Noting they are “well-intentioned but flawed,” the Bellingham City Council voted to formally oppose four initiatives appearing on the November 2 General Election ballot and encourages community members to vote ‘no’ on them.
These viewpoints were expressed in a resolution approved by the City Council at its regular meeting on Monday, October 11. The vote was 6-0, with one Council member absent.
Council members stated they support the values and intentions behind the four People First initiatives. But due to the significant unintended legal, financial and administrative consequences anticipated for the City, for community members, and for the local business community, the Council approved a resolution opposing all four initiatives and encouraging people to vote ‘no.’
Bellingham City Council President Hannah Stone said the Council’s silence to date on the initiatives was being misinterpreted by community members as support for the initiatives, an interpretation that does not serve the overall good of the community.
Stone said the Council wants to be sure people understand these initiatives are included on the November 2 ballot because the requisite number of signatures were collected. In taking action to oppose the initiatives, the Council is not seeking to suppress direct legislation, she said, noting that the Council also took action to place on the November 2 ballot an initiative (Proposition 2021-17) that seeks to reduce the number of signatures required to propose an initiative.
Stone said community members may incorrectly believe the City Council can simply vote to correct flaws in the initiatives if they pass. However, she said, they become effective 10 days after the election results are certified and per the City Charter, the City Council cannot revise, amend or repeal those new laws for two years.
City Council discussion
Council members discussed the initiatives during the October 11 Committee of the Whole meeting (link to afternoon discussion about initiatives) and Regular Council meeting in the evening (link to evening discussion about initiatives).
Council member Pinky Vargas said there is a lot of confusion in the community.
“People think that since the City Council put this forward it means we supported it. But it was more of an obligation. They are well intended but have details that are broad with legal and fiscal impacts that could be really devastating, for not only our City but our business community that’s just trying to survive right now. We would like to get rid of the confusion,” she said.
Council member Michael Lilliquist said these initiatives are “well-intentioned but flawed in many ways, both big and small.”
“The people of Bellingham care about the fair treatment of workers. We want unbiased policing and we don’t want any technology which is unfair to our people,” Lilliquist said. “We recognize the right to unionize and everyone’s concerned about the rising costs of rent. On the surface, each these four initiatives addresses things people care about. My concern is that because people care about these issues, and because we want to make them better, people might vote ‘yes’ and they won’t understand that these initiatives may not accomplish what they want to accomplish, and they have unintended consequences. They may be indefensible in a legal sense, and they are impractical in a lot of administrative senses.”
Council member Dan Hammill said he wished to reiterate for example that Initiative 2021-04, as written, would have severe impact on the City of Bellingham providing municipal services to its residents.
“Some of the first people to be impacted would be those from lower income and marginalized communities, so it has a very negative, unintended impact on those residents due to reduction in services,” he said.
Council member Hollie Huthman said “there is so much good in here, it makes it hard knowing the intention was on the right track.”
“I want to create solid legislation with community members that won’t be struck down legally, that has input from all parties, that looks at all these issues from different perspectives, so we create the best legislation we can to make progress in all these areas,” she said.
The initiatives opposed by Council are: Initiative 2021-01, which would expand tenant rights to include rental relocation assistance; Initiative 2021-02, which would prohibit the use of facial recognition technology and predictive policing technology; Initiative 2021-03, which would prohibit recipients from using city funds to discourage unionization efforts; and Initiative 2021-04, which concerns employee rights for hourly-wage and gig workers including hazard pay of $4 per hour for all on-site workers during a declared state of emergency.
Video of the October 11 Committee of the Whole and Regular Council meetings, including staff analysis and Council discussion, can be found at meetings.cob.org