Our city is a vibrant and dynamic place, with many types of people and distinct neighborhoods. And even though our great quality of life puts Bellingham on top lists across the country, we also have some challenges. It's become increasingly apparent that, in addition to implementing the downtown strategy, one of these areas that needs to be addressed is the redevelopment and public health and safety challenges on Samish Way.
Over the winter, I convened a community solutions workgroup that examined issues facing our downtown, and in that process several community-wide gaps in services were identified that apply to areas throughout our city, including Samish Way. We are pursuing those solutions, such as a mental health court, providing increased coordination and outreach between social services, providing a range of housing alternatives and creating a 24-hour mobile mental health response system. These will help in creating a safety net of services for those most in need.
In the course of examining next steps for Samish Way, it has become clear that some of the challenges on the corridor may inhibit our ability to successfully implement the community's vision as identified in the Samish Way Urban Village Plan. Samish Way adopted an urban village master plan in 2009, and I believe we need to assist in making sure it's a place where people want to invest and turn the vision of what Samish Way could be into reality.
The master plan provides a policy framework for the 78-acre area surrounding Samish Way in the Sehome and York neighborhoods. Many neighbors and community members were involved in that visioning process and shared the following goals:
- To promote a mix of commercial, residential and service uses;
- To provide amenities within walking distance;
- To have a transportation network that is designed for walking, biking, transit and automobiles;
- To facilitate strong community connections and active public spaces; and
- To promote sustainability and quality design.
In the months ahead, it's my goal to develop an implementation strategy that will require the city and our partners to take strong action on these items.
As we develop that implementation strategy, we are also partnering with agencies and community groups to address and improve the public health and safety needs on Samish Way. The Bellingham Police Department, county and state health agencies, both the Samish and York neighborhood associations, social service agencies, faith-based organizations and the city are concerned with the increase of crime and safety concerns in the Samish Way corridor, particularly regarding activities occurring at or around several hotels.
We have taken a hard look at some of the crime and safety statistics on Samish Way, and I have several concerns about the information that has come forward in the past several months. Several hotels have more than their share of calls to police and emergency medical services, and several rooms have tested positive for unsafe levels of methamphetamine contamination. This is very troubling to me, to neighbors, to our emergency responders and to social services.
If there are illegal activities, they should be enforced against. For the innocent victims who happen to live in these situations, there needs to be alternatives for housing. If we are to take action and enforce against violations, we can't be putting families on the streets. That is why I have asked my staff to work with health and social service agencies to ensure housing alternatives are offered if facilities are closed due to public health reasons.
We need to identify services that support residents in achieving economic independence and self-sufficiency. We also need to work with the hotels that have the most issues with police and emergency calls. The city has begun outreach to some of the hotel owners to discuss how they can do their part in bringing about compliance and positive change in the area.
We are working with our law enforcement, our government partners, neighborhoods and social services to ensure a safe community in all areas of our city. Without all of our partners, the city would be unable to do this. I'm excited as we start to help people who need help, clean up illegal activities, and redevelop the area. I am confident that if we work together, Samish Way is going to be a wonderful example of a healthy, thriving urban village.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
This is one of a series of monthly Civic Agenda reports The Bellingham Herald invited Bellingham Mayor Kelli Linville to provide to share updates about City of Bellingham issues and projects. She invites citizens to contact her at 360-778-8100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.