"}
The Gristle

The drive for five

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

THE DRIVE FOR FIVE: Just over one century ago, the People of Washington, exhausted by decades of abuse from the robber barons, established port authorities and utility districts, each designed to push back against the abuses of private corporations. Public utility districts were established, with the aid of the state’s powerful grange movement, to bring electrical service to distant rural farms after profit-hungry investor-owned utilities refused. In the case of ports, they were intended (ironically, in light of our times) to resist the efforts of the railroads, the degree to which these corporations had corrupted the federal courts in their efforts to corner the state’s shorelines and harbor access.

The People of Washington were wise in 1912.

As originally chartered, ports and PUDs were each governed by a board of elected commissions of three members, the tiniest number of representatives that might produce some approximate of a democratic result. Over the century, the role of PUDs has changed very little from their original charter; however, ports added airports, public infrastructure, real estate, environmental remediation, and a bevy of other growing complexities to an emerging mandate of economic development.

For example, the Port of Bellingham in 2005 acquired more than 64 acres of polluted industrial land on the city’s central waterfront, adding dramatically to the complexity of the agency’s portfolio and duties.

In 1994, in recognition of the expanding role and complexity of port operations, our own former state Sen. Harriet Spanel ushered through the Legislature a law that would clarify and permit the expansion of port commissions from three to five members. In July, at the urging of Spanel and others, Port of Bellingham commissioners approved such a measure for the Whatcom County ballot this November.

The impetus for the expansion was driven in large part by the commission’s ill-considered termination of the agency’s executive director, Charlie Sheldon, following two costly talent searches and after he was on the job just 18 months. And while the Gristle is not at all convinced a larger, better informed commission might have prevented that underhanded act—driven as it was by quasi-legal insider machinations and the apparent overreach of certain junior staff with a greedy eye on the increase of their own salaries and pensions—the larger, more durable point remains about the growing complexity (and costs) of decisions made by the Port of Bellingham board of commissioners.

We need more, and better, representation on the Port of Bellingham commission.

Commissioners last week introduced three potential candidates to replace Sheldon in advance of that vote, no doubt to stamp their imprimatur deep into port operations before voters have an opportunity to alter that direction.

The Port of Bellingham and City of Bellingham also took an additional step this month toward easing at least some complexity, approving an interlocal agreement that would transfer and consolidate properties north and south of Whatcom Waterway. The agreement transfers port ownership of proposed parkland against the Sehome bluffs in exchange for the agency gaining greater control over the marine trades area adjacent to the former GP tissue warehouse. The transfer eases issues related to the waterfront master planning process set to begin next year, including freeing the city from commitments of up to $3 million in wharf improvements in the marine trades area.

Late in their meeting last week, Port Commission President Scott Walker requested a change in the agency’s budget to study a new building in the acquired marine trades area that might jumpstart waterfront redevelopment. Walker suggested the construction of new port offices, built with public dollars, as a means to inspire the confidence of private developers in the area.

His request amply illustrates the dementia of the port commission.

The port’s current offices on Roeder Avenue were built at public expense as part of the agency’s Bellwether expansion, a scheme concocted without coordination with city planning that pulled energy out of the downtown core. Unable to find tenants to bear their exorbitant rents, the port remodeled and moved in. Even so, the complex remains extensively under-occupied.

The commission’s knifing of their popular and capable director—engineered almost wholly by Walker and key staff by bullying other commissioners and other staff into ignorance and befuddlement—to this day defies explanation, other than in one aspect: Sheldon’s vision of an agency looking outward for economic development prosperity to share with the broader community versus Walker’s perverse vision of rentiers dedicated to their own expansion and largesse, a vision in which the port’s tax-exempt taxing authority is actually leveraged in competition against the private sector. His vision is utterly hostile to and contemptuous of a working waterfront and a historic economy built around marine uses, as fishermen know.

Walker imagines the “economic development” mandate of the port as one in which the agency continually lines its own pockets. In the end,  all that is in those pockets is laundered lint. Small wonder Sheldon—who exposed that, resisted that—had to go.

An expanded commission might readdress the necessary assumptions that undergird the port’s acquisition of the Georgia-Pacific property—a vision of rents on yachts and high-rise condos—surely transformed after the catastrophic collapse of the bubble that supported those assumptions. And an expanded commission might be better equipped to cooperate more fully with the City of Bellingham and its public development authority on the central waterfront.

The time is right, and the time has come.

