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Letters for the week of January 17, 2018

A second Womxn’s march

On Saturday, January 20 we meet at City Hall at 10am to march for unity, equity, justice and humanity.
What I love about this year’s march in Bellingham is it is truly a grassroots effort. The national organization that coordinated the Women’s March in Washington DC and many other communities around the nation in 2017 is again calling for demonstrations of resistance, including a march in Seattle, but the organizing force behind our march is local: women and men energized by outrage at the current federal administration and united in their desire for change.
I predict a wide variety of signs and banners; calls to protect the environment, impeach Trump, for universal affordable health care, for immigrant, LGBTQ and reproductive rights, against racism—there is no shortage of issues that demand our attention. For me, Saturday’s march is the kickoff for the 2018 election campaign, when I hope new voices will be heard both here and in DC.

—Marian Exall, Bellingham

No thumb on the scale, please

When a County elected official is sworn in, they swear an oath to represent the interests of all citizens impartially. That is their oath.
Whatcom County Council should do the right thing for all citizens and temporarily appoint a well-qualified person to fill the seat vacated by Todd Donovan. This appointment should agree not to then run for this seat in the fall.
We know that a person appointed would get substantial advantage should they then decide to run for election. It is not in the citizens best interests though to give one candidate an advantage.
Please respect the voters’ rights to choose their candidate this fall, and not someone hand-chosen by the majority party on the Council. There is no need to put your thumb on the scales, nor is it the right thing to do. Democracy is safe with the voters this fall. Give all the candidates an honest and level playing field.

—Doug Karlberg, Bellingham

Next steps

In November Whatcom County’s jail proposition was defeated.
Now what?
Our jail is still in need of repairs and maintenance, it is still overcrowded (although there are reasonable alternatives to incarceration for certain non-felons that would alleviate this) and there is still a need for improved programs for those in need of mental health treatment.
To better understand “where do we go from here,” I listened to Joy Gilfilen, president of Restorative Community Coalition, as she outlined these concerns. Her advice—become better educated.
Get a copy of the Vera Institute of Justice report. Contact the Restorative CommUnity Coalition and become familiar with their work. Recommend that the Sheriff’s office move from the basement of the existing jail, opening up space in the current facility.
Promote “no bail” alternatives, after educating yourself on the issue.
We can move forward as educated, informed residents and make Whatcom County better for so many.

—Naomi Murphy, Ferndale

Supply and demand in housing forms

A housing shortage, like the one we have in Bellingham, does not discriminate based on political ideology. Imagine a socialist world where all homes are owned by the city, which has no profit motive: if we had 100 homes for 1,000 people, there’d be a line of people waiting. In our present-day capitalist system, homes go to the people who can pay the most, and the poorest are priced out.
No matter the economic system, if you have a shortage of homes, you will have people without homes. The solution is the same in both systems: build more housing.
The Seattle Times reported last week, “Rents are dropping significantly across the Seattle area for the first time this decade, as a flood of new construction has left apartments sitting empty in Seattle’s hottest neighborhoods… With rent hikes already slowing down and even more apartments set to open in 2018 and 2019, renters will gain more power to negotiate with landlords.”
On the other side of the world, socialist “Red Vienna” is growing like Seattle. Mike Eliason writes in City Observatory, “Both cities are responding by adding a fair amount of housing, but their approaches are vastly different. Vienna has been producing roughly 10,000 units per year, and is aiming to increase production to 13,000 per year by 2018. Seattle’s on pace for about 7,000 this year [2017], about the same as last year. The SPÖ (Social Democratic Party of Austria) leading the city last year introduced the “wohnbauoffensive”—a plan to reduce obstacles to construction and permitting, as well as increasing annual housing production by 30 percent in order to meet demand.
Yes, that’s right—lefties who don’t deny that supply and demand exist, and that the housing shortage must be addressed by building more housing—at all levels, as quickly as possible.
Meanwhile, a recent op-ed in Cascadia Weekly argues: landlords are greedy and bad, so changing the law to allow more homes across the city, like backyard cottages, is bad, because there would be new landlords of the new homes.
The author recognizes the problem that short-term rentals pose by taking much-needed housing supply off the market, but does not continue this line of logic forward as he recognizes the shortage, instead writing, “We cannot build or zone our way out of this problem.” Never mind that rents in Seattle are dropping due to recent increase in vacancy rate caused by increased supply of apartments.
If you care about tenants, then I invite you to advocate for more homes.
Backyard cottages could help end rising rents and give us options to rent from homeowners instead of notorious absentee landlords. The city has done great work with the rental inspection program, but having safer homes doesn’t matter if we can’t afford them. A higher vacancy rate balances the power dynamic between renters and landlords. When renters can be picky, we can pick quality and safety.

—Galen Herz, Bellingham

Big numbers

Yep! $6.5 trillion is a big number but you ain’t seen nothing yet.
The ledger “errors” noted in a recent article on a Defense Department audit were simply an absence of “journal vouchers!”
Apparently no cash stolen (it is hoped).
The current Department of Defense budget, all components considered, is approaching a trillion dollars now, at a little more than $800-plus billion. That includes DoD direct expenses, plus nuclear weapons, foreign aid, homeland security, etc.
It’s a military spending amount more than for the next 16 countries with a military including Russia and China.
The real fun is in DoD’s future. Mark the year 2024 on your schedule. The DoD cost for personnel alone—health, salaries, insurance, retirement, etc.—just seven years from now will exceed the DoD budget for everything else!

—Phil Hanson, Bellingham

Down the Hatch

I see that Orrin Hatch, the senior Senator from Utah, is set to end his Senate career after 40 years.
I’ll miss him: his upright Mormon righteousness, his stately presence and, most of all, his unending hypocrisy.
I watched just before Christmas as the Republicans gathered to celebrate their passage of the tax bill. They stood as a collective on the white marble steps of the South Portico, the White House behind them, their white faces gleaming in the afternoon sun. Even their shadows were white. Accolade after accolade to the great leader of their party. And when you thought you’d seen it all, Orrin, sinking down on his knees, almost in prayer, to deliver a stirring tribute to the Donald, bending his head down to lick the man’s shoes.
Oh, Orrin.

—Toby Heaton, Ferndale

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