Blaine City Council candidates share their visions for the city

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With ballots expected to arrive in residents’ mailboxes this week, The Northern Light reached out to November general election candidates for Blaine City Council to ask what their biggest priorities are for residents. The candidates are listed in the order as they appear in the general election ballot. Interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Council Ward 1 Position 2

Kerena Higgins

Kerena Higgins is a first-time candidate and has served for 20 years as an assistant attorney general with the Washington state Attorney General’s Office, where she supervises attorneys representing public universities and the state labor and industries department. 

What issues facing city of Blaine residents are most important to you? 

Issues I have identified from talking to members of the community include economic challenges and utility bill issues. It’s important to note when we’re talking about challenges to our community, I like to look at them as opportunities. How can we effectively promote economic development in our downtown community and attract small businesses and restaurants that will bring in jobs and customers who would like to visit our beautiful city? I care about our environmental impacts and a healthy harbor directly impacts our community’s ability to harvest clams, oysters and mussels from these waters, which in turn, impacts economic wellbeing. 

If elected, how would you address those? 

I’ve worked in public service for the last 30 years. A lot of what I do in advising clients is behind the scenes, and so by running for city council, rather than advising the decision makers, I’d be putting myself in the role of being a decision maker. I have experience advising on contracts, human resources and employment law, and public works construction.

What does ideal development for the city of Blaine look like to you?

A place where small businesses are encouraged to move in at a pace and in a way that’s affordable to them, that promotes job growth for our neighbors, and where people are encouraged to shop and invest in our community. I would love to see more restaurants and additional places to spend the night. 

What made you run for this position? 

What inspired me to run is really my vision for the city. I want to be a part of what makes our small city thrive in the future and as the border reopens, I see real opportunity to encourage additional downtown foot traffic, where Blaine becomes a destination rather than a place to fill up on the way to Seattle.

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

I’m already familiar with the types of issues that come before city council because they are the type I advise on a daily basis. If elected, I would listen to my constituents’ concerns and bring that to the table with me every day.

J. Calvin Armerding

Calvin Armerding is a math teacher at Meridian High School, has run his own business for 17 years and previously served in the U.S. Navy. He has six years of experience on the city of Blaine’s Planning Commission, three of them as chair.

What issues facing city of Blaine residents are most important to you? 

Finances and advanced planning for growth.

If elected, how would you address those? 

Advanced planning for growth – I’m on the planning commission so I’ve been watching how we’ve been growing and what kinds of things are being done. I think it’s important to be aware how much things are going to cost the city and what’s the return when we spend money and what kinds of things do we need to be thinking about long term. For example, the growth at the top of H Street, I think there’s no question of the growth is going to happen, but do we have the transportation infrastructure for all of those people coming up and down into the city?

What does ideal development for the city of Blaine look like to you? 

It’s what we’ve been doing. Slow growth is better than a sudden, huge influx. I want to see growth because people want to be here, rather than we’re somehow making it happen or artificially pushing it. I don’t have an idea on what will be ideal because it will just depend on what people want. I won’t be pushing to do this or that because the question is what people want to do. It’s not my city, it’s our city.

What made you run for this position? 

It’s important for people to get involved. I’ve been on the planning commission for five or six years. With several people deciding to retire, it seemed like we needed to step up, and I think I have a good feel for how the system works being on the planning commission all of these years.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I think it’s important that we be responsible with people’s money. I don’t think we see a lot of waste in Blaine, we’re small, but I do think we see a lot of, ‘Gee that seems like a worthwhile project, let’s spend the money.’ I think we definitely need to be diving into, ‘Where is the money coming from?’ I’ve been living here for a couple of decades and I think it’s important to say, ‘Every penny we spend is coming out of people’s pockets, so is it worth it for people, whose money we’re taking, that we spend this money?’

Council Ward 2 Position 4

Rhyan Lopez

Rhyan Lopez is a first-time candidate and is currently the director of operations at Comphy Company in Ferndale. Lopez has volunteered with the Community Assistance Program since 2015. 

What issues facing city of Blaine residents are most important to you? 

I’d like to work with council to encourage business growth. Another major issue is addressing the train-vehicle delays at the corner of Peace Portal Drive. Our housing inventory needs to greatly improve and in order to do so, the city needs to address a few major things, one of which is the sewer in Blaine that’s starting to collapse. It’s at a point where if we were to expand into east Blaine, the sewer facility cannot handle the additional 1,600 homes right now. 

In order to get people to visit our town, we need to keep our town beautiful, we need to keep our streets clean and fix any cracks in the sidewalks. 

If elected, how would you address those? 

The city manager and council have already got the ball rolling with securing funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. We need council to make this their top priority, and work day and night and be ruthless to secure those funds to get these facilities. 

What does ideal development for the city of Blaine look like to you? 

