New Council Has Much To Prove | Guest Viewpoint

The Review’s editor has served our community well by running a long news article (Page A9 of the Dec. 20 issue) reporting on the prepared remarks that Councilmember Sarah Blossom delivered to her colleagues at the end of her eight years on the council. The headline accurately describes her valedictory address as an “explosive and emotional plea.”

I found it worthwhile to cue up the video recording of this part of the Dec. 10 council meeting from the COBI website, and I would encourage others to do the same. Sarah begins speaking at the 30-minute mark; Councilman Ron Peltier follows her, and together they take about 30 minutes before the break for cake.

Sarah Blossom speaks with uncharacteristic eloquence about the importance of overcoming resistance and delays, acting upon the affordable housing goals and policies laid out in our comprehensive plan. Having been actively involved in working on affordable housing policies for several years in addition to her two terms on the council, Sarah is entitled to be frustrated, and to be very concerned that in 2020, the council will go ahead with the current affordable housing strategy, which she said “has three elements: delay, delay, and delay.”

As I read the Review’s account, I put myself in Sarah’s position, and I thought forward to June in 2021, when I will come to the end of three three-year terms on the planning commission. Where will the city be then, in our efforts to manage the unmanageable? I hope I won’t be urged by my conscience to express frustration with my colleagues, or with the larger apparatus of policy-making and planning that includes the council and the Department of Planning and Community Development.

More specifically, I hope I won’t be talking about the progress made in environmental stewardship, green building, low impact development, multi-modal transportation networks, climate change adaptation, cultural facilities, economic development, and shoreline protection, only to end on a melancholy note, regretting that the costs of building and the costs of buying any real estate have continued to rise exponentially, and (unless your household income is well above the area median) it is even harder than it used to be to find a place to live on Bainbridge.

Policies that support affordable housing for all income sectors, especially the “missing middle,” should be at the forefront of efforts to maintain Bainbridge Island as a green and sustainable community.

Blossom, having grown up here, speaks of people she knows who depend upon the social services that Helpline House, Island Volunteer Caregivers, and Housing Resources Bainbridge provide. She speaks of “the people who literally built Bainbridge, and can’t live here.” Her experience of the island is not typical — most of us have spent many years of our lives elsewhere — but she is not alone. We all will benefit if the island can be more hospitable to young people of many talents, and to couples with young children; if the island can house more of the people who meet our daily needs and prop up our enviable quality of life; if the island can provide better for all residents, without regard for their incomes, as they grow old.

Councilman Peltier, in his remarks, spoke of the council’s achievements. I agree with him that in the last four years a good deal of progress has been made in improvements to the municipal code, both in environmental and land-use policies, and also in developing more effective working relationships between city staff, the Design Review Board and planning commission, and the council. Over the course of 2020, those relationships will be tried and tested. Ron would agree with Sarah and me, I think, that plans and policies that will achieve more affordable housing constitute the lion’s share of 2019’s unfinished business.

The DRB, the planning commission, and the council will each be developing work plans to establish priorities and strategies for 2020 and beyond. I expect that this exercise will involve some negotiation, among ourselves and with the city manager and planning staff. I see a need for better coordination of efforts than we have seen in the past.

I believe that one reason for the delays, the lack of consensus, and the cul de sac that the Suzuki project has become, is that neither the DRB nor the planning commission

have had any role to play in the discussion of design alternatives and appropriate density. I recognize that too many cooks can spoil the broth, but sometimes, hunkered down in their decision-making bubble, the council loses perspective. When everything gets reduced to four against three, nobody is satisfied and no problems are solved.

With their new and returning members, the council needs to prove that they can all walk and chew gum at the same time. They should be able to discuss how to make affordable housing feasible on the Suzuki property; there’s no need to wait for the planning commission to draft either an interim or a comprehensive affordable housing ordinance. The council has done little with the work of the Affordable Housing Task Force and consultants from ECONorthwest, but that hasn’t stopped others from embarking on tentative next steps. (Some reforms have been ready for discussion with the council for three months already.)

I am confident that our usual end-of-year entropy can be overcome early in the New Year.

Jon Quitslund is a retired educator who has spent many years of his life on Bainbridge Island.

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