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Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

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. (more…)

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At tonight’s City Council study session, the four members who are taking the lead on the question of what to do with the Suzuki property–Mike Scott, Val Tollefson, Wayne Roth and Roger Townsend–gave strong guidance on the Council’s next steps in the process to choose a developer for the property and finalize plans for the site. By the end of the session, the remaining three members–Sarah Blossom, Kol Medina and Ron Peltier—appeared to concede to the near-inevitability of development of the property, and began to express their ideas and preferences for development.

The Council decided to come back to its next meeting with suggestions for the parameters of an ecological study to determine where the significant trees are located, what must be done or avoided in order to maintain their health, and what kind of buffer is needed around the pond. A hydrology study will also be done. Council members will bring to the next meeting suggestions for a firm that could do the studies.

They spent great deal of time debating whether to decide on a proposer/developer before completing the study. Ultimately, they decided to choose the developer and then work to revise the plans as a partner with the developer, retaining Council control and opportunity for community input at each stage of the process. Peltier and Medina argued that they should delay choosing a developer until the study was complete. Peltier further suggested that all of the developers should submit revised proposals once the study was complete, based on its findings. That idea was rejected by those in the majority, who preferred to proceed on “parallel tracks”–continuing to work on choosing a developer while the study was being done. They were not in favor of throwing out the work that has been done so far, and did not want to have new proposals submitted.

The Council talked about what kind of affordable housing would be included in the development. Medina suggested that they can’t pick a developer until they have identified specifically what kind of affordable housing the island needs.

To that, Tollefson replied, “We need it all,” adding that this development will not be able to fill to all the needs. The final plan could be all rental, all owned with affordability deed restrictions, or market rate units that are so small they are affordable. He believed that as serious discussion proceeds with the chosen developer, those decisions will come naturally.

One of the biggest surprises of the night came when Tollefson said he had already begun to form an opinion on which developer he might choose. He said he didn’t think the Blue team had the financial capability to do the project and as a result, wasn’t in favor of that proposal.

Tollefson also asked his colleagues for an indication of whether they are interested in the possibility of a Boys and Girls Club on the site, as envisioned under the proposal known as the Farm. Medina said that although he is against developing the site, if it is developed, he would be in favor of the club, or some kind of community center. Peltier wondered why the Boys and Girls Club can’t remain at its current location at Coppertop Business Park. The others did not express an opinion. (more…)

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This was posted on Facebook today, and was posted last week on the Parfitt Way Blog, the blog of Parfitt Way Management Corp., owner of the Harbour Public House, Pegasus Coffee House and Harbor Marina. The entire blog post is here.  Parfitt Way Management is owned by long-time islanders and business people, Jeff and Jocelyn Waite.

As I listen to the competing arguments for the preferred use of the Suzuki property, I am disappointed by the discussions.

In many respects, this is a bizarre story of a geographically exclusive city that prides itself on being environmentally conscious, whose city council can approve the construction of yet another 10,000-square-foot vacation home with a heated outdoor swimming pool, and simultaneously decry as an eyesore the “ugly” multifamily developments where working class people live. In other respects, this is a familiar story of America’s continuing clash between people of differing economic classes, who rely on each other, and yet cannot figure out how to live with each other.

Bainbridge Island’s service sector is teetering on the edge of unsustainability for one reason and one reason alone – lack of available workers. Historically, to maintain our two restaurants’ doors open we have required some 60 – 70 persons in our work force per year. That nets out to about 35 full time equivalents (FTE). We are just one employer on an island that continues to demand a vibrant and healthy downtown. Each year we watch as our available labor pool shrinks and the number of staff miles driven to get to work increases. In my many years on the Chamber of Commerce board of directors, I have heard a common refrain from the island’s employers. How is that good for the island and our island environment?

For those who are taking issue with the Housing Resource Board’s (HRB) proposal based on environmental concerns, please take pause. If Bainbridge Island is a defining place that embodies the best of environmentalism, then much of that movement becomes wed to the condition of the privileged. Privileged environmentalism is not progressive politics but a politics of the rich and comfortable that only claims progressive ideals. That brand of environmentalism becomes entirely consistent with – and is a close cousin of – class exclusionary politics. (more…)

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home1We’ve heard a lot about the environmental value of the Suzuki property, and the potential ecological impact from development. In comparison, we’ve heard almost nothing about housing access, lack of diversity and other consequences of Bainbridge Island’s affordable housing problems. I don’t want to further polarize people, but I do think a balancing of the factors in the City’s decision would be helpful.

