Blaine City Council: A freedom of speech protest, downtown parking proposal and more


The latest news from the April 8 Blaine City Council meeting ...

Open house on downtown parking

The city of Blaine’s Community Development Services Department (CDS) hosted an open house on a proposal that would give developers the option to have reduced downtown parking requirements before the start of Blaine City Council’s April 8 meeting. Blaine Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposal at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 11 at city hall.

The open house brought back-and-forth discussion between CDS director Alex Wenger and about a dozen people who attended. Wenger told attendees nearly all developers have backed out of building on the westside of Peace Portal Drive, except for Drayton Harbor Oyster Company, and developers have asked that the city reduce its parking requirements. Wenger added that it was common for other cities, such as Sedro-Woolley and Anacortes, to reduce parking.

“We’re trying to reduce parking so we can increase the area people live,” Wenger said at the open house.

The residential parking changes would be optional, with up to a 50 percent reduction in residential parking for developers on the west side of Peace Portal Drive in the downtown core. The city would require developers who opt for reduced on-site parking to pay an in-lieu fee that would go to downtown transportation improvements.

The option for reduced parking would go away at some point and the city would return to its standard parking requirements. Under the proposal, the city would implement a tiered fee structure offering parking stalls at a lower rate early on to incentivize participation, with parking stalls being priced higher as demand increased.

Some members of the public questioned whether residential buildings would sell if tenants didn’t have enough parking for their cars, while other attendees said developers would study what people wanted before building.

Some people voiced that the city shouldn’t allow the option of reduced parking, arguing Blaine, unlike larger cities, did not have good public transportation and many services, such as a grocery store, were not downtown. Wenger suggested those services would come downtown as more people moved there.

Blaine resident Ray Leone said there was already development in east and west Blaine.

“To put all your apples in downtown residentials to bring back Blaine seems ridiculous when we have 1 million people sitting on top of us,” Leone said.

Wenger said about a quarter of properties along Peace Portal Drive are vacant.

“Is it the golden fix for downtown? Probably not, but it’s a piece of the puzzle,” Wenger said. “We’re really trying to think of a way to get customers in stores downtown.”


The regular Blaine City Council meeting on April 8 began with seven people participating in a silent protest by taping their mouths and holding signs in protest of new city council rules that bar the public from speaking. The group stood up for three minutes during the time when the public would normally be allowed to speak. The protestors remained civil throughout the meeting.

Mayor Mary Lou Steward first prohibited public comment without notice during the February 12 meeting,  when city council also voted to update its rules of procedure governing public meetings. Prohibiting oral comment is allowed by state law.

Concern over city government transparency began during a debate that lasted over a year on allowing manufactured home parks in east Blaine. The issue brought dozens of east Blaine residents opposed to the proposal to meetings, and, after council approved the code change, about a handful of people calling themselves “Save Blaine” began accusing city council and city officials of being unethical and lacking transparency. Some group members ignored the mayor’s requests for order during public comment, which they voiced as arbitrary and were upset with frequent rule changes. Police attended several meetings near the end of 2023.

While a few people from the “Save Blaine” group protested during the April 8 meeting, most were new faces to city council meetings.

One of the protesters told The Northern Light that the group members shared the belief that emailed public comments can be ignored, and need to be heard by council members. Group members want more back-and-forth dialogue with the city, and to not just be told what will happen without the city seriously considering their input. The group is planning future protests until what they consider a “gag order” is abandoned.

Legislative update

The city of Blaine’s lobbyists in the state legislature gave a general overview of the city’s wins and losses in the 2024 legislative session.

Lobbyist Holly Sanabria, of Gordon Thomas Honeywell, informed councilmembers that there was a lack of available funding this year for the Bell Road grade separation project but it will be considered for future funding. About $9.5 million in federal dollars is currently earmarked for the design portion of what is expected to be an $85 million project needed to alleviate traffic congestion by building an overpass above the train tracks at the Bell Road and Peace Portal Drive intersection.

Sanabria’s presentation also covered the city’s request for state funding for the downtown mixed-use affordable housing project in the 2025 legislative session. The project is envisioned to bring a larger library, affordable and market-rate condominiums and commercial space that could potentially include childcare at the current Blaine library site. Kulshan Community Land Trust is leading the project, with partnership from the city and Whatcom County Library System.

A bill supported by the city that would have increased the annual one percent property tax levy that local taxing districts are allowed to collect without voter approval failed during the legislative session. The bill would have created a new formula taking into account inflation and population growth, while also limiting the levy cap to 3 percent. Sanabria said the bill could potentially be considered in the future if Democrats, the bill’s primary supporters, continue to be the majority party.

Blaine officials had asked the state to invest in infrastructure on industrial land within the city as Vancouver, B.C. is experiencing an industrial land shortage.

Governor Jay Inslee budgeted a $25 million green jobs and infrastructure grant program for local governments statewide, but the program would not occur if Initiative-2117 passes. I-2117 would repeal the 2021 Climate Commitment Act, which would undo the cap and invest program made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, if approved by voters in November.

In total, 1,560 bills were introduced, while only 376 laws passed during the 60-day session.

Police officer sworn in

The mayor swore Devin Cooper into the Blaine Police Department. Cooper had previously worked at the police department, before working at the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office during the past couple of years.

Employment recruiting firm

City council unanimously approved a contract with an employment recruiting firm to help hire for five vacant staff positions.

The firm, DestinationOne, will recruit for a finance director, two journeyman electrical line workers, and two other positions expected to become vacant this year.

The city has struggled to recruit high voltage journeymen for several years, despite increasing the salary and advertising the job posting, according to city documents. The city is currently advertising the full-time position for nearly $150,700, one of the city’s highest-paid positions.

City manager Mike Harmon said the city is desperately looking for electrical line workers as it’s been almost five years since the city’s electrical department has been fully staffed.

The contract outlines that the city would pay $8,000 per recruitment for a year, for a total of $40,000. DestinationOne will find employees for those five positions and guarantee the new employees stay for at least three months.

Council approved the contract 6-0, with councilmember Mike Hill absent.


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