Whatcom County Council, District 2, Position B:
1. Do you believe the business community should have an equal seat at the table with other interest groups (communities, environmental groups, etc) in discussing the future growth of Whatcom County? Please explain.
The business community represents the economic engine of the County. Discussions regarding growth absolutely must include dialogue about jobs, business opportunity and other economic considerations. As the current County Council representative on the board of the Whatcom Economic Development Council, I strive to ensure that economic development issues are a priority for County government.
2. Are you supportive of the current Port/City of Bellingham vision for redeveloping the New Whatcom Site, and should the County participate in those plans? Why or why not?
Economic planning, even when within Bellingham city limits, has County-wide impacts, and the County must remain involved. I have participated in many of the discussions about the future of the Waterfront. The Port and the City have put considerable effort into extensive analysis of options for the area and continue to solicit community input and review. I believe they are on the right track. However, I opposed a City/Port proposal to shift future property taxes in the Waterfront area to other County taxpayers because I believe future redevelopment must be economically self-sustaining.
3. When it comes to land use planning, should the County work more closely with the other municipalities in Whatcom County to ensure a more cohesive plan?
I’m satisfied the County Administration makes a considerable effort to communicate and cooperate with the cities and other local governments in its planning efforts. There are times when the majority of the County Council has not listened to these local concerns on issues, such as the residential densities surrounding Ferndale or when it comes to purchasing development rights around Lynden. I advocate for the small communities and work diligently to make sure their concerns are heard. Another area of importance is coordinating transportation projects. For many years, I have served on the Whatcom Council of Governments, where regional transportation planning occurs. Recent discussions and actions have included better North/South arterials through Bellingham, the widening of Guide Meridian and improvements to County roads, and proposing future alternate routes for North County residents to gain better access to I-5.
4. Do you support efforts to protect land currently designated for medium and heavy industrial purposes in the County for that purpose? Please explain.
It is very short-sighted for our generation to assume Whatcom County will simply become Bellevue’s residential and suburban backyard. A recent proposal to rezone a large parcel of industrial land in the Birch Bay area to residential/light industrial demonstrated that short-sightedness. The County Council wisely decided not to forward the proposal for further consideration. I recently participated in discussions about exciting possibilities for our industrial areas, such as a future alternative fuels “energy park”. Plans for the Gateway Pacific Terminal also may be moving forward again. I believe the best course for County planners regarding these important industrial areas is to keep all options on the table and to not close the door on future opportunities for development that can provide family-wage paying jobs.
5. Do you support efforts to find additional forms of identification to ensure Washingtonians and the citizens of British Columbia can easily cross our shared border? Why or why not?
I support efforts to find additional forms of identification. A significant portion of income for Whatcom County retail businesses comes from our Canadian neighbors, not to mention the sales taxes that support local government. Studies have shown that a considerable portion of these visitors will no longer bother to cross the border if the requirements for entry are too onerous. I also acknowledge that, unfortunately, we live in an age of heightened concern for homeland security. I applaud the Chamber, and Ken Oplinger specifically, for going to bat for Whatcom County on this issue. I sponsored, and received support for, a County Council Resolution endorsing Ken’s efforts in this area. With technology and appropriate federal enforcement emphasis on safeguarding our borders, I believe we can address this matter while continuing to see the economic benefits of our unique border location.
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?
I believe there are several factors affecting the decrease in residents of primary working age: an aging population overall, a desirable location for retirees, high housing costs, high taxes, and a lack of medium-sized and large-sized manufacturing and industrial career opportunities. It’s not a good trend. As with many trends, this one very well may go back to land-use decisions. Are we providing small and medium industries the zoning and infrastructure needed to allow companies to provide job opportunities in Whatcom County? Are we doing all we can as a community to proactively solicit the types of industry that will sustain families and enhance our quality of life? I don’t think we’re putting enough emphasis on this issue. If re-elected, I will not lose sight of this issue as I continue to make decisions on behalf of the people in Whatcom County who want access to good paying jobs so they can raise their families here and contribute positively to our community.
7. Are you supportive of efforts to promote infill development in existing municipal areas? If so, how would you propose to do this?
The City of Bellingham must make infill development a priority. Instead, the City Council recently proposed preventing infill by eliminating single-lot subdivision potential for smaller lots. There also are regulatory matters adopted by the City that prevent what would appear to be perfectly developable lots from being utilized. Another tool for infill could be Bellingham’s adoption of “receiving areas” for building densities that could be voluntarily removed from places like the Lake Whatcom Watershed. It is high time that infill is taken seriously through action by the City of Bellingham. History has shown it can be done in ways that are sensitive to neighborhood character and effective at reducing sprawl into rural areas.
8. What do you believe is the primary pollution issue for Lake Whatcom, and what do you propose to do in partnership with the City of Bellingham to address it?
Stormwater is the primary pollution issue affecting Lake Whatcom. The City recently discussed developing funding mechanisms for more vacant land purchases. Why? As we receive reports of continued water-quality degradation (de-oxygenation caused by too much phosphorous arriving to the lake in stormwater), the effort should be put into better stormwater filtration for existing sources that are not going away. There also has been recent discussion regarding adding utility fees for water quality protection. As a Lake Whatcom water customer and drinker at my home, I am willing to pay that fee if it is used for real, on-the-ground solutions to improve water quality. The County is currently demonstrating its willingness to make needed improvements through its Cable Street stormwater construction project. The City of Bellingham should take similar steps. We must work together to reduce impacts to water quality in the lake through actions that produce tangible, measurable results.
9. Should all businesses in Whatcom County be treated equally by the County, regardless of whether they are locally owned or not? Please explain.
I encourage any business that can provide jobs, spur economic growth and operate with environmental responsibility to come to Whatcom County. We need a wide variety of businesses, including retail, hospitality, high tech, agricultural, medical, trades, manufacturing and others to be a thriving community. Recent decisions by both the City and County Council to place emergency moratoriums on large retail expansion were said to be aimed at “protecting quality of life” in our community. I believe they were actually designed to make a statement about the business practices of a single company, a philosophy I believe should be kept separate from government decisions. I voted against the moratorium. In a free society, local government must be extremely cautious about imposing restrictions on business based on contemporary social issues. I also am concerned that the moratorium decision will not have the desired impact of preventing additional “big box” stores from coming to the area, but instead, will drive them onto tribal agricultural land, which is beyond local governmental authority. While I wholeheartedly support and frequent many, many locally owned businesses personally, businesses should be allowed to succeed or fail on their own merits. They must understand market conditions and identify the wants and needs of consumers in a way that brings customers to their door without government intervention.
10. If elected, what do you propose to do to interact on a regular basis with the Whatcom County business community?
I’m proud of my continued involvement in the Whatcom County business community. After many great years of working for Whatcom County employers, I had the exciting opportunity this year to start my own consulting business. I’m working out of my home and loving it. I now have an even greater understanding of how government decisions impact small business owners. While serving on the County Council for the past eight years, I’ve established a reputation for understanding our local economy and for looking for opportunities for local government to create a strong, sustainable economy that has long-term benefits for our kids and our grandkids. I’m optimistic about Whatcom County’s economic future and will continue to provide responsible leadership in the ways local government impacts local business.