Deconstructing Chuckanut Ridge

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Wed, Jan 14, 2009, 8:28 pm  //  John Servais

Over 80 southside residents spent over two hours questioning and listening to Mayor Dan Pike as he attempted to defend city process.
A back room attempt by city staff to sneak the Greenways Plan through city council failed Monday evening. Tuesday evening the mayor got grilled strongly by south side residents about how the process was secret and the issue of "trust" of city government at the South Neighborhood Association meeting. It was quite a two night show. And exposed the back room dealing being done between the Greenways Advisory Committee - GAC - and city staff.

On Monday afternoon, backers of buying and preserving Chuckanut Ridge - CR - got alerting phone calls that the council was going to vote on the Greenways Strategic Plan that very evening. This agenda item was not known - except by the few who wanted this plan passed. The Plan eliminated millions of dollars that were promised for CR acquisition - and I'm not going to go into those controversial promises here. Regardless, opponents to the cut in funding were kept in the dark regarding Monday's planned approval by the council. This was an effort by staff and the GAC to slam dunk passage of this plan. It failed. Now comes the reckoning.

Supporters of full funding for acquisition of Chuckanut Ridge showed up in numbers at the council meeting and spoke strongly against the weak funding for CR. Council listened. Council tabled the Plan by a 6 - 1 vote with Stan Snapp being the Plan loyalist who wanted to vote it through. And this issue is again ablaze in our community, dividing us yet again.

I have stayed out of this issue for years now but after Monday night's sneak attack on public process, I'm now fascinated. I checked the council agenda and found the plan document was a PDF document formatted to prevent word searching. This prevents a citizen from scanning the 20 page document for key words. This is city staff routine for hiding information from the public. Blame for this deception must be put in the Mayor's office. He can change this routine with one word to staff. He has not. I told him of this problem when he ran for mayor and he promised change.

City staff, not the council, put this on the agenda and did not inform the public. Staff worked with the Greenways Advisory Committee to sneak this through. Council members - with the probable exception of Stan Snapp - did not know this was coming. The council expected it in February as did the supporters of preserving Chuckanut Ridge. It has existed as a draft plan since November 13 but has never been made public. Yes, this was a back room deal.

Tuesday night the mayor was scheduled from some time back to attend the South Neighborhood Association meeting at Faihaven Middle School and answer questions. Well, the council meeting Monday night set the stage for over 80 residents to give him some very sharp questions for two hours. It was not pretty.

Dan Pike was a straight shooter during his campaign for mayor and got my support and that of many other activists who wanted more open public process in city hall. Last night Dan scattered his shots all over the room and it looked like a couple went right into his feet. I thought he was talking down to the crowd but others told me later that, no, he was simply a deer in headlights. He defended staff, he suggested the residents should pony up the money to help purchase the ridge, he said unless you give money then you are not sincere in your efforts, he said funds are needed by Parks for maintenance, he said there are many other priorities. He denied any back room dealing - but then he may not be able to recognize that behavior. Like a civics teacher, he told these people who have worked for 19 years to preserve the ridge that they just need to be persistent in their efforts. How nice of him.

By the end of the meeting at 9:10 pm, Dan told the crowd the words he was told to say - that he "favors saving Chuckanut Ridge". Quite a turn from 8:04 pm when he said the issue is between serving north side interests versus south side interests and implying that north side interests would be served.

We worked to get Dan elected hoping he would bring leadership to good issues in our city. Instead we now realize we elected a very nice bureaucrat and technocrat who has much more concern about the feelings and priorities of other bureaucrats than he does for citizens. He is steadily stopping communications with those who worked for his election as he turns to the old established powers for his base of support. Last night saw him in the wrong meeting after a failed attempt by him and his staff to execute a back room arranged power play.

Dan could have prevented all this by insisting that his staff adhere to open public process. As the tag line on this website says, the mission here is to push for open public process by our government agencies. The question now is - will Dan Pike dig his hole deeper or will he learn and get a clue that we want leadership and open public process. And that he needs to build public trust - not assume he has it.

John Blethen, a member of the Greenways Advisory Committee, spoke sharply against supporters of full funding for the Chuckanut Ridge acquisition.

g.h. kirsch  //  Wed, Jan 14, 2009, 10:23 pm

Point of clarification please. 

I’m down here in southern California, and I knew the Greenway issue was on the council agenda.  I had read it on the city web site.

And though I hadn’t tried earlier, I went back to the site and my version of acrobat successfully executes word searches on the agenda.

What’s going on here?  Is this the city failing to give the usual public notice, or the public not noticing?

John Servais  //  Thu, Jan 15, 2009, 12:02 am

Yes, Greg, I also can do a word search on the agenda.  My post did not say I could not.  The post says you cannot do a word search on the Greenways Plan document. 

And this is further evidence that city staff knows how to save a Word document to either kind of pdf - and evidence they either have little regard for public transparency or that they tried to make it hard for us to find the information.  Take you choice.

Larry Horowitz  //  Thu, Jan 15, 2009, 12:25 am


Thanks for your efforts to summarize what occurred over the past two days.  While openness and back-room dealing are certainly important issues, I believe there are others that are much more relevant in terms of Chuckanut Ridge. 

First, the city is certainly not displaying any savvy in terms of negotiating with the sellers of this property, Horizon Bank and David Edelstein.  The sellers have made an offer to sell this land for a ridiculous price ($26 million or so).  On the other hand, the county just appraised this land at under $15 million? and we all know where real estate prices ? especially land - are headed. 
Second, most people seem to ignore the fact that the majority of park acquisition funds come from real estate excise taxes (REET) and park impact fees (PIF), not Greenway revenues.  Admittedly, REET and PIF revenues are down substantially; however, there are also fewer homes being built, which translates into a lower demand for more parks. 

