Much-Anticipated General Election: County Exec & Bellingham Mayor Top Nov. 5 Ballot

One of the most anticipated off-year general elections in recent Whatcom County history will be held Nov. 5 to fill many key offices, including County Executive and Bellingham Mayor.

Tony Larson, President of the Whatcom Business Alliance and Publisher of Business Pulse magazine, and Satpal Sidhu, a Whatcom County Council member, are facing off for County Executive, after taking the top two spots in the Aug. 6 primary election. Incumbent Jack Louws did not run for a third four-year term.

Seth Fleetwood, a former Bellingham City Council and Whatcom County Council member, and current City Council member April Barker, are the finalists for Bellingham Mayor, after narrowly surviving a close four-person race in the primary election. Like Louws, Mayor Kelli Linville declined to seek a third term.

Whatcom County also will elect a new Auditor and Assessor, plus the first members of County Council Districts 4 and 5, which were created in 2015. A County Council At-Large position also is on the ballot.

Other contested races of note include one of three positions on the Port of Bellingham Commission and Ferndale Mayor. An above-average number of city council and school board positions also drew multiple candidates this year.

The four-person race for Whatcom County Executive and Bellingham Mayor contributed to a turnout of 39.5% of registered voters in the Aug. 6 primary, topping the off-year primary-election turnouts in 2017 (31.1%), 2015 (25.3%), 2013 (21.7%), and 2011 (37.3%). The 2011 primary election also featured four-person races for Whatcom County Executive and Bellingham Mayor—boosting  the general-election turnout to 59%.

However, off-year elections featuring local positions don’t draw as many voters as presidential elections, held every four years. The 2016 general election, for example, generated ballots from a whopping 82.7% of registered voters in Whatcom County.

In this year’s primary election, Larson led County Executive candidates with 37%, followed by Sidhu with 33.7%. Fleetwood topped the candidates for Bellingham Mayor with 28.7%, and Barker was a close second with 26.7%.

The top issues in this year’s campaign include housing affordability, homelessness, family wage jobs, leadership, water quality and quantity, and environmental protection.

Ballots for the general election will be mailed Oct. 16 and must be returned to an election dropbox by 8 p.m. Nov. 5, or postmarked by midnight Nov. 5, in order to be counted.

To help inform voters, Business Pulse is publishing on the following pages biographical information and statements from the candidates for Whatcom County Executive, County Council, Bellingham Mayor, and Port of Bellingham Commissioner. Responses were edited only for obvious grammatical errors and otherwise published as submitted.

A Voters’ Guide will be mailed to registered voters about the same time as the general-election ballots and can be found online, as well. Voters also may attend one or more of the candidate forums organized by local groups.

Residents with questions about voter registration may contact the Election Division of the Whatcom County Auditor’s Office at 360.778.5102.

Whatcom County Executive

Tony Larson vs. Satpal Sidhu

Tony Larson

I am a long-time local business owner, former County Council Member, and community leader with more than 30 years of top executive-leadership experience, in both the private and public sectors.

I’ve been endorsed for Whatcom County Executive by the Washington Farm Bureau, Whatcom County Deputy and Sheriff’s Guild, Fire District 7, Affordable Housing Council, mayors of Lynden, Ferndale, Blaine, Everson, Nooksack, Sumas, and hundreds of other community business leaders and families throughout Whatcom County.

Satpal Sidhu

I have served on the County Council since 2015. I hold a BS in Electrical Engineering and an MBA and have worked as an engineer, project manager, business executive, and educator. I was recognized by two governors for achievements in workforce development as Dean of Engineering & Trades at BTC. I have lived near Lynden for 32 years and spent countless hours volunteering for community groups. My wife, Mundir, and I will be celebrating our 40th anniversary this year.

What do you see as the most important challenge facing local businesses and how would you address it as Whatcom County Executive?

Tony: The local economy is strong. However, farmers in both agriculture and dairy are consistently threatened with regulatory overreach, water issues, labor issues, pricing and cost pressures, and worker-housing issues. Small farms are dying, and larger farms are requiring more innovation just to keep up with rising costs and regulatory requirements. Our heavy industrial sector, where the highest-paying jobs in the county reside, are threatened by actions from our current County Council. Industry is understandably concerned. More broadly, businesses are struggling to find skilled workers. That problem is exacerbated by increased housing prices and lack of housing supply. Through my work as President of the Whatcom Business Alliance, we have collaborated with local students, teachers, administrators, and business leaders to build pathways for students to employment opportunities. The housing problem is solvable but will require the leadership and collaboration I will provide as your County Executive.

Satpal: Some indicators, such as low unemployment and GDP growth, seem to point to a healthy economy, yet a closer examination shows an economy under stress: an aging population, disruption by online sales, climate change impacts, outsized housing costs, the gap between skills taught and skills required, etc.