Ticket Cascadia
Past Columns
A Stitch In Time

September 28, 2016

Closer to home

September 21, 2016

Zombie Stumbles On

September 14, 2016

Drip-drip-drip:

September 7, 2016

Much ADU about nothing

August 31, 2016

A Matter of Equity

August 24, 2016

A Lock on the Crypt

August 17, 2016

Zombie Terror

August 10, 2016

A Raucous Caucus

August 3, 2016

Lockup Lockstep

July 27, 2016

Polar Wastes

July 20, 2016

Chapter Two

July 13, 2016

Close the Schools!

June 22, 2016

Closing a Circle

June 8, 2016

Roads to Nowhere

May 25, 2016

Trails versus Jail

May 18, 2016

Events
Today
Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

A gold medal standard

4:00pm

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Ensembulele

4:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Final After-Hours Market

4:00pm|Depot Market Square

Autumn Soups

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Tame Your Inner Critic

7:00pm|Village Books

Little Women

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Looking for Betty MacDonald

7:30pm|Village Books

The Music Man

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

The Miracle Worker

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Village Books Northwood Steak and Crab
Tomorrow
Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

A gold medal standard

4:00pm

Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

The Music Man

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

The Miracle Worker

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Little Women

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

Wild Things

9:30am|Whatcom Falls Park

Quilt & Fiber Arts Festival

10:00am|La Conner

Parkinson's Dance Class

10:00am|Ballet Bellingham

Spanish Storytime

10:30am|Lynden Library

Ferndale Farmers Market

1:00pm|Cherry Street

Get an edible education

4:00pm

Autumn Celebration Dinner

5:30pm|Bellingham Senior Activity Center

Love, Loss and What I Wore

7:30pm|Heiner Auditorium

Hellingham

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Handling the truth

9:35pm

Bellingham Farmer’s Market Artifacts Wine Bar
Saturday
Whatcom Water Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

The Music Man

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Little Women

7:30pm|Whidbey Playhouse

The Miracle Worker

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Quilt & Fiber Arts Festival

10:00am|La Conner

Get an edible education

4:00pm

Love, Loss and What I Wore

7:30pm|Heiner Auditorium

Hellingham

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Handling the truth

9:35pm

Run Like a Girl

8:00am|Fairhaven Park

Model Train Show

9:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Benefit Garage Sale

9:00am|T.G. Richards Building

Twin Sisters Farmers Market

9:00am|Nugent's Corner

Cabbage Class

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Mount Vernon Farmers Market

9:00am|Riverfront Plaza

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Healthcare Film

9:30am|Bellingham Public Library

Whatcom Artist Studio Tour

10:00am|Whatcom County

Fermentation Fun

10:00am|Blaine Library

Skagit Valley Festival of Family Farms

10:00am|Skagit County

Fall Fruit Festival

10:00am|Cloud Mountain Farm Center

Film is Truth Anniversary Party

10:00am|Bellingham Public Market

Fall Family Fun

10:00am|Glen Echo Garden

Birding Walk

10:00am|South Whatcom Library

Porpathon

10:00am|Salish Sea

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|Peace Portal Drive

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Buddy Walk

11:00am|Fairhaven Village Green

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

National Geographic's 50 Greatest Photos Opening

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Lightcatcher Building

Banned Books Week Read-In

12:30pm|Village Books

Intro to NaNoWriMo

1:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Artist Lecture

1:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Matched Makers Opening

2:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Timber Rose

2:00pm|North Fork Library

Traditional Jazz

2:00pm|VFW Hall

Blessing of the Animals

3:30pm|Cornwall Park

Poetry Palavers

4:00pm|Village Books

Edison Opening

5:00pm|Smith & Vallee Gallery

Matzke Art Auction

5:00pm|Matzke Fine Art Gallery and Sculpture Park

Celebrating Jack Prelutsky

5:30pm|Western Library

Fred Morrison

7:00pm|Littlefield Celtic Center

The Aimees

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

USA Dance

7:00pm|Presence Studio

George Winston

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Folk Dance Party

7:30pm|Fairhaven Library

Tannahill Weavers

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Bellingham Chamber Music Society

7:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

see our complete calendar »

{/exp:stash:get_list} Swinomish 2016 Everybody’s Store CW BOB 2016 Andrew Subin Zoots Side Bar Artifacts Wine Bar Village Books Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1 Northwood Steak and Crab Mount Baker Theatre Bellingham Farmer’s Market