Oh no!  Whatcom population sees slow growth

Wanted: Someone to interpret chamber president Oplinger’s remarks

Wanted: Someone to interpret chamber president Oplinger’s remarks

• Topics: Bellingham, Whatcom County,

Would someone please help me make sense of Ken Oplinger’s recent comment regarding Whatcom County’s population growth for the past year?

On June 25, the state’s Office of Financial Management (OFM) released its annual population data as of April 1.  While the state saw population growth of 0.74% (49,870 people), Whatcom County’s population grew by 0.69% (1,400 people).   According to OFM, "The pattern of modest growth the state has been experiencing the last few years continues in 2012."

The 1,400-person increase in Whatcom County includes a natural increase (births minus deaths) of 1,061 and net migration (people arriving minus people leaving) of 339.

On its website, local radio station KGMI posted a brief article yesterday (Whatcom Population Sees Slow Growth) reporting that Oplinger, who serves as president of the local chamber of commerce, claims “one reason for the slow population growth is because cities like Bellingham aren't doing enough to encourage job growth.” 

In a 12-second audio blurb on KGMI's site, Oplinger actually says:

"The openness of government entities to give permits and get people building commercial entities that create jobs here is lacking.  And... [if] you're not building businesses that are creating jobs, then you're not adding people to the community."

What exactly is Oplinger trying to say?

That not adding more people to the community is a major problem we need to address?

That we must create jobs so we can add more people to the community?

How is that not wagging the dog?

Please, would someone help me make sense of this…

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About Larry Horowitz

Commenting member • Member since Jan 16, 2008

Comments by Readers

Douglas Smith

Jul 10, 2012

It fits with a strategy to try and gin up support for the Gateway Pacific coal export terminal.  It doesn’t really matter that it sounds nonsensical if it’ll help raise the ire of the “Growth at any cost” crowd.


Larry Horowitz

Jul 10, 2012

Douglas, thanks for bringing the coal train perspective to the issue of population growth.  What I’m really trying to understand is this:

The “growth at any cost” (GAAC) crowd has been saying for years that we cannot build a wall around I-5 and keep people from moving to Whatcom County and its cities.  They claim the Growth Management Act (GMA) requires us to accommodate every person who wants to move here, regardless of the area’s carrying capacity or the extent of the adverse impacts.

Now that very few people are actually moving here, the GAACers, represented by GAACer-in-chief Oplinger, claim that we must do everything in our power to “add people to the community,” even if these imaginary “people” have no burning desire to move here.

Isn’t that going a bit too far? 

Have we already forgotten about the problems associated with too much population growth?  You know, the ones identified in the first section of the GMA:  the threats posed to “the environment, sustainable economic development, and the health, safety and high quality of life enjoyed by residents of this state.”  (RCW 36.70A.010 - Legislative findings)

Why do Oplinger et al have such a false sense of urgency to expand the local population by adding people to the community?  For what purpose?  What are the advantages of higher rates of population growth?  What are the disadvantages?  Are Oplinger and the GAACers blind to those?

I thought the purpose for creating jobs was to provide greater opportunities to those who already live here.  If I’m deciphering Oplinger correctly, we need to create jobs so we can add people to the community.  What?!

If everyone reading this agrees with GAACers like Oplinger, fine; there’s no need to discuss it further. 

On the other hand, if you’re reading this and don’t agree with Oplinger’s vision for Whatcom County and its cities, your silence ensures Oplinger’s vision will prevail. 

Are you willing to pay the price for your silence?


Tip Johnson

Jul 10, 2012

What Oplinger means is that we really need to mow down more woods and pave more pastures for more box stores that hire minimum wage workers, go broke in a few years and sit idle for years more at too-high prices because they are assets in a pension account that no one wants to say is broke. Oplinger would rather see a new one built than an empty one reused.  Why? Because it’s not those jobs he’s after.

It’s conversion that juices up Oplinger’s economy.  The juice is especially good because the public subsidizes services, roads and utilities to support these dinosaurs, and maintain them in perpetuity.  It’s the same for housing.  There’s not as much juice in infill. You’ve got to build roads, lay pipe, scrape ground, pour concrete.  That’s how you get what Oplinger means by jobs.

