Posted by: sweeneyblog | September 8, 2011

Why is Dan Pike talking about Coal Trains?

Editor’s Note: I realize that because this article is about a specific candidate, I might be stepping on some people’s toes. I have tried to include as much documentation as possible to help my case. Please feel free to click through the links and examine the materials. And as always, you can email me directly with your concerns here.

Dan Pike at the Eleanor Roosevelt Dinner

Tuesday night, I made my way down to the Young Democrats meeting at the beautiful Chuckanut Brewery, where I found Dan Pike answering questions and campaigning. He discussed Red Light Cameras and had some intriguing ideas for the waterfront, but before long, he got around to “Coal Trains. ”

His boisterous public opposition to the proposed terminal at Cherry Point has been the centerpiece of his mayoral campaign. You’ll find reference on his campaign literature (“The first and only elected official and candidate to stand up for Bellingham and say ‘No’ to coal”), on his Facebook page (“Mayor Dan showed enormous integrity in standing up to protect Bellingham . . . and remains the only candidate who will continue to show that leadership!”) and in his speeches (see my write up from the Dems endorsement meeting). On some of his campaign buttons, the issue has even eclipsed his name.  This is a hot button issue in our community, drawing large crowds to public meetings and aggressive, sometimes illegal, action.

Pike’s track record on the issue has been erratic, or as veteran reporter John Stark put it in his July 29th article, “Pike’s journey to his present position has not been direct.” He put forth a resolution supporting the Cherry Point Terminal back in October 2010 saying “Whereas the Mayor of Bellingham, Dan Pike, joins with the council in its strong support of this project.” City Council president Gene Knutzen pulled the resolution before it could come to a vote. UPDATE: I just got a call from Dan Pike where he contests this point. It is unclear who proposed the original resolution, but the mayor says he asked for it to be pulled. Read the resolution and check the discussion hereWhen that failed, he held a couple of public hearings about it before coming out for the project with some serious conditions, and then finally coming out against the project by sending a rather confrontational letter to the Governor and without warning or consulting the County Executive and Council.

Regardless of how Pike got to the issue, what confuses me, is why this is even an issue in the Mayoral race. The Mayor of Bellingham has no jurisdiction. The city will not be approving permits (that’s the county council’s job), or conducting environmental impact analysis (State Agencies) or even dealing with traffic and land use concerns (State and Port of Bellingham). The city has zero authority over this issue, so why is Dan Pike making it a central issue of his campaign?

I’ve heard Kelli Linville talk about how she is opposed to the project and would prefer a different industry be installed in that space. So if both he and his opponent are in virtual agreement (Herald Article confirms this) and the post they seek has no authority over the issue, why all the chest thumping about it?

So at the Young Dems meeting I asked him, “Aside from the Bully Pulpit, what jurisdiction does the mayor’s office have on this issue.” His campaign manager, Isabel Vanderslice, tried to jump in but Dan Pike answered, “Well don’t discount the bully pulpit, it is important.”

“I’m not,” I said. “But what jurisdiction do you have?”
Isabel answered for him at this point, “Bellingham has no jurisdiction,” but Mayor Pike continued, “I never claimed to have any jurisdiction over this. In fact, in a way, it is a good thing because I’m not constrained by what I say.” He then continued about how the County Council is unable to speak out on this issue because of the appearance of fairness issue (see Jean Melious’ discussion of this at her excellent blog Get Whatcom Planning).
But it left me wondering, why are our mayoral candidates spending all this time talking about an issue they cannot change in office? Is it because they know its a highly recognizable yet safe issue since most voters within in the city are opposed? I suppose its far easier to campaign by railing against the coal trains  then it is to run the risk of articulating a forward thinking vision for our many municipal-based issues.

