Bellingham City Council: At-Large Candidate – Hollie Huthman

1. Background: For almost a half a century (1972 to present), Western Washington University (WWU) has not built a dormitory on campus, while increasing enrollment by 50 percent (5,000+ students) over the same period. WWU continues to house only about 4,000 students on campus leaving 10,000+ to compete for rental lodging with local residents, including workers and families. Bellingham is now experiencing a severe rental housing shortage. The university plans to add another 2,000 students in the next 5-10 years while adding a marginal 260 dormitory beds on campus by 2021.

Should the university be brought to the table as a major cause of the shortage of rentals in the city? What demands are you willing to make of the university to assist in mitigating Bellingham’s severe rental shortage?

Hollie Huthman

I was a WWU student who lived in the dorms, lived in off-campus housing as a student and also lived in a neighborhood with student housing well past my college days. I would be very interested in working with WWU and the other colleges in Bellingham to understand if there are roadblocks to increasing on-campus housing and what role the city might be able to play in encouraging the possibility of adding more, especially for low income students or those experiencing homelessness. 

2. Background: For businesses to be effective in our information-intensive economy, they need bandwidth delivered on a fiber-optic infrastructure, which provides speed and reliability. Bellingham city government has not yet made the commitment to pursue an effective fiber-optic infrastructure that is offered as an open-access network, giving co-ops, as well as telecoms, access. Doing so would attract new businesses and would provide a wider variety of internet options for existing businesses and residents. We have our neighbor, Mt. Vernon, as a model for success in doing this. 

Do you feel that identifying the city’s current network, and adding to it as necessary to create a reliable fiber infrastructure is a priority? 

Yes, a fiber-optic infrastructure is crucial to long-term planning for the future health of both our economy and our residents. 

3. Background: The current Bellingham Comprehensive Plan envisions that future population growth will find housing in high-density urban villages. How best to provide additional housing in the city is an ongoing discussion. For example, new city code now permits backyard dwelling units.

Do you favor permitting multifamily housing, like triplexes, in areas of the city now zoned exclusively for single-family, detached homes?

Multifamily housing currently exists in many of our neighborhoods zoned single family, dwellings built before zoning restricted the practice. Yet, they’re often beautiful and not obviously multiple units at first glance. I am in favor of incremental change to our zoning laws and would like to encourage that new construction is well-built, adheres to strict design standards and the impact to the surrounding neighborhood is managed appropriately. We’re going to need to house tens of thousands of new neighbors in the next few decades. We can grow closer together in a smart and beautiful way. 

4. Background: Nearly a half mile of Whatcom Creek and its estuary are about to have large-scale development projects started, none of which appear to put any emphasis on habitat, climate adaptation (sea level rise), or stormwater runoff. Each of these projects is completely under control of, or the property is owned by, the port, city, or school district. The permits for the State and Ellis bridges were rushed specifically to avoid impending state updates to shoreline and riparian rules. 

What tactics and plans do you have to aggressively restore habitat and enforce the buffers and best management practices suggested by science, new state legislation, and by the city’s own Critical Areas Ordinance?

Any new development near environmentally delicate areas should be overseen with strict enforcement of regulations to protect the long-term ecological health of our region. As the science evolves, our regulations should also evolve. With existing development, I would be open to the idea of mitigation and working with relevant agencies to encourage an economic and environmental balance.

5. Background: “Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Bellingham, making up 32 percent of all community emissions.” (From the Bellingham Climate Action Plan.)

In recent years, Bellingham has made progress towards an active transportation network that helps reduce our carbon footprint as well as families’ transportation costs. More people are able to get where they need to go by walking, pedaling, and rolling (such as wheelchairs).

However, the connections for safe and active transportation are a long way from being complete, due to U.S. transportation planning that has for decades prioritized the movement of motor vehicles.

What transportation planning and funding solutions will you champion to accelerate both Bellingham’s reduction of carbon emissions and progress toward a safe and connected active transportation system for all ages and abilities?

Residential density within our urban centers is a key part of the solution to moving away from a reliance on automobiles. The majority of Bellingham residents should be able to easily walk, bike, or bus to work, school and most essential needs. Young people are more and more likely to put off obtaining a driver’s license than they were in years past. We not only need to plan long-term for those increasingly choosing to not drive, we can encourage the change by ensuring safe pedestrian and bike paths rather than prioritizing automobiles when developing or re-developing our streets. 

6. Background: The Bellingham Municipal Code 13.16 outlines city regulations for 5G small cell installations. These were drafted in response to a 2018 City Council vote to support 5G installs. On January 14, 2019, new FCC regulations went into effect denying local municipalities the right to refuse 5G installations. So, Bellingham is set to proceed, yet there is an increasing outcry nationally and globally about the lack of scientific testing for safety, environmental effects, security and privacy issues. There is strong scientific basis for all these concerns. Some cities and states are suing against the FCC overreach. The Portland mayor refuses to proceed on the basis of health safety concerns, as well as FCC overreach. 

What is your stance on supporting 5G installation in Bellingham?

We have a history full of mistakes in rolling out new technology before it’s been thoroughly tested, so being aware of the possibility of harm with any new technology isn’t without merit. Ideally, before implementing brand new technology we should be listening to scientific consensus by way of reputable organizations. In fact, I’d like to see public policy much more often directed by research and evidence, overall. While I understand very similar technology has been thoroughly researched, this variant has not. In this case, our hands are tied due to the federal directives without expensive litigation.

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