Wednesday, May 7, 2008

WWU Article on Let's Talk Forum

On May 6th the Western Front published an article by Harte Onewein entitled “Forums address 'rule of 3' issue.” You can read the article by clicking here. The article began by promoting the next Let's Talk forum at WWU on May 15th in Viking Union Room 565 from 4-5:30 and from 7-8:30. I sent the following letter to the editor of the Western Front to bring some balance to an article which I thought was one-sided.

"[...] First of all, I am gratified to see that the Western Front is giving more visibility to the Let’s Talk Forums. I have attended most of these gatherings and, at times, have been dismayed at the poor turnout. I will be at the sessions on the 15th of May and encourage WWU students to attend.

I also am a firm believer in keeping a balanced approach to the subject as described in the article. The title refers to a Bellingham Municipal Code 20.08.020 which defines a single family for purposed of zoning, i.e., controlling density. I disagree with City Council Member Weiss and Attorney Lukoff’s statements as provided to the article’s author.

Mr. Weiss is looking to change a law which has been on the books for decades but has not been enforced in spite of many complaints about illegal rooming houses, which are the result of having more than three unrelated persons living in the same single family home. It seems aberrant to me that one would want to change a law that has not been tested in court. If a court has not ruled on the statute, what is the basis for changing the code? Mayor Dan Pike said that he would enforce the law, if elected mayor but, after dozens of years of inaction, the city council becomes interested in fiddling with the statute thus confounding the issue. This is called pushing the rope up the hill.

Mr. Lukoff, on the other hand, has declared that the law is illegal because of a Revised Code of Washington portion that one cannot discriminate in real estate transactions on the basis of sex, religion, etc. He proffers an example of gay couples not being able to share a home, however, his reasoning is specious. Gay couples in Washington can form a domestic partnership which creates a legal entity akin to a family. Perhaps two or more gay couples cannot share a home in Bellingham but neither can two or more married couples. As for Mr. Lukoff’s statement, “If you can’t discriminate against everyone then you can’t discriminate against anyone. That’s how the law works.”, I find this logic peculiar in that governments do create discriminatory laws, to wit affirmative action and selective service, for the perceived common weal. Mr. Lukoff has also failed to inform the writer of this article that similar zoning codes have been upheld in various jurisdictions throughout the country as a means to control density.

Mr. Lukoff has presented himself as an attorney who specializes in landlord-tenant relations. I have asked Mr. Lukoff on many occasions, through [this] blog ..., whether he represents the tenants or the landlords, as it makes a difference in judging his opinion on the zoning regulations and in placing his remarks in context. He has, to date, not responded."

1 comment: said...

I regret the inaccurate information printed in the Western Front about the Let's Talk Forum, and sent the following letter to the Editors:

Dear Western Front Editors:
I would like to make a clarification regarding the Let's Talk Forums coming up on May 15. Two recent pieces in the Western Front were inaccurate and misleading about the purpose of this event.

First, the Opinion article "Students Can Be Responsible Neighbors" (5/5/08) stated, "The ["Rule of Three"] ordinance has causes so much commotion, the Western's Campus Community Coalition is holding a discussion for community members and students to discuss the consequences of housing in Bellingham."

The purpose of the "Living Together in Bellingham" Let's Talk Forums is to discuss the issues that come up when students and long-term community members are neighbors, understand different perspectives on these issues, and consider how we can we help each other be great neighbors and community members. Housing is a facet of this conversation, but it is inaccurate to say that Let's Talk is to discuss "the consequences of housing in Bellingham." In addition, these discussions have been held regularly for several years now, and were not prompted by the more recent "commotion" about the ordinance.

Secondly, the title of Harte Onewein's article "Forums Address 'Rule of Three issue" (5/6/08) is inaccurate. While the sentence, "....the "Let's Talk" discussion sessions ...will focus on issues arising from students living off campus" is true, the rest of the article is really about the "Rule of Three" issue. So not only is the title simply incorrect, combining the two issues into one article is very misleading.

The issues these two pieces address have long histories and are very, very complex. I caution your staff and you as editors against oversimplification.

I would appreciate it if you would publish a correction so that students and other readers have correct information about the Let's Talk forum. We invite everyone to participate on Thursday, May 15, with one session at 4pm and another at 7pm in Viking Union 565. For more information, please contact Lara Welker, Campus Community Coalition Coordinator at 650-6863 or

For those who are interested in learning more about the "Rule of Three," I believe the campus ACLA club is planning a session on this for May 20. I encourage you to contact them for more information.

Thank you.
Lara Welker
WWU-Bellingham Campus Community Coalition
Prevention and Wellness Services