Common Threads Northwest spoke with Garrett O'Brien, who is running for Mayor of Bellingham.
Why are you running for election for mayor of Bellingham, and why do you believe you are qualified for this job?
Garrett O'Brien: I'm running for mayor because I want to make sure that Bellingham stays a place where our young people can stay and thrive. [Where] my daughters [and] all our young people, can find opportunity here. That means that they need to have a job that can pay them a living wage, and they need to have housing that's affordable.
I see us [Bellingham] trending away from that, and I think we can reverse that trend. I'm bringing my experience as a business owner, a planning commissioner, someone who grew up in this community and has seen this change over time. I have a good plan to bring it back.
CTNW: You say you’re a business owner, and that makes you qualified. The mayor is the administrator who gives guidance and/or information to the council and is then supposed to execute the direction of the council. How do you find yourself qualified to do that?
Garret: Well I started my company when I was 24, so I've been in a leadership position in my company since I was a young man. What I find to be the most effective when you're doing large scale projects is that you lead by example, you get out and you're there every day, and you're driving toward the goal. In my line of business, which is home building and land development, we have a very diverse group of people that we need to bring together to work collaboratively to achieve a common goal. They're all from different educational, socioeconomic, and racial backgrounds—all different kinds of folks that we get to bring together, and levels of experience, to pull off a big project. I've been doing that for a long time, and I've been doing it successfully. That's the thing, there's a lot of parallels there to running an effective and efficient city government. We have multiple departments, and multiple interests that we need to align into some tangible, achievable goals that we can meet; we set those goals, and then work with the council on developing policies that are realistic, and letting them know what staff resources we have available to actually accomplish the goals that we set.
CTNW: What do you believe is Bellingham's biggest financial challenge, and how should it be addressed?
Garrett: I think one of the biggest challenges that we have is we have funding needs right now for public safety that [are] underfunded. Our basic operational functions are underfunded, and we have infrastructure that's in need of replacement. I mean, most of our buildings: our police station, our municipal court, and our library, are all aging facilities that I feel need significant upgrading or replacement. We're going to need to find revenue streams to be able to fund not only our basic levels of service, but also what's probably coming in the next 10-years is a big need for infrastructure and capital facilities replacement.
That's one of the things that I would like to impress upon our community is that we really need commerce here. We need to grow our economy. We need to make investments that will grow jobs; that will create economic vitality [to address and pay for those economic challenges].
CTNW: How do you plan to develop the tax base in order to pay for these things? I mean growing the tax base versus increasing taxes.
Garrett: Our property taxes are high, and as our values go up, so do our property taxes, and so does the burden.
The first thing that we can do that will have an immediate impact on us as a city is, we can build housing that will accommodate the population that we have. And that's what we talk about in our housing innovation plan. Taking our underutilized lands and having a sub-area plan for those areas. Developing housing that meets the needs and affordability of the people who live or work here. That could create a tremendous amount of tax revenue. Both the sales tax generated from the construction of those homes, and the property tax because of the better utilization. That way you get the highest and best use of the land.
Going out from there, we'll be working with our Port, and they have economic development initiatives that require stable and affordable housing. That's where the city plays a role. We're lucky to have a port entity. I mean, some places don't have port entities that are doing the economic development. We have funding, and we have talented people who work at the Port, whose main goal is to have economic development here.
The city's job is going to be two things: make sure that we provide the housing for workers when they're here, and then being a great place to do business.
When you talk to a lot of people who do business at City Hall, a lot of the reviews aren't as positive as they could be. We need to get our permit review times down. We need to look at our fee structures and what we're incentivizing. Are we incentivizing the things that are going to create more economic development in our community? City Hall needs to be just a fantastic place to do business, give good customer service to people, and then be excellent—exceptional—at the jobs that we do [to help people].
CTNW: So, what, in your opinion, is Bellingham spending too much money on and/or not enough money on?
Garrett: [Nothing that] jumps out at me that we're spending too much money on. I find that many of our areas are underfunded. For example, parks maintenance. We have aging restroom facilities at Boulevard Park. We have trails, a lot of Greenways, and trail space that aren't maintained to the levels that I think a lot of people would expect.
CTNW: But we now have a new Greenways levy that basically took that off the budget, correct?
