Issues

MY MAJOR GOALS FOR WHATCOM COUNTY

Climate Change
Jobs and the Economy
Towards Zero Carbon Emissions
Rural Broadband
Healthcare Access
Mental Health
Affordable Housing
Water availability
Jail and Criminal Justice Reform
Birch Bay Berm, Library, Park

Climate Change

The impacts of climate change are much too dangerous to sit on our partisan sidelines. The disruption to our agriculture, water cycle, economy, and health must be addressed head-on, by both reducing atmospheric greenhouse gases and preparing our communities to adapt to these environmental changes. I will seek common ground for effective, lasting solutions to arrest its advances and meet the challenges it is creating. 

Rich people can often avoid the impacts of pollution in the short term. Environmental regulation and smart planning should be in place to protect the rest of us, and the health of the entire ecosystem upon which we all depend. Pollution control/elimination is an equity issue. Poor people will be disproportionately impacted by climate change yet have only limited political power. But, to be effective we must address climate challenges with measures that can be supported by the broadest possible constituency, so they will be lasting.

Jobs and Economy

Whatcom County’s economy is highly dependent on the high-paying jobs at the two refineries and the aluminum smelter at Cherry Point. We do not have any other industry in the county that is comparable, unlike Seattle that also has a tech sector. Both refineries are developing new bio-fuels production, and BP supports a carbon tax to address greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). We must address near-term concerns about community safety, tanker traffic on the Salish Sea, and potential loss of local jobs from a possible conversion to a tranship facility. But we must also engage with both refineries about how they can participate in diversifying our job base and transition to a local clean energy economy. We have a lot of assets here locally — skilled labor, infrastructure, knowledge — that we can harness to envision and create the next chapter of Whatcom County’s economy that creates jobs in clean energy and reduces GHG.

Toward Zero Carbon Emission

The county must take leadership to find and support ways to ensure that new construction is “zero-carbon ready.” This is beyond more typical high-efficiency appliances and super insulation. For example, roofs on new construction should be “solar ready” by requiring them to be oriented for maximum solar exposure. This would cost little extra, but would maximize payoff of future solar installation. Incentivize, at a minimum, all-electric HVAC in new construction, so that there is flexibility in carbon-free power, from on-site solar or wind to a carbon-free electrical grid. Mini-split heat pump systems are already comparable in price to traditional forced-air ducted systems in new construction.We also need to update our county zoning ordinance to create a balanced and realistic process for permitting wind energy generation in Whatcom County.

There are two solutions to transportation GHG emissions. One is to densify our cities so they are walkable and can provide efficient public transportation. The other is phasing out internal combustion vehicles altogether. Electric vehicles and autonomous technology are poised to disrupt our transportation system in the next five to ten years. Public policy must support both these avenues. Additional benefits will be reducing sprawl and increasing mobility options for people with disabilities. 

Rural Broadband

Affordable, high-quality internet access can be life-changing for rural residents, from educational and work opportunities to access to healthcare. The Legislature took a big step forward this spring in support of rural Broadband availability, but it will take local leaders from the County, Port, and PUD to make it happen here in Whatcom County. 

Healthcare Access

Our rural communities are losing their hometown doctors. The new Unity Care North Whatcom Health Center in Ferndale is a beneficial exception. We must focus on issues such as transportation, aging in place, and new delivery methods of telemedicine, mobile clinics, etc. as well as the cost of the services themselves. Our Whatcom County Health Department, along with community partners, is working hard to improve the health of all people in our community, and we must support this continued work. Here’s their Community Health Improvement Plan. Read about Blaine and Ferndale school district’s community health status.

Mental Health

Poor mental health is a creeping hidden epidemic within our nation. U.S. Department of Health statistics indicate that over 18% of our adult population suffers from mental health challenges. These numbers are higher among our elders, adolescents, and vulnerable populations. Whatcom County cannot just turn away from this silent epidemic, but must marshall its resources to provide better outreach and expanded community health services and facilities. The Whatcom County Health Department reports that 20 out of 30 Whatcom County students struggle with anxiety, 11 out of 30 suffer symptoms of depression, seven out of 30 have considered suicide in the past year, and three in 30 have attempted suicide in the past year. The rates are higher for girls, LGBT students, Native American students, and students who have experienced bullying.  We need additional mental health resources in our schools to cope with this mental health emergency.  

Mental health challenges can often be either the result of or cause of homelessness. Either way, homelessness makes the need for services quite visible. Without local facilities and services, our County jail has been used to house, but not treat, people with mental illness. With pressure to reduce the county jail population, Whatcom County has established a Crisis Stabilization Facility, and is now in the process of expanding its capacity. County Government must work with nonprofits and state and local governments to improve local access to mental health services.  We must also work within the educational system to help destroy the perceived stigma that often inhibits people for reaching out for help.

