Bainbridge Island City Council District 1 (At Large) candidate Kirsten Hytopoulos recently sat down to answer 12 issue-and-policy-based questions with Chamber President Stefan Goldby ahead of the 2023 General Election. Recorded via Zoom as an individual 1-on-1 session, this interview is part of a series talking in depth to all five of this year’s candidates for Bainbridge Island’s City Council.
Each candidate was allotted up to 45 minutes to answer a set of questions written in consultation with Chamber members with expert knowledge of a specific local 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 council members share their thoughts, potential solutions, and intended actions to remedy some of the big challenges facing the Bainbridge community in full, without interruption or editing.
Each of the candidate’s responses are presented here as polished transcriptions (edited for clarity and time), and also below as an unedited unabridged video clip, accompanied by timestamps for each individual question.
Read the full interview here below, or if you prefer to watch, simply jump straight to the video interview
KIRSTEN HYTOPOULOS – INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPTION:
Stefan Goldby [SG]: Would you care to introduce yourself?
Kirsten Hytopoulos [KH]: Yes, I’m Kirsten Hytopoulos. I’m currently serving the at large position and seeking reelection.
SG: OK, question 1: Could you begin by describing some of your experience working with different stakeholders in the community – businesses, organizations, residents?
KG: Sure. In my professional life, I work with people going through divorce and trying to avoid court, keeping their families together post divorce, and avoiding conflict.
Obviously on city council, I work with all sorts of people, people coming to me when they’re struggling with working with the city, homeowners, people trying to process permits, etc and struggling with that. People who are interested in seeing legislation passed not just seeing legislation pass, people worried about development, environmental protection. Business owners worried about businesses, people working on committees, my colleagues, legislators, regional representatives and other bodies, just about everything.
In the past, I’ve served on a number of boards – Helpline House, Marge Williams Center. I worked on issues in the school district when I was a mom – as an Odyssey parent trying to make sure its programs fit together. Worked with a lot of parents. So pretty diverse. I’ve also worked as an activist in the community prior to my first term on council on issues related to the city, so advocating to council members for things on behalf of the community… I think I’ve worked with a pretty diverse range of stakeholders.
SG: What personally makes you want to be a council member for the next four years?
KH: Well, a lot of things. I mean, what always caused me to want to be – this will be my third term – to be a city council member, is first of all, my love for the island.
I didn’t move here actually just for the school district or even for the school district, or just for the natural beauty. I was quite aware of the reason why the island incorporated. I knew the story before I moved here from where I first alighted in North Kitsap. And I was trying to move to the island because I thought it was really exciting that a community was so intentional in its planning that it had incorporated the entire island to try to avoid what was happening all across the country for any of us who’ve moved here from other places and seen happening.
So I’ve always wanted to be involved in making sure we can carry through on that. We’re deep in that right now. I’ve been involved in that now for two terms over 14 years. And I would like to be sure that as we really face the most difficult challenges of affordable housing, regional growth pressures, climate change, etc, that we have people who have deep knowledge and good skills – like decision making and conflict resolution skills – to be able to address those problems.
SG: What would you say are the top three specific concerns that you hear from Islanders?
KH: Oh, you know, they haven’t changed a lot although one is becoming more and more, I hope I’m correct, clear. The ones that I’ve heard from the first time I’ve moved here and before I moved here, again would be – preserving the island’s character and sense of place. You know, making sure that as we grow that we don’t exceed the carrying capacity of the island, so growth pressures, right, that includes that we don’t exceed how much water we have etcetera – that we grow well.
Another one I think that I think people are really getting, one I’ve heard for a long time but more and more, is affordable housing. So I think people are finally getting that it’s a problem that affects all of us. It’s not just a feel good problem.
Obviously climate change is a problem for us as well. I guess I’d say that more and more we’re also hearing about access to medical care.
You know, it’s really funny – I think I kind of combined two things in the first one, which is, growth pressures and preserving the sense of place and care to the island. But I’m going to throw on there the lack of access to health care, honestly, because I found it really telling that when we were having a first big community meeting on the Winslow Subarea Plan, how many times that came up.