Fair housing is an ideal that emerged from our nation’s civil rights movement. In the 1960’s, a national advisory commission found that both open and covert racial discrimination prevented black families from obtaining better housing and moving to integrated communities. To overcome the legacy of segregation, unequal treatment, and lack of access to opportunity in housing, Congress adopted the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

The FHA outlaws obvious discriminatory practices like exclusionary zoning, discriminatory lending practices and racially restrictive covenants. Over the years, it has been expanded to cover several protected classes, prohibiting housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability or the presence of children. Like many states, Washington has its own fair housing laws, and specifies additional protected classes, such as age, sexual orientation, political ideology and source of income.

But discrimination is not always obvious, and last spring, in Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that housing policies resulting in “disparate impact”—a disproportionately adverse effect on protected classesviolate the law even if there is no intent to discriminate. The Court cited zoning laws and other housing restrictions as examples of actions that may not arise from intentional discrimination, but may nevertheless violate the law because they have a disparate impact on protected classes.

Also last year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) finalized a new rule that gives sharper teeth to the Fair Housing Act, impacting all communities, including our own. This rule requires all agencies receiving HUD money to provide regular reports on actions they have taken to “affirmatively further fair housing.” These reports must be be submitted to HUD for review. This is a more robust standard than the previous requirement to do an “analysis of impediments” to fair housing, which fell short of the goal of increasing housing fairness.

How do these developments affect us locally?

Bainbridge Island receives HUD money through Kitsap County, according to HUD Public Affairs officer Leland Jones. For example, Housing Kitsap–our county’s public housing agency—provides HUD money to islanders who have Section 8 vouchers. Additionally, federal money provided some of the financing for Ferncliff Village, an affordable housing development of our housing nonprofit, Housing Resources Bainbridge (HRB). Thus, the island’s efforts to affirmatively further fair housing must be documented and submitted to HUD under the new rule.

Even before the new rule, there was plenty of publicly available information about regional housing efforts.  For example, a 2014 report by the Puget Sound Regional Council said that although most forms of overt housing discrimination are in decline in the Puget Sound region, the impacts of historical unfairness are still evident. The report further noted, “Structural causes of segregation continue to have a pervasive effect across communities, whether or not self-segregation or discrimination are also at play. People are residentially sorted by economic status. High-priced neighborhoods as well as neighborhoods with limited rental housing fail to provide feasible housing choices for low- and-moderate income households.”

Bainbridge Island is deeply afflicted with these structural causes of segregation, and is one of the most racially segregated communities in the entire region. According to our latest Housing Needs Assessment, the population of Bainbridge Island in 2010 (the most recent year for which data is available) was 91% white. Since 1980, minorities have consistently made up less than 10% of the island’s population. Compare this to other Puget Sound suburbs: Shoreline: 69% white; Bellevue: 60% white. Even our Eastside doppelganger, Mercer Island, is substantially more diverse than Bainbridge at 78% white. (more…)

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IMG_2996 Next week the City Council will start talking about what they want to do with the Suzuki property. There are four proposals on the table, ranging from transferring the land for free to the Parks Department, to selling it for as much as $2.6 million for higher-density development that includes at least some affordable housing. The process has generated strong opinion, because our community (and our Comprehensive Plan) place so much value on the seemingly contradictory goals of environmental stewardship and affordable housing.  In a recent interview with Bainbridge Island Broadcasting, the City’s Interim Planning Director, Joe Tovar, hit the nail on the head when he said, “So you’ve got those two things that, in the abstract, are very high rank order public policy priorities for people here on the island.”

In the abstract. Yes, of course.

People come down on the side of either pro-housing or pro-preservation (sometimes trying to split the baby by saying, “I do believe in affordable housing, just not here,” though the specific location of Not Here remains elusive). We collect data and studies about ecological value, species counts, aquifer recharge and the significance of trees, wetlands and pond. The other side counters with data and studies about housing costs, the benefits to kids from lower-income homes when they live in more affluent communities, and the heavier traffic from people who work on Bainbridge Island but must commute from off-island. A third view talks about missing middles, and the need for a wholesome refuge for island kids.

Data, careful study and analysis are important as a foundation for our decision-making, but we can’t stop there. We would do well to remember that data and studies are abstractions, in the sense that Tovar observed. Abstractions do not pull us together, but further apart, into the solitary confines of our own mental chatter, beliefs and preoccupations. They often confirm what we already believe. The realities in our community become symbols–abstractions—for global problems. We hunker down to fight the good fight, and solutions get lost in the fight.

When one abstraction collides with another in a seemingly intractable way, a good plan might be to go out into the real world, into the good air, where we know our surroundings bodily, with our eyes, and ears, our skin, our hands and feet.