Affordable Housing

The issue of affordable housing is primarily an economic class issue. For Whatcom County, it is also a simple issue of supply and demand. Too many people want to live here and many come from higher-cost places with cash to spend on housing, without the need for a local job. So there is a disconnect between the price of housing and the average wages offered locally.

Whatcom county’s small cities are growing, and the cost of housing is rising, because of pressure from people in Bellingham looking for affordable housing. So we need to pay attention to what Bellingham does on this issue. Bellingham has offered incentives to developers to build dense housing in “urban villages” for over a decade, but with few takers. We can no longer wait for the private sector to step up to build affordable housing. We must proceed with public and non-profit projects to address housing needs now.

We have some great non-profit and government programs in Whatcom County working on increasing the housing supply for low and moderate-income households. The bottleneck is, of course, funding. I am currently exploring with some community partners the establishment of a fund to support more projects. 

The County has jurisdiction over land outside of incorporated cities. There will be pressure to make more of this land available for housing. I won’t rezone a bunch of rural land for residential just to increase the land supply for builders. That not only will cause sprawl, but is an inefficient use of resources. I won’t vote to destroy protections for wetlands and other environmentally sensitive areas. I won’t vote to lower building energy efficiency and safety standards. I will protect a critical mass of farmland acreage so we maintain a viable agricultural economy.

Homeless Strategies Workgroup     Alternative Strategies and Responses (2018)

Water availability

We live in a perverse situation where there is too much water for much of the year and far too little when we need it the most for the environment, agriculture, industry and domestic uses. State law directs water planning to be done on the river-basin level. Whatcom County water planning covers the the Nooksack basin, part of the Samish basin and the streams running into Drayton Harbor. The County government is a key actor in water planning  and needs to step up its leadership role to resolve decades-long issues. The most critical conflict for water is between in-stream flows for salmon spawning and the late summer need for agricultural irrigation water. We can provide adequate water for fish, farms, and families if we work at it.

Much good work is being done by the Water Management Board on salmon recovery, watershed management, and ecosystem recovery, in conjunction with the cities, tribes, PUD and WA Fish and Wildlife. The County Council needs to continue to support this work and fund it. For example, in their 2018-2023 Work Plan, one strategy is to create a pilot project for drainage-basin management planning  for water supply, water quality, instream flows, and habitat. This approach was suggested by Fisheries Co-Manager Lummi Nation and is envisioned as a mechanism to help facilitate the resolution of state and federal/tribal rights in WRIA 1. Farmers are also interested in this basin-level approach and seem to be willing to experiment. It will take developing strong relationships with stakeholders in the basin, and I am ready and willing to spend the time necessary to make it happen.

Jail and Criminal Justice Reform

Whatcom County’s jail is unsafe for both inmates and everyone working there. We must replace it. The voters have said no to a big jail in Ferndale, and the County Council, Sheriff, Courts, and Prosecutor have responded by reducing the pre-trial population by about 15% since early 2018. The Incarceration Prevention and Reduction Task Force is providing cutting edge alternatives to jail warehousing and I support the implementation of many of its recommendations.  Steps need to be taken to safely release people awaiting their day in court, and also diverting people to treatment for drug, alcohol and mental health issues. We are at a place where a more modest jail, downtown near the courts and support services, will be possible, but much work still needs to be done to figure out the details before presenting it to the voters again for approval.

Birch Bay berm, library, and park

If Birch Bay were an incorporated city, it would be the fourth largest in the county. But because Birch By is not incorporated, the Whatcom County Council is its “city council.” Over the years urban-level services for water and sewer, stormwater management, parks and recreation have been created to serve the community. 

Current needs include the completion of the BIRCH BAY DRIVE & PEDESTRIAN FACILITY, known as “the berm”, intended to restore a 1.58-mile section of Birch Bay beach with a berm that mimics a natural beach and protect the area from flooding. The December 2018 storm that destroyed a large section of Birch Bay Drive is an example of what we can expect more regularly in the future with sea-level rise and more extreme weather patterns. The Berm will provide protection for the road but will not eliminate flooding of the low-lying areas along the road. As we make zoning decisions, we must consider ways to protect private and public property and avoid paying for repeated repairs. After decades of planning by community members and Whatcom County government, work on the berm is expected to begin in the fall of 2019.

Friends of Birch Bay Library is a volunteer community organization focused on building a branch library of the Whatcom County Library System on property on Birch Bay Drive. They have two years to raise $2 million to match a State grant toward the building fund.
Whatcom County purchased 4.1 acres in Birch Bay for development of a waterfront community park. In 2016 three community meetings were held to introduce the project and gather community input. Plans for the park include a multi-purpose shelter, restrooms, a natural play area, picnic areas, and off-street parking. The project has been delayed to allow the Public Works a staging area for the berm project.

Whatcom Planning Commission Blog