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Jon Quitslund – An In-Depth Community Conversation

Bainbridge Island City Council District 3 (South Ward) candidate John Quitslund 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 Jon Quitslund:
In the Chamber’s initial email interview: https://bainbridgechamber.com/questions-for-the-candidates-central-south-wards/
At the official campaign website: https://www.quitslundforcouncil.com/
At the official campaign facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/jon.quitslund

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

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPTION:

Stefan Goldby: Let’s talk a little bit about your community engagement to this point – Can you talk about the Island organizations and groups that you’ve been involved with, worked for, or volunteered at?

Jon Quitslund: Well, years ago, when the Sustainable Bainbridge organization was taking shape, I was involved in discussions and meetings. I didn’t immediately join the board. I was working at that time with the Historical Museum board. But I did join and was a longtime member of the Sustainable Bainbridge board, and I served as secretary, I contributed to a blog that was part of the website when that got set up. So I worked with a number of people, good friends, some that I knew in advance, and then people came in to that organization during my tenure.

And I stepped away from Sustainable Bainbridge when I joined the Planning Commission. I served on the Planning Commission for nine years. And those three terms ended at the end of June. So that freed me up for what might be seen as a next step, or a suicide leap perhaps, into the the City Council.

SG: So you’ve been actively campaigning and talking to Islanders for a while now. What would you say are the top three concerns you hear from the community?

JQ: Well, the topic that I most want to talk with people about is our real estate market and our housing stock. And especially the dearth of rental housing at any price, and especially of affordable housing, to use a vaguely defined term. We do have a good history of working on affordable housing issues, but we have made very slow progress. And now things are highly visible, I would say. And I find people very interested in addressing the need for affordable housing.

There are other concerns. The… tenor of City Council meetings has been troublesome at times. I see the Council now working very well together. But it’s a different environment from what I’m accustomed to on the Planning Commission and I want to address that. People talk about that.

SG: Can you be more specific about the differences between the atmosphere on the Planning Commission versus City Council?

JQ: Well… the Planning Commission always works toward consensus. We don’t always get there and it isn’t essential that we get there. There have been some divisive situations recently on the Planning Commission – there was a decision made on the Wintergreen affordable housing project in the site that includes Virginia Mason and Walgreens drugstore and so on, and…that was a that was a difficult process. It led to a recommendation. And two members of the Planning Commission dissented from that positive recommendation. They had good reasons. The reasons were part of the package. The reasons for reservations and and the conditions placed on that process.

So it’s often a mixed picture, but not a contentious picture that is competitive and involves, you know, sort of distrust and factions, which I have seen over the years following Council for the last 20 years or so. You see factions develop and you see, sometimes a swing voter who can make peace or can make, make decisions in the middle. But the politics of the City Council are real, and they’re there for a reason. But it’s a question of negotiating those processes and keeping things civil and productive. You don’t want a situation where, well, we just can’t deal with this. That’s… been the case over and over, just backing away, leaving things undone.

SG: The recent draft of the county-wide land use report has concluded that our Island’s growth is roughly on track to hit the intended 2036 levels, but that growth hasn’t been happening in line with the community’s Comprehensive Plan. Do you agree with those, those preliminary findings? And how do you think the islands residential, commercial and community needs can best be balanced with the preservation of our natural resources?

JQ: That’s a very timely question, because… last night’s Council meeting addressed the issue of the buildable lands report and the Bainbridge Island component of it prepared by planning staff. And… I was nonplussed by much of the discussion. There was some fault finding of what had been said about the the efforts to plan for development, especially emphasizing development in the more densely zoned parts of the island, especially the greater Winslow, the mixed-use town center and the other parts of Winslow and in the nearby suburban zone or district. So there was discussion of why, how the word “growth” should be used? Should it be used at all?

Is the… island interested in growing population? Some Council members seem to be saying no, we want to limit, we want to limit growth. And I can understand that limiting growth, especially in the less dense zones, but… that hasn’t been happening. And we haven’t had effective policies… to get the kind of growth that we need.

