Citizen Journalism: Whatcom County Council Meeting Report for September 10, 2019

In Local Government, News, Whatcom County Council by CTNW News

A Climate Action Plan update and tiny home villages for the homeless were the main points of interest at the Whatcom County Council meeting on September 10, 2019.

The public meeting was called to order at 7:00 pm. Council members Barbara Brenner, Barry Buchanan, Tyler Byrd, Todd Donovan, Carol Frazey and Satpal Sidhu were present. Council member Rud Browne was absent.


Public Hearings –

No public hearings were scheduled.


Open Public Comment Period –

CTNW News Note: This meeting was held on Sept. 9th, 2019. Since that time, board members of HomesNow! are under investigation for misuse of gift funds and the board has been required to re-establish the board and policies that will ensure use of public gifts cannot be used to purchase drugs and pay for gambling.

Former president and founder Jim Peterson, former acting Vice President Rachel Duval and operations director Charlie Storrs were all removed from their positions for various behaviors by a board vote on Sunday, Sept. 29, according to Gustafson.

Use of HomesNow! funds Under Investigation, the Western Front

David Grant, Presiding Judge of the Whatcom County District Court, thanked the council for approving additional funding for more out-of-custody jail alternatives, pretrial supervision possibilities and a budget increase that helps to address treatment of domestic violence offenders. He talked about local cases where people had better outcomes and that were able to keep their jobs because the court used jail alternatives such as drug and alcohol monitoring devices.

Jim Peterson, President of HomesNOW!, asked the council to help find a quarter-acre sized property inside the city limits to place a tiny-home village for homeless people. The non-profit managed Winter Haven, Bellingham’s first temporary tent community, behind Bellingham City Hall from January to April of 2019 and a second tent community, in the Sunnyland Neighborhood, from April to August of 2019.  The non-profit now runs Unity Village, Bellingham’s first tiny home village, at 210 McKenzie Avenue, near the train station in Fairhaven. Peterson said they can stay at this current spot until April 2020 and will need a new property lined up by December 2019. HomesNOW! would like a property for at least one year; preferably two. “What we’ve found is when you make us move every three-months or every eight-months, you tear the community apart,” Peterson said. “Our residents, they just get comfortable and they just learn all the bus routes … and now they’ve got to learn it all over again.” Peterson added: “If you ask Chief Doll, crime goes down 30 percent wherever we are.”

Bellingham resident Doug “Yoshi” Revell spoke about Earth Overshoot Day, the calculated calendar date on which humanity’s resource consumption for the year exceeds Earth’s capacity to regenerate those resources that year. The Earth Overshoot Day for 2019 was July 29. The date is getting earlier every year.

Bellingham resident Heather Dahlberg told stories of how local homeless people had been helped by HomesNOW! and the work that she has done to help the homeless. Dahlberg said she knows several homeless people that are waiting to get help from HomesNOW!, but currently they have no openings. She said homeless people need more opportunities like HomesNOW!, and that the work Jim Peterson has done is “amazing.”

Rachel Duval, Vice President of HomesNOW!, talked about her experience with homelessness, and what HomesNOW! has done for her and other homeless people in the community. She talked about Unity Village and asked the council to help them find a new property for a tiny home village. Duval also spoke about the impact that tiny homes have on homeless people’s lives. “They change people,” she said, “they make people want to be better.”

County resident Eileen Cadish spoke on behalf of the Whatcom County Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) about the Public Works 6-year TIP on tonight’s agenda.

The BPAC supports the multi-modal projects contained in the plan, however they are not enough,” she said. “The BPAC recommends additional projects be included in the TIP to address climate change, and speed up the implementation of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in Whatcom County. We propose that Public Works consider the project priority list approved by the BPAC, and incorporate at least two projects from that list in the annual budget each calendar year. The two top projects we would like to see included this year are sections of the Nooksack Loop Trail and the Bay to Bay International Trail.

Whatcom County resident, Misty, spoke about HomesNOW!, and asked the council to help the organization find property for a new tiny home village for the homeless. “They’re saving lives,” she said, “and the people who are going through that transition are paying it forward, and making our community and our city a better place to live for all of us.”

Councilmember Brenner asked Deputy Executive Tyler Schroeder to come forward and provide an update on the progress made so far to find a new property for HomesNOW!. Schroeder said he met with HomesNOW!, President Jim Peterson, 9-to-12 months ago and provided him with a list of available properties in the city of Bellingham. Schroeder said he would send that list to the council.