Garrett: Yeah, and it shows the need for a great parks system; maintaining it and ongoing funding is another challenge. I can't think of very many departments that aren't in need of more funding. That's why I think it is critical that we start to embrace commerce in our community and grow industry. We have opportunities for industry that's compatible with our environmental goals, and our values as a community. We have an opportunity on the waterfront to promote our marine trades. We already have a great fishing industry, and we have opportunities for even more. You know, there's opportunities for an expansion to the fish hatchery.
CTNW: Do you think that project that they're looking at, to develop and construct a new fish hatchery, would be a good thing? Something that you as a mayor could support and work to bring everybody together? Could you make that happen?
Garrett: Yeah, absolutely. From a city's standpoint, there's a huge benefit to having a viable hatchery here. They have one in Juneau, Alaska. They have hydroelectric power generation that goes into the water feed for the hatchery.
They're producing green energy as well as a viable fish industry. There's going to be concerns that we need to address, you know, there [are] partners in Whatcom County. Our tribal governments have fishing rights and treaties, and they absolutely must be part of that conversation, and part of the project. It doesn't go forward without that—it just doesn't. I would be thrilled to work on that and see how we can help. I think there's a lot of science out there about how hatchery fish stock can interact with native fish stock. There needs to be understanding there. There needs to be trust [which] needs to [be] built. But that could be an incredible project for our city.
We also have tourism. There's a huge opportunity here. Look at the natural beauty that we have. Look at the resources that we have. There's a couple of things that we're not leveraging [as well as] we could. Outdoor recreation is an $8 billion a year industry in Washington State—we get a small fraction of it. We have the best mountain biking trails in the State of Washington. We have kayaking. We have fishing. We have lakes, rivers, and mountains. We have everything. The city could take a stronger role in sponsoring expos. Like Northwest Recreation has an expo down at the Ferry Terminal. The city does sponsor it to a small degree. I'd like to sponsor it to a much larger degree because those expos generate revenue for our city and create an opportunity for outdoor recreation here. [We] need to just keep growing that.
We also have—at Bellingham Technical College—the 1Technology Advisory Group (TAG) has an expo there once a year where they're bringing in tech companies—small, Bellingham-based tech companies—and connecting those employers to Whatcom Community College, Western, and Bellingham Technical College (BTC). The city, again, sponsors that to a very, very small degree. I'd like to sponsor that at a much bigger level. That tech-based expo could drive big business opportunity here and keep the talent that we have here. We have kids at Whatcom, Western, and BTC, that are all getting these fantastic degrees in computer science and IT, and their having to leave to go find jobs. But we've got companies here that are having a hard time finding talent. We need to keep making and fostering those connections so that we can grow the industries that are, like tech and outdoor recreation, that are clean industries.
CTNW: So, what would you do as mayor to balance infrastructure improvements and control borrowing costs?
Garrett: Our city's been conservative on our borrowing. Our debt levels are manageable right now. I think our current administration has been very responsible with our debt levels.
Some of the big projects, like the sewer treatment upgrade, that we're going to be doing up at Post Point, is a huge project. We're going to be selling bonds for that. So, there'll be some debt there, and then that's going to have to be reflected on utility bills to pay for it. I [believe] that's upward [to] a $250-million project; it's a huge project for our community.
Again, it [shows] why we need development, and we need development in appropriate areas, because a lot of the transportation impact fees, and a lot of infrastructure fees that we generate from development can go towards these improvements.
We have a lot of unfunded liabilities, too. So, without embracing commerce and embracing development in appropriate areas of our city, we will be under-funded for infrastructure. [A lot] of our [underground] pipes in our [city] are 100 years old—some even older. [We] did collect the appropriate levels of fees 50-to-75 years ago to pay for the replacement of that infrastructure, so we've been benefiting as a community from a 100-year-old sewer pipe, and just hoping that it doesn't break. They will start breaking.
We need to continue to grow and have development in appropriate areas of our city so we can collect those fees and continue to replace our infrastructure.
CTNW: But again, looking at borrowing or taxing, which ways are getting the infrastructure in there to encourage businesses to come here that will provide wages and a tax base? Because that's what people really want to know; how are we going to pay for it, you know, are we going to borrow it, are we going to take out bonds, or are we going to increase taxes or fees?