And it’s no joke.  It works great, up to a point.  But if we view our local and national economy in global terms, it’s hard to see how that business-as-usual will ever again afford such excess.  And maybe it shouldn’t. If the current collapse tells us anything, it’s that a system designed to constantly rip off everyone all at once only makes a very few very rich.  Oplinger’s ideas may need to evolve if he intends to continue fulfilling his function in the future.

For instance, if Oplinger is serious about jobs, why does he support a new marina that will cost the public $400 million, probably never fill up with new yachts, but which will certainly destroy our ability to recruit good-paying jobs with the surplus water supply and treatment capacity left behind by Georgia-Pacific?

That infrastructure is already in place, paid-for and publicly owned.  Oplinger wants to squander it for some condominiums and a marina.  What does foreclosing our capacity to support decent jobs cost the community?

I think Oplinger is maybe the last who deserves to complain about jobs.  He has a very good one trying to wreck it all for others.


Larry Horowitz

Jul 11, 2012

OK, Tip, I get that.  And when our population was growing fast enough to justify all that mowing down and paving over, then Oplinger didn’t need to comment on the growth of population itself.

Now that population growth has slowed to a trickle and no longer justifies upzoning densities, expanding UGAs, and mowin’ & pavin’, why doesn’t Oplinger remain quiet… or simply shut up?  Why speak out and remove all doubt?

What kind of plan is based on creating jobs so we can expand the local population?  Is that what job creation is all about?  Does getting larger eliminate all of our problems and create none of its own?

When, as a community, are we going to address the real question of population growth?

Is population growth good for Whatcom County and its cities RIGHT NOW? 

Let’s keep it simple: 

Is population growth desired by the majority in Bellingham? 

Does it make sense to tax existing Bellingham residents to subsidize population growth we don’t want?


Matt Petryni

Jul 11, 2012

These kind of comments are absurd, to say the least. I remember back in 2005 at the height of the housing bubble, our city and county public officials were under tremendous pressure from Oplinger, the BIA and their allies to plan for, accomodate and by doing so encourage growth that simply was never going to happen. The goal at the time, though it is doubtful they remember it, was to inflate growth projections to allow and provide for more development than population growth would ever accomodate.

Most of the rest of us were aware we were in a massively inflated housing market, and that it would soon collapse:

John McLaughlin, 221 Highland Drive submitted written comments expanding on the following points:
-Objectionable parts of comp plan are those intended to accommodate large projected population growth.
-The growth projects are flawed; based on an invalid model. Model analysis committed several serious statistical errors and made two incorrect assumptions.
-Analyzed population models with and without growth feedback, and found that a model with decreasing rates of growth (Logistic Growth Model) best describes our own population data.
-Projections from the Logistic Growth Model are much smaller than projections from the invalid model used for Whatcom County and Bellingham. The adopted growth projection is erroneously high.
-Correcting errors in the growth projection would resolve much of the acrimony over the Comprehensive Plan and polices therein. Many controversial growth accommodation policies would not be needed because much smaller population increases would have to be accommodated.

(Both from July 18 and August 1, 2005 City Council Public Hearing Minutes)

In April, John Hymas expressed a similar concern for the speed of growth that was being encouraged by the bubble:
John Hymas, 1316 23rd Street ... Bellingham and Whatcom County are different. We are the only city and county in the state that didn’t choose the high population prediction forecasts. The permits that are being issued now make that figure look like an underestimation. He suggested dividing 20 years into 31,601 and allow that many building permits per year. .... If the City is going to ignore the Neighborhood Plan updates, he suggested a moratorium on large developments until they are updated.

(From the April 21, 2005 Planning Commission Hearing Minutes)

It was not too difficult in 2005 to see that 2006-2012 would bring “modest population growth,” as the OFM reported. The only way you’d see this as a problem is if you were under the impression that the housing bubble of 2004-2006 represented real demand and not rampant overspeculation.

