Two planning commissioners with ties to the Whatcom County dairy industry were unseated on Tuesday, Jan. 28. The newly minted progressive majority on the Whatcom Council replaced them with people who have more liberal pedigrees.
Jeff Rainey and Rod Ericksen, described as soft-spoken and hard-working, were voted out of their seats. They were appointed to the county Planning Commission after a conservative takeover of the council in 2010.
Walter Haugen, who has an organic farm west of Ferndale, received the strongest support with five council votes.
Haugen will bring a unique perspective to the nine-member council. He said on his application that his interest in serving was that "all decisions seem to be made under the false assumption that good times are 'just around the corner.' There is no Plan B."
His book, "The Laws of Physics are on my Side," predicts a massive die-off of the human population unless society can transition from its reliance on oil to manual labor.
It should be interesting to see how Haugen's worldview translates to the planning commission dais.
Ken Mann said he never met or spoke to Haugen, but the council member nonetheless suggested to Haugen that he apply.
"I knew he was a farmer, and he was willing to be outspoken and stand up for his principles," Mann said. "I was not voting to retain Mr. Ericksen, who was a farmer, and I really wanted to have a farmer that was in the mix."
Also chosen to represent council District 3 was Natalie McClendon, an active member of the Whatcom Democrats. Her application showed she would be a departure from the majority of the commission, which last year resisted an order from the state Growth Management Hearings Board that found the county in violation of the state's development rules.
"I would like to help Whatcom County adopt planning docs that comply with state law," she wrote.
In District 1, council selected David Hunter, an attorney and former board member with RE Sources for Sustainable Communities.
McClendon and Hunter were appointed by a 4 to 3 vote, with the four progressive council members who won in the 2013 elections (Mann, Carl Weimer, Rud Browne and Barry Buchanan) voting for the two candidates.
The terms of McClendon, Hunter and Haugen officially begin on Saturday, Feb. 1.
Council members Barbara Brenner and Sam Crawford said there was no reason to unelect Rainey and Ericksen, who had served the commission well.
"To unseat them in a time when they were obviously working hard and contributing and representing the agricultural community in Whatcom County, it was disappointing," Crawford said.
Brenner said taking away two larger-scale dairy farmers and adding a small-scale organic farmer created a deficiency on the commission. She added that Haugen had an "excellent understanding of agriculture" in general.
“I really think the diverse perspectives of farming need to be way more adequately represented on the Planning Commission,” Brenner said.