The area where local government can have the most positive impact is in addressing the need for a skilled and aligned workforce. My experience as Dean of Engineering & Trades at BTC gives me a unique perspective on how to prepare youth, starting in high school, for in-demand skilled positions with local employers. As County Executive, I would work with the local business community to develop long-term workforce training programs. We need to have a clear picture of the workforce needs of local employers and then ensure training programs are in place to prepare people for this work.

Cherry Point industry has expressed concern regarding the Whatcom County Council’s passage of the seventh consecutive six-month emergency moratorium on unrefined fossil-fuel exports and what they say is a lack of transparency and inclusiveness in the process. Do you support the moratoriums, yes or no? How would you address the concerns of industries there?

Tony: No. To create fair and equitable outcomes, all parties should be at the table in good faith. That has not happened. Industry wasn’t invited to the table. If the new language proposed for the county’s Comprehensive Plan amendments prevail as written, it would stifle future investment at Cherry Point, and not only for the refineries. It would also affect desirable companies in food manufacturing, wood products, metal products, merchant wholesalers, fuel dealers, utilities, building construction companies, and countless other opportunities. For example, a recently-announced proposal for construction of a large-scale renewable-energy plant would produce renewable diesel fuel from planned feedstocks and a mix of waste fats—exactly the type of innovative, environmentally-transformational project expansion we should encourage and support. In addition to astounding environmental impact, that could infuse as much as $1 billion into our local economy and create many jobs for families that need them.

Satpal: Cherry Point hosts many businesses and industries. The moratorium’s impact is very narrow and limited to the conversion of oil refining capacity to crude oil export facilities. Cherry Point industries have continued to do business as usual, including the launch of several new projects during the moratorium without any disruption, despite oil lobbyists scaring workers with phantom job losses.

The County Council is carefully considering changes to the Comp Plan to prevent conversion of processing capacity to crude oil export facilities. Oil exports haven’t been allowed from Cherry Point since the mid-1970s, so this is nothing new or radical. The proposed amendments will allow prudent oversight of new fossil fuels projects, reducing the risk to the environment while maximizing job security. I continue to meet with industry representatives, encouraging them to participate in the open public hearings and not to mischaracterize moratorium as bad for jobs.

Are we facing a housing crisis, yes or no? What approach will you take as Whatcom County Executive to stabilize the increases in housing prices and rents?

Tony: Yes. The lack of worker and affordable housing supply is a top impediment to recruiting, retaining, and developing a skilled workforce. Elected officials have declared affordable housing a top priority for the past five years, yet there is still a significant disconnect between current planning code and worker/affordable housing needs. To stabilize housing prices, we need to get the vacancy rate up from .75% to 4-6%. That will require putting thousands of units online per year over the next four consecutive years. We need a County Executive who can collaborate with the Mayors of Bellingham, Ferndale, Blaine, Lynden, Everson, Nooksack, and Sumas to adopt uniform incentives and permit approval processes to get supply online and make this a county wide urban-development and workforce-attraction initiative. Every single small-city Mayor has endorsed me for County Executive, and I will reach out and work with the new Bellingham Mayor as well.

Satpal: Yes, Whatcom County is facing an acute housing crisis with skyrocketing prices and a shortage on available units in all segments. The County’s Business and Commerce Advisory Committee recently made a presentation to the County Council that highlighted the shortage of workforce housing is a key factor limiting the growth of current businesses. They are unable to hire new skilled workers or retain current workers because of the housing problem.

I have listened carefully to the debates and discussions about the housing situation over the past two years. With cooperation from the County Council, we may be able to revise some of land-use policies to allow more housing in the county and UGAs. I plan to work with housing advocates, developers, and builders to identify where mixed-use zoning may be appropriate to help increase housing supply for all income segments, including the homeless population.

Where does climate change rank as a priority for you and what will you do as Whatcom County Executive to address it?

Tony: My opponent has spoken about solving climate change. His ideas range from requiring newly purchased homes to be retrofitted to electric power from natural gas, a move that would likely increase the price tag of every home by more than $20k, and banning all motorized watercraft from Whatcom County lakes, and requiring conditional-use permits for all building projects in our heavy industrial manufacturing zone. These ideas are short-sighted, very costly, and will provide no measurable benefit to our environment. My first priority would be investing in the protection of half of Whatcom County’s drinking water in Lake Whatcom. Second, that we proactively incentivize and assist our local energy producers in their energy transition to cleaner and renewable energy sources. And finally, that Whatcom County leads by example through its own recycling programs, energy efficiencies in its buildings, and switching to hybrid or electric vehicles where and when appropriate.

Satpal: Climate change will be a top priority for my administration from day one. This is an existential threat, which any farmer in Whatcom County can tell you. For the past 150 years, we have been irresponsibly using our resources and littering our planet. It’s time we take full responsibility and take action to reverse this trend.

