Chris Smith – An In-Depth Community Conversation

Bainbridge Island City Council District 2 (North Ward) candidate Chris Smith recently sat down to answer 12 issue-and-policy-based questions with Chamber President Stefan Goldby ahead of the 2021 General Election. Recorded via Zoom as an individual 1-on-1 session, this interview is part of a series talking in depth to all eight of the 2021 candidates for Bainbridge City Council.

Each candidate was allotted up to 45 minutes to answer a set of questions written in consultation with Chamber members with expert local knowledge of a specific topic. Each conversation features the same questions being asked of all candidates, and in the interest of fairness, none of the candidates were shown any of the questions ahead of the interview session.

We hope that this format provides a chance for Islanders to see each of the prospective councilmembers share their thoughts and potential solutions to some of the big challenges facing the Bainbridge community in full, without interruption or editing.

Each of the candidate’s unabridged responses are presented here as full transcriptions, and below as an unedited video clip, accompanied by timestamps for each individual question.

Learn more about Chris Smith:
In the Chamber’s initial email interview: https://bainbridgechamber.com/questions-for-the-candidates-north-ward/
At the official campaign website: https://www.chrissmith4bicouncil.com/
At the official campaign facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100072917851383

Read the full interview here, or if you prefer to watch, simply jump straight to the video interview


Stefan Goldby: So to kick off, let’s talk a little bit about community engagement. Can you let us know which Island organizations you’ve previously worked for, with, or volunteer that?

Chris Smith: Well, I have a somewhat of a limitation on that, because I’ve spent most of my time living on the island, working in Seattle. And that has actually precluded me from actually joining a lot of Island-specific community actions. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a listing of civic actions, they’re just not specific to Bainbridge Island.

I’m a member of the Civil Air Patrol. I do a lot of work with outreach in aviation for for kids, getting them involved in aviation. I’ve done some work with the Museum of Flight in that regard. And I’ve also worked with several community services in Seattle, for food banking, etc. So, unfortunately, I will tell you straight out that I don’t have a long list of participation in various Island-specific activities.

SG: You have been actively campaigning and talking to islanders for a while now. So what are the top three concerns that you’re hearing from the community?

CS: Well, I’ve heard pros and cons are regarding affordable housing. And I’m an affordable housing guy. And if kept up with the news, there was on the 28th, there was a Council meeting that I listened in on where they approved some ARPA funds for affordable housing. And our friend Phedra over there at Housing Resources Bainbridge is delighted to hear that.

So, however, as I go through on my, kind of, Chris Smith listening tour, I find that that has been top of mind for a lot of people. So I’m not unique necessarily in that regard. And I’m glad to hear that I’m kind of ahead of a parade on that one. I’m just delighted. I think affordable housing and housing, let’s use the term housing as it supports all segments of our population – are linked to the vibrancy of our community. And so that’s why I’ve been 100% behind some people that are concerned that we don’t want Bainbridge to look like Mercer Island. And we don’t now, and I’m okay with trying to keep it that way.

SG: The recent draft of the county-wide land use report has suggested that while the island’s growth is on track to hit our own projected levels for 2036, the growth itself has not been happening in line with our own comp plan. Do you agree? And how do you think the island’s residential, commercial and community needs can best be balanced with the preservation of our natural resources?

CS: Excellent question. I think that one of the things that we have to do, and the primary goal here, is to meet the requirements of the Growth Management Act and at the same time, support the sustainability – that environmental sustainability on Bainbridge Island.  And the sustainability, I think, to me is the key issue.

The reason I say that is because the growth here on Bainbridge is going to happen. And recent developments such as the pandemic, with everybody now working from home, or online, has untethered a lot of us from our workplace. So Bainbridge Island now becomes a much more attractive place to work regardless of where your economic income actually comes from.

Case in point, a relative of mine just moved his young family to Bainbridge. They moved in about three months ago. She works in Tacoma. He works in Kirkland, and they work online, visited them a few days ago. We walked from their house into Bainbridge, had some ice cream at Mora, and walked back and went through the parks and trail system. What a wonderful vision of life that we want to preserve on Bainbridge Island that that experience presented to me.