Garrett: I think the guiding principle would be, if we can make an investment, an infrastructure investment that can give us a return on that investment, then it's okay to borrow money to do that. So if we have, say, the waterfront, and we want to put in the infrastructure: roads, sewer, and water, then we partner with the Port to serve a 6-acre parcel [that we] put forward as a request for proposals, and then we're going to see development there. That would be a good use of borrowing money to be able to spur that development. So that would be something that I think would be appropriate.
CTNW: Yeah, because right now, we've been relying heavily on impact fees, which are being passed on to...
Garrett: ...the end user. And we haven't been very proactive in making investments where we know we're going to see a return. So, going back to the waterfront: I really think we have an opportunity there as we move out of this first phase of development to have smaller parcels that we improve, and putting it out for competition. So, if we know we want a small-scale event center for tourism, then we're going to say, "okay, who are the best builders of those sort of facilities in the country?" [Put] the 2RFP out and see who comes to the table. Same thing if we know we want a hotel, then let's get the best hotel builders in the country giving requests for a proposal so that we can have options and competition. Not try to develop 30 to 40-acres at a time, but 2-acres, or 4-acres. There's a lot of fantastic companies that are in the vicinity, from Vancouver to Seattle, that would love the opportunity for a waterfront development [project]. Ours is a unique opportunity on the west coast. But when we did our first round of development, it was right after the recession, there was a lot of economic uncertainty. The current developer has a pretty large parcel there that they are controlling the pace of that development. I would like to see smaller parcels, and more competition. And if the city must make a $2-or-3-million investment to get the roads there to make that happen, I think that's a good use of that money.
CTNW: How do you see the city addressing homelessness and poverty? What's been done as opposed to what can be done differently. Are we doing the right thing? Should we do something different?
Garrett: Well, I personally will continue supporting organizations like the Lighthouse Mission that are doing work within these fields already. I know financially, the city doesn't have a large contribution to the Lighthouse Mission. I know that we help with the Fountain Community Church when they do the emergency beds. Which is totally understandable.
Where we could partner up is when you're looking at the Drop-In Center right here, you obviously see that a lot of the residents at the Drop-In Center are out on the sidewalk. Whether that's staying at the facility, or there's not enough bed space, well the city owns G Street, which is just right adjacent to it. I'd be looking at partnerships to say, "hey, how can we help you improve this parcel of the city? You can have use of it." Because right now, it's underutilized. Nobody's using it. It's vacant. [It] is never going to be improved because the railroad tracks are there, and there's nowhere to go. Even if we didn't vacate it, but we had an easement and right-of-use so that they could... we could help build a small covered shelter so that people have a place to congregate that's not on the sidewalk. I look at small wins like that and say hopefully that would be good for the Mission, and hopefully that would be good for the city and the residents as well. So little wins like that.
When it comes to the bigger issue of homelessness, I think we need to continue to try to dissect it into manageable parts and recognize that it's not a homogeneous group of people that are experiencing homelessness. There are different subgroups with different needs. You have a lot of foster kids end up homeless after aging out of the foster care system—like 30 percent, it's high. They're going to have different needs than, say, veterans who are coming back from combat, that are maybe suffering from PTSD. They're going to have different needs than senior citizens that are just struggling with the cost of drugs and prescriptions, and Medicare doesn't cover it. [Their] Social Security doesn't provide enough for the high cost of living [here]. So, there [are] a lot of at-risk seniors that all have different needs, and we need to target our efforts to those subgroups so that we're being more effective.
Another small, tangible thing that I think the city can do [would be] to start with the funding that we have, is [to] open a day shelter downtown. We have businesses that are impacted by people who are experiencing homelessness, and are in front of their stores or, you know, they don't have anywhere to go; and we do have a no-sit-no-lie ordinance in the city that we're not able to enforce properly because we don't have a place for people to go. I'd like to see the city take the lead. If we can find a non-profit partner, fantastic. But take the lead to open at least a day shelter so that during the day, we have a place for people to go. They can get a needs assessment done. They can get access to basic medical care.
There's a lot of people out there who are experiencing homelessness that qualify for the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), qualify for healthcare, and they don't get it. So, they're taking an ambulance, going to the emergency room, and then we're paying a high cost for that when, maybe, they just need a primary care physician. So, we should have case workers from DSHS there that can find out who's eligible for care and get them a primary care physician.
