Alright, I’m firmly ensconced in my seat in the County Council chambers. Already it is about halfway full with proponents and opponents of the Reconveyance. I was hoping to have pictures up tonight but I forgot my cable connecting the computer to the camera so I will just have to put those up tomorrow morning.
Tonight should be filled with exciting testimony and more than a little political theater and I plan to give you, the reader, a front row seat to all the drama. As with my previous live-blogs, just keep refreshing the page to get the latest update and as always, you can throw me a few bucks for my troubles here.
Already, Whatcom’s political milieu has arrived. Bellingham City Councilmembers Seth Fleetwood and Jack Weiss have arrived and are busy shaking hands (Fleetwood) or standing quietly in the corner (Weiss). Local businessman and Reconveyance proponent Rud Browne has arrived, along with Whatcom Excavator writers Greg Brown and Ellen Baker.
Senatorial Candidate and Garrison Keillor impersonator Bob Burr took a moment to bend County Executive Jack Louws’ ear about the growing crowd. When asked if Burr thought the crowd was mostly supportive or opposed, Burr countered, “I’m sure all these good people are just here to get more information about the issue.” Big chuckles.
Luanne Van Werven, Republican party official, has arrived, as has Dan McShane, Rand Jack and Debbie Adelstein. Stan Snapp and Cathy Lehman have arrived which means we have one quorum worth of City Council members here.
Kathy Kershner calls the meeting to order and hopelessly reminds the audience that the Council does not permit signs or cheering in the chamber. I’m sure no one will violate that rule. Kershner is now trying to move the regular business of the meeting to be relocated to the beginning of the meeting so that they can be dispensed with before the public hearing. The agenda rearranging passes unanimously.
Now it is time for that fabulous tradition called “Open Session” where residents can speak their mind about any issue. I briefly spoke to the issue of the jail, asking the County Council to exercise some vigorous oversight on this issue. Greg Brown and Shane Roth offered sequential differing opinions over whether the Council’s efforts to rename “Slaughterhouses” as “Packing Houses” was a terrible idea or not. With a brief discussion over planes in Sudden Valley that wraps up the Open Session.
Bellingham Herald reporter Ralph Schwartz is in the house and is tweeting the meeting here. With a short passing of the consent agenda (non-controversial items), they move on to the gristle of the meeting. Kershner asked Kremen to give a report on his recent trip to DC, Kremen responded with a two-minute comment boiling down to “There are alot of people here, let’s let them get to it.” Kershner responded with “That’s Pete’s version of ‘No Report’.”
County Parks Director Mike McFarlane spells out the basics of the Reconveyance deal for everyone who needs a refresher on the facts (see: Whatcom Excavator). McFarlane points out, very politely, that this has been a long process and the deal has been vetted by several different groups and with lots of public input.
McFarlane also makes the point that the management plan for the park would be approved by the council after the purchase of the property but he outlined his projections of costs, uses and needs.
Knutzen gets the first question of McFarlane. Knutzen asks for more information about the cost per mile of trail. McFarlane said that he has revised his estimates on trail costs but the difference is very little and is the result of volunteer and community partner efforts. An audience member shouts out, “I’ll do it for free!” Kershner responds quickly, threatening to eject anyone who speaks out of turn again.
Knutzen continues his inquiry questioning why the costs are someone variable. McFarlane, very patiently, explains that sometimes trails are expensive (over water) and sometimes they are cheap (flat ground) and they provided an average cost for the total trail system. Knutzen is still having trouble with the concept.
However we move right along and into the public hearing. First up is Jack Weiss, speaking on behalf of the Bellingham City Council. He is joined by Fleetwood, Lehman and Snapp to convey the unanimous support of the City Council for the Reconveyance. “All four of our votes were unanimous by current and previous councils.”
The owner of Perry Pallet and an employee pleads the case for the timber industry. They stressed the damage this deal would do to the timber industry, despite the fact that there is minimal timber activity in the area. Next is a rather cranky comment from an elderly Ferndale resident who accused the county council of malfeasance for even considering this deal. Real persuasive there . . .
Former Whatcom County Republican Chair Chet Dow spoke urging the council to acknowledge the difference between “your political supporters and your actual constituents.”
Carole Jacobsen speaks in favor of the issue. “I would vote in favor of this were it ever on the ballot, but tonight I am using my voice to urge you to support this effort.” The next speaker speaks to this as a “golden opportunity, especially at a time when the health of our lake is in such jeopardy.” Another speaker describes it as “cheap insurance against landslides that cause thousands of dollars of property damage.”