Here’s what I intend to do:

Lead by example – beginning with an environmental audit of county operations, we will identify and adopt measures to reduce our own carbon footprint.

Empower experts – the County Climate Advisory Committee will be given the resources necessary to create a roadmap for a clean and prosperous future.

Engage the community – simple ideas like planting trees can be an effective tool for carbon sequestration, while also providing shade and habitat. I will launch a county-led and community-driven initiative to plant one million trees by 2025!

Bellingham Mayor

April Barker vs. Seth Fleetwood

April Barker

I am a City Council Member, small-business owner, and educator. As your elected representative, I champion fairness, criminal-justice reform, higher goals to combat climate change, and increased access to parks and greenways. I have worked for more housing options, stronger protections for those who rent, and alternative modes of transportation. I have called Bellingham home for 20 years and live in Birchwood with my husband, a Whatcom Middle School teacher, and our two kids.

Seth Fleetwood

I was born in Bellingham in 1962, when we were still an undiscovered, rainy mill town. My parents were teachers and I am a proud product of Bellingham public schools. I graduated from Sehome High School in 1981. I’m a graduate of the University of Washington and Willamette University College of Law. I served two terms on the Whatcom County Council and two terms on the Bellingham City Council. I am a self-employed lawyer with an office in Fairhaven.

Are we facing an affordable housing crisis, yes or no? What approach will you take as Mayor of Bellingham to stabilize the increases in housing prices and rents?

April: Yes. I champion creative, forward-thinking solutions to evolve outdated housing models. Our current housing isn’t working for our community or environment. I’m a leader, bridge builder, and I get things done. On City Council, I am laying the policy groundwork with a Housing Equity Assessment to develop policies that encourage housing types that Bellingham’s current wages and fixed incomes can afford, allow local business expansion and new economic investment, and that increase home-ownership opportunities, and provide permanently affordable workforce housing. I bring different groups together and build the momentum needed to find working solutions. I worked with Sustainable Connections and other community partners to develop the Whatcom Housing Alliance, a broad organization committed to bold housing policies and strengthening community buy-in. As Mayor, I will build on these partnerships, implement the Housing Equity Assessment, and include all of Bellingham in solving the affordable housing crisis.

Seth: Yes, clearly. We have a crisis because wages and incomes have not kept up with the rising cost of living in a desirable place like Bellingham. Housing costs are now unaffordable to almost half of our residents. There is no magic bullet. It will require a multi-pronged response that includes removing the hurdles and obstacles that prevent builders and developers from creating homes people can afford. As Mayor, I will encourage public-private partnerships that result in more homes that people can afford to own or rent that are permanently affordable to the widest possible range of incomes. We already have the talent and inclination to do this. We can continue the good work already underway here and add new ideas from elsewhere. If we want a healthy community, we need a healthy mix of homes that match the jobs and incomes of the people who live here.

A Bellingham Climate Change Task Force workgroup has recommended that all owners of single-family residences electrify their space- and water-heating systems within two years of purchase and that all owners of residential rental properties and buildings larger than 10,000 square feet electrify their space- and water-heating systems by 2035. In addition, all of them would have to install solar photovoltaic (PV) coverage equivalent to at least 50% of the building or house footprint. Do you support these recommendations, yes or no? Please explain.

April: The Task Force is mid-process, developing strategies and recommendations for the Council on ways to reduce Bellingham’s carbon footprint and move toward 100% renewable energy. They have not yet made their recommendations. The proposal referenced in this question was from a presentation by a sub-committee of the Task Force addressing our residential-building role in the transition. I appreciate the Task Force for casting a wide net in looking for workable solutions that will get Bellingham to 100% renewable energy sources sooner than our current plan suggests. The next step of the Task Force is to consider the unintended consequences and costs of those solutions and recommend the best path forward for our city. I championed the ambitious targets, encouraging our community to aim high and develop innovative solutions. We must adopt climate solutions that are right sized for our city and that put community, fairness and environment first.

Seth: I should preface by saying I recognize the reality of climate science and I support the city’s goal of converting to renewable energy. I believe that all governments must actively engage in and commit to this effort. This transformation will be complex and contentious at times, as this issue underscores. How to achieve the goal in ways that are fair and equitable will be the great challenge because converting from gas to electric will be financially infeasible for many people. We must create polices that can be equitably achieved. The Task Force is still in discussion on home and building electrification requirements. No recommendations have yet been submitted to the City Council for consideration. When they are delivered to the city for consideration there will be much public process and opportunity to comment before adoption is considered. Nothing has been set in stone.

What will you do as Mayor of Bellingham to address the increasing homeless problem?

