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2004: The buzz kicked in slowly

Local tax issues were a tough sell, in a relatively calm first six months.

You know it’s going to be a weird year when you can’t find a decent cup of coffee from here to Seattle.

But that was how the year began – quite literally – as the ferry galleys shut down and riders found themselves bereft of acceptable java and other goodies for the 35-minute trip to the city. They somehow endured; meanwhile, around City Hall, things were positively decaffeinated after two years of strife vanished with the ascension of a new council.

But then, as the American presidential election drew near, the island community got swept along in a buzz of national scope. This was 2004:

January

As the new year dawns, the sun sets on galley service on Washington State Ferries. The kitchens are shuttered after concessionaire Sodexho pulls out, citing unprofitability. Riders who don’t plan ahead are reduced to drinking bad coffee from vending machines, or – shudder – going without.

The City Council reconvenes with three new members; after a tumultuous two years preceding, the swearing-in proves to be the second to last time the council makes the news for anything not related to policy making in 2004.

Bainbridge Island wakes up to five inches of snow on a Tuesday, and at least that much slush on a Wednesday.

The Housing Resources Board fetes the opening of Janet West Home, a new subsidized project on Knechtel Way named for the late former mayor and Helpline volunteer.

A Country Club Road woman perishes when she accidentally drives her car into Blakely Harbor.

The fire board announces plans to ask voters for a 20 percent tax hike in May, with the money to fund new trucks and apparatus. The proposal soon comes under fire from several former fire officials, who say the hike is too much.

Bainbridge Performing Arts announces plans to expand the Playhouse. A prefabricated rehearsal space is planned behind the Madison Avenue building.

Thanks to $10,000 in city funding, Waterfront Park becomes the subject of yet another study by a consultant; the previous master plan, drafted in 1997, was never put into effect and is deemed outdated. Among the needs is a new restroom, to replace the dilapidated facility torn down two years earlier and replaced with unpopular port-a-loos.

Citing low ridership, Kitsap Transit announces plans to cut midday bus service around Winslow.

Popular administrator Brent Peterson is named principal at Bainbridge High School, succeeding Dave Ellick, who took a post in California. School board members describe him as “a perfect fit” for the school; for a change, everyone seems to agree.

The island’s growing pains are manifest on Grow Avenue, where residents call public attention to traffic and parking problems. One neighbor calls the corridor “a freeway to Town & Country.” The street is eventually tabbed for a study of non-motorized, parking and other improvements.

The U.S. Senate approves a $2 million federal appropriation for acquisition of the former Wyckoff property on Bill Point. The 50-acre parcel is sought for a public park and Japanese American internment memorial. Fund-raising continues, to meet the $8 million asking price.

February

A two-year, $5.709 million park operations levy fails to earn the 60 percent needed for approval, casting the district’s future in doubt. New director Terry Lande challenges the park board and community to consider a switch to “metropolitan” park status, to establish stable tax funding.

Undeterred, volunteers begin a private fund drive to renovate the historic transmitter building at Battle Point Park. Long used as a dump for park district junk, the building is eyed as a gymnastics center to meet the need of growing youth programs.

The Bainbridge Public Schools Trust launches a $200,000 drive to supplement local school tax funding. Bainbridge ranks near the bottom – 272nd out of 296 districts statewide – in per-pupil funding, organizers say.

The 1908 schoolhouse that houses the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum is towed from Strawberry Hill to Winslow, where the museum will put down new roots. The building makes it through the Madison Avenue roundabout with relative ease.

The year-long shake-up in the city administration continues, as long-time finance director Ralph Eells is demoted to budget manager. Meanwhile, the selection process for a new police chief drags on.

Furry Tale Farms, a Lovgreen Road facility that takes in unwanted pets and farm animals, says it will shut its barn doors unless new funding is found.

March

The fire board decides the district can get by with a 10 percent tax hike, rather than the 20 percent hike first proposed. Campaign efforts to promote the May levy get under way.

The Spartan girls basketball team falters late in the state tournament in Tacoma, then rallies in its final game to claim fourth place with a 62-48 win over Squalicum.

Residents of Winslow’s Islander Mobile Home Park get bad news, when state financing to keep the park in place for a decade appears in jeopardy. The news sets off a months-long effort by residents to cobble together funds to buy the park themselves.

Citing heavy traffic, owners of several private commercial properties on Hildebrand Lane close off the popular but illegal shortcut connecting that street with Ericksen Avenue. Some citizens renew calls for a formal road connection there, while others oppose the idea; council inaction perpetuates a deadlock that has existed for well over a decade.

Ground is broken on the Japanese American internment memorial at the Taylor Avenue road end. Sixty-two years earlier, several hundred islanders of Japanese descent departed from a ferry dock at that site, bound for wartime relocation camps in California.

April

The city administration unveils “Winslow Tomorrow,” a downtown planning process centered around a Community Congress of citizens some 100 strong. The initiative picks up where downtown property owners left off, in proposing parking, traffic and pedestrian enhancements needed to keep the retail core vital.

