Who to vote for? Read what the candidates have to say - Salish Current
October 17, 2023
Who to vote for? Read what the candidates have to say
Whatcom Watch in partnership with Salish Current

It’s almost time to mark those ballots for the Nov. 7 general election. Want to know more about the candidates for Whatcom County and City of Bellingham offices? See where they stand on Nooksack watershed adjudication, climate goals, housing and more. (Salish Current photo)

October 17, 2023
Who to vote for? Read what the candidates have to say
Whatcom Watch in partnership with Salish Current

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November’s general election will decide who will lead Whatcom County and the City of Bellingham in 2024. Ballots will be mailed on Oct. 20 for the Nov. 7 election. In collaboration with Salish Current, Whatcom Watch queried candidates for their stances on crucial issues, to help voters make their choices. Read on, to see the responses.

Whatcom County

All candidates for county office were asked these three questions:

  • Would you favor the creation of a joint city/county watershed advisory board with the sole purpose of purchasing property around Lake Whatcom?
  • What is your vision for restoring the Nooksack River watershed so there is enough water for fish and farmers in perpetuity?
  • What would you specially do, if elected, to more vigorously prevent the loss of mature trees and legacy forestlands?

County Executive

Satpal Sidhu

County uses Conservation Future Fund for past decades to purchase properties not only in the Lake Whatcom watershed, but throughout the county for community purposes, like community forest, fish habitat, land conservation easements, purchase of development rights. These funds are leveraged with state grants, Parks and Rec grants, private philanthropic funds. This is in addition to COB investments in land purchases. I need to learn more about how a joint committee can benefit the already working programs of Whatcom County. Once the Stewart Mountain Community Forest process is completed, local residents will own several thousands of acres of land in the lake watershed area. 

I agree that the new housing availability and inventory is way behind the demand for housing at all levels. Whatcom County needs 3,000–5,000 new housing units annually for several years to catch up with the existing gap. Hence the median pricing and rental rates will remain unaffordable as there are no alternatives to market forces. For the residents living in RVs or other vehicles, I propose to create several 1–2-acre safe vehicle parking places with basic services. These cannot be no-barrier places. Such initiative will require proper definite rules and standards for vehicle owners to follow. 

I promised to plant one million trees during my 2019 election campaign. We now have a local nonprofit organization called Whatcom Million Trees Project, who have planted and protected more than 250,000 trees. I support actions to protect legacy forests including the efforts to declare Stewart Mountain as Community Forest. County has close to 10,000 acres of forestland in the Lake Whatcom watershed. I am supporting the more investment shall be made urgently in proper forest management of community owned lands to protect them from wildfires. The recent Blue Canyon fire is a stark reminder for whole community.

Dan Purdy

[Dan Purdy did not respond.]

County Council At Large

Jon Scanlon

Everyone deserves access to clean drinking water. Improving Lake Whatcom water quality requires partnership between Whatcom County and the City of Bellingham. I support land acquisition around Lake Whatcom because a forested watershed delivers better water quality. Whatcom County should help. If a new board is the best path forward, then I support it. If the work is meaningful and has impact, then I think we will have people who will want to serve. However we approach it, we need to achieve our goal of acquiring more land in the Lake Whatcom watershed to protect the health of our community.

The Nooksack River watershed is a beautiful place that sustains all of us. I envision a restored watershed with salmon habitat, healthy farms and forests, and safety for communities during floods. I support the adjudication process. Adjudication is the best venue to determine water rights, which are necessary for tribes, farmers and landowners to plan for the future. When making decisions, I will reach out to experts and impacted communities. When deciding between different priorities, I will lean on my environmental values, my experience working with smallholder farmers and Indigenous communities, and my career-long focus on reducing poverty and inequality.

A forested watershed is healthier and costs communities less. I support maintaining mature trees and legacy forestlands throughout the Lake Whatcom watershed, including on state trust land. In recent years, DNR has proposed several logging plans that could negatively impact our watersheds. Some of the recent DNR proposed timber sales were pulled because residents spoke up in opposition. I will continue to advocate for healthy forest habitat in the Lake Whatcom watershed. I support continued land acquisition and working with our state legislators to pursue additional protection on our state forestlands so that public lands provide a benefit to water quality.

Hannah Ordos

Though I favor collaboration, I do not know the history of what occurred in 2000 to provide what my decision today would be. Prior to making that determination, as with any important decisions I would need to look at the data, engage the stakeholders and assess the benefits and trade-offs of creating a joint advisory board versus what we already have in place. 

