Common Threads Northwest spoke with David Ramirez, who is running for Whatcom County Council At-Large.
CTNW: Why are you running for election and why do you believe that you are qualified for this position?
David Ramirez: I'm running because I believe that there needs to be a voice for people that I feel that are not being represented in the council. I know that, if elected, I'd be the only minority on the council, and I think that's an important. To have that representation is one of the reasons why I'm running.
Qualifications: so, I've been in my career for almost 30 years now, in management. I work with a lot of people on different aspects: financials and budgeting. So, I understand that as part of the council; there's a lot of dealing with money and with the community. I do a lot of [work with] the Boy Scouts, so from the age of 8 all the way until now, I was in the Boy Scout program and as a leader. There's a lot of community involvement there. A lot of volunteering through the Whatcom Family Community Network. I was with them for over five years, on the board of directors, as a treasurer and as president. So, I've done that; a lot of community involvement, and I feel that for me to better serve my community, the next step [for me is] to [seek a seat at the] council level of county government.
CTNW: And you said career of business owner doing...?
David: I do a lot of environmental services, so we do a lot in refineries, power plants, public utilities...
CTNW: Who are you working for?
David: Clean Harbors Environmental Services, so a lot of emergency response work, things like that.
CTNW: What do you believe is the county's biggest financial challenge and how should it be addressed?
David: I think a large financial challenge is just making sure that the budget is being allocated correctly. I believe one of the responsibilities is to make sure that each department is properly managed, and to do that they need to have a budget. I think at times the budgets [are] not allocated correctly, in the sense that certain departments aren't getting what they need to take care of issues—you know, health department, public utilities—it just depends on what it is. It's very important to make sure that there's a defined budget, and that we try not to deviate from that. A lot of times we get ourselves in trouble setting a budget and not doing it correctly. Then we're trying to pull from other areas which creates an issue, because now there's a shortfall somewhere. It's the taxpayer’s money and we need to make sure that we spend it properly.
CTNW: How do you believe the county can best build the tax base to pay for those departments and all those services?
David: It's important to take what we have now in the taxes, and to apply them, like I said before, correctly into the different departments. I don't think it's a problem for the council to ask those departments to find areas where they can cut. What I've seen as a citizen is that the government always asks for more money. They’re never asked to spend less, try to find cutbacks or budget better. If they need something, they just ask for more money. It's important to take the money we have now because I think we're taxed enough, to apply that appropriately, and if we must make cutbacks somewhere, to make [them happen].
CTNW: What I mean by building the tax base, I don't mean increased taxes, I mean building the entities that make up the tax base.
David: So, building the tax base, I believe it's important to bring new business into the area. Part of [my] platform is jobs. I think a lot of us talk about jobs, to do that we must build the tax base to bring in those companies that can to do that.
Building small companies is great—I believe that everyone should be a business owner sometime in their life, it's a great lesson to learn—but I believe to build that tax base, we need high-tech businesses to come into Whatcom [County]. Part of that [need] is infrastructure, which is part of my platform, to build that infrastructure, to attract those high-tech businesses. [If] we can attract high-tech businesses, large companies, then we build that tax base, that [tax] revenue coming in.
Right now, what we have is [a heavy reliance on] the refinery sector. [The refineries and farming community] bring in a large part of that tax base. But we [need] other [types of] manufacturing to build that up.
CTNW: This gets back a little bit on what you said previously, but what do you believe the county is spending too much money on, or not enough money on?
David: From my perspective, I think we're spending too much on trying to kill certain businesses. Looking at what they're spending on to try to stop the refinery sector from expanding or doing what they need to do. There's a lot of time and money spent to do that with legal fees and so forth. We spend a lot of time focusing on how we can stop something than trying to work with it and build. So, I think there's a lot of time spent with that.
CTNW: Anything you think they aren't spending enough money on?
David: We have a lot of good organizations that focus on the homeless. I think Whatcom is special in a sense that we have a lot of people who care about that issue, we just don't have a means to put it all together. I don't think as a county, we're spending the money to figure out how we can organize all these groups into something that's usable, that's find-able for people out there to utilize. I think that, as an organization, that we could find a way to bring that all together. If it's a [specific] group to tie it in, I think that's a discussion we need to have with those organizations to find a way.
CTNW: How are we, meaning the county, doing with the balance of infrastructure improvements and controlling borrowing costs?
David: [Regarding] infrastructure improvements, one of the things I looked at heavily was on the 1dig-once policy. That's important for Whatcom [County] to look at if we're going to bring in other companies that are high-tech. We really need to start looking at our broadband. They’ve started focusing on the Port of Bellingham to improve the broadband for our 2EMS and fire and sheriff's department, because there's a large part of our county that's not reachable with the current system we have. So, we [need to] look at the infrastructure, but I think that we're looking [to us] a band-aid, we're not really looking at a true infrastructure when it comes to broadband to be able to attract [hi tech] companies. So, that’s a lot of money that is not being spent correctly. The dig-once policy is not currently in place in Whatcom [County]. It's important that we look at that. It doesn't cost us more if we implement something where we lay down those lines any time, we dig up the ground so we're not doing it twice.