Oplinger, consistently under that impression, is now finding himself changing the subject as the growth expectations the Chamber and the BIA promoted have failed come to fruition. The logic here is not that they had their expectations far too high, deluded by what was clearly an out-of-control housing market, but that something must be wrong with the County’s progress so that we have not yet realized this population growth that, still to this day, was never actually going to happen.

I can’t help but think, with coal companies going bankrupt and coal demand continuing to fall, that Oplinger isn’t making a similar mistake as he did before: failing to understand market demands at the long-term timeframe and investing at immense public and private cost in what is likely to be a temporary, short-lived, and highly speculative illusion of demand. Coal is not a future for Whatcom County, it’s likely not even part of our energy portfolio in 20 years: http://goo.gl/K90HW. But the fact this “demand” is likely another illusion brought on by excessive speculation didn’t give Oplinger pause before, I don’t see why it would give him pause now.


Larry Horowitz

Jul 11, 2012

Thanks, Matt.  It’s great to have you and your refreshing perspective back in Bellingham!

I agree with Dr. McLaughlin’s assessment that the Logistical Growth Model better estimates future population levels than an exponential growth model without a feedback loop.  That being said, many experts believe that both population forecasts and actual population growth can be – and are – regularly manipulated.  The old “build it and they will come” syndrome.  In its Dec 2006 ‘Foothills Subarea Population Forecast’ for Whatcom County, ECONorthwest wrote:

“One final comment on forecasts: population forecasts are often viewed as ‘self-fulfilling prophecies.’ In many respects they are intended to be;  local governments create land use, transportation, and infrastructure plans to accommodate the growth forecast. Those planning documents represent a series of policy decisions. Thus, how much population a local government (particularly cities) chooses to accommodate is also a policy decision.  In short, the forecast and the plans based on the forecast represent the city’s future vision.”

Which brings us back to our vision for Whatcom County and its cities:

Isn’t our sprawl crisis a result of population growth?  Is that part of our vision?

Are there any neighborhoods in Bellingham just dying to increase neighborhood density?

Is the build-up-or-out paradigm simply a false dilemma created by those who profit from population growth?  Are “up” and “out” really our only options?  Seriously?

Or have we just been suckered by bad propaganda?

Do we even have a say?  When it comes to population projections, are we “Victims of the past or Masters of our own destiny”? 



Tip Johnson

Jul 11, 2012

OK, Larry.  I didn’t have time to make it short, but you asked quite a few questions.  They seemed so darned rhetorical that, at the risk of overstaying my welcome, I have ventured to answer each in the order they appeared!  As a result, this may not flow as well as an essay, but it does hit them all and I think it touches on some salient points.  They all deserve more thorough consideration, debate and answering, but I thought I’d just fire a volley as long as Oplinger is still in the gallery.

Few of us that “live” here have forgotten the problems associated with growth.  But different sorts live here.  Some are making a place, putting down roots.  Some are passing through, unconcerned.  Others are trying to make a buck.  It takes all kinds.  But here’s where so-called neighborhood-based city planning (still the stated legal basis of our plan) needs a very careful look.  Take parts of the plan that benefit rooted neighbors and compare it to the parts that benefit those who would cut and run.  Sorry, it’s no contest.  People buying property they like are at a disadvantage next to those who buy to turn a profit.

The Oplingers of our world have no intrinsic false sense of urgency to expand the local population.  They feel charged with creating one.  The Oplingers are “boosters” in fine frontier fashion.  They are paid to gloss over the failures and exaggerate the potential of our fine cities.  They fashion an image of a lovely lass on the bay, the sore on her mouth covered with makeup, legs spread suggestively, an inviting smile on her face.  The Oplingers don’t care about adding anyone to the community.  At the end, they don’t even care about the chainsaws and bulldozers.  It’s all about the public subsidy and entitlements.  It is spinning flax (tax) into gold. Simply look to what their masters do.  They do.  There is no advantage to greater population, except insofar as eventually the masters’ property triples in value.  Even the masters dislike newcomers, but will tolerate their financial contribution. The disadvantages are immense, but less disturbing that botching their investments.

