From trees to taxes to the Bridge to Nowhere, islanders put six candidates for city council under the microscope this week during the largest public forum on Bainbridge before the November election.
The forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Kitsap, drew a capacity crowd to city hall.
Six candidates took turns fielding questions — there were 17 in all — on topics ranging from their resumes to their residence.
Of the half dozen hopefuls, only one is an incumbent. Councilman Wayne Roth is running to retain his Central Ward seat against a challenge from political newcomer Rasham Nassar.
In the South Ward, Ted Jones and Matthew Tirman hope to fill the District 3 seat now held by Councilman Roger Townsend.
And in the North Ward, Joe Deets and Kevin Fetterly are running for the District 7 position.
The overflow audience was a bit of a surprise to some, with some latecomers left to peek into council chambers over the shoulders of others standing outside in the lobby at city hall.
“Last time we had this many people in the chamber, the council was talking about off-leash dogs,” Roth observed, to much laughter.
Indeed, much of the forum that followed was a cordial affair, marked by an absence of political cheap shots, finger pointing or roundhouse blows.
There were laughs during answers to the first question, a surprising query that pointedly asked if every candidate actually lived in the district they hoped to represent.
“I thought it was a requirement,” Nassar said, prompting chuckles with her “yes and” answer.
It was an agreeable evening on most accounts; the candidates often shared similar answers on most of the night’s questions.
When asked about the city’s new public safety building, candidates said the municipal court should not be removed from the proposed project. Several noted that the municipal court in Rolling Bay is in a rented facility.
“The lease on the court facility will be expiring in the near future and there might not be an option for renewal,” Nassar said.
“I would support co-locating. I think it’s a cost effective solution,” she said.
Roth agreed, and said that while the current location for the police station on Winslow Way is still being considered for the new facility, land near Highway 305 and Madison Avenue is also under consideration.
Other candidates questioned the cost of the new building, expected to surpass $28 million, and said they’d be looking at making changes to keep costs down.
The lack of affordable housing on the island, and development in general on Bainbridge Island, were other issues of common concern.
Nassar said she was tired of seeing clear-cuts and “McMansions” on the island.
Roth recalled the adoption of the city’s updated comprehensive plan and said it will provide some solutions to development issues, and, like others, he pointed to the city’s new task force on affordable housing as a hopeful step in finding solutions for the high cost of homes on Bainbridge.
Deets noted the average home price of $700,000 was not affordable to many.
“People are being priced off this island. It’s a crisis,” Deets said.
Fetterly, his opponent, noted the population growth forecast for the island in its new comp plan, and the consumptive spread of McMansions on 1-acre lots.
“It’s got to stop,” he said.
Developers should be required to include affordable housing in their projects, Fetterly said, but added that demand for island homes from those who work in Seattle would continue to climb thanks to Amazon and others.
“The city can only nibble around the edges,” he said.
One topic that did find a difference of opinion — but not much — was the proposed pedestrian-bike bridge over Highway 305.
Tirman, a South Ward candidate, said he would work to end the “Bridge to Nowhere.”
“I don’t think it’s a wise use of our non-motorized funds,” Tirman said.
“I can see putting this design on the shelf,” added Jones, the other candidate for the South Ward.
“The bridge needs to be stopped,” Fetterly agreed. “People aren’t going to use it.
Roth, who has voted repeatedly for the proposed project in recent years, downplayed his support for the bridge by saying the city was only in the design process.
He said he was baffled by a recent council vote to kill the project, but also stressed the council will have a chance to walk away from the bridge once the 30-percent design work is completed by the city’s consultant.
The cordiality of the forum continued through closing statements at the end, when Roth thanked all of those who were running for office.
“People have to step forward and take the plunge. And it’s not easy,” he said.
“You guys have a pretty amazing choice of candidates,” Tirman told the crowd, and recalled years where some races had just one candidate.
And there’s no lack of interest from the public, either, this election cycle, Deets noted.
“Democracy is alive and well on Bainbridge Island,” Deets said.