Different levels of government touch everything — from which streets get bike lanes to the quality of the water from your faucet. It’s hard even for someone working in policy full-time to grasp all the interactions in how cities, counties, and others operate. But through our years of working with community members and government agencies to protect drinking water, support clean energy, and more, we’ve learned a couple key things about making a tangible difference in the place you live:
- Government officials are people, too. Reaching out to them and having your voice heard is a vital way to turn ideas and observations into improvements in your community.
- Perhaps most importantly, local action is where people make real gains and lead the way for other cities and regions to follow. Local governments are both more accessible and more influential than many realize. It’s not all about fixing potholes and parking tickets.
With this in mind, RE Sources has identified seven important policies that, with some public support, the City of Bellingham, Whatcom County, and other agencies can tackle this year — from keeping drinking water clean to how much plastic the City of Bellingham uses. For the first time, we’ve launched a proactive policy agenda for our local governments in Whatcom County, known as Policy Vision 2020. For the last few years we’ve helped connect people with priority bills in the state legislature, with much success and community engagement.
However, we saw something was missing to connect the dots for important local policy changes.
There is so much local government can do to protect and restore our drinking water, recover salmon, champion renewable energy capacity, and preserve the forests and shorelines we all depend on. Local governments have the ability to determine how and where we can build, as well as plan for growth — because local governments are in charge of actually applying state laws like the Growth Management Act that defer to local knowledge and concerns which only people living here can understand best.
Many local governments around the state and Pacific Northwest look to the progress in Whatcom County for modeling their own policies. We see this happening in Tacoma, with their effort to limit the impacts of fossil fuel expansions as modeled from the work Whatcom County has been doing on Cherry Point. We also saw this with plastic bag ordinances, as the City of Bellingham was one of the first cities in the state to implement such a policy in 2011 (behind Edmonds and Seattle) and now it’s state law! Local action also provides support for statewide policy changes. We can lead by example!
Policy Vision 2020 will be updated regularly with upcoming actions and ways to be involved as Whatcom County governments transition from COVID-19 response to recovery. Now is the best time to work toward a just, green recovery in our region. And it all starts with some emails and phone calls advocating for change that matters to you.
Image by Buff Black