Third, the city has been less than proactive in fairly regulating this development application.  They have allowed a misclassification of six Category I wetlands to proceed uncorrected for more than three years.  More importantly, they appear content to abrogate their responsibility to protect the public health, safety and welfare by failing to require that this development to meet the safeguards that are exclusive to the city?s Critical Areas Ordinance ? a law that was adopted in November 2005, just three days after the Fairhaven Highlands wetland application was submitted.  While the city claims the application is vested in terms of development regulations (a decision that is highly objectionable), the city?s CAO is a public health and safety regulation and, as such, is not subject to vesting.

We have asked the city time and time again to do its job and properly regulate this development application.  Given the fact that Chuckanut Ridge is essentially an interconnected wetland with steep slopes, failure to properly regulate this development application will surely increase the risk of flooding, landslides, erosion and slope failures. 

Isn?t the protection of public safety a primary responsibility of government?

Tip Johnson  //  Thu, Jan 15, 2009, 2:58 am

I am not going to say Servais’ analysis is inaccurate, but I would like to add some perspective.

First, the idea of a conspiracy involving the entire staff may be a bit far fetched.  However, upon reading the latest “Gristle” in the Cascadia Weekly, I was struck by how consistently the author’s points matched the points made by Council member Jack Weiss at last night’s meeting.  Then I received a copy of an email originating with Council member Stan Snapp.  Exact same playbook.  It’s quite clear that strategy has been seriously discussed somewhere. Talking points have been formulated and message discipline is being exercised. However, Pike’s performance gave little indication that he has been included in the conversations.

Dan’s ordeal before last night’s crowd suggests he is deeply embedded in an administrative “bubble”.  He admitted to not having read materials submitted to him by the group soon after his election.  By asking citizens to pony up for the acquisition, he seemed to lack historical perspective on the three Greenways Levies that the folks who have been struggling with this issue for nearly two decades were instrumental in passing.  By steering the discussion into bizarre corners, like irrelevant county development standards, he appeared insensitive to the City’s responsibility for creating the price incongruity fundamental to the acquisition dilemma and the conflict within the Greenways community. The City’s zoning created the proponent’s $26mm asking price.  The last publicly sponsored commercial appraisal of the property I have seen was just over $3mm.  In Pike’s defense, almost all of it happened before his watch.  Nevertheless, the impression I was left with was that Pike’s information comes to him through a heavy filter. Many have observed that he is no longer in touch with them. He is in danger of becoming an appliance for his staff.

That’s what’s disturbing.  Throughout the years - from the mysterious rezone, through the project’s first promotion, the City’s failure to subsequently revisit the zoning error, the negligence of continued inconsistency with area goals, objectives and policies, from the Memorandum of Agreement that illegally (if favorably) reduced the density (while affording the property owner a generous tax benefit), through the public expenditure of roadway and sidewalk improvements to the project’s front door, to the adoption of traffic concurrency exemptions beneficial to the project and the unprecedented rapidity of the absurd application’s acceptance - one thing is true.  Everything that should have been done that might have limited the proposal was astutely avoided while many things that should not have been done, but benefited the proposal, happened with alarming alacrity. That’s what’s disturbing.  Now it seems to be happening again, this time right under Pike’s nose.

During the meeting, John Blethan took umbrage with remarks he perceived as disparaging toward the Greenways Advisory Committee.  He produced an unfortunate display of stuttering anger that disturbed many and prompted a number of comments after his abrupt departure.  He, Weiss and Pike all referred at various times to the supposedly well rounded make up of that committee, even as it includes a predominance of “Southsiders”.  None seemed to realize that citizens that have battled against all odds for many years might easily be underwhelmed with the so-called representation appointed committee members deliver.

In Blethan’s defense, I would much rather listen to the passionate ravings of someone who has walked their talk than over-intellectualized, under-informed mumblings of unintegrated policy perspectives.  I expect elected officials to do their homework and frame their priorities.

I have exhaustively researched and written extensively on the history of this issue, as many who will read this are already aware.  My conclusion is that this is either the most profligate display of government incompetence imaginable, or it is what it appears to be - an ingrained, institutionalized and corrupt abuse of the public treasury.  Citizens tax themselves millions of dollars repeatedly over many years on the promise of relief but instead face the prospect of shelling out $26mm to avoid total devastation of a unique resource and a $12mm public subsidy.  That’s extortion.

Larry Horowitz put it quite simply.  The City should do it’s job and assert its regulatory authority.  Then citizens would not have to do their job so unpleasantly.  Nobody is in favor of things happening too quickly in government.  But twenty years, Dan, is too long.  It’s time to do the right thing and it’s time for the City to do it.

Doug Karlberg  //  Thu, Jan 15, 2009, 1:57 pm

From reading Horizon Banks financials, this property is costing them $2,000,000 in interest a year to simply hold onto the property in a declining real estate market. A market that is showing signs of declining further.

Buying this property now with tax dollar would be like catching a falling knife, and reeks of a political bailout of a real estate investment gone bad.

The average duration of falling real estate prices during a recession is five years, and we are only in year two. Remember this is only the average duration, some recessions like Japan’s, last a decade.

Ultimately the price that we could have paid for this property if we had simply waited, will be revealed. This decision has all the earmarks of a folly, named after an unemployed, but prominent politician.

How much should one pay for a swamp? Maybe we could purchase it, and rename it Pike’s Swamp. (sorry Dan)

Horizon, like many banks heavily invested in real estate, is under severe pressure, as they fear that there are more real estate loans to go bad. At some point they will be under extreme pressure to sell. $26,000,000 is joke for a bad investment on their part.

With tax dollars, we should wait and get a spectacular deal, or let it sit and lose value and $2,000,000 in interest for another year.

They are losing $3,000,000 a year on this property, let em wait.


Larry Horowitz  //  Thu, Jan 15, 2009, 2:37 pm


As always, I appreciate your well-considered comments; however, I question your interest calculation and would like to add a caveat about waiting too long to acquire this property.