Our economy is not meant to better the common lot.  Far from it. It is designed to exploit inefficiency.  Think of it mainly as enabling slicks to take advantage of hicks, the strong to dominate the poor.  I earlier evidenced that Oplinger doesn’t care about jobs, that his strident waterfront development positions favor foreclosing our capacity to support decent jobs by discarding water supply and treatment capacity.  Similarly, he doesn’t care if they come.  He just wants it to be built.  That’s because his masters will have already sold it by then.  The booster’s hype is the juice that sucker’s salivate.  Some say P.T. Barnum expressed it with, “There’s a sucker born every minute….and two to take him.”  The only reason to encourage newcomers is for the fresh supply of marks.

Very few agree with growth advocates like Oplinger.  But meaningful discussion is hampered by the fact that those with the most to gain are the most persistent and influential contributors to the codes as they are adopted.  There is an art to wearing down those who have to work and take care of families until only a few special interests are left to see the matter through.  Choosing times, changing schedules, confusing issues in regulatory tedium and baffling the masses with slick color graphics.  That’s the pallet, that’s the art.  So I always try to add my two cents and encourage others to, also.  It’s the best two cents anyone can spend.

The Oplingers of this world never shut up.  They are driven to spin tales, paint fabric, blow smoke and hold mirrors.  There is no doubt in their mind that someone will swallow their tripe - even if they have to advertise remotely in Babylon. It’s a time honored strategy.

The Oplingers don’t want to create jobs to expand the economy.  They want to convert land and upzone it as far as possible: rural to urban, single family to multiple dwelling, residential to commercial, best yet, agricultural to industrial - smelters and refineries!  That’s why Oplinger doesn’t support jobs where it makes the most sense - downtown.  The best upzone from shuttered industrial is high-rise condominium and specialty/boutique retail in his world.  Who cares that the infrastructure for jobs is already in place?  Getting larger doesn’t solve any problems.  But the problems it creates can be exploited.  A little upzone here and there and soon nearby residents feel the pressure.  Some want to move.  Smart investors buy them up and move in transient tenants, conditional or transitional uses. More want to move.  Properties are allowed to deteriorated.  Values decline.  Residents flee, Investors buy.  Then land use consultants come to city hall and say, “Heck, it’s already flopping, let’s finish it off.”  Another upzone in the making.  The perfect antecedent to another transition.

The real questions of population growth will never be answered under our current economic paradigm.  They won’t even be asked.  Other’s have planned communities for adequate transportation, agricultural land, housing and services.  We won’t because wasting the old and imposing the new is too intrinsic to our spinning of new gold.  This strategy is not unique to our country, but our intense lack of concern for history and the integrity of our communities underscores it’s peculiar dominance over our thinking and behavior.  Compare for sample the Mondragon’s principle that education is central and capital is subservient to the common good.  They are perhaps the most successful economy of the last four or five decades.  Most have never heard of them.  Meanwhile the Port wants to tear down the Granary Building.  They demolished the oldest building on Harris Avenue on a weekend, without a permit, after they learned an application had been made to register it historically.

Population growth can be good for some places.  There are economies of scale to most categories of service provision.  Water systems, sanitary systems, garbage collection and disposal, fire and police protection are all subject to this rule.  Having a rate base adequate to support decent services is important.  The trick is knowing when to stop and allowing for that eventuality. There’s another advantage to adding population.  Many come, not for the phantom jobs the Oplingers tout, but for the area’s beauty and relative calm or cleanliness.  People who appreciate the environment and moved here because they like the character of the place are the best defense against the chaotic forces of constant transition. 

Population growth is obviously desired by some.  According to Larry’s figures, roughly two thirds of the newcomers are locally produced!

The question of what taxes are reasonable is far more complex than whether or not growth is desired.  We set standards for many things.  We don’t have to.  I’ve been to Lagos, Nigeria, and can attest that much of what we take for granted are completely arbitrary artifacts of convenience, desire and wealth.  None of them are needed.  Life goes on.  However, the question of whether taxes are well spent could be a science and an art.  But we would need to establish principles and set priorities.  We will probably never be able do that rationally because those discussions would endanger the confusion in which our resources are steered toward the same beneficiaries time and again.

