Population Projections: A community dialogue hosted by Citizens’ Forum

Elected officials will soon be making decisions that will determine how Whatcom County and its cities grow for the next two decades. These decisions will impact our quality of life in ways most of us cannot even imagine. The primary decision is to adopt a population forecast, and electeds from the county and cities have been meeting for months to determine our fate.

Last October, I wrote a column entitled Population Projections: Victims of the past or Masters of our own destiny (see link below), in which I asked whether the process being followed by elected officials is flawed and whether the visions that residents of each city have for themselves will be honored.

Certainly, if we fail to get involved, our visions will be ignored.

A group of citizens who are active in local issues recently formed the Citizens’ Forum to enhance the quality of conversations on Bellingham’s growth. The mission of the Citizens’ Forum is “to provide an opportunity for Bellingham citizens to participate in open dialogue, to exchange ideas, and to debate important issues regarding the future growth of our community.”

On Saturday, January 31, the Citizens’ Forum will host a community dialogue on the population projections for the year 2031. Dan Warner, WWU professor and member of Futurewise Whatcom, will open the forum with a brief presentation, which will be followed by a full citizen discussion. The forum will be held from 10:00 am until noon at the Fountain Community Church at the corner of Broadway and Halleck.

The Citizens’ Forum is inviting interested members of the community to attend, share your insights and participate in the conversation.

Please visit the link to the Citizens’ Forum invitation below for more information:

Date: Saturday, January 31

Time: 10:00 am to noon

Location: Fountain Community Church (2100 Broadway at the corner of Halleck, one block east of Meridian)

If you hope to impact this process, now is the time to get involved!

About Larry Horowitz

Commenting member • Member since Jan 16, 2008

Comments by Readers

Andy Rowlson

Jan 25, 2009

Hi Larry,

Thanks for this article, as well as your October 17th posting.  Question:  Did you get answers to your October 17th questions?  If so, can you post them please.  Regards.


Larry Horowitz

Jan 25, 2009


Thanks for your interest in this issue.

CTED Senior Planner Doug Peters replied to my memo on October 20, 2008, and I sent him a follow up email later the same day. 

Doug’s reply and my follow up email can be viewed by clicking the third “Related Link” above labeled “Response from CTED and my follow up email.”

Note that I never received a response to my second email.

Hope this helps.



Andy Rowlson

Jan 26, 2009

Thank you, Larry.  Sorry I missed that link.  I am finding it an interesting experience being involved with selecting the recommended population number.  I do agree though, with the e-mail from Doug Peters that number chosen is a forecast, not a goal.

Personally, I am very supportive of making policy changes through all the local governments to better control and manage growth.  If we don’t make changes to the policies, I do believe the policy forecast would come to pass though. 

I don’t support choosing a lower forecast just because folks want lower growth though.  An example of how this is not effective is how the County chose a lower growth rate for rural Whatcom County several years ago.  They did not implement policy changes to get the lower growth though, and instead got horrendous growth.  Just picking a lower growth rate was not effective.




Larry Horowitz

Jan 26, 2009

Hi Andy,

You actually didn?t miss the link to the CTED reply; I added it in response to your comment.

You have probably seen the now famous quote from the ECONorthwest report on population projections for the Foothills Subarea:

?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.?

ECONorthwest?s comments do not support Doug Peters? assertion.  The example you cite only reflects the county?s failure to implement policies to coincide with its vision; it does not change the overall paradigm that selecting a population projection IS a policy decision.  The county got horrendous growth not because of any problem with the county?s vision or population projection but because county officials failed to follow through on the vision adopted by its citizens.

I understand that you don?t support choosing a lower forecast just because folks want lower growth.  But let?s consider a specific example.  If, in fact, the vast majority of Everson citizens ?envision? lower growth for their future, as an Everson City Council member, would you not support their vision?  And, if Ferndale residents overwhelmingly ?envision? higher growth for their future, couldn?t you support Ferndale?s desire for higher growth while at the same time support Everson?s desire for lower growth.

Population projections need not be a ?one size fits all? solution.  Each city has a unique vision for their future, and they all reach their optimal size at different times.  It makes no sense to impose a uniform growth rate on different cities, just as it would make no sense to feed one?s infant child the same amount of food as one?s teenager.

As a member of the Whatcom County Growth Management Coordinating Committee, I hope you will honor each city?s vision for itself and encourage a bottom-up approach whereby each city selects its own population projection.  As long as the countywide total falls within the OFM range, the projection will meet the state?s guidelines.

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