Home Contents Info Correspondents ©1999 NWCitizen.com
Tuesday, Feb 2, 1999
Over 70 people attended the public meeting this evening at Fairhaven Middle School - and gave city officials another earful of questions. All the good questions remained unanswered - continuing a 6 month practice by the city. Adam Ward - a new voice - said it best. He suggested - no, he challenged the city to to develop three studies: 1) a study showing the design and cost factors of different fire station solutions; 2) a study showing location response times for the different viable locations for the fire stations; 3) a summary of the site selection process to show how the barracks location was chosen. Everyone in the room seemed to endorse his suggestions - yes, all those on both sides of the issues.
The meeting was chaired by Dave Wolf, the fire department's special project person and the official responsible for selecting the barracks site. The architect of the new station was there to answer questions about the design. Half the questions were hard analytical questions about the site selection. Wolf tried more than once to stop those questions. The citizens were having none of his muzzled democracy.
Four city council members showed up. They know this issue is not going to die. They listened. Hopefully they will now act to bring public process to this mess. The question is: Do we want the cheapest fire station we can get (the present process) or do we want the best location and facility that is reasonably possible for our next 50 years on the South side. We can't have both. The present location is the cheapest but not the best.
Again tonight, the fire department showed how unprepared they are to address the concerns of Happy Valley residents. Most questions went unanswered. People wanted to know what other designs were considered. No answer. How much would putting a second story on the station cost - to save more land for the low rental units? No answer. Why wasn't more of the 15th Street unused right of way used for the station - as has been urged for months? No answer. Wolf suggested the architect might look into that. Wrong, Dave - you and the city council should look into that. How are fire department response times changed by the proposed barracks location? No answer. A fire department official suggested to me after the meeting that there might be a 30 second difference and scoffed at such a small difference.
The meeting ran from 7 pm to 9:30 pm. People drifted away for the last hour. No one seemed to know what the next step might be. Happy Valley residents - those for and against the barracks location - expressed surprise at the lack of depth to answers to questions. We had long explanations from some folks on how a new fire station is needed. Of course everyone of us on the South side want a new fire station. We all agree on that. The issue is the process - and the lack of answers to questions about the choices by the city.
On the soapbox: As if I wasn't above. I did a public disclosure request last August and read all the reports on the search for a new fire station location. If a report is done, it will show the process was random and unsystematic. Low cost was far more important than a best location. One location that former chief Jay conceded was superior to the barracks location was not even studied - the location on 14th behind the Red Apple Market. The confidential recommendation to the city council - made at an executive session that violated state open laws by not being announced - the recommendation made insulting remarks about the barracks and its tenants. This whole process is an insult to us citizens. Our mayor Mark is the one person most responsible for allowing this to happen and to continue. (Hopefully he will have a viable opponent this coming fall when he is up for reelection). He is the one who can changes the process now. Don't expect anything.
In closing, here is one of those insults. One of the "Advantages" that Mr. Wolf listed as a reason for the city council to select the barracks property for the fire station is: "Does not displace any positive neighborhood feature, icon or history"
Wednesday, Dec 16, 1998
Ooops - seems the city made a little mistake. Seems their assuring Barracks residents in writing that the relocation fees were tax free is an error. After days - almost a week - of no answer, the city legal department today is informing residents that they should consult their personal financial advisors. The city doesn't know what taxes might apply. And it seems the city isn't going to research it any further for the soon to be displaced Barracks residents. Any attorneys reading this?
If we get an explanation from the city as to why it ever said the fees were tax free when it apparently hadn't a clue on this, we'll post it. You know, this shows how far removed from reality the city staff is. They apparently make high enough salaries that they unconsciously think everyone has their own personal financial advisor. So they tell the folks in low income housing to consult theirs. Government bureaucrats walk away from their lies, untruths, mistakes and screw ups. Hopefully our City Council representatives will take up this issue directly with the Mayor and city staff.
Sunday, Dec 13
Last summer, when the city decided to move the Barracks residents out, the city assured residents in writing that the relocation payments would be tax free. Now, this past week, the city is not so sure. When asked directly, city attorney Dawn Sturgold said she will have to research the question. The DuBray relocation consultants, hired by the city for $100,000 to get rid of the residents, has suggested that residents consult their "personal financial advisors". Smacks of "let them eat cake" doesn't it.
Another development - Mayor Mark's staff has upped the ante to get rid of the residents - now offering up to $10,000 to some residents if they will go quietly. Yes - to get the $$, they have to sign a form saying they will not sue the city. So - what is the city worried about? Last summer, the top relocation fee was to be about $5,250. Now fees will run from $8,000 to over $10,000 per resident. This puts the cost of relocation up around $230,000 to city taxpayers.
I now have the Skinny from the Every Other Weekly that was mentioned last week. My thanks to Tim Johnson, the editor, for permission to post it here.
Sunday, Dec 5
The Skinny in the current issue of the Every Other Weekly has some wonderful stuff on the Barracks/Fire Station issue. It examines how the Mayor and his city hall staff are violating their promises in their drive to eliminate the Barracks and build a huge fire station. Must reading on this issue. We'll see if we can get permission to post it.