April: Most people experiencing homelessness are off our radar. More than 1,000 children are housing insecure, and senior citizens are the fastest-growing homeless population. As your Mayor, I will look to communities that have solved chronic youth and veteran homelessness, build necessary partnerships, and work to reach evidence-based solutions with measures that hold us accountable. Often, the conversation around homelessness focuses on substance-use disorder, mental-health issues, or behaviors that make people feel unsafe downtown. For this aspect of homelessness, I want to increase the amount of options people have. These options include shelters that are open during the day and urban rest stops, or places where people can take care of basic hygienic needs. When people have more options, we can enforce rules and laws in a more efficient and humane way. For longer-term solutions, we must invest in treatment, permanently affordable housing, and criminal-justice diversions.

Seth: I would join a growing coalition of Mayors lobbying the federal government for reforms that reverse income inequality and address the root causes of homelessness. When the feds let us down, cities are left dealing with the results. The data show that homelessness is not caused, primarily, by domestic violence, mental-health concerns, or alcohol and drug abuse; it’s caused by a lack of homes people can afford. As Mayor, I will work with the Lighthouse Mission, PeaceHealth, housing providers, our public safety personnel, and others to create appropriate facilities for people who have no other place to go. We have the will, the resources, and the expertise to create robust and humane sheltering programs at state-of-the-art facilities that provide the services that people experiencing homelessness need to be safe and stable. We can make improvements that address the concerns for all the people in Bellingham.

Port of Bellingham Commissioner

Robert ‘Bobby’ Briscoe vs. Anthony Distefano

Robert “Bobby” Briscoe

I am a 4th generation Whatcom resident, an independent business man, a commercial fisherman and currently the Port of Bellingham District 3 Commissioner. I have been past president of Puget Sound Crab Association and an alternate rep for the Pacific Fisheries Management Council. For 45 years, I have operated my own fishing business from the Bering Sea to the Mexican border. I have been married to Carol for 40 years and have two sons and daughters-in-law and five wonderful grandchildren.

Anthony Distefano

My name is Anthony Distefano and I am running for Port Commissioner. My professional background includes environmental conservation and education, engineering, consulting for Native Alaskan tribal governments, agriculture, and as a deck officer and marine engineer on vessels of all types. Currently I work for the Washington State Ferries and as a rank and file union member, I lobby and advocate for labor rights as a union steward. I bring diversity of experience to address a dynamic future.

What would be your two top priorities, in order of importance, as Commissioner for the Port of Bellingham? Please explain.

Bobby: As always my top priority is to follow the clearly defined mission statement for the Port of Bellingham. It was written for a very good reason. Second is transparency at all times and accountability to the people of Whatcom county who own the port of Bellingham. Those two things should always be at the forefront of the Commission’s decision making process.

Anthony: My first priority is environmental. Climate change is real and it’s happening on an unprecedented scale. We must plan for our future.  The Port can lead by establishing solid and progressive environmental policy in all aspects of  future planning decisions, not just following minimum guidelines. We have an opportunity to set reachable goals of reducing pollution, stormwater run-off, and greenhouse gases by pursuing a Green vision and leading locally on a global crisis.

My second priority is Broadband for all. The Port is the only governmental agency that can facilitate expansion of fiber optic broadband in rural areas. This provides a unique opportunity for supplying under-served communities broadband access in which the Port builds a publicly funded infrastructure. I believe the Port can facilitate every home and business in Whatcom being connected with fiber optic broadband. I propose an aggressive expansion of vision to prepare us for a sustainable economy.

What is your vision for the Bellingham waterfront and how do you see it being realized?

Bobby: My vision for the Bellingham waterfront is for all our tenants to have thriving businesses, to have our infrastructure in tip-top shape, and to have added as many family living-wage jobs as possible for the people of Whatcom County. Also, educational institutions that will offer high standards that will fit into future businesses. Beyond that, we need to make sure of a high standard of recreational access for both waterborne and landside use.

Anthony: As Commissioner, my focus would be a longer-range view of how we administer our public lands. My vision is for the waterfront to be further developed into a mixed-use neighborhood. The Port is charged with a mission to promote development, not be a real-estate broker. By establishing partnerships with the public and private sectors, we can address our housing crisis for working families that would incentivize industry to invest in a stable workforce. We can have a neighborhood that has access to mass-transit, recreation, and jobs by investing in a vision that includes our entire community’s future.

I believe that as Port Commissioner, having a wealth of diversity in marine-related, environmental, and policy experience can provide the unique outlook needed to negotiate the Port’s future, while we balance our obligations to the public, the environment, treaties, the private-sector, and partnerships that the Port serves.

Are you in support of the Whatcom County Council’s passage of the seventh consecutive six-month emergency moratorium on unrefined fossil-fuel exports at Cherry Point, yes or no? What is your vision for the Cherry Point Heavy Industrial area from an economic development standpoint and how will you support it?

BobbY: The first part of the question is not a simple yes or no answer. If it was, the County Council would not be on the seventh consecutive emergency moratorium. Solutions are needed to protect Mother Earth, local economy, jobs and businesses. In my opinion, all parties concerned need to sit down with open minds and find the solutions that work for our environment, businesses, and the residents of Whatcom county.