So I felt the Council was not really coming to terms with the issues effectively. And there’s a lot more to be said because we have a housing resources/housing needs assessment underway. We have a housing action plan. We have the Winslow Master Plan… The update to that hasn’t started but will start in the coming year.

SG: You’re pre-empting my next question: well done! What do you think requires the most urgent update within the current Winslow Master Plan?

JQ: Well, the Winslow Master Plan was designed to promote, to incentivize mixed use, and we haven’t seen that happen. And we haven’t seen the level of allowable density and invaluable density reached in many parts of Winslow. Along Hildebrand for example. You see some well designed two-story buildings and some of those are effectively mixed use buildings. But you also see, for example, Bank of America on a large lot, a large building and the branch… is in trouble there. They seem not to have the business and they’re not staffing the… branch for business. That’s that’s taking up valuable space. A bank, like Bank of America, could be a key tenant in a building that accommodates other uses as well. That’s what you see in many communities, not just downtown cities, but… in many parts of places. And so… we haven’t planned for appropriate levels of density where it belongs in Winslow. And we haven’t planned for enough housing in the greater Winslow area.

SG: COVID has prompted an unprecedented shift in the operations of the island’s businesses, nonprofits, and of the City itself. What parts of that pivot do you think will turn out to be permanent changes, and how can the City best support them?

JQ: Hmm. Well, I haven’t gotten my hands around all those issues yet. I see the need for it. And the Council is the place where these these plans should be given shape. It will be… Well, one of the big changes, you see it regionally, is that working from home has been necessary. And working from home has been advantageous for many people. It’s also been impossible for many, many lines of work, many essential services and the fabric of our culture requires that some people commute, other people can commute part of the time, but work at home part of the time.

Those are things which are good for the island, the possibilities of working from home, but it will change… the distribution of our population, potentially making things possible that are good for the greatest number.

I think bringing people closer to where they work is one thing. And that’s where we ought to be accommodating more people who now can only afford to live far from the island with a long commute which adds to their expenses and… you know, we’re talking about people who are lower paid or entry level employees, and also people in the mid-range.

That’s why I think a housing policy, a comprehensive housing policy, I don’t emphasize affordable, but a comprehensive housing policy and the building of more diverse housing on the island is a value. And it will be. It’ll all happen gradually. And it should happen in response to these evolving patterns for work and the recovery of our economy.

SG: One of the biggest current challenges for the island’s business community has been finding new employees. And one of the biggest struggles those potential hires do point to is a lack of affordable workforce housing. 

JQ: Yes.

SG: What practical steps are you prepared to take to address the island’s need for workforce and other and all other kinds of diverse housing?

JQ: Well, this may not sound like a practical step. But we have an outdated, municipal code. Title Eighteen zoning is the place where all the regulations belong in a variety of chapters. There’s a chapter called affordable housing, and it’s five pages long.

We need a comprehensive policy statement there, that covers all the range of housing that the market is not supplying, including workforce, including moderately-priced rental, and moderately-priced apartments for purchase, multi-family construction, and that sort of thing.

Some of that development, like, for example, the development at the corner of Madison and Wyatt that’s replacing some affordable housing, with a component of that project that will be owned and managed by the Housing Resources Bainbridge agency. And the Council last night agreed readily to support that development, support HRB with, I think it was $2 million, so that’s a definitely a big step in the right direction, putting City money, this is money from the federal government, but we, we have the opportunity to obtain grants from the state and federal sources, and… that’s what we should be going for – to finance things that the City needs, that benefits all of us.

Another component of that project, which is all for rental properties, will benefit I think the missing middle of our economy in a variety of individual and couple and small family housing. And that project is well designed by Bruce Anderson and a team of people who… know what they’re doing. They’ve worked their way through, not the entire review process, but design review and its coming to the Planning Commission very soon. That’s just one example.