Sprawl is not necessarily a result of population growth.  It is a function of transitional land use policies.  For instance, Bellingham grew from a city geographically smaller than San Francisco to one much larger, while our population stayed the same and SF’s grew.  We transitioned from a city where many lived downtown or very nearby, where trolleys connected neighborhoods with downtown and Bellingham with other cities, to an automobile-centric, subdivision-based, mortgage-guaranteed hodgepodge of resident enclaves connected by commercial strips. Sprawl simply requires a willingness to mow down anything, and to set in motion transitions wherein some win while others lose.

I expect that there are many who would tolerate a little more density.  But there is the question of how.  I have long argued for Accessory Dwelling Unit provisions that would allow property owners to install small cottages as and where appropriate.  I see it as a way to help families take care of their own, property owners get help with their mortgage, young folks find affordable digs so they can go to school or save for a downpayment, a way to add diversity to our housing stock, to see that rentals are better supervised and to add the “eyes-on-the-street” security that neighborhood watch programs desperately hope to cultivate.  What if we could add thirty percent more housing units without adding another stick of pipe or foot of road to the public’s general obligation?  Instead, we get hokum toolkits and urban village policies seemingly designed to purposely set neighborhoods in transition, destabilizing and creating inefficiencies ready to exploit.

Obviously, the “Up versus Out” dichotomy is as false as the “Higher or Lower” standard of living ruse.  It is designed to avoid discussing better ways of living, to constrain decisions to quantitative rather than qualitative outcomes.  Note the obsession with population projections in planning.  We ought to be equally obsessed with improving our quality of life - a concept that gets plenty of lip service but utterly no enabling legislation.  ADUs are only one such example.  We are truly victims of bad propaganda, and pay the price for it as a ratebase that is milked like a herd of cows.

We do have a say.  We just don’t say it.  We don’t stick to it, do our research, meet our neighbors or decide what we want.  We don’t pony up like the bad boys.  For instance, after forcing through traffic revisions (that would reportedly never work) on Ellis and Donovan,  I worked with neighbors there and in the York neighborhood to see what other measures might be desirable.  In some places, especially where alleys exist, up to thirty percent of road surfaces can be permanently closed to traffic, soil and sod laid, and the neighborhood thus substantially transformed into a park.  Legal mechanisms already exist whereby property owners can petition for the improvements and the City is required to issue bonds and levy assessments as long as majorities are met and the improvements add sufficient value to the properties - a no-brainer.  But folks are reluctant to carry petitions, to talk or maybe argue with their neighbors, or take on the risk of a new assessment or ultimately, change anything.

And that is why the sharks always have the advantage. They like change as long as it’s theirs.


Wendy Harris

Jul 11, 2012

There has been way, way, too much emphasis on population figures in the first place.  It was become the ultimate tool of political manipulation.  If we focused on better policy and better regulation… you know, actually planned better, we would not need to focus so obsessively on population numbers. Oplinger is treating population figures, which should be used as tool to guide policy and regulations, as a goal.  That is why his statement is so disorienting and confusing.  We do the same thing with infill.. take what should be a tool to guide sound planning, and turn it into a goal.

If we were actually enforcing mitigation, i.e, denying development when impacts could reasonably be avoided, and making developers pay the full cost of environmental impacts, there would be less development and the development that did occur, by necessity, would likely be more thoughtful and well-planned. So I would argue that our sprawl crisis is as much a result of bad planning and inadequate mitigation as it as a problem of population growth.



Tip Johnson

Jul 12, 2012

Exactly.  What she said!


Larry Horowitz

Jul 12, 2012

Tip and Wendy, thank you for your contributions to this dialogue.

Wendy, I agree there is way too much emphasis on population figures.  Unfortunately, growth advocates are taught to use the population forecast as a tool of political manipulation.  As proof, I offer land use attorney Sandy Mackie’s three-part series on the Washington Realtors website entitled ‘Land Use & You’.  In part 1, Mackie writes:

“One of the first decisions to affect YOU [realtors and property owners] is the local population allocation… You must make sure your county accepts a growth scenario that accurately reflects local conditions.  ‘No growth’ advocates are pushing for no growth or low growth scenarios… Some communities are refusing to accept a fair share of population growth… Population allocation is the lynchpin on which all other GMA planning is based.”

