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Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Blossom’

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.

 

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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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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. (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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Last week, Council member Steven Bonkowski sent a letter to the press, trying to rehabilitate his reputation after his unlawful and costly violations of the Public Records Act. We sent the letter below to the Bainbridge City Council, the City Manager and the City Attorney. 

Dear Council, Mr. Schulze, and Ms. Marshall:

We read Steven Bonkowski’s letter to Inside Bainbridge this week, in which he attempts to re-litigate arguments he lost in court. His false statements are so significant that we think it’s important to correct them in writing. We also want to express our alarm that as a sitting member of the Bainbridge City Council, Mr. Bonkowski continues to substitute his own incorrect interpretation of the law for the judgment of two courts, suggesting that he is within his rights to continue the unlawful behavior that has cost the city so much money.

The following are false statements by Mr. Bonkowski:

Bonkowski: “I want the community to know that I did not conduct city business from my private email account, and I did turn over my emails to the city in a timely manner for the public records request.”

The facts: Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Jeanette Dalton held that the documents we sought were “related to the financial information that Mr. Bonkowski discussed at the June 5, 2013 meeting, and thus do come within the realm of ‘public records.’” In fact, when Judge Dalton discussed Mr. Bonkowski’s flawed reasoning in determining what constitutes a public record, she wrote the criticism that has been so often repeated in the press: “The Council members knew well what the Governance Manual requires, and any hesitation by them in turning over such emails is a grave concern for the people of Bainbridge Island.”

Moreover, Mr. Bonkowski did not turn over his emails in a timely manner, because, as Judge Dalton found, he “admitted to deleting records that were responsive to the PRA requests.”

The Court of Appeals supported Judge Dalton’s positions, writing that Bonkowski and Ward “undisputedly violated the Governance Manual by using their personal accounts for city business, by failing to forward emails received on their personal accounts to City servers, and by deleting emails which constituted public records, thus making it impossible for the City to adequately respond to Paulson and Fortner’s PRA requests.” (more…)

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Last August, we filed a Public Records Act lawsuit against the City of Bainbridge Island and certain individual councilpersons, after learning they had been conducting City business from their personal email accounts, and had failed to produce these records after receiving our public records request.

As we said in our press release at the time, “The last thing we want to do is sue the city….But the way the Public Records Act is written, we have to sue the city in order to require rogue officials to obey the law.”

We have tried to make clear throughout this litigation that our primary concern was not with individuals on the City’s staff, whom we had found to be cooperative and professional. It was unlawful activity by the councilpersons that troubled us, because they have consistently placed themselves above the law and have refused to turn over public records. Council members Dave Ward and Steven Bonkowski have admitted under oath that they deleted emails concerning City business, relying upon their own personal definition of what constitutes a public record, and without seeking advice from the City. In doing so, they ignored guidelines that were provided to them on multiple occasions.

In a 32-page decision issued May 29th, Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Jeannette Dalton agreed with us, finding that the councilpersons’ refusal to turn over the records was of “grave concern for the people of Bainbridge Island.” Judge Dalton found that the City failed to do an adequate search for the requested records as required by law, because even after the City knew the council members were conducting City business on their personal accounts, it did not make any effort to search those accounts. She ruled that the City violated the Public Records Act and ordered the City to pay our attorneys fees and sanctions for the violations.

(more…)

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Here’s the press release we sent out this morning. We received Judge Dalton’s opinion late Friday afternoon. I’ve attached her opinion at the end of the post. The Bainbridge Review’s article is here. The Inside Bainbridge article is here.

Kitsap Superior Court Judge Jeanette Dalton ruled Friday that the City of Bainbridge Island violated the Public Records Act (PRA) by failing to turn over emails from the personal email accounts of council members David Ward and Steven Bonkowski, after public records requests were made by Islanders Althea Paulson and Robert Fortner. Judge Dalton awarded monetary penalties, attorneys fees and costs to Paulson and Fortner, who filed suit last August. Ward and Bonkowski are also required to turn over their personal computers to the City to be searched for missing emails.

Paulson and Fortner made separate requests beginning in June 2013 for public records relating to the City-run water utility. The City produced responsive records that were stored on the City’s server. In addition, council member Sarah Blossom turned over emails from her personal email account showing that Blossom, Ward, Bonkowski and council member Debbi Lester had been conducting city business from their personal accounts. (more…)

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Today, the New York Times has a story about a report on climate change just released by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest non-governmental general science membership organization.