Blaine-Birch Bay Park and Recreation, District 2 Commissioner, Shelli Moore asked the council to continue to support the planned Bay to Bay International Trail. She specifically asked for help to provide a feasibility study for an undeveloped section of trail on Dearborn Ave. The Bay to Bay International Trail is a planned pedestrian and bike trail that will eventually connect the Blaine and Birch Bay communities.

Birch Bay resident Kitty King told the council that the Bay to Bay International Trail would be a wonderful tourism opportunity and would promote a healthy lifestyle. She said her main concern is public safety. Some of the roads that runners and cyclists are using now have little to no shoulder so cars have to move out of their lane to make room. She said the sooner this project is done, the safer it will be.

Chris Orr, Executive Director of the Whatcom Council on Aging, spoke about the Aging Well Whatcom initiative to make Whatcom County, “an ideal place to come and age well.” He said the Aging Well Whatcom Coalition is ready to unveil a blueprint that creates a coordinated approach to this goal with six main pillars. These include:

  1. Information & Navigation Services;
  2. Inter-generational Opportunities;
  3. Culture Change;
  4. Transportation;
  5. Housing;
  6. Health & Wellness.

He invited the council to attend the blueprint unveiling on Sept. 27th, at Northwood Hall.

Video starting at Chris Orr’s comments

Dawn, a Bellingham resident, expressed her concerns about a property off of Northwest Avenue, to potentially be one of the possible sites for a new tiny home village. She said, “it will hurt property values in the neighborhood, and the cost of bringing power to the property would be paid by taxpayers and the neighbors will fight it.”

Elaine, a Bellingham resident, spoke about the Aging Well Whatcom initiative. She cited a statistic that said more than 75 percent of people say they wish to age in their own home. She also invited the council to attend the unveiling of the initiative blueprint on Sept. 27th, at Northwood Hall.

Dana Briggs spoke about HomesNOW!, and asked the council to help them find a property for a tiny home village. “You need to not let this effort fall into the blackhole,” he said. Briggs also spoke about the need to address climate change and the climate strikes taking place around the world this month.

Bellingham resident Lynette Allen spoke about HomesNOW!, and praised the volunteers working with the group. She asked the council to help HomesNOW!, find a new property for a tiny home village for the homeless. She also thanked the council for what they’ve done so far to help the homeless crisis. “I just see a big change; please get on board. Let’s let it happen.”

Birch Bay resident Patrick Alesse first spoke about HomesNOW!, and praised their effort to build tiny home villages for the homeless. Alesse, also talked about the Bay to Bay International Trail; the planned pedestrian and bike trail that will eventually connect Blaine and Birch Bay. He said the first step could be done without a big investment. He complained about the sandwich board signs that businesses put out too close to the pedestrian walkway.


Five items were on the Consent Agenda (all from the Council Finance and Administrative Services Committee):
  1. Substitute contract between Whatcom County and US Imaging, Inc. in the amount of $128,000.
  2. Contract between Whatcom County and Cascadia Consulting Group, Inc. to provide Climate Action Plan update support, in the amount of $50,000.
  3. Contract between Whatcom County and the City of Bellingham to provide intergovernmental services relating to the Review and Evaluation (Build-able Lands) program requirements of the Growth Management Act in the amount of $85,113.56.
  4. Contract between Whatcom County and RE Sources to provide a countywide waste reduction and recycling education program in local school districts and youth organizations, in the amount of $50,000.
  5. Authorization to purchase of replacement semi-rugged laptops from Datec, Inc., an authorized re-seller for Panasonic, using the Washington State Contract #05815-11, in an amount not to exceed $104,060.69.

All 5 items were authorized by consent. Councilmember Byrd voted against Consent Agenda Items 2 and 4.

Byrd said he voted ‘no’ on Item 2, the Climate Action Plan update, because the council already made a Climate Action Plan but it got put on a shelf. “Unless we’re going to show that we’re using these plans, I don’t see why we should spend money continuing to build the plans over and over again. I’d rather spend the $50,000 going back to the old plan and implementing some of those projects than paying another consulting firm $50,000 just to give us another piece of paper.”

Councilmember Frazey said the last Climate Action Plan update was done in 2007 and that she thinks they should spend the money to update the plan.

