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.
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.
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.