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The Gristle

More subdued than excited

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

MORE SUBDUED THAN EXCITED: Inevitable perhaps, Bellingham City Council this week surrendered to the Port of Bellingham’s lamentable plan for the central waterfront. A glum crowd, bleeding defeat, had by that hour largely deserted. Fully a third of war-weary council members were eager to ink an agreement, any agreement. Another third seemed oathbound, apprehensive about passing along the plan and its nuanced discussion to fledgling members arriving in January who are not immersed in the history and issues related to the waterfront. The last third were, despite all anxiety, quite at a loss to know how to meaningfully fix the mess without unraveling the whole. Their dilemma, of course, was by design.

When one side in a negotiation wants their way as the bedrock fiat of their bargaining position and the other side wants very much to be a pleasant and accommodating partner as their central organizing goal, the outcome of negotiation is preordained—it’s only a question of how deeply the tank treads will thrash through the marshmallow.

The agreement assures the port and developers are made financially whole through the commitment of millions of dollars of city taxes for a plan no citizen in Bellingham generally or particularly loves. It is further a plan that, in the end, provides token assurance of achieving the lofty sorts of public goals promised to ’hamsters at the outset. The “good” is spongy and aspirational; the “bad” is baked hard into the core guarantees of the plan.

In the end, City Council failed in its most crucial role to represent the citizens of Bellingham and protect their interests.

A decade ago, nearly 20 governments and agencies were agreed on a plan that would involve the deep pockets of Georgia-Pacific (now owned by multi-billionaire Koch Industries) and the federal Army Corps of Engineers to achieve a more thorough cleanup of Whatcom Waterway and the inner harbor. The Port of Bellingham, without any public process, hijacked that agreement and swapped in their own plan, which released deep pockets from additional financial contribution. The final ransom approved by council this week rewards the hijackers, with piddling guarantees for the well-being of the hostage.

Half a decade ago, Bellingham City Council was assured they would have final say on the details of the plan. This assurance set in motion a series of assumptions—that council needn’t be involved in the minutiae of planning, that the various set pieces of the plan were fluid and capable of revision, that they needn’t sweat the interim details because the package would arrive to them malleable for meaningful policy discussion. Half a decade later, staff insisted that things in the plan had been in the plan for so long there was no changing them now, cemented in place there was no point in questioning them now. Surely had they known this, council policymakers would have insisted on being more directly involved earlier. The entire landscape of council’s expectations and involvement with the master plan amounts to a cruel bait-&-switch.

The bait-&-switch continued throughout council’s deliberations through the fall.

The degraded condition of the former GP mill site, a deserted brownfield riddled with neurotoxins, essentially means that any activity along the waterfront represents a net improvement. Thus is straw spun to gold. Planning staff selectively juxtaposed this dismal horizon against the lofty yet inconvenient goals crafted through hundreds of hours of public involvement—the creation of living-wage jobs, the remediation of habitat, the preservation of generous public space—to demonstrate that something, no matter how woeful, was better than nothing. In that case, why plan at all?

Port and city staff were adamant throughout that (mythical) potential developers required “certainty” in their entitlements and assurances of public subsidy. The plan also, staff were certain, required “flexibility” in regards to public expectations of access and marine restoration. Not knowing who said developers are, staff sure knew what they wanted. Sadly, the banging of “certainty” against “flexibility” only accumulates in one direction: The developer is bestowed all the binding shalls, the public is glossed with the aspirational mays; ironclad assurances accrue for the developer, none for the public; continued largesse for the developer is fueled by costly outlay by the public.

In perhaps the most egregious example of imbalance, the agreement cooks the value of roadway and shoreline transfers provided to the port by the city at $8 per square foot (the value of land zoned industrial), or $3.78 million; meanwhile, the city must purchase back its parks and open space from the port at an upzoned rate of $25 per square foot (the value of land upzoned to multi-use), or $5.79 million. What the port gets to buy cheap, the city must buy back dear. And this expensive transfer occurs only after city taxpayers have already invested additional millions of dollars in road and infrastructure improvements that allow the port to flip the property to a private developer.

Recent history assures us Bellingham City Council would have never negotiated away assurances of development standards and impact re­mediations with any known and present developer. Yet they negotiated thus with the port, who is simply acting as a screen and a broker for some unseen fictional developer. Importantly, it is a master developer of the port’s particular imagining: A hackneyed developer whose greed and lack of civic engagement must be accommodated at all costs, who’ll tolerate little but race-to-the-bottom standards of the lowest denominator, an unmasked mirror of the port’s own dark soul.

SVCR Cash-In
Past Columns
Jack’s Attack

December 7, 2016

Lawless

November 30, 2016

Forever Protecting

November 23, 2016

YOYO vs. WITT

November 16, 2016

REDMAP

November 2, 2016

Civil War

October 26, 2016

Twice Zero

October 19, 2016

Convergent Streams

October 12, 2016

Blockadia

October 5, 2016

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

Events
Today
Winter Book Sale

10:00am|Bellingham Public Library

Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Santa at Yeager's

4:00pm|Yeager's Toyland

A Christmas Story

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|4145 Meridian St.

