Posted by: sweeneyblog | August 9, 2011

A Petree-eyed View of Downtown Bellingham

Editor’s Note: An interview is not an endorsement. The Political Junkie urges people to read his Expanded Voter’s Guide for more information on how to vote. Finally, my apologies for any misquotes or incorrect facts, I was flying without my pen and paper today. 

For a man who’s future is being decided in one week by 80,000 people, Clayton Petree is remarkably calm. “Aside from the sleepless nights, I’m not worried at all.” He joked. We met at the Black Drop downtown for an interview about his independent campaign for the Mayor’s office of Bellingham. He is joined in that race by Kelli Linville, Stephen Moore and incumbent Dan Pike. Not content to just sit and talk, Clayton hops up to led me on a tour of the city, highlighting what he sees as our biggest challenges.

A view of Old Town

Our first stop was a view of Old Town. From here, he points out the shifting boundaries of where Old Town is and has been. He gets right down to business. “We need infill. The neighborhood is ready for it, but no developer will break ground because it is not profitable.” He cites the city’s goals in their comprehensive plan. “According to the City’s own plan, we are going to add 70 residences per year every year, for the next decade. That is a great deal of new construction.” He talks about the various requirements imposed by the city and general safety, but gets back to the main point. “I think most people have the same goals for Bellingham. We all want to see our economy grow and for our city to successful, but you can’t do that without some change.” Petree sees parallels about the outsized expectations of infill, and the lack of actual development. “It just isn’t coming together.” Here’s a recent Herald article about just this concern.

Walton Place with a FISH EYE LENS!

Our next stop is Walton Place, a new subsidized affordable housing unit near the WTA bus station. TheWalton Place, and it’s recent expansion creatively named “Walton Two”, are two several story rentals overseen by Bellingham/Whatcom County Affordable Housing Authority. He notes that while this is a good step, the rent is still pretty steep for affordable housing ($650-$750 for a 1 or 2 bedroom apartment). “And this was done with subsidies on a not-for-profit basis. How can we expect private businesses to build more rentals if we can’t even do it well like this?”

Noting that I was  Generation Y, he spoke to how many people my age are living with their folks, because there are no reasonably priced rentals. “I don’t believe in universal home ownership. I think that if we can get a roof over people’s heads right now, while things are tough, that accomplishes that goal.”

Right now, the available rentals in Bellingham are at a critical low with barely a 1.6% vacancy rate, especially compared with the more healthier 4.5% statewide. “We need to expand the capacity of our city. How can we expect people to move here, start businesses and thrive if they don’t even have a place to live?” He noted that the building that used to stand where Walton Place is now needs to be considered when talking infill. “What did we replace, one story? Two stories? We aren’t gaining enough ground, often we are just treading water.”

On our way to the next stop, Clayton talked about living in the Lettered Streets. “That neighborhood has changed

This is a good cup of coffee

Clayton Petree hanging out in the County Courthouse with me in June

so much in the last couple of decades. When I was growing up, I had a paper route on F streetand it was a rough neighborhood. Drug den, party house, but it has really turned itself around.” As a cleaner, safer neighborhood, it is ripe for building up, and filling the population.

“What about landlord licensing?” I ask. Clayton thinks for a moment. “That is really aimed more at health and safety concerns rather than planning for communities. We have codes on the books about how many people can live in a space, and what makes sense. What we need is some way to better enforce them.” When I ask him how, he shrugs, “I don’t have all the answers, but I know as mayor, I would work to address these problems.”

New Construction across from Market Depot

We reach the construction site across from the Market Depot. He noted that the city planners has this space zoned fortwo seventeenstory towers. I said it didn’t really look like they were building that. “Again, another example where our plans and reality don’t seem to line up.” He points me towards Part 4 of the Comprehensive Plan that talks about Bellingham receiving 62% of our county’s growth, yet in actuality it is closer to 10-20%. “Imagine you manage a business, most of your customers are coming down from Canada, do you set up your store inside the city limits, with all the restrictions and impact fees in place? Or do you move it a few miles north?”

I ask him if we should just do away with all those restrictions. He quickly responds, “Impact fees pay for the roads and if you are driving on the roads, you should be paying them. It isn’t fair that those who live in the county and commute in do not pay for what they are using.”

 So are you a Republican or a Democrat? Clayton cracks a big smile, “I’m an independent. I just see things that need to be fixed and I think my experience with land use, planning and all this stuff,” he waves his pile of staff reports at me, “gives me an advantage.”

What about the Waterfront? “There are so many other things we need to fix first, and the cost for the waterfront is going to be so steep, we need to build up our neighborhoods, like Old Town, first before plowing into the Waterfront.”

What happens if you don’t make it? Clayton smiles. “Ken Mann said he wouldn’t run again after he lost and look where he is now. I don’t know, I’m going to leave that door open.”

THE POLITICAL JUNKIE ANALYSIS: Clayton Petree is a bit of a Cypher. Between placing ads in the Betty Pages, advocating for a bus accessible downtown, and working to prevent sprawl in the County by encouraging infill, he would seem to fit in with my values, but then again, his thoughts of removing barriers to development makes me nervous. My biggest impression after our interview is that Clayton is clearly a Wonk (not a Hack), a man used to dealing with minutia and committed to changing our city. Regardless of how next week’s primary turns out, I’m excited to see Clayton continue to be involved in the discussion.



  1. Good article Riley.

    Clayton, thanks for running! I too would like to see great redevelopment in and around downtown. I appreciate you speaking up for that.

  2. Riley: Thank you for taking time to go “walkabout” with me today.

    Lisa: Thank you for the kind words. There is so much we can do in and around the Central Business District, Old Town, and other areas that will make a positive impact.

  3. Great interview and thoughtful candidate. I am sick of coal and it is great to ghear about the issues that the mayor can and should make a difference on.

  4. Thanks for taking the time to do this, Riley and to the candidate for being receptive. Best part of this was the link to the definitions of Wonk and Hack. I never knew that before. Cool.

    • Thank you! I’m glad you like. The Hack and Wonk write-up is what got me started as a blogger. I wrote that and people really liked it so I kept going.

  5. […] shortage of rental properties here in the City of Bellingham. I discussed this issue recently with Clayton Petree, read that interview for more details, but the short version is, we need more apartments and no one […]

  6. […] I stumbled across a screenshot of my own facebook page in Elfo’s email box. Apparently, Clayton Petree had seen a discussion on my facebook wall about the new jail and sent it to the sheriff’s […]

  7. […] Bellingham City Council, Ward Four: Pinky Vargas held her campaign kickoff on Wednesday and I can honestly say it was one of the most theatrical kickoffs I have ever attended. Vargas climbed inside a cage and got electrified by a 10-foot tall Tesla coil. Despite this colorful display, she has drawn a challenger; Clayton Petree. Petree, a biking enthusiast and political moderate, ran against Pike and Linville for mayor in 2011. Check out my interview with Petree here. […]

  8. […] in a city that voted for Barack Obama by 73%. With his opposition to the Reconveyance and his hearty support for more housing construction, he needed to showcase his environmental support to our green-leaning city. Naturally, he used his […]

  9. […] no such crash course. A policy wonk for a long-time, he has been sharing his insight with the city for years. While I value his perspective, he opposed the Reconveyance, a vital move to protect our drinking […]

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