I wouldn’t have thought of that as something that when people come to talk about what they need in Winslow, what it should look and feel like, that would come up. And as someone who serves on the our public health board regionally, it’s constantly what we’re talking about, and it’s not just on the island. We’ve lost a huge amount of our primary care – we know we have a huge lack of hospital access, etc, in the county. So I think that’s actually becoming a major issue for us as well.
SG: In the Winslow Subarea Plan and the Comprehensive Plan, we have a generational opportunity to plot the path forward for the next 20 years on the island. What do you think are the top three things those documents must create for Bainbridge Island?
KH: Well, again, both for our local need, and now for the state mandates that we’re facing… Some of our state mandates I expect to push back against, but this one I don’t… we are required to create capacity for certain income tiers on the island.
So historically, we’ve been assigned growth targets, most of us know that. But now we’re being assigned (which I find actually more compelling)… with creating capacity for certain income tiers, we’re not just supposed to take a bunch of market rate growth, but we need to figure out how to make capacity in our zoning for that.
What we must do, and it is the main focus, I think, so far for the council and everybody else involved in this planning, that we… not only need to make the zoning available, but to compel developers basically to make affordable housing. So that will have to be addressed. We need to address more walkability, and just, you know, getting people out of their car generally. However Winslow grows, there’s permeability… passage around more, you know, better sidewalks, etc. and above all, that we preserve what we have at the end of the day.
I have always been a big advocate for at the very least, and I feel like the community feels really strongly about this, that on Winslow Way itself we preserve some of the gem of what we have there, even if we wind up putting some real density in some pockets to accomplish what we need to if we don’t preserve what makes Winslow special, what’s the point?
So I think the character is really important. I’m really excited about the fact that the process has now included not only an equity lens and a climate lens, but there is actually a character lens that is being used in this process. That’s really reflective of the community.
SG: Let’s get wonky for a moment – If you could change one thing in the city’s zoning code, what would it be?
KH: Interesting. One thing in the zoning code…
SG: I can widen it to one thing in the code in general… just to narrow your field [laughs]
KH: Yeah, it’s difficult because there’s all kinds of problems in the code… So I would say, if we get really wonky then 2018-21., our affordable housing ordinance, is just absolutely worthless. Anybody who cares about affordable housing knows that we really just need to toss it and start over again. I mean, so that’s easy. But there are many, many sections of code that need to be tweaked, and with either thrown out and redone, so [picking just one] is kind of hard to say.
SG: I’m not here to ask the easy questions.
KH: Yeah, I’ll say for example, when we look at what’s going on, looking at what’s not working in Winslow – it hasn’t worked the way we’ve been doing.
You know, we’ve had this idea of bonus density to try to encourage affordable housing and a lot of other things… I agree with people, I think most people who have paid attention for a long time don’t think that’s the way to do it. What we should be doing is we should be zoning for the density we actually want there. Then we should be requiring affordable housing when we do that and create that density, or creating affordable housing and other ways, but our zoning needs to be transparent.
That is something that has not been the case in the past. If the way a developer gets from here to what is actually constructed on the ground is not transparent enough, that is how we get to the place where the public sees something built and asks: How did that happen? So that’s kind of a vague response, because I’m not explaining exactly how that gets there, but when that is possible, that’s a problem.
SG: Let’s stay with the visible part of housing for a moment: Within the city’s housing action plan is almost agreement that housing diversity and supply on the island must change for the sake of the community. What kinds of housing do you think are the most important and why?
KH: The kind of housing we need that we don’t have? Certainly multifamily housing, because the smaller [it is] the more affordable it’s going to be. Then the next defining aspect is rental housing, we don’t have enough rental housing. So you know, the more smaller footprint, multifamily most likely, rentals, the more I think we’ve accomplished.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other housing types of smaller footprint that may be for sale as well. But in that direction is where we need to go, because even people making 120% of our area median income cannot afford to buy a single family home on the island.
SG: So perhaps this is tied into that. But with more and more of the island’s workforce coming to work over the Agate Pass Bridge, how would you try to reimagine transportation on Bainbridge – carshare, buses, ferries, bike lanes or something else?