First, Horizon Bank?s latest quarterly report indicates that its investment in the Chuckanut Ridge property is $17.7 million, with related borrowing of $23.4 million.  Clearly, the bank is taking a bath on this investment.  However, your claim that the bank is paying $2 million per year in interest on a $23.4 million loan assumes an interest rate of 8.5%.  I doubt seriously that Horizon Bank is paying anywhere near 8.5% on its loan.

Second, while I absolutely agree that land prices will continue to fall for the foreseeable future and time is on our side, the real value of this property will be set when the city issues a building permit.  My fear has been, and continues to be, the city?s failure to independently and fairly regulate the developer?s application.  For more than twenty years, this property has received overly favorable treatment from supposedly independent regulators.  In that lax regulatory environment, my fear is that the city will erroneously issue a permit to develop this swamp and arbitrarily enhance its intrinsic value.  As long as this does not happen, I absolutely agree that the value will continue to fall as we wait.  However, astute investors never wait too long, as they are capable of discounting the future value and buying for pennies on the dollar NOW.

$26 million is a joke, and so is the $17.7 million value currently on Horizon?s balance sheet.  Generally accepted accounting principles would require the bank to reflect a reduced market value in its financial statements.  Holding this land is not a good idea for the bank; however, bank management has displayed an irrational and emotional attachment to it ? to the detriment of bank stockholders.  Perhaps their new CEO will reconsider Horizon?s approach and convert an unproductive and depreciating asset into one that might better serve the bank and its investors. 

Don?t you think a privately-placed municipal bond earning tax-free interest might look better on the bank?s balance sheet than land that is losing value while racking up substantial interest costs?

Doug Karlberg  //  Thu, Jan 15, 2009, 4:06 pm


It is always dangerous when I read someone else’s financial, or make predictions.

Horizon’s balance sheet has a liability for Joint/Ventures which list a change in value upwards of $2,000,000 last year. I assumed this to be interest, but without details it could be other expenses associated with the land. This is how I derived the number.

I am always more worried about buying large assets in an obviously falling market, versus paying too much in a rising market. One makes you look dumb, and the other smart, over time.

Horizon’s made a bad investment and their offer if accepted would have clearly had the taxpayer bailing out their bad investment. So much for civic duty.

Your point about the zoning is well taken. In today’s environment rebuilding trust in government is important.

The City should remove the taint once and for all. Fairly and transparently.

Special deals for special interests is not in the public’s interest, ever.

Horizon’s offer at a ridiculous price is a clear indication of stubborn refusal to deal with reality. Embarrassing offer really. Transfer it to the taxpayer. Nice.

I agree clear up the zoning, and hope for a more sober, civic minded Horizon.

I don’t see any other offers for this land,...

... on the horizon.


Tip Johnson  //  Thu, Jan 15, 2009, 6:15 pm


No one is building 739 units of anything anywhere in Whatcom County in the foreseeable future - years.  O.K., that’s our queue.

I don’t want to buy it at $26mm either.  I think $5mm might be about right - or maybe even the $4.1 already allocated.  I don’t mind competing aggressively with development for preservation lands, but as one former consultant to the project said of the site, “The site is FUBAR for development”.

Horizon’s ridiculous application strongly indicates that they have an agenda other than building.  Otherwise, they would have complied with applicable regulations.  Somehow, they knew that they could skip that detail and still get a determination of completeness, raising at least the specter of vesting.  That’s why I call it extortion.  They are literally holding a gun to the head of this treasure to see what they can squeeze out of the community.  Some community bank!

We saw this at Hoag’s Pond, when several department heads and program coordinators with exclusive access to the confidential Greenways list engineered a hackneyed deal for a retiring Public Works administrator that would have added a half million dollars of value to his land - scheduled for acquisition - without accomplishing any of the stated goals of the transaction.  It was nothing more than an attempt to plunder the Greenways levy.

The similarities with this project are glaring.  It appears as though somewhere in City Hall, someone has decided that Greenways can be a cash machine for their friends or families. I don’t think it’s Dan, but it is his job to put a stop to it.

The time is perfect to redouble our efforts on the DEIS, to fight and make sure every applicable regulation is enforced and every possible mitigation required.  We should be ready for court, because that’s exactly where Tim Stewart publicly asserted he’d be willing to talk to us about it.  Dan suggested this the other night, too.  Too bad, I’d rather plow my dollars into the land.

It’s also time to go after the Bank.  This spring will be a good time to start regular pickets.  It’s time to stop being nice and ridicule the ridiculous.

We need to organize.  Bringing Julia Butterfly Hill to town for a tree sitting workshop is a good place to start.  Middle Schoolers need good projects.

And we need to keep the pressure on our elected officials, hold their feet to the fire and make them do their job.  That job is more likely regulatory than financial.

It’s hard to keep going after twenty years, but now is no time to waiver.

John Watts  //  Fri, Jan 16, 2009, 12:45 am

Former US Senator Moynihan once said that ‘everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.’

Since the author of this piece admits to several years absence -ergo ignorance- in following the Greenways intrigues, let me suggest that he avail himself of a few facts that others are able to verify, including myself, as Council member and chair of the Parks & Recreation Committee in 2006 & 2007.

The Greenways 3 levy language that was agreed to unanimously by the Council contained no money solely designated to purchase any so-called Chuckanut Ridge property. If someone feels otherwise, let them demonstrate credible evidence to the contrary.

I do know that Council members Barbara Ryan and Terry Bornemann wished otherwise either influenced or sought to influence members Joan Beardsley and Gene Knutson to ‘earmark’ very substantial GW3 funds -up to $10.5 million- for CR purchase,but none of this was ever approved by Council action.
Again,  if someone feels otherwise, let them demonstrate credible evidence to the contrary.