So before the campaign dialogue strays into how the candidates opposed rabid dogs and major earthquakes,
I’d like to set forth a few issues I would rather see our mayoral candidates talk about:

1) Revitalizing our Urban Core:
If you are downtown after 7:00pm on a weeknight, you  might have noticed the eerie silence that permeates our downtown. We need to have an economic engine that runs 24/7. I got the bad news that yet another friend of mine is having to pack up and leave town because there are no jobs. He’s bright, energetic, a real credit to any employer, yet he can’t find work in this town because of our anemic economic growth.  I would love to hear fully articulated plans, something beyond “Let’s speed up the permit office!” Safety also needs to be addressed. I’ve talked to some Ferndale and Blaine folks who have mentioned that they would never walk with their kids down Railroad, even in broad daylight, because they don’t feel safe. Everyone should feel able to walk around and shop in our urban core and that needs to be addressed.

2) Infill and Rental Housing
We have a drastic 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 is willing to start building. I would like to hear the candidate’s ideas on how to drive down the cost of renting by spurring more apartments into being built. I realize we cannot build our way out of the recession, but right now we have a serious problem. Related to that, how to we inspect and maintain the properties that are available to make sure they are safe for our renters. What is the city’s role in all that?

3) Cordata, the Guide-Meridian, and Barkley Village
Right now, we have four economic horses running in opposite directions. We have the established Bellingham and Fairhaven centers, which have a good mix of housing, shops and stores, and green spaces. But we also have the Guide-Meridian, home to some of our larger chain stores and the mall, and the new upstart Barkley Village. Both of the latter two seem to lack planning for housing, walkable areas or even basic access to transit that doesn’t involve crossing five lanes of traffic. How are we going to build sustainable communities, if Barkley Village is where we are giving our tax breaks to? Finally, Cordata, a community that has rapidly expanded its residential base in the last ten years, but now lacks stores, and services. How are we going to better integrate our city, and build sustainable neighborhoods? I would like to hear our candidate’s vision on that.

We should demand the best from our elected and future elected officials,
even if that means pinning their feet down and demanding that they talk about the issues that they will be able to effect if we elect them. I urge all the voters reading this to ask your candidates about issues relevent to their office, and the candidates reading this to expand on what they can do about those issues.


  1. Clapping wildly! Very well written!

  2. Hear Hear!!! You tell it, Riley. Exactly and yeah! Do the people from the Young Democrats read your blog? Hope so.

  3. Some clarifications : If I understand correctly, Kelli supports the original proposal from years ago, that was fought and argued over and arbitrated into a deal that the various factions could reach. So, Kelli supports the business opportunities, but not a strictly coal port as most recently proposed.

  4. I support Mayor Pike’s stance regarding the concerns surrounding the proposed terminal at Cherry Point, and I agree with Pike’s comment regarding the power of the bully pulpit.

    While it’s true that Bellingham’s mayor has no ‘legal’ jurisdiction, authority, or power over this issue, there is another court besides the legal one. In many cases, the court of public opinion is as powerful as – if not more powerful than – the legal courts. I appreciate Mayor Pike taking a strong position to represent the interests of Bellingham residents, and I believe it can certainly have an impact on the final outcome. Public pressure can be intense, and many companies eventually succumb to it. Even Warren Buffet and Berkshire Hathaway’s network of corporations are not immune.

    That being said, I doubt this issue will decide the Bellingham mayoral election regardless of how much “chest thumping” either candidate does. And I absolutely agree with you Riley, it would be better for both candidates to focus on issues they can impact directly. What I really wish is that Mayor Pike would display more courage on matters under his control when it comes to representing the public’s interest. Too many times he has deferred to his advisors who caution against taking a stance that might result in legal action against the city.

    As someone I admire explained, “You cannot prevent every lawsuit. The best course of action is to make decisions that are in the best interest of the public while ensuring your decisions are legally defensible. If your decisions are in the public interest and are legally defensible – and you have a quality legal staff – then you have done the best you can.”