As we have seen, Mackie’s disciples are out in force, focusing obsessively on population numbers to push for round-after-round of unnecessary upzoning, UGA-expansion, and over-development.  Oplinger, as a Mackie disciple whether he knows it or not, is simply pounding the population drum.  The result is that the population figures are used as a goal rather than a tool, just like infill, as you have pointed out.  The final outcome is an avoidable sprawl crisis, a crisis we will continue to face as long as these tools are presented and treated as goals.


Tip, you nailed it with your unique and picturesque style.  You have certainly not overstayed your welcome.  I especially appreciate how you distinguish between:

- Residents who are ‘making a place and putting down roots’;
- Transients who are ‘passing through, unconcerned’; and
- Flippers who are ‘trying to make a buck’.

As well, I’m intrigued by your description of how upzones create problems that are exploited by those ‘trying to make a buck’, eventually forcing a critical mass to move out until what’s left is badly deteriorated and ripe for yet another upzone.

Your comments beg the following questions:

1) Why have we allowed our so-called neighborhood planning to favor real-estate flippers, transients, and people who have yet to move here over residents who are making a place and putting down roots?  What can we do about that?

2) If “very few agree with growth advocates like Oplinger,” then why does it appear they have the attention of policy- and decision-makers?  Why haven’t the Oplingers of Whatcom County been discredited?  Or have they been discredited?

3) Can’t we elect people who can plainly see the process is gamed by those who have the most to gain financially?  In Bellingham, aren’t Michael Lilliquist, Seth Fleetwood, Terry Bornemann, Gene Knutson, Jack Weiss, Stan Snapp, and Cathy Lehman savvy enough to see through this con game?

4) If we have a say, why don’t we say it?  What can be done to enable us to “stick to it, do our research, meet our neighbors, decide what we want, and pony up like the bad boys?”  Better yet, why don’t our elected representatives work with us to improve our quality of life rather than diminish it?


Mike Rostron

Jul 13, 2012

It is hard to be sanguine about our prospects vis-a- vis the developers.  In some ways it always seems a choice between rampant growth or moldering decay.  Steady state or slow intelligent growth don’t seem to be options.  This harkens back to that division which has been described by various thinkers between those who “put down roots” - the salt of the Earth, versus that restless breed that was instrumental in colonizing the Western Hemisphere and especially the Western half of our country.  You could argue (very simplistically of course) that both types of humanity have helped humans adapt to and dominate the world.  Things would be a lot less interesting and colorful without the gypsies and nomads, though they cause problems for the settled folks wherever they wander.

These “developers” however, happen to be an especially wealthy and powerful type of gypsy and their mythology and gods are the devouring destructive sort.  Many of the slightly less wealthy have bought into this world view and suck from the teats of mammon, and their “trickle down” smells distinctly of piss.

The intrigues and shenanigans with regard to the rezone of the DOT site, with the attendant straw man arguments and back-patting good-old-boy-back-room wheeling and dealing between the developer, city planning department, and a totally clueless or even hostile (to the neighborhoods) planning commission is the Sunnyland and Cornwall Park version of the same old crap.

I want to say here categorically, that when it comes to at least single family zoned areas developers per se are bad for the neighborhood at least 90 per cent of the time.  Individual lot by lot development by property owners, one by one, regardless of stylistic idiosyncrasies, weird architectural conceptions and so forth, almost always lead to a more interesting, diverse, verdant and livable neighborhood.

It should be harder for a developer to purchase and develop land in the city limits than for a camel to get through the proverbial eye of a camel!  Send the developers to Afghanistan.  They can buy land cheap there!  Run ‘em out of town on a rail.  Let’s have a tar and feathering party!

As for the Georgia Pacific site - a nice park it would make - end of story.

Another important point: Until Bellingham resolves the Whatcom Lake drinking water source problems, we have no business encouraging any kind of growth here.