Nooksack watershed is part of WRIA [water resource inventory area] which has a watershed management plan and 2000 statement of work. I agree with the goals outlined which address water quantity for both fish habitat and agriculture. Before recreating the wheel, I would want to understand where we are in achieving those goals and potential barriers. What I would want to avoid is creating new time-consuming assessments that offer little benefit and work on adapting the existing plan we have to our current reality. 

Good forestry management practices are an important part of reducing negative impacts. We have numerous programs and considerable investment has been made in the development of a comprehensive plan to mitigate these and others risks within the Lake Whatcom Watershed. As a member of the council, I would look to the experts, ask thoughtful questions and support what makes the most sense for our community.

County Council District 4

Kathy Kershner

No, I think the measures the County has already implemented are doing the job of managing water quality in the watershed, including the reconveyance of 8,800 acres from DNR to Lake Whatcom Park. 

The adjudication process is a legal endeavor that could take many years to resolve. The adjudication process will not restore the Nooksack River watershed, it will only grant legal access to the water in the watershed. We have to continue to be creative in solving the water quantity issue. We have too much in the rainy season and not enough in the summer. I am in favor of creating the capacity for storing water in the winter to be released during the summer months when we get little rain to restore flows for fish and create enough water for the human users as well. 

I have already vigorously protected 8,800 acres in the Lake Whatcom watershed during my first term as chair of the council. The Department of Natural Resources has environmentally friendly forestry practices, there is science that supports managed forests as preventative effort to reduce damage caused by wildfires and disease as well as maintain a diverse range of flora and fauna. Development regulations in the county prevent unmitigated tree canopy removal and there are already strict requirements to manage all stormwater running off properties due to development.

Mark Stremler

[Mark Stremler did not respond.]

County Council District 5

Jackie Dexter

Protecting our sources of drinking water is a priority of mine and that extends throughout the watersheds. Preserving native trees, plants and fungi will not only retain the soils and prevent erosion, but also provide a filtration system for the groundwater entering Lake Whatcom. If we, as a county, do not support the City of Bellingham’s drinking water, that could lead to future pressure on Whatcom County’s water sources, like the Sumas-Blaine aquifer. I support the formation of a joint city/county watershed advisory board with its sole purpose in acquiring lands around Lake Whatcom for the preservation of our drinking water. 

I support the adjudication process led by the Department of Ecology, to better establish where the water is being drawn from, and how we can assess to best allocate it. I support this process and the determination of how much each legal holder can withdraw. I advocate for healthy habitat for the salmonids and other fish of the Nooksack River, and then allocation towards farms and families. I have novel ideas for water conservation during our times of deluge for use during periods of drought and look forward to collaborating with the agencies and stakeholders in implementing solutions.

If elected, I will work vigorously with the Department of Natural Resources in advocating for more sustainable techniques in timber harvest, not removing mature, old growth forests. I would encourage zoning these mature forest stands to a conservation status or a Whatcom County critical area ordinance for greatest carbon sequestration. If we must timber harvest, encourage it in areas previously harvested and support best management practices. I would work with land conservation groups in acquiring more of these critical forests around Lake Whatcom for watershed protection and propose a tree retention program to prevent tree loss due to development.

Ben Elenbaas

No.

If there isn’t enough water in Western Washington, where is there enough? The political games need to stop. We can negotiate a strategy that encompasses low snow scenarios, which occur on occasion. When the political games end recovery will begin. 

Forests within the watershed are intensively managed. However, science tells us that effective management includes harvest.

City of Bellingham

Mayor

Mayoral candidates addressed these questions:

  • What are your specific ideas for how Bellingham can balance the need for new infill housing with retaining large, mature trees that provide climate resilience and urban wellness/livability?
  • As the number of homeless individuals continues to outpace housing availability, what actions would you take to ensure those living in vehicles receive the basic essential services?
  • Would you favor the creation of a joint city/county watershed advisory board with the sole purpose of purchasing property around Lake Whatcom?

Seth Fleetwood

Environment- ally, socially, increased density is good. We need Bellingham to be equitable and sustainable. Inspired design will get us there. As a long-term member and former chair of multiple Greenways levy campaigns, I am deeply committed to environmental infrastructure that is green and teeming with life. Through creative design, we will achieve the balance of retaining trees, planting many more trees and increasing infill housing. We need all three. We can achieve everything we need with creative design, informed by work we are doing right now developing the Urban Forestry Management Plan, and Tree Protection Ordinance. The work is underway. For starters, we solve our nation’s homeless crisis by building more permanently subsidized homes. Bellingham dedicates $10,000,000 annually to our many needs for affordable housing from sources including the Bellingham Home Fund, which I drafted and sponsored as a Bellingham City Councilmember.

For people living in vehicles, we are working to create a safe parking program, with a secure location and sanitation, including toilets, sinks, garbage collection. These services require trained operators. Our efforts to find operators to date have resulted in no takers. This effort remains a priority, however. We continue to seek proposals with promising recent interest.

