Chapter 2:  Playing the race card

Byy On

After the “Shout Down” by Council President Pinky Vargas on August 8, Anne Mackie and Dick Conoboy received the following email from Council Member April Barker, author of the motion to remove “owner occupancy” requirements for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) in single-family neighborhoods. Bellingham’s working class neighborhoods have no protective covenants to prevent absentee owners from converting backyards into more rental units.

Hello Anne and Dick,

Thank you for your comments to Council during public comment. I heard your concerns. In the future, please remember, my interests lie in looking at all these issues through a race equity lens.

Using 'owner-occupied' language in policy must be very intentional, as it can be perceived, and has been used historically, as exclusionary. Absolutely, there are places in the City that are subject to predatory developers and leasing agents that would warrant adding this restrictive language. However, there may be circumstances where the language wouldn't match the intent of the zoning. Or maybe in areas that have grown to be very exclusive, removing the language could add opportunity for inclusion.

As you know this Comprehensive Plan was not noticed as to discuss an ADU ordinance. Thus, many were not aware of the opportunity to be heard. Because of this, leaving the language in the Comp Plan would have been irresponsible of the Council and thwarted the public process. Had the tables been turned, many would have felt blindsided with language that bound the Council's hands to not allow for restrictive language in a future ordinance.

I am confident we will have a very dynamic discussion when the ordinance comes forward to Council for consideration. Then we can decide what language is appropriate for where.

As always, please call or email if you would like further clarification or what to discuss your concerns and ideas. Feel free to share my email with your Neighborhood Associations.

April Barker
City Council Member, Ward 1

Anne Mackie’s response to April Barker and other members of the Council, August 15.

Dear Bellingham City Council Members:

The ongoing discussion about our city's Housing Chapter of the Comprehensive Plan, and specifically the recent majority Council vote to remove the “owner occupancy” requirement for ADUs, has degenerated into accusations toward citizens who disagree with that vote. We have been unfairly characterized as not supporting “race equity,” being “anti renters,” and even not being supportive of “different people.” These types of false accusations serve to intimidate citizens who wish to participate in the public debate about the Comprehensive Plan. Using these kinds of tactics are harmful to the full participation of citizens. Being labeled as something we are not is inappropriate in a public discourse. What we are about is protecting opportunities for families to achieve home ownership and protect single family neighborhoods from being overrun by absentee landlords who serve to profit from an up-zone and a property gift from this zoning change.

April Barker states: “my interests lie in looking at all these issues through a race equity lens.” She further states, that “owner occupied language” has been used “historically, as exclusionary.” The implication of her statement is that, somehow, neighborhoods or individuals who object to the removal of the “owner occupancy” requirement for ADUs in single family neighborhoods are not in support of “race equity.” That is, someone such as myself who supports the “owner occupancy” zoning requirement is somehow racially exclusionary?

A second example of Ms. Barker's false accusations happened during the August 1, 2016, City Council meeting when she stated that people are “mistaken that renters are bad. They aren't.” Again, this was in the context of her arguments to remove “owner occupancy” as a requirement for ADUs in single family zones. I, and others who are opposed to removing this requirement, worked for over 15 years to get renters' rights for safe housing through the Rental Registration and Inspection program. We certainly should not be unfairly characterized by Ms. Barker as “anti renters.”

A third example of Ms. Barker's false accusations occurred during the June 20, 2016, City Council meeting in which she expresses concerns that people who do not support removal of the owner-occupancy requirement for ADUs in single family zones are not supportive of “making room for different housing types and different people.” In that meeting (video time slot 51:01) Barker is addressing the issue of the murderous rampage by the individual who attacked the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL, on June 12, 2016. During this portion of the meeting Council members Vargas, Knutson, Murphy, and Barker expressed opinions about the Orlando tragedy. It was a highly-charged moment in the meeting. For all of America, it was an emotional and terrifying event. For myself, the proud mother of a married LGBT couple, it was excruciatingly terrifying because I have loved ones who have been and will continue to be the target of bigotry.

