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Restore The Mayor’s Neighborhood Advisory Commission (MNAC) To Its Former Role in Planning

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Shortly after Kelli Linville was installed as mayor, she prevailed on the then current group of naive and uninformed Mayor’s Neighborhood Advisory Commission (MNAC) representatives to vote themselves out of the city’s planning process. A handful of veteran MNAC representatives opposed the action but to no avail. This was to be the beginning of an assault on the role of neighborhood associations and NMAC representatives, who were thereafter characterized by the leadership at city hall as unrepresentative of the neighborhoods and their residents.*

The role of MNAC at paragraph 2.33 Bellingham Municipal Code (see file below) at the time was :

“2.33.040 -Functions -Meetings and Minutes The primary purpose of the MNAC meetings is to provide a regular forum for (1) representatives of neighborhood associations to communicate their interests and concerns to the City administration, (2) the Mayor to inform representatives of neighborhood associations of City activities that may be of interest to neighborhoods, and (3) the MNAC to have timely opportunity to formulate and/or review proposed changes to the City’s comprehensive plan and neighborhood plans and to prepare recommendations on those proposed changes for the Mayor and the Planning Commission to consider. The Commission shall meet at least once each month and shall keep minutes of its meetings. In addition to attending MNAC meetings, MNAC members shall serve as a conduit for timely, accurate information about City government programs and services, through various actions including reporting and/or forwarding to their membership information provided by City government.” (bolding by this writer)

A compliant Bellingham City Council of that period voted to affirm that neighborhoods have less of a say in the planning process so that code portion above now reads:

“The primary purpose of the MNAC is for (A) the mayor to communicate with and listen to the representatives of neighborhood associations on topics that may be of interest to neighborhoods; (B) representatives of neighborhood associations to communicate their interests and concerns to the city administration; and (C) members to serve as a conduit for timely, accurate information about city programs and services through various actions including reporting and/or forwarding to their membership information provided by the city. The MNAC may elect to review proposed changes to the city’s comprehensive plan and neighborhood plans and provide comment on those proposed changes for the mayor to consider. The commission shall meet at least 10 times per year and shall keep minutes of its meetings. [Ord. 2013-01-004 § 1; Ord. 2006-05-048; Ord. 8516 § 4, 1976].” (bolding by this writer)

I personally attended many MNAC meetings under Mayor Dan Pike during which serious time was spent by individual MNAC committees in reviewing and commenting on various neighborhood plans. The full MNAC would then provide written suggestions to the Planning Commission as part of the official process for updates to comprehensive plans and neighborhood plans. However the new mayor, Kelli Linville, exhorted the members of MNAC to relinquish this role by saying that the members of the Planning Commission are representative of the interests of the neighborhoods and residents. The problem was that her declaration was immensely misleading and flatly inaccurate as I discovered and reported in my 2014 article “Planning or Development Commission?” where I pointed out that all of the commissioners were from the development industry.

“...on ... investigation, I learned that every member of the our present Planning Commission is involved with or has/had close ties to businesses that owe their existence to development, i.e., real estate, consulting, construction, architecture, etc.”

The City Council moved to fix that shortly thereafter and limited the number of Planning Commission representatives from the development community. (BMC 2.42) The mayor promptly placed two so-called non-development reps on the commission, however, both have proven to be driven basically by free market, neoliberal concepts thus playing wittingly or unwittingly into the hands of the developers who salivate about the zoning changes they espouse in the name of equity and anti-NIMBYism. So there is still a heavy pro-development, free market majority on the Planning Commission. Unfortunately, this majority is locked into commission membership through 2021 unless there are unexpected resignations.

Additionally, Mayor Linville has ignored the portion of the city code that requires MNAC to run its own organization and meetings. Mayor Dan Pike also ignored this portion of the city code on MNAC by having one of his assistants run the meetings and control the agendas. As mayor, he rarely attended his own mayor’s neighborhood commission, unlike the current mayor who controls each meeting herself. The code still reads:

“Upon being constituted, the Commission [MNAC] shall establish its own internal rules of operation, including provisions for the election or appointment of necessary officers.”

The use of the verb “shall” [italics above are mine] is generally lawspeak for “must,” although there is a lively polemic regarding the use of “shall” and “must”. Nonetheless, the code, under any reasonable interpretation, mandates that the MNAC representatives do their own organizing and provides no role for the mayor in chairing the meetings or giving any direction whatsoever.

Unfortunately, it appears that few who serve on MNAC actually read the city code on MNAC operations or, if they did, they ignore what is specified. Ignorance of the role of MNAC was forcefully driven home at the time the current mayor asked the members to remove themselves from the planning process. Most were either blissfully or purposefully unaware of the duties and responsibilities to the point that one member, who had been on the commission for some time, blurted out to the mayor and MNAC assembled that she had not come to MNAC to “read all that stuff” in the first place.

