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Letters to the Editor, Week of June 21, 2023

Old Town, homelessness, 'censorship' and the jail

Editor,

Re: “Bellingham’s Old Town primed for growth” by Ralph Schwartz on April 24, 2023.

In 2008, Bellingham’s Old Town was designated an “urban village” in an attempt to spur the development of 18 blocks of gravel lots and empty warehouses. Unfortunately, the city also kept archaic 1960s-era zoning rules in place that limited construction to small buildings with big parking lots. More than 15 years later, we know what that got us: vine-covered chain-link fences and rainwater-filled concrete pits. 

We finally have a chance to fix this mistake. On June 26, Bellingham City Council will consider a proposal to modernize these ancient zoning and parking rules in Old Town, aligning them with the rules currently in place downtown and opening the door for growth envisioned almost two decades ago. This is our opportunity to put our money where our mouth is by leading housing production to address our homelessness and affordability crises, and smart urban development to address our climate goals. 

Without these common-sense fixes, it may be another 15 years before we can welcome new neighbors to Old Town or enjoy a meal and some music at new Old Town businesses. 

Jamin Agosti

Bellingham


Editor,

Letters to the editor are the stage to let our voices carry the tunes of what concerns us.

The new rules limiting how long our songs can be and how well we get to develop our harmony with the gravitas of our lyrics, frankly does seem like a form of censorship … no matter what the Hammer says.

In the Daily, like all media, there are a lot of words masquerading as content that could be left unmissed on the cutting room floor to make room for community voices. Compliments to writers, editors, or politicians will always get play, no matter how gratuitous.

But is that what we look for in a community newspaper trying to be more than a firestarter in times where hate and disinformation spread like a red wave of wildfire from the right? In times where division lurks in every corner, some truths need to be spoken to the shameless earning the hate and fanning the flames. It is the only way we can know each other.

Michael Waite

Sedro-Woolley

Editor’s note: CDN publishes every letter it receives that meets published standards online — its primary publishing platform. The sole point of 250-word limits for letters is, in fact, to make room for more “community voices” in the print edition. 

Editor,

I was struck by your article on the increasing rates of homelessness (CDN, June 12, 2023), with the enormous amount of trash in the photo of the encampment behind Home Depot and WinCo Foods, even though that camp has subsequently been cleared. 

The city and Opportunity Council — with the help of partnering organizations, such as the Lighthouse Mission and Unity Care — have done an outstanding job working with the homeless population to provide basic services and shelter. However, despite their best efforts, too many people remain ensconced in makeshift encampments. I see no practical solution to sheltering everyone who is unhoused.

Given this situation and the accumulation of trash, garbage and human waste at these encampments, I propose that the city contract to provide portable toilets and trash cans at these sites. Unfortunately, many are too inaccessible to allow that to happen. It would be helpful to designate sanctioned homeless encampment sites that would make providing sanitary services possible. 

This would not completely solve the problems, since at least some of the homeless are too anti-social to be willing to live in that situation. It would, however, be a significant step in the right direction. It would allow human and health services to be focused on more concentrated populations and, presumably, those who would be open to the services offered.

As always, there will be pushback to such a plan, since it would make the homeless more visible. Unfortunate but inevitable.

John Dunne, MD

Bellingham


Editor,

Relating to Randall Potts’ excellent June 15 article, “City’s ‘emergency’ Lake Whatcom moratorium should become long-term”:

At the June 5 Bellingham City Council meeting, members of the Springland Court neighborhood and others questioned why there isn’t a planned permanent ban on future development around the waters of Lake Whatcom. City council member Michael Lilliquist responded: “There’s no project I know to develop any land. The city that I know of is not proposing to remove any forest. This has to do with the moratorium that actually prevents development in the watershed until we can formulate rules …” OK. Gotcha. Now we understand (says nobody) how the city plans to stop future development from continuing to degrade the lake and its drinking water.

City council translation: We cannot, in the foreseeable future, enact a permanent ban on development in the Lake Whatcom watershed because we simply don’t have the authority to do so.

It’s important to acknowledge that the city only retains authority over a small portion of the watershed (the northern tip), while the county has jurisdiction over the vast majority of it.

But the question still remains: Why, after all these years, does the county not so much as plan a ban on future development in the watershed? The underlying reasons for this impasse are so foundational, so intransigent, that they are almost never publicly explained by our governing bodies because to do so would convey an impression of hopelessness.

Everett James

Bellingham


Editor,

A very important issue before us is the construction of a new “jail.” 

Funding requests for large capital projects require the following elements in a capital budgeting proposal: a well-defined project scope; an accountable entity that ensures cost and schedule goals of the project are met; a project management plan and schedule; site plan details and sketches; a preliminary capital cost estimate and a firm, not-to-exceed budget.

A “well-defined scope” includes details of the physical size of the facility; and a clear definition of the bed count for incarceration, recreation, administration, wellness and rehabilitation.

Not having these elements in place before funding approval risks unmanaged scope growth, expensive change orders, project cost and schedule overruns, and the possibility of complete project failure. With respect to our jail project, none of these elements are in place, and only five months are left before the election. 

The county has only signaled a “preference” for a site; as expected, the pols are kicking the issue of total bed count between incarceration and rehabilitation down the road until after the election. Worse, there is no public agency, group or individual taking the lead to ensure accountability to the taxpayer for successful project execution, cost and schedule performance.

Without all these elements in place, if the new tax is approved, going forward, the taxpayer is at very large risk of another Post Point or billion-dollar jail. Thus, even at this early stage, there are issues of concern.

Bob Morton

Bellingham


Send Letters to the Editor to letters@cascadiadaily.com. Rules: Maximum 250 words, have a point and make it clearly. CDN reserves the right to edit letters for length, clarity, grammar and style, and personal attacks or offensive content. Letters should be submitted with an address/phone number to verify the writer’s identity (not for publication).

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