Where city council can help development in Blaine is executing their number one power, zoning and land use. We don’t need to turn into a downtown White Rock with a bunch of high rises, but we do need to look at areas where we can possibly rezone or reclassify to allow middle-income housing. There’s specific neighborhoods in Blaine that are beautiful neighborhoods that I have zero intention on changing like the Salishan neighborhood. There might be other neighborhoods that we could look at allowing multifamily housing.

What made you run for this position? 

I’ve been involved with community service activities for the last really decade or so. I started to realize a lot of what happens at the city level, whether it’s the planning coordination and executing projects for the city, a lot of that is what I already do at work. 

There’s been a few things that I didn’t necessarily agree on 100 percent with the direction of the city, so I thought, ‘I think it’s time to get a new perspective.’

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

I have this thing called Factoid Friday [on Facebook] where I talk about either something interesting that’s going on in our city, history of our city or something I’ve learned along the way.

 

Colin Hawkins

Colin Hawkins is chair of the city of Blaine’s public works advisory committee and has been a member of the committee since 2015. He has worked for Blaine small businesses, the Blaine school district and is former president of the Blaine Community Theater.

What issues facing city of Blaine residents are most important to you?

The most important issue city council is facing is [expansion in] east Blaine, whether it be the roads or expansions to the sewer and electrical system. My time on the public works advisory committee has given me a lot of insights into what types of logistics are entailed when those sorts of things are going on. 

If elected, how would you address those?

Part of public works advisory committee’s job is to guide and advise the public works department on projects and organization and things of that nature. I’ve worked quite a bit on the planning and prioritizing of projects in an advisory role. I’ve also done a lot of things like I’ve worked to pass the transportation benefit district, which was a 1 percent gas tax that raises money for the city of Blaine street fund, which was in desperate need of capital. We passed that in a year where not a lot of tax increases were being passed but it was something the city desperately needed.

What does ideal development in the city of Blaine look like to you?

Slow and steady. My hope is to bring living-wage jobs to Blaine. In downtown, I’d like to see commercial buildings with residential apartments above. We have to make sure the infrastructure is in place and the city is prepared for the increased capacity on our systems.

What made you run for this position?

I feel my personality, ability to work with other people and experience have given me skills that will be very valuable on city council. Blaine is going through some dramatic changes and I want to be able to bring my experience and vision and help guide Blaine in what I believe is the right direction.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add? One of the things that is important and separates me from other people who run for city council is that I have been volunteering with the public works advisory committee for the last six or seven years. Even if I don’t win this election, I will continue to do that and will continue to devote my time and energy to the city. I’m running as a Borderite, as someone who lives in Blaine, not as a politician or representing a particular party. 

Council Ward 3 Position 6

Barbara Sturdivant

Barbara Sturdivant worked as a clinical nurse for 25 years and is the secretary of the members advisory board for Semiahmoo Golf and Country Club. She is the past president of Boundary Ridge HOA.

What issues facing city of Blaine residents are most important to you?

The number one priority for me is safety. I look forward to working with local law enforcement and the different community organizations because we have a beautiful, family-oriented city and the cities around us are failing in keeping their communities safe. I don’t want to see that happen in Blaine.

We all want to see the city financially grow. It could use a little support from the council with the local businesses, restaurants and retail to get back on their feet through the pandemic and the border closure. There are some areas downtown I think the council could assist with fresh paint, awnings or something like that. I think it’s important to keep the enthusiasm and pride of the city.

If elected, how would you address those? 

I’ve been talking to community leaders that have different responsibilities, either on current council or have had historical business interest in Blaine; talking with my neighbors, going door-to-door and finding out what the different concerns are of both downtown Blaine and Semiahmoo. Sometimes those are very diverse interests and needs, but listening to everybody to make sure you get a good picture.

What made you run for this position?

There are things going on in our country that I’m not very happy with and there’s not much I can do about that other than to get involved at the local level. I truly believe local level involvement in your community is critical. Because I have 14 grandchildren, at some point they’ll understand their grandmother didn’t just didn’t sit around and complain about things, but she stood for what she believed in.

What does ideal development for the city of Blaine look like to you? 

We could use more retail shops, especially around Peace Portal Drive and a variety of restaurants. We could enhance Marine Drive more to make it a tourist attraction. 

I’m excited about the healthcare site going in at the old airport. I have a very strong background and ongoing interest, especially in light of the Covid crisis.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I want to be someone who is visible and keeps everyone informed. I’m excited for the housing development off H Street because that seems like positive, great growth and like the housing will be more affordable, which is a promising move to retaining employees. 

Eric Davidson 

Eric Davidson currently serves on city council. He is chair of the Blaine Tourism Advisory Committee, member of Blaine’s finance committee and the Whatcom Transportation Authority Board, among others.

What issues facing city of Blaine residents are most important to you?

Growth, how to pay for the growth and the infrastructure of the growth. We’re going to start growing, whether we like it or not, and that costs a lot of money, time and work. These are decisions that people will be paying for in 30 years, so it’s got to be done right. 

If re-elected, how would you address those?