The most recent update to the comprehensive plan took place without a scintilla of input from MNAC to the Planning Commission. For the last decade the city has unilaterally decided to discontinue or ignore updates to neighborhood plans, thus MNAC is effectively removed from that process also.

The next mayor must ask the City Council to restore MNAC to its previous role in the process of updating the comprehensive plan and provide staff support along the lines of that provided to the Planning Commission. MNAC members should take back the control of their meetings and the agenda by writing bylaws and electing their own officers as the current code directs. The next mayor should also demand that the process of updating neighborhood plans be part and parcel of MNAC considerations of zoning and growth within the city.


*The Greenways Advisory Committee was similarly the object of this administration’s desire to render ineffective or compliant several of the more important boards and commissions under the office of the mayor. Read more here: “This Mayor Hates Greenways” by former Greenways Advisory Committee member Alex McLean.

[NB. The author spent 4 years as the primary representative from the Samish Neighborhood Association to MNAC. He now serves as the alternate representative. His comments are his own and do not necessarily represent those of the Samish Neighborhood Association.]

Attached Files

About Dick Conoboy

Writer 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

Tim Paxton

Apr 02, 2019

Good explanation of City Hall hard at work with MNAC.

I seem to recall that MNAC positions need to be filled so that Conditional Use Permits can provide part of the city ordinance official notification process for CUP hearings. 

It is possible that any Hearing Examiner that runs a CUP hearing without having an MNAC notification is running a VOID hearing.  No proper notice.    Evidence on the record of  actual jurisdiction of the hearing is likely lost without having the MNAC person appointed.    Of course, someone needs to object to the process in writing and move to have it declared void but that does not slow down the steam roller rubber stamp approval CUP process.

It also seems to be a pretty clear dereliction of duty to not appoint MNAC reps by the mayors office.  It is not an optional appointment.   Maybe the Mayor wishes to get sued for dereliction of duty and have her pay and or pension witheld until she complies?  Failing to do the dooty she is paid for is possibly one way accomplish this.

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Tip Johnson

Apr 02, 2019

Spot on.  This MNAC castration, together with past planning director Vargas’ gutting of the neighborhood plans, abrogated more than thirty years of City guarantees of neighborhood integrity to homeowners and residents - our city’s major investors.

The stage is now set for the wholesale destruction of neighborhoods, led by candidtes such as April Barker.   Her assertion that it is racist to protect (especially) single family neighborhoods from infill housing not yet proven to be affordable, is disingenuous and aimed at improving conditions for developers and increasing landlord rental income - not building stable community. 

The trend toward blanket approval of infill housing without mitigating impacts related to density is the necessary antecedent for land use strategies long-time observers have seen repeatedly employed over the decades:  Permit some transitional uses, let the impacts accumulate and then watch developers consolidate the property of those driven away, and cite ongoing problems as justification for further upzones.

I’ve seen it too many times:  “Look, it’s already been wrecked up to this point.  I own this, this and this, and boy, is it ever a bother.  Let’s just extend the entitlements and we’ll be able to upgrade the whole area while improving the tax base!”  

Bye bye neighborhoods!

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Michael Chiavario

Apr 03, 2019

Tip it is not correct that April Barker aims to “improving conditions for developers and increasing landlord rental income”.  The ADU ordinance (championed by April) prevents houses with ADU’s from being owned by non-resident landlords. April listened to neighbors and corrected the earlier version of the ordinance to do that. The STR ordinance(championed by April)serves to help prevent short term rentals from helping to push up rents and take housing off of the long term market where they are needed for local folks.

Communities are not stable when where one can afford to live is determined by income and, by default and historical laws,  whether one is among the disproportionate numbers of younger, and  non-white persons.

We need to densify in order to control sprawl. The process is best done by building non-market ownership model units in every neighborhood. This makes healthier neighborhoods. This requires injections of funds to make these projects pencil. I choose to devote my time to finding ways to bring those funds into our town rather than just drawing a line around my neighborhood and saying stay out. I welcome more density on the vacant lots in my neighborhood, particularly (but not exclusively)near the arterials.

It is true that profiteering developers would like to benefit from upzones. In my view, the task ahead is to accept the inevitably of major population growth and work to build cities like Vienna where everyone can afford to live all over the city and they have lots of green space and minimal sprawl. That requires bringing in funds, incentiving non-profits and disincentiving profiteers. Bellingham is going to change. It will not be the quaint little town that I moved to 51 years ago. Let’s do it right and make it affordable and liveable for everyone..