Ms. Barker turned this tragedy into an opportunity to express her opinion about people who do not support the dismantling of single family zoning by allowing non-owner occupied ADUs, as people who do not want to make room for “different people” in our neighborhoods. Connecting the Orlando murder rampage to the issue of ADUs in Bellingham is nothing but opportunism on her part. The tactic of using a “straw man” is nothing but a debate tool designed to falsely characterize one's opponents. Ms. Barker's false accusations toward citizens who disagree with her position is, in my opinion, not acceptable behavior for an elected official.

I am waiting to be accused of being anti-single mothers and children, as well; but before that false insinuation is stated, let me set the record straight. I have been one of those single mothers and I have been a political activist for 50 years in the women's liberation, pro-choice, civil rights movement, pro-LGBT, and labor movements. I can stand on my record and am proud of it.

I was the target of rude behavior by Council President Vargas and Council member Murphy during the August 8, 2016, meeting—with giggling and laughing while I spoke—and then I was shouted down when I exceeded the three minute time limit by 30 seconds. Unlike members of the real estate and building industry, who frequently exceed the three-minute time limit, I was not afforded the simple courtesy to be allowed to wrap up my remarks.

This action, now coupled with the attached letter from Ms. Barker and her previously recorded false accusations toward citizens who disagree with her position, serves to intimidate and stifle public participation in a process that must be open to public discourse. I believe that public discourse on the Comprehensive Plan update is protected by law and the Washington State Growth Management Act.

Please advise me as to how you, as a Council, will correct these injuries to myself and other citizens who are attempting to exercise our rights to be heard.

Anne Mackie

Dick Conoboy’s response to April and other members of the city council, 16 April 2016.


Thanks for taking time to respond to the concerns from me and Anne Mackie about removing the ‘owner-occupied’ language in the Comp Plan section addressing ADU’s.

I stand with Anne’s reflection in her message […] on your lens of “race equity” which implies that those of us who are fighting hard to maintain the character of our neighborhoods are somehow not interested or ignoring the equity issue. I do not find that approach productive.

Personally, I have been dealing with equity issues my entire life from an early age when my family could not buy into a neighborhood a block away where Jews and Negroes were specifically excluded. My mother was a Jew. For all my childhood from my non-Jewish “friends”, I constantly heard talk of kikes and yids from these people who did not know my origins but thought I was an ally in their prejudices. As a young boy I was severely physically handicapped which led to a decade or more of physical and psychological difficulties, ignored by my parochial school educators who had little sense of compassion or equity. I spent nearly a decade in the 70s and 80s working for recognition of sexual stereotyping as it affects males in our society only to receive the sneers and vitriol of the feminists of the time. With little or no help (and at times active opposition) from city council and city hall, I fought for nearly ten years along with Anne to get licensing and inspection legislation to protect ALL renters regardless of race. Yes, April, I know a few equity issues.

And now you indicate that the term ‘owner-occupied’ “can be perceived, and has been used historically, as exclusionary” (i.e., not consistent with race equality). I fail to see the nexus between requirement for owner occupancy and anything to do with race. At your convenience, would you please provide a few examples of where owner-occupied ADU’s has been found to be racist?

If you want to probe equity issues, you need to talk to the landlords (the rentier class), resident or often absentee, who have bought up properties by the dozens that they now rent at exorbitant prices while taking homes out of the market that might have been available to potential home buyers of more modest means. You need to talk to the Realtors who fail to enforce their own code of ethics to police the outrageous behavior of those landlords and property managers who regularly flaunt the laws of the city. You need to talk to the builders and developers who will not consider affordable housing unless they get their expected tax break or fee relief to ensure maximum profits. Where is their sense of equity? Where is their sense of community?

The city also has to address the equity issue of a living wage such as they have done in the city of Seattle. When will you be proposing to boost the minimum wage in Bellingham from the paltry state standard of $9.47 [$19,000/yr] to a true, living wage of $20 an hour? (Yes, not even $15/hour works when a house rents for $30.000 per year. Do the math). When will the council look at the price gouging in the rental market? Is that not also an equity issue? [Note: Minimum wage requirements for some small businesses may require special attention.]

