipalities in the County? If so, how?

Yes. It is for the benefit of our whole community when the City and the County work closely together. In fact, it is required when reviewing our Urban Growth Areas. We also have an agreement that generally development in UGA will be to City standards. Many of the problems we see now are the results of actions taken before the Growth Management Act.

We have made great strides, but we can do better. Before Cordata was annexed, a lot of the industrial zoned land was rezoned to residential and developed without a park. Purchasing the 20 acres next to the new 20 acre school site will add needed recreation area, especially if the County adds the extra 7 acres. This will be a good example of public/private/City/County cooperation for the benefit of all the citizens.

The County was also an active participant in the North Bellingham Trail Planning process – another benefit for our community.

 

4. Do you support the efforts to limit the height of future development in the Fairhaven Business District to two stories? Why or why not?

No. Many years ago, the Fairhaven commercial area height was set at “at least 2 stories”, to provide for housing above the businesses and make this a successful mixed use center. Some of the historic buildings in the core are 54’. There is a wonderful sense of history in Fairhaven that many of us treasure and the addition of residential units make it an example of a thriving urban village. The city will be facilitating a discussion for neighbors, business owners, and interested citizens to figure out a way to update the design standards, which includes addressing the height issue.

 

5. Do you support the Shoreline Master Plan currently being proposed by city staff? Please explain

I support updating the Shoreline Master Program. I helped write the last program. There are more state regulations now and we have more awareness of salmon and other environmental issues. The state deadline is upon us. Many citizens have already been involved at the Planning Commission level. The Public Hearing before the City Council will be in July. As is sometimes the case, there may be minor changes after hearing from the public.

I remember when I first came to Bellingham in 1966, you could hardly stick your big toe in the water. The water was so polluted from the City dump and other wastes, we literally turned our back on the water. Now, we all are eager to access the shoreline, one of our natural assets.

 

6. What in your opinion, is the primary cause of the decrease in the actual number of Whatcom County residents between the ages of 30 to 39 (primary working age) since 1996?

The City is looking at improving living wage jobs, so people who want to stay here can do so. One of my goals is to maintain a vibrant diverse economy. The Waterfront is an area where more business and job opportunities are possible. We are completing a business survey right now, asking businesses about their experiences in Bellingham, are they planning on adding employees, and their challenges in keeping quality employees. As you know, we received national recognition for our work with the Small Business Development Center. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and an important source of jobs.

We are also working with the Workforce Development Center, the Bellingham Technology College, and the Community College to make sure the training is available in the areas needed by the local businesses. We need to find a better way to match employees with available jobs. A number of businesses have told me they have vacancies that they have a hard time filling. It is important for the

economic health of the community to have a diverse population in terms of age and skills.

 

7. Are you supportive of the efforts to promote infill development in the City of Bellingham? If so, what measures would you propose to accomplish this?

Yes, but it has to be done right. We have a lot of potential for infill in our downtown, on the waterfront and in our mixed use centers such as Barkley Village or on Samish Way. This gives residents the

opportunity to live close to services such as the grocery store and

transit lines. More housing downtown helps revitalize the heart of our community. It also helps maintain the character of our existing neighborhoods, one of the goals that I have worked so hard for in my years on the City Council.

The City’s and private efforts to clean up downtown is making a difference and bringing more housing downtown. Remember the intersection at Holly and Railroad a few years ago? Instead of being the worst intersection in town, it is now an entrance to downtown that we can be proud of. There are new or remodeled buildings on all four corners and new housing above the retail businesses. This is another example of public/private cooperation that is a benefit to the whole community and a great example of desirable attractive infill.

 

8. What do you believe is the primary pollution issue in Lake Whatcom and how do you propose to address it?

The primary pollution issue in Lake Whatcom is storm water runoff and the pollutants it contains, e.g. herbicides, pesticides, phosphorus. More native vegetation will help filter the water and assist the water to seep into the ground rather than running off and carrying pollutants into the lake. I want to examine more options for both new and existing property to treat storm water on site. We received national recognition for our innovative work on storm water in the Silver Beach area. We have done a lot, but we need to do more.

Our education program is making a difference in human behavior in the watershed. Most people now know that we get our drinking water from the Lake Whatcom Reservoir and are more careful.

Over 85,000 people drink water from the lake. It is a fragile resource. That is why I support the property acquisition program and purchase of conservation easements. We have now purchased over 1200 acres in the watershed.

 

9. Should all businesses be treated equally regardless of whether or not they are locally owned? Why or Why not?

The City licensing department treats all businesses the same.

In awarding our contracts in the bidding process, the city is able to give a small preference to local businesses.

We as individual citizens can promote local businesses, such as with the Buy Local campaign. I was the fourth generation in our family business. My grandfather always said, ” Buy local – It helps the local economy.” Personally, I believe in shopping locally, and I am a member of Sustainable Connections.

 

10. If elected, what do you propose to do to interact on a regular basis with Bellingham business community?

Presently, I interact on a regular basis with members of the Bellingham business community. I plan on continuing to do so.

I meet with them for coffee, at their place of business, or in small groups. I am glad to be known as an accessible City Council member to people from all walks of life.

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