Sunday, November 22, 1998
A brief month ago, we all had hope that the fire station and a modestly reduced Barracks bought and upgraded by the Peoples Land Trust could coexist together. A compromise where all gave a little and all kept what was most important to each of them. Now, all has changed. Seems the needed fire station size has expanded. Seems now the city needs most of the property. Less than half the apartments will remain - and maybe not even that many.
Now the city is forcibly evicting all the tenants - all will be relocated. And the Peoples Land Trust will probably not get the apartments as the city now plans to only sell to an organization that will fall under the tax subsidized low income housing laws. Inch by inch our Mayor has broken his promises. The Herald has ignored the issue. So have the radio stations. I have a lot of catching up to do.
Wed, Oct 21
There was a meeting this afternoon of the Mayor and some of his staff and residents of the Barracks and membes of the Peoples Land Trust (PLT). The Mayor had promised since the Oct 12 Council meeting that the city staff would work with the Barracks residents and the PLT to craft a design for the fire station that would work for all.
Well, at today's meeting, the city staff presented two plans that had been done without any input from citizens. Both plans ignored several common sense ideas that have been put forward in the two public meetings. Both plans do maximum damage to the Barracks. Both plans envision a sort of grand estate fire station. There is little evidence of discipline aimed at designing a utilitarian fire station. The needed size has suddenly increased from 7,500 to 8,500 square feet. No second story will be considered. A mere 10 feet of 15th Street will be utilized - rather than much of the 80 feet that is available. Further, the city is now trying to rush the process and force the PLT to agree to plans before options have been considered.
We urge the Mayor to take control of his staff and fulfill the promises he has made to citizens for the City to cooperate and work with citizens. No steamroller. Let common sense leak into city hall. Just a little. Let's not spoil what could be a win win compromise. And we urge our South Side council representative, Barbara Ryan, to act with energy and strength to pressure the Fire Department to show some common sense.
Wed, Oct 7
The South Side Fire Station. We have learned that the Peoples Land Trust is moving along in its study of the feasibility of purchasing the Barracks property from the city should a different fire station location be selected by the city. We anticipate that the City Council will do something at next Monday evening's meeting - October 12 at 7 pm. There might even be action at a Monday afternoon meeting. We will not be here to alert you to what is afoot. (See paragraph below) We encourage interested citizens to call their City Council representative and ask what is happening. We also encourage interested citizens to attend the Monday evening meeting. The City Council should not rush to a decision on this matter, but should request the Fire Department fully investigate other viable sites and schedule a full public hearing. Three other viable sites are on the table: 14th between McKenzie and Larrabee; the present site; the newly proposed compromise location of a vacated 15th Street and a very few lots of the Barracks property. There is also the suggestion that the best location should be on the South side of Fairhaven Parkway as that is where the growth is located and that is where the majority of responses will directed be within 5 or 10 years. The Council is ready to do a power play and choose the Barracks unless there is strong citizen opposition.
Sun, Oct 4
Friday's KGMI Brett and Debbie show gave a fair treatment to the issues surrounding the Barracks and the location for the new South Side fire station. Brett and Debbie helped bring discussion on the three main issues - how the city's buyout of the Barracks is affecting the residents of the 19 apartments there, the question of where is the best location for the new fire station and the secretive city process that led to the Barracks purchase.
We hear that the Peoples Land Trust is evaluating the Barracks and calculating what would be needed to renovate them. We might expect more information about mid October. The City Council meeting for this Monday, Oct 5, is canceled. There is a meeting of the "committee of the whole" in the afternoon, but there is nothing on the agenda dealing with the Fire Station or the Barracks.
Fri, Oct 2
We have added a Time Line of Events regarding the Barracks purchase - complete with photostats of documents. This is just a beginning. We will add to it as we have time and as we can get copies of relevant documents.
Thur, Oct 1
Friday morning, 8:10 am to 9 am, the Barracks and Fire Station issue will be the topic on KGMI radio's Bret and Debbie show. They will have Barbara Ryan, City Council representative from the South Side, Lisa Moulds, a resident of the Barracks and John Servais a citizen activists who has helped to make this a public issue. Tune in if interested. We'll try to give an objective report of it after. (We'll try to be objective. The report is no problem.)
Wed, Sep 30
KGMI took phone calls this morning on the Barracks issue. First Debbie and Brett manufactured an emotional straw man issue totally unrelated to the main issue. They said a college professor making a nice living was going to rip off the public for over $5,000 in relocation fees that that professor could then use to buy a new car. They worked this around for a few minutes and then took a call. Brian of the Barracks tried to explain how there was no professor at the Barracks and how no one there made any sort of great salary, but Brett and Debbie just kept cutting him off and doing their "ya buts" about how there must be people there making too much to deserve public assistance.
