The City bends over backwards to protect private property rights, but when it comes to public property rights, it’s a fire sale! And they are tone deaf. See here and here. Just one of many increasing examples.
In under two minutes, on their July 26th meeting, with almost no discussion, the City Council sold our public property rights on a 26 year old public trail to add density to an adjoining development. The trail was built by citizens in 1994 under a City sanctioned neighborhood program called “Make a Difference Day”. The ordinance approves the transfer of between 7 to 10 units of density for $18,000. The right-of-way is fully encumbered by utilities and could never be built on, so the density transferred was literally created out of thin air.
The ordinance was approved despite significant errors of fact in the Hearing Examiner’s Findings, without meeting the City’s own Street Vacation Policies and while failing to follow relevant State Statutes.
It is short and boring, but you can watch:
- Consideration begins 1:21:00
- Dan Hammill moves approval
- Hollie Huthman seconds the motion
- Gene Knutson speaks against the measure
- No other discussion
- Lisa Anderson, 5th Ward, votes NO
- Dan Hammill, 3rd Ward, votes YES
- Hollie Huthman, At-Large, votes YES
* Huthman is running for election this fall*
- Gene Knutson, 2nd Ward, votes NO
* Knutson is retiring this year. Huthman is seeking his seat*
- Michael Lilliquist, 6th Ward, votes YES
* Lilliquist represents the area and is running for re-election this fall*
- Hannah Stone, 1st Ward & Council President, votes YES
- Pinky Vargas, 4th Ward, votes YES
- Approved 5-2 (1:22:55)
It’s not that citizens didn’t speak up and try. Scores of comments in opposition were submitted. Only the proponents and staff supported it. You can read the background:
It is no accident that the Administration sat on this for months, waiting to take action until the middle of summer vacation was upon most citizens. They knew a petition would be forthcoming and tactically proceeded now when folks are traveling, adventuring and hosting guests.
The ordinance becomes effective on August 10th absent a mayoral veto. However the Council can override a veto with the same five votes that approved it. So citizens may wish to voice their concerns to both the Mayor, all council members, or to any individual member whose email address may be found at their respective links above. But expect deaf ears.
One remedy would be to take it to court where the City would have to defend their procedural improprieties. Any attorney interested in volunteering for this effort is welcome to apply. However, pro-bono attorneys are rare and it would otherwise cost citizens thousands of dollars.
The other option is a referendum. Citizens’ reserve the right, under Article 10.08 of the Bellingham City Charter, to refer any ordinance Council approves to a vote of the people for ratification or rejection. Filing of such a petition abates the force and effect of the ordinance pending results of the vote. This is the citizens’ last resort and requires the signatures of 3,000 qualified voters. It is a necessary first step toward the long needed reform of city policies to retain public right-of-ways for open space, trails and habitat in the face of intensive development.
Anyone interested in helping to organize a petition drive to preserve public property rights is encouraged to write Tip Johnson. A meeting of interested parties will be held before the filing deadline.
See an online petition here. Please sign with your address/zip code and Y/N for City voter so the auditor can check your voter registration status. Only registered City voters count, but anyone can sign to show support. Please also download a paper copy, sign and return because we don't know if online signatures will be accepted! Get a few more signatures, too.
You can download the print petition below and get started gathering signatures. Feel free to email it to like minded friends. Or send them the link to this article to get more info and download their own.
Preserve public property rights & save the trail! Thanks for your help.
(Records of the case can be found by searching for HE-20-PL-016 here>Attachments>Open. Esp. Attachments K & L.)