Pinky Vargas of the Silver Beach neighborhood highlighted the need to protect our drinking water. Shane Roth follows up that comment by pointing out that half of the county are water customers and that if Shane was a farmer, he wouldn’t need to be begging to get the benefit of the doubt from the council. “Even city-slickers like me deserve to be represented. Do I need to buy some farm land or open up a land use consulting business to get your attention?”
For those keeping score at home, five supporters have highlighted water quality as their main reason for the proposal. Next up, a retiree lauds the potential benefits of the new parks. “I am part of a walking group, we enjoy Hovander and Boulevard and look forward to this new resource in our community.”
The crowd continues to pack into the chambers. Kershner has kept a tight reign on the speakers with no one running over time. An ATV user raises questions about whether motor bikes and ATV’s will be allowed on these trails.
A mother of two from Deming who home schools her children speaks in favor of the proposal. Her fourteen year-old son highlighted the endangered species that live in the Reconveyance and shared his excitement at the possible mountain biking there.
Doing a quick scan of the council members, Mann, Kershner, Brenner and Kremen are quite attentive as each speaker begins. Weimer looks mildly disgruntled (sorry, Carl!) while Crawford continues to fiddle with his iphone (Hi Sam if you are reading this!). Right now, at 7:20pm, there has been six speakers against with twelve speakers in favor.
Really, this vote will come down to one person: Sam Crawford. He won reelection in part because of his bucking the Republican line in his support for the reconveyance however in recent months his support has been somewhat squishy, as he asked for a delay the last two times this came up for vote.
7:23pm – first reference to “land grab.” For those of you playing the County Council drinking game, you may now take a shot. “There’s alot of extremists out there who don’t want to see tree cuts. Those who feel that way should probably stop using forestry products.” The speaker, Audrey, urged that we put it to a vote. A young lady, I believe a relative of Luanne Van Wervan (I didn’t catch the name, sorry), points out that if we approve this we will have “six times the amount of the parks as King County”. She then compared the proponents of the park to used car salesmen. She closed out with “we aren’t stupid, if you really support this you should leave it up to us.”
A forest ecologist points out that timber harvesting increases the chances of landslides. Stresses that this proposal will increase safety and reduce property damage to County residents. “In the last couple of years, there has been a growing chorus of voices calling for local control of our lands. This is the culmination of those efforts!” He closed with a plea to their legacy. “I’m confident that this vote is the single vote you will be remembered for on this council.”
The next speaker makes the case that there is a fourth column of government in Whatcom County. “The Community Organizer has wrecked havoc on our political system.” He then accuses a whole slew of non-profits (RESources, Whatcom Land Trust, Futurewise) of not playing fair and just being interested in making money off of the land management role. I’m a little confused about what RESources or Futurewise has to do with this. “There are lots of people in the county who have to deal with the lawsuits of Futurewise and the aggression of Whatcom Land Trust that waits for people to turn their land over to them. This is not a happy face thing.” Wha . . . ?
“There’s a good reason that we have more parkland than King County,” said Rod Pemble. “A long-term look at our plan for the economic future of our county would build on this. People move here for our beautiful spaces. You can’t outsource clean air, water and lakes.” Abe Jacobsen points out that this issue has been put up to a vote in the Crawford/McGinnis race last year. “100% of the voters in this race voted for a candidate supporting the reconveyance.”
Karl Uppiano takes the microphone, “You already know my reasons for opposing this, but here is some new information.” He decides to highlight that the state Department of Natural Resources would be better equipped to deal with this.” Yes, the anti-government Uppiano is supporting big government. Circle the day on your calendars. Uppiano highlights this irony saying, “I’m not usually in favor of central government but in this case, I’m more interested in the outcome rather than the Utopian ideal.”
Another opponent of the proposal starts out by attacking the council, accusing the council of being non-transparent and lacking common sense. “The council is unwilling to believe the economic consequences of the reconveyance and is only willing to believe the pablum fed to them by the non-profits who stand to gain from this project.” He gets a little lost on the topic. “It is clear that the council is only interested in the status quo on jobs, get a degree from Western then become a barista. I notice that all the democratic businesses that signed RUDE Browne’s letter only pay minimum wage. Just you wait until this ends up in the courts, then we will get the truth!” Much muttering in the crowd about the anger of the speaker.
The next speaker accuses the council of being “too close to the issue” because they have been vocal in their support of the issue. Woah. I was waiting for someone to go full-on conspiracy theorist and this one is getting close. She is now citing her own survey that she conducted. “I talked to people who are young, old, different racial, whatever. I even approached people who looked stereotypically ‘liberal’.” At this point, the crowd openly chuckles.
The crowd is feeling a little livelier now, with lots of chatter. Proponents continue to outnumber critics (19 for compared to 12 against as of 7:50pm).