Then Jeff called in outraged. People have to pay taxes for that money. Lisa of the Barracks called to say she is not well off. She pointed out the landlord inherited the Barracks from his mother who wished that the Barracks stay low cost housing. Again D&B interrupted her trying to get her opinion of of wealthy people accepting public assistance.
A third caller from the Barracks - she said she is not participating in the relocation program. She was the supposed professor. She tried to explain that the issue is low cost housing and the people at the Barracks are trying to have a chance to purchase the Barracks and keep low cost housing there. Of course she was cut off in mid sentence.
No mention by Debbie and Brett that many Barracks residents are refusing to accept the $5,000 and are working to purchase the Barracks and keep all residents of the Barracks off public assistance. Just a dogged insistence on their little inflammatory issue.
A prominent KGMI personality complained a couple weeks ago that NWCitizen was giving a bum rap by lumping KGMI in with the Herald with a charge of poor reporting. After this morning's show, it is hard to see how KGMI can claim to be informing citizens on important issues. D&B promised a full show soon on the issue. We'll see if they try to help the public understand the issues or if they just want a sort of Jerry Springer radio talk show.
Tuesday, Sep 29
Our touchy feely Mayor conducted a public meeting this evening at the Fairhaven Middle School on the subject of the new proposed South Side Fire Station. It was a wonderful meeting - attended by well over 100 people - over 4 times as many as attended the August 27 meeting. The problem is the meeting is a year too late. The decisions have been made on the new station. The Mayor complimented everyone for attending and participating in the meeting. He cautioned us, like a wise uncle, that "Democracy is not efficient." He failed to mention that he led the city in doing an end run on any democratic process while selecting the site and buying the property for the new fire station. His method was very efficient. The cheapest and easiest to purchase fire station site has been bought. All in secrecy.
Now comes that other phase of democracy - public criticism and anger. Caused by a violation of due process on the part of the Mayor and City Council. We saw anger tonight. Anger by people in the audience against others in the audience. Neighbor against neighbor. People in the Barracks who were told by the city that they would get thousands of dollars to help them move to different apartments had the rug pulled out from under them by that same city. They felt their neighbors were the cause of their loss. The city of course is the cause of bumbling the entire process and causing people all over the south side to feel anger at their neighbors.
The Mayor has the guile to create this mess but not the guts to stick it out. Instead he puts the entire process on hold and we all sit wondering what will happen next. The Mayor stressed that the City Council has not yet made the formal decision on locating the fire station. He was asked if the City Council will allow citizens to speak at a hearing before the council makes that decision. The Mayor said he wanted "to be real clear about my answer" and then talked on without answering. The question was repeated. The Mayor said that they could at least speak during the 15 minute public comment period at the beginning of each council meeting.
The meeting ran from 7 pm to 9 pm. Many people who wanted to speak could not because time ran out. The Mayor seemed to select people to speak, avoiding some people whose hands were up and down for almost an hour and a half. Many of the citizens in attendance had strongly held views for and against the Barracks site for the fire station. Stories were told pro and con. The meeting ended with the Mayor saying the city would look at some of the sites suggested by citizens. This is the same thing said a month ago.
The site behind the Red Apple has been given lip service, but in 4 weeks, the city staff have done about one afternoon's work. They have not contacted any owners. They have gotten the assessed value reports from the County Assessor's office and totaled them. They have written up a list of pros and cons about the site. At this speed, it will be months of process before any decision can be made. Meanwhile, the Barracks residents will continue in limbo. Southsiders will try to keep from arguing with their neighbors. And the Mayor will wring his hands and explain how he is trying to do his best.
Democracy works. We should try it. The Hoag's Pond fiasco wasn't enough of a lesson for this Mayor and Council. Now we have a botched Fire Station process. Everyone agrees it is a mess. We cannot get out of it without some people being unfairly hurt - emotionally and economically. We citizens should not turn on each other. We should understand that we are all losing. I challenge anyone who came away from this evening's meeting to tell me what the process will be from this point forward. The Mayor still has no plan. Hopefully he will pursue the democratic route next time. Too bad it is always next time.
We will post more information in the following week. We are receptive to other's input. Oh, and stay friends with your neighbor - even if you disagree on politics.
Sunday, Sep 27
The Peoples Land Trust has authorized a committee to look into the prospect of buying the Barracks should the City of Bellingham find another fire station location. This is an expected and hoped for step. The committee of 6 has a $3,000 budget for fees associated with evaluating all the aspects of the 19 low cost apartments. This is _not_ a commitment by the Trust to buy. It is a first official step by the group to investigate the feasibility of buying and preserving this much loved low cost housing complex in Happy Valley.
We want to add a little to the forecast in the Sep 24 post. We have received criticism that we are just doing wild and irresponsible guessing. We had extensive discussions of over two hours with city staff directly involved in the Tuesday night meeting. We got from Dave Wolf the $1.2 million total cost for the location behind the Red Apple. He further explained that this was much more than the costs associated with the Barracks location. We listened to the Fire Chief carefully change his wording in describing which sites might be better than which. He seems to not want to be caught suggesting the Barracks site is not the best. They have not contacted even one owner of the location behind the Red Apple. In discussing the other possible locations, these bureaucrats showed no desire to make any citizen's suggested location become a reality. This is no surprise to us. Bureaucrats must maintain control. A cynical view? No. Just a realistic view. Unless there is immense citizen pressure on the Mayor, he will do as we predict on Tuesday evening.
