The Gristle


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

YOYO vs. WITT: If any odor can be sniffed from the national election, it’s YOYO: You’re On Your Own, with local governments cast increasingly adrift from federal funding sources and federal goals. It’s not at all an unfair characterization of modern movement conservatism that it imagines no nexus at all between federal and state governments—the former must be choked and severed, its role limited, to produce independence for the latter. The latter meanwhile remains paralyzed in Washington—the upper house of the state Legislature in the control of Republicans by a single vote; the lower house of the Legislature in the control of Democrats by a single vote. To imagine that state will get anything accomplished in the next biennium is extreme optimism, meaning any financial and political relief are kicked even further down to the local level: YOYO. Whatever Bellingham or Ferndale or Anacortes imagine they may need in the next decade, they must achieve on their own.

No assistance will arrive from the Washington in the District of Columbia; and very little assistance will arrive from the Washington in Olympia.

The aggressive directives of the federal government—entirely in the hands of unified Republicans for the first time since 1928, and unshackled by any generous liberal sentiments that might’ve existed in the 1928 Party of Lincoln—will create a particular problem and challenge for the West Coast states, which rejected that conservative “mandate” by a large margin. The West Coast moves seismically away from the east in approaches to social and environmental justice, and shows no interest in slowing that continental drift. The state supported the Democratic nominee for president by 55 percent, with Whatcom County support only a fraction less. Democrat Patty Murray was hugely supported for reelection to the United States Senate. Congressional Representative Rick Larsen outpaced his opponent two-to-one in voter support; as did state Senator Kevin Ranker.

Which is a roundabout way of saying the federal government will impose much that is onerous and obnoxious to the state while denying any revenue to respond to those onerous demands. This is a recipe for civil uprising—no taxation without representation—where denied benefit or interest in federal goals, a citizenry must therefore actively resist those goals in the spirit of peaceful American Revolution.

It’s going to require activism, an active citizenship, a higher demand on citzen groups—and the obvious constructive outlet for that are the municipal boards and commissions that very often serve as the entry point and training ground for future service as an elected official. There, one learns the ropes of governance.

The kiln in which future electeds are made has traditionally been the planning commission, an advisory group to local policymakers authorized under state law. That statutory authorization (RCW 35.63) confers upon planning commissioners a higher duty and quasi-judiciary function on the most contentious of municipal decisions—local land-use regulations, such as zoning or subdivision code. Planning commissions make (or break) neighborhoods.

Both Whatcom County and Bellingham City Council are currently reimagining their planning commissions; and while their motives for doing so differ, and the reasons for seeking change are divergent, their goals are the same: To increase citizen participation in this most critical public function that often serves as gateway to greater participation in municipal government.

Bellingham City Council member Terry Bornemann this week introduced an ordinance that would limit the number of voting members of the commission that are actively engaged in the buying, selling, developing, construction of, or investment in real estate for profit. Currently there is a surfeit of city planning commissioners with financial interest in development—they have an enthusiasm for the subject and a working knowledge of its particulars—and while the direct concern of members of Council is the potential for self-dealing in land-use decisions by commissioners with profit stake in those outcomes, the indirect concern is more of groupthink, a narrowly constrained board failing through limitations in membership to consider wider public interests in planning recommendations. Bornemann’s proposal attempts to check both concerns.

“The intent,” Bornemann commented, “is to address the possible appearance of bias by one sector that could benefit financially by the recommendations and decisions made by the commission.” Noting he had no concerns with any current member of the commission, “anytime there is potential for large amounts of money to be made or lost over decisions made with land-use decisions, there is potential for bias to arise when people, who make their living from increased development, hold a majority in a decision-making body.” His aim, he said, was to address what appears to be a growing concern with trust in local government. “I feel we owe it to citizens to be as transparent and open and inclusive as we can.”

County Council’s task is alegbraic: How to apportion its nine-member commission—originally selected three apiece from three districts—from five newly drawn voting districts. In the end, Council appeared to favor eliminating the district requirement altogether, freeing them to select the most qualified, capable commission from wherever commissioners may reside.