Dan McShane speaks out, “This is the least political thing the Council will decide in recent times.” He points out that this reflects the values of our community. “The DNR is under intense pressure to generate revenue . . . that is partly why this process is necessary.”
I’m surprised by how many people in the crowd are staying put. Often with these big public events, the crowd steadily dwindles as the testimony stretches on into the evening, yet I would informally estimate that about 80% of the crowd is still here. The back of the room is still packed and the overflow seats in the rotunda are still being occupied by a handful of citizens.
Multiple speakers are citing the amount of parks and outdoor recreation as their reason for moving to Whatcom County. “Opponents say that we have more parks per person than any other county, as if that is a bad thing!” Another speaker reinforces the point, “Our natural beauty is a huge economic benefit because of our ability to draw top talent because they want to live in our area.”
It seems that many of the speakers in opposition to this proposal are focusing on bashing local non-profits. I can think of only one speaker so far that has opposed the project without a swing at local non-profits.
Had to take a brief break from blogging to speak. I urged the council not to make this decision based on conspiracy theories and on the facts of the proposal. The woman who spoke in front of me said that the council “would not be able to sleep at night if you approve this. You can’t do this project on blind faith, this isn’t church!”
Another Van Werven spoke against Futurewise. “Why should our timber industry have to compete with the backroom deals of Futurewise when they don’t even want to cut down trees?”
Jackie Pettit said that this issue reminded her of Groundhog’s Day. “It has been studied and studied and discussed over and over.” The next speaker seemed to believe that this project would raise everyone’s property taxes and that the cost should be born by a tax on hotels. Which is weird since this project isn’t going to raise anyone’s taxes but why should facts intrude now? We are over two hours in and I am seriously regretting not grabbing dinner before this started.
The Executive Director of the Ski to Sea parade spoke eloquently in favor of the proposal. “We were recently ranked 9th best place to live in the nation . . . you can’t buy advertising that good.” He noted that our outdoor recreation continues to be one of the largest economic drivers for our area.
Speakers are beginning to dwindle although the crowd continues to stay in their seats. Could I begin to hope that we are getting near the end? I know it is slim but we might even have this wrapped up by 9:30pm.
Jeff Margolios of Van Zandt said that this effort is a public health measure, citing the drinking water benefits. If you are playing a drinking game that involves “carcinogens from chlorinated water”, you should drink. Just not poisoned water.
Right now we have a good old fashioned cranky old man (self described “Clean Phil”) up to speak. “I see a looming tax monster coming for me called ‘land conveyance’! I have yet to see the bill for how much this will cost. Where are the studies that say we really need a mega-park!” I couldn’t snag a picture of him so I have included a close approximation off to the right.
8:54pm – The crowd is finally beginning to thin, with about a third of the seats empty. The latest speaker ended with this head-scratcher, “You want clean water, I will pump you some from the Nooksack, but it sounds like this whole project is just an effort to give Bellingham clean water.” Um . . . and that’s a bad thing because?
Local KGMI personality Kris Haltermann takes the microphone, and begins by complaining that “special interests” have been sending “private emails” to council members. “What is the actual intention of the council for this land? Has anyone on the council made the effort to find out what the tax implications of this choice on county residents.”
For those of you who were waiting for the Growth Management Act to be mentioned, it is Larry Helm who brings it up first this evening. “Pete once sent me a letter telling me I had a problem with my cows. That’s when I started to learn about the Growth Management Act.” I’m curious to see how this connects in. Oh wait, there it is, “Fees and taxes, we should be looking at how much the state is doing and if they are doing a good job. If they are doing a good job, why should we mess it up?”
Praise Cthulhu! Kershner announces that we are getting down to our last couple of sign up sheets. Another speaker is asking for Ken Mann and Pete Kremen to recuse themselves from the vote because “they started this mess!” Last time I checked, that doesn’t really qualify as a reason note to vote on something.
Okay folks, I’m afraid that I have to call it quits for tonight. My lovely wife is getting off work at Terra Organica and I need to pick her up so tragically, I will not be able to report on the final vote but I plan to update this post later tonight with the results and pictures. Thank you all for sticking with it so far.
UPDATE: Looks like the proposal passed! After a series of stalling measures by Knutzen that were defeated on 4-3 lines (Knutzen, Kershner and Brenner opposed) the measure came up for an up/down vote and Kershner, seeing which way the wind was blowing, decided to support the project making the final vote 5-2 in favor of the proposal. Well done, County Council!
According to reports of those still in the chambers, the local Tea Party was not happy that their darling Kathy Kershner had supported this project in the end, “The Tea Party elected her. We can get rid of her.” We will see if this issue comes up in the upcoming elections.
Below are those pictures I was snapping all evening. They are also on The Political Junkie facebook page, if you are into that sort of thing.