Neighborhood & Community
At the top of the mayor’s and city’s responsibility is guarding the city purse, ensuring the soundless of the city’s financial condition and future, and making sure the most essential functions of the city (safety and the protection of property) are taken care of before anything else.
Our city has a reasonable and safe amount of debt, with more debt capacity available to us should we need to borrow. Our bond/credit rating is high/good, and we enjoy the lowest municipal loan rates when we go to bond. In the last few years we have undertaken some needed, essential, and opportune projects (police station, library, Pioneer Pavilion, and several of our main roads). The city is financially healthy, but (perhaps like your family!) there isn’t a lot of extra money. [I note that we recently brought back the City Hall coffee machine having, for several lean years, a “bring your own” policy.]
Anyway, I am not a fan of raising taxes (the major ones voted on by council being property, sales, and utility taxes) and have the LOWEST tax voting record of any council member. So I believe the next mayor has some priorities to face:
• Help us to distinguish carefully between “needs” and “wants” and work hard to pay “cash” for those “wants.”
• Pay down our loans, even accelerating debt payments if possible.
• Our first financial priorities are always public safety (law enforcement and fire/safety). I want us to be the safest city in the state. I don’t want the police (or fire dept) to be understaffed in any way. Following public safety, our next critical area is infrastructure (streets, water/sewer/storm, etc.).
• Some of our reserve funds are not quite or barely at 100% of council-set goals. We need to strengthen some of these accounts (especially L.E.O.F. 1 : funds that assist the medical needs of some of our former retired police officers). Said another way, I’d like to have some “money in the bank” for those unexpected needs — and opportunities.
• I love being able to support valuable non-profit (non-government/non-city) charitable organizations (NGOs) when they perform clearly-defined services desired by the council. However, I am always uncomfortable raising taxes to support these. I personally prefer a method of supporting NGOs out of unexpected city general revenue surpluses. That is, each year we work hard to balance our city budget. I have a problem raising property taxes to meet the budget, when we are including NGOs in that budget. However, if projected revenues are robust and we don’t have to raise taxes, I am pleased and happy to consider each NGO request, one at a time for a council “up or down” vote.
• The state allows us to take a 1% increase in property taxes each year. And when we don’t, we can “bank” what we have not taken. I have always resisted and never voted to use banked-capacity to make budget, preferring to save that taxing ability should we come up upon a real emergency.
Government can hurt and hinder economic development by being too restrictive, too costly, and too overbearing on people who wish to invest and build here. Yes, we need to protect our environment and quality of life, but for the most part, we need to get out of the way and find ways to say “yes” to people who wish to do business and bring jobs here.
Our location at I-5, near Bellingham, Seattle, and Canada, poises us for some great business opportunities. Our current mayor has been the greatest cheerleader for Ferndale economic growth (both in public, and in private). I will continue that practice because I know that businesses, frankly, pay the lion’s share of taxes and fees around here. Folks, no city can survive with 100% residential (homes only). A mix of commercial, retail, business is essential or vital services to the city (fire, police, recreation) could be drastically cut back, or your taxes may go up. I mention this, because some may wish for Ferndale to be basically only residential (with a coffee shop or two). We need a diversity of business-mix.
• I have some specific plans to help business growth. One takes a bit of time to explain, but can be put forth this way: we need to provide more flexibility in our land-use zoning, remove some or many of the “conditional” uses on land (and make them “permitted”), and cut back on the number of different commercial zones we have. In my view, a reading of our city codes more or less tells businesses what they CAN’T do in Ferndale. We are, indeed, shifting to a more “We’re open for business…we’re the city of opportunity…” mindset. This needs to continue, and a fresh look at our zoning (i.e., how people can use their land) is important.
• Of course, we want protection against unlimited and unmitigated traffic and harm to our environment and quality of life. All of us do. But I favor a more “let market decide” approach to commercial land development. As such, I fully supported the land-use change at Exit 263 (from the strict “Gateway” to the more flexible, “Mixed Use Commercial.”). More decisions like this will give certainty and optimism to people who may wish to risk and invest their money here and start businesses, provide services, and create jobs. Said another way: I trust more the wisdom of people who are putting their own money at risk developing a project, than bureaucrats in an office.
