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This Mayor Hates Greenways

By On

Mayor Kelli Linville’s first interaction with the Greenways Advisory Committee was to ask us to draw up a list of properties to sell. She had been in office a few months by then, replacing the relatively hands-free guidance of Mayor Dan Pike, and I remember the GAC being curious what new spark, what new enthusiasm, she would provide to the wildly popular and decades-old program. We got our answer, via City staff and former Greenways Program Coordinator, Tim Wahl, by being asked to sell off parcels we had already purchased.

At the time it seemed so odd a request that it could only be an aberration. But time has proven it was just the normal instinct of a mayor who hates Greenways.

For seven years now Mayor Linville has infused attritional bureaucratic rot, starvation tactics, and utterly demoralizing slow-walking into the program. Greenways IV passed in 2016 through vigorous reaffirmation by nearly %70 of the voters. Nonetheless it is now a zombie program, torpid and lifeless like a spawned-out salmon, with chunks of its formerly-proud self ablating into protean mist. If ever there was a suicide watch for committees of sparkly-eyed volunteers eager to build upon the legacy and vision of providing awesome trails, open spaces, and parks for this community, I’d place bets on finding the Greenways program in an abandoned garage somewhere, swinging from a rope or garden hose, with bottles of MD 40/40 scattered on the tear and vomit-soaked floor. (1)

I served two full terms on the GAC and, as noted, they bridged the Rubicon of prior and present administrations. I also sat on the Greenways IV Levy formation committee – I was one of the folk who spent eight or-so months with former members of County Council, City Council, and a mayor or two as we cobbled together a strong Levy that, we hoped, would get the Council’s endorsement for the ballot. We did this by building upon the evolving needs of the last levies and staying true to the long-term, visionary goals of this community. We asked for less money from taxpayers, a shorter lifespan for the Levy, and we acquiesced to the mayor and her staff by shifting money away from Acquisitions of properties and toward the other two cash pillars, park Development and property Maintenance, instead. We also interviewed about six people from a broad range of civic disciplines, inviting them to give us feedback and advice in crafting this new legislation. One of these visiting counselors was Mayor Linville.

It would mark one of the few interactions that the mayor would bother with in guiding Bellingham’s future trails, open spaces, and parks. In the parlance of hipster youths, she appears to have “ghosted” Greenways, including the $32 million gift we gave her administration when the Levy passed. I would hazard, but won’t bother to prove it, that she’s canceled more visits to the GAC – typically forewarned to the committee— than she’s ever bothered to show up for. Nothing about the program seems to do anything but irritate her.

Greenways Priorities
Greenways Priorities

When Mayor Linville asked us to investigate selling some properties, back in 2012, I don’t think she even realized she was issuing a directive that, pretty obviously, was horrifically at odds with the mission our committee was charged with. We sat in a cold basement pushing maps in circles for years to build trails and parks and open space, after all, and not to liquidate those same public assets for profit. (2)

Asking to surplus properties is not sufficient evidence of “hatred,” however. The mayor took office in the embers of an economic crisis, so she had strained budgets to sympathize with as part of her job.

She directed parks to fire a few employees, presumably to trim the budget, then months later used Greenways funds to rehire them. I’m not sure if this was illegal, and I certainly can’t prove it happened as blatantly as I describe, but the committee was alarmed that the $250,000 or-so was deftly yanked away from us, without consultation, as a done deal. Likewise with funds used to repair the pools at Arne Hanne Aquatic Center – “Oh, by the way, you have less money now” is not how Greenways is supposed to operate, at least not back then, in Greenways III days, when we hadn’t yet voted to include a Maintenance fund.

Citizen oversight of Greenways is baked into the taxing authority of the Levy. The volunteer committee is mandated to serve this role. We failed, in those cases and in others, to protest or push back. We rolled around agitated, mildly flatulent with the discomfort of it all, but we never cried foul loudly enough to stop the occasional abuses.

Our obsequiousness was pressed hardest when, out of nowhere, the former Parks Director, James King, asked us to effectively dissolve the committee. The request was janky and subversive from the start, an obvious coup detat ordered by Linville, so we said ... “Wow, yeah, ummm, we’ll definitely think about that.” King, rather bizarrely, took that as a ‘straw vote’ and turdballed the crapulous idea straight up the foodchain to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB). When he came back to us a month later, King informed us that a handful of our membership – citizens appointed by the mayor and approved by City Council – would hereby be allowed the privilege to sit in with PRAB. The remains of the GAC would just go home, thanks, and be gone.

If this scheme had succeeded, then the entirety of Greenways’ mission would, in theory, be little more than a bullet point snuggled amongst lengthy agenda lists to mow lawns, fix benches, or otherwise fiddlefart around with the minutia of running a Parks program. Greenways would become a footnote, an asterix lost in bureaucratic mush. It would be far easier to kill it, molest funds, or lose out on critically important property purchasing opportunities.

King retired, or otherwise bolted from Bellingham, and Leslie Bryson took over as Parks Director.

About six months later, she, too, proffered the sudden idea of dissolving the GAC and stirring bits of it into PRAB. We said no this time, and without hesitation.

That two Parks Directors would, independently, wake up one morning and attempt to gut a Levy- approved citizen oversight committee is a bit beyond the realm of coincidence: Linville, clearly, had directed the directors.

Strategic Greenways
Strategic Greenways

Failing to destroy the Levy outright, the mayor has consistently opted to starve it and make it ridiculous: To my knowledge, only one property has been allowed to be purchased since her election in late 2011 (the 22-acre Cordata Park parcel picked up in March of 2015.) The recently vaunted and rightfully celebrated recreational easement on Galbraith Mountain earlier this year doesn’t really count: That money was always reserved for that purpose, dedicated for that eventual goal, and it was carved out of Greenways III funds, years ago, for that one targeted community asset. Most of the due diligence for Galbraith had been done and the core logistics figured by the biking community, logging company, City staff and lawyers. This mayor should get only passing credit, therefore, and mostly just for allowing the deal to happen at all.

I’m going to make note of one more bit of provable disdain this mayor has shown for Greenways. Among my list of gripes and grievances, this example stands out for pissing me off well after-the-fact and, likely, it is why I’ve now bothered to submit this sprawling, turgid mass of dreck.

When the Greenways Program Coordinator, Tim Wahl, retired two years ago he diligently telegraphed his intentions and timing to do so far, far in advance. As the living braintrust of decades of Levies—nearly 30 years of strategic plans, GAC meetings, parcel reviews and data points stored through his accumulated experience and expertise—Wahl might have hoped for a seamless continuation of his work and the legacy of Greenways around here.

Instead, for more than a goddamn year, the mayor did not hire anybody whatsoever to fill Wahl’s shoes. Nicole Oliver, with the Parks Department, stepped in occasionally, as did director Bryson, to lead GAC meetings. But it was mostly a solid year of wasted time, volunteers doing the now formulaic ritual of pushing maps and papers around on the table with no real prospect at all of buying property even entertained. There were no phone calls made to pursue trail connections, no due diligence done to investigate properties of interest; We were being slow-walked to the morgue and nothing of any remote significance was added to the Greenways program history.

Meanwhile, of course, property values skyrocketed and opportunities—for future trails, parks or open space—disappeared beneath asphalt and duplexes.

