BI looks to get more involved at state level

It’s hard to believe but Bainbridge Island has never made a list of legislative priorities before.

Many cities make them to lobby at the state level for bills they support.

BI decided to do it after the Green Building Task Force came up with some recommendations that weren’t allowed by the state. The city decided a priorty list might help them change some state laws.

City manager Blair King and staff came up with a list to help guide the council and staff. It included seven basic areas: Local government finance, general government, public protection, transportation and public works, resources and environment, housing and recreation.

Of course councilmembers wanted projects they support added to the list: Leslie Schneider, sustainable transportation; Kirsten Hytopolous, green building; Brenda Fantroy-Johnson, equity, health, safety; Clarence Moriwaki, gun safety; Jon Quitslund, affordable housing; Michael Pollock, climate change; and new Mayor Joe Deets, utilities.

But in the end, the council decided the list should be smaller, not bigger, if it wanted to make an impact this session, which has already started and is a short one.

“There are a lot of wonderful ways this list could be used,” Schneider said, but wondered if it really would get attention for BI in Olympia.

Moriwaki, who has experience in state and federal government, said it wouldn’t be practical to look at all legislation to see how it affects BI. But he said the city could join with others already leading the charge whose values align with Bainbridge. He suggested working with the Association of Washington Cities, whose job it is to advocate for such things.

King agreed. He said he wasn’t trying to get the city to hire a lobbyist. But a legislative list shows where the city stands on issues and can be helpful when the AWC does lobby. Without it, “We are behind the curve,” he said. “It’s important that we’ve thought about this before it comes up.”

New Deputy Mayor Fantroy-Johnson said, “We needed to have something…make sure we’re watching.”

While it wasn’t called a legislative list, the council did set priorities last year. Deets said the new list should be compared to that one to look for legislation that matches. The previous list mentioned climate, work, housing, groundwater, land use, wastewater treatment, etc.

Schneider said she’d love for BI to make a difference this session so the list needs to be focused.

King said he and staff would reorganize the list so it’s “closer to the priorities council had previously.”

Eagle Harbor Drive

Also, the council increased funding from $230,000 to $403,000 for a nonmotorized transportation project on Eagle Harbor Drive, even though some public commenters complained about how bad the plan is.

Frank Renna said the design has major safety issues. While it might work on a straight road, this one is curved and hilly, he said. He added the city’s Public Works department obviously can’t handle the project so a competent designer who will talk to people who use the road should be hired.

Julie Bennett said she is thrilled about a bike path finally after 20 years, but this plan is an “unmitigated disaster.” Water runoff is a huge concern so pavement from shoulder to shoulder is the only plan that would work, she said.

King said the city understands the problems, and that’s why more funds are needed.

Work would improve drainage, add landscaping, provide fencing, add gravel or pavement in some areas, and add striping for vehicle and bike lanes. Work could begin late this month. Staff is working on a standard design for the future that would require more physically and vertically separated bike lanes.

Public Works director Chris Wierzbicki said some areas are wider than others, so in those places plants separating the road from the bike path are envisioned. In other areas it might just be a wider stripe separating the two.

Schneider said this is the first project with the city trying something new to encourage more people to bicycle. It requires innovation and sometimes specfic things don’t work out, she said, adding separation can’t just be stripes on roads. “Adding more pavement usually isn’t going to be the solution,” Schneider said. “Cars just think they can go faster.”

Planning Commission

The council also took a lot of time discussing a potential change to choosing planning commissioners. It was ultimately rejected by the council.

King said to be more transparent, the council should select planning commissioners. “You’re in charge. The planning commission works for you,” he said.

Fantroy-Johnson supported the plan. “We’re always talking about trying something new. But when something new comes you don’t want to do something new,” she said.

Fantroy-Johnson said the city has allowed the planning commission to become very powerful. “They work for us. We should interview them.” She also said the council has short memories because not long ago it had issues with this commission. “We don’t remember the controversies we had before,” she said.

Some on the council said a more-open process might scare away some candidates. Hytopolous and Deets both said some commissioners now told them they would not have applied under this new suggested process.

“If we’re afraid that might scare people away, maybe those aren’t the kind of people we want on there in the first place,” Fantroy-Johnson said.

But Deets spoke for the majority. “I don’t see a problem that needs to be fixed here,” he said. “We really need our volunteers. We don’t want to make anything worse for them.”

Hytopolous said she trusts the system. Some applicants “don’t want to come forward and be a spectacle.”

Schneider said the new process would make things more political. “This is going too far.”

Moriwaki wondered why do it with the planning commission and not others. “It’s the fairness thing I have a problem with.” He said the public ranking of applicants “could be a really intimidating factor. The public knows I’m not wanted.”

As for other options, Moriwaki said when he was on the Tukwila City Council, it would interview finalists for openings.

Quitslund, who recently was on the Planning Commission, said the council could, and likely should, be more involved in the appointment process, even making recommendations from applications.

Two planning commissioners spoke during public comments.

Bill Chester said the process has worked well. It is a broad group from different walks of life, he said. He added the new process could limit applicants, and: “We do not want to do that. We try our best to give you unbiased recommendations.”

Bob Russell said the community already is polarized and that the suggested change is politicized and would “add bureaucracy to the entire process.”

Public comments

Two participants asked the city to take a stand against the proposed Puget Sound Energy “Missing Link” project.

Jill Anderson and Mark Kress both said their plan is the same one suggested in 1995.

“They rehashed a 20-year-old solution that’s been rejected twice” by Bainbridge Islanders, Kress said.

Anderson said, “We need to demand more from them.”

She said PSE already has made changes to reduce power outages. They would be reduced even more with upgrades on the rest of the system, she added.

Kress agreed. “Why not start with existing infrastructure and technology?”

Both said PSE has not proved that the “Missing Link” plan would improve reliability.

Kress said it’s obvious why PSE wants the project – it is a for-profit business, while many other utilities in the state are not. He suggested improving “failing equipment beyond its service life” rather than taking on a new massive project.