2019 City Council Candidate Questions: Answers of Kirsten Hytopoulos, District 1 At-Large Candidate

1. What inspired you to run for a position as a City Council member?

This is a pivotal time for the Island. We are facing ever-increasing growth pressures that threaten to diminish the character of our community and health of our environment irrevocably. At the same time, we have the opportunity to implement innovative policies and programs to satisfy our growth requirements while improving the vitality of our environment, rising to the challenges of climate change, and maintaining the diversity of our community through innovative housing solutions.

None of this positive potential can be realized unless we unite our community, actively engage citizens in working toward common goals, and end the breach between local government and the people it is intended to serve. This will involve the rethinking of old ideas and refocusing of efforts. It’s going to be hard work, but I can’t imagine doing anything else at this point and I want to participate in the transition of our city into a better and more resilient community.

2. What are your top priorities that you would work to have the city accomplish during your term in office? For each identified priority that requires the expenditure of money, please state how you would fund it.

All of my priorities fall under the umbrella of working to implement the vision our community has for itself and our future as outlined in the Comprehensive Plan — the invaluable guide and codification of our community values that is all too often forgotten when important issues come before the city.

a. City Manager Search: The most important job a city council does is hiring the City manager. It is the city manager who directs city staff in the execution of the council’s goals and priorities, and the likelihood that those goals and priorities will be realized depends entirely on the ability and character of the manager. In 2020, our city council will be hiring a new manager, and I would like to be part of that process. It is critical that we find a city manager who is a proven innovator and has the expertise to help us address the real challenges we’re facing, while staying true to our goals under the Comprehensive Plan. Having participated in the process before on the council that hired our first two managers, I know that this will be a difficult task as our city has a poor reputation in the city manager community. We may need to broaden our search to less obvious candidates and may need assistance beyond our usual search team. We are a progressive community with unique priorities, and we need a progressive city manager who will make those priorities the priority of every member of the city staff. (Funding: General Fund – Costs of CM search)

  1. Managing Growth: (See Question #5) (Funding: General Fund – Planning and Public Works staff time)

  2. Addressing Climate Change: (see Question #8) (Funding: General Fund – Planning and Public works stafftime)

d. Sustainable Transportation: Vehicle emissions are the Island’s second leading source of greenhouse gases, and once PSE has implemented its mandated switch to clean energy, they will be our leading contribution to climate change. Add to that the impact of increasing traffic on our quality of life and it is clear that the development of a multi-modal transportation system should be the primary focus of the city’s capital planning and spending.

Once the City’s sustainable transportation study is completed, we need to move quickly on implementation planning, educating the community on the plan, and instilling enough confidence in the City’s ability to deliver on the projects to make it viable to go to the community with a bond proposal.

This will take time, even with the full commitment of the City and the community, so we must acknowledge that we also have an immediate mandate to improve safety for those already using bicycles as their primary form of transportation. I would favor locating those roads that are the most heavily biked and determining how provisions can be made quickly for cyclists using city funds, including increased impact fees and car tab fees (assuming Initiative 976 fails). Most likely this will mean shoulders and/or simple lane separation devices.

With regard to transit, Kitsap Transit buses are under-utilized by those who work in our downtown area, including city employees. There’s no reason that a joint project by the city and the BI Downtown Association to examine and implement employee incentives for bus use couldn’t be undertaken even before the development of a sustainable transportation plan.

To increase bus ridership across the Island we need to expand service middays, evenings and weekends, but we cannot expect Kitsap Transit to do so without evidence that ridership would increase. I would like to explore the possibility of the city subsidizing some portion of the costs of additional routes for a period of time along with a campaign to get people out of their cars. This would align perfectly with the implementation of a Climate Challenge (see #8).

Finally, we should investigate with Kitsap Transit the potential of an in-town transit vehicle that would circulate between shopping areas, doctors’ offices and other sites, including the Senior Center. This would provide important transportation for Winslow residents as well as being a feeder vehicle for those using BI Ride and regular commuter buses. (Funding: General Fund – Planning and Public Works staff time, non-motorized improvements, bus subsidy. Impact fees: non-motorized improvements. Car Tab Fee – non-motorized improvements, bus subsidy)

e. Affordable Housing (See question #6) (Funding: General Fund – Planning staff time, funding of affordable housing trust fund, support of local community service organizations, some capital investment)

f. Community Involvement and improved community relations: We have a wealth of talent and expertise in our community, and our advisory committees are vital to building community involvement into the decision-making process. The recent council discussion about turning most committees into short-term task forces was very troubling. We don’t have a problem with our committee structure; we have a problem with the failure of the city administration and the council to use committees productively. They fail by not giving the committees defined tasks with goals and timelines, by not providing staff, and not incorporating them into decision-making as a matter of course. The expertise on several of our committees is extraordinary, with some members having national and international reputations in their field, and should be tapped as a continual source of information and advice in decision-making.