The Greenways 3 measure that went to the ballot designated $6 million for ALL southside GW3 purchases, with CR being the largest of several possible.
An additional $2 million was made available for potential purchase of property anywhere, with ‘priority’ given to a credible proposal for acquiring additional right of way that might be required to provide for a trail connection through the CR property. Again, there was no guarantee, or ‘earmark’ in current vernacular.

The above is the plain language that was presented to the voters, which ought to be readily verifiable through the City Attorney’s office.

While there are those who are determined to question and or try to contravene the clear true intent of the Greenways 3 measure, that is already well defined.
But, the penchant for controversy and wishful thinking remains strong among the former so-called Legacy proponents, which explains this latest demonstration of discontent and amateurish political pressure.

Another person who has paid careful attention to the Greenways 3 issue and timely reported on it, is the editor of the Cascadia Weekly, whose Gristle column of January 13 not only got it right on this latest dust-up, but also got it right on three previous Gristle columns which can be easily accessed at the following URL:
+ Link

It is regrettable that the same people who threatened to ‘hijack’ the Greenways vote in 2007 are still up to mischief making using our valued Greenways program as their instrument of choice to fight a planned infill development.

Democracies are never perfect, but continuing to try to put more lipstick on the ‘100 acre woods’ piglet seems a loser’s game that carries more promise for undermining, rather than improving, the credibility of the CR acquisition advocates.

Tom Pratum  //  Fri, Jan 16, 2009, 1:18 am

Thanks John W. for your comments - you were there, you know what went on. Thank god we don’t need to accept re-written history on this one.

I have not been involved in this, but I did grow up on the Southside of town, and have walked all over this property. I think it is a shame it might be developed (and “might” is the word here), but where were the 100 acre (actually 85 acres) woods folks 10 or 15 years ago when the purchase would have been reasonable? There has been a development proposal on the table for a long, long time.

I hope some of the comments are correct, and this property isn’t really worth as much as Horizon Bank thinks it is, but I am not sure it is a good idea for the city to cough up an exorbitant fee to undo past mistakes that are really the responsibility of all of us who did not enough to get this property in public ownership long ago.

As is well-known, the original developers of CR are moving forward with Governor’s Point. I am not sure we can stop that one, but it seems like there is a better chance to do something good there than at CR.

John Servais  //  Fri, Jan 16, 2009, 5:31 am

John Watts writes:
“Since the author of this piece admits to several years absence -ergo ignorance- in following the Greenways intrigues,?”

As the writer of this piece, let me parse this.  I did not admit to any absence in following the intrigues.  Indeed, I have followed these intrigues for more years than Mr. Watts has been in Bellingham.  And carefully.  What I wrote is “I have stayed out of this issue?”  and that is entirely different.  One can study and follow an issue very carefully and still not get involved in the fray.  I would hope a reader would know the difference.

Secondly, my piece did not even touch on the concerns Mr. Watts then proceeded to explain.  I wrote about the abysmal public process over two days.  And I notice Mr. Watts did not write about any of this.  So why the need to try and discredit me is a bit baffling.  Mr. Watts does not point out any error in anything I wrote.  Again why the snide and insulting lead sentence when it serves no purpose?

Rick Anderson  //  Fri, Jan 16, 2009, 2:20 pm

I am a bit puzzled by your assertion that the vote on this was a “back room attempt” as though it was done in secret.  It was an agenda item and was also written about in the Bellingham Herald.  I’m not an avid follower of this issue yet I was aware of it being on the agenda without any special digging on my part…..and had read the proposed plan prior to watching the proceedings on Channel 10 on Monday afternoon and Monday evening.  Maybe the lesson here is that if people are interested in an issue they need to be consistently monitoring for movement on that issue…..and not relying on a special invitation from the city or a call from a council person.

Larry Horowitz  //  Fri, Jan 16, 2009, 2:39 pm


Thanks for taking time to add your thoughts to this dialogue.  I appreciate your concern that CR ?might? be developed.  Because, as you plainly admit, you have not been involved in this issue, I believe there is much information you are not aware of. 

First, thanking John W. for his comments because he was there and knew what went on is a gigantic stretch.  Yes, John W. was a ? I repeat ?a? ? member of council at the time, but he did not attend every meeting between other council members and CR supporters.  His claim that Joan Beardsley and Gene Knutson were ?influenced? by Barbara Ryan and Terry Bornemann to support an $8 million allocation of GWIII funds for the acquisition of CR is patently false.  Gene and Joan, in addition to Barbara and Terry, gave their word that they would support such an allocation.  Their commitment was not forced in any way and was repeated multiple times.  Perhaps John W. doesn?t place much faith in his own word (I know I never would), but those of us who met with the other council members (never more than three at a time), felt that their word was their bond.  Of course the GWIII ballot measure did not plainly state this commitment.  No one ever suggested that it should.  However, for those of us who trusted Joan, Gene, Barbara and Terry, it was not necessary.  No one I know gave it a second thought because we knew we could trust Joan, Gene, Barbara and Terry to stay true to their word.

Second, the current application for Fairhaven Highlands was submitted in April 2005.  Since then, more than 1,000 residents have actively opposed this development.  There has been no delay in this opposition as you infer with your comment that ?There has been a development proposal on the table for a long, long time.?

Finally, no one is asking the city to ?cough up an exorbitant fee to undo past mistakes?; however, we are asking the city to correct past mistakes and independently regulate the current development application.  If they do their job, the development value of CR will be extremely low, and an acquisition will certainly be affordable.  Remember, park acquisitions must consider value in addition to cost.  Value factors in how many people the park will serve.  Since CR is centrally located to the five southside neighborhoods and is within walking distance to thousands of residents, it will serve many people and is a good value.  A ?cheap? park acquisition that serves relatively few people is a much more expensive proposition.

Again, thanks for your interest in this issue.  I hope you?ll continue to stay involved.


