The Bainbridge City Council approved the former Harrison Medical Center building for a new police-court facility Tuesday, but not without opposition.
The city anticipates awarding a construction contract in April with completion in 2023. Project cost is estimated at $20.4 million.
Seven members of Kitsap’s Equity Race and Community Engagement coalition shared a public statement against it.
And, a complaint was filed with the state auditor asking for the project to pause or be stopped. It says, “Citizens need the state’s help to verify the claims, stop the Harrison project at 8804 Madison Ave. pending honest valuation of alternatives, correct the record and hold those responsible for malfeasance accountable.”
The complaint alleges, in part:
•Council was misled, believing Harrison was less expensive than other options.
•Open meetings and conflict of interest violations by then-mayor Kol Medina in meeting behind the scenes with Harrison.
•Gift of public funds, as city gave all the new medical and office equipment away without public input or disclosure. Also, paying $6 million too much for building. And, getting $8 million in tax-exempt bonds to buy Harrison when city had the money.
Also, a tort claim was filed by an organization called Bainbridge Taxpayers Unite. It alleges bribery, fraud and misrepresentation. The claimant is not seeking damages of $9 million – only contractual restitution.
It criticizes Medina and city attorney Joe Levan for not investigating the complaints. It says the city presented another option, the Yaquina project, in a false light. It claims former city manager Morgan Smith and her staff hid facts from the public.
Even though that evidence was presented, “The demands have been ignored, even though rescinding the transactions could save Bainbridge Island residents many millions of dollars…Every dollar spent on this illegal albatross is a dollar coming out of Bainbridge residents’ pockets…”
Councilmember Michael Pollock recused himself from the discussion because in the past he has supported complaints made in the two legal actions.
Pollock said later in the week in a phone interview that he was disappointed the council didn’t even look at the other options for a police-court site. It also didn’t want to look into alleged improprieties regarding the Harrison purchase. He said a council that isn’t skeptical of information isn’t representing residents very well.
“It’s a rubber-stamp council. They didn’t debate it. It’s like damn the numbers and full speed ahead,” Pollock said.
He added even if Harrison ends up being the site he hopes there is an independent investigation, preferably by the state attorney general, to make sure there’s been no wrongdoing.
“Anyone who thinks it can’t happen on Bainbridge Island has blinders on,” Pollock said. “They just want to sweep it under the rug.”
He’s also upset that the public has basically been shut out of the process since it soundly defeated a ballot measure on the police station years ago. He said public participation can add insight in making better decisions. Pollock said the council fakes public participation, not incorporating their ideas to make decisions.
Meanwhile, Tuesday, Olivia Hall started ERACE’s public comments by saying no equity analysis was done, and there was a lack of community engagement. She also urged a stop in the dramatic increase of the police department. Increased space for police, such as at Harrison, often follows with more personnel, it was said later.
Karen Vargas asked that the city look at how funding is spent, urging more for housing and health to make things more equitable.
Other members said social service-type workers should not be housed in the same building as police, which is planned at Harrison, because many who need that type of help fear police. And, an increase in police does not mean safety to many people.
Wendy Jones emphasized the lack of public input, especially since a $15 million bond was soundly defeated at the polls a few years ago for the police-court effort.
Another member says BI claims to support equity, but without professional oversight on that issue it is turning its back on the community.
Marsha Cutting challenged the council to think of its legacy. Does it want to be known as a group that thinks equity is “too hard, too expensive, too burdensome?” She asked them to require an equity analysis to provide a “just, equitable path.”
Another public commenter, Brian Anderson, provided the only call in support of a decision. He said the island is desperate for another large medical facility, but since that doesn’t look like it’s happening Harrison should be used for a police-court facility. It’s larger than what’s needed now, but that space could be needed in the future, he said.
The council looked at initiating a feasibility study on either the current police property or one at the Suzuki property, or advertising bids for the former Harrison building.
A city memo says the facilities are inadequate and have been for more than 20 years.
Police station security problems include: unsecured parking; single-pane windows; open offices near entrance area; lack of alarms; unsecured lobby; no privacy in interview rooms; shared restrooms; and not earthquake-proof.
Other issues: records archive room damaged by sewage leak; no locker room; unsecured communication and electrical lines; overloaded electrical circuits; lack of access for disabled; and lack of storage.