Thursday, Sep 24
Well, the Mayor and his staff are determined to make a power play on citizen activists and slam through the Barracks location for the new Fire Station. On next Tuesday, Sep. 29, there will be a second public meeting at Fairhaven Middle School at 7 pm. Dave Wolf of the Fire Department will present costs that show all other sites as being too expensive and time consuming. Of course the numbers will be cooked. He will show $1.2 million for the location behind the Red Apple Market. The Mayor will wring his hands in public and explain they did their best. He will brave any criticism from citizens. Then on Monday, Oct. 5, the Council will hold an secret executive session on the issue and then vote in the public meeting to locate the Fire Station at the Barracks location. End of process. They are daring citizen activists to do anything about it.
This is pure power politics without regard for the common good of the community. We saw the Mayor and County Executive Pete Kremen do the same at the public meeting on the Lake Whatcom Watershed plans at last night's meeting. He and Pete stifled public participation. He and his staff did a power play to prevent the public from learning what was happening and then from commenting on it. In your face politics. What will the public do about it?
We have talked to many residents of the South Side. All feel the city process has been a mess. Some want the fire station at the Barracks location because they feel it will improve the neighborhood. Some residents of the Barracks want very much to have the benefit of the relocation funds to better their living conditions. Some residents of the Barracks want he Peoples Land Trust to purchase the Barracks and renovate the complex into attractive low cost housing. Some folks feel the location behind the Red Apple is a much better location for the Fire Station. But all agree that the city has not conducted this process as it has an obligation to do.
What will cause the Mayor and the Council to reconsider their power politics? Only if enough citizens let the Mayor and Council members know that they want the city's business done in a fair and open manner. We want the best location for the Fire Station - not the cheapest or easiest. Power politics does not respect opinion or other's rights. It only respects power. Without knowing the issues, any citizen can ask that the process be done in public. With a meaningful public process, all on the South Side have said they would accept the decision on the Fire Station location.
Let the mayor know. Please.
Sunday, Sep 20, 1998
The Herald had an article today - a supposed objective reporting piece - on the South Side fire station and the Barracks. In a nutshell, the Herald misses the point, builds a straw man and reports factual errors.
Below is a categorical dissection of the Herald article. But first, we want to state what the problem is that is being ignored by the Herald and the city officials.
The problem is the city is not looking for the best location for the new South Side Fire Station. It is looking for the cheapest.
Now, as Captain Krumdiack said in the article; "And sometimes seconds are crucial.". We agree. And the Barracks locations adds many seconds - perhaps 30, 45 or even more - to response times to over half the calls as compared to the present location and the location behind the Red Apple Market. To save $300,000 now, we might lose millions of dollars and maybe lives over the 50 year life of the fire station. This is what is wrong with what city officials are doing. They are short sited. They are not helping create a better community.
Now to the article. Read on if you like detailed analysis.
The article shows how the present fire station needs replacement. Watch for a letter to the editor blaming south siders for opposing a new fire station. The Herald is building a straw man with the replacement of the station being the controversy. This is misleading by the Herald. Everyone on the south side wants a new and larger fire station. No one wants it delayed. However, the city officials have bungled the process of finding the best new location for the fire station.
The article reports the "...officials said they combed the South Side for an appropriate site...". We found in looking through the fire department files that there was no systematic site search. However, it was acknowledged by the mayor and fire chief at the August 27 public meeting that many potential sites were not looked at because they had multiple owners. The city didn't want a site with multiple owners - too many people to deal with.
In the article, the fire chief says the Barracks property is "...an excellent location." Note that the fire chief did not say that the Barracks location is the best location. And that is because there are better sites. The fire chief has told NWCitizen: "The present fire station location is the very best possible location and the location behind the Red Apple Market is just as good." We want the best location.
The article has Dave Wolf saying the block behind the Red Apple is owned by six individuals. Wrong, Dave. It is owned by 5. What is important is not all the properties are needed for the new station. So, where the article further says Wolf estimates the cost at $770,600, we dispute that. Wolf trys hard to make that property sound impossible - "astronomical" in price. We don't expect this block to be as cheap as the Barracks. However, Mr. Wolf is exaggerating and trying to make it sound impossible. This is irresponsible of a public official.
We have also heard this last week that Mr. Wolf has a budget of $600,000 for the property purchase. If true, then this is new information. It seems the city keeps shifting arguments. Nothing was said last month about such a modest limit for property purchase. Why so low? What facts and reasoning went into this $600,000 top limit? We invite "city officials" to provide us that information. Seems that the city is now acknowledging that they have only seriously considered properties that could be bought cheap. Before they were telling us they wee looking for the best location. Which is it? It cannot be both. We call this duplicity on the part of city officials. And we citizens are tired of it.