My two biggest concerns are the quality of life for the citizens of Blaine – that doesn’t mean just because you live here but if you work here, you deal with us at the city of Blaine – I want a better quality of life for everybody here, as well as for the taxpayers. It’s one of my primary focuses to be a fiscal watchdog, to make sure every dollar being spent is a dollar well spent. I’ve been working on that since before I’ve been on city council and currently we’re working on a sewer program and we’re going to find a way to save the taxpayers a lot of money and still get what we need for it.

What does ideal development in Blaine look like to you? 

You’ve got to develop what people want to develop and what’s needed or what will sell, that’s where the free-market will go. There’s only so much influence the government can put on it. A combination of affordable housing, commercial which would give tourism dollars and services, and industrial that would give family-wage jobs.

What made you run for this position?

I like the direction Blaine is going. Even in a pandemic we were able to balance our budget and get a lot of new businesses started. In the last four years, we’ve had Starbucks, the Rustic Fork, Living Pantry, as well as Chuckanut Cheesecake and other businesses. Development of the airport property is just around the corner. There’s work to do, and I’m proud of the work I’ve done so far, and I’m proud of the work I’m committed to in the future.

Is there anything else you would like to add? 

The city of Blaine is going in a good direction where city council and the citizens are headed in the right way. Even in the face of the pandemic, even in the face of not having Canadians come and spend their money here, Blaine is really bonded together. I want to continue that work.

Council At-Large Position 7

Mike Hill

Mike Hill is a Blaine business owner and helped develop several downtown properties, including the Blaine Starbucks and Bordertown Mexican Grill. For the past decade, Hill has volunteered his time mowing and cleaning up the city.

What issues facing city of Blaine residents are most important to you?

One of the big issues is safety. We have so much protection around here. We have border patrol, CBP, city of Blaine police, and a lot of places don’t have that. 

And growth. I believe the world is coming to us and we’ve been trying to figure out what to do here, and now I think we’ve figured out we need to develop downtown. We have east Blaine going with Maple Ridge and all of that development. I think the council needs to be aware of how they’re going to get hit with growth, and I believe I can help out very well there. 

If elected, how would you address those?

My support is fully behind the police. I’m a “fund the police” guy. Everything starts with safety.

I do a lot of cleaning around the city. That’s another big thing with me, the city needs more than one guy trying to do it. We really need to focus on getting the town spruced up. I’ve been mowing and cleaning and thinking – that’s what I do – I swear I work for the city already. 

Q: What does ideal development in Blaine look like to you? A: It would be getting more people living downtown and getting those east Blaine suburbs built, getting the homes going, just seeing this growth that I’m seeing right now. I’ve seen more growth in the last year than I have my whole life. This is not a 10-year project, this is a 100-year project and whoever does it has to do it right and when I’m right, I mean first class.

What made you run for this position? 

A passion for the town. Blaine’s my team, and I need a coaching position. I think I can help; I’ve already helped. I’ve seen what’s successful and it’s because of the people around me. We’re trying to make Blaine a better place. I’ve been doing this for years, and I’m not going to change because now seems like it’s great timing. 

I don’t know where you’re going to find a guy who eats, sleeps and lives your town and actually has money invested in there.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Win or lose, I’ll still mow the town.

Sukhwant Gill

Sukhwant Gill was appointed to Blaine City Council at the beginning of 2021. Gill has been a business owner in Blaine for over 20 years and was previously employed as a paymaster for a municipal electricity department.

What issues facing city of Blaine residents are most important to you?

Bills going up. They shouldn’t go up because of new construction or development. Second is traffic control in the city of Blaine when the population is growing and we have more businesses downtown and more people are coming to town. I see all of the time on H Street and D Street people drive so fast. We need to talk with the Port of Bellingham and finish the street to [Jorgensen] Pier so people want to go there. 

If you retain your seat, how would you address those?

We need to improve our tourism so more tourists come, spend money and leave, which is good for small businesses, which I promote always. I have addressed it now as a councilmember and in the tourism committee. 

We were doing a street festival, but it got postponed because of the pandemic but myself and [Alex Wenger] were almost ready to bring culture traditions like singing and Punjabi Indian dance to the street festival to attract more people around the area. Once we have more good events, we can draw more people. I did address traffic because I see all of the time how fast people are driving and how many people are getting tickets. 

What made you run for this position?

My goal is to make the town beautiful. We can make it clean. We can have a nice development. We can make it a tourism town. We don’t need to wait years and years to fix things. You can see unfinished sidewalks and unfinished roads. My goal is to support the small business community and development in the town. Blaine is a beautiful town and has opportunities. It’s on the main border. If we made this town beautiful, we’d get more business and tourism. 

What does ideal development in Blaine look like to you?

Development is better than before. Development is welcome, but other people’s bills shouldn’t go up because of development. We need to do development while addressing the issues. If we develop more, how are we handling traffic? How are we handling sewer and electricity? We need to be ready for that. We need to address, at the same time, all of those issues. 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

We should have more parking for people so they don’t get crowded.

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