COBI Connects is a step in the right direction to better inform citizens, and a major part of the lack of confidence and trust of the community in the city arises from lack of information. However, I believe that the disconnect between our Comprehensive Plan values and what the community sees coming out of City Hall in the way of project approvals and lack of code enforcement is the bigger issue. Only a visible change in culture at City Hall will address this critical breakdown in community trust that must be resolved before the city council can hope to get community support for the policies and projects needed to address the challenges we are facing. (Funding: General Fund –Staff time, training)

3. Describe your relevant previous experiences that prepare you for the Council role. What skills, training, resources and expertise will you bring to the Council?
Bainbridge Island is a community passionate about “the issues,” in particular those related to development and the environment. When coupled with a continuing sense of distrust in our city government, this passion often leads to conflict between the community and the city, on and off the council dais. The result more often than not is inaction, which only serves to further reduce the community’s confidence in its elected officials. We need councilpersons with a deep understanding of the community’s priorities and a proven ability to help parties navigate conflict to achieve real solutions.

I have a unique combination of direct experience as a former Bainbridge Island city councilperson, a longtime community activist on the Island, and a successful mediator and collaborative law practitioner. My experience working on contentious issues from both the perspective of the elected official making the policy decisions and the activist lobbying for community needs gives me an understanding of the legal and practical limitations facing the government on the one hand, and the values-oriented concerns of the public on the other. My experience as a conflict resolution professional also gives me valuable insight into the dynamics at play in the relationships between various parties, regardless of the issues.

Elected office experience: IservedontheBainbridgeIslandCityCouncilforfouryears,from2010-13, including two of the best and most productive years and two of the most turbulent years in the city’s history. As a result, I have experience both with getting work done and building community trust, and with helping to manage conflict and disorder on a divided and dysfunctional council. I also served as Mayor in 2011, and so have extensive experience chairing council meetings, including long and difficult public hearings on controversial issues. While on council, my activities and accomplishments included:

  • Work with my council colleagues to build strong financial reserves and a sustainable budget for a city in financial crisis.

  • Initiation of the citywide ban on single use plastic bags, and several resolutions on gun safety and clean energy.

  • Work with fellow councilperson Hilary Franz and our live-aboard community to successfully lobby for the creation of an Open Water Marina, preserving one of the most affordable housing options on the Island.

  • Representation of the City regionally on the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council and the Kitsap County Board of Health.

  • Service on multiple city council committees focused on land use and environmental policy.

  • Founding of the Public Process in Land Use committee and service as liaison to Friends of the

    Farms, Bainbridge Island Downtown Association and Historic Preservation Commission.

    Community activist experience: My history of activism on community issues in Kitsap County and on Bainbridge Island stretches back more than 20 years to my involvement in growth and environmental issues in Kingston in the late 1990’s. After moving to Bainbridge in 2002, I successfully led a campaign for the South Island Sewer Project on behalf of one of one of the only affordable neighborhoods on the Island which was facing mass septic failures. I later started an online environmental activism group, Green Voices for Bainbridge Island, to help those too busy with work and family to attend council meetings make their voices heard. I was also a spokesperson for the Council-Manager ’09 campaign committee, which led to the change to a new form of government. It is from these experiences that I have a deep understanding of my community’s values and vision, and a real appreciation of the citizen experience of lobbying for action before the city council.

    Collaborative Law & Mediation Experience: I have worked as a collaborative divorce attorney and mediator for eight years, and have participated in many hundreds of hours of mediation and collaborative divorce sessions. In my practice, I help parties in conflict discover solutions to seemingly intractable problems every day. These skills will be invaluable in working with my fellow councilpersons and in listening to the many and differing voices in our community.

4. Islanders consistently identify water quantity and quality as top community priorities. Recent city studies (Water Resources and Groundwater Monitoring) show that our water resources are resilient, however some of our streams are significantly polluted. What ideas do you have for improving the health of island (and our surrounding) waters?

Before addressing the issue of quality, I would note that not everyone agrees that the conversation about water quantity is over. Even if the modeling done by Aspect Consulting holds up in the face of the unprecedented population increase expected in Puget Sound (due to the immigration of climate refugees) and the increasing occurrence of climate change impacts that far exceed what has been forecasted, the Fletcher Bay Aquifer is declining and is expected to continue to decline. The impact of this on future generations must not be ignored. This does not mean that we cannot accept any further population growth in the near term, but it does mean that we must identify the ultimate carrying capacity of the Island for long-term planning.

With regard to surface water quality, although we have made slight progress in improving the condition of Island streams, we have a long way to go, and under increasingly challenging circumstances. According to the last State of the Island Waters Report (2019), of the 16 Island streams that are monitored, 13 were rated as in moderate condition and 3 in poor condition. None meet the regional goal of a water quality index rating of “80” or higher.