Mike Rostron

Jul 13, 2012

The larger discussion never seems to occur: Do we want Bellingham to grow to the size of Seattle or Vancouver B.C.  there are advantages to large cities.  We like visiting those places, and once we get off the freeways and arterials there are exciting neighborhoods and lots to see and do.

We would argue there that medium sized cities - say 30,000 to 100,000 or so can also be interesting and in some ways more pleasant places to live.  More to offer than say a city the size of Anacortes or Lynden, yet perhaps less fast paced and stressful then the larger metropolitan areas.

People will always move around, either for environmental (dust bowl migrations of the 30s), economic, or other reasons; and yes, sometimes they are drawn by the fantastical descriptions of developers.  The last couple of centuries have seen most people move from farms and small towns to metropolitan areas, and the last thirty or so have see major exoduses from the interior of the country to the coastal areas.

Yet there are things we can do to actually slow growth.  Here are a few suggestions:

*Stop growth and expansion of the airport.

*Don’t allow any more existing farm land or forest to be developed for housing.

*Encourage would-be developers to renovate existing historical buildings.  A developer would be denied the right to build anything new until he/she had “proved” themselves by restoring a historical building to certain standards.

*Stop development of the GP site except as a park.

*Stop encouraging your friends and family to move here! (That goes for me too!)

*Start actively deglamorizing Bellingham and Whatcom County. Point out some of the following facts:
Unpleasant weather much of the time for seven months out of a year.
Giant hobo spiders abound.
City infested with hobos, bums, vagrants, gangbangers, and ne’er-do-wells.
Highest gas prices in the US. (No kidding I paid less in Hawaii on a recent vacation - only Alaska higher.)
Be creative!  Oregon was pretty successful some years back with a “visit but don’t stay” campaign.



John Lesow

Jul 13, 2012

Great article, Larry and commentators.  Timely, too.  The tip of the hat to Dr. John McLaughlin and his Logistical vs. Exponential discussion is long overdue, but it takes time to validate the points he made to the County Planning Commission and County Council back in 2005-2006 with empirical evidence.  Now you have it.

Dr. McLaughlin’s logistical method resonated with this Planning Commissioner because it was, and is, similar to the method used in my yearly sales forecasts.  If you have a very successful year in heavy equipment sales it is unlikely that the following year will garner an even higher volume in sales of a particular product.

Why?  Because the average service life of a specific piece of capital equipment exceeds one year by a substantial margin. In the absence of artificial market stimulus, you cannot expect a customer to replace his equipment every year, so you plan accordingly.  Homes are no different. 

Real estate has peaks and valleys.  The 3% annual growth rate in the County in 2005-2006 was an aberration.  As was the 20% annual increase in property values.  Development interests pitched the high growth fastball like the game would go on forever.  And many in government bought the idea.  Politicians like to sound positive when times are good.

But anyone with access to the census figures in the County Comprehensive Plan (which go back to 1900) could appreciate that the actual historical growth rate in the County was about 1.8%, not 3%.  In some years, (2002) it was less than 1%.  A decade later, history repeats itself.

Each year, the County Council is presented with 3 population forecasts from the Office of Financial Management. High, Medium and Low.  A courageous and thoughtful Council would reason, correctly, that a Low Growth Projection would be in the best interests of a rural county whose main economic driver was Agriculture.

Testimony presented at last night’s Planning Commission meeting confirmed that Ag is our top industry, with $326 million per year in farm gate revenue.  Add a multiplier of 3 to 5 for Ag related business and you have a billion dollar per year industry that is driven by Agriculture.  These are not my figures, they came directly from representatives of the County Agricultural community. 

Population growth and subdivision of land for housing do not compliment agricultural production.

They can impede production.  They can complicate matters.  And these are the problems we are dealing with right now, as far as land use is concerned.

Basing County land use planning on a Low Population Growth projection should not be a difficult political sell.  But our County Council has consistently chosen the Mushy Middle, preferring to “hit the numbers” than set a course for conservation of the land resources that are the main source of our wealth.

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