Who’s Running Your Neighborhood Association? And Why Care?

By On
• In Bellingham,

When I moved to Bellingham from a rural community in 2012, I was delighted to learn of the City’s designated neighborhoods and the Mayor’s Neighborhood Advisory Commission (MNAC). I was fortunate to first live in Puget Neighborhood for nearly seven years. The Puget Neighborhood Association was everything I hoped for, even with limits placed on neighborhood associations and MNAC during Mayor Kelli Linville’s administration. I also occasionally attended monthly MNAC meetings and appreciated the apparent commitment of neighborhood associations to the welfare of their respective communities.

In late 2018, I relocated to Lettered Streets Neighborhood and found a stark difference between this and other associations. I assumed the City of Bellingham (COB) had criteria for neighborhood associations to be recognized for MNAC membership, that the associations be accountable to represent established neighborhood residents, businesses, and property owners to receive COB funding and venue support. My assumptions were wrong.

One Leap Forward, Two Steps Back…and a Hole in the Middle

The Bellingham Municipal Code (BMC) established MNAC in 1976 as a citizen-driven commission comprised of neighborhood association representatives for the purpose of communicating “neighborhood interests and concerns to the City administration” (BMC Chapter 2.33). BMC Amendments in 2006 specified the role for MNAC in formulating and contributing to the City’s comprehensive and neighborhood plans (see BMC “History of This Section” ) and mandated MNAC control its own organization and meetings (see BMC “History of This Section”). These provisions for MNAC prevailed until Kelli Linville was elected mayor in 2012. At the outset of her eight-years tenure, Mayor Kelli presided over BMC Amendments that divested MNAC of its authority and abrogated the role of neighborhood associations and MNAC in city governance. She effectively flipped the purpose of MNAC from a citizen-driven to mayor-driven commission, and she assumed control of MNAC meetings contrary to BMC 2.33.030 (see “Restore the Mayor’s Neighborhood Advisory Commission (MNAC) to Its Former Role in Planning”).

Adding to MNAC’s disempowerment these recent years, there was from its inception in 1976 a structural deficiency that has become increasingly consequential to neighborhood welfare. Bellingham provides neighborhood associations formal recognition, funds, administration and venue support for the purpose of MNAC membership. However, the Bellingham Municipal Code does not specify criteria or accountability for neighborhood associations to be recognized for MNAC and receive COB support. The city doesn’t even require neighborhood associations comply with provisions for organizational transparency as specified in the WA Open Public Meetings Act (RCW Ch 42.30).

To be recognized by COB for MNAC membership and city support, a group of citizens need only file with the State as a non-profit neighborhood organization; submit Bylaws to COB for filing purposes only – the Bylaws are not vetted by the City; and nominate someone for the mayor to appoint to MNAC (see Peter Ruffatto, City Attorney (Bellingham), written responses to questions about MNAC dated 12/3/2019 and 12/4/2019 ). The nominee is confirmed at the mayor’s pleasure and forthwith recognized as the neighborhood association representative, whether or not the association represents the collective welfare of the neighborhood, its residents and businesses. This absence of specific criteria and accountability in Bellingham Municipal Code leaves neighborhood associations vulnerable in two ways: power grabs and politicization by citizen special interests; and MNAC appointments aligned with the Mayor’s agenda rather than neighborhood concerns.

The Good News

Though COB doesn’t vet neighborhood associations, nor hold them accountable to represent established residents and neighborhood welfare, most associations nonetheless merit public trust. From all appearances, community service leaders and members in nearly all active neighborhood associations endeavor to elicit and address the concerns of established residents and their collective welfare.

The Puget Neighborhood Association (PNA) demonstrates what neighborhood associations are doing well. PNA actively solicits involvement from the range of demographic groups residing in the neighborhood: parents of school age children in subsidized housing; high-end homeowners along the crest of Puget Hill; seniors in Lakeway Mobile Estates; and owners of neighborhood businesses from pizza shops to funeral services. Generous forenotice is given for Association meetings held at the elementary school and coordinated with the PTA to arrange child care for parents to attend. PNA Board members respond promptly to member questions and requests, and they enthusiastically encourage Board membership that represents neighborhood composition.

