Comp plan changes that could stop growth at Cherry Point and a Local Employee Apprenticeship Program were the main points of interest at the Whatcom County Council meeting on April 9, 2019.
The public meeting was called to order at 7:00 pm. Council members Barbara Brenner, Rud Browne, Barry Buchanan, Tyler Byrd, Todd Donovan, Carol Frazey and Satpal Sidhu were all present.
Two sets of minutes were on the consent agenda. Approvals on a 7-0 vote were the following:
A. Approve the minutes of the Joint Meeting with Skagit and San Juan Counties on Feb. 5, 2019.
B. Approve the minutes of the Regular County Council meeting for March 26, 2019.
Public Hearings –
There was one public hearing over an ordinance amending Whatcom County Code Section 1.14, correcting certain precinct boundary lines and precinct maps (second amendment).
County Auditor Debbie Adelstein told commissioners the changes are needed due to annexations in the City of Lynden and because one precinct in Whatcom County is over the legal limit of 1,500 voters. The change would affect 244 voters.
These precinct boundary changes must be complete at least 2 weeks prior to the first day candidates may file for the primary election, which this year is May 13. Nobody from the public wanted to speak about this ordinance.
Open Public Comment Session –
Lance Calloway with AGC of Washington spoke against the proposed introduction of an ordinance creating a Local Employee Apprenticeship Program (LEAP) and requiring an apprenticeship for public works jobs. Whatcom County has a great relationship between open shop and union contractors in our community, Calloway said, and this program would change that relationship. It would create an unfair or unbalanced bidding process by placing an undue restraint on open shop contractors. He said AGC is a big proponent of apprenticeships but it should not be a requirement for a County project. Calloway also said it could deter more young people from entering the construction trades.
Jacquelyn Styrna, Director of Government Affairs at the Building Industry Association of Whatcom County, said that while the intent of the LEAP ordinance is to attract more young people into the trades, it inadvertently creates challenges to open shop contractors and creates more mandates for new construction workers. She said it will increase the cost of doing large jobs for BIAWC members and decrease the number of bids the county will receive for each project.
Atul Deshmane, Public Utility District 1 Commissioner, spoke about the county’s drought response plan and said the impacts of drought this year are expected to be moderate to severe. He said he looks forward to working with the council at an upcoming Natural Resources Subcommittee meeting to further develop the plan. He said the drought response plan is a crude version of a water supply plan, which they also need to develop.
Bellingham resident Kristin Wilson shared her concerns about a business on E. Laurel Road that is building a large structure on property adjacent to hers. She believes this building violates one of the purposes of a rural district, which is to maintain a low-density rural residential character. She thanked the Council for expediting a code enforcement investigation.
Bellingham resident Trevor Smith spoke in favor of the LEAP ordinance, saying apprenticeship is the original 4-year degree. He said the ordinance is not overly burdensome and won’t hurt bids. Whatcom County needs to bring more people into the construction trade and get them trained; he feels an apprenticeship is the best way to do that.
Bob Gay with the Electrical Workers Union Local 191 spoke against the proposed new contract with Cascadia Law Group to write Comp Plan changes associated with the negative impacts from fossil fuel exports coming from the Cherry Point Urban Growth Area. He spoke about the County Executive’s March 12 memo to the council expressing his concerns about the process and the Council’s lack of transparency. Gay said he believes the proposed Comp Plan changes will have a big impact on jobs at Cherry Point.
A member of Laborers Union Local 292 spoke about the value of apprenticeships and his first-hand experience as a union laborer.
Dana Briggs spoke to the council about climate change, and said all fossil fuel refineries in Whatcom County and around the world need to be shut down as soon as possible.
Bellingham resident and contractor Joe Baldwin spoke against the LEAP ordinance, saying he avoids the apprenticeship program, it would squeeze out the small-business, non-union contractor. Let the industry train those people. We’re dying for people. I’d hire 10 people tomorrow if I could find them; he has about 10-employees.
County resident Teresa Jones spoke about her experience as a laborer apprentice. She has been in the health care, apprenticeship program as ideal for her; she completed the program in October and in 5-weeks she was trained in 5-areas. Jones commented that School is not an option, that it is the best program for anyone who wants to learn multiple skills for the workforce.
Introduction Item (this item was moved up the agenda) –
An Ordinance amending Whatcom County Code Title 3, creating a Local Employee and Apprenticeship Program (LEAP).
Councilmember Sidhu said he worked for apprenticeship programs for 7-years. He said in the last 30-years unions have been annihilated. He stated support for the ordinance but urged the Council to be cautious. He said they don’t want to end up with “pseudo-apprentices that move from trade-to-trade.
Smith and Calloway answered some of the Council’s questions about how LEAP would affect contractors. Councilmember Buchanan raised concerns that the discussion may become a public hearing. The Council agreed 6-1 to hold introduction of this ordinance in the Public Works Committee for two weeks, and discussed meeting with local contractors and others who want to give input.
Four items were on the Consent Agenda.
1. Request authorization for the County Executive to enter into a contract between Whatcom County and Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission for annual Recreational Boating Safety Federal Financial Assistance Grant, in the amount of $15,392.75 and requiring local match of $27,617.31
Approved by consent 7-0
2. Request authorization for the County Executive to enter into a contract amendment between Whatcom County and Code Publishing Co., to increase compensation to an amended total amount of $63,412.
