Bellingham Third Ward Candidate: Raymond Straka

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Raymond A. Straka

1. Background: For almost a half a century (1972 to present), Western Washington University (WWU) has not built a dormitory on campus, while increasing enrollment by 50 percent (5,000+ students) over the same period. WWU continues to house only about 4,000 students on campus leaving 10,000+ to compete for rental lodging with local residents, including workers and families. Bellingham is now experiencing a severe rental housing shortage. The university plans to add another 2,000 students in the next 5-10 years while adding a marginal 260 dormitory beds on campus by 2021.

Should the university be brought to the table as a major cause of the shortage of rentals in the city? What demands are you willing to make of the university to assist in mitigating Bellingham’s severe rental shortage?

Yes, that’s the short answer. Western Washington University is one of the largest employers in Whatcom County. Many of the over 1,700 jobs are held by Bellingham residents. Student spending contributes to the Bellingham economy. The university contributes much to the economy, but, the burden that is shifted on to the city’s housing stock is not sustainable. WWU is replacing Highland Hall. To be completed in 2021, adding 264 beds. Private sector projects like Stateside that will add 513 beds when completed in 2021. NXNW created 249 units and Gathering Bellingham with 423 beds are less then 15 percent of demand.

2. Background: For businesses to be effective in our information-intensive economy, they need bandwidth delivered on a fiber-optic infrastructure, which provides speed and reliability. Bellingham city government has not yet made the commitment to pursue an effective fiber-optic infrastructure that is offered as an open-access network, giving co-ops, as well as telecoms, access. Doing so would attract new businesses and would provide a wider variety of internet options for existing businesses and residents. We have our neighbor, Mt. Vernon, as a model for success in doing this. 

Do you feel that identifying the city’s current network, and adding to it as necessary to create a reliable fiber infrastructure is a priority? 

The Internet is the great equalizer. All Internet users have the same information. Pretty much the sum of all human knowledge is at everyone’s fingertips. By establishing a public fiber optic Internet backbone we can ensure net neutrality so the Internet remains a level playing field. Public ownership of the backbone will expand competition among providers, lower prices and improve service, for the public. The installation and maintenance of the network will create living wage jobs.

3. Background: The current Bellingham Comprehensive Plan envisions that future population growth will find housing in high-density urban villages. How best to provide additional housing in the city is an ongoing discussion. For example, new city code now permits backyard dwelling units.

Do you favor permitting multifamily housing, like triplexes, in areas of the city now zoned exclusively for single-family, detached homes?

We must use all the tools in the Infill Toolkit to create more affordable housing. Missing Middle housing choices should be used in all single-family zoned areas in a way that maintains neighborhood aesthetics. I would support multilevel buildings as well. The only way to to increase population density is to build up. So instead of a single level triplex why not a three story building with nine units on the same lot the triplex would occupy?

4. Background: Nearly a half mile of Whatcom Creek and its estuary are about to have large-scale development projects started, none of which appear to put any emphasis on habitat, climate adaptation (sea level rise), or stormwater runoff. Each of these projects is completely under control of, or the property is owned by, the port, city, or school district. The permits for the State and Ellis bridges were rushed specifically to avoid impending state updates to shoreline and riparian rules. 

What tactics and plans do you have to aggressively restore habitat and enforce the buffers and best management practices suggested by science, new state legislation, and by the city’s own Critical Areas Ordinance?

Enforcement of the current Bellingham Critical Areas Ordnance is the first line of defense for ecologically fragile habitats. It must be equally applied no matter who the owner is. One of the best ways to hold all developers responsible to the ordinance is greater public oversight. Notification of the proposed permits hearings should be better advertised. Too often the only people testifying at these hearings are representatives for the applicant. Greater public involvement both by residents and concerned groups will ensure the ordinance is enforced and equally applied.

5. Background: “Transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Bellingham, making up 32 percent of all community emissions.” (From the Bellingham Climate Action Plan.)

In recent years, Bellingham has made progress towards an active transportation network that helps reduce our carbon footprint as well as families’ transportation costs. More people are able to get where they need to go by walking, pedaling, and rolling (such as wheelchairs).

However, the connections for safe and active transportation are a long way from being complete, due to U.S. transportation planning that has for decades prioritized the movement of motor vehicles.

What transportation planning and funding solutions will you champion to accelerate both Bellingham’s reduction of carbon emissions and progress toward a safe and connected active transportation system for all ages and abilities?

Zoning for Urban Villages where homes, work and stores are all within walking and biking distance is the long term answer. I would like to see large sections of the city that are restricted to pedestrian, biking, and electric vehicles. With the preference given to pedestrians and bikes. The village would have solar or other clean energy sources to power the electric vehicles and the would be rented like the Green bikes in Seattle are.

6. Background: The Bellingham Municipal Code 13.16 outlines city regulations for 5G small cell installations. These were drafted in response to a 2018 City Council vote to support 5G installs. On January 14, 2019, new FCC regulations went into effect denying local municipalities the right to refuse 5G installations. So, Bellingham is set to proceed, yet there is an increasing outcry nationally and globally about the lack of scientific testing for safety, environmental effects, security and privacy issues. There is strong scientific basis for all these concerns. Some cities and states are suing against the FCC overreach. The Portland mayor refuses to proceed on the basis of health safety concerns, as well as FCC overreach. 

What is your stance on supporting 5G installation in Bellingham?

My stance is that until there is sufficient scientific testing to show the effects and possible dangers we should not proceed. I would support joining other cites in legal action to stop installation until then. This is an issue that Washington Square Resident Council, of which I’m a board member, has been working on. A 5G facility has been installed on the roof of Chuckanut Square in Fairhaven. The residents of the public housing building were not made aware of any hearings and are very concerned about the possible dangers.