The Hoag's Pond Referendum

What's all the fuss about?

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.

In a nutshell, the City Council goofed in a property deal with a city employee. We, the citizens, voters and taxpayers of Bellingham, wanta chance to undo the mistake. A fair and square deal requires both a happy buyer and a happy seller. The deal so far has not been a good deal 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 matter would be placed before the voters at the next election. Once the petition is filed, the Council's error in passing Ordinance 10910 is frozen until the election. Everyone will get an opportunity to consider the facts and decide if the Council acted wisely.

The referendum is a basic part of the legislative process. The citizens have the power and authority to propose new city ordinances by initiative and to pass final judgment on Council actions by the referendum. These powers guarantee that Council members uphold their duty as representatives of the people and not serve special interests. The power of referendum is the final step in all city ordinances. It is our guarantee of good government. We do notsurrender this power to anyone, not the Council, the Mayor, or City employees.

Here is a chronology of Hoag's Pond events.

1920s -- The City of Bellingham acquires a piece of abandoned property near Hoag's pond through a tax foreclosure. This property is enclosed 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 use the pond for swimming in the summer and skating in the winter.

1970s -- Jack Choat, an employee of the Bellingham Public Works department, buys the Hoag property. Choat begins restricting public access to the pond.

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

January 1997 -- Greenways Advisory Committee hears presentation on "Hoag Lake property exchange." Approved unanimously. Approval implies Greenways 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 owned property for his own. Committee recommends approval of trade subject to a street vacation.

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

July 1997 -- Council introduces new agenda bills on the street vacation ordinance and a resolution declaring the City property surrounded by the Choat property to be surplus. The resolution and ordinance surrender or impair the City's claim to public access and rights of way on Kellog, 26th and Broad streets. Greenways AdvisoryCommittee moves to reconsider the property swap. Some committee members walk the property with Choat to see the property for themselves.

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

October 1997 -- A real estate appraisal for the City values the entire 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 to pay for trails, parks and open space. After the election, Choat's property is chosen for possible acquisition by the Beyond GreenwaysCommittee -- a different committee than the Greenways Advisory Committee.

December 1, 1997 -- City Council gives the street vacation ordinance 10910 first and second readings. City Planning Director Patricia Decker suggests postponing the decision so that new information can be evaluated and considered. The ordinance passes4-3.

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

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

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

December 21, 1997 -- Herald editorial urges Council members 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 is scheduled during the middle of a working day, but 40 citizens show up hoping to testify. Council President Pat Rowe rules that public testimony on the facts would be inappropriate and states that "no new information" has emerged which would justify such testimony. Council woman Louise Bjornson moves to table the matter for a public hearing, but her motion dies for a lack of a second. The Council votes 6-1 to override the Mayor's veto, with Bjornson the sole dissenter. Citizen Tip Johnson publicly pledges to lead a referendum campaign to allow the public to consider all the facts.

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Home Contents Info Correspondents ©1998