The grotesque lack of urgency implied by this wasted year, to me, is the biggest middle finger the mayor has so far waved in the GAC’s face; just starve, you idiots, or leave broken and soulless; either way, we are here to watch you wither into dust, despair, and morbid futility. If the committee’s roster looks shattered and empty today, this is the reason why.

We are Beyond Greenwaysnow

Wahl’s eventual replacement, Janice Biletnikoff, seems totally capable and qualified for the role. It is interesting, however, that “Greenways” appears nowhere in her job title and, in the description offered on the City’s job application for her role, the word was almost non-existent. This is odd, I think, considering she is supposedly the one person in charge of helping the GAC to find, and purchase, roughly $11 million in future properties as defined by Greenways IV’s voter-approved language.

“She does SOOO much more than just Greenways,” director Bryson has said in describing Biletnikoff’s various duties.

That’s great. But, as a taxpayer and as an advocate, I want to know that Biletnikoff is doing Greenways, first, and not wasting her days fixing divots in astroturf ballfields while property acquisitions rot forever, and ever, on the priority backburner. Is that a lot to ask? “Please spend that $11 million devoted for property purchases—which we voted for and gave you— pretty please?As with her altered job title, I doubt either Bryson or Biletnikoff have any control over the mayor deciding we are beyond Greenways now. They are just along for the ride.

People on the Parks Board, where Linville seems more content to visit, note that she is, even now, fomenting to get a City-wide Municipal Parks District (MPD) lined up to snuff out any option of a future Greenways Levy. That was her goal originally, during the Greenways IV campaign, and she was selling it then as “Greenways Forever” – a permanent funding vehicle for Bellingham’s parks and trails and maintenance needs. Importantly, however, an MPD would end the 100-year vision and narrative thread of a unique Bellingham Greenways program that, unlike a slush fund that can be easily manipulated by a malevolent mayor, requires oversight and dogged determination to stick with the strategic plan goals. (3)

When the mayor came to visit us, as we were formulating the current Levy, she lamented that we were not, instead, supporting her MPD notion. Personally, I don’t think she ever forgave us for disagreeing with her and perpetuating one of the only things in this fractious city that people thunderously agree – or at least by damn-near %70 agree – is just freakishly goddamned awesome about this town.

Is she killing Greenways intentionally, perhaps, just to “prove” that her rejected MPD is now the “only way forward?”

A Strategic Plan for (saving) Greenways

Despite being blacklisted from serving on committees in Bellingham, I still attend GAC meetings occasionally as shmoo citizen. I’m one of the only members of the public who ever bothers to do so. Typically, when I go, I’ll slap the lacquer off the table and ask them politely—but with sphincter-wobbling rage just barely suppressed—why we are not buying properties anymore. “Why?”

Part of an engaged public response, aside from attending those GAC meetings or even joining the committee itself, should also include reminding City Council (now known as “future mayors”) how much we love and miss the program: We’ll need people to step up and dump some adrenaline into the febrile body politic that now quivers over Greenways, pester the purse strings a bit, and agitate for trail connections or pet projects of all stripes. (4)

We’ll also need to elect a mayor who understands the vision of Greenways – the searing existential glory that is “The Map of Green Worms” —if there is hope for future reform. Bryson’s promotion to ParksDirector was brilliant and Biletnikoff can and will do great work if the next mayor lets her; City staff, in my view, isn’t the problem. Getting a new mayor who doesn’t hate the program, one who can caffeinate it after eight years of narcoleptic slumber, will help everything.

In summary, we have five years left to buy green properties in Bellingham. City staff, City Council, and all impending mayors need to be reminded of that. We paid $11 million for it—or roughly a third of the total Levy – and 70% of us have a 100% chance of being pissed off if that money fails to buy us something.

Notes

1) Nothing about the death of Greenways fails to engorge me with angst. I’ve been a good little boy andstayed quiet about it, obviously, but I can mark the exact minute when I finally snapped. It was November 19th, 2018, at minute marker 3:15:20 of City Council’s meeting. This was when the mayor appeared to make a blanket public statement that there will be zero consideration of using Greenways funds to help entice the Bellingham School District to move their 70 diesel goddamn buses off WhatcomCreek. “The fact that (this property) was in the Greenways Levy,” the mayor said, apparently clueless that it STILL is a priority target in the current Greenways Levy, “well, maybe that wasn’t the best place for it to be.” Really? Why the fuck else would you even have a fund for buying properties, mayor, if not EXACTLY for opportunities like this? Why, also, would it somehow be a good idea ten years ago, when the Public Works Department and the York Neighborhood Association AND Greenways attempted to get these assholes to move their buses ... but, magically, it is no longer a good idea today? My head finally exploded from the infusion of too much bullshit from her, from City Council’s equally empty and meandering circle jerk around the issue, and from every disarticulating millionaire employee I’ve pestered at the School District about this screamingly stupid property of theirs; I’ve officially burst open, from too much pressurized putrefaction and decomposition, like a hot, dead, baby orca left to be poked at (and poked at, and poked at) upon an angry and ugly beach.

2) If the mayor ever had a guiding principle behind the request to sell properties, it was never shared with us. In fairness, it is a healthy exercise, in my view, to inventory and look for inefficiency and largess in the parcels the program has acquired – some of them, from a helicopter view, don’t make obvious sense, after all. But every single one of the properties are vetted and scoured for proof that they will, even if decades removed, provide core benefits to our environmental or recreational needs. We identified one land-locked tract we had purchased for a merry song, somewhere in the bleak expanses of the Alderwood neighborhood, that might apply for resale by the City. We blanched, ultimately, even at that; It was about the only thing the program had done for that part of the city – it could, and likely will, prove to be an asset, a park or trail corridor, in some future day. We did as we were asked and looked but said no to surplussing any properties through sales. I think it would be an equally valid exercise, given how this mayor operates, to ask City Council if we may have already sold properties, without the public knowing, that Greenways had purchased.

3) Part of the reason we should continue to admire the audacity of the Greenways program, in my view, is that it sought to connect trails and parks throughout the city equally, without regard to socio-economic metrics. The Parks, Recreation and Open-space Plan, or PRO Plan, shows the donuts of need where parks should, and must, go if we stick with this methodology. It is also just about the only unabashedly “environmental” funding vehicle that we have here to protect places better left un-mangled by development. MPDs aren’t satanic. Many cities have them. But they are far easier to pervert, or corrupt, than the Greenways model we used to have here.

4) The first order of business, in my view, is to get this committee filled with honest Greenways advocates before the mayor floods it with toadies and political shills. (This is “a thing” now, and more so with campaign managers and political groups helping to pre-lubricate their candidates for insertions into power positions. An example could be seen in Pinky Vargas, out of nowhere, walking into the GAC one fine day and announcing herself a member. It doesn’t, ever, work that way. The GAC gets applicationsfrom candidates and they review them, first, then approve them. The mayor then recommends them to City Council, and then, and ONLY then, did people get to join the committee. Most committees in town are like this, of course, but Vargas got the greased skid so she could put it on her resume – “I was on the GAC for three months!” – before running for City Council.) We need frisky fighters, not gladhanders or place-holders, defending this committee’s efforts.