So for meeting the requirements of the Growth Management Act, we have to maintain the sustainability. And I think we’re ahead of the plan from the terms of the Growth Management Act, where we’re actually about six months or so ahead of where the Act requires us to be. And I think that the growth is inevitable. We’re just… we need to get out ahead of it with the infrastructure so that it doesn’t become a problem.

SG: What do you think requires the most urgent update in the current Winslow master plan?

CS: Transportation. We need to organize Winslow itself so that the walking community, the bicycling community, the multi-modal community can have unfettered access, considerably better access to all the different aspects of life. The quality of life Winslow provides – right now Winslow is very concentrated, because it’s mostly about people coming off the ferry, they’re going to the businesses, they’re on Winslow Way. And I think that if we can increase the access to Winslow from various parts of the island, we’ll be able to expand that Winslow core to meet more needs.

The other thing in downtown Winslow that I will be focused on is to make sure that the businesses on Winslow have, you know, some support during the pandemic. And I’m concerned that some of the businesses that I like, for example, are really struggling. And I’d like to see some form of support to those guys. And I’m not 100% sure of how to do it. But I would love to see that our businesses on Winslow sustain themselves through the pandemic.

SG: For those businesses, and for almost our entire community, COVID prompted unprecedented shifts. When thinking about the operations of businesses, and nonprofits, and the City itself on Bainbridge, what parts of the recent pivot do you think will turn out to be permanent changes, and how best can the City support them?

CS: I’m not 100% sure that a great deal will be permanent in terms of the businesses on Winslow because they’re primarily retail.

Now, excuse me, one of the things that I do foster, and I’m deeply committed to, is broadband communication. And broadband communication supports commerce. It supports emergency services and supports fire. I’d like to see fiber come into the schools so that kids can start taking virtual field trips, and those sorts of things. So, if I get my wish, and I plan to work tirelessly towards that, there’ll be a lot more online commerce which could impact Winslow businesses until and unless they support the online aspect to their retail business.

Churchmouse is a perfect example. My wife is a quilter. And so she’s a customer at Churchmouse. But right now we if we want to order something from Churchmouse, we order it online, and then go down and pick it up. That’s fine, and that’s wonderful. My thought process is that we, we don’t really get to browse. And some of the exploration that we get to do on Winslow is just going in and looking to see what’s there, what’s available in the bookstore, for example. And I just enjoyed being able to do that.

So I think that the aspect of the Winslow core in terms of retail will stay, regardless of what we do, is the online shopping, the online commerce. So from a downtown Winslow standpoint, I’m just hoping that we get to a point where people feel comfortable enough to go into these shops and go into these stores, and be able to deliver business the way it used to be.

SG: One of the other biggest challenges for business on the island right now is finding new employees. Now one of the biggest struggles those potential hires point to is a lack of affordable workforce housing on the island. What practical steps are you prepared to take to address the island’s need for workforce and other kinds of affordable housing?

CS: I’m determined to use practical steps, and the affordable housing is the response to that. We’re also improving the transportation in terms of bus services with Pingo and Kitsap Transit. So until we have a good inventory of affordable housing on Island, these are our employees there in the downtown corridor, anywhere on the island, are going to have to be on the roads and commuting and I’m hoping we can see an end to that.

And the commute task is pretty significant for someone who is… a minimum wage worker at one of the retail shops, there in a bookstore or something like that. Who has to live in Poulsbo, or or God forbid in Seattle, and ride the ferry to come to here. So from a practical standpoint… I think that the affordable housing on Bainbridge is really the only shot that we have to allow… our support personnel and us to be able to have access to to employment on Bainbridge.

SG: How best do you think equity and diversity can be increased on Bainbridge?