    I have witnessed many times when Mayor Pike refused to take a courageous – and appropriate – stance because his advisors feared potential legal action against the city. That is simply no way to run a government created for, by, and of the people. It’s no secret that I have been an outspoken critic of Mayor Pike; but my primary criticism involves his over-reliance on overly cautious advice. Had he shown the same courage on matters under his control as he has shown with the Cherry Point terminal, perhaps I would have been an outspoken supporter rather than critic.

  5. […] Pike just called about my recent post concerning his campaigning about Coal Trains. After identifying himself, he said, “Well, it […]

  6. Riley thanks for a great article. I just wanted to note that my campaign has been talking about #1 and #2 of your preferred issues – revitalizing our urban core and infill housing – since Day 1. About those:

    1) Revitalizing our Urban Core:

    I live downtown and I don’t notice and eerie silence after 7pm – quite the opposite especially when students are in town – but I get what you’re driving at. A healthy downtown requires a good 24/7 economy, and we can do a lot better to promote a well-functioning core in many respects. Sorry to hear about your friend; and you’re right: we need coordinated economic development and targeted industry recruitment, as well as continuing our stellar record locally of nurturing our small and medium businesses (where most job growth is occurring right now, nationwide). I also must say that all reports point toward the safety issue being a perception problem, vs a real problem. But the perception has become a problem, so that needs to be addressed of course.

    2) Infill and Rental Housing
    I’m curious what your resource is that shows a lack of rental properties? I agree that’s true downtown – for sure. We have about a 1% rental vacancy downtown, which means we have a shortage of supply. Thankfully, Rick Westerop is breaking ground on apartments across from the Farmer’s Market right now (out my window – it’s so fun to watch!) and there are plans for a few more apartment buildings downtown in the upcoming months. This is great news! And we can do even better, especially making it profitable for the kind of development we hope to see, actually occur in the city. And in providing affordable options of many kinds for people to own. It should be about choices, and maybe that’s what you’re getting at saying we have a drastic shortage of rental properties? Maybe you could explain that. 🙂

    3) If you check out page 27 of this awesome doc ( you can get a great overview of what the downtown core provides, as well as Fairhaven, Barkley, Meridian by Bellis Fair, etc. It breaks down # of people with 1/4 mile (walking distance), employers and jobs provided. You’ll see quickly that our urban core is already the economic powerhouse of the city – 9000 people, 800 employers, 7000 jobs. We need diverse hubs of commercial and residential development, of course, but you’re right: let’s use information like this, and good community planning, to get clear on what we want them to provide and then set them up to accomplish that.

    • Wonderful! Candidates talking about the issues they are going to be in charge of. One of the many reasons the Political Junkie endorsed Cathy Lehman (read all about it here)

      • Cathy,

        Perhaps more telling, the leading employer in the CBD is government and, the census population of the CBD is just 1,698, including however many people were in jail on the day the census was taken… Something to ponder

        Jack O. Petree

  7. One issue I would love to hear mayoral candidates talking about – and one that is completely under their control – is Lake Whatcom.

    Clean drinking water at an affordable price is key to our quality of life here. While most of the watershed is in the county or the state, the City of Bellingham is the water purveyor. State law grants final authority to the water purveyor. The City can do more than point fingers; they can flex muscle and do so in ways that lead to cleaner drinking water.

    Many cities in the US have their water reservoirs outside their city limits yet they have gathered themselves together to protect that resource: Seattle, Everett, New York – it’s a long list of communities that took responsibility for providing drinking water into the future. We can follow their lead!

    Since this resource is of the highest importance to residents and to business, some of us may assume that there are people on staff with the city who wake up every morning thinking about how to restore the degraded portions of the lake, how to protect the forested areas and how to avoid any more harmful development. Nope. While there are good people who have this as a part of what they do, there is no ‘water czar’. The buck stops nowhere.

    I’d like to see a culture of taking responsibility and solving problems. Sending angry letters to the county and filing lawsuits that we lose has not worked. We can do better.