We should have somebody there from the Department of Licensing, because a lot of people don't even have identification. Maybe they got robbed, or something happened where they lost it. Not to say they must get a driver license, but just get them an ID card. I went to Spokane to learn about the program that they do over there, because they have a day shelter like this. They have 7 to 8 different providers—all volunteers, outside of the Department of Licensing. But they have volunteers there. A nurse practitioner, the Lions Club was there with their eyeglasses, and there was Alcoholics Anonymous. There was DSHS and primary care physicians; all these different service providers that are in one place during the day and they're volunteers, most of them.
There are law enforcement, and they have a downtown ambassador program, so people that work for their partnership, that suggest, "hey, look, we need to get you away from here, you can't be here, but we have a day shelter for you to go to." [Then] we do a needs assessment of those people, try to build relationships with them, and figure out what's going to be effective [at] getting them the help that they need. But we must have a place for people to go. A day shelter would be a good place to start, and I think we have the funding to be able to do that. If it continues to be successful, maybe we could look at a night shelter as well.
CTNW: Location, location, location.
Garrett: And then again, obviously the siting of those are very contentious. I think there would be less contention for a day shelter that's operating an efficient, business-type format; where people are coming in, they're checking in, they're getting their needs assessed, and then we're trying to move them into housing options that are available.
CTNW: What do you think Bellingham can do to strengthen its neighborhoods?
Garrett: You know, growing up here, I think the neighborhoods, the diversity of our neighborhoods, is one of the coolest things. I love it. Our neighborhood associations, we have our "small and simple" grants that I think are cool, and I think we should continue that program. [Another thing] I think what we could do as a city is trying to increase engagement in these neighborhood associations, and the ways that we can do that is, number one, let people know that they exist. A lot of people don't know that their neighborhood has an association. So, part of the "small and simple" grant could go towards marketing so people can have signage in their neighborhood to try to attract more people. I'd like to see [them available at] our city, our Planning and Community Development Department, out at our parks, at our farmers market, periodically doing pop-up city hall—where we just [man a] table at an event, and we have a little tent, and we just talk to people and let them know that we have great neighborhood associations.
The Mayor's Neighborhood Advisory Commission I think is very important, and we need to keep it, and we need to try to increase the amount of participation that we have there. Bring some life and vitality back into that, so that when people are volunteering in their neighborhood, they know that City Hall cares. And we should care; I mean, we should care. As part of the campaign, I've been going to meetings. As many as I can. The common denominator is that people really care. They're doing trash cleanup. They're doing park improvements. They're looking out for their neighbors. They're doing signage and place-making. They’re branding their neighborhood and improving [it]. When I'm elected mayor, there's going to be a lot of energy brought back into that Neighborhood Advisory Commission, and I'm going to really work hard to try to get more engagement and bring some life and vitality to those organizations and help them.
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?
Garrett: Well this goes back to community engagement. I think that our city can do much more to have broader engagement in our community. Because the Climate Action Task Force is charged with trying to find recommendations that meet the goals that were set by city council. To have clean energy by 2030, and clean transportation by 2035. I think that resolution was adopted a couple years ago.
The amount of participation in that original process was low as far as the broader community. I [believe] sometimes what happens is people don't really pay attention until it becomes a solid recommendation like what you're talking about. Like saying: "okay, now it's time, we're going to have to eliminate natural gas from houses." And people are like: "okay, now it's time to pay attention." Where [do] I stand on that is...
CTNW: Yes, I mean, if somebody comes to me and tells me: "you need to get rid of your gas heat and your gas water heater and your gas dryer" that gas costs me 20-percent of what an electrical one does. I'm not going to look very kindly on it. To put solar panels on my roof, at a cost of $30,000 to re-engineer my roof, I'm not going to look kindly on it. So how realistic is this for the community?
Garrett: Well I think we just need to continue the conversation and make sure that now that we have people's attention, that we need to be open and transparent; and realize that there [are] a lot of people in the community, [who] now want to weigh in on this issue. There's going to be a lot of expertise that we're going to hear from in the community. We need to let the community know that this process is still open, and that those recommendations are still flexible. We want to achieve the goals that we've set out, but if there's a better way and alternatives to doing that, which I've got to imagine that there are, we need to be open-minded about that.