In recent years, the PNA Board worked with their constituents to address a range of neighbor-driven concerns: safe pedestrian crossings and vehicular access on major arterials; street flooding from inadequate stormwater drainage; planned construction of high-rise student housing amidst single-family residences; and coordination with non-profit family services. Many MNAC members report similar responsiveness by their associations to neighbor concerns and advocacy for the collective welfare of the neighborhood and residents they represent.

There are also several dormant neighborhood associations not represented on MNAC. These neighborhoods without active associations warrant watchful attention by their residents as they are especially vulnerable to power grabs by special interests. I know of at least two neighborhood associations in recent years appropriated by boards with narrow social and political agendas that neither elicit nor address the concerns of many established residents.

Say It Ain’t So, Joe

My first contact with Lettered Streets Neighborhood Association (LSNA) was the annual meeting when a potluck dinner, board elections, and amending Bylaws were on the agenda. Only a handful of neighbors remained for the business meeting. Elections were completed and revised bylaws adopted without detailed review or discussion. My self-introduction to Board members as a new neighbor was flatly received. Rather than welcoming, I found the meeting atmosphere efficient and vigilant.

During the ensuing months I attended LSNA Board and general meetings that were always sparsely attended even by Board members. My suggestions to the Board for increasing neighbor participation were mostly ignored or dismissed, as were similar offers by other intrepid neighbors who eventually fell silent. Also ignored by the Board were my expressed concerns about public health consequences of intensive infill construction and unhoused people camping in Lettered Streets parks, business properties and residential streets. Lettered Streets Neighborhood hosts Lighthouse Missions and two smaller shelters that together serve several hundred homeless people daily.

While dismissing my public health concerns, board members consistently expressed advocacy at association and MNAC meetings for expanding rights of unhoused people and rent control legislation. I eventually questioned the board’s advocacy for expanding rights of homeless people and renters as matters beyond the purview of a neighborhood association. The chairperson informed me that LSNA Bylaws recognize homeless people and transients as neighbors and association members.

Indeed, proposed changes to the LSNA Bylaws at the 2019 annual meeting were finalized as the current LSNA Bylaws and include the following:

-Enfranchises hundreds of unhoused and transient people served at Lighthouse Missions and smaller shelters for homeless and rehabilitation services in Lettered Streets, and homeless people camping in neighborhood parks and living in their cars parked on residential streets;

-Enfranchises countless people who work but don’t live in Lettered Streets;

-Disenfranchises non-residential landlords and business and property owners;

-Deleted the original statement of association purpose to enhance the “neighborhood character and quality of life for the residents and landowners” (note: Lettered Streets was the earliest established neighborhood in Bellingham);

-Centralized Board control thus making it exceedingly difficult to democratically reform the association.

Sadly, these Bylaws and Board actions have not served community building in Lettered Streets Neighborhood that is in the midst of accelerating development and population growth. Perhaps fortuitous, the LSNA Bylaws are likely invalid; their adoption process did not comply with the established Bylaws. In any case, challenging the current Board and Bylaws on procedural grounds is a Sisyphean task when the City has no criteria or accountability for neighborhood associations to serve the established neighborhood.

Time for an Upgrade

In the midst of momentous growth in Bellingham and accelerating changes at every level of our environment and society, it is time for an upgrade to the codified relationship between Bellingham citizens, neighborhoods and City Hall: an upgrade that recognizes the deep symbiotic relationship between established residents, neighborhoods and our city; that restores an authoritative citizen voice for city policies and planning; that specifies criteria for neighborhood associations to be recognized by COB for material support and MNAC membership; and that requires accountability by recognized associations to demonstrate they are representative of their collective neighborhood.