  8. Well, Lisa, he doesn’t have Dan to copy this time around. He’s kinda on his own with his talking points…

  9. Why should Mayor Pike take a position on this issue since he has no direct jurisdiction?!? Are you serious?? The answer is so obvious, it seems like you are trolling to get strong responses from your readers.

    The impacts of the proposed coal export facility on the area, including Bellingham, are likely to be significant ones and the signs point to the negative factors (environmental impact, massively increased train traffic, supporting dirty energy technologies) far outweighing the positive ones (mostly temporary construction jobs for a few years that are mostly going to be taken by skilled labor outside our community).

    I have been happy to see the public sentiment against this ill conceived project grow. I believe that Mayor Pike’s position has been the right one. Bellingham and the surrounding areas are special. We have an amazing environment and an outstanding collection of communities. Let’s keep them that way and increase our quality of life, not decrease it. Advocacy in support of our environment and way of life is never pointless or inappropriate.

    I appreciate that Mayor Pike’s has the audacity and willingness to take a controversial position or use a controversial tactic in support of issues that are of great importance to this community.

    As a voting Bellingham resident, let me offer this unsolicited viewpoint: Mayor Pike’s leadership on this issue reaffirms my belief that he is the right man for the job. I helped vote him into office, and I hope to help keep him there where he can continue to offer sound and reasoned leadership.

    • I’m glad that he took a position, I would expect nothing less. However making it the centerpiece of his campaign, when there are so many other important mayoral issues to consider, that is what I objected to. But thank you for reading!

  10. Nice back pedaling, Sweeney.

    Pike is to be lauded for getting other mayors around the state to sign his letter to Gregiore, including McGinn. His “boisterous public opposition to the proposed terminal” is to be credited for prompting Gregoire to step back and take a harder look at this ill thought project, which she initially favored.

    As for your agenda, I will not comment, but to your actual writing? “We should demand the best from our elected and future elected officials, even if that means pinning their feet down and demanding that they talk about the issues that they will be able to effect if we elect them.”

    Don’t quit your day job.

    • Feel free to laud him for those efforts. I just feel it would be great if our mayoral candidates talked about mayoral issues, I realized that they will want to speak out on other subjects, but I want to hear him address city issues.

      I’m sorry that you think there is some sinister agenda here, and you are right, that is a train wreck of a sentence, if you pardon the metaphor. It does look like three sentences got tangled just out of the starting block. I’ll freely admit, I’m no perfect wordsmith.

      But as always, thank you for reading Stephan.

      • Well, the issue I had with that sentence was “elected and future elected officials.” I don’t see how you can pin down future elected officials to anything, unless you have access to some kind of time travel machine. And I didn’t say sinister. All op-ed writer’s have some kind of agenda, otherwise they’d stick to “he said she said” reporting.

        That said, I’ve also heard Dan Pike talk about new business development, the Lake Whatcom watershed and fiscal responsibility, as well as the Coal Port. It will be insightful to hear more from both contenders, especially during the upcoming debates.

      • Agreed about looking forward to hearing more from the candidates.

  11. […] is not news that Dan Pike has made the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal and Coal Trains the central message of his campaign. However, I was extremely disappointed to come across this piece of campaign literature that the […]

  12. […] Kelli Linville Obviously, Dan Pike and I have had our disagreements, whether it is over the focus of his campaign, his efforts to install Red Light Cameras (see above) or his deceptive campaign materials, so […]

  13. […] Washington Conservation Voter’s political efforts this year, and after I spoke out about the misguided focus of Dan Pike’s mayoral campaign and Dan Pike’s attempts to mislead the public about his opponent’s positions, I […]

  14. […] from local clergy and then it was followed by Mayor Dan Pike speaking. I know I have been rather roughon Mayor Pike, but I believe in calling it as I see it, and Dan Pike gave a great speech in support […]

  15. […] race, like so many before it (2011 Bellingham Mayor’s race, 2013 County Council) is about the Gateway Pacific Terminal project. Burr blasted the PUD for […]

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