Thursday, October 18, 2007

Operation Overload - John Watts on Illegal Rooming Houses

Just the other day I ran across a weblog (Bellinghamstertalk) authored on 11 October by John Watts, the current city council representative from Ward 3, who along with Ms. Ryan, voted against the motion by Terry Bornemann last October 8th for a pilot project aimed at eliminating illegal rooming houses throughout Bellingham. Since John’s blog does not allow for posting comments (odd for someone who promotes dialogue), I will post my comments here. You can read John’s entire blog by clicking here (lest I be accused of cherry picking from his writing). You can post comments to my blog by clicking on “Comments” at the bottom of this entry. John did mention, albeit quite obliquely, my blog within his 11 October screed but did not provide a link.

After a dozen or so quotes and a confusing attempt to use Operation Overlord (D-Day 1944) as an analogy which he could then strike down (A variation of the “strawman argument.”), John got down to business. I quote from the Bellinghamstertalk blog, “The issue of 'Landlord Accountability' is different [from Operation Overlord]. There is no sinister cause at work behind the scattered nuisances which some parts of our City experience from time to time. Noise, litter, parking congestion and the complaints that result therefrom are relatively benign, and while annoying, do not lend themselves to an easy solution.” He continues “The reason problems like these exist is essentially based in human nature itself, not some major planning error or a failure of policing the community.”

Well, I just gotta disagree – a lot.

If you read my blog, you will find plenty of support for the contention that the issue is that of single family zoning code enforcement, i.e., the lack thereof, which produced the proliferation of illegal rooming houses in this city. Whether sinister or not, these rooming houses change the character of our neighborhoods enormously in spite of all the talk coming from present members of the city council, to include you, John, and the candidates for office of mayor and city council. Paradoxically and all too ironically, the mantra has been “preserve the character of our neighborhoods”, ad nauseam.

Contrary to your contention that no solutions are presented, comments on my blog, from me and from my readers, do offer solutions. Click here to read some. Or here to read some more. Or here for more. Yet you accuse some unspecified persons (myself included?) in the following way “It is the worst form of demogoguery (sic) to just throw money at a problem like this and expect a favorable result. " I know of nobody who has suggested throwing money at this problem. Perhaps some solutions will require additional enforcement personnel or other funding, however, none of that has been decided nor offered in a slapdash, off-hand manner. We are, after all, talking about the well-being and future of the city. Not exactly a free ride.

Although we need to license landlords for reasons having to do with the health, welfare and safety of our tenant population, this is not the answer to managing densities within our neighborhoods. All those plans for areas zoned this and that are not worth the paper on which they are written, if you do not enforce the codes. As our citizens cannot pick and chose the laws they want to obey, so our city managers cannot ignore laws which they deem too difficult or too expensive or too whatever to enforce. Candidate Bill Geyer presents some excellent information on ignoring the law in my blog entry of 23 September (click here to read his thoughts).

“Let's also not forget the efforts that have already gone into resolving this problem, including the vigorous discussions held in 2004. Without those efforts, we would certainly have more than the six documented complaints that are on file for this year!” Surely your joking, Mr. Watts. You cannot be referring to that fiasco I attended at the Cruise Terminal which was hijacked by the landlords and eventually caused the city council to buckle, like a badly built bridge, to their wishes . And from whence comes the logic which connects that meeting to 6 complaints three years hence? The rule of parsimony suggests that the complainants had a more proximate cause for filing with the city, the existence of illegal rooming houses near their homes. See my take on the six complaints by clicking here.

Let us also talk about the noise, litter, public urination, proliferation of illegally parked cars that you, John, call “scattered nuisances…relatively benign”. Were it so. Many streets here have multiple illegal rooming houses. With a 50% rental rate in this city, it stands to reason. I get reports of this from homeowners across the city. My street (a cul-de-sac) had four illegal rooming houses for more than four years, that is, one-third of the homes on a street with home values from $300,000 to $650,000. One house had constant, 24 hours-a-day, traffic in and out. One week it is a huge party at one house. The next week it is parking issues at two houses. The next time is an assault and property damage at another. Next time it is excruciatingly loud band practice all afternoon. The more illegal rooming houses, the more the problems. What does this say for the quality of life? What does this say for resale value of homes? What does this say for the character of the neighborhood?

And what is John Watt’s answer to my readers, the public? “In the meantime, let's keep doing what we are doing now, but do more of it.” More neglect? More non-enforcement? More of what?


Anonymous said...

A good question to ask John Watts is does he live in one of the Bellingham neighborhoods that are
saturated with Illegal Rooming Houses? Has he had the experience of being kept awake all night by loud parties? Is his alley and personal property littered with liquor bottles and beer cans?
What about rotting trash from garbage tossed out in the alleys into trash cans too small to handle the garbage in a house with 6 or 7 tenants? Or having no place to park on the street due to 6 to 7 vehicles per household? Perhaps he needs to take a field trip into this experience to fully grasp the magnitude of the problem. Sadly, he appears to not have the ability to grasp the seriousness of this problem, AND he sits on the City Council.

zonemaven said...

John is not running for another term on the city council. He lives on Toledo near Lakeway. I do not know if his neighborhood has been invaded by illegal rooming houses yet. Perhaps John can write on this in his blog and let us know.

Petunia said...

You write very well.

zonemaven said...

Dear Petunia,

Thank you for the compliment. Is there a reason you are reading my posts from 2007?