But we need better… regulations that will create more potential and… it’s a huge undertaking, but I’ve looked into it deeply. I’ve looked at other codes, codes from California. I think we have the benefit of somebody in the city manager’s position with California experience that we can gain from because… they have somewhat different regulations and they have… different ways of of going about things that will be very valuable to us.

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

JQ: Wow. Yeah, that’s a very important criterion. It’s an important criterion at the regional level: equity as a factor in, you know… the equity measures enter into the awarding of grants and so on. And we’ve lost some potential grant money in the area of transportation because we can’t claim a good record.

We do have a developing diversity within our population. But we need to foster more of it, because we’re unlike communities all around us in the extent to which we are open to diversity of age… younger people, and diversity of ethnic and other cultural backgrounds. So how do we do it? Housing is crucial.

SG: Beyond the housing, What kinds of infrastructure improvement do you think is most needed on Bainbridge?

JQ: Well, we have a good start on planning for better transportation networks, including accommodations for for biking and walking, and biking is on the rise, including e-bikes that people will be using more and more. Which our terrain requires for many people and they need, people need to be safe outside of cars.

We’ve been planning for that, we’ve been making progress. It just needs continued attention and the Council, I compliment the Council for their good rapport with Public Works… and good ideas in that area. We’ve been making real progress. And…that we’ll have to continue.

The greenways portion of that planning is important as well. And I’ve talked with Susan Loftus, and… she’s planning on more conversation about that. That’s a feature – I haven’t had a lot of focus on that. But I want to see that develop.

What other sorts of infrastructure? Better Internet service, better phone service around the island. That’s important, especially people working from home, they need to keep up with the pace of Internet service and the rest of it.

People talk about problems with power outages. That was a big topic. And we’ve got to have a system that reduces the length of time that power is out, if it is out. And I heard that discussion last night in Council meeting. At the same time, well, that’s probably as much as I need to say there.

SG: I may follow up on that a little bit, just because you did watch it last night. You know, the electricity grid is an issue that’s been talked about for years now. PSE has been out in the community, talking about potential changes for years. What do you think about that proposal?

JQ: Well, PSE emphasizes how expensive undergrounding is. But there are places, situations where undergrounding can be combined with the improvements in our transportation system and more partnership in that area. Planning, you know, I don’t know. I don’t know the dynamic between PSE and Public Works. PSE and planning for our transportation. We have an electrical grid, we have a transportation network, I guess you could say it’s all networking. And the more we can do things together the better, seems to me.

SG: What do you think the falling enrollment at Bainbridge’s highly-rated and well-funded public school district is most indicative of?

JQ: I talked with the superintendent, we had a real meeting of minds on that subject. The school system and the school board have been advocating for housing that serves the needs of their teachers, and serves the needs of young families, because we have a falling enrollment. Actually, there’s, there’s maybe an uptick temporarily, but it’s, it’s problematic.

And it’s evident in the fact that… many families are sending their young children to private schools, rather than the public school. And that’s something that the school system has to come to terms with. And it’s reflective, perhaps, of the wealth of, of our current population, that they have the resources and they have the values that go with private school as opposed to public school education.

So I want to see our demographic pattern on the island change. It’s not healthy. The fact that… people over 65, including myself, are the growing component of the demographic spectrum. And the young people and children under 18, population under 18, that’s all in decline.

And it can’t be… that’s not good, that doesn’t bode well for the future. It’s the young people who are our future. It’s… their hopes and so on, and…  you know, we need a culture that is welcoming and an economy that is welcoming to those younger families.

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 would your key initiatives be in this area?

JQ: Well, we have, you know, I’ve mentioned Sustainable Bainbridge. Sustainable Bainbridge has pushed that and the Zero Waste initiatives. They’re more important than ever.

And at the same time that recycling has hit some snags in terms of, well, what do we do when we dispose of the recycled goods? How do we accomplish real recycling? That’s… something that is being talked about in in the construction industry now. And we have a history there. We can be… pushing harder on that.