We can consider the original BMC as amended in 2006 that established and improved MNAC as a basis to restore MNAC’s intended role in planning, citizen voice, and authority over its organization and meetings. While there is no existing COB code for recognition or accountability of neighborhood associations, Vancouver, WA offers a well-developed model for city-neighborhood collaboration. The City of Vancouver, WA Office of Neighborhoods provides criteria, resources, and material support for neighborhood associations to be representative voices of their constituents in city governance.

I encourage you to visit the Vancouver Office of Neighborhoods website, attend your next neighborhood association meeting, and stay tuned for opportunities to join neighbors city-wide to upgrade the Bellingham Municipal Code and expand the role of neighborhood associations in our City governance.

About Karen Steen

Citizen Journalist • Member since Jan 11, 2020

A native of New Orleans, Karen has now lived most of her life in the PNW. She worked for 30+ years as a RN/FNP, mostly in community and public health [...]

Comments by Readers

Geoff Middaugh

Jan 14, 2020

Excellent article and well researched.   I couldn’t agree more.  When active with the South Hill Neighborhood Association for 12 years, every time we’d bring a proposal to the planning commission, we would be chastised because we were “not representative” of the South Hill.  So if we aren’t representative, then who is, and how is that determined  As a member of MNAC, it seemed that the voices that agreed only with the powers that be were “heard”.    Your proposal to retool and give the Neighborhoo asociations a consistent role in planning, citizen voices and authorities is welcome and should be addressed.    Thanks you for your attention, and I hope this council addresses this concern.  

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 14, 2020

Karen, thanks for your article.  And Geoff, thanks for your comments.

The City of Vancouver, WA seems to really understand the “deep symbiotic relationship” between established residents, neighborhoods, and our city.  It’s the people of Bellingham who make Bellingham great.

One of the most interesting aspects of Vancouver’s Office of Neighborhoods is the appointment of Neighborhood Association Liaisons, city managers and supervisors who become responsible for and accountable to their assigned Neighborhood Association.  What a unique and wonderful concept.  It’s as if each neighborhood has their own ombudsman or ombudswoman who understands their needs and helps address issues and solve problems.

Perhaps Mayor Seth and a few councilmembers might consider working together to implement key elements of the Vancouver Office of Neighborhoods model.  How fortunate that there’s no need to reinvent the wheel.

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Jane Bright

Jan 15, 2020

As President of the South Hill Neighborhood Association, I see a great opportunity to revitalize the role of MNAC and tap the remarkable local expertise and volunteer spirit of Bellingham citizens. Communication and problem solving should  be a two way exchange between the governing and the governed and that’s not easy logistically. City Council and Planning Commission meeting comment periods do not allow for dialogue.

One of my goals as President is to provide a venue for that give and take. When setting SHNA meeting agendas, I look for topics of interest to our residents and speakers who can do something about those issues. We are fortunate to have our city councilors,  Michael Lilliquist, now-retired Terry Bornemann and newly elected Lisa Anderson as regular attendees. Having them at the meetings, along with city officials gives many citizens the only opportunity they have for real, substantive conversations about topics, not to mention to get factual information. My other goals is to make those meetings useful to our elected officials and city employees.

We are experiencing growing pains, still recovering from the Great Recession particularly in housing and trying to keep the city liveable.  Mayor Fleetwood has a long history of inclusiveness. I would not be surprised to see him rethink how to make neighborhood associations part of the solutions, rather than treated as outsiders. 

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Dianne Foster

Jan 15, 2020

Wow,   Karen,  you really did your homework!    This gives me hope that something can be done to restore democracy at the local level.   I remember you mentioned once that LSNA meetings are not widely publicized,  and often the meeting time or location would change at the last minute,   which allows a handful of special interests to run the show.    We try as much as possible here in Sehome to place large signs,  and now take the newsletters door to door,  as they do in York.   I  believe it would be helpful to have a retreat to examine bylaws and mission statements that guide our decisions;   we’re working on that.  I"m impressed you actually read the Public Open Meetings Act;   a true wonk.  (not unexpected for a retired intensive care RN….).