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Dick Conoboy

Apr 04, 2019

Michael,

The truth of the matter is that April was hell bent for leather to remove the owner-occupancy provision from the comp plan with respect to ADUs.  She was warned quite specifically by several senior council members not to go down that road but she insisted.  She deserves no reward for having reversed herself after being hit upside the head by the citizens for her self-serving and destructive notion to allow landlords to run amok.  Self-serving because she is a landlord of two properties and did not have the good sense to recuse herself from some of these decisions (including the ones on ADUs and vacation rentals).  A faint redolence of conflict of interest floats around any of her proposals having to do with rentals.  Destructive because it was nothing more than a gift to developers and landlords with not a scintilla of guarantees as to affordability. As for the vacation rental ordinance that she “championed” while weeping about the lack of affordable housing, it was a masterpiece of theatricality in the name of some false “balancing” of the needs of our residents and the vacationers.  What a bunch of neoliberal, market driven claptrap that was cloaked in a cloud of righteousness and bogus equity.  Moreover, April and her supporters spared nothing in chastising those who opposed her and her ideas as racist, privileged, NIMBY, largely aged and monied.  This was the divisive theme put out over the last year or more.  The message was that if you don’t join with us, you are working against the disenfranchised. 

All through this polemic NOTHING has been asked of the landlords.  I wrote this a year ago in an article on NWCitizen.  Nobody on the council paid the slightest bit of attention. 

“With all the talk recently from the Planning Commission and the City Council about neighborhoods stepping up to the bar to sacrifice low density and livability in the struggle for housing affordability and availability, I think it is more than just to ask those who own over 50% of the housing stock in Bellingham to step up to that very bar. I mean that this time landlords do some stepping. However, since asking landlords to accept more density is like asking a child if she wants more ice cream, I propose that landlords, in the spirit of community, justice and equity, reduce the rents charged to their tenants by 10%.

The immediate effect would be to put into the hands of residents, i.e., tenants, ready cash that would be injected rapidly into the local economy. This creates an immediate boon to commerce while creating additional revenue to the city in the form of increased Business and Operation tax receipts. Moreover, at least 10% of the rental income that used to fly out of the city to absentee landlords, would be preserved here to boost local businesses.

Unfortunately, the City Council cannot require such a magnanimous and just gesture on the part of landlords, however, a well-worded and encouraging council resolution that passed unanimously might tend to weigh heavily on the consciences of those occupying landlordia. We also have several of our own council members-cum-landlords (Mr. Hammill and Ms Barker) who can light the way with a selfless demonstration of cutting by 10% the rents they charge to their own tenants.

Just looking through that equity lens.”

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Dick Conoboy

Apr 04, 2019

And more, Michael,

If the progressives (ha!) in this town want to be truly such, they might consider limiting the number of rentals that one person/ company (corporations are people anyhow, right?) may own, placing a tax on the purchase of a rental property (20% on the purchase price sounds good to me), using the money thereby collected to build public housing, declaring an emergency and expropriating rental homes and buildings for public use, etc… How about being that BOLD?

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Michael Chiavario

Apr 04, 2019

Dick, You have some excellent ideas there about a resolution, taxing rentals, pressuring landlords into lowering rents.

I have yet to see April or Dan accuse anyone of being racist for opposing upzoning and ADUs. It is correct however to point out how the current system of zoning and market based residential properties is indeed racist and rewards privilege of age and class and skin color - that is a different thing than your claim that April and Dan and supporters “spared nothing in chastising those who opposed her and her ideas as racist, privileged, NIMBY, largely aged and monied”. 

You may accuse April and Dan of acting in their self  interest of being landlords and ask them to cut rents in this public forum, but have you talked to their tennants to find out what kind of landlords they are? Do you know what they charge for rents? Neither do I, but I do know their personal character and how hard and sincerely they have both worked for years in the community interest.

You also work hard for the community interest, Dick, and I applaud you for it. You and I agree on much more than we disagree I think.  Let’s work on how we can work together for common goals of enough  permanently affordable housing and a more liveable community in general - things we both believe in.

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Dick Conoboy

Apr 06, 2019

 Michael,

I invite you to watch this video in which April characterizes neighborhoods, their assoctiations, and other reps as protective, exclusionary and priveleged.  She does not use the word racist here but leaves that to others in other venues to characterize aspects of the housing issue as based on racism, such as the Whatcom Dems’ housing resoluti which backhandedly describes our zoning as being developed based on a racism that was prevalent in the first part of the 20th century.  Those who might oppose the proposals of April or the Dems are then put in the position of the bad guys for who else would oppose these solutions but racists, priveleged, exclusionary, etc.  Lots of the talk on zoning, especially durng the ADU discussion, was laced with the derrogatory term NIMBY.  None of these characterizations were disavowed by April or her acolytes.  There is no talk from the proponents of these zoning changes as to the EFFICACY of the proposals, only that they have been adopted elsewhere.  When disastrous and similar proposals were enacted in Seattle and Ballard right down the road with horrible consequences, silence reigns from their proponents. 

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