Letters for the week of July 17, 2019

All of it, plus three inches

I’ve been enjoying the Weekly for many years. I always read Amy Kepferle, Mr. Cranky, Fuzz Buzz, Advice Goddess, Trail Rat, Last Weeks News, and at least three inches of the Gristle.

—Roger Lamb, Bellingham

Smoke evacuation at jail

Thank you for your balanced approach to the reporting of the smoke evacuation issue in the existing jail in last week’s Gristle. 
I do have one item that has a material impact related to the discussion that I would like the community to know as the discussion related to this continues. The existing jail was built without a smoke evacuation system, as it was not a requirement at the time of construction. It is fact that in the Design2Last Phase 1A report it was identified as a deficiency as noted in your article, but after further research on the subject, Design2Last reported on page 58 of the Phase 1B document the following:
“At the time of the facility’s design in 1981, the State of Washington adopted the 1976 Uniform Building Code (UBC) and 1976 Uniform Fire Code (UFC). Neither of these codes have a requirement for a smoke control system in an I-occupancy building. The requirement for smoke control came after the building was designed (1981) and constructed (1982) in the 1985 building code.
“Our team has been designing jails since the 80’s and has typically included smoke control as part of best design practices. Current codes prescribe a combination of fire detection, fire control/suppression, smoke compartmentation, smoke control, and inmate movement/egress to provide an adequate level of fire/life safety protection. This task addresses only the smoke control portion of the current code requirements.
“The facility does not have a smoke control system complying with current code for the two-story housing units on the west side of the building. If the jail was built today, and fell under the 2015 IBC section 408.9 requirements for a group I-3 occupancy and a windowless building, a smoke control system would be required in each smoke compartment (each housing unit is considered a smoke compartment). The jail is considered a windowless building because there are no windows in the smoke compartment, they are not operable and they are not readily breakable.”
Based on Design2Last research, this is an important nuance to remember for a couple of reasons. 1. Prior administration and relevant permitting agencies were not negligent related to this issue in 1981, and 2. The building was not designed to contemplate a smoke evacuation system, so it is difficult (and extremely expensive) to retrofit the existing jail to meet what is now a current code requirement.
With all of that said, my goal would be to augment the fire suppression systems in the jail to come as close to current code as reasonably possible. The approved work plan adopted based on the Phase 1A and Phase 1B reports from Design2Last is a good start to making a material impact on the safety of the inmates and staff in the facility.

—Jack Louws, Whatcom County Executive

Affordable Housing

Our best-intended leaders talk about improving housing, but “affordable housing” keeps slipping further out of reach.
Zoning in unincorporated Whatcom County that allows more affordable housing is blocked by the Growth Management Act and lawsuits by Futurewise and others. The cities have failed to make the zoning changes for affordable housing because of the “not in my backyard” neighborhood attitudes.
Bellingham has the “infill toolkit” but it has been used five times in eight years. Western Washington University has an enrollment of almost 16,000 but provides housing for 3,519 students in 16 halls, leaving more than 12,000 students competing for housing.
All these and many more factors contribute to rising rents.
From renting there is an unobtainable leap to the dream of home ownership in all Whatcom County. If a family wants to own their home, they are forced to the far reaches of the county or to leave altogether. The cities, especially Bellingham, need to change zoning to include more townhomes, condos, manufactured homes and small houses. This should be done in multiple neighborhoods to provide affordable home ownership.
We are faced with an election of a new mayor in Bellingham and a new county executive for the county.
Leadership in the issue of affordable house will require making unpopular tough decisions that reflect our values. How the candidates come with real answers and real follow-through should drive how you cast your vote.

—Les Seelye, Bellingham

‘Build, baby, build’

At a recent meeting of the City Council Planning and Development committee, Council member Michael Lilliquist discussed the affordable housing issue facing Bellingham and the entire Puget Sound area.
He said that the issue is far more complicated than simple supply and demand, noting that some causes of rising housing prices include the availability of cheap financing, the investor mentality in home buying, and wages not keeping up with the costs of construction. In regard to the idea of increasing density to address the housing crisis, he noted that, “Increasing density can create lower cost per unit but it also increases the value of land and the price of land. So density, the thing which is supposedly going to lead to more affordable housing, in the short term actually makes land more expensive.”
Lilliquist said, “It’s not Economics 101… you have to approach it very carefully and very thoughtfully, and also incrementally. Many of these things work themselves out in time but not right away. You don’t pass a law and the problem is fixed the next day. There have to be some serious adjustments in how people behave, how people buy, how builders build, how bankers loan.”
The serious thought he has given to these complex and difficult issues stands in marked contrast to that of mayoral candidate April Barker and her one-size-fits-all “build, baby, build” mentality.
Barker is a real estate speculator and pro-development candidate who asks us to believe that throwing Bellingham’s single-family neighborhoods wide open to developers will not only eliminate the housing crisis, but also bring about social justice, racial equity and solve climate change!
Barker’s ideas have already been tried and failed in Seattle. They have resulted in destruction of neighborhoods, decrease in quality of life and no increase in affordability.
Barker’s goal from the beginning of her one term on the City Council has been to eliminate single-family zoning. This would enable speculators to buy single-family homes in any neighborhood and bulldoze them in order to build more profitable multifamily units.
In pursuit of this goal, Barker has created an us-versus-them mentality, trying to convince people struggling with housing affordability that homeowners in single-family zones are the enemy. She has expressed her frustration with Bellingham’s neighborhood associations getting in the way of her plans, claiming they are “always thinking about protections and exclusions.”
At a mayoral forum Barker complained bitterly about “being pulled in every single direction” as a Council member and about constituents “screaming at our door.”
This is not the temperament or attitude I would expect from someone who wants to be mayor.
Her ideas would only lead to the destruction of this unique and charming city, and I urge you to reject them.

—Amy Fleming, Bellingham

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