Progressive Whatcom council members change Planning Commission makeup


The newly minted progressive majority on the Whatcom County Council replaced three conservatives on the Planning Commission with three liberals, adding balance to what was a solidly conservative group.

Dairy farmers Jeff Rainey and Rod Erickson were voted out of their seats. They were appointed to the county Planning Commission in 2010, after a conservative takeover of the council.

Michelle Luke, the commission chairwoman also appointed in 2010, did not seek to retain her seat.

New members on the commission include Walter Haugen, who has an organic farm west of Ferndale. He had broad support on the council, garnering five of seven votes.

The other newcomers, Natalie McClendon and David Hunter, were appointed by a 4-to-3 vote.

Ken Mann, Carl Weimer, Rud Browne and Barry Buchanan — the four progressives who swept the 2013 elections — voted them in.

The four-year terms of McClendon, Hunter and Haugen officially begin on Saturday, Feb. 1. The six other commission members are considered to be conservative.

"To some degree it was an echo chamber of conservative thinking," Weimer said of the commission before Tuesday's appointments. "We need a Planning Commission that has a diversity of thought so we could get the best recommendations off them."

Browne, one of two new council members, also said he made a conscious decision to alter the makeup of the commission, which advises the council on land-use decisions.

"My votes were driven towards trying to bring more of an even political balance," Browne said.

Haugen had broad appeal because he was a farmer. Council members try to keep strong representation by farmers on the commission.

While Haugen's niche is a small, organic, low-impact, community-supported farm, his general understanding of agriculture is excellent, council member Barbara Brenner said.

She and council member Sam Crawford said Rainey and Erickson were both good commissioners, and they shouldn't have been unseated. Even with Haugen's expertise, the two dairy farmers will be missed, she said.

"It pretty drastically reduced the broader perspective on farming," Brenner said of Tuesday's selection process.

McClendon was an active member of the Whatcom Democrats who in 2012 unsuccessfully challenged Jason Overstreet for his seat in the state House of Representatives.

Her application showed she intended to reverse the course of the commission in a longstanding dispute over rural development rules. The commission has resisted an order from the state Growth Management Hearings Board that found the county in violation of state development rules.

"I would like to help Whatcom County adopt planning docs that comply with state law," McClendon wrote.

Hunter is an attorney and former board member of RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, a conservation group based in Bellingham.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or Read his Politics blog at or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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