Tip Johnson  //  Fri, Jan 16, 2009, 4:04 pm

I am always a little surprised at how glibly Watts avoids the many points raised to condescendingly disparage the writers as ignorant.  It’s a little tiring.

Watts relies on the instruction manual to avoid acknowledging the machinery.  He hews to the map and disdains the territory.  He asserts that because an appropriation was not publicly made, that there was no representation of commitment to acquiring Chuckanut Ridge.  Well, that’s not the way it works.  For one, it’s a confidential program within which specific allocations are made in executive session.  On the policy side, where “lipstick” is applied to the levy prior to the ballot, representations of support were definitely made.  That’s how they got it passed.  It would have failed without the support of southsiders convinced that was true.

Watt’s, as Servais points out, may not understand that this goes back far before the last levy.  The Chuckanut Ridge Property was literally the poster child of the first two levies.  The third looked very weak until key players fluffed up the appearance of support for acquisition and dragged Greenways separatists back into the fold.  Pratum asks where folks were 10 to 15 years ago.  They were busy opposing this project and passing Greenways levies on hollow promises, again and again, providing tens of millions for acquisitions - just not theirs.

What Watt’s is saying is not pretty.  The essence is that elected representatives can promise anything and do nothing, that you can mislead citizens repeatedly to get their votes and then do whatever you want, carefully legitimizing it with a bit of paperwork.  Hopefully, that is a rare perception of the role of representatives within our system.

Nevertheless, I think we can all agree that Greenways should not shell out a ridiculous $26mm.  But get back to basics.  Is development of 739 units appropriate on this site? Can we afford to trash this ecological treasure? SHould we have to forgo the opportunity to extend Fairhaven Park to the Interurban and create a gateway to the Chuckanuts?  It’s absurd.

Who will take responsibility for creating the “density” that causes this dilemma?  Who will assure that zoning is consistent with longstanding policies, goals and objectives? Who will protect the public’s interests by preserving critical areas and unique opportunities?  That’s the City’s job and it’s why citizens elect representatives to integrate their concerns into our community’s emerging character.  Most citizens are busy with their jobs and families, creating the tax base that supports the kind of shenanigans Watts defends. Expecting them to read agendas and legal notices is just an excuse for representatives not doing their job.

It’s time for the City to do its job.  Put not one drop of roadway runoff or dumpster depot drippings into the already publicly owned wetland, teeming with tiny shrimp, supporting the foodchain of the most significant habitat corridor in Bellingham’s portfolio. First, just say “NO” to bad development.  That’s been an election promise of elected officials for many years. Then get busy and buy it. That’s been promised, too.

Jeffrey Schmidt  //  Fri, Jan 16, 2009, 4:50 pm

Being a long time sideline listener, I just have a few comments….......
Tip, your astute observations are appreciated and seem to make sense to me, although I’m just a simple goatherder (no, really I am). Not just on this thread, but almost every post ive read of yours.  However, my understanding of the 100 acre wood is that it has been projected to be built out for a long time.  I used to live on Old Samish Rd. and I could walk out my back door and hike to mud lake, pine, cedar lakes, lily and lizard lakes, etc. without ever passing private property.  I do believe the other side of Chuckanut drive opposite the 100 acre wood, Mud Bay,would have been better to protect.  I believe this was a trillium project.  All of these people protesting this makes my blood boil…....Anyways, with horizon bank trading for around a $1, seems like a good time to buy if you ask me

Tip Johnson  //  Fri, Jan 16, 2009, 6:13 pm


Yes.  The property has been slated for build out since 1981 - when the City first illegally rezoned the property without review, recommendation, hearing or notice.

Yes. We tried to save Mud Bay.  In fact, a lot of the “mud” was saved, but Trillium got the uplands.

For some reason, outfits like Trillium and Horizon Bank get the deals while citizens get the stick.  Go figure.

John Servais  //  Fri, Jan 16, 2009, 6:57 pm

Jeffrey - yes, I and others tried hard with months of effort to save access around Mud Bay back in the 1980s.  We wanted to have enough of an easement above the high tide line for a trail along the shore around the bay.  All to no avail - and some of it was very dirty dealings by city bureaucrats.  The developer’s point person had been hired away from city planning and, of course, there is always that smell of cronyism. 

As Tip wrote, we did save the mud - we bought the tidelands - and got a bit of open space in the undevelopable marsh at end of Fairhaven Avenue.  And now the “trail” is in the upper part of the tideland - the mud - instead on the lower 10 feet of shore where it would be a decent trail next to and above the tideland.

Jeffrey Schmidt  //  Fri, Jan 16, 2009, 7:09 pm

i reread my post and I believe it may have came across as me being upset about the people protesting the 100 acre wood…..I meant the blood boiling comment to be directed to the homeowners of the trillium project. (Now you know why I dont post on here very often).  Andrea (my wife) likes to point out if I have something important to say, I probably shouldn’t! She is a smart women.

Tip Johnson  //  Sat, Jan 17, 2009, 12:20 am


There’s no reason to feel reticent to post.  We’re all just wagging our tongues.  Remember…

“Opinion is the lowest form of knowledge” - Plato

Vince Biciunas  //  Sat, Jan 17, 2009, 3:29 am

At the risk of sticking my neck out too far again, and with the additional suspicion that this idea must be too naive:

Why don’t I just suggest to Horizon Bank that they use Triple Bottom Line accounting and the attendant tax write off, and donate the 85 acres of Fairhaven Highlands to the City of Bellingham. We could re-name it Horizon Forest in their honor, with gratitude. Isn’t that the best disposition for the bank in this economic climate?

All of the bad karma of the previous decisions and machinations and arguments could be wiped clean. RD could donate its legal defense funds to the City as well, towards trail maintenance. No court battles.

Tell me why this isn’t a good idea.

Tip Johnson  //  Sat, Jan 17, 2009, 4:54 am

I’d back that.