KH: I think it has to be a combination of a lot of things. We’re never going to be able to afford to build enough infrastructure… Even if we could afford to build enough bike lanes, for example, to get everybody moving across the island, not everyone’s going to get out of their car into a bike and not everybody who works here is going to be able to live here. No matter how much effort we put into this.
I think we’re extremely committed to get as many people who work on the island living here as possible. We’re going to need more bike lanes and sidewalks and all sorts of ways to move people and trails to move people on foot and bike for sure. But we need transit.
I would really like to see better transit on and off the island as well better transit around the island. It’s got to be a combination of things. This doesn’t help with traffic, but it helps the carbon we need to be as we as we started doing, we need to be putting in the infrastructure for electric cars and supporting that changeover. It’s going to be a lot of things and yes, cars and car sharing encouraging programs.
We now have a new… coordinator implementer for our for the Sustainable Transportation plan. Her background is programmatic above all and helping create programs for for big organizations to get people into things like ride sharing and getting them out of their cars. So I hope that’s the way we’re moving.
SG: Would you support a new Bainbridge – Bremerton ferry route to better connect South and North Kitsap?
KH: I absolutely support the exploration of it, right? I don’t know whether I would support what it looks like, until I know what it looks like. [But] I would support exploring every single possible way of addressing the situation, including that.
SG: How can the needs of both Bainbridge’s residents and visitors best be balanced?
KH: That’s a really important one… I’ve really struggled with that. In the conversations we’re having around the Winslow Subarea Plan is how much the island wants the vision to be about visitors, versus our enjoyment and use of downtown.
I think actually, part of the key is encouraging visitors to be on foot, to the extent we can control and encourage that. I think that’s helpful to keep down the impact of ferries, ferries usage and cars.
I think… some of the impacts that have been difficult have been, honestly the development of the south end and Lynwood Center… becoming more and more of a destination. I think we need to watch out… it’s not good, it’s not consistent with our climate action plan or just about any of our planning to be bringing people on the island and sending them deeper away from Winslow as well, except for of course a couple of very key destinations: Bloedel, the Japanese Memorial, of course.
I think just keeping visitors on foot hopefully, you know, again, if we’re if we’re increasing the way we’re moving people around with transit downtown, if we do wind up with any sort of moving people downtown as we’ve talked about, but not sending them further out into the community, that could be helpful…
SG: Just for clarification, when you’re saying ‘on foot’, do you actually mean in non-motorized private transportation, in terms of if they’re biking around the island, or taking the bus to Lynwood, for example, those are OK?
KH: Oh, of course, biking, absolutely. But I actually should be saying non-vehicle, I mean, getting people over here and out of their vehicle, exactly. And not creating intense tourist-oriented development outside of Winslow, that I think is a problem for a number of reasons.
SG: Can you explain your understanding of the role of a city council member in promoting economic development?
KH: Hmm. Well, I mean, a healthy economic environment is critical to the functioning of a balanced community. But I think a couple of things… I think Bainbridge is an unusual model, I don’t think that we are a typical city.
I think a typical city model is grow, grow, grow your economic base, you would want big box stores, and whatever… the city gets its revenue from big commercial development. We’re not that model. So we have a little bit of a strange relationship with our commerce that way.
I think obviously, our job is to support our businesses and to have a good healthy environment for them because again, these are our residents, and this is their livelihood. Again, we’re all interrelated and we want a healthy living downtown, etc.
I don’t see it as that we’re trying to grow a big tax base. I don’t see us as having… the other thing that which is a little different about us is that we don’t have big coffers like a lot of cities, we’re not able to make major investments the way a lot of cities do. So I see it as slightly different than other communities.
I’m not sure what else to say other than that we should be supportive. But I don’t feel like we’re a major player the way a lot of cities are where we’re trying to strategically grow big commercial districts. I think it’s a gentler relationship.
SG: Well, that swings into the Chamber part of it: What role can the Chamber play in the community to best help Bainbridge?
KH: Well, I think you guys do a really good job… in our relationship between the city and the chamber, what I’ve seen happen over the last couple of years, is serving as a great communicator on policy issues and so forth, being able to bring the voice of… I’m not sure if this is what you mean, but to me, being able to bring the voice of affected businesses to the city and being able to help businesses understand city policy.