CS: Wonderful question. I think that the equity… primarily boils down to boils down to economic equity. And, yes, we have some racial considerations on Bainbridge that I think they need to be addressed. I think the largest non-white population on Bainbridge lands is between Hispanic and Asian and Island peoples.

So, I think that we need to build a welcoming community… among all the various interests on Bainbridge in order to welcome these people. I haven’t observed, and perhaps that’s the ratio scale… You know, having spent a great deal of time of my daily life in Seattle, where we’ve done a great deal to support the making of racial equity commonplace and visible.

The US government has a toolkit that the Racial Equity Board could be using, more or less billboard racial equity concerns and solutions. I have not seen, as member of the population, a lot of results coming out of those efforts, and I hope that that will take hold. And our racial equity, our racial equity board is probably the tip of the spear in terms of making that happen.

SG: You mentioned broadband, so I assume that will be a part of this answer, but what kinds of infrastructure improvement do you think are most needed on Bainbridge?

CS: We have fiber and… it’s fiber backbone right now. And fiber backbone is useful and yeah, the conundrum with fiber is quote unquote, “the last mile”. How do I get fiber to the actual user – off the backbone into the user? Fiber itself is the most useful for institutional users on Bainbridge, like the schools, like fire, like emergency, like City Hall, and like, intelligent infrastructures like turning on street lights at night etc.

To support the individual on Bainbridge, 5G communications is I think going to be the lead in terms of providing high speed communication to the individual. I just bought… this phone, my first phone that actually has 5G communications in it. It is ridiculously fast.

And through organizations like one that has herds of mesh communications, we can go to existing cell towers, put a six foot tall pole on top of the tower or around it somewhere and deliver a 5G communications network to the island.

So the balance I see is that 5G communication, island-wide 5G communication to complement our cell coverage would take care of the individual user and the individual household. And we would use fiber to get to the institutional users. How cool would it be, to have our kids take virtual field trips to the opera house in Vienna? That’s what 5G can do for our education systems. So that’s kind of where I see broadband really supporting island life here on Bainbridge.

SG: Beyond the the internet connection, is there anything else in the way of infrastructure you think needs work?

CS: Well, the 5G is is beyond the internet – that’s also cellular, etc. and 5G can be employed in a variety of different ways. Because it’s so granular, the list of ways that we could use 5G is is probably pretty long. We could have, you know, emergency workers on the way to a call with 5G in their pocket to listen to the latest status, we could have the EMT with 5G in the ambulance on the way to the ferry, delivering medical data to the eventual recipient of the patient. So 5G, again, if if it’s as granular as I expect it to be, and I carry it in my pocket, the list for 5G is very, very long. The only thing that’s in the way of us deploying that intelligence is our own creativity.

SG: Even though there was there was a slight upwards blip recently, What do you think the falling enrollment at Bainbridge’s highly rated and well-funded public school district is most indicative of?

CS: I think that you’ve, you’ve come in to an area of major concern for me. And that is hopefully affordable housing will help fix this. But if we continue our current course and speed, young people will not be able to live on Bainbridge Island. And the drop in enrollment is a harbinger of that. And it just happened I think, for the first time this year for the kindergarten and first grade.

So that time is coming where we have to make Bainbridge Island more amenable to all elements of our population. Yes, it will impact the schools significantly, and it’ll impact the funding for the schools significantly.

And I’m very proud of the quality of our schools on Bainbridge – they were able to get my daughter through and she is now a wildlife biologist in Cashmere studying sage grouse; and so if the Bainbridge schools can do that for my lovely daughter, they deserve all that we can deliver for that.

So the short answer is that we need to make Bainbridge Island attractive to the younger populations. I don’t want to see Bainbridge become the largest old folks’ home in the world. It’s that straightforward.

SG: I think that one’s in Florida, but you know, yes, absolutely.

CS: In the Pacific Northwest!

SG: Should Bainbridge take a leadership position in reducing waste, educating consumers and promoting reusable items in our community’s everyday life? And if so, what will your key initiatives in this area be?