School officials begin to discuss a construction bond levy for facilities upgrades around district campuses. A $32 million bond is bandied about, but the actual figure soon becomes a moving target.

Washington State Ferries begins an extensive remodel of Seattle’s Colman Dock. The plans will create an airport-like concourse with eateries and shops. Onboard the ferries, coffee still comes from a machine. Although new vendors are selected, the concessionaire selected for the Bainbridge-Seattle run fails to come to terms with the union.

A bicyclist is run down from behind on the highway by a motorist who veers onto the shoulder while talking on a cell phone. It is one of several car-vs.-bike incidents that create a groundswell of support for non-motorized transportation improvements and more enforcement.

American Marine Bank welcomes customers to its new building on Winslow, replacing the 1948-vintage structure on the same spot. For the first time in years, the street-level entrance is really at street level.

Tensions flare up on Lytle Road, where neighbors say too many islanders descend on the public road end and its sunny beach. Neighbors rope off a corridor for public access, but that causes a rift with others who share the same beach rights. More neighborhood meetings are promised.

May

After months in limbo, interim chief Matt Haney is confirmed by the City Council as the new head of Bainbridge Police. Soon thereafter, Mary Jo Briggs is selected as the city’s new administrator. A generous severance package is negotiated, to keep Briggs free and independent of political meddling by elected officials.

Merchants collect more than 400 signatures on a petition calling for an Ericksen/Hildebrand connection. Nothing happens.

A nighttime burglary is reported at the public library; someone breaks into the building, smashes an artwork and steals small-change donations to the facility.

Island voters say “No” to the fire department’s 10 percent tax hike proposal. It marks the first levy in more than a decade to earn less that 50 percent support at the polls. “It failed on its merits,” says a former fire official, one of several who campaigned against the measure.

For reviving a Madison Avenue health club shamed by scandal under the previous ownership, Alexa and Mike Rosenthal are named Bainbridge Island’s Business Couple of the Year.

Upset with the slow pace of cleanup of road spoils at the Head of the Bay, a neighbor sues the city to spur things along. Meanwhile, the city makes plans to relocate the facility to Vincent Road.

The Spartan girls water polo team edges Curtis to claim their first state title in seven years. Days later, the BHS girls lacrosse team hoists the state championship trophy at Seahawks Stadium, hammering Mercer Island 16-6 to claim the title.

The city buys the 49-acre Peters property next to Gazzam Lake, the second significant woodland purchase in recent months. Coupled with other properties, the deal creates a sprawling public forest some 430 acres in size.

“Closed to Rethink Our Concept”: Owners of the struggling Colagreco Deli announce that they have purchased a Subway franchise, and will reopen under that corporate banner at their Winslow Mall storefront. It marks the first-ever chain eatery in Winslow’s downtown core.

June

Bainbridge Police hire a new cop who’s willing to work for kibbles. A chocolate Lab named Rusty becomes the department’s first-ever K9 officer; his ability to sniff out drugs soon makes him popular with officers at traffic stops, somewhat less so with suspect motorists.

Smiling graduates 333 strong exit Bainbridge High School for the real world in commencement exercises on the school grounds. Don’t just rock – rock on, Superintendent Ken Crawford tells them.

A survey of other jurisdictions suggests that City of Bainbridge Island department heads are underpaid compared to their peers in like-sized cities. The council fixes that.

The left hand dislikes what the right hand is doing, and liberal islanders organize Wake Up Kitsap, a series of events promoting the cause of peace. The war in Iraq goes on unabated.

Bainbridge Police statistics show that traffic citations are up, but so are accidents on local roadways. Bike advocates meet with city officials to push for more enforcement.

Where were all these people in February? Just four months after apathy doomed a park operations levy to failure, more than 3,300 island voters sign petitions to change the park district to “metropolitan” status and establish regular tax funding. The petition guarantees that the issue will go before voters in September.

Numerous residents call police and state wildlife agencies to report a hungry bear ambling around the island. Like many island pedestrians, the bear is nearly struck by a car on Crystal Springs. When berry season ends, the bear moves on to points unknown.

The All-Comers track meets mark their 10th year with a series of informal, highly popular events on the high school track throughout the summer.

Washington State Ferries announces plans to tighten security around the Winslow terminal. The plans cause friction with pedestrian-access advocates, who have lobbied for years to see a walkway constructed over the terminal holding area – plans that WSF now says would compromise security.

Sandy Fischer is selected to head the Winslow Tomorrow planning effort. The island newcomer brings considerable experience in guiding urban planning and redevelopment projects.

The Rotary Auction does the impossible once again – it gets even bigger, bringing in $297,000 in one-day sales of donated odds and ends on the Woodward School grounds.

Michael Moore’s iconoclastic “Fahrenheit 911” breaks box office records at the Lynwood Theatre, drawing consistent crowds during a weeks-long run, and presaging what will become a heated election season.

Wednesday: 2004, Part 2

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