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I sent this letter of endorsement to the Bainbridge Review this week.

Dear Editor:

I enthusiastically support Sarah Blossom for city council.

I got to know Sarah when I was chair of the city’s Affordable Housing Task Force and she was one of our city council liaisons. She brought the same independent thinking and hard work to that role as she does to all of her council duties. She came to our meetings prepared and ready to work. She offered honest analysis and a passion for problem solving. She is committed to the difficult work of finding realistic strategies that will protect the natural environment while increasing housing options for people of all races, cultures, ages and incomes. She has abundant patience and extensive council experience which serve her well in the island’s sometimes contentious debates.

In contrast, her opponent, Michael Pollack, has a track record of lackluster performance as an elected official. As a current member of the Parks board, his embarrassing 50% attendance record merited an article in the Bainbridge Review. Worse, he has been making careless and untrue statements about housing and the environment, both on his website and at the recent candidate forum. Continue Reading »

As the Chair of the City’s Affordable Housing Task Force, I delivered our Interim Report to the City Council last week (with the assistance of some of the other members of the task force). The following are my introductory remarks, which were followed by a summary of recommendations (linked at the end of the article) and a discussion by Council.

Good evening Mayor, members of the Council, City Manager, City Attorney, City staff and members of the public. My name is Althea Paulson and I’m the Chair of the Affordable Housing Task Force, a one-year citizen task force charged with the responsibility of developing concrete recommendations on affordable housing to the Council for near-term action.

We have been meeting twice monthly as a full group since September. We also divided into subgroups, and studied specific strategies that would respond to the high priority policies and goals from the Housing Element of the Comprehensive Plan. Our recommendations are summarized in our report. We have also made previous recommendations to you, concerning the Suzuki property, inclusionary zoning, and increasing the number of live-aboards in Eagle Harbor.

Before I summarize our recommendations, I’d like to give you some context for this task.

We all know Bainbridge is having an affordable housing crisis, as are most communities in the Puget Sound Region and throughout the country, anywhere where good jobs are plentiful and the quality of life is high. In 2017, according to an annual report by Sotheby Realty,  the island broke three records: 1. highest median price for single family homes , at $840,000; 2. most sales in a single year; and 3. lowest inventory of housing, continuing a five-year trend. “Inventory is still historically low and buyer activity is elevated due to our strong job market,” the report found. “This is continuing to drive prices to record levels.”

In order to qualify for a mortgage at these prices, you need an income that puts you in the top 5% of earners in the country. Median condo sales are over a half million, and rental vacancies continue to be so low as to be almost nonexistent.

This data tells us that Bainbridge is becoming an increasingly exclusive and rarified place to live. We’re older, whiter and richer than surrounding communities. But many of  us value the vibrancy and creativity of a more diverse population –diverse in age, socio- economics, race and ethnicity. As a result, housing affordability is important both to those who live here, and those who cannot. Continue Reading »

img_0032At the City Council meeting on February 7, Council member Mike Scott will introduce a resolution and ordinance designed to minimize the use of island policing resources to do the job of federal immigration authorities. Somewhat misleadingly known as “sanctuary city” laws (more accurately termed, “community policing laws,”) these kinds of policies have been adopted around the country, either formally or informally.

Contrary to some misunderstandings about what these laws are, they do not provide undocumented immigrants a place to hide from federal immigration authorities. Instead, they provide that local police will not use local resources to do the work of federal authorities in enforcing immigration laws, absent a court order or, in some jurisdictions, under very limited circumstances having to do with previous immigration violations and the commission of a serious violent felony. Absent those specified circumstances, police will not inquire about a person’s immigration status, or detain a person longer than they have legal authority to do. In the past and in some jurisdictions now, local law enforcement detains noncitizens longer than they would otherwise be allowed to do, in order to give Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) the time to investigate the person’s immigration status. Some courts have held that so-called “ICE detainers” are unconstitutional, and many jurisdictions, including the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department, now decline to hold noncitizens under those detainers.

There are over 326 counties, 32 cities, and four states that limit local law enforcement’s involvement in federal immigration enforcement. Police departments tend to support these community policing laws. As Tom Manger, Chief of Police for Montgomery County and President of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, has said, “To do our job we must have the trust and respect of the communities we serve. We fail if the public fears their police and will not come forward when we need them. Whether we seek to stop child predators, drug dealers, rapists or robbers—we need the full cooperation of victims and witness. Cooperation is not forthcoming from persons who see their police as immigration agents. When immigrants come to view their local police and sheriffs with distrust because they fear deportation, it creates conditions that encourage criminals to prey upon victims and witnesses alike.”