I have no vision for Cherry point, the property is state and privately owned. The I-5 corridor and east county will be my focal point for economic Development.

Anthony: Yes, I supported the seventh, and hopefully final, moratorium as we make code amendments to our comprehensive plan, and I was present at the hearing. Like Steve Garey, retired President of USW Local 12-591 and a member of the Blue-Green Alliance, who spoke out at the hearing in defense of labor, I feel that the use of Cherry Point as an export facility for unrefined fossil fuels puts our refinery workers, our fisherman, and our environment at risk. I believe that Whatcom County is poised to be a leader in a Just Transition framework that moves our workforce towards renewable energy, and I’m excited about our future. I also believe that the CPHI must include the Lummi Nation as a stakeholder for any development planning. The Port and the Lummi Nation together can reduce liabilities and increase funding opportunities in which a rising tide raises all boats.

Whatcom County Council Farmland District 4

Brian Estes vs. Kathy Kershner

Brian Estes

I’ve spent my career as a professional auditor evaluating government programs for efficiency, effectiveness, and measuring whether they perform as expected. My career started at the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) in the Seattle Field Office. I also worked for six years at the King County Auditor’s Office evaluating a variety of county government programs. I have a master’s degree from the Evans School, University of Washington, and an undergraduate degree in Political Science from UCLA.

Kathy Kershner

I’m a former County Council member and Chair, 2010-2014, and I’m a retired naval officer, having served 22 years in the United States Navy. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Hawaii, I worked my way to be a part-owner of a multi-million-dollar social service agency supporting people with developmental disabilities to live independently in their communities. I have run my own small business since 2003, evaluating programs that support people with disabilities in our communities.

What are the two biggest issues facing your district that you would expect to come before the Whatcom County Council and how would you address them?

Brian: Our current criminal-justice system needs reform. Currently, too many people are in jail who don’t need to be. Obviously, public safety requires violent and other offenders be locked up. But many in jail are there only because they can’t afford bail or need mental health or drug treatment. The current framework announced by the County Council (AB-2019-432) is a positive first step in siting a new smaller-sized jail in Bellingham and expanding funding for mental health, drug treatment, and other diversion programs.

Second, I want to provide new leadership on the County Council to resolve current Nooksack Watershed water resource issues. This affects fish, farms, and families. For residential development, farm production, and other commercial activities to move forward, we must have greater certainty about water availability than currently exists.

Kathy: We are in an economic boom, thanks to President Trump’s economy, and governments all over the country are seeing their coffers fill as a result. Our county should be planning for the eventual rainy day when the economic cycle shifts, as it eventually will. In the meantime, we should be taking advantage of low interest rates to a secure bond for a new Community Justice Facility. We need a new jail and sheriff’s department, and we need space where services can be delivered to those needing counseling and substance-abuse treatment. We have several county buildings that are old and have served their purpose. We keep putting good money into fixing them when we would be better off financially in the long run if we put our money into building something for the future. I will support a County Executive who comes with a well-thought-out plan to do this.

Farmers have expressed concerns over water rights, other regulatory burdens, and generally whether it will be economically feasible to farm in the future. How would you address their concerns as a member of the Whatcom County Council?

Brian: I recently toured two raspberry farms and a berry-packing plant in Lynden. Berry farms in Whatcom County face many challenges, including other countries dumping berry products in the US, labor issues, pest management, uncertainty over water, and other factors. 

Actions are needed at all levels of government to ensure this industry, and farming in general—so essential to Whatcom County’s economy—can thrive and be passed on to future generations. Reform of the H2A program for foreign guest workers, a federal trade investigation into Mexico dumping raspberry products in the US, and resolution on Nooksack Watershed issues ASAP, all will help sustain and grow this vital industry in Whatcom County. We should also properly balance environmental protections with farm productivity, and I would work to advance those issues as a member of the Whatcom County Council.

Kathy: I will listen to what farmers are saying about the challenges they are experiencing. I believe we need to have farmers on the Agricultural Advisory Board. I recently took a tour to the raspberry fields and heard some of the significant challenges the growers face. They are working within tight margins, weather can make or break them, huge investments are made in the equipment to harvest and process the berries, and pest management is an ongoing concern. Our dairy farmers have been under assault by a fake EPA advertising campaign that led people to believe, incorrectly, that dairy farms were polluting the rivers and streams. This false campaign has caused several dairies to go out of business or sell because they did not want to deal with the hassle of over-reaching government interference. It’s time we found a solution to the water issue, one that protects farmers and rural residents.

Cherry Point industry has expressed concern regarding the Whatcom County Council’s passage of the seventh consecutive six-month emergency moratorium on unrefined fossil- fuel exports and what they say is a lack of transparency and inclusiveness in the process. Do you support the moratoriums, yes or no? How would you address the concerns of industries there?