John Servais  //  Sat, Jan 17, 2009, 2:46 pm

Some readers may not know that the organization “RD” that Vince refers to is “Responsible Development”.  They are a southside group that formed some time back - year? - to work towards the saving of Chuckanut Ridge natural area.  There is no explanation of RD in any post above.

Perhaps someone else could post a short but better description of them.

Larry Horowitz  //  Sat, Jan 17, 2009, 2:52 pm


Thanks for sticking your neck out and suggesting that the Fairhaven Highlands / Chuckanut Ridge property be donated for the benefit of the community ? the community that Horizon Bank derives its profit from.

I cannot tell you why this isn?t a good idea, although if David Edelstein were willing to post his thoughts in this venue, I?m sure he?d have a few (million) reasons.

Here?s the grim reality:  Your recommendation is one of the few options Horizon Bank has to generate a positive outcome from their poorly-conceived decision to develop an ecologically sensitive urban forest and wetland habitat.  Except for the city, there are no potential buyers waiting in the wings who might be willing to pay a premium for this land.  That market has dried up and gone south and may be in hibernation for years to come.  The bank?s dream of obtaining a favorable permit has become a nightmare, as hundreds (if not thousands) of citizens lie in wait to attack at every opportunity.  If the city does its job, a permit may never be issued, certainly not a favorable one.  To be sure, any permit will be challenged in the legal courts, not to mention the outrage it will cause in the court of public opinion.

Can you imagine the outcry just waiting for Horizon Bank should they ever get to the point where they begin clear cutting Chuckanut Ridge? 

Can the bank withstand the public hatred it will engender for the years it will take to complete the deforestation alone - not to mention the buildout of 739 units?

Your naivet? is a virtue.  Thanks for having the courage to stick your neck out.  I hope you always will.


Whatcom County Government Employees Need Grievance System

Michael Chiavario writes on unfair employment practices in our Whatcom County government with a specific example and a suggestion for how to fix the system.

Guest writer
Fri, Oct 21, 2016, 1:15 am

Surly Citizens Object to Backroom Deals

Anne Mackie relates the dysfunctional actions of council president Pinky Vargas and the illegal favoritism shown by council to developer groups over city residents.

Guest writer
Wed, Oct 19, 2016, 4:27 pm
3 comments; last on Oct 20, 2016

Vacation Rentals In Residential Neighborhoods

Tani Sutley writes of an interesting interaction with Bellingham resident and county council member Ken Mann.

Guest writer
Tue, Oct 18, 2016, 8:11 pm

Election Forum - This Saturday Morning

The League of Women Voters 3rd of 3 election forums is this Saturday, Oct 22 at 9:30 am in the Bellingham city council chamber. Also live on BTV10.

John Servais
Thu, Oct 13, 2016, 9:32 am

Logging Planned for 110 Acres on Samish Hill

The city has given an extremely short notice for comments on a substantial logging operation for 110 acres of Samish Hill. The city has known about this project…

Dick Conoboy
Mon, Oct 10, 2016, 3:50 am
3 comments; last on Oct 13, 2016

State Supreme Court Rules Against County Plan

Today the Washington Supreme Court ruled Whatcom County Comp plan does not protect water resources, providing a victory for local environmentalist litigants Hirst, Brakke, Harris & Stalheim.

John Servais
Thu, Oct 06, 2016, 6:29 pm
6 comments; last on Oct 12, 2016

Whatcom Chief Ferry: Urgent Questions

The Whatcom Chief, our Lummi Island ferry, has been running illegally over loaded. And the hull may be fatally corroded. County exec Louws is ignoring this dangerous situation.

John Servais
Fri, Sep 30, 2016, 8:53 pm
22 comments; last on Oct 21, 2016

Misleading/Incomplete Report on Rental Inspection Results

On 26 September the city's Planning Director provided a report to city council on rental inspection results that is misleading, incomplete and, intentionally or unintentionally, tends to understate…

Dick Conoboy
Fri, Sep 30, 2016, 3:37 am
7 comments; last on Oct 09, 2016

The War Has Just Begun

Slum landlords are alive and thriving. Over this summer 50% [corrected] of rental units failed the city's initial health and safety inspection.

Dick Conoboy
Fri, Sep 16, 2016, 8:02 am
18 comments; last on Oct 08, 2016

MNAC Paddy Whack Give the Dog a Bone

The vital role in city politics of the Mayor’s Neighborhood Advisory Commission (MNAC) has gradually diminished over the past five years and is now at an all time…

Dick Conoboy
Mon, Sep 12, 2016, 1:57 am
10 comments; last on Sep 24, 2016

Chapter 3: City Council Agenda Management

Anne Mackie writes the backstory that tells "the rest of the story" of how the August harsh attacks on citizens by the council had roots in July.

Guest writer
Sat, Sep 10, 2016, 1:02 am
1 comments; last on Sep 10, 2016

Housing Forum on Wednesday, Sep 14

The York Neighborhood is sponsoring a forum on housing concerns on Wednesday, Sept 14th at the Garden Methodist Church at 7pm.

Dick Conoboy
Wed, Sep 07, 2016, 8:09 am
4 comments; last on Sep 10, 2016

A Big “Never Mind”

Anne Mackie gives us an overview of the planning kerfuffle during August between citizens and the Bham city council. And the bad attitudes of some council members.

Guest writer
Wed, Aug 31, 2016, 4:59 am
5 comments; last on Aug 31, 2016

Coal Trains Blocked by Local Protesters

Updated on Monday. An elaborate tripod was erected over the railroad tracks on the bridge over Chuckanut Bay and protesters sat in a sling. 11 hour train stoppage.

John Servais
Sun, Aug 28, 2016, 4:56 pm
3 comments; last on Aug 29, 2016

Chapter 2:  Playing the race card

Three emails: April Barker writes about ADUs and her perspective; Anne Mackie and Dick Conoboy respond.