On January 25, the president of the United States signed an Executive Order (EO), directing local jurisdictions to assist with federal immigration orders, regardless of local ordinance or policy. The EO provides that jurisdictions that don’t comply will lose federal funding. This EO has been the subject of widespread condemnation by immigrant and human rights advocacy groups, as well as mayors, governors, ordinary citizens. Seattle mayor Ed Murray called the day the EO was signed the “darkest day in immigration history” since the Japanese internment and said he’s prepared to lose “every penny” of Seattle’s federal funding, which was about $85 million in 2015. Governor Jay Inslee called the EO “mean-spirited, unnecessary and contrary to our values as Americans.” Continue Reading »

By Kelly Vomacka

*Editor’s note: The author is a lawyer who has provided volunteer assistance to the Kitsap Immigrant Assistance Center (KIAC) in Bremerton, among other nonprofits. Her story was provided to me by KIAC’s Immigration Legal Services. Her experiences occurred during President Obama’s time in office. He deported over 2.5 million people, more than any president in history, continuing the upward trend in deportations since the 1980’s.  Incoming president Donald Trump has made mass deportation one of his signature issues, promising to deport as many as 11 million people. This article details the process as it is today; if deportations increase, the system’s ability to respond will undoubtedly deteriorate, and the way human beings are treated–including many children— will become inestimably worse.

A couple of years ago, I volunteered at a weekend workshop for immigrant “Dreamers”—those people you’ve heard about in the news who were illegally brought to the US as infants and are now in their 20s. I enjoyed the workshop so much that by the time I left I wanted to practice immigration law. I loved hearing the Spanish, seeing the amazing young people, helping immigrants achieve the American Dream. Most of my legal experience was in criminal law, and seeing a young adult with no convictions and straight A’s did my heart good.

nwdetention3

Detainees inside the women’s wing of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)

So off to Immigration Land I went. A friend of a friend helped me get started, throwing me various bits of contract work and showing me the ropes. Suddenly, there I was, going to court, writing appeals, the works. And what I quickly discovered is that one does not dabble in immigration law. It’s fantastically complex, and trying to peer at the hairs they split could make you go blind. Plus, if you lose, your client doesn’t go to prison, they go to a country where they are pretty likely to die. As in: die. Be dead.

So I chickened out and came back to criminal law. But along the way I met enough immigration lawyers that I started doing some post-conviction relief work for their clients, and I volunteered for a couple of pro bono immigration cases.

Even this tiny bit of immigration “experience” sets me apart from the average criminal attorney, for whom immigration law is a mysterious black box and all they know is “talk to Washington Defender Association.” That’s all I know, too, but I’ve visited Immigration Land just enough to have a few postcards to share from my travels. I think of myself as a tourist who went to Europe and saw 9 countries in 10 days. Here’s what I’ve learned.

I love the Constitution

Seriously, love it. Have you ever wondered what criminal law would look like without it? Okay, I know, you see that every single day. So do I. But really, what if it wasn’t there? What if the accused had no right to counsel, no speedy trial, no jury, none of it? Okay, a few shreds of Due Process for decency’s sake, but that’s all.

There’s no Constitution in immigration law. Not much of one anyway. The Constitution does not apply to borders, and, thanks to our old friend the Legal Fiction, much of immigration law is considered to be “at” the border. Clients have no right to a lawyer, since immigration law is “merely” civil. I have sat in court and watched person after person, with no legal training, no English, and no interpreter, try to defend themselves against deportation. I’ve seen a judge prevent an interpreter from interpreting, even though the interpreter was sitting right there. I’ve seen continuances that go years into the future, once because the interpreter didn’t show up, a few times because the judge was out sick. I’ve seen people locked up without bond who have committed no crime at all.

I’ve seen people locked up on obviously unconstitutional searches and seizures. Yes, I wish the criminal courts would follow the Constitution more closely, but boy oh boy am I glad it’s around at all.

The detention center is a hole

The Northwest Detention Center is the worst jail I’ve ever seen, hands down. It sits out on the Tacoma Tideflats, over a Superfund site. It is surrounded by concertina wire. There is no bus service. The only parking is for staff and government lawyers. There are no coffee or sandwich shops nearby. It is privately run by a national prison corporation, and Congress has mandated a quota of inmates. You read that right: The detention center is required, by law, to fill a certain number of beds each night.

The front door greets you with numerous signs telling you what illnesses you may contract if you go inside. The architecture is Late Brutalist, constructed of whitewashed concrete blocks. Despair oozes from the walls. Everything about the place says “Danger. Keep out.”

But you enter anyway, because you need to get to the courtroom inside. You go through security screening, which is similar to jail screening. Then you are buzzed through a heavy locked door into a dismal waiting area that compares unfavorably to the airport. You make pleasant small talk with the guard to charm your way through the next locked door, into a narrow hallway lined with benches. On those benches are potential deportees, color-coded jail garb, at various levels of misery. Finally you are admitted through the third locked door into the courtroom. I should mention, if it’s not obvious, that the courtroom is open to the public.

I should also mention that plenty of people housed there have legal status in the US. Many of them are Legal Permanent Residents, and notice that first word there is “legal.” Not all, not most, but many.

There’s also a court in Seattle. I can’t call it a courthouse. It’s a suite in an office building downtown. No locked doors, but same screening, same dismal waiting area.

