City Council waits on whether to put Blaine name change on November ballot

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 28, 2014 

BLAINE - Opponents and supporters of a proposal to change the city's name to Blaine Harbor will have to wait at least two more weeks to find out if the measure will be on the Nov. 4 ballot.

After more than an hour of impassioned, at times heated, comments from both sides, the City Council voted 5-1, with Clark Cotner the no vote, to wait until all seven council members were there for a decision. Paul Greenough was absent from the Tuesday, May 27, meeting.

"I feel reluctant to not have all seven council members here because it's an important issue," said Harry Robinson, who is a council member and the city's mayor.

Council member Bonnie Onyon agreed, although she said she would like to think that the council would vote unanimously to put it on the ballot "because that would be the right thing to do."

In an interview, Cotner said he voted no because he wanted the council to decide the matter at its Tuesday meeting.

"I didn't think it was fair to the people there. We had a lot of people there who had an acute interest in it," he said. "Let them know what we decided to do instead of kicking it down the road."

Cotner added: "Just give it a chance. Vote on it. Do I care? Yes I care, but can I live without it? Yes, I can."

The next City Council meeting is Monday, June 9.

If the council puts the measure before voters, it will mark the second time they've been asked to change Blaine's name to Blaine Harbor.

In 2000, voters defeated the idea 57 percent to 43 percent.

Cotner, who also is head of the city's Economic Development Advisory Committee, has been leading the most recent effort to change Blaine's name. The matter went before the council after the advisory committee voted to recommend the name change.

Cotner has said that businesses and residents supported the idea, and he collected hundreds of signatures from them. He said he wanted people to be able to vote on the issue.

He argued that adding the word "harbor" would attract visitors from Canada who now bypass the border town, highlight Blaine's seaside beauty, and help boost economic development by attracting businesses.

Supporters of the name change echoed those views during their statements Tuesday to the City Council. They said a new name would be a much-needed economic shot for the city, which is trying to attract new industry and grapple with empty downtown storefronts.

"We are the entrance to the USA. Why not capitalize on it?" said Bill Becht, who owns Horseshoe Coins and Antiques in Blaine.

They said people should be allowed to vote on the issue.

"Don't deny the public a vote. Don't diminish the democratic process," Blaine resident Eric Davidson said.

Said Blaine resident Paul Schroeder: "What is it about the word 'harbor' that is so offensive? This is not a silver bullet. It's not going to cure everything. It is one more step along the way."

The proposal is facing opposition from a campaign led by Blaine residents Angie Dixon, owner of a photography business, and Rachel Hrutfiord.

They also collected signatures from others opposed to the idea.

They brought other like-minded people to the Tuesday meeting, some of whom wore T-shirts and tank tops that read "We Are Blaine WA" with a red heart over their city's location.

"This is a waste of time and money. We are Blaine, Washington, and we want to see this issue dropped," Dixon told the City Council, noting the roughly 1,100 signatures that were collected in two weeks against the proposal.

The city had 4,684 residents in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Opponents said changing Blaine's name won't help draw visitors or businesses because the city needs to offer more things to do. They said they were concerned that changing the city's name would change their small town's history and heritage. What's needed, they said, is getting the word out about what their city does offer, along the lines of the annual Old Fashioned Fourth of July Celebration that draws many visitors.

"Word of mouth is what this place needs, not a name change," Dixon said.

Hrutfiord commented along the same lines.

"The potential of our town is 100 percent untapped," Hrutfiord said. "Blaine is not the problem. The problem is there's nothing in Blaine."

It will cost about $3,000 for the city to have the measure placed on the ballot.

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com .

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