Dick Conoboy
Tue, Aug 23, 2016, 9:02 pm
7 comments; last on Oct 21, 2016

Temper Tantrum Taints City Council

Council President Pinky Vargas loses it over minor violations of the three-minute comment rule. Is this any way to run a council?

Dick Conoboy
Mon, Aug 15, 2016, 3:13 am
11 comments; last on Aug 29, 2016

Anti-Nuclear Weapons ship ‘Golden Rule’ to Visit

Ellen Murphy writes about the sailboat that sailed toward nuclear test site in Pacific in 1958 and will visit Bellingham August 20 - 22. Now protesting modernization of…

Guest writer
Sat, Aug 13, 2016, 11:19 am
1 comments; last on Aug 15, 2016

Hiyu ferry for Lummi Island service - Explained

Jim Dickinson writes: Why the surplus Washington State ferry Hiyu should replace the Whatcom Chief for our Whatcom County ferry service to Lummi Island.

Guest writer
Tue, Jul 12, 2016, 10:55 pm
6 comments; last on Aug 06, 2016

Lummi Island Drawbridge

The Lummi Island ferry is a very old and decrepit vessel. The state ferry system wants to give us a newer one in great condition. Whatcom County says…

Tip Johnson
Sat, Jun 25, 2016, 10:08 pm
6 comments; last on Jun 30, 2016

Options High School: Great idea, wrong site

Tim Paxton guest writes about the defects in planning for the Options High School.

Guest writer
Mon, Jun 06, 2016, 5:03 pm
5 comments; last on Jun 26, 2016

Ferndale volunteers build kids playground

Over 2,000 volunteers have just built a new playground in six days. We do a photo story.

John Servais
Sun, Jun 05, 2016, 8:29 pm
1 comments; last on Jun 06, 2016

Greenways may reverse heron colony buffer purchase this evening

The Greenways Advisory Committee meets this evening and may reverse their May decision to purchase the heron colony buffer woods.

John Servais
Fri, Jun 03, 2016, 12:29 am
10 comments; last on Jun 07, 2016

We need to protect our Great Blue Heron colony

Bellingham's only heron colony needs forested buffer - and the land owner is willing to sell. Greenways has voted to buy it, but our city council must act.

John Servais
Tue, May 31, 2016, 9:51 pm
5 comments; last on Jun 01, 2016

Memorial Day 2016 - Thanking a True Soldier

This veteran, Chris Brown, deserves our deep thanks for his achievement with Growing Veterans as Executive Director, a post that he has left. He will continue as President…

Dick Conoboy
Thu, May 26, 2016, 5:23 am
3 comments; last on Jun 08, 2016

Singing the Comp Plan Blues

As the city council takes up consideration of the comprehensive plan, citizen input is critical. Otherwise in a few years and in response to housing and land use…

Dick Conoboy
Mon, May 23, 2016, 5:21 am

Proposed over-water walkway is dead

The planned concrete walkway from Boulevard Park to the Cornwall landfill, using millions in Greenway funds, has been abandoned by Bellingham. We again thank the Lummi.

John Servais
Sat, May 21, 2016, 4:32 pm
11 comments; last on May 26, 2016

Breaking Free: A New Age Ghost Dance

Jay Taber, a strong environmentalist for decades, guest writes a harsh critique of the 350 org anti-fossil fuel demonstrations at the Anacortes oil refineries last weekend.

Guest writer
Wed, May 18, 2016, 4:46 pm
2 comments; last on May 24, 2016

Missing Options High School traffic study

Bellingham School officials expect a slam dunk by Hearing Examiner and city council on street vacation and conditional use permit. By Patrick McKee.

Guest writer
Tue, May 17, 2016, 7:45 pm
2 comments; last on May 18, 2016

Uber: Supporting the Troops?

Uber, the cheap ride taxi company, is targeting the troops to become drivers in ads disguised as articles in publications such as the Army Times.

Dick Conoboy
Mon, May 16, 2016, 5:20 am

Herons or Oil: Which are long term?

The March Point protestors this weekend will hopefully show serious concern and not disturb the heron colony near the refineries.

John Servais
Sat, May 14, 2016, 9:34 am
2 comments; last on May 15, 2016

No Coal Terminal at Cherry Point - Final

The Seattle office of the Army Corps of Engineers has formally denied a permit for building a coal terminal at Cherry Point in Whatcom County. Updated at 4pm.

John Servais
Mon, May 09, 2016, 12:10 pm
4 comments; last on May 09, 2016

Boring, predictable Trump plays to conservative Lynden crowd

Supporters say he will beat Hillary Clinton.

Ralph Schwartz
Sat, May 07, 2016, 10:47 pm
3 comments; last on May 24, 2016

Citizens: BPD dismissive of people of color

Group cites failure to investigate assaults on anti-police-racism marchers

Ralph Schwartz
Tue, Apr 26, 2016, 7:04 pm
5 comments; last on Aug 25, 2016

An Open Letter to U.S. Representative Rick Larsen

Also to all U.S. Representative candidates in the 1st and 2nd U.S. Congressional districts for the election in 2016

David Camp
Tue, Apr 26, 2016, 3:46 pm
1 comments; last on Apr 27, 2016

Five districts pass; GOP incites conservatives to fight map in court

Republicans rolled over and approved the Democrats' map to set the stage for a legal challenge

Ralph Schwartz
Thu, Apr 21, 2016, 8:40 pm
3 comments; last on Apr 24, 2016

Unanimous Yes vote for 5 county council districts

GOP vote for Democratic plan to prevent locked committee and then county council becoming decision makers of districting boundaries

John Servais
Wed, Apr 20, 2016, 8:01 pm
1 comments; last on Apr 21, 2016

Report on City Council Retreat

The Bellingham City Council conducted a retreat on 16 April to discuss a number of issues, including a set of proposed strategies to ensure "sustainable services."

