2019 Quality Bainbridge City Council Candidate Questions: Answers by Leslie Schneider, Central Ward Candidate
1) What interests inspired you to run for a position as City Council member?
In the spring of 2018, a friend I had worked with and admire very much--Brian Anderson--emailed me to ask if I was considering applying for the open seat. I wasn't... until that moment. The power of an invitation cannot be underestimated. Sometimes you just don't see yourself yet the way that someone else does. Brian knew me as an entrepreneur, an environmentalist and a host/supporter of Climate Action Bainbridge. And I guess he thought I would do a good job! I'm grateful for his confidence.
What made Brian’s inquiry compelling is that, for years, I have been passionate about urban planning placemaking, and affordable housing and. In the mid-2000’s I grant-funded or self-funded two trips to the East coast to explore these issues, one was in New York with the Project For Public Space on “How to Turn a Place Around.” I took an urban design class at UW thinking I might pursue a Masters degree. I’ve volunteered with the Pomegranate Center on community placemaking.
2) What are your top five 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.
My overall priority is reducing our impact on climate change, and preparing our island for life in a very different reality resulting from changes that we probably cannot abort completely. I want to move policy at every opportunity to put a climate change lens on all city planning and functions. I am most passionate about improving mobility with sustainable transportation, and coming up with innovative was to increase affordable housing. Moving people LESS means having options to live where you work and work where you live. And transportation can then more often be accomplished with shorter trips in many different modes. I fought for funding to plan for the future of transportation on the island, and will work not just with City funding but also with public-private partnerships to build out our plan with projects and programs.
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?
My current (short) term on Council after filling a vacancy has provided immense learning and building of relationships, not just with Council colleagues, but with community members that have educated me in my office hours and beyond. I bring to Council my relationships with the business community and with independent professionals through my coworking company OfficeXpats. I previously served on the Sustainable Bainbridge board, and with the Kitsap Regional Library Foundation board. And for four years I worked with 40-50 idealistic people to build a 27-unit cohousing community near downtown Seattle. I was chosen as their “owners representative” to monitor construction progress and I had signing authority for change orders. I know the responsibility of making decisions for other people’s money.
4) Islanders consistently identify water quantity and quality as a 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?
I have been very interested in ground water management as I am with most natural resources, made more keen by realities of life on an island. Before my time on Council I attended lectures on this topic at the Open Mic Science gatherings at the Treehouse (OfficeXpats has loaned projection equipment to that group for many years). My understanding is that to the best of our knowledge now, Bainbridge Island is not in danger of inadequate water resources, even projected into the future. However, the science changes, and impacts from climate change will also challenge current assumptions. Therefore, I am supportive of City Council investments in a Ground Water Management plan. I am also very supportive of planning for water conservation, and of individual systems for collecting and processing rainwater (as in Living Building Challenge “petals”). As the City work plan proceeds on our “green” building code, I believe that LBC goals will become part of the way we develop, which will improve our waterways. That is not the end of how we should address polluted waters, but I am not the expert.
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 effect create a proper How would you address the balance between building housing and preserving our natural resources? How should we address the issue of code enforcement?
I’ve got easy answers for these questions! OK, maybe not. But some guiding principles supported by our Comprehensive Plan are to focus growth into designated areas, to preserve our rural character and deliver services to the focused areas more efficiently. I am a big believer that the right kind of density creates walkable/livable places where many of us would WANT to live. My personal focus is to infuse this density with amenities that also build community.
Code should be enforced. I have recently used SEE CLICK FIX to report issues, and they were addressed promptly. I’ve asked the City Manager in a one-on-one about code enforcement “emergencies,” e.g. trees being cut down where they shouldn’t be, and maybe on a weekend, and I was told “call 911.” We need to communicate this (new?) commitment of responsiveness to the community.
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?
Affordable housing needs to mean “housing options available to all levels of household income.” Shelter is an important human right that our society as a whole can certainly afford to provide. But as wealth continues to flow and concentrate with those already privileged, the market economy is less and less able to provide housing that is affordable to all. Where there are gaps, the market has failed us and government at all levels needs to step in.
On top of the critical human dignity issues of affordable housing, the lack of it also impacts everyone’s quality of life when long commutes contribute to traffic and greenhouse gasses. On our island, it also becomes a resilience issue in cases of weather emergencies or other natural disaster scenarios, when families are separated by great distances and local services depend on workers who can’t get here.
On top of all THAT, I believe that large segments our American culture are shifting values away from large homes and large mortgages and towards the freedom that alternative homes can afford them. YouTube is full of new romantic visions of living in vans and tiny homes. Midlife transitions (not just the college years) have unrelated adults sharing large homes. Developers will likely continue to build big homes on Bainbridge Island because they can profit from them and people who can afford it will pay that cost of entry. But I pay attention to trends showing that smaller is attractive to many people, even those who can afford more. Our code needs to at least incentivize building smaller footprint homes. That alone will not provide enough affordable housing, but it might help with climate change.
It is not clear to me that COBI will be successful in leveraging city-owned land to build desperately needed housing affordable to both workforce families and those with even greater need. I will fight to create those opportunities, but we will need to focus on this problem from many angles. Inclusionary zoning will help, but again, I don’t see it solving the problem. I have hopes on developing a culture of philanthropic donation of property akin to what the BI Land Trust has developed for natural areas. HRB is experimenting with “scattered site” community land trusts (CLTs) that could be leveraged with more private donations, even of partial value if not entire properties. I have suggested an alternative version of TDRs that maybe could fund the transition of properties from market value to CLTs. To be continued.
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?
I brought up this very topic in a one-on-one discussion with the City Manager some months ago. She mentioned in our discussion that it could be strategic for the City to budget for getting fiber out to each of the neighborhood centers, thus enlarging network access and and opening up new possibilities for neighborhood solutions. I agree that the City should participate in providing fiber to the island. Remote workers will be a growing segment of the future of work, and remote work depends on access to broadband. For our island, remote work is a great economic development opportunity; it reduces greenhouse gasses from transportation, reduces traffic, allows more money to be spent on the island, and allows more investment of time for public engagement and service.
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?
Until and even when our federal government evolves to react appropriately to this crisis, cities need to lead the way. Bainbridge has the potential to be a model small city that could inspire other municipalities. Our Climate Action Advisory Committee will deliver their Climate Action Plan in March, 2020, and I’m sure that Council will act on it. Concurrently, we will be working on a green building code that will be informed by the Living Building Challenge, a standard that is now reaching way beyond our island where it was born. I believe the Council’s goal is to integrate City policies and practices that always are seen through the lens of climate change, and that we continue to be guided by our residents with capacities to contribute work beyond what is available on staff.