Councilmember Sidhu said he supports the update because a lot has changed in the last 12 years. “It is getting more attention from the public, and that’s what we do — the public demands and that’s what they tell us to do next.”

Byrd said he voted no on Item 4 because he has concerns about the political motivations of RE Sources, due to their lobbying and political campaign work.

“I just don’t feel comfortable funding an organization that’s so politically active at the same time,” he said. “I’d support the program if it was done through a different organization.”

Councilmember Brenner said she feels like RE Sources has backed off from a lot of political action.

Video starting at discussion of RE Sources’ recycling education program


Other Items –

 Council Natural Resources Committee:

Approved as amended 6-0 with 1 excused.

Council Finance and Administrative Services Committee:

  • Interagency agreement between Whatcom County Flood Control Zone District and State of Washington Department of Health, in the amount of $600,000. (Council acting as the Whatcom County Flood Control Zone District Board of Supervisors).

Approved 6-0 with 1 excused.

Whatcom County Flood Control Zone District Board of Supervisors:

Approved 6-0 with 1 excused.

Approved 6-0 with 1 excused.

  • Interagency agreement between Whatcom County and Washington Department of Ecology to provide Washington Conservation Corps members funding to complete environmental or disaster service projects in the amount of $148,600.

Approved 6-0 with 1 excused.

Approved 6-0 with 1 excused.

Approved 6-0 with 1 excused.

Approved 6-0 with 1 excused.

Councilmember Frazey said, “these home visits are very important and helping people in their own element is more powerful. This is commonly known as the Visiting Nurse Partnership.”

Approved 6-0 with 1 excused.

Councilmember Brenner commented that she doesn’t think the county should “gift” money to people to take care of their property in an environmental way — especially property owners on Lake Whatcom. There are other ways to create an incentive besides money. Byrd agreed and said he prefers a zero-interest loan program similar to the county’s septic and wood stove replacement programs.

Frazey replied that a loan program takes staff and would probably cost about the same as an incentive program. She commented that it is proven that people do better if they are incentivized.

Donovan said the point of the HIP program is to get away from regulating. “We shouldn’t be paying people for this stuff, we should just ban certain practices, but this is an alternative to that.”

Approved 4-2 with 1 excused, with Councilmembers Brenner and Byrd voting no, and Browne absent.

Video starting at discussion of Lake Whatcom Homeowner Incentive Program

Approved 5-0 with 1 abstaining and 1 excused.

Councilmember Byrd abstained, commenting that he supports the project but doesn’t support how HUD is also spending that money on a “beautiful” office space on a prime piece of property. “I hate when government has the best office, the newest office, the most beautifully-designed office at the highest cost when that could be additional housing that could be done. Or, what else could they be spending that money on to build more housing versus just nicer offices.”

Video starting at discussion of EDI funding for the Samish Way Development Project:

This Item was held in committee.

Council Public Works and Health Committee:

  • Resolution of Intent for Substitute House Bill (SHB) 1406 Affordable Housing Dollars. This bill allows local governments to retain some sales tax that the state collects to spend on affordable housing. This sales tax option is actually a credit against the state sales tax rate of 6.5%, so it will not increase the tax rate for consumers. The intent of the legislation is to encourage local government investments in affordable and supportive housing.

Approved 6-0 with 1 excused.


Council Appointments To Boards, Commissions, and Committees –

Appointed 6-0 with 1 excused.


Executive Appointments To Boards, Commissions, and Committees –

Confirmed 6-0 with 1 excused.

Confirmed 6-0 with 1 excused.


Introduction Items –

Introduced for public hearing 6-0 with 1 excused.

Substitute introduced for public hearing 6-0 with 1 excused.

Introduced 6-0 with 1 excused.

Introduced 6-0 with 1 excused.

Introduced 6-0 with 1 excused.

Introduced for public hearing 6-0 with 1 excused.

Introduced for public hearing 6-0 with 1 excused.

Introduced 6-0 with 1 excused.


Committee Reports, Other Items, and Councilmember Updates –

Councilmember Sidhu said the Finance Committee heard a report from County Executive Jack Louws about the completion of the Silver Lake project. Executive Louws also reported that he has signed paperwork for the Birch Bay berm project. The committee also information on the County’s Q2 2019 Financial report. Sidhu said the county is on track with revenues, sales tax revenue is a little positive, and they’re on track with expenses as well.

Adjourn