Going back to the original question, when the original resolution was passed, I talked to a lot of people and would ask them what they thought about that resolution. You know, Clean Energy 2030. And a lot of people had never heard of it. And there's still a lot of households in Bellingham—I think there's 33,000 households—a high percentage of them that still have incandescent light bulbs, still have halogens, [who] still could benefit from insulation upgrades. We've had programs to help with those [types of] retrofits. I think sometimes we should look at what are the small, achievable things that we can do now, that are realistic and benefit homeowners and property owners. Because if you do a lighting retrofit to LEDs, it's an initial expense; if we could help create an incentive to do that, then the operational cost is down, so financially it's a good thing for people.
CTNW: Bringing it back to retrofitting from gas to electric, electric isn't cheaper, it's a lot more expensive than gas.
Garrett: We need to look at those costs. We need to look at the actual—and one of the things is, to be in defense of Climate Action Task Force, is that they weren't asked to run the actuaries and they weren't asked to look at the costs. They were asked to come up with recommendations that could meet these very ambitious energy goals that we've set. I think that a lot of people have worked hard and brought a lot of expertise, and a lot of...
CTNW: So, will you, before you bring any recommendations to the council, will you have those hard numbers?
Garrett: We must have them. We [need to] have those numbers. And that's where it comes into [it]—this is a process. We have some amazing work that's done by some people that really want to see us going [towards] a clean-energy future. There's going to be realistic impacts to anything that we implement. We need to understand what those are. We have people in our community that can give us that data and can give us those real numbers. That needs to be part of our decision-making process. We [need] to have [those] facts.
CTNW: Do you have any idea of where those numbers come in, where you basically say, “we can't afford to force this on the residents or the small businesses?”
Garrett: [We will] need staff resources to be able to work with our utilities, and work with different organizations that can help get us those numbers. The city council needs to have that data in front of them. I think with the proper data, and all the facts on the table, I [believe] they'll make the right decision. I don't think it'll be an easy decision, but my goal is to make sure that everybody has all the information that they need to make a sound decision, and really understand all the impacts that are going to come from those decisions. [We need to disseminate] that [information] broadly to the community, and [get] good engagement at our city council meetings, so that people know the gravity of the decisions that are being made, have an opportunity to have their voice heard, and that the process is open, fair, and transparent.
CTNW: So how do we create more opportunities for young adults? And by that, I mean graduates out of high school, technical colleges, BTC, Whatcom Community, and Western. Any young adult. Because right now, as you said, most graduate here, they love it here, and they can't afford to stay here.
Garrett: That's why I'm running for mayor. To create those opportunities. One of the three pillars of our platform is empowering our youth. Ways that I've seen just on the campaign trail, is what we talked about at the expo—the technology expo—that was at Bellingham Technical College. I went there. There were probably 80 businesses—local businesses—and there [are] some incredible businesses here, like 3EMS Reporting. They have a tremendous number of employees. There's a lot of up-and-coming small technology-based businesses that are local and they're looking for talent. We need to have—I think the city needs to play the role in sponsoring expos like that, and then partnering with our community college, Western Washington University, and Bellingham Technical College to make sure that the students are present at those expos, their professors are at those expos, and they're either tabled there, or they're engaging with the businesses that we have right here. [We need to foster] those connections. What we don't want to have is a kid that's looking for a job and doesn't even know that [those] businesses [are] here, because they never connected with the community in the first place.[This] goes back to a bigger connection that [the City] can make and [that] good things are already happening [here]. Like you're seeing Western having their spot [in] the Bellingham Herald building. They're starting to have more of a presence downtown, which I think is a tremendously positive step in the right direction. Bring Western off the hill, down into our [downtown community] and be a part of the fabric [of it]. They're doing that, and they've hired [staff], some talented people that are pushing in that direction.
Where I think we could take that a step further is have a city-sponsored, student-led civic improvement project annually. They do this in Vancouver [BC]. I had an opportunity to go up there [to] see it. They call it 4Hubbub . They've done it 12-years in a row now. [They] have seven colleges and universities in the greater Vancouver [BC] area that they do [this], and city hall sponsors it.[The students] take any kind of civic challenges or opportunities that we have; let's say we have an underutilized park, and we want to increase the utility of that park—that could be a student project. We have traffic congestion in Fairhaven, and we want to use artificial intelligence to come up with a better mapping tool to come up with parking solutions—that could be a project. We have a proposed fish hatchery. What would be the economic impacts of that; how much tourism could it draw? That could be a student-led project. [They] have all these projects. [It's] a class. It's a part of their major and they get credit for it. [It's] fantastic.
