Last Tuesday, I sat down with Mayor Kelli Linville to discuss the pressing issues of the city. Linville is just finishing up her first term as mayor – a capstone to a long record of public service.
For several years, she was the state representative from the 42nd District, however the Tea Party wave in 2010 allowed newcomer (and rock-collecting enthusiast) Vincent Buys to oust Linville. Rather than simply return to her antique furniture business, Linville decided to run for Mayor of Bellingham barely edging past incumbent Dan Pike in a campaign that can at best be described as brutal.
Her administration has been marked by some dramatic movement on the Port, but also some sharp criticism over her struggles with the Roosevelt neighborhood, her support for Peacehealth’s $1.2 million tax exemption, and most recently, her proposed ordinances to address the homelessness in our downtown core.
Starting with this “street-sweeper” ordinance, Linville is quick to correct me that this is about “the homeless issue.” She said these two ordinances were developed by a community solutions work group, “that brought together non-likeminded people to look at solutions that can be enacted quickly to address this problem.” This solutions work group included city staff, downtown business owners, mental health professionals and social service workers with the goal of creating a downtown that was safe and welcoming to all walks of life. The Cascadia Weekly did a great article this week summarizing all the city’s efforts to tackle homelessness in Bellingham.
“The real issue is the failure to respond,” Linville said. “When you or I get a ticket, we usually do something about it, but there is a certain group of people that don’t.” Last year, 376 citations were handed out downtown for drinking in public. Linville says that of those 376, 50-60 are chronic offenders. “There was no teeth in responding to ordinances . . . this would make sure that we can hold them accountable and give them an opportunity to hook them up with services.”
Linville ties it into police discretion. “Cops are able to use this, but they don’t have to. It just gives them another tool they can use.” In the wake of Ferguson, and more recently, Pasco, WA, police enforcement can be a hot button issue, but Linville sees our local police differently and took a rare swipe at City Councilmember Terry Bornemann.
“During the discussion (over the ordinances), Terry said that he doesn’t trust the police to use discretion. I’m a little saddened that he would say something that hurtful in public.”
Linville notes that she has complete confidence in the Bellingham police to do the right thing, noting the recent community and neighborhood policing efforts. “(The ordinance) was written broadly because not responding to law enforcement is not good, but I trust that they will only enforce this when they don’t respond.”
Noble intentions, but Linville readily admits that “the introduction of these (ordinances) was clumsy,” something for which she takes full responsibility. However, she is confident that these are the right solutions and will be supported by the council.
Moving right along, I asked about my current pet peeve, the closing of James Street. The project, which was started in August of 2014, was projected to be complete by November, yet here we are in mid February and it is still closed. Why is it closed, I ask. “I don’t know,” Linville sighs and I shoot her my best questioning eyebrow.
“Some of it was the weather, part of it is the public works director took his attention from the project to other issues.” Although she briefly reassures me that Public Works Director Ted Carlson is “wonderful” and that the street should be finished by the “end of February.”
I asked Linville point blank if she was running for reelection, she said yes without pause but asked that I sit on it till Friday (which I did) so she can send out an email to her supporters. “I feel really good about what we do. I have a good record and I’m proud of it.” She notes that I’m the first news person to ask her about reelection.
Circling back to the waterfront, Linville stresses that she is very happy with how it is going. “We have made more progress when I was mayor than any other mayor before.” She points to the signing of the plan in 2013 with the port as a big step forward but “everything takes longer than you think it will.” But she is crystal clear about the final goal. “We’ll get the clean up we’re asking for . . . we can’t give people access to contaminated soil. Nothing’s perfect but I can see the progress we are making.”
With that, we wrap up the interview. This will, hopefully, be a recurring feature. So if there are some questions that you want answered, leave them in the comments below. In the meantime, I’ll go back to reading Sen. Doug Ericksen’s legislative proposals . . . blech.