Some have suggested that extending sewer service across the island would reduce bacteria and other pollutants from septic systems. However, malfunctioning septic systems are only one contributor to poor stream quality and, very importantly, septic systems are a significant source of groundwater recharge. Other key contributors include livestock and pet waste as well as increasing water temperatures, all of which foster the growth of bacteria and the depletion of oxygen in the water.

It is the County’s role to monitor septic system performance and to require repairs and upgrades, and the County has made progress in that effort. However, the city can impact what chemicals enter our septic systems (and onto our landscaping) through community education. I would like to see the City partner with community organizations in a campaign to encourage Island residents to stop using chemical lawn fertilizers and pesticides and, if possible, to petition the state to allow the City to ban or restrict the private use of glyphosate.

The City’s most important role in the protection of our surface waters is as the overseer of the treatment and dispersion of the Island’s stormwater, as that is how pet and livestock waste and landscaping runoff reaches our streams and the Puget Sound. The city must insist that new development implement the most effective stormwater management practices possible, and it must continue to invest in the repair and upgrading of public stormwater facilities.

The city should also address the increase in stream temperature, which has risen dramatically since 2010 and will likely keep going up, by requiring the planting of trees to provide shade along these waterways wherever possible. Reducing stormwater runoff will also help, as one of the contributing factors to the increase in temperature is warm runoff from hard surfaces.

On the private front, the recently proposed compost facility on the South End of the Island, if approved, should also help reduce bacteria in our waters as it is expected to process livestock waste.

5. How do you think growth (economic and population) on the island can best be managed? In light of the dictates of the Growth Management Act and the private property rights of landowners, how can the City create a proper balance between building housing and preserving our natural resources? How should we address the issue of code enforcement?

Bainbridge Island has a proud history of purposefully managing growth, starting with the decision to incorporate the island. Our continuing community support for retaining open space and a healthy environment is reflected in the successful work of the BI Land Trust, in the goals set forth in our recent Comprehensive Plan update, and in the recent development moratorium. No one is suggesting we “lock the door to the island,” but we must be smart in how we approach the substantial development pressure we face now and into the future.

So far, we have worked with a planning horizon that anticipated growth that could be accommodated within our existing zoning. With the next regional planning horizon, as set forth in the Puget Sound Regional Council’s Vision 2050, we have reached the inevitable point of needing to increase capacity to accommodate projected growth. I believe our response must be to:

1) Advocate for the smallest allocation of projected growth possible;
2) Plan for the growth we are allocated in a manner consistent with the Comprehensive Plan; and
3) Finally get to work on establishing the ultimate carrying capacity of the Island, as called for in the Comprehensive Plan, so that we are prepared as far in advance as possible for the next planning horizon.

I believe that planning for growth in a manner consistent with the Comprehensive Plan means:

  • Planning to mitigate growth, not to create growth, and insisting that development pay for its impacts.

  • Continuing to direct the majority of growth into the Winslow Core, while ensuring that infrastructure

    keeps up with that growth and that the character of our town center and our quality of life are

    maintained.

  • Making connectivity via alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles a prerequisite to future

    development in the neighborhood service centers. Anything else is simply sprawl.

  • Allowing exceptions to our development code rarely, and only in exchange for significant community

    value.

  • Finding every opportunity to make new housing affordable housing without a disproportionate

    increase in market-rate housing.

    Managing growth is the community’s number-one priority, and I believe that the perception that the city is not adequately doing so has always been the leading cause of community distrust and dissatisfaction with the City. It is essential that we elect councilpersons who are committed to this community priority.

6. What does the term “affordable housing” mean to you? Is the subject important to you, and if so, why? What are your thoughts about the affordability of housing on Bainbridge Island? What policies, if any, would you like to see our City implement to increase the inventory of affordable housing?

The lack of affordable housing is a significant national crisis that no one has found a real solution for, and we must keep that in mind when confronted with suggestions that our community has created the problem and with promises of significantly increasing the availability of affordable options. With that said, I want to make clear my deep commitment to increasing affordable housing options on the Island. As one who faced the real possibility of “falling off the Island” several years ago following a divorce, I am very aware of the anxiety and fear inherent in looking for an affordable rental, let alone a home to purchase. In my law practice, I witness many of my divorcing clients face the same difficulty every day.

I believe we have an obligation to assist those who are the most in need first and who have no or very limited housing options. That includes individuals and families who fall below 80% of area median income, which is also the qualifying income range for most federal and state grants. I also believe that we must first assist our current residents who are struggling and those who work here but cannot afford to live here. I do not support the City investing in building housing for the purpose of bringing new moderate-income families to the Island who in fact have housing options, though they may be limited. There will always be limited city dollars and opportunities for affordable housing, and I believe those should go first to our most disadvantaged residents both because it is a justifiable use of public funds and because it will result in real diversity.