They have the expo and they celebrate the heck out of these kids. They do it at their city hall. The kids get up, and they give their presentations, and then the city takes those projects and implement them. It’s connecting those students to their community because they're working on civic improvement projects.
One of [the projects] in East Vancouver, they have a lot of concrete; it's a very urbanized, dense area. There's no choice. One of the student projects I looked at was how to increase the urban forest canopy in East Vancouver. They had a brilliant plan of tearing out the old sidewalks, because they're so wide, doing some changes to the sidewalk, curving gutters, and creating a planter strip all the way along. They modeled it in their computer program and showed how much more vitality would be there if they had a better urban tree canopy. It was cool. It was really cool. There's a lot of [student] talent. We've got to get our young people connected. The city should sponsor that. That is a perfect model for what we have here. We should [include] the Northwest Indian College there, too.
One of the things they did in Vancouver [BC] that I thought could have been more powerful was a better blending of the academic disciplines—so having science, technology, engineering, and math, mixing with the environmental sciences, and with the humanities—so that you have a broader perspective on solutions to projects. Not just, "okay, we're only doing this from an engineering standpoint," or "we're only looking at this from an environmental studies standpoint." A mix of environmental studies and engineering, because those are the sorts of things that we need. Those are the solutions that we need for the future, the blending of disciplines. Just like we need in our politics; the blending of ideologies so that we're balanced, and it's not split and polarized. We've got to bring people together, and we could totally do that.
CTNW: What do you believe is Bellingham's biggest economic development opportunity?
Garrett: I think the biggest barrier is housing. After we get our housing crisis fixed, then we will have housing available for workers.
The industries that are emerging, that I see are emerging here, our small technology-based companies; we have quite a few of them that are just ready to grow.
I think outdoor recreation and tourism is a huge industry that we can really leverage in a lot stronger way.
I think, our waterfront [is an opportunity], and when I say our waterfront, I include our working marine trades. Because, when you talk about fish hatchery projects, and you talk about increasing the infrastructure down there for dry docking and pulling boats out of the water [to serve] those fishing communities, I think we have a huge opportunity there at our port. And of course, the waterfront development; from just a physical real estate-development perspective, it's a tremendous opportunity.
CTNW: Not specifically just water, but what basic services do you believe need improvement in Bellingham?
Garrett: Well, when I think of the core services that a city supplies, I think of police, fire, our museum, our library, our roads, sewer, and water. I think those are at the base level—and parks. What I've learned from our public safety officials is that there are significant needs, staffing needs, for basic life-safety services. Lots of times people don't see that, because you don't need it until you need it. We need it. So that's one area that needs improvement.
CTNW: So, are we talking EMS, police, fire...?
Garrett: All of it.
CTNW: What can the city do in improving the environment and parks?
Garrett: One of the things that I've noticed in my career is a major improvement in our stormwater treatment. I think the city plays a strong role in that. [I believe] that's probably one of the more immediate impacts that we have, right? So, as we develop our city, we create impervious surface and we treat it. We didn't used to treat it as well as we do now. We also have a large portion of our city where stormwater is largely untreated. So as far as civic improvement projects, infrastructure improvement projects that would benefit our environment, I think stormwater management is huge. Because we've got creeks and streams and a bay, and we have water that's going untreated into those areas. There's money that we can get from the state and the federal government to [help] do those projects, and I'd like to capture as much of that money as we can [at] the state and federal level [to] do those projects, because we should.
CTNW: Well with regards to the environment and water, what about Lake Whatcom?
Garrett: I think the health of Lake Whatcom in basin 3 has been shown to be healthy; it's the most underdeveloped portion of the lake. I think basins 1 and 2 is where the most decline has been.
You know, I am a builder. I generally support restricting development in our watershed. I [believe] that the appropriate areas for development are in non-sensitive areas. Again, the projects, the phosphorus-reduction projects that we've been doing, we need to be looking at those [to see] if they're effective. I know that there [are] technologies out there that are emerging [which] are shown to be more effective. A lot of that money comes from the state and federal level, and I think we need to get as much of that as we can to keep working on Lake Whatcom.