All of the courtrooms are beautiful, with churchy pews for the audience, a wooden railing with a proper gate, big gleaming counsel tables, comfortable chairs, and top notch electronics. The courtrooms are painted in a rich teal that exudes both power and calm. The “judges” wear robes (more on the air quotes in a minute), and the staff operates with hushed efficiency.

It’s not a real court

They hate it when you say this, but it’s true. Immigration courts are administrative bodies, not courts. The judges answer to the Attorney General, and ultimately to the president. They are employees of the executive branch of government, and if they stray from government policy, they are punished. They have no judicial independence whatsoever.

Continue Reading »

RentalIt’s been six months since the Bainbridge City Council voted to develop the Suzuki property with an emphasis on affordable housing, and picked Olympic Property Group as the developer. With the housing crisis raging on throughout the Puget Sound region (see, e.g., here, here, and here, and the island’s Housing Needs Assessment, here), Bainbridge Island has made little progress toward easing its affordability problems.  And that lack of progress comes after more than a decade of inattention, as I wrote in March, when I noted that since 2003, the island has increased its income-qualified affordable housing stock by only 66 units.

But maybe there’s some good news after all. While progress on the Suzuki property has been bogged down in the particulars of an ecological study, the drafters of the Housing Element of the Comprehensive Plan update have done some promising work of their own.

The drafting committee has come up with concrete programs with a track record for helping to alleviate the housing cost burdens embedded in a community where the median single-family home price exceeds $750,000 and rental vacancies are near zero.

Among the ideas: amend the City’s development rules to encourage innovation such as tiny houses, micro units and cottage housing; expand opportunities for infill in Winslow and the Neighborhood Centers; and allow the creation of small lots and smaller footprint homes.

One idea in the draft Comp Plan has been especially popular in other communities: the Multi-Family Property Tax Exemption (MFTE) program. Established by state statute, this program allows local governments to exempt multi-family housing developments from property tax for 12 years if at least 20% of the units are rent-restricted for income-qualifying tenants. This program has been adopted by cities across Washington, both large—Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, Bellevue—and small—Bellingham, Moses Lake, Yakima, Shoreline, Bremerton. Continue Reading »

Eight years ago I posted an article on this blog, To Russia with love, about that year’s fundraising efforts by Camp Siberia. Now known as Bainbridge Island/Kitezh, the organization is one of the island’s oldest cultural exchange and service organizations for teens. For over 15 years, it has been bringing Bainbridge Island teenagers to Russia to provide friendship and support to children who had been momhugorphaned and/or displaced as a result of social and economic upheaval following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Each year from in 1999 through 2011, Bainbridge high school students traveled to Russia to put on an American-style summer camp experience for orphans. In addition, Camp Siberia helped many of these orphans gain vocational and academic opportunities through a scholarship program. (Since 2011, Bainbridge Island/Kitezh has continued to provide cross-cultural friendships and exchanges with Russian orphans through an ongoing, local program in Kitezh).

This summer, Hannah Crichton and Kyle Scoble, two former Bainbridge High School students who participated in the Camp Siberia program in 2007, will return to Russia to find campers from their summer with Camp Siberia, and capture on film a window on their current lives.

As Hannah explains, “They are now all young adults, living in the real world, without financial support or education. Our short documentary will explore the paths these former campers have taken and update us on the day-to-day lives they currently live. Statistics are not in these kids’ favors – most Russian children who leave the orphanage system around age 16 end up on the streets, becoming involved in crime, committing suicide, or unemployed. The campers we are profiling are all making their own paths, and we can’t wait to see them again!”

Hannah and Kyle are raising money for the costs of this project through Indigogo. You can learn more about their project, budget and their qualifications at this link: Tiny.cc/russiansummer

Hannah says they’ve raised about $8000 toward their goal of $17,700, and they are grateful for all donations, large or small.

Send some love to this worthwhile project by donating! Posting the link to their Indigogo page on Facebook or Twitter would be really helpful too.  Tiny.cc/russiansummer

 

 

 

The City has sent out the following press release about last night’s Council decisions on next steps in the process to develop the Suzuki process:

The Bainbridge Island City Council has established a path to move forward with the development of the Suzuki Property, including completing an ecological study of the property and identifying a development team, the Olympic Property Group, to begin negotiating a development agreement.

At their Regular Business Meeting on March 23, the City Council laid out a path to move forward with an ecological study of the Suzuki Property. The citizen advisory Environmental Technical Advisory Committee (ETAC) will work with City staff to identify information already available regarding the property, and will identify additional information needed to establish an ecological baseline for the site. Once the additional information needed has been identified, ETAC will make a recommendation to the City Council as to the best path moving forward to gather the identified information.

The Council also voted to direct the City Manager to move forward with negotiating a development agreement with the Olympic Property Group. During their next meeting on Tuesday, April 12, the City Council will discuss the scope and parameters that will inform the City Manager during these negotiations. The exact details of the development contract including requirements for affordable housing, types of community amenities, etc., will be decided during these negotiations. All Councilmembers have already expressed a strong desire that the developer be required to carry out an extensive public engagement process as a condition of the development agreement.