Brian: Cherry Point has some of the highest-wage jobs in Whatcom County. They are an essential part of Whatcom County’s economy and provide many benefits to the community. As I understand the current moratorium, it principally relates to preventing crude exports. I support refining oil here, as it creates many more jobs than simply loading a tanker and having that oil refined elsewhere.

I’m encouraged by Phillips 66 plans to develop a renewable-diesel plant at Cherry Point, creating an additional 200 jobs. They need to provide details to some important questions, but the initial conversations suggest a project that could have broad community support. The county’s Comprehensive Plan, currently under review, should properly balance land use, environmental protections, and public safety with current or expanded refinery operations. I support future refinery expansion, subject to those provisions. 

Kathy: No, I would not have supported the moratoriums. The council has been pushing an agenda to shut down our industries at Cherry Point. Their ill-conceived plan is short-sighted and harmful to our way of life in Whatcom County. The council wasted $150,000 of taxpayer money when they hired an activist environmental Seattle law firm to develop Comprehensive Plan and zoning-code amendments that will make it impossible for our Cherry Point industries to survive in Whatcom County. We risk losing our biggest taxpayer and job producer in the county. The long-term consequences are dire. Our refineries in the United States are the most efficient in the world and produce their product using strict standards that protect our environment. If they are forced to shut down, our fuel will come from countries such as China or India that don’t have the same standards and it will be more expensive.

As a member of the Whatcom County Council, what would you do to address the affordable-housing crisis?

Brian: Incomes have simply not kept pace with housing costs throughout Whatcom County. As a real-estate broker, I hear concerns about housing affordability from clients all the time. Both the private and public sectors can play a role in lowering housing costs. Builder incentives, public/private partnerships, and property-tax credits are policy tools worth considering.

Whatcom County needs more homes in all shapes and sizes for all our neighbors. As our communities have all different types of people and incomes, we need different types of housing so they can afford to live near where they work.

In some parts of the smaller cities in Whatcom County, more duplexes, triplexes or small multifamily units may be worth considering, as well as expanding the boundaries of some LAMIRDS (Limited Areas of More Intensive Rural Development) to include more residential development.

Kathy: People can afford homes when they earn a decent wage. I will support our businesses that are paying family wages and new business that wants to locate here. We need a variety of housing options. When the urban-growth areas around Bellingham were reduced in 2009, the city lost the ability to add 4,500 homes to their inventory. And over the last decade, Bellingham has failed to address its share of the housing need experienced in Whatcom County. I believe it is critical that we be honest and plan for the people we know will come here, not stick our heads in the sand for a decade and then be surprised when there is not enough affordable housing for everyone who lives in Whatcom County. I’m running to protect the small-town character of towns like Lynden, Sumas, Everson, and Nooksack so that they don’t become sprawling bedroom communities to Bellingham.

Whatcom County Council District 5

Ben Elenbaas vs. Natalie McClendon

Ben Elenbaas

I am a husband, father, and farmer and work at an oil refinery. I earned my degree at the Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University. I have served on the Whatcom County planning commission and Served as the Chair of the Charter Review Commission. I am currently the President of the Whatcom County Farm Bureau. I would appreciate your vote of confidence as I seek to bring my experiences to the Whatcom County Council to represent you.

Natalie McClendon

For more than 20 years, my partner Mark Turner and I have operated Turner Photographics. I’m active in the Ferndale, Blaine, and Birch Bay Chambers of Commerce. Like many industries, we’ve had to reinvent our business every few years to respond to changes. I’ve served on the Whatcom County Planning Commission since 2014, where I deal with many of the most difficult problems we face in Whatcom County, and I’ve learned how we can work more effectively in solving problems.

What are the two biggest issues facing your district that you would expect to come before the Whatcom County Council and how would you address them?

Ben: As I have been talking to the people in my district throughout the campaign, there have been two issues that have dominated the conversations. These issues are access to affordable housing and the current council’s agenda to regulate the major employers in the Cherry Point industrial area out of existence. I will speak to the Cherry Point industrial area concerns in Question #3 and affordable housing in question #4.

Natalie: Climate change will impact the district and the county in many ways, from water availability for farms and fish, to sea-level rise inundating coastal areas and infrastructure, to the changing market demand for petroleum products processed at Cherry Point. We must anticipate these impacts and adapt and mitigate for them, but also work together to transition to a clean-energy economy that will create jobs and a vibrant local economy.

Criminal justice reform is the other big issue before the council. We must focus on programs that keep people out of jail pre-trial, and provide treatment for mental-health and substance-abuse issues so the jail is used for people who really need to be locked up. Our bottleneck is a lack of treatment professionals and programs. I support the council’s action to develop plans for a smaller jail that won’t be completed for about five years. Meanwhile, work on effective diversion programs.

