Constructive debate over Housing Action Plan

Public input key to discussion in hiring consultants

Housing is one of the issues that gets people fired up on Bainbridge Island.

So it’s no surprise that the City Council got fired up talking about it Tuesday.

Most of the fireworks had to do with making sure the public is involved in creating a Housing Action Plan. In the end, the city decided to hire a team of five consultants, but make sure there is public input early in the process.

“Getting public buy-in is crucial,” Mayor Joe Deets said.

Councilmember Michael Pollock added, “We need assurance that public concerns are being addressed.”

Councilmember Jon Quitslund said community leaders need to be involved, such as the chamber director, the schools, etc. “There should be key roles for these community members in the shaping of … community engagement,” he said.

Senior planner Jennifer Sutton suggested an ad hoc committee. Most of the council seemed to agree.

Deputy mayor Brenda Fantroy-Johnson said while not everyone could be on that committee, “Some voices need to be” part of the process.

Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos said she would lobby to be on such a committee. She wants to make sure the consultants dig in and get traction on affordable housing density. “If we don’t get into that, and people aren’t heard to get buy-in, then it’s a waste of our time.”

Pollock added: “We need to use this opportunity to build support for affordable housing,” but it won’t be easy because so many people “don’t want growth.”

Hytopoulos said it’s going to take creative solutions, and she doesn’t see that on the consultant team that was hired. “Where is the new innovative voice going to come from? That’s what troubles me,” she said..

Some on the council were concerned that the consultants wouldn’t get it right because most aren’t local and don’t know the “values” of people on the island. Others were concerned a local architect is part of that group, and therefore it could look like favoritism.

Hytopoulos said of the consultants, “I’m sorry but I’m disappointed in the makeup.”

Pollock liked the idea of hiring outside of BI and was concerned about a local architectural firm being among those hired. He said the public could say it’s unfair and question its objectivity and if it would “advocate for a competitive edge. I’m uncomfortable with it. We don’t have a very good firewall.”

Some councilmembers seemed concerned that a decision wouldn’t be made that night because of so many objections.

Clarence Moriwaki said when he recently ran for office he was told the council delays decisions too much. “We need to get the Housing Action Plan off the ground.”

Fantroy-Johnson agreed. “We have chewed on this for quite a while. We need to get something in place.”

But Pollock said he doesn’t want the council to just “rubber stamp” everything. He said if they always think they have to move forward they’re not providing a “service to the community. We need something consistent with our values that the community can get behind.”

In the end, all the councilmembers approved the hiring.

In summary, city manager Blair King said they will work together on the players they want involved; they will search for new and innovative ideas; they want broad and aggressive community engagement; and the final product needs to have specifics on affordable housing.

“This is an important test,” Deets said. “It’s one of the highest priorities of the year.”

BI Ride

Sanjay Bhatt, marketing and public information director, gave a presentation on BI Ride, a pilot Kitsap Transit project that will last until the end of the year.

Deets is a fan. His family has three drivers, but one car. “I use it to get to Winslow,” he said, adding it picks you up where you want and takes you where you want to go. “Check it out. It gets us out of our single-use vehicles.”

Bhatt said BI Ride was launched last summer and was busy at first, especially on weekends. “The dip was not surprising,” she said. “It’s very seasonal.” For tourists, the most-popular spots are the ferry terminal and Bloedel Reserve. Locals like to go to schools, grocery stores, the library and on errands. People who work from home and no longer commute “look for ways to get out of the house and do something new, especially with gas prices so high,” Bhatt said.

A survey of 500 people regarding travel patterns shows people still have anxiety about riding due to COVID-19, poor wireless service makes it hard to use, and there are a shortage of bus drivers not only locally, but nationwide. Bhatt said they want to get rid of barriers so there can be more usage. Also, lack of service hours were fixed, hubs have been set up around the island, and wait times have been reduced.

Planning commission

Ariel Birtley and Benjamin Deines were appointed to the commission.

Responding to complaints, Fantroy-Johnson said critics say the panel is weighted heavily in favor of development. “We can only put the people on the commission who actually apply.” But she said that’s something the council needs to think of in naming people to all of its boards. “They need to be representative of all the community. “

Quitslund, who was on the commission for nine years before quitting to run for City Council, said critics often misunderstand how work gets done. “We need to eliminate prejudice and misunderstanding…”

Other news

The council authorized a construction contract for $1.115 for improvements at the intersection of Sportsman Club and New Brooklyn.

It also put out bids for improvements at the BI Senior Community Center to include heat pump and roof replacement, security and electrical upgrades, reconfiguring the entry and expanding the thrift store.

It also passed a budget amendment for more work on the Eagle Harbor Drive Non-Motorized Project. The original plan of 5-foot paved shoulders on both sides was changed to separated paths on both sides at a cost of $2.5 million more.

Also, the council agreed to discuss at a future meeting forming a joint subcommittee with Poulsbo to talk about overlapping issues.

Public comment

Both comments dealt with the police-court facility.

Jim Halbrook said city attorney Joe Levan was aware of former mayor Kol Medina’s conflict of interest that he failed to disclose regarding the purchase of the Harrison Medical Center for a police station. “What action is the council going to take?” he asked, adding two years ago he called it an abuse of the public trust. “It’s corruption of democracy,” he said, adding the planning commission is made up of developers not the general public. Halbrook said the two new planning commissioners and five of the seven in office are tied to development. “Conflict of interest permeates all of city government.”

Cindy Anderson suggested the city start a Civilian Oversight Committee to look at the police station-courthouse project. She asked, “How would we ever know” if anything was wrong with the purchase of the Harrison Medical Center? “It can’t be swept under the rug.”