CTNW: As far as controlling borrowing costs, any thoughts or opinions in that area?
David: You know, I don't have a lot of knowledge—you know from what I can tell, I believe we do quite well with controlling borrowing. There's always room for improvement. But I'd have to look a little further into it to see where we're at with it.
CTNW: Getting back to something you touched on earlier: how best do you think the county can help with addressing homelessness and poverty?
David: So, homelessness and poverty: a lot of the things I'm looking at when I talk about jobs, when I talk about affordable housing, is that a lot of them are intertwined. If we can bring in the companies—the manufacturing, the high-tech—to have those jobs; some of the homeless issues we have is a lack of employment [opportunity].
Others has to do with a lack of housing. [The county] needs to ease up the regulations we have on building new housing; that would help. If we can increase the amount of housing [offered], hopefully that will decrease the costs because there's more available.
It's important that we also look at the homeless issues, the mental instability part of it. That's huge. We tend to forget that they're out there and we can't just provide them a home because that doesn't fix their issue. We can't provide them with a job because they're not necessarily looking for one.
Bring in organizations to help identify the homeless issue, and to be able to first, take care of those [who are] mentally ill, have programs for them, and second, find accessible work/employment [opportunities] that can pay their bills. [By that] I mean, many of the jobs [here] are minimum wage, you're just not going to help someone in this county survive [on minimum wage]. Even a two-income family with minimum wage, especially in Bellingham, you just cannot survive on that. So, finding those jobs, bringing them in, and hopefully [help the] one-income family, but if not, a two-income family could afford living in Whatcom [County] versus having to move away.
CTNW: What do you believe is the county's role or ability to strengthen community and neighborhoods?
David: Looking at the entire county of Whatcom [County], is how they can bring the rural part and the urban part together. By doing that, it is important that we create policies that work for both sides of rural and urban issues, not looking at an organization that's [only] looking out for the majority of, let's say, Bellingham, because it is half the population of Whatcom County. Find a way to bring them all together, in a sense when it comes to it we're all looking for affordable housing. We're all looking for a better job.
The environment. My take of the environment. We all care for that. [Too often] people ask: "you are you a Republican or a Democrat?" And to me, it shouldn't matter. All the issues that we face on the council are non-partisan. We all care about the environment. We all care about jobs. We all care about the homeless. So, we need to focus that, and if we focus on the issues that are non-partisan, we all can work on that and bring the community together.
CTNW: The City of Bellingham will consider a recommendation by the Climate Action Committee to create an ordinance that the city would have all new housing and buildings fossil free. And they are currently, through the Climate Action Committee, considering that same mandate to buyers of existing buildings and homes, to be retrofit to power from fossil fuels at the time they are sold. So, what does that mean to you? How realistic is their timeline for accomplishing that? And what do you believe that's going to cost the residents here?
David: Well, we've been talking about affordable housing, a resolution like that would make it unaffordable. As a homeowner; you would have to [spend a lot of money] If you have rentals you would have to increase rents because you're spending [all] this money to make these improvements. If you're a homeowner and you're going to sell it, of course, [on that] investment, you want to get back. So, I believe it would increase the cost of living here dramatically. I believe in the green effort, that we need to get there, eventually, but [it] needs to be [done] reasonably.
CTNW: So, do you agree or disagree with this policy?
David: So, on this policy, I disagree on the timeline. We need to look at it closely and come up with a way to make it obtainable.
CTNW: How do you believe the county can help in creating more opportunities for young adults? Young adults being high school graduates, technical college graduates, community college and the university, because so many of our young adults must leave, they cannot afford to stay here.
David: We have a good educational system here. We have the university, we have good technical colleges and the community college, but we don't have the work here. We have the refinery sector, which provides high-tech engineering and [career] opportunity, but we don't have a lot of other opportunities for them because of the lack of employment [prospects]. Look at the state, Whatcom County's unemployment is a higher than what the state is. [That’s] because we don't have the [quality of] jobs here. Bring in the high-tech industry, the manufacturing, that will give them the opportunity to apply for something here locally, and those jobs will bring in a higher pay and [permit] them to afford to live in this area. They want to live here; they want to stay but they can't afford it. With student loans and everything else they have going [on], they go somewhere where the cost of living is less. To be able to attract and help them stay here we have to have [businesses which can offer high paying] jobs for them.
CTNW: What do you believe is the county's biggest economic development opportunity?
David: The infrastructure with the broadband. We have a lot of residents in the rural county that do not have access to it. We have a lot of areas where businesses don't have access to it. If we put the infrastructure in and we have the broadband in place—such as the loop that the Port of Bellingham is proposing around Whatcom [County]—I think if we make [the investment into the] infrastructure that allows the 3telecoms to seriously look at [Whatcom County]: okay, now the infrastructure is in place, now we can look at putting the [communication] legs off and into the different areas. We have a lot of areas that can easily be developed [for] the hi tech companies and manufacturing [we say we want], but they [hi tech businesses] do not even look at Whatcom [County] because we do not have the infrastructure, that they do not even consider us. If we spend the money and the time for that, that allows our elected officials to go out and talk to these companies, and say: "look, Whatcom County is set for you to come in and build your manufacturing business or build your hi tech company," and that will help build that.