Farmers have expressed concerns over water rights, other regulatory burdens, and generally whether it will be economically feasible to farm in the future. How would you address their concerns as a member of the Whatcom County Council?

Ben: We have not had anyone on the council in many years who understood Agricultural issues in an intimate manner, and the policies that have been brought forth reflect that. As a multi-generational farmer in Whatcom County, the current president of the WC Farm Bureau, and someone who holds a degree that focused on natural sciences, I will bring that intimate knowledge of agriculture to the council. I have sat on the back of a potato planter, worked on a raspberry picker, held a commercial pesticide license, irrigated my crops, milked cows, raised livestock and the feed for them, grown produce and have both wholesaled and direct marketed food to people in our community. I understand fully that we need to protect our ability to farm, not just protect farmland. Without farmer’s actually working the land, we will cease to have an ag economy and our community will be changed forever.

Natalie: I am committed to being a leader in solving our water-rights conflicts. Much good work is being done by the Watershed 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.

Farming has changed the landscape of Whatcom County. Now we are trying to mitigate the impacts of those changes. Farmers can adapt their practices and crops to a changing climate and both market and environmental needs. Every business must do this. In protecting water and air quality and ecosystem health, the county government must strive for practical regulations that are regularly evaluated to ensure they produce the intended results and create no excessive burden on land managers.

Cherry Point industry has expressed concern regarding the Whatcom County Council’s passage of the seventh consecutive six-month emergency moratorium on unrefined fossil-fuel exports and what they say is a lack of transparency and inclusiveness in the process. Do you support the moratoriums, yes or no? How would you address the concerns of industries there?

Ben: I would end the assault on the industrial areas, as I recognize that they already are highly regulated. I also recognize the tremendous benefit these businesses bring our community. Land-use policy that seeks to hinder these employers’ ability to provide living-wage jobs is simply unnecessary. Our current council has been clear in its motivation is to eliminate the refinement of fossil fuels in Whatcom County, using political science to justify its actions.As an 18-year employee in the Cherry Point industrial area and someone whose job is to safely operate and mitigate any and all risks associated with the refinement of fossil fuels, it’s my perspective that we’re producing things that people need in the 5th District, and we do it in a world-class manner. Our council should recognize this as well and acknowledge the community benefits these facilities offer and provide a regulatory environment that will help our community flourish.

Natalie: The moratorium is a temporary halt to accepting (and vesting) new-project applications while the council considers changes to the rules and process. I support the moratorium. The moratorium is fairly narrowly defined and under it BP has built a renewable-diesel plant and completed a new gasoline-sulfur reduction upgrade.

The claims of lack of transparency and inclusiveness refer to the council’s process for developing new rules for major projects at Cherry Point. The council has taken a long time to work through its issues, and those brought to them by the public, including the Cherry Point businesses. All meetings are held in public. There have been some hasty actions taken that had to be walked back, which I think were the result of frustration with the slowness of the process.

As a member of the Whatcom County Council, what would you do to address the affordable-housing crisis?

Ben: I would do my best to work with the County Executive to put people in place at planning and development services who will streamline the permiting process to eliminate unneccessary layers of bureaucracy that do not fulfill their intended purposes and only add cost that is passed on to the homeowner. There are some studies that suggest permitting is 30% of the cost of new construction, this is an area of opportunity when looking at reducing housing costs. I would also encourage the City of Bellingham to service their UGA’s to provide more supply. I would encourage land-use policy that did not limit housing choices. The Growth Management Act requires municipalities to supply housing choices, I believe these choices should coincide with what the market is asking for, contrary to popular land use policy, 85 percent multi-family residences is not what the community is calling for.

Natalie: Many people want to live in Whatcom County and come from higher-cost places with substantial resources and may not need a local job. There is a disconnect between the value 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. 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 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.

Whatcom County Council At-Large Position B

Carol Frazey vs. David Ramirez

Carol Frazey

I am currently serving on the Whatcom County Council. From my experience growing up on a farm, as a mother, and as a business owner, I understand the delicate balance in preserving agricultural livelihoods, family-wage jobs, and a healthy environment for future generations. I know that supporting current Whatcom County businesses and attracting innovative industries is essential to the continued growth of our economy. I would be honored to continue to serve all of Whatcom County on the Council.

David Ramirez

As a native Washingtonian, I am passionate about giving back to my community. My experience serving with community-minded organizations has instilled in me a strong desire to help Whatcom County reach its full potential by tackling the tough issues that affect us all. We need someone with an open mind to find solutions to the challenges we face in our county.

What are the two biggest issues facing your district that you would expect to come before the Whatcom County Council and how would you address them?

Carol: While all issues coming before the County Council are important to someone, the two big issues that I see coming forward are the jail and housing affordability.

The Jail: As a member of the Criminal Justice and Safety Committee, I will continue to work with other public officials to implement programs that will bring about reform over punishment. On August 7, the council passed a resolution to explore locations, planning, and costs of building a new jail that focuses on treatment. I support a jail focused on rehabilitation.