CTNW: So, what style of leadership will you bring, and what do you believe the city needs right now with regards to leadership style?
Garrett: One of the things when people get to know me is, I don't have to be the boss. I've been the boss of my company since I was very young. I don't need to be the boss. I want to work with people in our community getting good outcomes for our city. I think that's the biggest thing people would learn about my leadership style is that I work with people, and I'm one of the hardest working people. I'll get in there, and I'll be there with you, working with you. I want good outcomes.
CTNW: This is the last question ... Governor Inslee recently declared the State of Washington a "sanctuary state." So, my question is what does that mean to you? Do you agree or disagree with that, and how our local compliance will be on this issue, and how it will affect us, by becoming a sanctuary state?
Garrett: Our policies on a local level, I think, since 2006 have been that our law enforcement is not to check immigration status of non-violent offenders, and as a mayor I would continue that practice. I support our law enforcement and the training that they need to be able to work on serious criminal activity that does occur in our city.
I have had personal experiences with people I know that have been detained in immigration centers, and it is extremely devastating to families. I would not make a change to our current policy. I would not advocate a change from our current policy.
CTNW: As far as Inslee declaring it a "sanctuary state," do you agree or disagree with that?
Garrett: To be honest, I haven't followed much about that change, and I don't know how much that affects us on a local level. The way that it's framed here on a state and local level, I would support him in that. The hard work that needs to be done from a federal immigration policy, that hasn't been done for multiple administrations at a federal level, is causing a tremendous amount of strain that I don't think is appropriate for the local levels to have to deal with. We don't even have the funding or the resources to deal with it. Then it becomes us just pulling families apart. Like I said, I've seen that directly.
CTNW: So in summing it up, you approve of it being a sanctuary state, that you would want to continue the policies here locally that have been in place, and would hope that— when you say you don't know how it will affect the community, do you mean in having more, say, illegals in the area coming here because it's a sanctuary state? That's where I wasn't sure what you meant. Because, yes, we're all humans. Everybody's human. Nobody's going to disagree with that. But as far as how that impacts schools, and how that impacts jobs and wages, and everything else, you know, that's more what I'm asking.
Garrett: If it would have an increased amount of illegal immigration due to that policy? I suppose it could. I think on a state and local level our legislators and our governor need to be working at [the] federal level to get a federal immigration policy that's acceptable and works. That's where that system's broken. Once people are in our country, and they're working, and they have children enrolled in our schools; that becomes a very unfair situation for local government. To have the onus of enforcement be on a local government, I don't support that. Whatever we can do, on a local and state level, to work [at] the federal level to get immigration reform that works; we need to be doing that.
CNTW: Is there anything we didn't ask you that you wished we would have asked you?
Garrett: I'm very excited. I just want people to know that if they elect me into the mayor's office, that they're going to elect a very determined, hardworking mayor that is equitable. I have a balanced background. I started our campaign wanting to do things a little bit differently, and we have. We've run an independent, grass roots campaign.
We [the city] will be pulling and increasing engagement in our community. We will be balanced and will be listening to both sides of policy discussions. Making sure that our process is truly open, transparent, and fair. We want to make sure that we are being inclusive, and that our process enables us to do that.
We also will be focused on getting our core government services, on a local level, to be exceptional. I want to have exceptional city services. That means police, fire, public works, parks, planning, and planning for growth. We're going to go to work every day striving to be exceptional. And I'm going to lead with every capacity that I have, every talent and energy that I have, to help our community get good outcomes.
I'm not a political person at all. Politics does not play into the job of being an administrative leader. We need to work together, and I've been saying that from the very beginning of our campaign. We've been demonstrating it through the actions of our campaign, and as people learn more about me, they're seeing that is the truth. I will carry cooperation into my term and will be consistent throughout. I think it's very important for our community, right now, to have that.
2 Request for Proposal (RFP) - https://www.investopedia.com/terms/r/request-for-proposal.asp
Hubbub: Student challenge for Vancouver, BC, urban areas -
You can find out more
about Garrett O'Brien and his campaign at www.obrienformayor.org.