Wolfresigns from council, cites cancer diagnosis

Published on Thu, Aug 16, 2007 by ack Kintner

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Wolf resigns from council, cites cancer diagnosis

By Jack Kintner

The Blaine City Council’s second ward representative Bruce Wolf resigned at the beginning of Monday night’s regular council meeting, citing a desire to spend more time with his family after being diagnosed with prostate cancer two months ago.

“I haven’t lost my energy or my interest,” said Wolf, 66, who was first elected to the council in the fall of 2001 after meeting a newly appointed Blaine City Manager Gary Tomsic, whom Wolf says helped him decide to get involved.

He said that while his cancer has spread somewhat and will require lifelong treatment, he expects to enjoy at least several more years, “but with this I can’t take the time I want for my family and still do justice in representing on the council.”

Wolf said that this was his first try at elective politics. He began to see some real possibilities for Blaine after attending an Association of Washington Cities conference. “We had some things already in place here,” he said, “that compared to other cities and towns gave us some advantages.” We are fortunate to have excellent people in charge of all our departments and they all work together to move our city forward.

Wolf said that under Tomsic’s leadership “We have a good process here for making progress, a good team spirit. And while it’s not perfect yet, I think we’ve built some real momentum. There’s really no silver bullet. All we can do as a city to attract business and manufacturing is to put things in place and then get the word out.”
Blaine cannot, for example, offer tax cuts to businesses as does Bellingham because of a state law that prohibits cities of less than 5,000 from doing that. “But with some cooperation we’ve achieved some remarkable things in just a few years,” Wolf said.

In locating manufacturing plants in town, Wolf said, “We’re doing better than we have in the previous 10 to 20 years. Nature’s Path is expanding.

Totally Chocolate built a new facility and sold their old plant to a Canadian customs processor who was able to consolidate his operations here. Viva Pharmaceuticals is building a facility in the Pipeline Road/Odell Road area of over 100,000 square feet, and another group is moving into the Blaine Business Park. And there’s more.”

The successful funding and initial construction on the new waste water treatment plant is another highlight for Wolf. “That was far and away the biggest capital project we’ve ever attempted here,” he said, “but we really had to have it. Thanks to Gary [Tomsic] and [public works director] Steve [Banham] working together, we got it funded with a combination of low-interest loans and grants that will be good for keeping the rates down as we pay it off.”

He said the controversy over the airport became an exception to Blaine’s normally civil way of handling disagreements. But fellow council member Bonnie Onyon, who was on the opposite side of that issue, still expressed her appreciation, saying that “Bruce is a tremendous booster for the city of Blaine. This is shown in how carefully he thinks through every situation, decision and vote on council. Bruce is a gentleman in the true traditional sense and respects all individuals and opinions. I have a great deal of respect for Bruce and will miss him.”

Downtown development still not what he’d like

Downtown development continues to be less than what Wolf would like, he said. “Some things have helped and will help in the future, like the beautification projects, street end parks, the boardwalk plazas, Marine Drive and the pedestrian overpass that will connect the H Street plaza with the marina.”

A conditional use permit system and a method of deferring development fees in the central business district will also help speed the process for developers. Wolf said he hopes a major developer will come in and take the first step in helping revitalize the central business district with some major projects, “and these are all steps in that direction,” he said, adding that the recent decision by the Washington State Liquor Control Board to insist on locating a new Blaine contract liquor store at the International Mall “was something I just didn’t understand. It should be back downtown.”

Before moving out to the mall in the early 1990s the state’s liquor store was operated out of the Security Mail Services building at 250 H street. The state recently closed their store at the mall and have since refused to allow a Blaine contract store to locate downtown despite as much as $40,000 in increased rent, fees and improvements at the mall location as opposed to downtown where properties have been offered for free for as long as a year.

Wolf said that he has high hopes for a recent council initiative to streamline the development process by assigning development responsibilities to a department staff person who would work alongside a city hearing examiner to review and approve projects, a job currently assigned to the planning commission. Wolf was a strong proponent of the somewhat controversial plan before resigning.

“It will give the ordinary citizen more voice, not less,” he said, “because it will free Terry [Galvin] to develop plans and designs with huge public input in an area where Terry really excels. By the time the reviews take place in front of the planning commission the policies and designs have been set, and all that’s left is enforcement and decisions about conformity. That can be done more efficiently by the hearing examiner along with staff holding the public hearing . Where people need input is earlier in the process, to help set priorities. They should want to design the plan itself, not just oversee the enforcement of someone else’s plan.”

He cited the controversial 20-acre Seagrass condominium development at Semiahmoo as an example of the need for streamlining the development process, “something I have to be careful talking about,” he grinned, “since it’s a sensitive topic.”

Wolf pointed out, however, that regardless of how one feels about Seagrass, the Blaine comprehensive plan is currently two years behind schedule “because that department has really been overloaded.

Working with Seagrass cost Blaine roughly $60,000 in staff time and took a couple of years and lead to an outcome that frustrated many of our citizens. Had a more recent master plan been incorporated into our comprehensive plan the citizens would have had a much better chance of their input being heard, and the changes they wished, implemented.
Planner Tom Black, who was hired away from the city of Ferndale, would be the designated staff person to work with the city’s hearing examiner, Wolf said, “because streamlining the process is critical for downtown development. Let’s put public input on design where it will do the most good, earlier in the process.”

Wolf said that despite stepping down he intends to continue to be involved locally, especially in such projects as putting up The Vigil bronze statue on the H Street Plaza, a drive he spearheaded.

Cancer found two months ago

Wolf said that when his general care physician in Bellingham noted a sharp increase in his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test last spring, cancer was one of the possibilities.

“My results went from a normal of about 1.5 to 37 in just 18 months,” he said, “and then went even higher.” Cancer was found on the prostate and Wolf underwent surgery last month at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where physicians found the cancer had already metastasized. However with lifelong therapy they are still guardedly optimistic.

Wolf grew up the youngest of five on a dairy farm in Oakville, near Aberdeen. “In high school I played football and also played trombone in the marching band. I’d be out there at halftime in my uniform, and the superintendent was the band leader. It was a really small school,” he laughed.

He attended Washington State University and medical school at the University of Washington, interning at Parkland Hospital in Dallas “where the memories of the Kennedy assassination were very fresh.” He served for many years with the Alaska Native Medical Center, in which capacity he visited every native village in the 49th state, often with his wife Sandy along as his field-trained optician.

“There are lots and lots of stories,” he said, “because I took my surgical skills as an ophthalmologist out into the bush.”

One story involved an old Ingalikmiut Eskimo man in his 80s who lived on Little Diomede Island, just a mile from Russia’s Big Diomede Island. He had corneal scaring that was correctable with the right lenses, but despite wearing thick glasses had never had the right prescription. “He could only see about an inch,” Wolf said, “but when Sandy and I fitted him with lenses he could see nearly 20-20. It was something to watch him really look at his family for the first time in his life.”

The Wolfs have lived in Blaine for 13 years, the first five of which Wolf commuted from Blaine to his ophthalmology practice in Fairbanks, Alaska. He retired in 1999. They have four daughters, Irene, Kelli, Robin and Amy, and nine grandchildren. “The kids and grandkids are the primary reason I stepped down,” said Wolf, “and to do some more traveling, something Sandy and I really love.”