Lets find the best location for the fire station and spend a little more to purchase it. Let us not cheat the future of our neighborhood by trying to get by with less than we need.
Friday, Sep 11, 1998
The Barracks: Or the South Side Fire Station issue. The city plans to close on the Barracks property today. This is a dramatic rush over the schedule spoken of only last week. The city has until October 29 to close. Why today? We can only speculate that some city officials have no intention of seriously considering other station sites - as they said they would. Several of us have called officials last evening urging this be delayed long enough for the Peoples Land Trust to get a purchase proposal together and for the other viable locations to be evaluated. This is a waste of taxpayer dollars to buy property that might be resold within weeks. This is irresponsible bureaucrats in action. They seem to only move fast when it is against the common good.
Wednesday, Sep 9
Besides the City Council action last evening, the Mayor made an announcement that the city is looking at other locations for the new South Side fire station. The Council, of course, voted to rescind the Hoag's Pond land swap - thus avoiding a vote of Bellingham citizens in the November election to possibly rescind the land trade. The Herald and KGMI each had very one sided and erroneous reporting on the Hoag's Pond vote. Neither gave anything near fair reporting to the citizens - particularly Tip Johnson - who worked to overturn the Hoag's Pond deal.
The Mayor made it official that the city is looking at other locations for the new fire station. He said 9 locations. We know of only one - right behind the Red Apple Market - between 13th, 14th, Larrabee and McKenzie streets. The front door would be on 14th. We can say flatly that this is the best location for the fire station on the South Side. That fact - and not which site is cheapest or easiest to buy - should be the guiding principle of where to put the station. We will continue to post more on this issue.
Saturday, Sep 5
Good news. According to reliable sources on the city staff, the city is seriously looking at locating the new South Side Fire Station in the block bounded by Larrabee, 13th, McKenzie and 14th streets (a 14th Street location) - instead of at the Barracks property. This location was suggested at the Public Meeting on August 27 with the Mayor, Fire Chief and two council representatives. They acknowledged that the 14th Street location had not been considered during the past three year search and that if available, it would be a viable place for the Fire Station - and would thus not displace 19 low income apartments at the Barracks site.
The Fire Chief has told us that "The Present Fire Station on Harris is at the very best location on the South Side and the suggested location - in the adjoining block - is just as good".
Indeed, the 14th Street location provides much faster access to Fairhaven Parkway than does the Barracks location. The Barracks location would add time to responses involving Fairhaven Parkway, Edgemore and Chuckanut areas over both the present location and the suggested 14th Street location. We as a city should be looking for the best location for our new fire station - not just the cheapest and easiest. The Barracks was the cheapest and easiest, but not the best. Over the 20 or 50 or 70 years that the new station will be serving us, we will save lives and property damage far exceeding the short term savings acquired by locating the station in a less than best location.
We at NW Citizen have talked with the owners of all the properties in that 14th Street location and enough are willing to discuss selling to the city to provide more than enough space for the new fire station. The one exception is the Lucia Douglas art gallery - a treasure that most folks on the South Side want to see stay and flourish. The Fire Chief also thinks the fire station can coexist in that block with the gallery.
The city council has to give its normal behind closed doors approval to the Fire Department for doing soil samples and other tests at the 14th Street location. However, we are told that the Fire Department Project Manager will probably start talking to the property owners next week.
We have also learned that the Herald stopped covering this issue after August 18 because the editors figured the Barracks location was a done deal. Guess the thinking was that there would be a little noise from those ex hippies in Fairhaven and then the place would be bulldozed and our city would be rid of another pocket of radicals. My my.
Friday, Sep 4
Relocation for the residents of the Barracks is apparently on hold. The relocation agents left their office last week after the Public Meeting on Thursday evening, and have not returned. Residents are upset because city officials will not give them a straight answer - are they guaranteed relocation or not. In phone calls to city council representatives, NWCitizen has not been able to get a straight answer from any representative we have talked to. They also do not know if the relocation benefits might be taken away.
The city moved relocation agents into the Barracks on August 18 and immediately told all residents they would face forced eviction and offered them relocation assistance. Residents were asked to sign papers related to relocation benefits. Now the uncertainty. This makes it almost impossible for residents to make personal plans, not knowing if they will be evicted in October or allowed to continue living there.
Charades: A note of explanation. We have documentary evidence for all we published yesterday - including the motivations of public officials. We'll post copies here soon. We wonder if this special treatment for the seller is related to the reported city negotiations to buy his waterfront property just south of Boulevard Park - part of a Greenways purchase. After all, they want him to feel good about dealing with the city. Since they paid him almost twice the assessed value for the Barracks property - and kept the process secret from the public - he should have high hopes for the windfall from the old Reid Boiler Works at the foot of Douglas Street.