The Lights of Christmas

5:00pm|Warm Beach Camp

Teen Art Show

6:30pm|Oak Harbor Library

The Happy Elf

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Irving Berlin's White Christmas

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Toys for Tots

9:00am|1650 Birchwood Ave.

Learn a little, dance a little

9:15am

20th annual Pacific Arts Market

10:00am|Sunset Square

Bellingham Folk Festival

4:30pm|Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship

Santa Train

5:00pm|Miniature Fun Center

Wonderland Walk

5:00pm|Washington Park

Pippi Longstocking

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

Winter Wonderland

7:00pm|Nooksack High School Auditorium

A Night of Drama (and Comedy)

7:00pm|Explorations Academy

The North Pole Express

7:00pm|Bellingham Sportsplex

Ghosts and Games

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Breakfast with Santa

8:30am|Sedro-Woolley Community Center

Make It, Take It

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Jingle Bell Run

9:00am|Bellingham High School

NSEA Work Party

9:00am|Whiskey Creek

Instructor Hiring Fair

9:00am|Bellingham Technical College

Breakfast with Santa

9:00am|Bellingham Childcare & Learning Center

Jingle Bell Run

9:00am|Bellingham High School

Winter Wonderland

10:00am|Children's Museum of Skagit County

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Coast Salish Winter Festival

10:00am|Lummi Gateway Center

Sleighbells Ring

10:00am|Bellewood Acres

Skagit Eagle Festival

10:00am|Howard Miller Steelhead Park

Holiday Faire

10:00am|Whatcom Hills Waldorf School

Holiday Tea

10:00am|South Whatcom Library

Lynden Book Club

10:30am|Lynden Library

John Walton Holiday Magic Shows

11:00am|Walton Theatre

Pet Pictures with Santa

12:00pm|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Artists' Registry Show

12:00pm|San Juan Island Museum of Art

Fairhaven Holiday Festival

12:00pm|Fairhaven Village Inn

Holiday Food Show

12:00pm|Haggen stores

Eat. Drink, and Be Merry

12:00pm|Anderson Acres Barn

Holiday Jewels

1:00pm|McIntyre Hall

Holly Street History Tour

1:00pm|Holly Street

Homes for the Holidays

1:00pm|Lynden

Kids and Teens Holiday Gift Bazaar

2:00pm|Deming Library

International Human Rights Day

3:00pm|WECU Education Building

Good Yule Feast

3:00pm|Leopold Crystal Ballroom

BUG Holiday Concert

3:00pm|Ferndale Library

Poetry Trio

4:00pm|Village Books

Gratitude Revolution Reception

4:00pm|Good Earth Pottery

Holiday Brewers Boutique

4:00pm|K2 Taphouse

Lighted Boat Parade

5:00pm|Swinomish Channel

Christmas Sing-Along

7:00pm|Christ Episcopal Church

Art Collaborations

7:00pm|Village Books

Fidalgo DanceWorks' Nutcracker

7:00pm|Brodniak Hall

Edward Albee Reading Series

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Skagit Valley Chorale's Christmas Journeys

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Kulshan Chorus Winter Concert

7:30pm|Bellingham High School

Silk Road Soiree

8:00pm|Presence Studio

MBT Tenors Village Books
Tomorrow
Deck the Old City Hall

12:00pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Santa at Yeager's

4:00pm|Yeager's Toyland

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|4145 Meridian St.

The Lights of Christmas

5:00pm|Warm Beach Camp

Irving Berlin's White Christmas

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

The Happy Elf

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Learn a little, dance a little

9:15am

20th annual Pacific Arts Market

10:00am|Sunset Square

Bellingham Folk Festival

4:30pm|Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship

Santa Train

5:00pm|Miniature Fun Center

Pippi Longstocking

7:00pm|BAAY Theatre

Skagit Eagle Festival

10:00am|Howard Miller Steelhead Park

Sleighbells Ring

10:00am|Bellewood Acres

Winter Wonderland

10:00am|Children's Museum of Skagit County

Fidalgo DanceWorks' Nutcracker

7:00pm|Brodniak Hall

Skagit Valley Chorale's Christmas Journeys

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

Rabbit Ride

8:00am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Supplies to Standing Rock

10:00am|Periwinkle Lane

Chorus Christmas

3:00pm|United Church of Ferndale

Greeting and Giving

3:00pm|Lummi Island Library

Nativity Dance

3:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Jack Straw Readings

4:00pm|Village Books

Holiday Special

5:00pm|St. John's Lutheran Church

Andrew Subin Artifacts Wine Bar
Monday
Santa at Yeager's

4:00pm|Yeager's Toyland

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|4145 Meridian St.

Gingerbread Houses

3:00pm|Semiahmoo Resort

Pilates for Skiers and Snowboarders

6:00pm|REI

Campbell Road

6:30pm|Mount Vernon City Library

Books on Tap

6:30pm|Tino's Pizza & Pasta Co.

The Little Mermaid Auditions

7:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Poetrynight

8:00pm| Bellingham Public Library

Guffawingham

9:30pm|Green Frog

see our complete calendar »

MBT Tenors Artifacts Wine Bar Northwood Steak and Crab Andrew Subin Northwest Ballet Bellingham Farmer’s Market Village Books Swinomish 2016 Cascadia Weekly Subscribe Ad 1