August primary features three-way race for Bellingham City Council


2013 elections


BELLINGHAM - Allen Brown, Bob Burr and Roxanne Murphy are seeking a two-year term as the at-large representative on the seven-member Bellingham City Council.

The job pays $22,716 - unless Brown gets elected and can convince three other council members that the council should relinquish its pay. Brown, who retired as a fire captain in Miami-Dade County, Fla., thinks council salary money could be better spent restoring Bellingham Fire Department positions lost during recessionary spending cuts.

That idea wasn't enough to get Brown the endorsement of Bellingham Firefighters Local 106. The local has contributed $500 to Murphy, who has reported raising $5,522 in cash and in-kind contributions. Both Brown and Burr are running without campaign contributions.

Brown calls himself a conservative and has the endorsement of Whatcom County Republicans and Libertarians. He has lived here seven years.

Murphy, a member of the Nooksack Indian Tribe and the tribe's assistant administrator, has lived in Bellingham about two years. In 2009 she ran an unsuccessful race for the Tacoma City Council. She has the backing of the loose coalition of progressives and environmentalists who have demonstrated the ability to mobilize volunteers for get-out-the-vote efforts in city elections.

Burr is a retired insurance executive who has lived here 18 years. While both Burr and Murphy strongly oppose the Gateway Pacific Terminal coal export facility proposed for Cherry Point, Burr's opposition has been more flamboyant: In December 2011, he was one of 12 people arrested on trespassing and obstruction charges during an anti-coal protest that briefly blocked BNSF Railway Co. tracks.


Both Burr and Murphy say they would use their council position to try to make city government more outspoken in opposition to the coal port, which would be served by open coal trains that would run through the city.

Brown is an unabashed supporter of Gateway Pacific.

"I think Gateway Pacific is an opportunity for this community to expand," he said. "Just for what it would do for exports, I think it would be a big deal."

On at least one issue, the three candidates see eye-to-eye: licensing of apartments and rental houses. All three are opposed, as was Seth Fleetwood, the incumbent in the at-large council seat who will leave office at the end of 2013. The licensing idea remains under study at City Hall.

As Brown sees it, students and other renters already have ways of addressing shortcomings in the housing they rent, by filing complaints to get enforcement of existing building codes. Murphy agrees that better enforcement of existing law is preferable to trying to enforce a new licensing requirement.

Burr also opposes a licensing requirement, but he does favor a mandatory inspection of rental properties every three years, with inspection fees that could over the costs.

Burr and Brown express similar skepticism over other city regulations. Burr says he has spoken with a number of small business people who were exasperated by the slow pace of the city inspection and permitting process when they tried to relocate their businesses.

"The city was very difficult to deal with," Burr said. "It was hard to communicate with them."

Brown said he was motivated to run by the current council's propensity to adopt new regulations that he contends were not well-thought-out. He cited the plastic shopping bag ban approved on a 7-0 vote in 2011, at Fleetwood's urging.

"There's health issues with it, there's energy issues with it because paper bags cost more energy to make," Brown said.


Both Burr and Murphy emphasize waterfront development issues, but their take on those issues is different.

Murphy says her main concern is a thorough environmental cleanup of old industrial sites. She also hopes that some recreational areas can be installed on those areas as soon as possible, so city residents can get a sense of progress on a long-simmering redevelopment effort.

"I think people are losing hope about it," she said.

Both Burr and Murphy say the waterfront project should focus on better-paying industrial jobs, but Murphy adds there should be room for residences, too.

Burr disagrees about the idea of residences. He says he is a member of the "Blue-Green Coalition" of union members and environmentalists pushing for both thorough cleanup and a "living-wage zone" to ensure new waterfront jobs are well-paying. He describes current waterfront development plans as "terrible." He wants to see waterfront height restrictions to prevent the construction of high-rise condos. As he sees it, residences belong in the existing downtown, while maritime industries belong on the waterfront.

"I believe in vertical housing," Burr said. "I think downtown is ideal for vertical housing."

Both Burr and Murphy want to provide ample added opportunities for public comment before the council votes to give waterfront plans final approval.

Brown would prefer a development approach that spells out a short list of land uses that should not occur on the waterfront, letting developers and the marketplace determine what shape actual development takes.


On Lake Whatcom issues, Brown parts company with Burr and Murphy, who both favor the city's ongoing effort to purchase undeveloped land in the lake watershed to protect water quality from future development and the runoff it would generate.

Brown contends that public money would be better spent on projects to reduce existing pollution of the lake.

"Let's clean it up," he said. "Stop spending that (land purchase money) or scale back on that, and clean it up now. ... Yes, it protects the future, but it does nothing now."

Murphy says she agrees with the personal fireworks ban that will take effect by next 4th of July, because she believes most city residents favor it. Both Burr and Brown say the ban would not be necessary if previous fireworks restrictions were better enforced.

Other issues:

Burr said he wants to take a look at ending PeaceHealth St. Joseph's exemption from city business taxes. He also wants to ban surveillance drones and fracking for oil and natural gas within the city limits.

Brown questions the need for city investment in a site to help Costco and other possible developments meet requirements for wetlands mitigation as they fill in the unbuilt commercial areas along West Bakerview Road.

Murphy promises to play no role in any council activity related to water rights issues. The city could potentially be affected by tribal assertion of water rights by both the Nooksacks and by Lummi Nation to protect salmon runs, and that conflict could lead to a court battle.


The Bellingham Herald and the League of Women Voters submitted questionnaires on local issues to the candidates. Read the answers here:

The Bellingham Herald.

League of Women Voters.

Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or Read his Politics blog at or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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