It is official, the Bellingham City Council races have begun! As I reported last Friday, long-time city councilman and dog lover, Stan Snapp, is retiring from city council at the end of the year and has introduced Pinky Vargas as his successor. I had an opportunity to sit down with Pinky this weekend and talk to her about what makes her tick.
Sitting at a simple wooden table in her house in the Silver Beach neighborhood, Pinky Vargas radiates a sense of confident optimism. “I am running mostly because I love this city and I really want to see it prosper. And I want to see the people prosper. And I want to protect what’s really important to us.” She gestures as she talks, punctuating each statement with a big authentic smile.
Pointing to the ever-dazzling view of Lake Whatcom, she gets right to her central issue. “My number one priority is that, right out there. It is Lake Whatcom. Water is our basic element of survival and we rely on it every single day.” She gives a nod to the economic downturn, “Jobs are pretty important, but without water, we can’t do anything.”
My favorite legal expert, Jean Melious, once described Lake Whatcom as a “Graveyard of activists.“ After so many tried and failed efforts, I ask if Vargas has a solution. She says the process to getting to a solution is essential. “Silver Beach worked on a whole program to be best stewards of the lake, and some people came in at the last minute and voted them down and the whole council out. A lot of people misunderstood and felt like they were being controlled, when people feel that way, they react. There has to be an effort to get everyone involved in the lake, rather than jumping in at the last minute. We need to find a way to get people involved, to understand how their little actions impact themselves and everyone around us.”
Vargas is very clear about what she is going to bring to the city council: energy and action. “I used to do trade shows and events for years, and I grew up in a big family. I’ve always been taking care of people whether it was feeding them and organizing them or helping them get the resources they need, but now I wanted to do something with more purpose, that would have an impact on the people around me.”
Currently she works for Puget Sound Energy as the Energy Efficiency Manager, where she does a mix of community outreach, education and works with local businesses to reduce their energy usage. “I never figured I was going to be involved in politics when I got older. I always thought that if you wanted to be a politician you had to be a lawyer, but what we are learning is that you need people who don’t always have a cookie-cutter background. We need people from all backgrounds to have a seat at the table.”
Time to run her through the gauntlet of issues facing the city. I start off easy, asking about the city’s relationship with our county government. “Kelli is really great at setting the example for our relationship with her relationship with Jack Louws. It is a tone that we all can follow.”
Okay, enough warm-up. When are we going to get around to fixing our waterfront? “The thing about the waterfront is . . .” She gives a hefty sigh and then continues, “. . . could this process go any slower? I remember when I first moved here, I was so excited about the waterfront development. There could be another place for us to go, for tourists to go, for people to hang out. We have a city right on the ocean, but no way to connect the ocean with the city. If we manage to do that, it will completely shift our city and the way people view our downtown. It will show our world-class character.” I couldn’t agree more, so how do we improve the process? “As much as planning and environmental research is all necessary, sometimes we get lost in the little things. We tend to stop everything instead of looking at the bigger picture, so it is really nice to see some movement and some clean up happening.”
She takes a moment to gather her thoughts and then leaps right in. “We’re right at a crossroads for waterfront development and the economic development of our city, and we are about to make a shift into action. I’m not going to pretend that I have all the answers. There are a lot of people with really good ideas; the NW Economic Council has been working on the Whatcom Futures project report, there are some great ideas in there, in finding some things that are complementary between economic development and environmental consciousness. It is time to support those ideas to actually move forward, and I have an enthusiasm for bringing people forward.”
I asked about an issue that is critical to myself and many other young people in Bellingham, landlord licensing. “I actually don’t know enough either way, I don’t want to pretend that I’m educated enough to make that decision right now. I would look at what is the fair thing for everyone and what is better for the common good.”
How about the proposed fireworks ban? “Another tough one – I think that we have a need to celebrate, and I totally appreciate everyone wanting to get involved, I think everyone needs more joy in their lives. However, people have taken advantage of this opportunity and they are not so respectful. Garbage, sound at all hours… some few have abused it for the many. Personally, I struggle with it, I have very sensitive ears, but it’s not just up to me. It is up to what all the residents think.”
Many of the city council’s challenges revolve around population increases within the neighborhoods. How should the city handle our growing community? “I think Bellingham can handle a larger population, we are short housing. It would be good for us to have a little more infill downtown, so that people can bike and walk to work.”
As we were wrapping up, she brought the conversation back to her central passion, protecting the lake. “When I think of Lake Whatcom, it is not just an issue or a platform, it is a living, viable thing. I walk by it, I drink it, I look at everyday. It is part of the reason why I moved here. I’d look at the lake and say wow, it just provides this wonderful sense of calm. It makes me want to be its steward, and that’s why I’m running for office. To be a good steward to the lake.”
Right now, Pinky Vargas is the only person running for the 4th Ward but I imagine she won’t be alone for long. It is my goal to interview all candidates for local office this year, so if you are reading this and planning to run, shoot me an email and we will set up a time to talk.