Additionally, you seem confused about what had been in the city’s comprehensive plan since 1995. The ‘owner-occupied’ language was not being added to the comprehensive plan; it has been there for more than 20 years. Rather, council’s vote removed this language from the comprehensive plan. Your logic that the comprehensive plan was not “noticed” as to discuss an ADU ordinance actually supports leaving the comprehensive plan language as it has been for the past two decades.

The action to remove the owner occupancy requirement is little more than a not-so-subtle, back door rezone of all single family neighborhoods (except those lucky enough to have restrictive covenants which then turns ADU placement into a crap shoot). You speak often of property rights. Property rights extend to the individual homeowners as well as the landlords who are good at rent extraction but not much else.



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About Dick Conoboy

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Member since Jan 26, 2008

Dick Conoboy is a recovering civilian federal worker and military officer who was offered and accepted an all-expense paid, one year trip to Vietnam in 1968. He is a former Army [...]

Comments by Readers

Thomas R. Scott

Aug 23, 2016

I wish I could feign shock at how civil discourse has faltered lately at many levels of government. Sadly, I cannot. The race card and double-talk at the national level have become the norm.

Our local politics have been tainted from time to time as well.  However, I see a new level of late.

First, insinuations and even more open charges of racism and amorphous phobias employed so as to shut up those earnestly disagreeing or questioning a given topic or decision. Then, logic is altered into double-speak or inverse logic.

Recent activities and statements (verbal and written) from at least a couple City Council members lately defy civil discourse through borderline to outright rude behavior crossing the line into physical confrontation. This followed by insinuations of racism, general exclusionism and double-speak.

Then Councilmember Barker turned logic on its head (in writing).  This was with regard to why removing “owner occupancy” for Auxiliary Dwelling Units (ADUs) in Single Family zoning without notice was the right thing to do.

As she writes two engaged citizens, she admits to a lack of notice with “As you know this Comprehensive Plan was not noticed as to discuss an ADU ordinance.” She continues to admit, “Thus, many were not aware of the opportunity to be heard.”

From a logic perspective, all fine and good so far. Yes, lack of notice logically results in lack of awareness. I would also add it results in a lack of “daylight” and openness (as required by law, but I digress).

Then the logic flips as she states, “Because of this, leaving the language in the Comp Plan” (as in NOT making a change) “would have been irresponsible of the Council and thwarted the public process.” She polishes that off with another inverse logic “Had the tables been turned, many would have felt blindsided…”

In the first inverse logic, a lack of notice is equated with the responsible need to make a change to the Comprehensive Plan language.  Normally a lack of notice, by logic and by law, must result in the status quo until a future time when notice is properly given as per the proper process. Apparently, Councilmember Barker believes otherwise.

She even slips in additional inverse logic by mentioning the “public process” which, by the way, requires notice.

In the second inverse logic musing, she somehow believes that a lack of change would have “blindsided” folks when nothing happened just when they expected nothing to happen. Logic dictates that nobody is blindsided when expectations are met.

If her intention was to NOT blindside the public, she, and other councilmembers failed miserably as most citizens paying attention were blindsided. (The possible/probable exception being some of her peers in the real estate, development and rental management communities. As I understand it, they were virtually the only persons who seemed in attendance at the meeting in question aside from City staff and the Council itself).

Again she WROTE this.  Apparently, this is her CONSIDERED opinion.  Time was taken to settle her thoughts. Write them down, reconsider them, spell check them and send them off.

I have two “take aways”:
1 - Logic and law dictate that, regardless of any merits, the motion to remove the language, thus, taking action without notice and proper process must be considered void due to the process violation.
2 - Attempts to bully erstwhile citizens taking part in the public process must stop immediately.


Tim Paxton

Aug 24, 2016

This contemptible and illegal lack of public notice is a deliberate tactic by the City Executive branch and the legal staff.

Smells like big bribes are being protected by the City.  Nothing else explains their sudden intense interest in scamming the public.