I support many of the Affordable Housing Task Force’s recommendations, including the creation of a permanent affordable-housing committee to work with the City’s affordable-housing planner, to investigate innovative policies and projects in other areas that we could learn from as well as inventorying land that could be made available to affordable-housing programs. I would also like to see existing affordable units inventoried and monitored to prevent the kind of surprise that seemed to have occurred with the 550 Madison apartments. That was a situation that should have been brought to light months if not years earlier.

I also want the Suzuki project to go forward, but I cannot support the recent changes made to it. The community was promised a 100% affordable project of somewhere in the vicinity of 60-70 units, serving those from 30% to 120% of area median income (AMI), with the city donating some or all of the value of the land. The project is now only 60% affordable and 40% for those with incomes as high as $128k and no longer serves those below 50% of AMI at all. The density is also now 3.5 times underlying zoning — 100 units on a parcel zoned for 28 units — and the city is no longer being asked simply for the land, but an additional $2 million to $4.5 million or more in general-fund dollars, depending on how the projects unfolds.

For these reasons I cannot support the project in its current form. I would without hesitation support 60 units of rental housing for those at 30% - 80% AMI. If I am elected, I will support actively pursuing ways to make the project viable, 100% affordable, and with fewer units than currently proposed.

7. Kitsap PUD is soliciting indications of interest in expanding broadband access to neighborhoods on the island. What should be the role of the city in assisting with this expansion?

Access to KPUD’s fiber-optic network is critical for emergency preparedness and desirable the for ability of Island businesses to compete with those operating in areas that are already served by broadband. Fortunately, our key public institutions — schools, fire, police, City Hall — are already connected.

What is standing in the way of extending the network into our homes and businesses is the high cost of doing so. I strongly support the extension of the network, and as a small-business owner, I have personally experienced the impact of too often losing service during the work day. But I don’t believe that it is within the City’s financial capability to take on the costs of extending service.

Certainly, the City must be as cooperative as possible with any right-of-way or regulatory matters associated with the extension of the network. And should there be grant opportunities, I would support the city partnering with KPUD or other organizations to apply for funding and even potentially providing a small amount of direct funding as a reasonable investment in the economic health of the community.

The City might also explore whether it would be viable to require new development to connect to the fiber backbone when in near proximity. Certainly, the Suzuki project, should it proceed, should be connected if at all feasible, as it will be in close proximity to the network.

These and other potential ways in which the city might help to foster the expansion of the fiber network should be looked at by the citizen volunteer members of the Utility Advisory Committee who have in fact put the issue on their work plan, pending the City’s approval.

8. What do you think is the appropriate role for City Council in responding to the climate crisis? What is Council already doing in this area, and what additional ideas do you have for how we should be reducing our Island’s greenhouse gases and adapting to the changes we expect to see in the coming years and decades?

Addressing climate change on our Island is more than a feel-good exercise, it is what’s required from a responsible and evolved community. We know that our per-capita emissions are extremely high for a variety of reasons, including our energy sources, our car dependency and our overall affluence. (see item “2.d.” above re: sustainable transportation). When the new emissions study is presented to our community, our work will have just begun. The only way we will be successful in meeting established targets is if the community is on board.

I support the creation of a Bainbridge Climate Challenge that would be informed by the work of the city’s Climate Change Advisory Committee. It would solicit as much community involvement as possible to include local environmental and other key community organizations, the three other taxing districts (schools, fire and parks), businesses and churches. To be successful, this must be seen as a community project as opposed to a city government-enforced program, with well-publicized periodic reviews of progress and celebrations of successes. Such a program has the potential to create and strengthen community relationships — in particular, connecting our youth, who are facing an uncertain and frightening future, to the elders in the community who share those concerns for future generations.

We must also incorporate climate-change mitigation and impacts (including sea-level rise, changes in precipitation and temperature, widespread loss of vegetation and increased risk of wildfires) into local codes and planning decisions. Fortunately, there are strong green-building codes across the country to draw upon. I’d like to see a requirement for the installation of solar panels on every new building — and where that’s not feasible, a fee in lieu to fund public solar projects as an offset. Certainly, all public buildings should be required to meet the highest energy-efficiency standards and install solar panels. Given recent legislation, there is increased motivation for PSE to fund solar projects and we must actively engage them in our upcoming franchise negotiations, if not sooner.

The lack of an experienced, full-time natural resources staff person will continue to make the development and implementation of environmental policy unnecessarily challenging. I will lobby for such a position immediately once on council. The issues we face are too important and technical to leave to generalists. There must be a dedicated staff person to coordinate the efforts and act as a liaison between our advisory committees, staff and the City Council.