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Karen Steen

Jan 15, 2020

To their credit, lawn signs for meeting/event announcements have consistently been deployed by the LSNA Board. Throughout last year, though, short notices and a venue change for the meetings/events occurred regularly.

“To restore democracy at a local level” captures a core hope for me in working to update the COB/NA/MNAC relationship. It’s encouraging for me to hear what Sehome and South Hill NA’s are doing in that regard. Carry on!

Indeed, may be that career clinical nurses are wonky - et tu?!

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Tip Johnson

Jan 20, 2020

Indeed, when our first Comp plan was adopted, neighborhood elements of the plan included the zoning and often specialized, site specific prerequisite conditions.  MNAC was designed to get started with appointments but then be populated from the Neighborhood associations as they propogated and stabilized.  This neighborhood planning model was quite visionary at the time and we can particularly thank Wendy Scherrer and Nick Zaferatos for their leadership.

However, as is often the case, government can tire of representation and publiuc involvement.  MNAC never made the intended transition as the Associations were formed and became functional.  Mark Asmundson and then planning director Jorge Vega stripped zoning and conditions out of the neighborhood elements.  The neighborhood elements of the plan lost their “shalls” and gained a lot of “shoulds”.  This gutting occured somewhat systematically  as 800 pound gorilla conflicts ran afoul of neighborhood objectives, policies, conditions and involvement.  In Happy Valley, it included projects like the failed Albertsons at the I-5 interchange, and proposed expansion of Western’s campus into a 60 acre acquisition zone. 

Other neighborhoods have their own stories, but it distills down to real estate development, infill and the densification that now even Mayor Fleetwood says is an unavoidable imperative.  If that’s true, it is even more reason to reintegrate neighborhoods  into planning, and zoning.  For forty years, neighbors have been promised that living in Bellingham would include maintaining and enhancing neighborhood character and integrity.  New times should not undermine this old promise.  Neighborhoods should have a chance to rise to the challenge and do their part in a way that everyone can accept.

After all, we live here!

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 22, 2020

Tip, another piece of beautiful writing.  I agree with your conclusion that neighborhoods need to be reintegrated into planning and zoning and be given a chance to “rise to the challenge and do their part.”

What specifically do you propose to achieve this lofty goal?

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Tip Johnson

Jan 23, 2020

Ha ha, Larry.  Call me out!

I agree there should be a more uniform framework for n’hood associations.  Zoning should be returned to the n’hood elements of the comp plan.  Associations could ‘proceed’ to establish goals and objectives, including site specific prerequisite conditions.  There would need to be some ‘incentives’ for addressing city-wide policies, needs and goals.  MNAC would represent n’hoods in the comp plan updates. Measures of equity might evolve to quantify who’s carrying water and chopping wood. City services might be thus prioritized. I’m just suggesting that if ‘change’ is inevitable, the initiative commence at the n’hood level, rather than from the top down.

That said, I think zoning is archaic and too clumsy to be of much value for the future.  We could instead develop a matrix of how we want to benefit from development.  Every parcel would have a baseline minimal designation of reasonable use, say a 600ft2 dwelling, or maybe forestry in the watershed.  Development above and beyond might be gained by meeting needs and delivering commmunity benefits, consistent with n’hood plans - and citywide policy.

Policy should emanate from residents who, excuse me, after all, live here.

It’s just a light brush, Larry, but I might have said more if you had crafted your query more keenly!

 

  

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 23, 2020

Tip, sorry that the crafting of my query did not meet your high standards for keenness.

Like you and Karen, I also agree that the framework for neighborhoood associations needs some work, and I fully support adopting regulations similar to those established by Vancouver, WA.  A major problem is the neighborhood associations’ lack of participation, interest, and energy.  I’ve written about apathy on this site several times before; but if neighborhood residents hope to maintain the character they’ve invested in, they surely need to become more involved.  If “they” don’t get involved, they can expect all types of atrocities to be railroaded through by the local growth machine and a willing council.