In 2000, Bellingham City Council imposed a $5 surcharge on water rates for Lake Whatcom acquisitions. In 2012, as a city council member, I proposed, drafted and won adoption of a $7 increase. This brought in additional millions, supercharging our acquisition fund. We presently have multiple joint boards between the City and the County regarding Lake Whatcom. We don’t need another board. We need increased funding from the County, which doesn’t yet have a dedicated acquisition fund. Direct advocacy from the City, with the public pushing the County to create more land acquisition funding, is what is needed.

Kim Lund

This is a critical question — we must balance our need for new housing with retaining mature trees, especially heritage trees, whenever practical. Our affordability crisis and the climate crisis require us to manage both. As we revise our comprehensive plan and implement an urban forestry management plan, we can codify this need into our master planning documents. Specific ideas include establishing incentives or credits for development that prioritize nature-integrated designs, including mature tree retention. We can also implement best practices to provide more flexibility for situating structures on-site including reducing parking requirements. 

Using parking laws to “move these people along” is an inadequate response. At the same time, some camper communities present unacceptable impacts on surrounding businesses, neighbors and schools. We must: 

1. Create safe, supervised areas where individuals and families who use cars or RVs as their primary residence can access facilities and there are on-site service providers linking them to employment, housing and services. 

2. Use every possible means to keep people from falling into homelessness.

3. Implement short-, medium- and long-term actions to Bellingham’s affordability crisis. This requires reviewing every aspect of city policy that affects housing affordability.

As mayor, I will make relationships a priority with all our partners. The County governs 97% of the watershed — we need to work together to accelerate strategic purchases while aligning our policies and programs to ensure the protection of our drinking water. A diverse and knowledgeable water resources advisory board needs to advise the city on programs and policy needs regarding Lake Whatcom and other critical water issues. As mayor, I would set clear, measurable goals to ensure that land acquisition is a key focus of the new WRAB and isn’t lost in their expanded scope of work. 

City Council

City council candidates each were asked:

  • What are your specific ideas for how Bellingham can balance the need for new infill housing with retaining large, mature trees that provide climate resilience and urban wellness/livability?
  • Would you favor adding request for proposal contracts for $300,000 or more to the consent agenda?
  • Would you favor the creation of a joint city/ county watershed advisory board with the sole purpose of purchasing property around Lake Whatcom?

City Council At Large

Russ Whidbee

Bellingham is at a crossroads of livability and environment. We can have both, through smart urban planning and valuing our natural environment. As a current Bellingham planning commissioner, this is one of the key ideas driving my decisions. If elected to city council, I will prioritize regulations that allow our city’s needs of increased density, to accommodate the reality of Bellingham’s popularity and state-mandated growth planning, while also recognizing the importance of the natural environment. I believe bringing back the city’s public development authority can develop a process whereby the city leads on this issue while creating more affordable housing. 

Yes. One of the key jobs of the Bellingham City Council is budgetary authority. It is important for the city council to be involved in budgetary matters. RFPs can have significant impacts on long-term municipal financial health, hence the importance of city council oversight. As a 20+ year financial manager, and also an accounting instructor at Whatcom Community College, I will bring strong and sound fiscal management experience and education to our city council. Current city council member Lisa Anderson has endorsed me, in no small part because of the need for better transparency and oversight of our city’s finances. 

The prioritization of protecting our drinking water source cannot be overstated. We need to ensure that all parties are contributing their fair share of resources and commitment to protecting the drinking water for both Bellingham AND county residents. If a joint city/county board is the avenue for increased EFFECTIVENESS of purchase expenditures, then I would support it. Whatever avenue our government takes, we need to ensure that we are using our tax revenues for the best impact. That is the lens of financial management, with a fiduciary responsibility that I will bring to our city council. Effective fiduciary capacity!

Jace Cotton

[Jace Cotton did not respond.]

City Council Ward 1

Eamonn Collins

Climate change is an existential threat to humanity; meanwhile, the lack of affordable homes in Bellingham is fundamentally destabilizing. We can most effectively reduce our carbon emissions locally by increasing housing density within Bellingham to reduce traffic and limit sprawl into woodlands and wetlands (with their significant CO2 sequestration capacity). We should prioritize affordable housing within the urban growth area, while establishing guidelines to protect significant individual trees on private property, encourage appropriate native species for climate resiliency and focus new planting in areas with low canopy cover to reduce the urban heat island effect and improve equity.

Yes. It makes sense to bring city RFP policies in line with the Port. Having these items on the consent agenda improves oversight of city spending without much additional administrative burden.