I mean, so I see the chamber as helping build that relationship, so there isn’t… as many misunderstandings as much of a wall there. And there can be more coordination – I haven’t seen that in the past. I think that’s important for anytime policies are being created that affect stakeholders, there are a lot of stakeholder groups that don’t have a voice… or a structure in which to participate.
SG: What strategies do you intend to use to promote civic engagement and boost citizen participation in our local government?
KH: To me… where the community most wants to be involved is in determining what the community looks and feels like instead of like these major planning processes.
Where I’m most concerned about is when important decisions are being made, like in the Comprehensive Plan, and the Subarea Plan. So I think, when these periodic things come, this is one of the times it’s so important that people get involved – and that’s why right now, I wanted to be sure we had a steering committee. We were about to not have a steering committee, it seemed going into this, and we now have a steering committee, and I’m working on that steering committee. That’s the main focus is making sure that the people have ongoing understanding what’s happening and understand where they can key in and be informed, give us feedback on what they want along the way.
So above all… I’m always concerned about when the council is making decisions, that the city and the community has a chance to fit to, to weigh in, and we’re not rushing through. I do worry that recently, we’ve been moving things through a lot.
We’re moving really fast and having shorter meetings, which I think is wonderful. But we need to be really careful that we don’t move too fast and we’re not losing transparency and taking the time to hear the community as just happened – I felt like it almost happened with the short term rental ordinance – I’m really glad we just this week said, “Let’s take one more meeting…”
So I’m a big believer on the community understanding what’s happening, I think one of the big concerns is we just don’t have a press that is actually reporting on what’s happening… and so the community doesn’t know. So I guess, I want the community involved, I want them to know what’s happening.
I’m always going to be an advocate for giving them an opportunity to be heard. And I think the city’s doing more than they ever have in communicating the best we can through the city manager’s report, through our mailer, etc. But there’s some missing pieces as to how keeping the community informed as to where their opportunities are.
SG: I’m gonna push back a little bit for the chamber newsletter now hitting 3,000 households every week…
KH: I know. It’s absolutely true. That’s what everybody says. And I have to say, I’m sorry that that that the Chamber has to fill a void.
SG: If you received a million dollar grant, to use for the city in any way you wanted, what would you do with it? And why?
KH: Maybe… an affordable housing project, that’s easy. One of the most important things to me to see that done, and whether that gets done in my next term… I think really what will happen is I hope that it will be mostly built or at least underway… is that the city will be building an affordable housing project.
I would never have imagined we would be doing that in my last term on council, but it has become so clear, we understand what isn’t possible with affordable housing, who can be incent[iviz]ed to build it.
A for-profit developer cannot ever build a 100% affordable project – a project that is for people who make 60% of area median income [or below]. People who work in our restaurants and you know, who are teachers aides and nursing aides. We need these people in our community, and they’re not. Our businesses are not finding that they can keep people on staff and we want them here.
And so the only entities that are going to build these types of projects are going to be governmental entities… nonprofits aren’t going to be capable of building the sort of projects that the city can. So it’s just a no brainer, a million dollars would go to help us do that.
SG: You may have started pre-empting the final question, but back in the real world, and with only limited time, money and resources challenge to tackle the challenges of Bainbridge life, can you name three specific actions you intend to take as a council member that you hope will define the legacy of this four-year term of office?
KH: Oh, good. I’m glad that I can pretend I didn’t say the other ones and get some more in!
Well, I want to have a Comprehensive Plan done that is based in fact and is defensible, and is addressing the things we need to address and is maintaining the core principles that we’ve been carrying through over the last iterations, but still adapting to change.
I want to see that we have this Winslow Subarea Plan accomplishing the things we’ve been talking about – that we can legitimately say we’re accomplishing them – while all of the things we’ve been talking about – it is going to have the capacity for creating affordable housing and mandatory inclusionary zoning to make that happen, but still retaining the character of the island.
I want to believe finally, somehow, by the end of the next four years, we’re gonna start to really understand the carrying capacity of the island, so we can stop fighting amongst ourselves about how many people can we bring to the island in the next 20 or 40 or 60 years?
