Sunday, August 26, 2007

Dan vs Dan for Mayor and the Single Family Zoning Issue

Prior to the primaries, I wrote to the candidates to alert them to this issue and to solicit their support in rectifying the problem of non-enforcement of the Bellingham Municipal Code with regard to single family zoning. In my next several blogs I intend to present the position of each of the candidates for the various public offices of mayor and city council member.

Let us examine the stances of the mayoral candidates.

Here is the response from Dan Pike on 7/25/2007:

I am committed to addressing this problem. As it stands, the consequences are devalued neighborhoods, a lack of social cohesion in the affected neighborhoods due to excessive residential (e.g., student renter) turnover, and a dispersal of some enforcement issues (parties, etc.) which create more, and more expensive, challenges to effective policing.

I have been told that the current code is unenforceable on constitutional grounds. When elected, I will have that looked at. If it proves to be true, I will remove that law from our books and work on other means of solving the problem; if untrue, I will begin enforcement of the code.

Thanks for sharing your concerns with me. I look forward to working productively on election.

Yours for Bellingham,

Dan Pike"

Here is another response from Mr. Pike on 8/14/2007:

"Below is my reply to an inquiry you sent a couple of weeks ago. I have also received phone and email comments on this issue from others concerned about this issue, and reiterate my intent to address this--early--if elected. As you have noted, an unenforced law is worthless. In fact, it is worse than no law at all.

I have begun reviewing some of the many sites you forwarded; due to time constraints I have only begun, but it certainly appears that other areas have managed to address this issue. Frankly, one of the many reasons I am running is because of issues like this, where a lack of proactive action by the City has left us reacting to a crisis. This particular issue has been simmering since my days as a student at WWU in the early 1980s. I cannot help thinking that a joint, proactive effort among the City, the University, and affected neighborhoods and property owners could have borne fruit by now, if someone at City hall had demonstrated a little leadership.
While I cannot guarantee what solution will work for Bellingham, I will commit to working with you to find and implement an acceptable solution, so this is not a campaign issue in four more years. If you have specific ideas, concerns, or possible solutions, please send them to me at I promise to give this issue the attention it should have had years ago.

Yours for Bellingham,
Dan Pike"

I think Candidate Pike sounds like he appreciates the issue, for which I am very gratified. Lest we forget, however, the constitutionality of these zoning laws has already been upheld in various venues across the U.S. That fact should encourage the City of Bellingham to press forward with enforcement action. Until the code is upheld in court or we learn the specifics of any deficiency, we will continue to flail about. It is this collective hand-wringing posture that has allowed us to sink into the present morass, which Mr. Pike indicates has been evident since the early 1980s. I invite Mr. Pike to add further comments with regard to his ideas on code enforcement. Is he willing to take this to court?

This is the reply from Dan McShane on 7/26/2007:

"Thanks for the question. I live in the York neighborhood so this is certainly something that we've grappled with here as about half the homes are not single family. I am well aware of the issue but don't have a solution at this time.

You'll see on my website under neighborhoods this statement: "Ensure that city codes are enforced and actively monitored within the neighborhoods. Planning will have little meaning if neighborhoods are frustrated with problem properties and repeated code violations."

As mayor, I'll be speaking with the city attorneys about how we go about enforcing these codes. I agree, to have codes on the books that we then declare unenforceable isn't right. I will also bring back up a landlord licensing ordinance. It's a business, it should be licensed. You may recall that Mayor Mark brought it before the City Council immediately after the last election based, in part, on what he heard while doorbelling my neighborhood. The City Council didn't pass that. We greatly regret that, as do other neighborhoods with similar problems.

I've been doorbelling all over and I'm hearing this problem in every neighborhood. It's growing and I agree it needs to be tackled.

I appreciate the information you've provided regarding other university cities who've addressed this problem. I'd be more than willing to see how they approached this from both the code and enforcement perspective and to see if they've had measurable success.

Best regards,

Dan McShane"

And a follow-up on 8/16/2007:

I greatly appreciated the links your page has. Keep pushing this. It is an issue in many areas of Bellingham. I know that from door to door campaigning.

The great thing about elections is that issues get raised and sometimes action does follow.

That was true during my every campaign for County Council and I suspect it will be this time as well.



Candidate McShane appears to appreciate the question from a personal point of view, living in the York Neighborhood which is replete with such rooming houses. I also urge Mr. McShane not to lose focus by falling into the tangential issue trap of landlord licensing. This is a necessary follow-on, I repeat follow-on, to enforcement of the code. Licensing may serve as an enforcement tool but should not be confused with decisive enforcement of the single family zoning code. Code enforcement precedes landlord licensing or noise control or litter control or parking control or you-name-it control.

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