Dick Conoboy
Tue, Apr 19, 2016, 5:14 am

OregonLNG quits: Cherry Point may be new target

Liquid natural gas terminal is rumored to be in planning stages for Cherry Point as the Oregon proposed LNG plan is abandoned.

John Servais
Mon, Apr 18, 2016, 11:55 am
6 comments; last on Apr 19, 2016

Deck stacked against Republicans at Districting Committee hearing

Fate of new county five-district map remains uncertain.

Ralph Schwartz
Wed, Apr 13, 2016, 10:43 pm
5 comments; last on Apr 14, 2016

Don’t speak at tonight’s Districting Committee hearing

If you do, you better make sure you have something to say that's going to change someone's mind.

Ralph Schwartz
Wed, Apr 13, 2016, 9:09 am
3 comments; last on Apr 14, 2016

Bellingham Planning tries to sneak one through

The Sunnyland residents have just learned they have only today to comment on a huge impacting building project in their neighborhood.

John Servais
Mon, Apr 11, 2016, 1:06 am
11 comments; last on Apr 23, 2016

No sign of agreement as districting committee enters final phase

After a public hearing next week, the committee will be asked to vote on a five-district map for Whatcom County in two weeks.

Ralph Schwartz
Wed, Apr 06, 2016, 9:18 pm
5 comments; last on Apr 09, 2016

Proposed redistricting map for your review

The Districting Master (the official title) has submitted his map for review by the Districting Committee this evening. Here it is for your review.

John Servais
Wed, Apr 06, 2016, 1:14 pm
5 comments; last on Apr 07, 2016

BNSF: A casual approach to railroad safety

At Clayton Beach, we have tracked increasing erosion under railroad tracks and written to the railroads and federal inspectors. To no avail.

John Servais
Mon, Apr 04, 2016, 8:17 pm
2 comments; last on Apr 05, 2016

$15 Minimum Wage - Assured Debt Peonage

Accelerating efforts across the U.S. to install a $15 minimum wage are playing into the hands of big business and codifying enormously insufficient wages for years to come.

Dick Conoboy
Mon, Apr 04, 2016, 5:25 am
2 comments; last on May 24, 2016

Cherry Point coal port development put on ice

Work on EIS put on hold as coal companies wait for Army Corps of Engineers decision. Well, it was not in March. This is not an April 1…

John Servais
Fri, Apr 01, 2016, 3:49 pm
3 comments; last on Apr 02, 2016

Fuller calls on Coast Guard to ‘stand on the right side of history’

Activist contests $10,000 fine for climbing on a Shell oil vessel. Rob Lewis guest writes this report.

Guest writer
Wed, Mar 23, 2016, 2:37 pm

Voting guide for Whatcom Conservation District

Updated Wed, Mar 16. Tuesday, March 15, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., any registered voter of Whatcom County can vote in person at the conservation district office.

John Servais
Wed, Mar 16, 2016, 8:26 pm

Will Cherry Point coal port be denied this week?

Updated 4:30pm. Helena, Montana newspaper says GPT may be denied this week by Army Corps of Engineers. US Rep Zinke panics and accuses Army of politics.

John Servais
Wed, Mar 16, 2016, 12:19 am
4 comments; last on Mar 24, 2016

Dems, GOP primed for legal fight over districts

Not even a letter from a coal terminal spokesman can save them now.

Ralph Schwartz
Tue, Mar 15, 2016, 12:04 am
2 comments; last on Mar 17, 2016

Districting maps E and F for reference

We post the next two maps to be discussed at the Districting Committee today, March 14. For the few who might study them and later contribute perspectives.

John Servais
Mon, Mar 14, 2016, 1:53 am

Democrats threaten legal action on districting

Legally threatening letter sent by Seattle law firm retained by prominent leading Democratic Party leaders.

John Servais
Sun, Mar 13, 2016, 1:06 pm
1 comments; last on Mar 14, 2016

The state of citizen journalism is strong: Two receive deArmond awards

The third annual deArmond dinner celebrated the work of Sandy Robson and Neah Monteiro.

Ralph Schwartz
Fri, Mar 11, 2016, 11:28 pm
2 comments; last on Mar 13, 2016

Potential Oil Exports From Cherry Point—Something else to put on your radar

What almost happened on the coast of Maine could happen here at Cherry Point. Portland, Maine, stopped oil exports - and Whatcom County can also. If we act.

David Camp
Wed, Mar 09, 2016, 11:20 pm

Durham, NH, - Surprise! - Rental Inspections Worked

Durham is an example of the efficacy of rental inspections, putting to bed the unsupported objections of landlords by presenting facts about conditions.

Dick Conoboy
Wed, Mar 09, 2016, 2:20 pm
1 comments; last on Mar 12, 2016

Dogged Pursuit of a Failed Vision?

Wherein, we correct some misassumptions but still ask the questions

Tip Johnson
Tue, Mar 08, 2016, 2:47 pm

Districting Committee: GOP accuses Democrats of gerrymandering

The Republicans made concessions on their district map but took a final stand at Nooksack, Everson and Sumas.

Ralph Schwartz
Tue, Mar 08, 2016, 1:15 am
6 comments; last on Mar 12, 2016

Idea for Our Times: Puget Sound Repair Project

Could this address the real problem with Puget Sound?

Tip Johnson
Mon, Mar 07, 2016, 10:40 am
6 comments; last on Mar 08, 2016

Districting Committee: Republicans lack legal compass

Republicans and Democrats remain far apart. Democrats have the legal high ground, but Republicans would go to court to challenge that if necessary.

Ralph Schwartz
Sun, Mar 06, 2016, 11:39 pm
1 comments; last on Mar 07, 2016

Punishing the Wrong Guys

Wherein someone's gotta do the right thing

Tip Johnson
Tue, Mar 01, 2016, 3:40 pm


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