Also, additional space is needed for future needs with new staff for behavioral health, psychologists and social workers.
The courthouse was constructed as a mini-warehouse, and a portion was converted in an “interim” move 30 years ago. It was remodeled in 1999 and 2015. Parking is shared with other businesses, and it’s 3.5 miles from City Hall and about the same distance to the police station.
Courthouse limitations: It holds 20 spectators, while it should hold 45; not enough parking for jury selection especially; lacks professional furniture and fixtures; poor acoustics; lacks privacy between rooms, including restrooms; lacks storage lockers for weapons; and lacks x-ray machines and other security.
In 2000, BI acquired the Suzuki property at Sportsman Club and New Brooklyn roads for a police-court facility. It was later determined that the site was not suitable. The current police site, and others, were looked at after that. In 2019, the Harrison building was purchased for $8.975 million. About $11 million in all has been spent over the years.
Existing site: At 625 Winslow Way E., was built as a fire station in 1958. Pros of the site include good visibility, access to Highway 305 and ferry, limited neighborhood concerns and limited environmental impact. Cons include most expensive at $26.9 million and where to put police over four years of construction.
Suzuki: Pros include mid-range cost at $21 million and large parcel for design options. Cons include tree removal, limited accessibility and traffic impacts. It would take three years to construct.
Harrison: Pros include lowest cost at $9.5 million and much of the work already has been done. Cons include design constrained by existing building and proximity to church and senior care center. Another problem is the city already owes $9.162 million on tax-exempt bonds it approved without a public vote for the purchase. It can run into problems if the building is not used for governmental agencies. It would take 1½ years to construct.
In a related manner, city manager Blair King asked councilmembers if they want an outside party to evaluate the purchase price on Harrison. At the time the building was purchased, appraisals varied from around $7 million to almost $10 million. Critics have said the city spent too much. About $3,000 would need to be approved by council, King’s memo says.
Councilmember Clarence Moriwaki said it would just be a distraction and waste of money.
But Councilmember Kirsten Hytopolous said the information would address some of the concerns of critics. “We probably overpaid but we don’t need to do an analysis to know that,” she said, adding they’re not trying to hide anything.
Councilmember Brenda Fantroy-Johnson said while there is no turning back they can learn from their mistakes so it doesn’t happen again.
Mayor Joe Deets, who actually voted against the Harrison purchase years ago, agreed it’s a valuable learning opportunity.
In other news
The council approved an addition to the city’s two-dozen pieces of art around BI.
A public art donation for Waterfront Sculpture Park was made in honor of Anne Smart, former executive director of Arts and Humanities who helped BI become a certified creative district. It is for a sitting area and art bench.
The council also accepted donation of a Caldwell Banker Bain Memorial Bench at the end of Madison Avenue.
A public hearing was set for Feb. 22 for Phase 3 of the Grow Community subdivision. Developers want to change that phase from 18 multi-family and four single-family homes to just 14 single-family homes.
During public comments, Jim Halbrook said people are having to move off BI because of rising taxes. The people are those the city claims it is desperate to help. Those folks also don’t appreciate being called NIMBY’s. “They’re just trying to get by,” he said.
Mark Shriver said he is against Puget Sound Energy’s “Missing Link” project. He urged the city not to give PSE a waiver. He said the project would increase rates, run a high-voltage line by schools and disturb wetlands. He added it would not reduce outages because they are caused by trees on distribution lines.
Finally, the council OK’d King to write a letter to the state legislature against a bill that is a “real threat to take away (new) single-family homes” on the island, Hytopolous said. Since it’s a short session it needs to be done quickly.
It reportedly has been done in Oregon and California.
Fantroy-Johnson said she understands the effort because the state wants more housing. “But we need both,” she said. “To cut it off would not be right.”
Councilmember Leslie Schneider said she understands the need in urban areas, but BI needs to “protect our rural areas.”
Deets said while well-intentioned it’s not a one-size-fits-all for every circumstance. BI has little water, and overdevelopment could destroy the environment.
King said while it addresses housing shortages and broader inclusion, it is an intrusion on local land-use control for cities. And it doesn’t even address affordable housing. It should be for cities that wish to grow, and they should be encouraged through incentives rather than punitive measures, he added.