Approved by consent 7-0
3. Request authorization for the County Executive to enter into a contract between Whatcom County and Cascadia Law Group, PLCC to develop specific text amendments to the Whatcom County Comprehensive Plan and County Code associated with negative impacts from fossil fuel exports from the Cherry Point Urban Growth Area.
Councilmember Brenner said Cascadia Law Group is biased, and this process of amending the Comp Plan has not been open and transparent. Councilmember Sidhu responded that Cascadia Law is not biased but simply has an expertise in ordinances and laws that refer to refineries and the fossil fuel industry. Councilmember Byrd said he would prefer if a legislative analyst helped on this issue instead of an attorney behind closed doors.
Approved by consent 5-2 with Councilmembers’ Brenner and Byrd opposed
4. Request approval for the County Executive to award RFP #19-12, and authorization to enter into a 36-month lease with Marple Fleet Leasing for leasing four vehicles for the Sheriff’s Office, in the amount of $71,704.12.
Approved by consent 7-0
Other Items –
(These items were from the Council Natural Resources Committee)
1. A Resolution supporting funding for Stewardship Forester positions in the Department of Natural Resources Small Forest Landowner Office. The resolution says Whatcom County will no longer have the availability of a local Stewardship Forester to assist with small family forest owner education unless it is put in the state budget.
(These items were from the Council Finance and Administrative Services Committee)
2. An Ordinance amending the Ferry System Petty Cash Revolving Fund from $1800 to $3300.
3. Ordinance amending the project budget for the East Whatcom Regional Resource Center Expansion project, in the amount of $115,000.
4. Ordinance amending Whatcom County Code Chapter 2.128, Business and Commerce Advisory Committee, to amend membership. The primary purpose of the BCAC is to provide the County Council with advise on issues, including regulations and policies that could impact local businesses, industry, or economic development.
Substitute adopted 7-0
5. Request authorization for the County Executive to enter into a contract between Whatcom County and Pacific CM, LLC for material sample collection, on-site material inspection, on-site construction inspection, concrete testing, hot mix asphalt (HMA), aggregates and other construction materials, for various projects, in the amount not to exceed $200,000.
(No Committee Assignment)
6. Approval of letter in support of retaining the Alaska Marine Highway System between Bellingham and Alaska.
7. A Resolution celebrating April as a month of Sikh awareness and appreciation in Whatcom County.
A version of this resolution was held from the March 26 Council meeting after council members expressed concerns about recognizing one religion or community over another. Councilmember Sidhu said a similar resolution is now being passed in Olympia. This new resolution is the same as the one in the state legislature with a few changes to make it for Whatcom County, so it won’t look like the county is promoting any one religion. The City of Blaine passed the same proclamation that day. Councilmember Frazey said she wants to keep government and religion separate so she will abstain. The local Sikh community will be celebrating Vaisakhi, which marks the start of harvest season and the Sikh New Year, on April 27, 2019, at the Guru Nanak Gursikh Temple in Lynden showcasing Sikh heritage and culture.
Approved 6-0 with Councilmember Frazey abstaining
Executive Appointment to Boards, Commissions, and Committees
1. Request confirmation of County Executive’s appointment of Dave Finet to the Whatcom County Housing Authority Board of Commissioners. And for information, the County Executive concurs with Mayor Linville’s appointment of Stephen Gockley to the Bellingham Housing Authority Board of Commissioners.
Introduction Items. The following were approved for introduction 7-0:
1. Ordinance amending WCC 2.120.040 Membership– Term of Office for Surface Mining Advisory Committee.
3. Ordinance amending the 2019 Whatcom County Budget, request No. 5, in the amount of $1,613,991.
4. Ordinance amending the project budget for the Jail Improvement Fund, request No. 4.
5. Ordinance amending the project budget for the New Jail Fund 2013-2014, request No. 4.
6. Ordinance adopting amendments to WCC Title 20 Zoning, amending the lot coverage limits for public community facilities in the Residential Rural (RR), Rural (R), and Point Robers Transitional Zone (TZ) districts.
This Introduction Item was added to the agenda earlier that day and was considered separately –
An Ordinance amending the 2019 Whatcom County Budget, for the sixth time, in the amount of $836,000 to fund the Plantation Indoor Range HVAC and roof replacement.
County Deputy Executive Tyler Schroeder said this Introduction Item was added at the last minute to be consistent with the other budget supplementals. The County has $294,400 in unused state grant funds for this project that won’t be available after Dec. 31, 2019. The county-owned gun range is on property owned by Bertch Timberlands. The County has a 30-year lease that expires in Jan. 2030 with a re-lease clause. Upon termination of the lease the building will revert to the property owner and the County will be responsible for cleanup.
The new HVAC system is needed for heating and to filter airborne lead from the indoor shooting range. The roof contains asbestos and needs to be replaced to support the new HVAC system. Council members discussed the merits of fixing the building and continuing to have a county-owned gun range. Councilmember Sidhu said if they postpone the repairs and close the range then they gain nothing, whereas if they do the repairs and are unable to sell the lease to the building then at least the County will have a functioning range.
Committee Reports –
Councilmember Buchanan discussed what the Council expects from the Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force. On Feb. 24 the Council assigned to the Task Force at the Sheriff’s request to repeal and replace Whatcom County Code Chapter 1.28 regarding standards for Correctional Facilities. At a steering committee meeting on April 4, Buchanan said the Task Force wants clarity on what the Council is asking them to do? Councilmember Donovan said they’re asking more from this Committee than they’re capable of doing. He said the Council punted this to the Task Force and they’re punting it back.