References

  • Mayor Kelli Linville elected November, 2011
  • Park Impact Fund: “Impact Fees collected on new home construction are accumulated in this fund and used to expand the capacity of the city park system; the fund is managed by the Parks and Recreation Department.” Estimated Reserve Ending Balance for fiscal year 2019: $5,297,895
  • Nov. 8, 2016 Greenways IV passes with %69.73 approval by Bellingham voters: provides roughly $32 million over seven years to parks, trails, and open space projects, with about $11 million dedicated to Acquisition of new properties for recreational, environmental, or connectivity purposes. Estimated Ending Reserve Balance for fiscal year 2019: $ 5,523,118
  • Table of land acquired by the Greenways program since 1990 (It is, perhaps, fitting that this table was last updated in 2011 as it effectively marks the end of acquisitions and the start of Mayor Linville’s two terms: 733 acres were acquired over the past 28 years at a cost of $30.6 million dollars. Linville, since 2011, has only allowed addition of a further 22 acres to that tally, as far as I know, and this in the form of one park purchase, Cordata Park, in 2015.) https://www.cob.org/documents/parks/development/greenway-program-land-acquisitions-table.pdf
  • Map of Greenways acquisitions by levy: https://www.cob.org/documents/gis/maps/greenway-levy-purchases-map.pdf
  • “Which of these three is most important to you, if any?” asked the Greenways Levy Study from February, 2006, done by Applied Research Northwest, LLC. “Thirty-nine percent (39%) of voters selected ‘Buying more land’ as the most important use of greenways funds,” according to the survey. “Another 34% selected ‘Renovating and improving’ existing greenways. ‘Developing existing land’ was selected by 20% of voters. The remaining 8% of voters could not decide or did not have a preference.” Full survey: https://www.cob.org/documents/parks/development/2006-02-27-greenway-levy-survey.pdf
  • Other City of Bellingham Greenways information and resources: https://www.cob.org/gov/dept/parks/greenway/Pages/accomplishments.aspx
  • “Four, or Forever” – Cascadia Weekly’s Tim Johnson visited the 2016 MPD vs. Greenways debate: http://www.cascadiaweekly.com/cw/currents/25510

About Alex McLean

Writer • Member since Jan 26, 2013

Alex McLean works in the local trades for a living. He served two 3 year terms on the Bellingham Greenways Advisory Committee, and helped craft the Levies that voters of Bellingham [...]

Comments by Readers

Dick Conoboy

Jan 06, 2019

Alex,

As I read this account of the virtual nullification of the GAC, I am transported to the time 7 years ago when the newly elected mayor convinced the Mayor’s Neighborhood Advisory Commission (of which I was a member) to commit collective sepuku and vote to withdraw itself from  the process of neighborhood plan updates and review of changes to the Comprehensive Plan.  A few of us voted against this ghastly and ill-advised (for the neighborhoods) recommendation, seeing that neighborhoods would no longer be afforded the only real voice they had in the planning process, one that was codified in the BMC.  Little did we know then that this was part and parcel of a move on her part to marginalize neighborhoods and turn the members of MNAC into mayoral mini-mes who would gather monthly to be showered with information from the departments followed by a neighborhood by neighborhood round-table so that members could expound on their good neighborhood nooze, next picnic, the last appearance of the mayor at their board meeting, the latest ice-cream social or tree planting extravagaza.  One member of MNAC, who voted to become part of the castrati, openly and unashamedly confessed to not really  wanting, even as already appointed, to read all that stuff anyway -  that stuff being planning proposals that affect every resident of this city.  The mayor batted not an eye.

Since that time, there have been comments from the mayor and the staff that the neighborhood associations did not really represent the neighborhoods anyhow.  They poo-poo the neighborhood board election process as not really being representative as if the one for our city leader and the council members is a shout-out to democracy.   The mayor also fought hard the council’s efforts to reform the planning commission, a body then full of developers, real estate professionals and other members whose professions support the build, build, build mentality.  This, however, presented no problem for the mayor.  She lost that battle with council who voted in a reform to the organization of the PC limiting the number of members who work in industries allied with development and real estate.

All of what you wrote, Alex, and what I described above in my comments screams CONTROL at all costs. 

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Alex McLean

Jan 06, 2019

Well, yes, she has been consistent.

Her hatred of Greenways expands to pretty much any other committee that she cannot directly control or let wither into dust. On one hand, sure, I can sympathize a bit—we had something like 25 committees gumming up the works and, yes, I can imagine that the messiness of having icky citizens getting an actual voice or meddling with a greased outcome would cause headaches. I know a lot of people on committees and they have slinked away or fled rapidly from the rot and mush that has been dumped on them since Linville took over. I also look at the calendar on the COB Web site and, upon clicking on these meetings, cannot help but notice how often they are cancelled. If she can load up a committee with people eager to do nothing, or eager to do her bidding, then that is fine—there’s a reason she personally interviews people, and a reason she has rejected me three times for committees that I was well-qualified for and, apparently, left the spaces open instead. (I just don’t fit the proper wine-n-cheese metrics, failed a schmooze-ability test, I guess, which leaves me ... with plenty of time to write articles.)

I’ve heard from others that MNAC is worthless now—some version of people complaining about dog poos or benches with a clique of gladhanders invited to choir practice.  And, yes, I was well aware of how stacked the Planning Commission was and made some appropriate noises here and there in protest. I spoke up about Greenways only because nobody else would, not because my opinion was lonely or off base; Everybody in town, it seems, knows how this mayor operates. Transactional politics is her game, writ large, and there will be a legacy of favors dispersed or already cashed in for us to deal with. Her control-freak nature, pretty obviously, has also extended deep into the moral spines of City Council and rarely—almost never since Jack Weiss retired—have we seen anything but obsequious mewling from that elected body. These, presumably, are our next mayors, her mini-me’s fawning at her arm. 

I wrote this because it was really personal to me: I dearly loved Greenways and wanted it to succeed, thrive, and grow. It has done the opposite. This mayor will not change, but we might start talking about it, thinking about it, and figuring out if we can change the next mayor instead.




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Larry Horowitz

Jan 07, 2019

Alex, I am thrilled that you have posted on NWC.  Your unique writing style is a true gift, which I thoroughly enjoy.

Having worked with every Bellingham mayor and most councilmembers since 2005, I am not surprised by how the city has mistreated and mishandled the Greenways Advisory Committee, the Greenways program itself, and OUR Greenways funds.

I believe the real question is:  Has the time come to stop voting to tax ourselves only to provide politicians and their cronies with yet another slush fund.

As you know, funding for the city’s Parks, Recreation & Open Space (PRO) Plan comes primarily from two sources: Park Impact Fees (PIF) and Greenways levies.   A key element of the PRO plan is the Park Level of Service (PLOS).  In theory, if Bellingham’s population did not grow, then the PLOS could be maintained without purchasing any new parkland or developing any new parks.  (Before you jump down my throat, be assured that I’m not recommending that.)

I point this out so that everyone understands that the need to expand the park system in terms of maintaining our levels of service is the result of new development and increased population.   Park system expansion is essentially a cost of growth.

The question is: Who should fund this growth-related cost?  How much of this cost should be subsidized by existing residents?

