Outgoing council members Snapp, Fleetwood often differed on Bellingham issues

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJanuary 6, 2014 

Seth Fleetwood, Stan Snapp

Seth Fleetwood, left, and Stan Snapp.

THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

BELLINGHAM - As he departs City Council, Stan Snapp expressed his frustration with changes to the emergency medical services system and the delays in getting public access television in place.

Seth Fleetwood expressed satisfaction over city progress on protection of Lake Whatcom water quality, adding that a lot more remains to be done.

Both men did not run for re-election in November 2012.

Snapp, a retired Bellingham Fire Department division chief, and Fleetwood, an attorney, were both dependable votes in favor of Lake Whatcom protection measures during their years on the council. In early 2012, both men were part of a five-vote majority that agreed to add another $7 a month to an existing $5 city water bill surcharge, generating about $3 million per year to acquire undeveloped watershed real estate and pay for steps to control polluting runoff from existing developments.

"I think we've really started to build a protection plan for Lake Whatcom," Fleetwood said.

Fleetwood, who served eight years on the Whatcom County Council before he was elected to the at-large City Council seat in 2009, said the next big step on reversing the lake's deterioration may need to be taken by the county.

Near the end of Fleetwood's County Council tenure, he said that body was ready to consider property tax measures to pay for stormwater control in the county's portion of the lake watershed. But then the County Council majority swung conservative, and no such measure ever came to a vote.

Fleetwood said he hopes the new council members will revive the idea.

"Now is an opportunity to do it," Fleetwood said. "We're all partners."

The city still can do more to increase its own lake protection measures, Fleetwood said. He would like to see a city program encouraging homeowners in the lake watershed to retrofit their homes and yards to minimize the runoff that sends harmful phosphorus into the lake.

On some other key issues in the past four years, Snapp and Fleetwood were on opposite sides when votes were cast. Fleetwood was the lone vote against traffic light cameras that the city later repudiated.

Snapp joined the 4-3 council majority that rejected the proposed Padden Trails development. Among other things, Snapp questioned whether emergency vehicle access to the area would be adequate.

Fleetwood was one of three council members who voted to allow the development to move ahead.

Snapp and Fleetwood also differed on the personal fireworks ban that will be in place for Independence Day 2014, after the council approved the ban on a 4-3 vote in 2013. Snapp had advocated a ban for years, citing fire dangers. Fleetwood came down on the side of tradition.

In a 4-3 vote taken just weeks ago to approve a new agreement with Whatcom County on joint operation of emergency medical services, Snapp and Fleetwood again were on opposite sides. Fleetwood saw the new agreement as a compromise dictated by financial realities. Snapp saw a possible decline in the level of emergency medical services, and a loss of city control over the system.

Snapp cited that agreement as one of his biggest disappointments. The other was what he saw as too-slow progress on providing a public access cable television channel for city residents. Snapp said Mayor Kelli Linville is the latest in a long line of mayors who have resisted such a channel, out of concerns over cost and potential headaches involved in deciding how to regulate its content.

But the city could take meaningful steps toward starting such a channel in 2014, as city officials weigh a channel management proposal from a nonprofit group.

Fleetwood said the council has also had some successes in grappling with broader growth issues during the last four years, taking steps to reduce sprawl beyond city limits while accommodating growth in existing areas such as Fairhaven. He predicted that these issues will never go away, as elected officials try to control sprawl while maintaining the character of existing neighborhoods.

"The big issue will remain how we grow regionally, and whether we grow in a way so that our city can accommodate all the incoming population, so that we can retain a true sense of rural character," Fleetwood said. "That was the thing that got me into office, really. ... I recall having a very clear sense that we can't go the way of King County where all the cities grow into each other. That's always a risk. It remains a risk."

Reach John Stark at 360-715-2274 or john.stark@bellinghamherald.com . Read the Politics Blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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