Another issue I’ve written about too many times is the need to consider our optimal and ultimate size based on our region’s carrying capacity and limits to growth.  In 1972, THE LIMITS TO GROWTH was co-authored by Jorgen Randers.  LIMITS TO GROWTH: The 30-Year Update was published in 2004, and in 2012, Randers published 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years.

In 2052, Randers forecasts that global and US population will peak around 2040.  That timeframe is within our next 20-year comprehensive plan horizon.  Randers backs up his forecast with more than 300 pages of statistical analysis and scientific references.  I think it’s fair to say that there are few, if any, local planners who could develop a more accurate model of the future. 

(FYI: The first paragraph of a recent article reads, “In many Asian countries, concerns about dwindling populations overshadow fears of global overpopulation.”  In another article, the headline reads, “China’s population could peak in 2023...”)

In other words, all this planning for unending, infinite growth will certainly turn out to be an enormous mistake that will burden taxpayers and likely result in municipality bankruptcies.  The pressure to densify, upzone, and expand UGAs may quickly dissipate in short order.  We’d be fools not to consider the end in mind, especially since the end of global and US population growth may be less than two decades away.  In my opinion, the time for growth and development incentives is over.  

We need strong neighborhood associations and a structure within which they can be effective.  More importantly, we need interested, energetic, and active neighbors to ensure Bellingham remains livable and financially viable. 

I sincerely hope Mayor Fleetwood and City Council will adopt Vancouver’s neighborhood association model and consider Randers’ forecasts as they plan Bellingham’s future.

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Tip Johnson

Jan 23, 2020

 Oh, plenty keen, Larry.  I was just poking you.

And I agree with your as usual well formed thinking on the subject.

I keep wondering if we wouldn’t evolve better solutions by focusing first on building community instead of prioritizing development. 

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Larry Horowitz

Jan 23, 2020

Yeah, but where’s the money in that?!

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Karen Steen

Jan 25, 2020

Thanks for your comments that are each and all knowledgeable, pertinent, and wise. Collated, your suggestions offer an outline for Bellingham to discern a way forward and revitalize our city governance to best meet current pressing challenges and those we’ll likely face in coming decades:

  • Restore local democracy from the bottom up, starting with our neighborhood associations (NA’s); actively solicit, include, and support public participation from the outset and as a continuing priority; identify local democracy and resilient community as guiding principles
  • Consider the Vancouver, WA Office of Neighborhoods as a model and reference for Bellingham to develop our own comprehensive program for two-way citizen/municipal governance
  • Develop a uniform framework and objective measures for NA’s to be recognized as representative voices for their neighborhoods: e.g. measures of equity; Board reflective of neighborhood demographics; door-to-door delivery of association newsletters
  • Specify incorporation of local expertise and resources in developing and scaling programs for neighborhood associations and city-wide
  • History of lost authority and atrophy by Bellingham NA’s merits careful analysis, continued vigilance, and regular follow up
  • Reintegrate neighborhoods into city planning and policy decisions
  • Explore an evolved basis for development beyond traditional zoning, e.g. development based on how we want to benefit from development; development guided by meeting needs and delivering community benefits consistent with neighborhood plans and citywide policy
  • Consider regularly updated, publicly sourced long-term population and demographic indicators at local and regional levels for all development and program planning.

This is only a randomly collated list from reader comments here. I smile in anticipation of our possibilities.

In coming weeks, I plan to present this article to our elected city representatives and propose they commence an exploratory committee for next steps. I hope you will actively support this proposal and bring your knowledge and expertise to this initiative.

Thank you for your history of community service and contributions to this discussion.

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Stan Snapp

Jan 28, 2020

No question that when Mayor Kelli took over the running of MNAC, all things that mattered in the role of MNAC and in the way of real input in the planning process changed and not for the better. 

