UPDATE | Voters reject Bainbridge bicycle-improvement levy

Bainbridge Island voters have rejected a $15 million, seven-year levy to pay for roadside improvements for bicyclists and pedestrians.

According to the latest vote tally released by the Kitsap County Elections Division, Proposition 1 was headed toward certain defeat, with 55 percent of voters casting “no” votes against the proposal, and 45 percent in approval.

The vote count stood Wednesday night at 6,676 votes against the measure, and 5,462 votes for it.

“It was way more than just the cost,” said Doug Rauh, a Bainbridge resident who wrote the statement in opposition to Prop. 1 for the county voters’ guide.

“I think people are looking at the broken decision-making process at the city,” he added, and noted that a year ago, city officials said a new police station was their top priority.

“Why are we voting on shoulders to roads when we need to build a police facility?” Rauh asked.

Still, Rauh said there has been other cost concerns, and the steady stream of property tax increases shouldered by Bainbridge property owners, especially for seniors on fixed incomes.

Controversy over the construction of the Sound to Olympic Trail, and the widespread cutting down of trees in the scenic corridor along Highway 305 for the trail — as well as its infamous “Bridge to Nowhere” proposal — were also factors. Rauh used a photo of the clearing for the first leg of the Sound to Olympic Trail as part of his voters’ pamphlet plea against Prop. 1.

“A lot of people are still pissed off that they clear cut 305,” he said.

“That was probably the dumbest decision the city has made.”

Prop. 1, labeled the “Connecting Bainbridge: SAFE Mobility Levy,” needed a simple 50-percent-plus-1 majority to pass.

It called for an increase in property taxes by 28 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, according to a city estimate. For the owner of a $660,000 (the median home value on Bainbridge), their property tax bill was predicted to rise by $185.

While Prop. 1 proponents said the property tax increase would provide a jump start to a long list of non-motorized improvements across the island, from widened shoulders for bikers and walkers as well as new sidewalks in the downtown core, as well as safe routes for children headed to school, opponents blasted Prop. 1 as a costly boondoggle, and noted the ballot measure did not list which projects would actually get built.

Rauh said lack of a project list in the ballot measure of where trails and improvements would be built was a big problem for a city where most people don’t trust city hall to make the right decisions.

Critics of Prop. 1 called the lack of a project list a “‘trust us’ blank check.”

“People are nervous about having a fuzzy goal, and trust us, just write us a check,” he said. “That’s my personal view.”

Prop. 1 was the city’s first attempt at raising property taxes via a public vote since a $15 million bond measure for a new police station fell in a landslide defeat in the November 2015 election.

City officials put much effort into explaining Prop. 1 to voters, with multiple workshops to lay out the details of how the money would be spent. They also held outreach efforts at the Bainbridge farmers market and on multiple ferry sailings to Seattle.

Supporters pointed to a March survey that said 71 percent of those polled said the biking environment on Bainbridge was somewhat or very unsafe. Others noted the levy would get people out of their cars to walk or bike, which would help counter climate change.

But Prop. 1 also prompted a grassroots backlash, online and on the sides of roads across the island (with multiple opponents paying for professionally printed political signs to oppose the measure).

The late disappearance of many of the anti-levy signs just before Election Day was probably also a factor in Prop. 1’s defeat. Rauh recounted how someone told him the thefts had soured their support of the SAFE levy.

“People want a process that’s fair and each side gets to present their arguments and the citizens make their decision on what they want to do,” he said.

It was a theme repeated Tuesday on social media, as Wayne Sundberg, who said he paid for one group of the signs, said he had filed a police report on the thefts. He also said he was offering a $5,000 reward for information that would lead to the arrest and conviction of the person or people who took the “Vote no” signs.

City Councilman Joe Deets, a member of the city’s Multi-Modal Transportation Advisory Committee, said he was eager to hear from the community on the reasons why Prop. 1 was defeated.

“Of course I’m disappointed, but the people have spoken and they voted and we need to acknowledge that vote,” Deets said.

“Frankly, I am wrestling with the why,” he added.

Deets said that during his time promoting Prop. 1, he’d heard positive reaction about the measure. Then came Election Night.

“I’m hearing, please get these things done: trails and bike routes. But the people said, ‘Not this way.’”

And others had expressed concerns over the rising tax burden, Deets recalled, and one islander was worried that the passage of Prop. 1 would breath new life into the dubious “Bridge to Nowhere” trail-link project that city officials tried to get built over Highway 305.

“I had one fellow who said, ‘You’re going to fund the bridge.’ I had to laugh,” he said, recounting his response: “Trust me, that’s not going to happen. The bridge is gone.”

The council itself had expressed some doubt in recent weeks that Prop. 1 would pass. At a recent council meeting, council members briefly touched on the idea to raise vehicle tab fees to help pay for roadside improvements for bicyclists and walkers.

Now, however, Deets is hoping the city hears from residents before laying out a new path.

“How can we move forward and do this in a way that was acceptable?” Deets said. “I’d really like to hear from folks: How would you like to move forward?”

Others agree.

Rauh said he didn’t view the defeat of Prop. 1 as a victory for Bainbridge residents.

“I don’t think of it as win or a loss. We still have to decide what we’re going to do. Where do we go from here?” Rauh asked.