Bob Wiesen, former Whatcom County planning commissioner, dies in Tacoma crash

Firefighters and police investigate a truck explosion where a body was found inside the truck on East 19th Street in Tacoma Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010.
Firefighters and police investigate a truck explosion where a body was found inside the truck on East 19th Street in Tacoma Thursday, Dec. 2, 2010. THE NEWS TRIBUNE

Former Whatcom County Planning Commissioner Bob Wiesen was killed in a semi truck explosion in Tacoma Thursday, Dec. 2.

The 71-year-old's death was confirmed by the Whatcom County Republican Party, where Wiesen was an active precinct committee officer and their campaign sign manager with the get-the-job-done attitude. He also was known as a family man who loved his community and fought as a property rights activist.

The reason for the crash was still under investigation. Wiesen's truck was delivering products to a local business at about 2 a.m. when reports came in about a loud explosion.

Tacoma police say the semi truck hit a parked vehicle and burst into flames, though it's unknown what caused Wiesen's truck to hit the parked vehicle.

Though often clashing with local Democrats, environmentalists and progressives, Wiesen was remembered by some as a respected member of the community passionate about his beliefs. And members of his party said they're not sure how they'll replace a campaign worker they called selfless and a tireless worker who recycles tens of thousands of campaign signs each election season.

"Obviously he leaves a big hole," said Whatcom Republicans Chairwoman Luanne Van Werven. "He's a larger than life personality. We are going to miss him greatly."

In a message to supporters, Van Werven touted Wiesen as someone who "cared deeply about his community and was very well versed on local land and property rights issues."

The news of Wiesen's death was a shock to Whatcom County Councilman Ken Mann, a former member of the Planning Commission after Wiesen's tenure on the board.

"It's a terrible shock and a loss to this community. Bob and I rarely agreed on policy, but we had healthy, respectful debates and there is nobody that loved this county or this community more than Bob Wiesen," Mann said. "He will be missed. His perspective and passion will be missed."

In 2001, Wiesen ran for County Council against Sharon Roy, who would go on to win. He served on the Planning Commission for eight years until 2004.

County Councilman Sam Crawford, a fellow Republican, called Wiesen a "pillar" of the community. No matter what, you knew where the former candidate and commissioner stood on issues, sometimes to a fault for his own political well-being, Crawford said.

"I think in politics you kind of have to walk softly and carry a big stick, so to speak. Bob did not walk softly. He was not shy about telling you where he was at," Crawford said. "Personally I respected that about him, that he was a straight shooter."

Most recently, Wiesen fought in the beginning of 2010 for another term on the county Planning Commission, an act that ignited and even caused the county's legal staff to issue a memo stating it wouldn't be allowed under current county law because he'd already served two terms.

But Wiesen believed he needed to be on the commission after what he saw as a liberal takeover of the group that led to proposals to reduce urban growth boundaries around cities and to remove land in rural areas from the chance to be developed at urban levels.

He also saw it as a commission that no longer listened to the public.

"I don't know what more I can say. But, we have, I will say this is the worst planning commission I have ever seen," Wiesen said during a Dec. 8, 2009, County Council meeting.

Up to his death, Wiesen was active in challenging the county's growth planning at the state level. An advocate for private property rights, he filed a petition with a state board in 2007, claiming the county didn't meet a deadline for updating its urban growth areas countywide. The county conceded that it hadn't met the deadline, and the board ordered it to conduct the review.

When the county finished its update in November 2009, removing thousands of acres from urban zoning status, he joined others in challenging the decision. Some of the parties have settled with the county; others are working with the county toward a settlement.

A founding member of the Black Mountain Forestry Group, Wiesen helped create a small museum with the organization at Silver Lake Park on forestry issues. He was an active member of the Building Industry Association of Whatcom County.

Funeral arrangements are pending.