The current PRO Plan calls for a 35% impact fee, which may have been reduced to 31% (I don’t know and I don’t care to find out).  In other words, those who profit from growth only pay 35% (or less) for the costs associated with new development.  Is that fair?  Or are we being duped?

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Alex McLean

Jan 07, 2019

The great irony of my tirade is that I make note, as others have, that switching to an Municipal Parks District runs the hazard of creating an easily corrupted and/or diverted “slush fund” for mayors and administrations to tamper with. It is ironic because, in essence, I’m protesting here that this mayor is ALREADY doing that to Greenways: seriously, where is she hoarding this money? Where did cash for Acquisitions go? And where is it going to end up—all $11 million of it—if our leadership continues to slow-walk this Levy into oblivion for five years?

As with so much of this mayor’s triangulations and transactional puffery, the thing I keep noticing in regard to environmental causes or Greenways is she is utterly masterful at creating exotic ways to say “No.”

A couple of examples might be found through the Parks Department, likely ordered to do so, attempting to monkeyknuckle the metrics in the PRO Plan that previously had determined where parks should go. I’m not sure if they succeeded, but the spiffy idea they had was they would just magically include Bellingham School District properties as “Parks”—your neighborhood has nothing, no playground or fields? Hey, look, there’s a fenced-off and heavily monitored playground attached right next to that Elementary school! Tell you what, citizen, why don’t you and your 38 year-old stoner pals just saunter over there and play some frisbee, enjoy your “Park,” while the SWAT teams figure out how many times they should taser your genitals for even entering the property. Enjoy!

Another thing we hear repeatedly is that “the developer will take care of it.” This, in the administration’s rosy view, means that we need not bother with providing trails or open space because, magically, some benevolent and inspired developer will sign off on some bullshit plan—never monitored for follow-through or for any clear proof of public benefit—that will obviate the need for staff or Greenways involvement. I can think of two occasions when Greenways members have pointed out the galactic FAILURE of this tactic. One was a keen-eyed newcomer to the GAC who actually bothered to go visit the “easement” that was supposed to connect parcels up in Cordata. Small surprise, it had been made totally impassable and the developer did, indeed, “take care of it” by ensuring that trail would have no chance of linking up. Another example was repeatedly cited by me as I noted that, amongst the spaghetti of sprawling cul de sacs in Cordata, the so-called “trails” these developers were providing were little more than cedar-fenced garbage repositories—they were a ribbon, about 12 feet wide, of backyard fences whereby people merrily lobbed their trash and lawn clippings. Today, if I took you there, this “trail” would be impossible to navigate for the verdant explosion of blackberries and feral trees.*

In these ways, and other tactics, this mayor has unilaterally decided that Greenways is dead—she’s smarter, has better ideas than the ones we used for nearly 30 years, so we best just shut up and marvel at the brilliance of her success as we watch trails peter out into the side of apartment towers and wait forlornly for any molecule of action to use these funds to protect our environment.

I don’t know what the Hell is going on with Park Impact Fees. And I don’t know if an MPD model would solve the problem or make it worse given the type of leadership we can expect to get around here—given the meal-mouthed drool the Council is currently excreting over the Bus Barn issue, I expect nothing  but 20,000 more exotic ways to say “no” to environmental protection or providing open space or trails in our growing city.

In summary, the bulk of the growth is up north. That is where the mayor has put all** of the focus, to the extent that she barely even has any focus or interest to offer—it is North, North, North!!

This might satisfy your observation about distribution and PIFs and the financial impacts being borne where they are raised ... but it has meant the rest of the City, the entirety of the list the Greenways IV committee crafted as priority targets (including the Bus Barn), has been utterly ignored for seven damn years.

*It might be fun to excavate the favors and benefits the City provided to these developers—perhaps waiving PIFs?—for them to etch out a symbolic and worthless bit of space that they decided to call “a trail.”

** As an aside to NWC admins, I just noticed that this web format automatically switches “% 1 0 0” to “0” in text translations ... oddly cruel as a bit of programming voodoo!

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 07, 2019

Alex, I believe the term is Metropolitan Park District (MPD) rather than Municipal Park District.  The MPD will require voters to approve another tax levy similar to Greenways but, as you pointed out, more permanent.

My argument is the same.  Why should we vote to tax ourselves when the growth-related cost of expanding the park system should be borne by those who profit from growth.

In other words, raise the damn park impact fee before asking existing residents to further subsidize the growth we don’t even want.

Can you hear me now?

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Jon Humphrey

Jan 07, 2019

Alex, thanks for the excellent article. I too have experienced the lack of vision this mayor and most of this council have for long-term infastructure planning. Most of this council, and mayor, only seem to be able to view all projects through a lens that starts with some sort of property development scheme. They do not like thinking too hard about anything, and refuse to learn about the long term benfits of comprehensive infrastrucutre development.

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Tip Johnson

Jan 07, 2019

Voters beware! 

Read your ballot measures carefully.  The least thing written often surges to the fore once approved. I recall local scepticism toward the most recent greenways levy when the wording was being crafted to include maintenance, operations and development. Wary citizens rightly wondered where the money would actually go.

We witnessed such mechanics with repeated jail measures, the purposes of which were to fund repair of the jail and “other” law enforcement purposes.  Several jail funding measures were passed by either the council or voters but the jail itself remained the runt of the litter - the money was sure enough spent but the indisputably inhumane conditions in the jail continued to deteriorate.  Ultimately, voters twice rejected a fourth dip at the trough.  While all that squandered dough never improved the jail, it did cause voters to recognize that they’d been fleeced and to categorically reject the County’s mutli-million dollar gambit for a regional detention center.

The danger of taxpayers souring on continued funding of greenw ays is very real.  Regardless of the nuanced wording of the measure, citizens want to see key additions to the greenways network.  Lack of progress fuels discontent and spurs greater scrutiny of the money.  Most will happily tolerate some development and general maintenance, particularly when earmarked for greenways assets.  But when greenways funds are discovered to be hiring park personnel and subsidizing general park operations, it could kill not only one of Bellingham’s proudest programs, but even the chances of Kelli’s metropolitan park district dream.

Voters approve levies for special purposes.  These should be clearly stated and strictly administered.  As vital as it may have seemed to continue such an important program, it may have been better to draw the line, reject the slush funding language and wait for the administration to get back on the right track.  We’d probably be back to making progress by now.

 

 

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Bill McCallum

Jan 07, 2019

 

I have questions about two recent Bellingham City Council votes spending Greenway funds. At the August 20, 2018, meeting the council voted to spend $290,000 in Greenway funds to purchase 24 acres for wetland mitigation. At the September 24, 2018, the council voted to spend $990,000 in Greenway funds to purchase 160 acres for wetland mitigation. Both are becoming Public Works property.

Why is Greenway money being spent for wetland mitigation and why are they becoming Public Works property?

 

 

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Alex McLean

Jan 07, 2019

I was unaware of spending Greenways funds for the mitigation bank. 

I’ve got nothing against the “bank” on its own—it is kind of a cool system and I looked into it when it was first proposed. This is what I generally understood about it:

1) rather than a hodgepodge of developer-oriented mitigation sites, determined by them damaging one place and then finding another place to therefore invest in to restore or protect, the city instead finds the sites en masse—they look at the whole watershed or drainage matrix, find large, targeted areas to secure based on priority, and then offer them for sale to the developer—ergo, a “Bank.”