David Camp

Aug 24, 2016

Does it strike anyone else as passing strange that a City Councilor, supposed to represent the interests of the citizens who elected her, seems to believe that her sole role is to promote race equity? What else does this mean: “I heard your concerns. In the future, please remember, my interests lie in looking at all these issues through a race equity lens.”

So the April Barker Racial Equality Crusade trumps all citizen concerns - and if we little citizens dare criticize the saintly Ms. Barker and her selfless crusade for racial equality we must be filthy racists?


Junga Subedar

Aug 24, 2016

Thank you April Barker for your comment and insight on how the inclusion of “owner occupancy” for Accessory Dwelling Units can adversely affect some neighborhoods and people.


Marilyn Williams

Aug 24, 2016

Thank you Thomas for helping me understand what I thought had to be ignorance on my part, because I could not understand what April Barker meant when she said that it would be irresponsible and thwart the public process (so on). Inverse logic.

I, too, am concerned that this meeting was almost held in secret and a huge decision - a change to the comprehensive plan - was made without noticing the public. I must be old fashioned, because I always thought that public input was part of the process and a decision wasn’t made until all things were considered. And, what the public wanted was what we got. When did the rule become - “We The Government?”

Only one group is excluded with the “owner occupied” language and that group is not a protected group - investors. A return on investment is not a right.

This town sorely lacks equity. The growth machine has divided this town into ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ by telling those of us that worked hard, made tough choices and managed to hang on during many recession and life events, that we do not deserve to keep what we have. We do not deserve to enjoy the fruits of our labor, since that is selfish. We should instead give to those that want easy money by buying property and renting to people who need housing. Turning things around and making it about not sharing with renters.

FYI - I live in multifamily zoning. All I asked for was some decent design review, that required the buildings fit into the surrounding housing. But, even that was too exclusionary for the city of Bellingham. It limited the builders choices.


Tip Johnson

Aug 25, 2016

While sensitive to the need for careful consideration of race equity in the promulgation of city code, it does not justify the removal of the owner-occupied requirement for ADUs.  This requirement should apply to any owner of any property with ADU potential, without regard for race (color, creed, etc.).

ADUs have the potential to diversify our housing stock and provide more affordable housing solutions without public investment. This benefits anyone of lower income, regardless of race, etc.

There are many other advantages to ADUs, like helping homeowners make their nut, helping tenants save to buy, creating community with it’s helpful advantages, like “eyes on the property” security, like low-impact infill, etc.

I’m all for ADUs because we need to practice smarter housing.  We have gotten very good at enabling stupid housing, like the four+ bedroom duplex animal house student housing developments, or the seven bedroom single family homes managed as boarding houses, or the rabbit warren stack dorms where there isn’t even room to store a kayak.  I oppose the “not more than three unrelated by blood or marriage” rule because families have become far more diverse.  I think we need much more latitude in exploring housing that keeps folks off the streets and helps them toward better accommodations.  We have essentially legislated affordable housing out of existence.

However, when infilling one’s own backyard, supervision is critical to prevent common nuisances spilling into your neighbor’s or the general public.  This is not discriminatory in any way.  It’s just good management.

It makes me think there may be other, unspoken reasoning behind the change.



Michael Chiavario

Oct 21, 2016

Anne and Dick,
  I was sorry to see the ‘race card’ phrase used in your responses to April Barker’s letter to you regarding ADUs and the Comp Plan.
  It was clear to me that April was not implying that the intent of York neighbors was racist. She was pointing out that sometimes systems are inherently racist and individuals who are in that system may be the victims or beneficiaries of it depending on their color or economic status. In the US, as you well know, land use rules have long been used as a means to enforce discrimination. Add to that the fact of race disproportional generational wealth of people of color and they continue to be ghettoized.
  I truly believe that there is common ground here for neighborhoods to protect themselves from predatory multi-unit rental owners and achieving equity in housing policy. Since I know that racial equity is a value that you share with April, Anne, I would suggest that you sit down with her and talk this through. I am sure that you two have way more in common than not.
  Michael Chiavario

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