Thursday, Sep 3
We have something new regarding the Happy Valley Fire Station controversy. Just a short report this morning. (Have to get to work) It appears from our research that the city signed an agreement on June 23 with the owner of the Barracks property, to purchase the property for $500,000. This was the final selling price. The agreement was signed by the owner and the city representative. Yet, the city council had executive meetings in July and August to supposedly negotiate for the purchase of the property. Since the negotiations were finished, these secret meetings appear to have been in violation of the state open meetings law. This secrecy was a charade. We welcome any explanation from city officials - and will print their explanations. Our email address is: email@example.com
From what we have been able to learn, the process was kept secret in July and August solely to prevent the residents of the Barracks from learning of the sale. It also appears that the owner wanted a letter from the city telling him that the city would take his property by eminent domain if he didn't sell. This letter was sent to him on July 24 - a month after the purchase agreement - so the owner could get a Federal IRS tax benefit. The letter was a charade.
It was on Monday, August 17, that the city council announced that the city was purchasing the property. Two months after an agreement had been reached. Indeed, when Barracks residents became suspicious in July and tried to find out from the city what was happening, their questions went unanswered. On August 18 - 9am - the relocation agents moved their office into a vacant Barracks apartment and started asking renters to sign relocation papers. Of course, trauma was common amoung the 20 residents of the apartments. How would you feel in a similar situation?
It might be suggested that final negotiations required a confidential process. Our research shows that there were only two real items requested by the seller: 1) that the transaction be kept secret from the public; 2) that he get the letter saying his property would be subject to eminent domain (The $500,000 is what the owner said he wanted - he had what he wanted in a price).
Who is responsible for this charade? The mayor. And the city council for going along with it. Not one council member had the courage to say: "No, this is not right. We have agreed on a price. We should go public with this process". We do not fault nor criticize the seller. He had the right to request terms. However, the city does not have the right to violate the law and deceive its citizens. We will continue to post more information about this process as we learn more. Where is the Herald?
Sunday, Aug 30
We need to clarify something for you, our readers. NWCitizen does not speak for the residents of the Barracks. The "we" is the editorial we of John Servais, the publisher of NWCitizen. We were reminded of this by several residents of the Barracks who do not agree with some of the opinions posted in previous days here on NWCitizen. The opinions here, whether related to the Barracks, Hoag's Pond, WWU or any other issue, are my personal opinions - except where another person puts their name. Seems some folks thought stuff posted here was speaking for the Barracks residents. Not so. We apologize for any misunderstanding.
What NWCitizen is trying to do is present information and perspective that is lacking from the Bellingham Herald and KGMI radio news. We want to compliment the efforts of the Whatcom Watch and the Every Other Weekly. As a political activist, I have seen the Herald ignore legitimate community stories - and distort other news stories. If the Herald had some competition, it would probably do a better job. We don't kid ourselves that we are offering that competition. But we are trying to provide another source of political information to those who choose to visit our web site. We will strive for a fair and non partisan viewpoint. And we stand for a public and open process. We will keep our day job and post information here as best we can.
NW Citizen is open to articles or opinions from others - when they are directed to helping our fellow citizens understand some public issue. Public Good is certainly an example of that. We encourage people to send their opinions to us for publication. We hope Barracks residents will submit theirs.
The Internet allows an ordinary citizen to reach out to others and share information. We expect more sites like this to spring up over the next year. We will make links to the good ones. We should free ourselves from depending on the Herald for our news - the Herald is just publishing enough news to sell advertising and return an 8% profit to Gannett. We at NW Citizen are trying to do what we can to inform our fellow citizens. And to help open up issues that are being kept secret.
Friday, Aug 28
Some good news to report this morning regarding the Happy Valley Fire Station. At last night's public meeting, the Mayor repeatedly emphasized that the City was "not determined to take out the Barracks" for the new fire station. The city would build at the Barracks site only if "unsuccessful in finding another site that meets criteria". Much of the meeting, attended by about 25 citizens, then consisted in open discussion about other possible sites.
In other words, the city has not gone through a fire station selection process. At this time the city is only committed to buying the Barracks block. It legally has made no decision on what to do with it. Shades of the Levin Building - where city plans fell through and the city later sold the building to private interests.
One possible fire station site suggested by citizens that city officials said they would look at more closely is the city block bounded by McKenzie, 13th, Larrabee and 14th - the block adjacent and to the south of where the fire station presently is located. This site had not been seriously looked at for various reasons, including that it has multiple owners and the city was looking for a location where they would only have to negotiate with one owner. NWCitizen will post more info over the next few weeks about this location.
If another location is selected, then the city would try to sell the Barracks block to something like a Land Trust which would allow the present residents to continue living there and participate in ownership, according to the Mayor. This was exactly what the citizens and Barracks residents wanted to hear.
This first ever public meeting and discussion between city officials and Happy Valley residents was a pleasant process. Fire Chief Jay Gunsauls was also there and explained the criteria that needed to be met for a new fire station. Citizens had good suggestions and clearly showed that city officials could have avoided public outrage over the fire station relocation process had they been more public with the process over the past few months.
We were impressed that 25 or more citizens showed up on such a perfect August evening. We fault no one for not attending. We Bhamsters want to enjoy our short summers and use the rainy months to make decisions.
