The Decline of Bellingham

Is this a good place to live? Do you feel safe? Can you afford it? Are too many of us living on the streets? Doug Karlberg has some ideas.

Is this a good place to live? Do you feel safe? Can you afford it? Are too many of us living on the streets? Doug Karlberg has some ideas.


For the last two months, I have driven by this sign on the side of an RV parked on Cornwall Avenue. It is illegally parked on taxpayer property. One would have hoped that city government would have at least removed it from city property. Nope.

Let’s review some basic, fundamental performance numbers for Bellingham’s government:

Violent crime in 2021: up 59.2%

Overdoses in 2022: 900 plus in Bellingham; Whatcom County, up 78%

Homelessness in 2022: Bellingham, up 27%

Affordable housing: Bellingham ranked 9th worst among mid-size cities in the nation.

If I were giving City Hall a report card, it would be a solid F. This is horrible performance.

In 2007, on a lark, I ran for mayor. Mayor Fleetwood was a candidate then also. Affordable housing was a major issue at the time. We now, 16 years later, find ourselves 9th worst affordable housing market in the whole damn nation, and since then, every candidate and mayor and City Council member has promised to solve it if we vote for them.

Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Maybe if we try one more mayor, we can move up from 9th worst to 3rd worst. That would be the perfect 20-year trend.

A lot of factors contribute to repeatedly failing to deliver necessary and desired services, but one factor stands out above all others: Bellingham is a one-political-party-town, similar to Russia and China. The lack of competition for effective ideas and solutions ends up being the same solution over and over again. Of the four priority areas listed above, the Democratic Party keeps bringing forward polices that continue to dismally fail the community. We have people dying due to these bad policies. People are needlessly economically stressed, and an increasing number of people are living under blue tarps and in their cars.

Now before the members of the Democratic Party get up in arms, let me mention that I took the time to read the whole Whatcom Democrats platform of what they stand for.  I agree with 60-70% of it, in concept. The last 30% is what is failing our community. Please, change it.

Politicians seldom admit mistakes. Mistakes I can accept, but failing to admit a mistake is a sin of enormous proportion because they can’t be fixed until we admit them. Governmental mistakes are costly, and the cost goes up the longer the mistake is denied. They’re also misery-inducing and the most misery usually lands on the backs of honest hard working taxpayers.

You may have noticed that none of the candidates for election in Bellingham are seriously criticizing the incumbents. This is because it is virtually impossible to get elected in Bellingham without Democratic Party support and harsh criticism risks losing the support of the local Democratic Party. Criticizing the Dem’s Platform is admitting that a Dem policy has failed. And they can’t blame these problems on the Republicans, now can they?

Do you hear candidates espousing any great strategies that you think will work, or do you hear more of the same pablum?

The core problem is that we can not make progress on crime, drugs, homelessness, or affordable housing, unless we admit these (Democratic) policies are failing, and remedy the problems with new effective policies. Does anyone seriously think the current policies are the most effective?

Affordable housing, homelessness, and drugs deserve their own articles. I have some ideas on affordable housing. The proposal for the jail is an inadequate proposal; it also deserves its own article. The city property that sold for $2,000,000 and was then re-listed for $3,650,000, is seriously shorting taxpayers a substantial amount of their money, and also deserves a stand alone article. I will try to get these articles out this week. Hold onto those ballots and keep your eyes on Northwest Citizen.

One subject needs addressing right now: crime.

WE fund government to provide common services. The highest priority of government is to keep us safe. Your life and security as well as that of your loved ones, friends, neighbors and community is more important than any other government function.

In 2021, violent crime was up nearly 60%; this is a priority number one crisis. But, we don’t fight crime personally, our police officers do it for us. Unfortunately, our police force is understaffed, demoralized, and the reputation of progressive Democrats has made potential police officers avoid Bellingham. 

We are in serious trouble. The average city in the U.S. has 2.33 police officers per 1,000 citizens; currently, Bellingham has 1.22 cops per 1,000 citizens. With a lot of retirements yet to come, Bellingham may not be back to a full force for years. It may be a decade before we get this crime surge back under control. There will be a lot of innocent victims in the years ahead as a consequence of the “Defund the Police” mentality.

To effectively reduce crime, the first step is cops have to catch criminals. To do this we need more cops, and these cops need to know for certain that the public has their backs. Then we need to prosecute and jail them. If the cops catch them, but prosecutors and judges let them go, we will not make progress on reducing crime and this further demoralizes our police force.

Our cops are overworked, recruiting standards have actually been lowered, and mature, experienced cops are retiring or have been fired by the mayor. Exit interviews by cops are crystal clear: universally, they do not believe our elected leaders have their backs. 

Because of this, new cops are going to cost taxpayers more because of the progressive mentality that supported “Defund the Police.” So how do we get the trust of the cops back? That, my friends, is the critical question.

The way to do it is to vote out every incumbent who was in office when the “Defund the Police” movement came to town. This will send a strong signal that citizens back the police. The old politicians that the cops don’t trust will be gone; this will help a lot. If somebody has a better idea to win back the trust of our police officers more effectively than this, let’s hear it.

Most politicians are running scared from the “Defund the Police” issue. They are all going to claim they did not support the movement. While it may be technically true, it is not what happened here in Bellingham that caused our police officers’ feelings of betrayal. There is no better example than June 28th, 2020.

The “Defund the Police” crowd showed up in Bellingham to protest the death of George Floyd. The protest was at Maritime Heritage Park, but at some point the crowd wanted to go to City Hall. The police provided the protestors security to City Hall. Toward the end of the protest, 10 white punks dressed up in black pajamas and masks came out of the crowd. They took down six American flags and burned them on the steps of City Hall. Then the punks proceeded to spray-paint graffiti on City Hall including “F*ck BPD (Bellingham Police Department).

Do you know what the cops did to these lawbreakers? Nothing. They were ordered not to arrest these punks. Ask Mayor Fleetwood why they were not arrested. I am certain I would be arrested if I did that today. That simple act of cowardice by Fleetwood told our cops all they needed to know.

Yesterday, the Seattle Times Editorial Board came out with a stunning recommendation for Seattle City Council. This liberal newspaper recommended their readers NOT vote for any of the three incumbents who promoted “Defund the Police.” The paper literally suggested their readers vote for anybody except these three “Defunders.” 

These council members promoted a 50% cut to police funding, which would have left Seattle virtually unprotected from criminals. They proved they lack good judgement sufficient to be City Council members.

I recommend we do the same in Bellingham, including the mayor, who is a fine person, but made an error in judgement that is hurting a lot of his citizens. When the “Defunders” came to town, our mayor should have taken the microphone and told those protestors that the Bellingham Police Department is not racist, that they are professionals, and that the protestors should protest police departments elsewhere, not Bellingham.

That would have shown the political courage to buck his own party to keep his citizens safe.

About Doug Karlberg

Citizen Journalist • Belingham • Member since Apr 08, 2008

Doug has been a fisherman for over four decades, working out of Bellingham and Alaska. He focuses his civic energy on Port of Bellingham - on their policies and practices. [...]

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