Both jurisdictions face a similar challenge: They’re not getting enough applicants for these positions as is, without overburdening or limiting membership with additional requirements.

“Many times, the planning commission acts as a stepping stone to those working in this position,” Bornemann said of Council. “If people know we are looking for a broad spectrum of voices on the committee, I believe we will have the pool of applicants to do that work.”

Step up, citizens. We’re In This Together.

ICU Roof #2
Past Columns
Bronze Rule

November 22, 2017

Napkin Plan

November 15, 2017

Less Wave Than Slosh

November 8, 2017

Statistics of Shame

November 1, 2017

Cashing Out, Cashing In

October 25, 2017

A Creeping Paralysis

October 18, 2017

Fire and Water

October 11, 2017


September 27, 2017

Ounce of Prevention

September 20, 2017

Dwelling On It

September 13, 2017

Keeping the Dream Alive

September 6, 2017

A Bridge Too Far?

August 23, 2017

The Missing Middle

August 16, 2017

The Last, Best Solution

August 9, 2017

Fire and Water III

August 2, 2017

Fire and Water II

July 26, 2017

Fire and Water

July 19, 2017

Some Assembly Required

July 12, 2017

Good, Bad, Ugly

July 5, 2017

Zero Hour

June 28, 2017

Turkey Trot

8:00am|La Conner High School

Old Town Thanksgiving Dinner

10:00am|Old Town Cafe

Thanksgiving Buffet Dinner

12:00pm|Four Points Sheraton

Thanksgiving Dinner in Ferndale

12:00pm|United Church of Ferndale

Thanksgiving Dinner Potluck and Party

4:00pm|Firehouse Performing Arts Center

Wild Things

9:30am|Cornwall Park

Opt Outside

10:00am|Ferndale Haggen

Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|4145 Meridian St.

Hot Cider & Cool Art

10:00am|Morgan Block Studios

Spirit Festival

12:00pm|BelleWood Acres

Deck the Old City Hall Opening

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

Lighthouse Mission Thanksgiving Dinner

12:00pm|Church of the Assumption

Coffee Tasting

3:00pm|Camber Cafe

Fairhaven Winterfest

3:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Food Not Bombs

4:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Holiday Art Walk

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Harper & I's Nutcracker

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Anne of Green Gables

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Scrooge the Musical

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

The Christmas Schooner

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Backyard Brawl

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

Merry Monday Bellingham Farmer’s Market
Holiday Festival of the Arts

10:00am|4145 Meridian St.

Hot Cider & Cool Art

10:00am|Morgan Block Studios

Spirit Festival

12:00pm|BelleWood Acres

Deck the Old City Hall Opening

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

Holiday Art Walk

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

Harper & I's Nutcracker

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Scrooge the Musical

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Anne of Green Gables

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

The Christmas Schooner

7:30pm|Bellingham Theatre Guild

Backyard Brawl

8:00pm|Upfront Theatre

American Legion Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Hall

Holiday Craft Market

9:00am|Pioneer Meadows Montessori School

Indies First

9:00am|Village Books

Wreath Decoration Class

9:00am|Garden Spot Nursery

Sumas Writers Group

10:00am|Sumas Library

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Correspondence Club

10:30am|Mindport Exhibits

Hilltop Holiday Craft Sale

11:00am|La Conner Civic Garden Club

Women's Work International Market

11:00am|Mount Vernon Senior Center

Santa at Yeager's Toyland

12:00pm|Yeager's Toyland

Holiday Tea

12:00pm|Christianson's Nursery

Skagit Festival of Trees

12:30pm|Skagit Center

Skagit Festival of Trees

12:30pm|Skagit Center

Woodchopper's Ball

5:00pm|Guemes Island Community Center

Open Band Contra Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Deck the Halls Concert

7:00pm|Syre Auditorium

Return to Vietnam

7:30pm|Lummi Island Library

see our complete calendar »

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