• This doesn’t mean we “sell out” and let people do any and everything they wish. We should always ask, “What are the impacts on our community?” But let’s look for more ways to say “yes” to business than “no.” We’ll attract the retail we need (and the entry level jobs it will provide our young people, as well as allowing us to at least buy a pair of black socks or a laptop in Ferndale). We’ll also attract higher wage jobs as we promote our business-friendly atmosphere (notably, the fact that city does not have a city B and O (business and occupation) tax.
• “But Jon, what about historic downtown growth?” I tend to think things occur (as long as government gets out of the way) when the market and demand want them to occur. We all want more unique restaurants and shops downtown. Well, they’d be there today if the market could support it now, as there is the space. But I believe it can and will happen soon if we focus on another part of Ferndale, our I-5 Gateway (draw a circle, about 1/2 mile in diameter, with the radius at I-5 and Main). Our city has worked hard the last 5 years to “set the table” for developers at I-5 by adopting traffic and environment plans that address the question, ahead of time, “What kinds of impacts will development need to manage and pay for in order to get permits?” We’ve spent the money, and done the work, to greatly assist and speed along the process of development at I-5. Folks, we see the development happening at Bakerview. Next, likely, is Ferndale at Slater (where the Lummi Nation has interest) and Main Street. I fully expect national retail to begin investing soon at Main and I-5.
And when that happens, land and rent will go up. And as a natural result, some of the smaller, more unique and local businesses, will respond to the market changes and look for more affordable space, finding it west of the bridge in the downtown area.
In the mean time the City’s job is to protect, enhance, and keep safe the downtown core. This we have done. The city itself has made the greatest investments in downtown (police station, library). Here again, we are setting the table for growth.
• Finally, on affordable housing: I fully supported recent changes to our residential building code that allowed (1) smaller lots , (2) more flexible use of challenging parcels of land, and (3) smaller set-backs, that help builders build the homes people want. I have a few more ideas which I’ll put here later that continue this positive trend that will result in (1) lowering developer costs and (2) decreasing home prices. Folks, we can attract businesses, but if we don’t keep up on our housing inventory, and provide ways for builders to pass along savings to buyers, we will force people to live away from Ferndale and commute into our city (a Bellingham challenge) or build homes out of reach for middle class and younger home buyers.
• Finally, I do consider myself the “pro-business” candidate in this race, and have been supported in this campaign by a number of small business owners. But I state here as clearly as I can: I don’t believe in “back room deals,” cutting environmental corners, or “playing favorites.” I am the last person you will want to ask to break the law or skirt around a legal code. If a city code isn’t serving it’s purpose, and is hurting business, development, or the city, I am pleased with council to look at it. But we are a city, state and nation of laws, and I would expect city staff to follow them. But my posture, and the posture I want the city to adopt, is one of “Yes, let’s see what we can do make this happen for you…”
The tone of political life can be caustic, ugly, angry, demeaning. I’ve tried always to take the higher ground, and have done my best to stand up against those who believe they can get their way by verbal bullying. I will be vigilant in reminding those that work for City Hall (whether staff or elected officials) that they work for the citizens, all the citizens–even those with whom we disagree. Citizens have the right to receive as good as service and attention from the mayor, the council, and City Hall, as what they get from a local Woods Coffee.
Simply put, I think all Ferndale citizens (whether they agree with me, or the council, or with city staff) should be treated, always, with fairness, respect, and deference. The citizens are our bosses. The citizens are the customers. And although we can’t always give citizens what they want, they should always leave city hall or council chambers believing they were listened to and treated respectfully.
I have been on council for six years. Respect doesn’t always happen. Those who attend council meetings on a occasion know what I am referring to. But rather than listing here a number of unfortunate (and recorded and documented) incidences where citizens left council meetings is dismay, I want to state emphatically that this mayor, and his staff, will provide as good of “customer service” as you would receive at Woods Coffee, Find Your Fashion, or Haggens. I will be asking the same from the next council and, as chair of the council meetings, I will do my best to model it as well.
So, whether you are getting a permit to build a porch, paying your water bill, addressing council about a concern, or receiving a visit from a police officer, I believe that each encounter with a city official should leave you feeling, “They respected me. They listened to me. They did their best to help me, under the law.”