2) but first they have to buy them, apparently with Greenways funds, then shift control to the Public Works Department

3) then Public Works can “sell” the wetlands, to developers, to recoup the public expense 

I’m happy to be educated by someone who might understand this better, but I think that is the general gist.
 
This is the link to the COB program: https://www.cob.org/services/planning/environmental/pages/mitigation-program.aspx

The question you asked should pose an embarassment to me—here’s evidence, after all, that Greenways funds are doing something useful and valid “for the environment.” And 184 acres is nothing to sneeze at.  

But I guess I’d want to ask where the cash goes once the developer merrily buys his or her rights to pay into the “bank” and cause impacts elsewhere, at their development and project sites: Does THAT money, finally, go toward buying public trails and parks and open space? When is that ... maybe 10, 20 years down the road? Is that kind of strategically when we’ve all long forgotten that the Levy we voted for was used, effectively, as a shell game to tweedle funds out of the Greenways program and into Public Works coffers? Since the City itself occasionally needs to pay for mitigation, aren’t we well and truly entering “slush fund” territory when they, too, buy into this “bank”?

It is like I’ve noted elsewhere: This mayor has unilaterally decided that she has a smarter, better idea than what % 70 of the voters had in 2016. The developers get to use Greenways funds to help them out, make their lives simpler and better. But we likely aren’t going to see any trails or parks out of this sort of voodoo economics wizardry and, very likely, theres no more than 10 people in town who either fully understand the scheme or could honestly describe where the money—paid by taxpayers and presumably for a Greenways Levy—is going to end up or in what ledger.

The mitigation bank is a pretty cool program. But it isn’t what we voted for.

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Alex McLean

Jan 08, 2019

 

Messrs. Horowitz, Humphrey, and Johnson:
Your individual points are interesting and I’d like to give myself permission to try to address them in a seemingly acid-crazed meditation that might, in theory, answer the inquiries suggested. This is going to get weird, even uncomfortable, in a hurry.

To start, I’m operating under the assumption that orcas matter more than humans at this point: Whatever exquisite success we’ve had through “managing growth” of our species, we’ve clearly won the debate and it is now up to us to either save, or destroy, whatever is left of our brilliant little schemes.

In the coming year or so my friends at the Whatcom Housing Alliance are going to float options for growth that will involve maximizing density in every zoning type in Bellingham through iterations of so-called New Urbanism. These are smart people, deeply informed on myriad aspects of growth, building technology, and place-making. I’m not being cloying by calling them friends, at all, since there is no doubt that the science on density – preferably carefully thought-out – can and will spare us from the idiocy of sprawling into the wilderness and wasting our dollars and resources with an archaic, inefficient, model for society: The days when we all live in a cute cozy house, with a yard and porch, needed to be dustbinned decades ago.

But, that said, I’ll likely diverge from them for the simple reason that none of their methodologies will adequately address the environment – the actual living ecosystem – but will only focus on mashing as many duplexes as possible into every nook and cranny of this burg. That isn’t sustainable as a long-term model. Making Bellingham into Jakarta isn’t sexy enough to interest me. For these reasons I have gravitated instead toward the competing philosophy of so-called Landscape Urbanism. This, in contrast to New Urbanism, is a planning and growth model which attempts to put ecosystem functions first, not last, and lets the land itself determine the best places to deploy density.

I fully recognize that Landscape Urbanism is not easy and, perhaps, would even be impossible in America today: This is the sort of bong-ripping EcoTopia stuff that only commie China, or the more Socialist-Democratic parts of Europe, can pull off nowadays – they value lawyers and property rights less there and, perhaps driven by pinched desperation, are proving eager to dump rigorous science and creativity into their planning equations instead.

Honestly, Larry, I have no idea if an MPD is better than the Greenways program – it seems clear to me now that, with a single malignant mayor, either funding vehicle can get sideswiped by chicanery, graft, or unequal distribution. And part of the thing I loved most about Greenways, to answer Mr. Humphry’s suggestion regarding infrastructure and truly long-term planning visions, was that it aimed to connect trails and parks like a cohesive, eternal, string of pearls; it was a City-building endeavor, something to anchor to as a community forever. I suspect that Tip Johnson is correct and, if half of my above assertions are true, the ability of voters to latch onto the lofty goals and vision of a system like this can and will erode quickly once they are abandoned and once citizens realize they’ve been hornswoggled.

But a template of Landscape Urbanism could, in theory, replace and repair all of those frailties while, simultaneously, dodging the worst impulses of New Urbanism and its overriding goal of seeing all of us buzzing around like ants in a glass maze, on our spiffy little E-bikes, with a laptop and latte in our arms. (Visit the multi-billion-dollar lobotomy of South Lake Union, in Seattle’s “Amazonia” district, if you want to understand what New Urbanism looks like.) We would know with some abiding certainty, for example, that trails and off-street transportation routes were going in, and real riparian protections would be established along creeks, and any sector that needed it would have adequate urban gardens, and, wherever possible, habitat and real stormwater functions of natural basins would either be preserved or imitated. We’d have a map, a plan, something worth looking forward to.

I’ve no idea how this lotusland hippie freakshow could get funded, but I do know that we’ve spent $28 million in the Lake Whatcom watershed to just buy properties and never develop them. So, perhaps, that model is a starting point: some targeted geographic zones, maybe a system for Transfer of Development Rights, a gaggle of lawyers, and a community goal to stare at, understand, and stick with.

Compared with our current circumstance, whereby citizens have to savagely bite and claw just to get the damn City and School District leadership to NOT store diesel buses directly atop Whatcom Creek, it seems to me a long-term planning vision is a Hell of a lot more hopeful and bombproof than just praying some neighborhood representative can reach the governor’s Orca Task Force in time to spare us from lasting environmental idiocy and results that have absolutely nothing to do with science and everything to do with the lack of political will.

I understand it is waaaay off topic, but the central idea behind Greenways was to follow a plan based on greenery and consider the imperatives of strategizing for long-term growth. It was, in miniature and simplified form, a Landscape Urbanism model. If you are curious what these competing design paradigms look like, then I  encourage 40 minutes devoted to the following Ted Talks:

https://www.ted.com/talks/james_howard_kunstler_dissects_suburbia?language=en  (*has some naughty words*)

https://www.ted.com/talks/peter_calthorpe_7_principles_for_building_better_cities?language=en

 

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Dianne Foster

Jan 08, 2019

Alex,    any thought of running for mayor?

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 08, 2019

Alex,

I must take exception with your acid-crazed conclusion that “there is no doubt that the science on density – preferably carefully thought-out – can and will spare us from the idiocy of sprawling into the wilderness and wasting our dollars and resources with an archaic, inefficient, model for society.”

That is simply bullshit, and anyone who believes that densifying will actually prevent sprawl (i.e., spare us from it) is simply full of it.

As long as we fail to address the notion that unlimited, perpetual growth is good (or even possible in a finite space), then that unlimited, perpetual growth will quickly outstrip any flawed and inane attempts by your New Urbanist friends to accommodate such growth by simply densifying until Bellingham makes sardine-can-living look spacious.

It simply cannot be done.