I don’t know if Mayor Seth will form or has formed a citizen advisory group but I hope so. That advisory process could help him get quickly informed about the many issues like this that Mayor Kelli subverted. She supported Public Safety but at the expense of Greenways, Parks and Recreation and other vital city services. Did I mention the Library and Museum? All those budgets suffered greatly under her priority system. I know Mayor Seth to be a Greenways and Parks supporter and I expect he will have his hands full as he resets COB budget priorities. I hope he will see the guidance an dedicated advisory group could provide. 

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Alex McLean

Feb 05, 2020

Without a sane and functional planning department, nothing much matters—we’ll get blight and rapacious development spattered higgly-piggly allover the place. We have zoning and a Neighborhood Plan here in Happy Valley, both voted on and adopted by City Council, but it is a functional absurdity to suggest that eight or 10 people “representing the neighborhood” can fight off or engage with the flood of proposals that waft through the permit department in any given year: Witness Dick Conoboy’s ‘hood and the freakshow they are trying to fend off as “City View” apartments repeatedly tries to snuggle 400 units or so in the middle of their single-family plots. (I went there this weekend, to see what the rumpus was about through some on-site trespassing, and this project will certifiably lobotomize that hillside and be massively disruptive to everyone within a half mile of it—that seems a boilerplate truth, no matter my lacking a masters degree in “planning.”)

I don’t know that there’s ever going to be a sweet spot of participation with neighborhood associations: We talk about increasing our membership all the time: We have a community meal once per month, advertised broadly: We have a website and, sometimes, a newsletter .... but it is still the same eight to 10 people that show up for our Board meetings.

I wasn’t president of HVNA when the D-ADU skirmish began. But, as a board member, it seemed like we had a solid majority—and a ton of local outreach and engagement—that supported us going forward with an effort to create some infill opportunities.

Oddly, however, once we got a full dose of that fight and really fermented in the broader impacts, we now seem to have hit the brakes: The logical “next step,” as chirrupped by density proponents, was to vaporize Single Family zoning and use the infill Toolkit.

“Nope,” said our board, “let’s just plant some damn trees for awhile and let that debate mangle itself somewhere else in town—not our zoo, not our monkeys!”

I’m somewhat comforted to observe that both Rick Sepler, during a recent Planning Commission presentation on multi-family zoning, and the Whatcom Housing Alliance, through one of their invited specialists speaking during Housing Week, seem to keep orbiting around sane ideas and sound methodologies. I say this because, at the end of the day, what their drawings and maps always end up looking like are some iteration of Urban Villages—thoughtfully located density that is near appropriate resources like shopping, parks, transportation hubs, trails, or whatever. And, importantly in the context of Karen’s article or of MNAC generally, these schemes always emphasized a ton of engagement and meetings with neighborhoods and residents that might benefit, or be impacted by, these types of density spurts.

If that is the route we go, then degenerate foolishness like “City View” apartments would never happen. Without solid methodologies and vocabularies defining the planning and design, and without communication with stake holders, nobody at all will be happy around here aside from the developer and whoever sold them their third yacht.

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Karen Steen

Feb 05, 2020

Alex, thank you for speaking to the overarching influence of the city planning department in determining quality of life in our neighborhoods. As you also note, anemic citizen participation in NA’s has weakened what minimal voice we’ve had in city governance. I will add your salient points to my summary of proposals going forward for purposes of public discussion and a future article to address an upgrade in BMC for NA’s and MNAC. Some germane questions:

  • What is the political process for reforming the planning department to prioritize quality of life for residents over development interests?
  • Is NA participation anemic because they have been largely relegated to a passive role by City Hall?
  • Do you think citizen participation will increase if democratic reforms are made to grant authority to NA’s in city governance?
  • Can NA’s be engaged to effectively advocate for an authoritative direct citizen voice in city governance and democratic reforms to the planning department?