Because we’re gonna have a really hard conversation with the region and the state as climate change brings more and more people here, and if it’s 100,000 people… okay, well, I don’t think we can… but we need to be fact based. So we need to complete the groundwater management plan, we need to do whatever we need to do so that we all are working with the same facts so… we can act as one unified community in our planning and base it on facts and stop speculating and fighting over it.
I could go on. I said, I want a 100%, affordable housing project. I want to solve all those things in the Winslow Subarea Plan, I want to understand the carrying capacity of the island, which includes a completed groundwater management plan. And I want to have a comprehensive plan that solves all those things
I can go on I mean, I don’t know that I could do [all] these things. I want to fix a lot of holes in the code that we were talking about. I mean, there’s a lot of things I’d like to do.
But… that one thing would be an amazing thing – if we can be prepared for the state mandates that are going to continue to come down, including the one that we’re going to have to take on in the next planning cycle that was passed in this past year that is an absolute impossibility for this island to bear either environmentally or financially, then, you know, that’s something we’ve got to be prepared for.
SG: Which is what, specifically?
KH: [WA House Bill] 1110.
The state has been trying to basically start forcing rezoning, start to take over local zoning, which is something that historically in this country has been the purview of cities and counties…
This has been happening in California and in Oregon and other places. And the state was trying and it wasn’t happening and wasn’t passing for a number of years, and… they had to whittle it down, whittle it down, whittle it down, but they had they finally passed it in 1110.
This past year, our legislators, our representatives, all were against it. I mean, this is not an unpopular position to be against this legislation, because it’s generic and broad brush. And… it doesn’t create affordable housing, it takes over our zoning.
I’ll give an example: If it says that on a parcel that’s now zoned for one lot and one house, you now must build four houses, or may build four houses, that doesn’t mean they will be affordable.
So if you have a waterfront property, let’s say you so you can do this, because of course, you’d need sewer, but let’s say it’s a sewer waterfront property, and it has one house on it that’s worth like $4 million. Now someone is able to tear that house down and build four houses.
Why would those be four affordable homes? Now you could build four [different] two and a half million dollar small houses on the water. This is why almost all the cities across the state were strongly opposed to this legislation because it’s forcing rezoning on them, which is forcing them to redo their comprehensive plans, they may or may not have the infrastructure for this.
We don’t have the infrastructure. What the state has said is basically, oh well, we’ll give you till the next planning cycle to figure the infrastructure out, but no excuses beyond that. So this would put rezoning in, put upzoning in places where we don’t have sewer, we would have to basically build a sewer plant to accommodate some of this. We’re talking about hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure, and all sorts of other impacts on us. And it’s not just us, it’s cities across the state.
One person when I was in Olympia – at the Association of Washington Cities Conference where we were talking about this – was was saying she was actually from a jurisdiction where this was going to have the opposite effect because… in her jurisdiction, I don’t remember where it was, but it I think it was probably near transit somewhere in King County.
That the concern was there were single family homes there that were somewhat affordable now and if these were now gonna be multifamily this would basically gentrify the area, it would have the opposite effect.
So the legislature sitting down in Olympia, whatever, just putting out these broad brush, generic pieces of legislation that would just apply to every city in the entire state that maybe somewhere in the middle, the state where land is cheap, could result in affordable housing but will not result in affordable housing but have other really significant effects on [other] jurisdictions.
Anyway, so my point is, when this is where we’re headed, it’s really important that we as a community, because we are an all-island city with very unique limitations. It’s just a fact. We need to understand what our facts are so that we’re working with good facts when we’re when we have to explain that to the state. We can’t do that.
So what are we going to do?
SG: Thank you very much for your time, and for stepping up to try and help our community as a candidate. With what words would you like this interview to end?
KH: Well, thank you so much, I guess more than anything. Thank you so much for doing this and stepping up for creating this forum for us candidates – I’ve been honored to serve the community and I hope to be able to have the opportunity to continue to serve.
NOTE: Transcript has been edited 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:
Learn more about Kirsten Hytopoulos at her campaign website:
In a recent Bainbridge Review Interview:
In a recent Kitsap Sun interview: https://www.kitsapsun.com/story/opinion/readers/2023/10/10/hytopolous-is-prepared-to-face-islands-community-issues/71132556007/