Density, at best, can only delay the inevitable sprawl.  At worst, it can create the same antisocial behaviors that John Calhoun observed when he allowed rat populations to grow ad infinitum.

IMHO, it is simply moronic to consider ways of protecting our life-sustaining ecosystem without addressing the infinite-growth-idiocy elephant in the room. 

Certainly, attempting to force people to live in uncomfortably dense living conditions – or believing that a Greenways program, which is no more than a subset of a city’s parks and recreation plan, can make any real impact – is foolish.  In terms of Landscape Urbanism, the real way to address that issue is not through a city’s parks plan but through strict enforcement of the city’s critical areas ordinance.

When you and your friends at the Whatcom Housing Alliance are ready to get serious and address the real underlying cause of ecological devastation, please let me know.  Until then, carry on.

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Alex McLean

Jan 08, 2019

I don’t disagree Larry: one of the videos I posted (above) specifically notes the hazard of “high-density sprawl” — towers marching into the endless horizon. 

But, given that nobody has yet embraced my favored solution to growth — mandatory neutering of all boys over five years old* — I’m going to keep being interested and engaged in housing debates and how Homo sapiens choose to “manage growth”

As to your suggestion regarding the CAO, I guess I’d just observe how screamingly worthless that document is when, according to the letter I received today from our Bellingham Public School District, we’ll be merrily storing 70 diesel buses directly atop a salmon creek forever, with zero penalty or pressure to NOT DO THE EXQUISITELY STUPID THING. 

So, yeah: we can do better. Clearly we have to.

* (@ Dianne: no.)

 

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 08, 2019

Alex, I fully support your passion for housing issues and growth management.  But I oppose anyone who claims that density prevents sprawl.   

The primary advantages of density, as far as I can tell, is that it enables municipalities to save money when providing services, including mass transit and utilities.  But there are many disadvantages as well, including increased crime per capita and the associated costs of incarceration plus the sprawl that results from forcing families to move to the county in order to have a single family home with a yard.

In September 2006, my friend Dan Warner published an article in Cambridge University’s Environmental Practice Journal entitled Post-Growthism: From Smart Growth to Sustainable Development.  (This link is to the abstract, but I’m happy to forward the full article to you in you’re interested.)   In his abstract, Dan writes:

As a planning concept, Smart Growth leads to a dead end. Planners and environmental professionals must help communities work toward a different planning theory predicated on the truth that, at some juncture, growth must stop. Impediments to achieving the necessary steady-state community are political, economic, legal, and ethical. Politically, most people do not want more growth, but growth happens because the pro-development community—buoyed by market forces—lobbies local government for pro-growth policies and because the pro-growth community often misrepresents the consequences of low or no growth. Economically, communities must move toward an economy of “relocalization” that promotes prosperity with growth. Legally, there are no insurmountable obstacles to the necessary (and inevitable) development of a steady-state economy that does not grow in quantity. Ethically, we must recognize that preserving a place from over-development is the right thing to do.”

Regarding the Critical Areas Ordinance, the document - though not perfect - is adequate.  What is far from adequate is the city’s enforcement of its own laws.   In other words, it’s not the piece of paper that’s the problem; it’s the people we elect and the people our electeds appoint.  We’d need a community of least 200 people with the passion of Wendy Harris to bring the CAO to life.   Good luck with that.  But expecting a piddly Greenways program and Greenways Advisory Committee to manifest your dream of Landscape Urbanism is simply not realistic.

Yes, we can do better.  And yes, we have to.  But we don’t need to reinvent the wheel or cry about what a mayor does or doesn’t do with the park plan.  People like Dan Warner and the folks at the Center for the Advancement of the Steady State Economy (CASSE) have been showing us the way for many years.  

For me, the choice between following your friends at the Whatcom Housing Alliance vs. the CASSE professionals and Dan Warner is a no-brainer.

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Alex McLean

Jan 09, 2019

Larry, your pal Dan Warner states: “at some juncture, growth must stop.” Clearly it must. I don’t disagree.

But, aside from mandatory sterilization of boys or violating the Free Movement of Citizens clause of the Constitution—which would require walling off the city and shooting trespassers on sight—I don’t know how we “stop” growth. It is, in fact, not going to be stopped. So, therefore, I try to keep an open mind and embrace whatever decent ideas might be out there to reduce the damage; The Critical Areas Ordinance and Greenways program were good ideas, especially for me and considering my environmental bias. But, as you noted, they are going ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE without political leadership. If Warner’s central gripe is that density causes crime and morbid grief, there’s abundant data to support the idea that access to nature—even just seeing it from your window—goes a long ways to solving that human response (such as self-medicating on heroin) to the urbanite’s inhumane living conditions. I’d also note that Co-housing is used as an example of sanely re-imagining our neighborhood density, right in the pages of CASSE’s Web site, so it may end up that the Whatcom Housing Alliance is peachy for you since they are, as near as I can tell, totally on board with that idea.

I felt like I adequately stated my reasons for prefering a model defined by Landscape Urbanism over the more density-focused New Urbanism philosophy—the planning and design of one has ecosystem functions (and trails, non-motorized routes, wetlands, public gardens, forested open spaces, etc.) baked into it, whereas the other, New Urbanism, has none of that stuff and instead just plugs in feel-good suppositories, like “micro plazas,” benches here and there, skate parks with a few shrubs, and other tepid remedies, into the pschological brutalism of ignoring natural systems by paving over them. 

This is an awfully long ways from a topic thread that, in theory, is about how our mayor has eviscerated this community’s vision of a Greenways program. But, to me, it is tightly relevant: She’s forced us to ask, “What replaces this thing, which we dearly loved and believed in, now that it has been summarily dragged into an alley and murdered?”  

In the absence of what I was claiming was a small toe-hold towards a Landscape Urbanism ideal—a dainty program that ambitiously sought to purchase and connect green spaces within our city—what is going to be our long-term plan to continue this type of effort?

There are two things I can report over the last 24 hours that might indicate we have no such plan, not anymore.

1) Parks Director Leslie Bryson, at this morning’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board meeting, suggested that the agenda for next month will include talking with them about shifting to a Municipal Parks District. Depending on how that is sculpted, this move could permanently neuter any funding for purchasing properties—a core concept of Greenways—and, in any case, it would put the decisions more firmly into the mushy hands of electeds who may never, ever, have a visionary or environmental thought in their brains.

2) After the York Neighborhood’s special meeting on the “Bus Barn” last night I came away with mixed thoughts: Attendance was good. Bellingham has a lot of engaged citizens who still care about growth, environmental issues, orcas, salmon, housing issues, or just the idiocy of storing 70 goddamn diesel buses directly atop our city’s most famous creek. But, despite that hopeful sign, there’s little doubt in my mind that there is almost no political will—no impulse to offer Greenways funds or to rigorously enforce the Critical Areas Ordinance—in this case and, presumably, many, many others in our future. 

I really did like the hopefulness and psychological assurances implied by feeling like this city had some “Green Plan,” some strategy we could stare at and move towards instead, for example, of just hoping that a gaggle of pissed-off citizens chaining themselves to the School District’s fences might, possibly, hopefully, make a difference.

