The Hoag's PondReferendum

What's all the fussabout?

Home Contents Info Correspondents ©1998

The pretty sign below was illegally posted
in the middle of the Broad Street right
of way - when the street was legal public
access to Hoag's Pond.

Ina nutshell, the City Council goofed in a property deal with a cityemployee. We, the citizens, voters and taxpayers of Bellingham, wanta chance to undo the mistake. A fair and square deal requires both ahappy buyer and a happy seller. The deal so far has not been a gooddeal for the City and could get a lot worse.

If you want to have a say in the City's land deal,please sign the referendum petition.

By filing a referendum petition with 1,500 signatures, the matterwould be placed before the voters at the next election. Once thepetition is filed, the Council's error in passing Ordinance 10910 isfrozen until the election. Everyone will get an opportunity toconsider the facts and decide if the Council acted wisely.

The referendum is a basic part of the legislative process. Thecitizens have the power and authority to propose new city ordinancesby initiative and to pass final judgment on Council actions by thereferendum. These powers guarantee that Council members uphold theirduty as representatives of the people and not serve specialinterests. The power of referendum is the final step in all cityordinances. It is our guarantee of good government. We do notsurrender this power to anyone, not the Council, the Mayor, or Cityemployees.

Here is a chronology of Hoag's Pond events.

1920s -- The City of Bellingham acquires a piece of abandonedproperty near Hoag's pond through a tax foreclosure. This property isenclosed within Choat's property. The City property include rights ofway on 26th and Kellogg Streets.

1930s -- Hoag digs a 3.5 acre pond in the City right of way onBroad Street between 25th and 26th. Neighborhood children freely usethe pond for swimming in the summer and skating in the winter.

1970s -- Jack Choat, an employee of the Bellingham Public Worksdepartment, buys the Hoag property. Choat begins restricting publicaccess to the pond.

August 1996 -- Mr. Choat sends a letter to the Bellingham planningdepartment proposing a land swap. In his letter, Choat states "Draftcopies of this proposal have been presented and discussed" with staffin the City Attorney's, Public Works and Parks departments.

January 1997 -- Greenways Advisory Committee hears presentation on"Hoag Lake property exchange." Approved unanimously. Approval impliesGreenways had no future interest in Choat's property.

April 1997 -- Real estate review committee meets to discuss arequest from Choat to trade city property to trade city ownedproperty for his own. Committee recommends approval of trade subjectto a street vacation.

June 1997 -- Draft ordinance doing a land trade for streetvacations is entered on City Council agenda bill for June 16 CityCouncil meeting.

July 1997 -- Council introduces new agenda bills on the streetvacation ordinance and a resolution declaring the City propertysurrounded by the Choat property to be surplus. The resolution andordinance surrender or impair the City's claim to public access andrights of way on Kellog, 26th and Broad streets. Greenways AdvisoryCommittee moves to reconsider the property swap. Some committeemembers walk the property with Choat to see the property forthemselves.

August 28, 1997 -- The Greenways Advisory Committee considers newinformation on the deal and withdraws their approval. The minutes ofthe meeting omit the reasons why the committee found problems withthe deal.

October 1997 -- A real estate appraisal for the City values theentire Choat property at $330,000. According to the BellinghamHerald, the value would be "much higher" if it incorporated the Cityproperty and street vacations.

November 1997 -- Citizens pass the Beyond Greenways tax levy topay for trails, parks and open space. After the election, Choat'sproperty is chosen for possible acquisition by the Beyond GreenwaysCommittee -- a different committee than the Greenways AdvisoryCommittee.

December 1, 1997 -- City Council gives the street vacationordinance 10910 first and second readings. City Planning DirectorPatricia Decker suggests postponing the decision so that newinformation can be evaluated and considered. The ordinance passes4-3.

December 8, 1997 -- City Council does the third and final readingon Ordinance 10910. It passes 6-1, with Councilwoman Louise Bjornsonthe sole opponent.

December 19, 1997 -- Mayor Mark Asmundson vetoes Ordinance 10910,saying that he wants the council to reconsider the deal. City CouncilPresident Pat Rowe immediately schedules a special session to vote onoverriding the veto, allowing lame duck Council members Bruce Ayersand Bob Hall to vote.

December 20, 1997 -- The Bellingham Herald prints itsfirst story on the deal. The major portion of the story is devoted toproponents' support for the ordinance and the land swap.

December 21, 1997 -- Herald editorial urges Councilmembers to "listen to the public."

December 23, 1997 -- City Council holds special session at 11:30a.m. to consider overturning the Mayor's veto. The meeting isscheduled during the middle of a working day, but 40 citizens show uphoping to testify. Council President Pat Rowe rules that publictestimony on the facts would be inappropriate and states that "no newinformation" has emerged which would justify such testimony.Councilwoman Louise Bjornson moves to table the matter for a publichearing, but her motion dies for a lack of a second. The Councilvotes 6-1 to override the Mayor's veto, with Bjornson the soledissenter. Citizen Tip Johnson publicly pledges to lead a referendumcampaign to allow the public to consider all the facts.

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Home Contents Info Correspondents ©1998