I plan to present this article on NA’s during the public comment session at the coming City Council general meeting, Monday, 2/10/20. I will propose the Council and Mayor join to support a citizen/city hall collaboration to upgrade the BMC regarding NA’s and citizen democracy. I hope you and other seasoned neighborhood advocates can attend and speak to reforming the relationship of our neighborhoods and City Hall.

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Larry Horowitz

Feb 05, 2020

I invariably agree with Alex McLean… and for good reason.  Alex makes a lot of sense, and his writing is a joy to read.

I especially agree with Alex’s claim that “it is a functional absurdity to suggest that eight or 10 people ‘representing the neighborhood’ can fight off or engage with the flood of proposals that waft through the permit department in any given year.”  But there are other ways.

Karen, in addition to strengthening the role and influence of neighborhood associations, you might also want to consider:

- The actual powers the Bellingham Charter provides the people of Bellingham: Initiative & Referendum.  For more information see http://bit.ly/Direct_Legislation.

- Working closely with newly elected City Councilmember Lisa Anderson.  I believe Lisa is in a unique position to build a genuine coalition of citizens and councilmembers to preserve Bellingham’s livability. 

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Dianne Foster

Feb 12, 2020

Darn,  just realize I missed last night’s city council meeting.    Karen,  how did that go?     I did attend a lively and well-attended comment session on the tear-down of the Villa and Cascade Motels to be replaced with a high-end apartment building in the Samish Way urban village a couple blocks from my house.    Though I felt there was a conflict of interest in Ali Taysi being both the developer and on Planning Commission,  and who was in charge of the meeting,   it was otherwise informative and engaging.     Many of us from York and Sehome were there,  and agreed that we need to find housing for the soon-to-be evicted tenants.    My complaints about design standards were clarified,   and it’s actually nicer than the renderings would lead us to believe.

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Karen Steen

Feb 12, 2020

Larry & Dianne, thank you for your further comments here. Larry’s resources for direct citizen legislation are much appreciated - reminds me of our Proposition 2 in 2012-13 that was worth at least the lessons learned about citizen democracy. Dianne’s news about neighborhood development hearings is encouraging, if only for apparent public participation

Re: the 2/10 City Council meeting - main presentation was an update on Parks & Rec & Open Spaces, followed by a diverse, interesting public comment session. The meeting content and tone is worth viewing IMO.  My 2” 40’ comment proposing an upgrade to Bellingham’s program of neighborhood associations is at 56:00 in the video:  https://meetings.cob.org/Meetings/ViewMeeting?id=2163&doctype=3.  Seemed to me the Mayor and Council were listening. In conversations with two younger adults following the meeting, I noted a common theme that regards NA’s as both impotent and class biased. How has local democracy become equated with impotence and class bias? Perhaps if we unpack that misbegotten association we’ll discern an effective strategy for local democracy going forward.

As for housing those displaced by “market rate” residential development, I’m reminded of a statement I drafted for Larry about addressing homelessness in a different forum:

  • The unexplored assumption that centralizing shelter and services for homeless people is cost- effective is more convenient than accurate for its proponents, at least in the long run.  Studies in public health and sociology indicate diverse socioeconomic neighborhoods serve long-term community welfare and cost-effectiveness. I expect if we evenly distribute homeless shelters and services to all Bellingham neighborhoods, real solutions would be expedited – and we’d be spared the opportunistic populists who exploit disadvantaged communities for their personal and political ambitions.
  • The cause of our housing crisis locally and nationally is our economic structure, which is arguably the cause of all current public health crises. Unregulated end-stage capitalism is structurally violent, and those who most benefit from it buy themselves protection from the social and environmental consequences of their behavior. Both wealth concentration and homelessness result, and the unhoused are then directed to lowest socioeconomic neighborhoods. This is the only real trickle-down economics I know of.

What’s this got to do with NA’s? Local democracy serves the common good regardless of neighborhood demographics, perhaps especially for less advantaged communities.

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