CTNW: What basic services need improvement in Whatcom County? And recently with the water issue, the County Council did not approve or finalize the [4WRIA1] Planning Unit's development of a watershed management plan update, so the Department of Ecology has taken that over. What are your thoughts on the basic services that need improvement, and how would you address and work with to ensure that the water issue meets everybody's needs?
David: On the water issue, it takes someone that can speak the same language as the Department of Ecology. Part of my job is [that] I deal a lot with the Department of Ecology because of the spills and 5ER responses we deal with happens on land that Department of Ecology's responsible for. Being able to speak to them in the same language and understand where we're at as a county in the case of water shortage. Looking at it, does it make sense to what we're proposing [to do]? If it's metering the water for the residents. I believe we put too much on the Department of Ecology and not looking at it as a county, in our committees, to decide what's best for Whatcom County. The Department of Ecology is not looking at that; they're not looking at what's best for our county. It needs somebody at a county level to make those decisions. The committees that the county formed are people from the community that can make those decisions that would best affect us. We need to stop turning over [important] stuff like that.
CTNW: So, what do you believe the county can do to improve the environment and parks?
David: Maintaining what we're doing now. We spend a lot of good resources on maintaining what we have. Whatcom, you know, I've mentioned to several people that I love living here because of what we have: the parks, [from] up to Mount Baker [all the way] down to the water. It's important that [we have] education [on the environment] of the community—part of my training [as] a volunteer is the, 6Leave No Trace, as a master educator for the Boy Scouts. Leave No Trace teaches people how to go out into the wilderness and leave it the way you found it. So, I believe having that educational program for people when they go to the beach or they go to a public park or out camping, it's important. To support that education and to put it out there so we can maintain our parks systems. A lot of our stuff is free for everyone, but if we're spending a lot of money fixing things that don't necessarily need to be, because people educated on how to take care of a fire if they build one, and so forth; it creates more costs that you have to [spend to] maintain [our environment]. So, I think education is very important, starting from elementary [grades] on up. Because in the Leave No Trace training, we teach the young people how to leave no trace, and then as adults hopefully they'll maintain that training. So, start young so we can see an improvement.
CTNW: What style of leadership would you bring to the county council and what style do you believe they need right now?
David: Well the style I bring is—so the way I am now with my professional career is I like to listen and take all sides of the issue. It's important that as a leader, I look at it as servant leadership. You must make sure that you're working for the best of the group that you're representing. On the council's side of things, it's important to listen to the community, to get an understanding of what the issue is. Part of what I do is I don't decide based on a gut feeling or what I think is best in my heart or mind. I take the facts. I'll study an issue, if I'm not familiar with it. I'll take all the facts. Then let those who know more than me—because I'll never be an expert at everything—tell me what they know. Then I can take all that information together and make an educated decision. And that's the kind of leadership I [will] bring [will be] to make those decisions that are best for the community based on knowledge, not because [of what] one party feels or that's how I feel. I want to make sure everything is done correctly.
CTNW: Governor Inslee recently declared the State of Washington to be a "sanctuary state." What does that mean to you? Do you agree or disagree with it, and our local compliance on this issue?
David: That's an interesting question because I get that a lot, especially now that I'm running because they see that I'm of Hispanic background, so they want to know what my view on it is. I look at it as: my grandparents came to this country legally. They worked in Whatcom County and Skagit as farm workers and wanted something better for their family. So, they made sure my parents got an education, and in the same sense, my parents made sure that I got an education. So that's how I progressed here. When it comes to sanctuary cities, I really think that—and this is how I was raised—is the rule of law is important. So, I don't agree with Governor Inslee on that because I think that we're setting an example that the rule of law doesn't matter to everyone. I think that when we start looking at sanctuary cities, we're looking at what makes us feel good, but I don't think it's necessarily what makes sense. So that's my stance on it.
CTNW: And this is your opportunity to share with us something that you wish we had asked you or just want to say.
David: I appreciate that. For me, rolling back to why I'm running—I'm a father of nine. I have nine children: seven girls and two boys. My wife and I try to raise them in a sense that this is a great country to live in, that there's a lot of opportunities if you apply yourself. One of the things, and a reason why I [am] running, is I wanted to make sure that my children have opportunities in this county [so] that when they graduate from college that they [could] stay here. I've felt and saw— like some of the questions you asked about the young people that are leaving—is I want opportunity for my children that they will make that decision, I want them to stay locally, if they choose. So that's very important to me: family and faith. That's what I think drives me and why I [am] running. It's not because I'm short of time, because I have a lot of things going on with family and work. It's because I believe it's important that we serve the community the best we can. And at this time in my life, this is where I can give the best service. I can give to the community by serving on the council. Be able to have that voice, not only from how I feel things should be ran, but also for the minority community—because I think that's a voice that's going to be lost if we don't have someone like that [on the council].
You can find out more about David Ramirez and his campaign at voteramirez.nationbuilder.com.