Thursday, August 30, 2007

What Can We Do?

How do we extricate ourselves from this quagmire? First, we must recognize that the core issue is non-enforcement of Bellingham City Code on single family zoning. The reasons for this are many but, at this point, moot. Second, we must concede the enormous contribution to the problem by Western Washington University, more by omission than by commission. Expecting the community to absorb more than 8,000 students each year is not helpful. Third, we must concede that the live-in property owners have been marginalized in favor of those who rent their single family properties. These landlords are totally uncontrolled, an unacceptable situation in a city where even dogs have to be licensed. We cannot allow the landlords to hijack our planning meetings and selfishly further marginalize the other property owners. Many cities across the nation require landlord licensing such as Madison Heights, MI (click here for info) and New Haven, CT (click here for info).

The bugaboo of “unconstitutionality” of our code should be put to rest until such time as a court has decided the issue. Some will lament the cost of a court proceeding but we ought not forget the repeated costs to the city by allowing the “rooming house-ification” of our neighborhoods. By that I mean the price to control unhealthy living conditions, overcrowding, litter, parking, traffic congestion, noise, public drunkenness/urination, assaults, etc., the symptoms of laissez-faire enforcement. There is also the de facto, uncontrolled growth in single family neighborhoods rendering our neighborhood plans moot. Moreover, there is the immeasurable price of the degradation of quality of life for our residents who are forced to accommodate the annual turnover of rooming house renters whose ignorance of the basics of civility is well known.

There are other actions we can take after, and only after, the city enforces the current code. Otherwise we will be on yet another round of giving aspirin to the trauma victim.

- License all landlords to include those who rent single family homes.

- Develop a program of health and safety inspections of all rented property.

- Insist that Western Washington University step up to bar and provide additional student housing either through more on-campus dormitory space or through public-private construction ventures.

- Insist that Western Washington University extend their student code to cover off-campus activities.

- Hire additional code enforcement personnel.

- Contact other jurisdictions with successful zoning enforcement to obtain additional techniques and tools.

We must avoid the “Kumbaya” effect wherein our elected leaders shrug their collective shoulders and call for yet another meeting with the neighborhood associations to “tackle his tough issue and sing songs around the campfire” I, for one, am looking for LEADERS who will take action NOW; who will enforce the current code. I am looking for a City Attorney who will find an approach to support the single family zoning code instead of undermining it before it is ever tested. I am looking for a City Council that will look out for the homeowners who want to live in peace and quiet. As I review the candidate comments on my blog, I am not encouraged. Nor should the readers of this blog be heartened.

(Here is a reminder to our elected officials and our mayoral and council wannabes: You will need the support of these single family homeowners as you struggle to adopt policies that will create infill and avoid sprawl. You will have a tough sell on your infill ideas and promises when you ignore the de facto infill caused by the creation of these rooming houses. This mistrust will spill over into all you do to meet the challenges of traffic congestion, water quality and, above all, growth. These issues are interconnected. You ignore single family zoning enforcement at your peril.)

Again, I urge everyone to contact the candidates for office and current city officials. Tell them "I"m mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!" (Borrowed from the movie Network, 1976) Feel free to copy and plagiarize from this blog. Moreover, it is time to vote to ensure we have leaders who will support us on this issue.

Here are their emails:

For Mayor

Dan McShane -
Dan Pike -

For At-Large Council

Louise Bjornson -
Michael Lilliquist -

For Ward 5
Terry Bornemann -
Bill Geyer -

For Ward 4
Damon Gray -
Stan Snapp -

For Ward 3
Larry Farr -
Barry Buchanan -

For Ward 1

Jack Weiss -

The Present Council -

The Mayor -

The Planning Director -

1 comment:

Terry said...

I recognize the core issue as a shortage of affordable housing.

What's your solution?