Affordable Housing: I currently serve on the Business and Commerce Advisory Committee, where we are exploring ideas to help provide workforce housing so that our local businesses can keep and attract new employees. We need both affordable housing for people with low incomes and workforce housing that allows people making a living wage to afford a mortgage in Whatcom County.

David: One of the biggest issues facing the county is the current condition of the county jail. The current jail is in poor condition. Far too much money is spent to maintain the current jail that is unsafe for those who are incarcerated and work at the facility. I will work with the community to help them better understand that a new facility is needed that will not only hold those who are incarcerated, but also train inmates who need help in bettering themselves when they are released in hopes that they will not return.

The second issue is water-use rights for rural residents. The council is currently considering placing meters on wells, limiting and charging for water use. This measure needs to be stopped. We have a farming community that this measure will affect negatively. I will be the voice for our rural residents to stop such action.

Farmers have expressed concerns over water rights, other regulatory burdens, and generally whether it will be economically feasible to farm in the future. How would you address their concerns as a member of the Whatcom County Council?

Carol: Farmers are experiencing issues with water, land, and labor. I will continue to listen to the concerns of the farmers and look for creative ways to allow farming to flourish in Whatcom County.

As for water in our county, I will continue to be a part of the conversations between farmers, tribes, cities, developers, and many other Whatcom County residents. We must reestablish trust and find innovative ways to conserve water so that there is enough water for fish, farms, and people every day of the year.

In addition, I will support more local agricultural products, like Whatcom Red Smoothies. The whole process, from growing the berries to printing the labels, is done here in Whatcom County. We can work together to help locally grown crops be processed and sold in Whatcom County.

David: In Whatcom County, we have approximately 100,000 acres of highly productive farmland that makes our area a fresh-food haven, stretching between the Salish Sea and snow-capped Mount Baker.

Our county is also the nation’s largest producer of raspberries. We grow 60 percent of the U.S. crop and are first in the nation for milk production per cow, and first out of 39 Washington counties in overall dairy production.

Our farmers are feeling the negative effects of the regulations that are being placed on them by our current county council. If elected, I will make sure our farmers are represented, and their voices are heard.

Cherry Point industry has expressed concern regarding the Whatcom County Council’s passage of the seventh consecutive six-month emergency moratorium on unrefined fossil-fuel exports and what they say is a lack of transparency and inclusiveness in the process. Do you support the moratoriums, yes or no? How would you address the concerns of industries there?

Carol: I support the jobs at Cherry Point. We recently passed the seventh moratorium. During the past three years that the moratorium has been in place, the industries at Cherry Point continued to profit and jobs stayed.

What happens if we do allow unrefined fuels to flow through our county, increasing the risk to the residents and environment of Whatcom County, and be shipped to other parts of the world? What would keep our current Cherry Point industries from shipping unrefined fuels oversees, where labor is cheaper and environmental protections are weaker? One of the responsibilities of the council is to protect the health and safety of the residents and environment of Whatcom County. The moratorium has done this without impacting jobs or profitability of the Cherry Point industries. By making sure that unrefined fuels are refined here in Whatcom County, we are preserving Cherry Point jobs.

David: I do not support the moratoriums placed on unrefined fossil-fuel exports. The Cherry Point Industry supports 3,000-plus jobs directly and indirectly. They are one of the biggest contributors to our economy. They can be assured that I will not support any future moratoriums placed on their industry. The council needs to begin treating the businesses in our county as partners. If we work together, we can come up with solutions to meet the needs of protecting our environment and keep quality jobs in our county.

As a member of the Whatcom County Council, what would you do to address the affordable-housing crisis?

Carol: A lot of families in Whatcom County are really struggling right now. The median yearly salary is $54,000 and the median home price is over $400,000. This is a problem. As a council member, I support the creative, well-planned, fiscally responsible programs that help make housing affordable in Whatcom County.

The Kulshan Community Land Trust is an excellent model for providing affordable housing in our county. Volunteers, businesses, a variety of financial institutions, non profits, and government agencies are coming together to make home buying a reality for many families.

Other solutions that I support are tax incentives for multi-family units and inclusionary zoning. We need to have different types of homes and affordability in every community. It will take a variety of programs brought forward by many different entities to help make housing affordable for all.

David: To address the affordable-housing crisis, I would work to make sure that property taxes do not go any higher than they already are. When the county falls short of tax revenue, they lean on property owners instead of looking to attract new industries to our area which will bring in additional tax revenue to the county.

Second, the council needs to allow developers to build multi-family and single-family homes more efficiently by not making the acquisition of permits a daunting task. We can create affordable housing by building more homes. If our supply increases, the prices will go down. We currently have a housing shortage which is causing prices to increase dramatically. These price increases are felt not only by potential home buyers, but those who rent as well.