There, we sense the wholeness and mystery of this Earth. There is no part of the Earth that is not touched by humans. There is no part of the human that is not touched by the Earth. We are already in profoundly consequential relationship with our home, our Mother. We are a crowded planet. Beautiful places that are good places to live become more crowded by the year. We don’t know how to protect our good, beautiful places, where people want to live. We don’t know how to provide decent housing for all people. Like every species, we engage in the daily struggle for survival, and now we face the added challenge of adapting to a changing world not of our own making, and almost entirely outside of our individual control. We are facing the unknown. Old strategies and structures no longer point the way forward.

Neither do questions that pose a false dichotomy: Environment or people? Homes for people of modest means, or homes for non-human species? Development or land preservation? Act now or delay? It is neither possible nor reality-based to try to choose between the natural environment and the fundamental needs of human beings.

For me, a more helpful question might be this: how do we have a relationship of integrity with the Earth and all her creatures, including human creatures, in this place, at this time?

It is not an easy inquiry. It requires a willingness to leave the comfort of already-formed answers. It reminds us that “community” includes all life forms — animals, moss, birds, trees, human beings–and that, as a community, we are accountable to our land, our neighborhoods and to each other. It takes us out of abstraction, and into actual, concrete experience. (more…)

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The City just sent out this press release and the next and last meeting about the Suzuki property, before the Council makes a decision on what to do with the land.

The community is invited to attend a meeting on Tuesday, February 23, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. to provide the City Council with input on four proposals for the Suzuki Property.

The purpose of the meeting on February 23 is to provide the community with an opportunity to share comment and feedback with the City Council on four proposals for the Suzuki Property. The entire two hour meeting that evening will be devoted to providing an opportunity for the public to provide comment. This meeting is the third in a series of community meetings regarding the Suzuki Property that have occurred this year.

The City Council will begin to deliberate next steps regarding the proposals at the Council Meeting on Tuesday, March 8. It is anticipated that the Council will make a decision regarding the future of the property this spring. If the Council decides to move forward with one of the proposals, the City will enter in contract negotiations with the selected team. During those contract negotiations, an agreement will be worked out that will include details about the purchase and sale, as well as additional conditions regarding the development of the property. For example, the City could stipulate additional conditions such as requiring that the selected team host additional community charrettes, requiring environmental protections that would go above and beyond permit requirements, or requirements for affordable housing or community amenities.

For more information on the Suzuki property, and to view the four proposals in their entirety, please visit the Suzuki Property page on the City website. Public comment may be submitted at anytime to pcd@bainbridgwa.gov or council@bainbridgewa.gov

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IMG_1563The National Climate Assessment issued this week doesn’t have much good news about solutions to our climate problem. The report says natural processes remove about half the carbon dioxide currently being emitted due to human activities. As a result, mitigation efforts that merely keep emissions from increasing are not enough to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but will only limit their rate of increase.

To meet the lower emissions rate used by the report (the “B1 scenario”) in its climate change predictions and assessment–which would still result in significant changes—the world would have to limit global carbon dioxide emissions to 44 billion tons per year for the next 25 years and decline thereafter.

In 2011, global carbon emissions were 34 billion tons per year, and have been rising by .9 billion tons per year for the last decade. We are on track to exceed the 44 billion tons per year within the decade, assuming the rate of emissions does not increase.

Carbon storage in land ecosystems in the U.S. (carbon “sinks”) offset 17% of annual fossil fuel emissions annually, but scientists believe the positive effect of these carbon sinks may not be sustainable.

Between 2008 and 2012, there was a decline in the U.S. in annual emissions of carbon dioxide due to energy use, due to changes in our economy and improvements in government policies and development of alternative energy sources.

In spite of the slight improvements in recent years, the report warns that we need “aggressive and sustained greenhouse gas emissions reductions by the U.S. and other countries” in order to achieve the B1 scenario that is described in the report.

The report suggests national policy that is urgently needed to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gas emissions, with a mix of new energy technology for wind, solar and bio-energy, stricter emissions regulation, additional research, and market solutions. The report emphasizes that even if such policies were adopted today the task would be hard, “but delay by any of the major emitters makes meeting any such target even more difficult and may rule out some of the more ambitious goals.”

City, state and regional mitigation actions

The country’s most ambitious state activity is California’s “Global Warming Solutions Act” which sets a state goal of reaching 1990 greenhouse gas emissions rates by 2020. The statute uses a cap and trade mechanism (a cap on emissions and a market-based system of trading emissions credits), as well as a number of regulatory actions.  (more…)

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