2019 City Council Candidate Questions: Answers of Michael Pollock, South Ward Candidate
1) What inspired you to run for a position as City Council member?
The tipping point for my inspiration to run for City Council was when I read the Intergovernmental Climate Change Panel’s (IPCC) 1.5 0C Report, which concluded in essence that avoiding climate catastrophe would require unprecedented change at all levels of society and government. It was a call to action, and I responded. I am also seeing rapid development on the Island and feel that our leaders need to circle back and ask our community if this is what we want and is this consistent with our collective vision that we call the Comprehensive Plan.
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.
My top priorities are climate change mitigation, transportation/traffic congestion, growth management and affordable housing. For any priority that requires a significant expenditure of public funds, I would go to the public with a bond proposal, something that differentiates me from the current crop of councilmembers, who seek to use councilmanic bonds and other forms of funding that do not require public approval to fund their initiatives.
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?
Professionally, I work on large-scale watershed restoration and planning projects throughout the western states in mostly rural areas, which involves bringing together diverse groups of stakeholders from all political stripes, to find common purpose around the principles of conservation and stewardship of our natural resources. It is a collaborative effort. There is no controlling entity like a government, so it requires that everyone be invested in a mutually beneficial outcome. It is not decision-making by majority rule, it is decision-making through the long and at times challenging process of consensus and a willingness to find common ground. I believe such an approach to decision-making at the local level would help to bring the community together on challenging issues such as growth and affordability. The current council is willing to move forward on controversial issues even when a bare majority of the council approves. In my view, such an approach only increases divisiveness, and leads to yet more polarization and fracturing in our community. It is an unhealthy approach to governance. It is far better I think to come together with unity of purpose. I have also previously served on the Bainbridge Island City Council, and am currently serving as a Bainbridge Island Parks Commissioner.
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 think about this issue in the context of ongoing climate change and how climate change will affect the hydrological cycle. I think we need to consider tertiary treatment of our sewer water so that we can pump it back onto the island, where it can percolate back into our aquifers. Currently, we are exporting our sewage into Puget Sound, and we are finding that many pollutants, including pharmaceuticals are not removed by our current sewage treatment processes and are accumulating in fishes and other species. So groundwater recharge with our sewage water would solve two problems. I think we need a lot more community conversation around this issue. Using sewer water to recharge our drinking water sounds gross to a lot of people, so we need to spend time showing people the amazing biochemical transformations that occur in soil and how the natural purification processes work. There is also going to be significant expense involved, so we need the public on board with such an idea for it to move forward because they will be the ones paying for it.
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?
We have a collective vision of how to manage growth, it is called our Comprehensive Plan. There are some guiding principles that help us with this question, and they are intended to be integrative, that is one principle cannot be pursued at the expense of the others. There is no exact proper balance. It is a constant give and take. Sometimes there may be more growth than the majority would like to see, sometimes there may be more conservation than people would like to see. If on the whole, on average, over time, we grow at a rate that preserves our Island’s character and livability to the satisfaction of the majority of our residents, then I think we have found the right balance. Currently, we are facing tremendous growth pressures from Seattle’s booming economy and that is causing increased traffic, housing construction and skyrocketing housing prices, so things currently feel out of balance.
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?
Affordability is defined in relation to the Area Median Income (AMI) and often means that a house is affordable if it can be afforded by someone who makes 80% of AMI. There are tables in the City’s Affordable Housing Task Force Report that spell out more specifically what affordability means in the context of Bainbridge Island. On my website I posted a graphic that starkly illustrates the affordability problems on Bainbridge Island, which you can see at https://www.pollock4council.com/affordabiltiy. The figure shows that there are hundreds of thousands of dollars in cost difference between affordability and the bottom of the Bainbridge housing market. With a median housing price that is approaching one million dollars, Bainbridge Island is simply no longer affordable for most people. There are much better deals to be had across the bridge in other parts of Kitsap County, where land is more available and less expensive, and that is where people of modest means are moving.
I would like to see the city implement policies that prioritized helping housing-stressed residents stay on the island (about a third of all households), followed by helping our island workforce live on the island. I see less of a role for government to play in providing affordable housing for people that neither live here nor work here. Many solutions to affordability have been provided to the city over the past couple of decades. I consider it a major failing of the city council that they are only now beginning to take the issue seriously, at a time when land and housing costs are skyrocketing. Why didn’t they take action when solutions would have been much more affordable and before much of our downtown area was developed with high end housing? We has lost so many opportunities through delay, and it is going to cost us dearly.
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 know through direct experience that broadband service on the Island is pretty spotty. I think City Hall could help by looking at the cost-benefit ratio of a KPUD expansion. Would it improve service? Would it lower costs? What are the upfront investment costs? If we need to use public funds, when can we expect a return on our investment? Can we leverage this to help put more of our electric lines underground and increase reliability? If it makes economic sense, then we need to spend time with voter education and make the case that it is good for the community and that the City is up for the job. My sense is that many in our community feels that City Hall has limited institutional capacity and shouldn’t be taking on new initiatives. As examples, both the Suzuki affordable housing project and the police station have dragged on for more than a decade due to poor fiscal decision-making on the part of the city council. Such costly delays do not convey a sense of fiscal responsibility or the ability to complete projects in a timely manner, which in my view are both prerequisites for getting the public to rally behind an initiative such as bringing KPUD broadband to island neighborhoods.
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?
Climate change is the crisis of our times, as so recently and eloquently stated by 16 year-old Greta Thunberg to world leaders at the United Nations. This is one of her quotes:
"People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystem are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you?”
This urgent need to address climate change is one of my primary reasons for running. I have spent a fair amount of time studying the issue and am confident that moving to a decarbonized economy is going to be in our best economic interests (and of course critical if our civilization is going to continue in any sort of recognizable form). As an example, if we imagine for a moment that Bainbridge Island is a corporation with $10 billion in assets (roughly the value of our collective land holdings), with an annual electrical energy consumption of around 200,000 megawatt-hours, it makes complete economic sense to borrow against our assets and invest in a solar farm on the sunny eastside of the state and pay Puget Sound Energy to transport and distribute the energy to us. This would save our community hundreds of millions of dollars in energy costs over the next few decades. You can find out more about this on my website https://www.pollock4council.com/climate-change-environment.
The problem is that we are not a corporation, we are a municipality, and a not particularly well-run one at that. So I don’t know that it would necessarily end well for the city to get involved in such an enterprise at this time. Nonetheless, climate change is the crisis of our times, and we need to be expanding our thinking and considering expansive and innovative solutions. We also have to enter franchise negotiations with PSE in the near future, so now is the time to be thinking about what we want and how we should be positioning ourselves so that we can turn the negotiations to our (and the planet’s) favor.
I would also like to see us adopt electric-vehicle friendly policies, including initiatives like priority loading for electric vehicles on the ferry and/or reduced fees, free charging stations around town, particularly in areas where we have created affordable housing, creation of safe road shoulders and off-road trails that are suitable for slow-moving electric vehicles, pedestrians and bicycles; traffic calming, tax incentives for installation of rooftop and parking lot solar, and other options. Countries such as Norway have adopted such policies, and electric vehicles are now close to 50% of the market-share (this compares to a market share of around 2% in the U.S.), so government policies can really make a difference. Given our wealth, education and political leanings, Bainbridge Island should be a leader in the inevitable conversion to a decarbonized or zero-emissions society. But we need to do more than talk and issue proclamations of concern. We need to act. As I have said in other forums; The best time to address climate change issues was 50 years ago. The second best time is today.