Hopefully, the fast track relocation process going on at the Barracks will now be put on hold until an actual fire station location is selected. There is now no pressing reason to vacate the Barracks. We encourage city officials to put the process on ice. Let us actually select a fire station location first. Fiscal conservatives should speak out and ask city officials to not waste $100,000 or more relocating Barracks residents at this time.
Let us all take a deep community breath and check out other possible fire station locations - in an open public manner. Lets find the best location for a new fire station - from the point of view of what is best for the city - not just what appears to be the easiest and cheapest location.
Tuesday, Aug 25
Several Barracks residents spoke Monday evening to the City Council during the general comment period. They basically pleaded with the council to give the residents a chance to purchase the property from the city and make the Barracks their own. Some members of the Peoples Land Trust say that orgainzation needs time to meet - aftert the summer holiday season - and look at what they might be able to do.
NWCitizen haslearned that the owner of the Barracks property sold to the city for almost twice the assesed value. In 1996 the Assessor put a market value of $273,415 on the property. The city is paying him $500,000. So - either the city is making yet another sweetheart deal or else the County Auditor greatly undervalued the property. Take your choice.
Monday, Aug 24
Some short items today.
The residents of the Barracks drew chalk railroad tracks on the driveways through their apartment complex over the weekend - to symbolize the railroad job the city is giving them. Individuals - residents, neighbors and friends - are chalking comments on the "RR ties".
The Bellingham City Hall approved hippie consultants from Seattle are spending their time trying to get the residents to trust them. Saturday afternoon, the consultants bought picnic food and held a pot luck at the Barracks. Free food courtesy of the City of Bellingham taxpayers.
The consultants are requesting that each resident sign a letter. Their signature only verifies that the resident has received a copy of the letter. There are more forms to be signed over the course of the next weeks. The idea, of course is to get the residents used to signing forms and cooperating with the consultants. This is a time proven tactic for breaking down the will to resist.
Turnabout is fair play. Several residents gave the consultants a letter to sign. After a hurried phone call - to David Wolf? - the consultants signed the letter. It requests the residents be provided with a copy of the thick ring binder that the consultants are using as their guide for the relocation process.
To the credit of residents who oppose the buyout and destruction of he 19 apartments, they are being very open about their concerns and actions. They do not fault those residents who wish to be left alone and just accept what the city offers them. There seems to be no animosity between the two groups.
It cannot be said too often. What is wrong here is the process. Secret. Not public. Planning had to go into the selection of this property. The mayor and council purposely kept it secret to prevent any public opposition until the deal was done. Now the rush is on disperse the tenants and bulldoze the Barracks before opposition can do anything about this. All citizens should strongly object to their council representatives and to Mayor. Especially should those with influence speak out against this crime against low income people.
Friday, Aug 21
Paul Roley, community columnist for the Bellingham Herald, writes today in support of leaving the folks in the Barracks alone and putting the fire station somewhere else. It is worth reading and telling others about. (Yes, we at NW Citizen read the Herald - every day.) Paul is unexpected support for the cause of reversing the city's decision to purchase the entire city block that comprises the Barracks and building a new fire station on the property.
Well, there is that saying - politics makes for strange bedfellows. Paul is an independent thinker and reached this conclusion without the usual knee jerk process of so many people that if the city council wants it then anyone who objects must be just a reactionary. Many folks we've talked to have the attitude of: So what - the barracks is unsightly. At least the fire station will look better. Or: Well, the mayor said it is the only place we can put the fire station, so it must be true. Paul has written his column after checking out the scene himself - he visited the area and talked to locals to help form his opinion.
Paul is a fiscal conservative and a staunch supporter of most conservative causes. He is retired after many years teaching history at WWU. His specialty was Russian history. This writer took 2 or more classes from him because he was one of the best lecturers on the campus. This writer even got involved in Paul's unsuccessful run for the state legislature in 1970. The important thing about Paul is he is a leader in helping the local conservative community form their opinions about local issues.
Indeed this issue does involve fiscal conservative issues. Why is the city forcing welfare on people who don't want it? Why is the city so secretive about the purchase? What are the options to the the Barracks property for the fire station? Where is the cost comparison with other options? Where is the public process? Where is the evidence that the Barracks is the only option? There is only stonewalling and silence from the Mayor and the Council on all the questions. Perhaps our conservative friends can help us get these answers from the city. We need to call our council representative and insist on an open process. And insist that the city provide all the information it has on this issue.
Thanks, Paul, for the open-minded column and for the support of folks who really only do want to be left alone.
Thursday, Aug 20
There is now solid evidence (not yet proof- please note the difference) that the City Council violated the State Open Meetings act. The decision to buy the Barracks was made by the council and Mayor well before the vote on Monday evening. Lo - first thing Tuesday morning two relocation consultants moved into the one empty apartment at the Barracks and started going around to introduce themselves to the tenants. Tuesday morning! With preprinted materials. Among other things, they requested each tenant signoff on an official letter from David Wolf of the Fire Department. What penalties there might be for not signing off was not clear.
