2019 City Council Candidate Questions: Answers by Sarah Blossom, South Ward District 6
1) What inspired you to run for a position as City Council member?
I initially ran for City Council in 2011 because a former Councilwoman encouraged me to run for her position. I inherited an interest in City business from my parents and started to participate as a citizen when the City was “updating” its code in 2010. I still can’t really believe that I signed up for this because I’m pretty shy and reserved and the whole idea of campaigning (promoting yourself) is just not something that I do.
I am running again, for my third term, because, for the past couple of years, the Council has started to tackle some really important and difficult tasks and that’s going to continue for several more years. We have quite a list of items that we need to address in order to fully implement our Comprehensive Plan and I want to continue to be a part of that. I am also very excited about the working relationship that has developed between the City Council, our City Manager and staff. And while I hope that our City Manager decides to stay, she did ask for a contract with a certain term and should she choose to leave, the next Council will be responsible for hiring the next City Manager. I am in a unique position to understand how important the relationship that the City Manager has with Council and staff is. Compatibility is key.
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 priority would be to continue to amend our code so that it is consistent with and implements our Comprehensive Plan. When the Comprehensive Plan was updated a long list of implementing actions was identified and, even though we have been able to check a few off the list, there are many, many more to go. The Comprehensive Plan is our community vision and through its implementation we will address important issues like climate change, ground-water resources, transportation (non-motorized, public transportation, traffic, etc.), affordable housing, diversity,
loss of natural environment and all of the other pressures we experience with growth.
I do not have my own plan for funding individual items. Our City Manager and staff have developed an extensive budget process and how we fund various budget items needs to be decided as part of that process. It is really important that the Council try as best it can to not make funding decisions outside of that process because it becomes difficult for us to understand the impact of an isolated decision, especially if this were to happen multiple times throughout the budget cycle.
I do support funding the new police facility with councilmanic bonds. To do otherwise would result in an increase in property taxes and I do not believe our community should have to pay more for something that is a basic and crucial service.
I do support asking the community to support a levy for multi- modal transportation initiatives. These projects can be very expensive and there are more that need to be done than can be done, even with significant amounts dedicated each year to these projects. I believe that a voter approved bond or levy is the best way to start to put a real dent in the long list of improvements that need to be made
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?
I have a law degree and I am a licensed attorney. Having a legal education is particularly useful when we are deliberating code language. I understand how to read and work through language and formatting that one could get lost in (though hopefully not, our goal should be to have code language that is easy to read and understand). I grew up on Bainbridge and have experienced the big changes that have happened over the last couple of decades. I have experienced the loss of many Islanders who had to move because they could no longer afford to live here. I have experienced the loss of natural environment and open space. I have experienced the increase in traffic. Growth impacts our
quality of life (not always in a bad way) and I have experienced that. I also have a bit of experience on the real estate and development side so I can approach an issue through two different lenses and the ability to do that is important. I have seven and half years of experience on Council now and I have learned a lot in that time. I believe that experience is beneficial to the Council as a whole. I have made the most of my time on Council. I have served as liaison to several committees (Utility Advisory Committee, Planning Commission, Island Center Subarea Planning Process Steering Committee, Affordable Housing Task Force, Historic Preservation Commission, Lodging Tax Advisory Committee). I have been a member of the Public Safety Committee, Comprehensive Plan Update Steering Committee, Tree Ordinance Ad Hoc Committee, Suzuki Ad Hoc Committee, and the Kitsap Public Health District Board of Health.
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?
The first step to improving the health of island waters is to have regulations in place that ensure that their health does not continue to degrade. We have low impact development regulations in place that ensure that stormwater runoff from new development does not impact water quality. The Council should implement programs that incentive the construction of more modern storm water controls for existing development. The second step is to have programs in place and/or partnerships with other entities (Land Trust, Kitsap Public Health District) to help identify sources of pollution because stormwater runoff is not the only source of pollutants. The health of our streams and Puget Sound can also impacted by failing septic systems. Sewer is a controversial subject but there may be areas where connecting homes/businesses to a sewer system may be the best way to address failing septic systems, so we must be open to that.
