Feeds:
Posts
Comments

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. Continue Reading »

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. Continue Reading »

It was after 11 last night when the City Council concluded its discussion about the next steps in the process to decide what to do about the Suzuki property. The Council agenda called only for “discussion” on next steps and not for a vote. But when each council member had given lengthy statements about his or her views on Suzuki, a visibly tired mayor Val Tollefson said he’d “counted noses” and believed a majority of four council members were in favor of developing the property for affordable housing. The four members supporting development are Roger Townsend, Wayne Roth, Mike Scott, and Val Tollefson.

They also supported doing the ecological study of the property urged by Council members Ron Peltier, Kol Medina and Sarah Blossom. Tollefson noted that much of the work for such a study has already been done and that the first task would be to work with City staff to learn what has been done, and to “fill the gaps” with a paid consultant. The four in the majority rejected the idea, floated by Peltier, that the City should use citizen volunteers for the study. Continue Reading »

I received this letter yesterday, in response to my post “Fair housing or fair weather ideals?” The writer teaches English, film studies and composition at Bainbridge High School.

Hi Althea,

I just read your article on affordable housing and the Suzuki property and wanted to thank you for raising such an important issue

If you are interested, there is another side / consequence to the lack of affordable housing on Bainbridge–a significantly diminished ability to attract and retain teachers and administrators for Bainbridge schools.

The school board recently repealed the requirement that administrators have to live on the island. While that’s both a compromise and a recognition of our housing problem, it’s certainly not a solution.

Other organizations such as the Housing Resources Board and the Marguerite Foundation make laudable efforts to address this issue. Unfortunately their income and experience rules often wind up excluding more experienced teachers.

This is an issue that’s both immediate and near and dear to my heart. Last year, my wife and I divorced. I was lucky to find a one-bedroom apartment I could afford on Bainbridge so that I could stay near my three children. When my kids come over, they sleep on air mattresses in the crowded living room. It’s not ideal, but we’ve made it work for the past year. However, a couple of months ago, I found out that my landlord intends to sell the apartment at the end of my lease. As you are probably aware, while the housing market is tight on the island, the rental market is even tighter. After going through the loss of my rental myself and seeing it happen to two close friends, I decided it was time to stop renting and start shopping for a house.

Despite having lived and taught in this community for 11 years, despite being at the top of my pay scale with zero debt and a credit score in the 800s, I, as a single teacher, literally cannot afford to buy a house in the community I call home. I’ve done everything I can short of working a second job–and there are many teachers who do just that in order to make ends meet. I’ve pursued and received my National Boards endorsement, I advise an after school club. For years, I served as department head. Despite these pursuits, I simply don’t make enough to afford even a modest house on the island. Consequently I am moving to Poulsbo in two weeks. Continue Reading »

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. Continue Reading »

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. Continue Reading »

The next meeting

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