CS: Well, we’ve a lot of key initiatives have already been taken, and eliminating single-use anything plastic, wood, cups, or anything like that is a way to do that. We also need to invest in the disposition of waste, biodegradable waste, and how we manage waste that we collect on Bainbridge Island.

They were the concerns that we are hoping enough ARPA funds have been devoted towards – upgrading sewage, the sewage plant and our biodegradable waste facilities. But beyond that, we need to get rid of single use items.

And again, back to Mora, when you go to Mora and have ice cream, do get it with a cone, not a cup and spoon. That’s what we mean… by a microcosm of what single use waste might be. But simple ways, you know. We always take our own bags to T&C and to Safeway. We always take our, you know, we’re always trying to reuse as much as we can at our own house.

And I think leveling up the consciousness about how important that is, is really the only step that we can take to the population and then depend on individual behavior to support that. My belief is, at least on Bainbridge, because most of us move here because we love it here, we would be a lot more inclined to follow through on environmental support with little things that we can do. Just like you know, bring our own bags to go to the grocery store.

SG: You’re only going to have limited time and resources to tackle all the challenges of Bainbridge life. So could you name 1 to 3 specific actions that ideally you would like to define the legacy of your potential term of office

CS: 5G and expanding fiber, transportation, multimodal transportation, which means that from 8 to 80 we can, we can ride, you know, bicycles to schools, we can walk to schools, instead of riding school buses. I did that when I was a kid, walk through the woods.

And the greenhouse gas emissions – I want to be part of that with green building and with preserving the environment, and… greenhouse gases through the use of environmentally sensitive materials.

When I moved to Bainbridge, I bought a house that had a wood foundation. Okay, it was a solar home on Blackster Lane. And this is 25 years ago. And so I know that it can be done. Concrete is something that really takes a lot of energy to make and we don’t have to do things that way. We can build homes with 25 rusted-out cars, rather than 36-inch diameter trees. We can do that – all we have to do is take the initiative.

So to answer your question: I’m a greenhouse gases, emissions guy, broadband, as you’ve heard, and, and transportation that supports all aspects of the island. If there’s a Burke-Gilman trail that’s put in on Bainbridge Island that’s the Chris Smith-Stefan Goldby trail, I’m okay with that.

SG: What kind of working atmosphere will you strive to create if elected to City Council?

CS: Well, a lot of act depends on whether you’re working inside or outside. But what I want to have from a working atmosphere is you’re touching now back on to the inclusiveness of Bainbridge Island as a society and allowing everybody, regardless of what they are, what their work is, to the person who is the janitor at the school, to the person who’s the principal of the school, to the person who runs an investment house here on Bainbridge Island, that we all respect one another and respect individuals for who they are.

And I believe that we sometimes like to get a little bit proud of ourselves because we’re Bainbridge Islanders. And I’m not okay with that.

I spent a good number of decades working for IBM, and the number one – in management positions at IBM – the number one mantra from managers at IBM was respect for the individual. You’re talking to the lowest form of economic activity on Bainbridge, a person who’s maybe sweeping the streets, he should be treated with the exact same respect. Okay, that we will treat anybody on Bainbridge Island, and I think that from an individual behavioral standpoint, if we just respect each other for who we are, we will go a long way towards fixing ethnicity problems, racial problems, and the like.


NOTE:  Transcript has been edited only to reduce vocal repetition and improve clarity.
The uncut video is also included here, with all questions and answers (and any glitches or technical errors) intact.

Watch The Video:

Question-By-Question Chapter Markers

01:00 Community Engagement

02:25 3 Community Concerns

03:55 Land Usage

06:32 Winslow Master Plan

08:16 COVID Pivot

11:11 Affordable Housing

13:07 Equity & Diversity

15:07 Infrastructure

18:35 School Enrollment

20:37 Environmental Leadership

22:42 3 Specific Actions

24:42 Working Atmosphere

Note: Technical difficulties at 32:15


To see all eight of the 2021 City Council Candidate Interviews, head back to the Chamber News homepage…