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?
Growth will be managed best with a lot of thought and care. I think it is important to be very forward thinking so that 10 or 15 years from now we do not find ourselves in a situation where we have to start sprawling outside of our designated centers.
Fixing our Development Right Transfer program so that it works is a priority for me. I want to see some of our growth shift from the Conservation areas into our designated centers.
This Council has already taken steps in the right direction when it comes to managing growth and the impact it could have on our resources. I support the concept of our Aquifer Recharge Protection Areas, but do I look forward to seeing how that could be improved so that it is more widely supported.
In a couple of months, the City will start to process subdivision applications that will have to conform to new standards and guidelines. An immense amount of work was done during the moratorium by Council, staff and our Citizen Advisory Committees to create a code that is intended to address the balance of property rights and preservation.
I would consider myself a property rights advocate who acknowledges that circumstances are changing, and we cannot always continue to do things the way we once did. I know that it is sometimes difficult, and I do not necessarily like that we need to create the regulations that we do, but sometime the right decision is not necessarily the preferred decision.
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?
This subject is very important to me, and it should be to our entire community, because whether we realize it or not, it touches us all. The lack of workforce housing impacts traffic on 305, it impacts the ability of our Island businesses to hire and retain employees, which in turn impacts their viability, it impacts the enrollment of our schools and the diversity of the community that our next generation is growing up in. As I mentioned earlier, I have experienced the loss of residents who have laid down roots here but could not afford to stay. I think everyone should be moved by the prospect of someone essentially being forced out of the community that has become their home, where they have friends, family, and established support networks. I am particularly concerned with the lack of options for seniors.
One of the implementing actions of the Comprehensive Plan was to create an Affordable Housing Task Force (AHTF). The AHTF was very successful and produced a report with a variety of recommendations. Except for the Suzuki project and possibly Inclusionary Zoning, most of the recommendations will not, on their own, produce a significant amount of affordable housing, so it’s important that the Council do its best to implement all the recommendations.
One of the recommendations of the AHTF that does not get enough attention is the need to preserve existing affordable housing. Unless we are aggressive, we are not likely to have a net increase in affordable housing because we stand to lose more than we will gain. We have already come very close to losing an affordable apartment complex to market rate development. It would be foolish to think that this will not happen again. Exploring ways to preserve existing affordable housing is as important as building new affordable housing.
Related to “A” affordable housing is “a” affordable housing and the “missing middle”. It is also important for the Council to incentivize the creation of smaller homes that will, hopefully, fill the void that exists for those who cannot afford the median home price but do not qualify to participate in affordable housing programs.
Also, related is housing for seniors. We have seniors and empty nesters who are in large, expensive and difficult-to-maintain homes that have nowhere to downsize to. Affordable housing is important, but we also need to pay attention to our entire housing stock and do what we can to ensure that there are options for everybody.
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?
If there is a role for the City to take in the expansion of broadband, it should be as a “facilitator”. I do not think the City should take on the task of being a provider because there are so many other higher priority tasks that only the City can perform. At a recent Ward meeting a member of our community explained to me some options that I had not heard of before that would require the City to play a minor role but would leave the actual purveying of the service to something like a Co-op.
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?
The current council, as part of its Comprehensive Plan implantation, formed the Climate Change Advisory Committee. That Committee has been tasked with creating a Climate Action Plan for the City. Like the Comprehensive Plan, there should be in it several “implementing actions” that the City can take to address climate change. There is no question that this Council recognizes that climate change as a critical issue. It is a complicated issue and the Council needs to rely on the expert members of the Climate Change Advisory Committee to help us identify and prioritize the actions that we can take that will have the most impact. This Council also requested that a Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report be completed so that we have some metrics that we can use to track our progress in the future.