AAAS convened a task force of climate science experts, economists, community leaders and policy makers for its “What We Know” Initiative, to address the continuing lack of public awareness of the full spectrum of climate risks. Scientists from Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Woods Hole and other research institutions are guiding the effort to educate people about the scientific evidence on climate change, raise the alarm about serious risks and consequences to the planet, and debunk myths and misinformation.

The report contains no new science. Instead, it is clearer and “more accessible than perhaps anything the scientific community has put out to date,” the Times writes. The initiative is intended to cut through public confusion, and identify:

The Reality–Surveys show that the public is somewhat concerned about climate change, but believes there is still significant scientific disagreement about the causes. This is FALSE. According to AAAS, “Based on well-established evidence, about 97% of climate scientists have concluded that human-caused climate change is happening.”

The Risk–AAAS writes: “Earth’s climate is on a path to warm beyond the range of what has been experienced over the past millions of years. The range of uncertainty for the warming along the current emissions path is wide enough to encompass massively disruptive consequences to societies and ecosystems: as global temperatures rise, there is a real risk, however small, that one or more critical parts of the Earth’s climate system will experience abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes.”

Worst case forecasts include severe food shortages, rising seas that would inundate coastlines, extreme heat waves, droughts and floods, and massive extinction of plants and animals.  (more…)

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trick-or-vote-graveyardI’m now sending daily nag-texts to my three 20-something sons to vote and mail their ballots. Like most Americans, they’re not much interested in local elections, even though the government decisions that affect us most directly are made at the local level.

For the past decade, the turnout on Bainbridge in local elections has been in the neighborhood of 40%. By contrast, the island’s turnout for the 2008 presidential election was over 90% in many precincts.

Low turnout can happen when voters don’t think their vote will have much consequence. Several council candidates in the past were unopposed. Christine Rolfes and Bob Scales walked on in 2003. Hilary Franz and Barry Peters were unopposed in 2007.

Most races hand the winner a convincing victory. The closest race in the past two cycles was the 2009 matchup between Bob Scales and Debbie Vancil. Scales took the race with 250 votes, which was a two percentage point advantage.

The Anne Blair/Melanie Keenan race was the most lopsided win in the past two races, with Blair garnering 1389 more votes than Keenan, beating her by 16 percentage points.

Turnout was lower in 2011 than it was in 2009. The numbers vary slightly by Council race, but in 2009, the Kirsten Hytopoulos/Tim Jacobsen race gained the most votes at 9959. In 2011, the most votes were cast in the Barry Peters/Steven Bonkowski matchup, with 9173 votes cast.

The year 2011 was also when the island saw the emergence of a special interest group promoting a slate of candidates. The Ratepayers Alliance rallied voters in Winslow, many of whom were angry over high water rates charged by the City. The Alliance was in litigation with the City and its members had urged that the City divest itself of the water utility.

Sally Adams, Alliance secretary, hosted at least one campaign event (to which I was invited, and still have the invitation) for the slate of Sarah Blossom, Dave Ward and Steven Bonkowski.  According to state campaign finance records, Sally Adams and Dick Allen (president of the Alliance) made contributions to Blossom’s campaign. Allen also contributed to Ward’s campaign. At the time that Allen made his contribution to Ward’s campaign, Ward was a member of the City’s Utility Advisory Committee, which was working on its recommendation to Council on whether to divest the City’s water utility.  (more…)

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This morning Bob Fortner and I sent out the following press release:

Bainbridge residents Althea Paulson and Bob Fortner filed a Public Records Act lawsuit in Kitsap County Superior Court today against the City of Bainbridge Island, and city council members Steven Bonkowski, David Ward and Debbi Lester. Bonkowski, Ward and Lester have been named in the suit both personally and in their role as councilpersons.

Paulson and Fortner made separate requests under the state Public Records Act for records about the council’s recent dealings with the city’s utilities. When councilperson Sarah Blossom produced responsive emails from her personal email account, it became apparent that Bonkowski, Ward, Lester and Blossom have been conducting city business from their personal email accounts.

Council members are given a city email address and, by city policy, are directed to use only that account for city business. Unlike Blossom, councilpersons Ward, Bonkowski and Lester have failed to turn their emails over to the city, in violation of city policy, as well as state law. There is no indication that the other three councilpersons, Kirsten Hytopoulos, Bob Scales and Anne Blair, have used their personal accounts for city business.

“The last thing we want to do is sue the city,” said Paulson, a former co-publisher of the Bainbridge Buzz news website, who now blogs about city politics. “But the way the Public Records Act is written, we have to sue the city in order to require rogue officials to obey the law. The city has produced documents from the city’s server, but in the two months since my request, the three council members still haven’t produced their emails.” (more…)

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