I pledge to do my best to respect you, my fellow elected officials, and city staff. You deserve that from us. In return, I ask that you treat fairly those who are trying to help and serve you, as well. I can’t understate the importance of mutual respect.
Further, we will be an open and transparent administration. We will go overboard in protecting your “right to know.”
And finally, we will keep the law in letter and spirit. We will not shortcut ethics. This is important, for many reasons-not the least, to keep our city legally protected from financial liability.
I believe in the power of community and the importance of neighborhood. Ferndale is one special neighborhood, and city policy and practice can enhance and help build a sense of “place” and “friendship” in our city.
I envision Ferndale as a larger neighborhood where people trust, greet, and care for one another. A place where kids are safe; where we all look out for one another and respect the property and persons of others. I floated a slogan for Ferndale a couple years back, FERNDALE FRIENDLY. Beginning with city staff, I want to develop a culture whereby visitors actually notice something different about Ferndale. That newcomers would say, “They really are friendly in that city. What a warm and embracing community!” This means a number of things, and you can add to this list:
• Discrimination and racism have no place in our community. Period. We honor and respect our differences (political, religious, cultural). But everyone is entitled to equal protection and rights. And folks, when we see intolerance we need to (respectfully) say something. I don’t want thought police. I don’t want everything to be so dang, “P.C.” — but let’s agree that we have differences, but unconditionally support everybody’s right to live, love, and succeed here in Ferndale.
• Here’s a little thing, but a decision that says something: When we put up new benches (in the public right of way, parks, sidewalks, etc.) let’s try to have pairs (2) of benches, facing each other, or angled toward each other. So people start talking to one another. The design of our public places can encourage community, conversation. I would pledge to make sure that future projects encourage a “face to face” design-approach to encourage “neighborhood.”
• Downtown Vitality: I am “yes” and all for downtown sidewalk-dining. I completely support our city’s efforts to make it possible (and safe) for restaurants’ to serve meals on the sidewalks of downtown. There are a few “bugs” to work out (insurance, room for walkers, and ADA requirements, “temporary” vs. “permanent” structures). But we can make this happen, and build downtown community.
[I do NOT share the view of one council member that we need to tax these merchants to use our streets. Note: they/we already get taxed when we buy the meal!]
• Trails and Sidewalks: I support the city’s efforts to shift park money from “new parks” to providing more “connectivity” (trails) to existing parks and public places (schools, etc.). We want Ferndale to be healthy community, and the more safe-walking spaces we can provide, the better.
• I have two exceptions to the above statement, and suggest where “Neighborhood” is increased by new parks. First, I support the building of the family Star Park within Pioneer Park. We have been given grant money for this, and will move ahead with something that will draw young families in to enjoy a safe, fun park.
Second, I think we should look at a 10-year plan to develop what we now call Bender Park (named after Cecilia Bender) at the top of Thornton Road, near Horizon School. This piece of city land (set aside as a park) has some of the most wonderful and spectacular views of the mountains and water anywhere in Whatcom County. This park is also accessible, by walking, to more than 70% of the citizens. I would love to see a simple park developed there, where people can gather to chat and enjoy the great views. Sunsets. Sunrises. Star-gazing. Cool stuff could happen here. I believe it could be paid for, mostly, with park impact fees when we begin to see predicted housing growth in NW Ferndale. That is, there is a good possibility that the park could be paid for by new development.
• Downtown Dinner in Ferndale. Do you attend the Street Festival (August) with all the food vendors? To build community and neighborhood, I would like to explore, with the Chamber of Commerce, the idea of setting one section of downtown summer weekly (one weekday evening) for food vendors to come and set up. So that, say, from 5:00 – 8:00 PM, folks in Ferndale can gather in the city to eat and enjoy each other. Community. Neighborhood. Just another idea.
• Finally, I hope to continue to build a positive relationship between the community and city hall. I wish to try a “weekly walk” with the mayor, and any other city official who may wish to join in. Simply, I would find a regular weekly time (perhaps in the morning, or after work) where we do a “20 minute out, 20 minute back” walk from City Hall. We would do it for our health, but also to hear what is on your mind about the city.
• I will also continue my regular times at Woods Coffee to meet with citizens. But, I will be a bit more scheduled on this. I know some of you may not care to drop by City Hall, but are comfortable coming into a coffee shop.
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