Yes, I support the creation of a watershed advisory board. The Lake Whatcom watershed covers 36,000 acres, the overwhelming majority of which are outside the boundaries of Bellingham in Whatcom County.

Hannah Stone

I believe the solution requires a balance that prioritizes both the development of infill housing and the preservation of large mature trees. Climate resilience and urban livability are vital as infill increases housing density in the city. The urban forestry management plan will provide strategic direction for the maintenance of a healthy urban forest in Bellingham, and our assessment of best practices and community values will contribute to the development of this long-term management plan. As a result, policy makers and developers will need to be more creative and flexible as we all work together to strike the best balance.

I favor adding Request for Proposal contracts for $300,000 or more to the consent agenda. With that said, it’s my understanding that the evaluation of proposals is conducted by a committee formed by the City and the committee ranks proposals based on the evaluation criteria outlined in the RFP. Upon completion of this evaluation, I understand it’s the City’s intention to enter into a contract with the proponent who received the highest score. Through the consent agenda, council review would likely be akin to its review of bids. The proposal would be accepted without modification, or all proposals rejected. 

I’m in favor of the City and Whatcom County purchasing additional property around Lake Whatcom to protect the watershed. However, I am not certain a joint city/county board would be the most appropriate structure to advance this work. In 2001, the city began a land acquisition and preservation program to purchase land around Lake Whatcom using watershed fees. As of June 2022, the city has purchased more than 2,400 acres and protected an additional 164 acres through conservation easements or restrictive covenants. The city has a healthy reserve to purchase additional properties, and the main limitation is identifying willing sellers.

City Council Ward 3

Liz Darrow

I support form-based codes, which allow for livable, walkable, workable communities. We have to protect mature trees because they store so much CO2 and also provide shade cover which mitigates the impacts climate change. We also need to approach shade trees and right-of-way tree cover in an equitable way. North Bellingham has far fewer shade trees than other areas of Bellingham, and has also lost a significant amount of shade cover to development. I support the Greenways Levy V because it looks at mitigating climate change impacts and protecting trees and green spaces with an equity lens. 

Yes. City council needs the opportunity to look more closely at contracts that are approved at the executive level. Additionally, adding these contracts to the consent agenda gives the public the opportunity to research things that otherwise they might not already know about. Transparency in spending is critical. There is a difference between the amounts that are approved in the budget and the amount that ends up getting spent. The public and city council members should have the opportunity to look closely at every budget line item as it is spent.

Yes. 90% of the Lake Whatcom Watershed is outside of the city of Bellingham. I think that the county and the city should enter into an interlocal agreement to protect this critical resource. We already know that water quality in the Lake Whatcom Reservoir is suffering from over-development and recreational use. We have the data from years of water quality testing. What we need is a measurable, actionable plan to acquire and preserve land for restoration to try to bring the lake back into ecological balance.

Daniel Hammill

We can address our climate goals, including retaining large mature trees, by following our urban village model of infilling in specific areas of Bellingham. This kind of infill puts people closer to jobs, recreation and services and has the potential to increase bike and pedestrian trips.

I favor adding Requests for Proposals over $300,000 to the consent agenda.

Right now, the City purchases land in the county and city that is contained in the watershed. I support creating a joint city/county watershed advisory board; however I would expand its role to include stormwater protections and invasive species mitigations.

City Council Ward 5

Lisa Anderson

We must balance the need for increased growth and our ability to mitigate the impacts of climate change. I have been a strong advocate for urban villages to create high-density walkable communities. A green canopy will be critical to prevent heat domes as we increase density. Education and outreach to property owners that trees in the right-of-way belong to the city. Too many of our city heritage trees have been taken down with no repercussions. It is essential to have stronger enforcement. We can offset increased density impacts by planting trees on city owned property including easements and right-of-ways.

I would not be opposed. Even though RFPs can be evident during the budget sessions and councilors can ask questions to decide approval, it may not be transparent to the public a year later when an RFP is issued. The only other means to be informed is if there is an interlocal agreement listed in the agenda. Our goal should be providing clear transparency for the public to keep track and provide input regarding services. Listing RFPs in the consent agenda would make such contracts easily accessible in a timely notification. It would increase transparency of services and funding.

Yes and no. We need to do more together than purchase watershed land. Bellingham has invested millions to purchase land and prevent further development. The city and county need to partner to redo the landscape plan so intact habitat like Bessie Sorts is never again threated. We need to work together to address the increasing threat of wildland fires that interface with homes. The county needs to reexamine zoning that allows additional development in this watershed. So, yes, creating a joint watershed advisory board would be ideal, but I would like it to focus on more than just purchasing property.

[Lisa Anderson is running unopposed.]

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