I’m unclear why, if you are indeed implying as much, I should be embarassed by the sadness I feel now or, for that matter, why I should just embrace some dude’s 13 year-old White Paper theory that “growth must be stopped!” as gospel to ease my frustration. Put another way, implementing and sticking with “The Greenways Program” was as much of an infrastructure and long-term planning vision as “Urban Village Infill” design strategies are: Both ideas mattered: Both implied we cared about urban design and, yes, our future long-term survival. Now that one has been pole-axed—the “Green Plan” bit that I cared about—I just want to understand, or at least ponder, what might replace it. That’s not about growth, per se, so much as it is about design. It barely matters, in fact, if nobody moves here at all. This is just the sort of stuff we SHOULD be thinking about in an American urban area, in 2019, while in the teeth of the 6th extinction.

I’ve already endorsed castration of little boys, several times now, as a remedy to human growth. And I nearly wept in public last night trying to utter the sentence; “Two more orcas will die, and likely before the month is out.” So, please, don’t paint me into a corner as being an advocate for anything whatsoever except for solid, sensible, long-term urban design, and preferably any such thing with a heavy emphasis on the environment at its core.

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 09, 2019

Alex,

There are many issues at play here, but I believe we can focus on just a few:

1) Abuse of public funds by elected officials and their appointees;

2) The need to protect the environment and critical areas;

3) Urban planning and design; and

4) Funding of growth-related costs.

1) Abuse of funds: Your article provides evidence that the public Greenways funds that we voluntary taxed ourselves to provide are being used for purposes contrary to what we voted for. I agree.  It’s a big deal and is likely the tip of the iceberg in terms of abuse.  What shall we do about that?

2) Protection of the environment and critical areas: It has been my experience that environmental groups focus almost exclusively on protecting rural areas from sprawl and have resigned themselves to the fact that any land within a city’s incorporated boundaries is open for development regardless of the land’s ecological or environmental value.  Futurewise is a perfect example of this, something I experienced firsthand when we asked for their help to preserve the environmentally sensitive and ecologically significant Chuckanut Ridge (aka Hundred Acre Wood).  

Whatcom County has established a detailed methodology for determining land capacity available for development within the county and each of its cities.  This methodology specifically states “subtract all the critical areas and other lands with reduced development potential from the inventory of vacant, partially-used, and under-utilized parcels.”  Additionally, planners are instructed to “Integrate local jurisdiction critical area data with County base data.”   If our elected officials and their appointees actually upheld the laws, we would not be in the environmental bind we find ourselves in.  What shall we do about that?

3) Urban planning and design: Your call for the “mandatory sterilization of boys” and the claim we would need to wall off the city is entirely off base.  Population growth is not simply a function of births and people moving here.  There are also deaths and people who simply move away.  The idealistic steady state is not dependent on no births or preventing people from moving here.  We are already exceedingly close to a steady state in terms of net births and deaths.  And, given all the problems you and Wendy Harris write about, it doesn’t require much imagination to believe that the number of people leaving may equal the number moving in.  This is already happening in dozens of developed countries, including Russia and Japan.  China now fears the population decline that will begin after its peak in just 10 years.

4) Funding of growth-related costs:  As I see it, an essential question for those who already live here and pay property taxes is:   Why are we using tax dollars paid in by existing residents who don’t want any more growth to subsidize the profits of those who make a living from growth?    What shall we do about that?

It has been my experience that people focus way too much on the effects and not enough on the causes.  I have read that “One of the differences between dogs and cats is that cats focus on effects but dogs focus on causes. If you toss a pebble at a cat, it will look at the pebble. If you toss it at a dog, it will look at you.” 

I love both dogs and cats, but in terms of dealing with these issues, we need to be more like dogs.  The cause of ecological and environmental destruction is the overshooting of our planetary limits to growth.  Until we deal with this cause, we’ll continue to look at the pebble.   We need to start looking at why we are exceeding these limits when we all know we are destroying our planet’s life-sustaining abilities.  Are we that dumb?  Or have we simply failed to ask the right questions? 

Alex,  I really appreciate where you are coming from, and I especially enjoy the art form of your exquisite writing.  I hope to read much more of it on NWC.  

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 09, 2019

Alex, I have no expectation you’ll respond to my previous comment (and there is no real need to), but I wanted to address your observations about the Greenways program.

As you know, the community’s visions, goals, and objectives for parks, recreation, and open space (including the actual greenways) are documented in the city’s 2016 comprehensive plan under the chapter labeled Parks, Recreation and Open Space Plan.  This PRO plan, a chapter of the comp plan, incorporates all the wonderful visions of the Greenways Program and cannot be violated without subjecting the city to a legal challenge under the Growth Management Act (GMA). 

In many ways, the Greenways program is simply a funding mechanism to help ensure the goals and objectives of the PRO plan can be paid for.  Linville’s evisceration of the Greenways Advisory Committee (GAC) has no impact on the requirement to adhere to the comp plan, especially since the GAC is (was?) simply an advisory committee with no decision-making authority.

That’s not to condone the abuse of public funds, but the plan itself is still intact, as is the requirement to not deviate from it without a comp plan amendment.  It is not impossible to challenge the city should they violate the GMA, as I did in 2006 along with three friends from Whatcom County.

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Tim Paxton

Jan 10, 2019

Looting Greenways Funds?  Selling Greenways properties?    Where is the Council and all those Mayoral hopefuls on this issue?   They should be busy disclosing  the scam and clawing back all those stolen Greenway funds instead of quietly approving these scams.

I think Bill McCallum  has spotted the final insult.   Apparently the City Council maoyral hopefuls  (April, Michael, Pinky, Dan)  are showing their true colors (to be disqualified).    Spending Greenways money to subsidize developer’s wetlands costs is an outrage.   

Any one on the Council ready to put an emergency halt to this disgusting practice and refund our Greenways taxes?     Silence is their consent.  Voting confirms it.  

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Tim Paxton

Jan 11, 2019

If you look at the City of Bellingham CAFR report for 2017 on page 209, it reports that Greenways added a net of ZERO acres for both 2016 and 2017 and only One acre in 2015.

With $5 million per year coming in for Greenways IV, tax payers likely expect an answer on why this Council and Mayor made $15 million in the last 3 years disappear for one acre? 

Lake Whatcom however, got two land purchases.   So where is the Reservoir Acquisition Fund going these days? 

 

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Michael Lilliquist

Jan 12, 2019

To Bill, regarding the land purchases for the mitigation bank.  It takes some explaining, and I was initially concerned, too. But there is an explanation. The way it worked out is that, for complicated reasons, the purchase was made with Greenways funds, and then there was a swap and re-imbursement. I foregt the specific reasons why it had to be done that way, but in the end Greenways did not pay for the mitigation bank.  Public works and other funds did.

With regard to the more general issue, there was a recent event during the 2019-20 budget approval process that bothered me. I managed to barely get enough votes to reverse some of the harm, but what upset me most was that several of my fellow council members did not seem to understand the issue. The Greenways promise was threatened, and they did not see the threat.  (I’ve posted about this elsewhere.)

