Vargas, Petree in race for Bellingham council seat

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDOctober 25, 2013 

2013 elections

MCT

BELLINGHAM - Pinky Vargas faces Clayton Petree in the race for a four-year term on City Council.

The winner in the Nov. 5 election will take the Ward 4 council seat now held by Stan Snapp, who steps down at the end of 2013.

Vargas, 46, is energy efficiency manager for Puget Sound Energy. Petree, 40, is a self-employed consultant and writer. Both have a diverse group of contributors and endorsers, although Petree's backers are more likely to be conservatives and Vargas seems more attractive to liberals and progressives. Petree is endorsed by county Republicans, Libertarians and Realtors, while Vargas is endorsed by Democrats and by Washington Conservation Voters.

On some issues, Petree has put some distance between himself and more traditional pro-growth conservative positions. He says he opposes a single-purpose coal terminal for Cherry Point, for example. He says he wants to see a study of what better uses could be found for the Gateway Pacific Terminal site where SSA Marine's coal terminal would be built.

To address the high cost of housing in the city, Petree favors annexing more land for residential development, to reduce housing costs by increasing supply. That's the approach generally favored by developers and real estate interests.

Vargas says the city should focus on adding more housing within its existing neighborhoods to help meet demand.

Petree doesn't flatly oppose that approach, but he also stresses protecting neighborhoods.

"We need to infill carefully and protect your neighborhood as you bought it," Petree said at a Thursday, Oct. 24, candidates' forum sponsored by The Bellingham Herald and the League of Women Voters.

Also at that forum, Vargas implied that Petree is more conservative than his public statements indicate. She noted that he opposed the Lake Whatcom land reconveyance that shifted 8,800 acres of forested lake watershed real estate from the state to Whatcom County, a land deal embraced by local environmentalists.

"Sometimes I wonder who you are and where you're coming from," Vargas told Petree.

Petree replied that there was no evidence that the change in land management from one government to the other would do anything to help water quality, and said it was likely that recreational activities on the land would be more restricted than they had been under management of the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

Vargas and Petree also differ on the city's personal fireworks ban, which will be in place for July Fourth 2014. Vargas supports it, as did Snapp. Petree opposes the ban, and he received a $900 campaign contribution from the Consumer Fireworks Safety Association PAC, an industry group.

As of now there are no council plans to revisit the fireworks ban, approved on a 4-3 vote last June.

Both Vargas and Petree expressed skepticism about chances for construction of a new main library any time soon. Vargas noted that a new library has been a cherished project for many people for a long time, but said public safety and human services must take priority until a full economic recovery restores city revenue.

Petree said city officials should consider a lower-cost library project in the Cordata area that developers could pay for. If more space is needed downtown, the city should look at building an addition to the existing library instead of trying to build a new one, he said.

Vargas and Petree both agree with Mayor Kelli Linville that it is time to shut down the city's Public Development Authority and end its funding. (Linville has endorsed Vargas.)

MORE CANDIDATE INFORMATION

To see responses to various issues from these and other candidates on the Nov. 5 ballot, go to our online voter guide.

This is one in a series of articles on races in the November general election. Other articles are at BellinghamHerald.com/elections.

Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or follow him on Twitter at @bhamheraldpolitics.

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