The Open Meetings Act allows discussion and consideration of certain issues behind closed doors, but the decisions must be made in public session. The evidence suggests strongly this decision was made in executive session and that the city staff - with council approval - started the purchase process well before the formal vote on Monday evening. This would be a violation of State law.
All citizens of Bellingham should be concerned about the City's arrogant and probably illegal actions here.
We call this whole thing a perfect example of the "August Slam Dunk". While we are trying to enjoy what little summer we get, the City starts and completes a project. By the time we as a community resume paying attention to politics in late September, it is old news and too late to do anything about it.
What can you do? Call your City Council representative. Express your desire for public business to be done in public.
Tue, Aug 18
Co-Housing projects for location in residential neighborhoods were approved by the City Council Monday evening. Happy Valley will be the site of the first project - a development that is welcomed by virtually all the neighbors. This will allow high density housing on 6 acres on Donovan Avenue. Contrary to the fire hall, the City staff and council took it's jolly good time to very slowly get around to approving this project - a project not opposed by anyone that we know of.
Indeed, to counter feelings that NW Citizen and Happy Valley residents are nay sayers, Happy Valley has long supported well designed higher density residential projects - the key words are "well designed". Contrary to most residential neighborhoods in Bellingham, Happy Valley seeks low income housing for young families, low wage workers, students and those who want to spend their incomes on other things than upscale living quarters.
The 4-Plexes on 22nd street are a classic example of bad design. They are an abomination and this will become evident to all as the years go by. They are zoning cheaters. The City Council cared not a wit about the problem until some 4-Plexes started to be built near a council member's home in another neighborhood - then the council raised up and stopped them.
Happy Valley has always been home to low income folks and students. They live intermixed with upscale homes in a wonderful and eclectic mix of residences. We neighbors seek to expand on this mix - we do not object to neat projects and different lifestyles. We are glad the Co-Housing project has finally been given the green light. Welcome to Happy Valley.
Monday, Aug 17, 1998
Monday evening, the city council did vote, 6 - 0, to authorize the mayor to purchase the barracks property for $500,000. It was a slam dunk vote with no meaningful discussion by the council. Several citizens spoke during the general public comment period - but it amounted to little more that talking to a wall. After the mayor and the fire department spoke and before the vote was to be taken, again several people raised their hands to speak. Council president Ryan avoided looking at the audience, refusing to allow anyone to speak. It took council member Arne Hanna to personally allow the first person to speak. Ryan then had little choice but to let the others speak. Ryan doesn't like citizen's messing with his slam dunks. The representative of the South Side, Barbara Ryan, was absent.
It should be pointed out for those not familiar with this issue, that there has been no public opportunity to learn of the issues or comment on them. Speaking during the public comment period on an issue is a last resort by citizens.
Sad also was go-along vote of Louise Bjornson. She visits us at our neighborhood meetings and coos her sympathies to us - and then votes against public process.
Several residents of the Barracks spoke. The mayor offered them rather condescending and patronizing words. He and his staff will take care of them at public expense is what he said.
What are the options of citizens? Well, tis August - and we would all like to enjoy what is left of summer - not start another petition to reverse a council action. We recommend that concerned citizens ask their council representatives why they are afraid to let citizens examine and comment on what is supposed to be such a correct decision. As we told them tonight - it is the process, stupids. It is the public process that is the American way.
The City Council is expected to vote this evening to purchase the Barracks on Harris Ave for a new South Side fire station. The Bhm Herald endorses the idea in today's editorial. There are a few screwy problems with this.
1. This is another secret city project where neither the residents of the Barracks nor the public has been told what is happening. We were told by the city a year ago that the process would be public. Since then has been silence. The Barracks folks found out by their own investigation - with no help from city officials. This is deplorable of the city and the council representative Barbara Ryan. The Herald is again of no help to its readers who what to learn what is happening in the community in that this process was going on for weeks.
2. They say - city staff and the Herald - that the abandoned Albertson's supermarket would cost $6+ million. False. Ask any good realtor - it could be had for $3.5 million in a minute.
3. The real problem is not secrecy or cost - it is that neither the Barracks nor Albertson's are very good locations for the fire station. No open process has looked at possibilities. We just do not know. We as a city should be looking for the best long term - 10, 20 and even 50 years - location for a fire station - not just looking for the cheapest or for what might be available.
4. We have heard - but not confirmed -that the Barracks was appraised in 1996 at about $196,000. Is this true? The city council - in their secret meetings - are planning to offer $500,000 for it. It true, this is another example of possible corruption by our city hall. The word on the street is this deal is all but done and we citizens are helpless to oppose it.
These are serious problems. City Council should not hold their secret meeting today ("executive session" they call it) to finalize this deal. Instead the Council should request the Mayor have the planning department conduct an open process to find the best location for a South Side fire station.
NW Citizen will provide an interesting - and possibly better -alternative to either the Barracks or Albertsons later this week.
*** This was beginning of coverage of this fire station issue.
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