Background: During the discussions leading up to the most recent Greenways ballot measure, it was pointed out that the City was falling behind in developing and maintaining its Greenways acquisitions. To adress this shortfall, the new levy included a greater percentage of Greenways revenue directed to development and to repairs and maintenance.  At the mayor’s urging, there was no “bright line” distinguishing between properties acquired by Greenways and those purchased with other funds or donated. Many projects draw from multiple sources, or connect non-Greenways and Greenways properties. It’s a system. The understanding was that the maintenance componenet of Greenways could be used for all parts of the parks and trail system. But its justification was that we had expanded the system through Greenways, and so Greenways would help to maintain that enhanced system. That meant a couple hundred thousand dollars per year for both personnel and materials. 

Other piece of background information: The pedestrian bridge from the upper part of Boulevard Park to the lower part, spanning the railroad tracks, experienced a structural failure about two years ago. It has been closed ever since, and engineering analysis showed the repair/replacment would be very expensive.  More than that, it turns out that the City has no legal right to that crossing over the rail line. The public easement is 100 feet further north, where the South Bay Trails crosses.  BNSF will not give permmission for the pedestrian overpass to be rebuilt. It has to be removed before it falls down.  Importantly, the pedestrian overpass also carries the water service lines to all of lower Boulevard Park.  So that means the water service lines must also be removed, and new service lines put in place from somewhere else. The solution is to run new service lines down Bayview Dr. and under the train tracks, where the City has a second valid easement. This utility project is projected to cost a whopping $3.5 million, when you add it all up.

Fast forward to November, when the City Council began reviewing the mayor’s budget. I noticed that the $3.5 million was budgeted to use $2.5 million of Greenways “maintenance” funds. The other $1 million would be from Real Estate Excise Tax (REET) funds.  Under state law, REET can be used for the development, maintenance, renovation, or replacement of any publicly-owned facility or infrastructure—and this specifically includes parks.  I immediatley objected to using so much of Greenways for this project. It would draw down the maintenance portion to a shadow of itself, and preclude other maintenance activities throughout the rest of the system. The administration replied that the utility project served a public park, and it was a repair/maintenance project, so it was appropriate use of Greenways funds. Some council members agreed. I did not.

I further pointed out that the REET fund had a healthy balance (around $11 million). Although $8 million in projects was budgeted to be drawn from REET over the biennium, the REET fund would also be replenished with an estimated $7 million in new revenue over that same time period. The REET fund could afford to pay more, unlike the Greenways Fund.

Ultimately, I put my objections in writing and submitted a formal budget amendment proposal. I lobbied to shift most of the burden to REET, but I found it difficult to pick up council support. In the end, three other council members (Knutson, Bornemann, Stone) joined me to shift $1 million of the expense into the REET account, and save Greenways maintenance budget $1 million. I would have like to shift more, but I didn’t seem to have the support.

Please forgiove me for the long story, but I think it illustrates the way in which the administration views Greenways as subordinate to the Parks in general, so much so that Greenways is “raided” or managed in a way that puts the Greenways vision in the background. This is in line with the mayor’s preference for a Metropolitan Park District levy instead of the Greenways levy. She wants to fund “parks,” and she appears to see “Greenways” as a hindrance or barrier to an integrated system. Personally, I disagree, as I said back when the council voted to put Greenways on the ballot rather than the MPD. (I have other problems with the MPD, but that’s another story.)

Fee free to contact me at mlilliquist at cob dot org about this.

https://meetings.cob.org/Documents/DownloadFile/Attachment - ATTACHMENT 1 - AB_ 22082.pdf?documentType=1&meetingId=1788&itemId=7020&publishId=9193&isSection=False&isAttachment=True

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Alex McLean

Jan 13, 2019

I really appreciate the dialogue and additions people have contributed here—it gives me some faith that people do, indeed, care about the Greenways program in this community. At a minimum, it seems that we need to press our electeds to explain what is actually going on with the Levy that we voted for; I cannot do that on my own; One obnoxious hairball having a tantrum every month or two is not enough to bother this mayor; I know because I’ve tried.

I’ve been sick the last couple of days, sweating from body parts that have never been moist before, and have not kept up. If I fail to respond here in the future, I think the summary comment I’d make comes from the Levy itself:

▪ 42 percent for park development, trail building and restoration —$13.44 million

▪ 33 percent to buy land for parks, trails and connections between the two—$10.56  million

▪ 25 percent for maintenance and operations for Greenways and other city-owned park land—$8 million

Like many people, and as was true with the polling and informal inventories we did while crafting this levy, I personally don’t care much about maintenance or development. People in this city wanted to know that we were going to connect trails and buy open spaces and future parks. Most people only cared about acquisitions, buying land.

Having seen nothing that refutes my claim that this is not happening, I’ll hope people pester this administration in whatever way they prefer to ask where this money is going and what, if anything, the public can expect to see purchased before this Levy expires ... or before the mayor mashes these acquisition funds into an MPD.

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Alex McLean

Jan 17, 2019

I’ve had some time to confirm much of what others have added to this thread. 

Councilmember Lilliquist, who notes he has made official rebuttals in the past in defense of the proper use of Greenways funds, has also ensured that his above comments are part of the official public record by sending them to me via e-mail.  I greatly appreciate that he did this since, very often, there seems to be no way to point backwards at problems such as this one and declare, “We knew this was happening” while awaiting the next logical step of “... and this is what we did to fix it.”

My response to his e-mail follows:

Thank you, Michael, for your thoughtful response and for adding some detail to my original article and its implications.
 
I think, if anything, the situation is far worse than I had reported. There are a few things that I’m looking into, which you likely are aware of, that indicate not only a refusal to purchase properties but also active thwarting of efforts by the GAC to even get due diligence done—investigation of even the prospect of purchasing properties, it seems, is getting shut down by staff. They are claiming they are either too busy or it is not their jobs.
 
To my knowledge there are no mandates that allow the mayor, unilaterally and without consent from voters or the Council or the GAC or PRAB, to set down an iron edict that declares the City of Bellingham will REFUSE to purchase properties anywhere but in the North part of town. That appears to be her one, lone, direction to staff in regard to Greenways. It flatly subverts the intention of the Levy and the guidance or value of having a Strategic Plan. We are, right now, losing opportunities to connect trails in vital corridors that have taken decades to build because of this bureaucratic and philosophical blockade the mayor has imposed.
 
I’m also doing research to understand why, suddenly, the work of the GAC is totally subservient to the PRAB committee—My memory was that the GREENWAYS ADVISORY COMMITTEE was the oversight and guidance body for the Levy: We found properties, investigated them, and then told PRAB about progress and updates as they came. The mayor and her staff seem to have flipped this by making it mandatory that PRAB is involved with every single step of the process—The GAC cannot even recommend investigation of a property now without first going through the time-wasting and unwarranted process of milking a whole separate committee? OBVIOUSLY, this will create missed opportunities and infuse the process with months of unwarranted headaches and more opportunities for meddling by staff: Purchasing properties needs to be made nimble and efficient in order to secure vital opportunities to link trails, and the relentless efforts of this mayor to cram the work of the GAC under the wing of her favored committee, PRAB, is one more bit of evidence that she loathes the prospect of giving a single hot-damn about the intent of this voter-approved Levy.
 
I hope some grown-ups in the room will hold her to account for thwarting the vision of this vital program and for throwing the will of p of the voters into the dumpster.
 
Cheers,
Alex McLean
1/17/19
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