Clark Construction – I’ve talked to people there. And Matthew Coates, the architect. One way of economizing in the construction of lower cost housing is using recycled materials, recycled furnishings even. And… that’s something that is a sort of a pilot program in construction on the Morales Farm property that is very… something to be excited about. So plastics, of all sorts in the focus of effort.

I think recycling our our food wastes is another thing. I know there’s talk about the development of a biodigester, which is a way of gaining energy from another thing that’s recycling, recycling yard wastes and developing industry there. We’ve been shipping a lot of things off the island, when they could be, to some extent, better treated on the island.

SG: With only limited time and resources to tackle the challenges of Bainbridge life in 2021, can you name 1 to 3 actions that you would like to define the legacy of your potential term of office?

JQ: Well, progress on the housing front: housing policies, housing stock, that has the largest and most complex potential, I think. And making that possible, clarification in many parts of the municipal code. Because we updated the Comprehensive Plan a few years ago. I was part of the heartbeat of that process. Maradel Gale and I, as planning commissioners, worked hand in hand with planning staff, and the consulting expert, Joe Tovar. And it was a very creative process, we had a very robust update of the Comprehensive Plan, and it needs more work the next time around, but not as much work.

But we have not yet implemented the most important aspects of the Comprehensive Plan where it was innovative and aspirational. So that’s what I want, I want to accomplish a lot there. Because I understand the municipal code and its flaws better than any other member of the Council perhaps, except now that – it’s because now Christie Carr is at the party and it’s her place that I’m taking. Christie was an awesome member of the planning staff. And I learned a tremendous amount working closely with her, I want to apply that knowledge going forward. And my recovering academic identity, my English professor skills come into play, perhaps making the municipal code more intelligible and more effective.

Another thing would be improving the the dynamics of Council meetings, improving relationships to the other parts of the City’s government, better communication with the Planning Commission, with the Design Review Board, better rapport with planning staff, those are things that all need improvement, and I am only one person in the seven-person Council, but I want to be a catalyst for these changes.

SG: Well done. You’ve totally preempted my final question, which is; What kind of working atmosphere will you strive to create, if elected to city council?

JQ: Well, the Council will always be political. And that’s partly because we have a political community to respond to. We have many differences and many urgent needs within the community. And many a diverse field of positives and negatives.

We have an engaged community and I want to see that engagement become more general, because there are so many people who are really quite indifferent to Island politics, turned off by what they perceive Island politics to be until they have a problem in the neighborhood that they want to see fixed. Or they want the sort of thing where something happens, and the attitude is this can never happen again, why did this happen? That sort of thing. So that’s a political environment, and the Council needs to deal with it.

Seeking consensus, seeking understanding, with the best possible communication. The Council has, over the years that I’ve been following things have kind of ebbed and flowed. There have been effective Councils, cooperative Councils. And within a given year, there will be storms and improvements in the weather. And… that’s all good. I want to be riding with that. Going forward and just trying to be a good team player. As I see the desire on the Council for teamwork and consensus.

And at the same time, the problem often, problems often arise from attitudes on the Council: Well, that’s something we just can’t talk about. That’s something we aren’t ready to deal with. That’s something, you know, and things get swept under the rug or things get – the can gets kicked down the road.

I don’t appreciate that. I think issues need to be clearly defined with a problem-solving attitude. And I think that I want to find opportunities for solving problems that have been neglected, that have just been too big to resolve. We need to bring the talent that we have to bear and that includes talent within the community, because we have people who can be brought in to to help with the process.

 

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

00:51 Community Engagement

02:22 3 Community Concerns

06:18 Land Usage

09:18 Winslow Master Plan

12:30 COVID Pivot

15:14 Affordable Housing

19:28 Equity & Diversity

20:52 Infrastructure

24:55 School Enrollment

27:24 Environmental Leadership

30:10 3 Specific Actions

33:36 Working Atmosphere

Note: Technical difficulties at 11:08

 

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