A call for citizen action

This is the Save the Trails Referendum Page

This is the Save the Trails Referendum Page

• Topics: Bellingham,

Note: See Pandemic Mode

Referendum Petition resources and instructions appear below the summary.

 It's bad enough when they try to steal your stuff and you catch them. When they cover up, sneak back and steal it anyway, it's time for direct democracy!

Every neighborhood has their undeveloped street right-of-ways. They often host informal non-motorized connections that improve walkability and liveability. They provide habitat, wildlife corridors and green space. These lands enjoy dominant public rights and will become increasingly valuable assets for neighborhoods as the city “densifies.” 

In Happy Valley, CIty Hall just gave away our public rights, and has signaled their intention to continue to do so. They sold the public's rights on a 26 year-old, citizen-built, public trail for $18,000 in order to add density to an adjoining apartment development. They say the trail will be maintained, but cleverly designed conditions that allow the natural trail to be transformed into dangerous concrete stairs, relegated to a slim margin of the property so the rest can be fenced off for a driveway, parking, and other private uses. The developer gets to add at least five additional units. Citizens get the shaft.

Please be informed, see also: City Throws Down the Gauntlet. This article sums up the current situation and includes links to articles written as it developed. What emerges is a clear picture of corrupt staff and a land-use consultant (who is a former planning commissioner) trying to steal it on the sly, but getting caught by neighbors, then doubling down to steal it in broad daylight. They sat on it for months, waiting to approve it at a meeting with no public comment allowed, during the height of summer vacation when their chances of sneaking it past citizens were optimal. Down and Dirty.

Fortunately, the City Charter provides that any ordinance approved by the City Council can be referred to the voters for ratification or rejection. It is direct democracy.

This is the last chance for a citizen referendum now that Mayor Seth Fleetwood has signed the ordinance into effect. We had refrained from launching this action out of courtesy to the mayor and our belief that Seth Fleetwood's environmental stance would stand up for the neighborhood. This faith was misplaced, and no courtesies were ever returned. Everyone in the Neighborhood believed Seth would veto the measure. Thus 15 precious days of signature gathering were lost. Now the heat is on.

2,475 valid signatures must be gathered by September 9th for the referendum to qualify to go on the ballot. Qualifying the petition will quash the ordinance pending a vote of the electorate. It is our last chance to save this trail, and our best chance to kick-start city-wide reforms to reverse the existing policies of squandering public property rights to give developers extra density.

Referendum Resources and Instructions:
***An ADVISORY PETITION that anyone can sign is located HERE.  Please share this widely with trails or neighborhood minded folks or anyone wanting to preserve their public rights. You do not need to be a registered city voter or even of legal voting age. It has no legal force or effect. This petition does not count but, unlike the legal petition, offers an opportunity to express your feelings in a comment.

***The printable LEGAL PETITION (for registered city voters only) is HERE. Signed petitions can be mailed to Save the Trails, 1050 Larrabee Ave, Ste 104 #382. To acquire pre-printed petitions or to arrange pick-up of signed petitions please write tipj@nwhouse.com with “Petitions” in the subject line. If you are printing your own petitions,  please select two-sided printing. Alternatively, the second page can be stapled to the first, but it is a requirement that the full text of the ordinance appear on the petition. It is useful to tape a petition, showing the ordinance, to the back of a clipboard, to facilitate viewing.

***A printable QR code poster is available HERE that will point to this page from anyone's cell phone. Post widely!

It is of the utmost importance that this information and the petition be shared widely and quickly. It needs to find its way to groups and events, as at the local grocery or food co-op (with permission), or the farmer's market, neighborhood association meetings and the like. It is the only way to get enough signatures in time. Generally, if you are on public property, like a sidewalk, no permission is needed. If you are in a private parking lot, please ask the store manager and/or leave when asked. Most public events are fair game. Get busy and Save the Trails. Your neighborhood could be next.

Attached Files

About Tip Johnson

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Member since Jan 11, 2008

Tip Johnson is a longtime citizen interest advocate with a record of public achievement projects for good government and the environment. A lifelong student of government, Tip served two terms [...]

Comments by Readers

Alex McLean

Aug 15, 2021

The City of Bellingham currently has zero policy direction, zero funding or guidance of any sort, for putting trails onto the hundreds of “unimproved” ROWs that exist in Bellingham. 

These ROWs, besides being completely unmonitored and left to rot beneath snarls of invasive species—which conveniently kill all the mature trees that Public Works also doesn’t give a damn about—are nowhere in the Greenways Strategic Plan, do not exist anywhere in the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plans, and are not mentioned in the Parks Recreation and Open Space (PRO) Plan. Public Works has no funding to do anything like basic maintenance on these easements, so they let them fester and just sell them off rather than “improve” them and risk making them assets for the community. 

To make matters worse, for some insane fucking reason City Council removed “trails” from the Street Fund, which formerly covered “Streets, sidewalks, and trails,” in 2019. Public Works has zero dollars to install anything that doesn’t cost millions of dollars or is otherwise made of concrete: Sidewalks and Streets only, from here to eternity. 

This means, by sheer default and through idiotic bureaucratic firewalls, that there are zero routes for Public Works to abide by the binding guidance for these public easements which, in Washington State, is that their PRIMARY function is for TRANSPORTATION corridors—trails, for anyone older than a toddler, are absolutely transportation corridors. 

Since the City has made it absolutely impossible to put trails in, they for damn sure should be forbidden from selling them.


We need a moratorium on “ROW Vacation” orders. They should be blocked outright, City-wide, until the freakish imbalance of policy direction is corrected. 


katharine gring

Aug 18, 2021

Is there any organizing for signing of petitions?


Tip Johnson

Aug 18, 2021

Hello Katharine,

I hope it is sort of self-organizing.  Anyone can organize! The petition is available online,


but I have printed copies available, too.

There is a downloadable poster with a QR code that goes to this petition information page. 


This has been going up in Fairhaven and Downtown, and I’m encouraging folks to post them in their own areas - especially near trails.

Petitions can be sent to Save the Trails, 1050 Larrabee Ave, Ste 104 #382, or I can come and pick them up.  Anyone needing petition delivery or pickup should write .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with “Petitions” in the subject line.

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