Bainbridge Island City Council District 4 (Central Ward) candidate Leslie Schneider recently sat down (in a lively spot at OfficeXpats) 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.
Read the full interview here below, or if you prefer to watch, simply jump straight to the video interview
LESLIE SCHNEIDER – INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPTION:
Stefan Goldby (SG): Are you sitting comfortably?
Leslie Schneider (LS): Yeah, yeah – good.
SG: Then I’ll begin… OK, Question 1: Could you describe your experience working with difficult businesses, community organizations and residents in our community on Bainbridge Island?
LS: Well, so one thing that pops to mind in working with the Chamber was the first round of a subcommittee that council members, and I think the Chamber, designated the other ones that we worked with on the Waste Management, or the sort of the anti-plastic ordinance. They came up with the initial draft. So that was three-ish meetings in the summer before we passed that ordinance for the first time.
Working with stakeholder groups. or generally, I’m also liaison to the Chamber board. And so that’s a once a month meeting, and I’m just really grateful that we have a tighter connection between council and the Chamber these days. I’m also on the Climate Change Advisory Committee [but] that’s not technically a stakeholder group. I meet with Housing Resources Bainbridge individually, frequently. I meet with affordable housing advocates, frequently. Architects, for instance, that are working with a particular project – that happens ad hoc, but you know, many times a year…
SG: I think it is fair to say you’ve been on city council, and thus you do talk to many stakeholder groups.
LS: Yeah. And I’m very available, you know: I had regular office hours before COVID, and I just decided that I would just focus on individual appointments after that. I don’t ever turn down anybody who wants to talk with me directly.
SG: What personally makes you want to be a city council member for the next four years?
LS: I really believe that local government is kind of leading the way in climate change for livability. I mean, this is really where the rubber meets the road, right? I mean, literally, and figuratively, we can do so much. There’s limits of what government can do and we certainly do it slowly – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. So my desire to be on council for the next four years is basically to continue the work that I’ve already been doing.
I’ve been working super hard on sustainable transportation options: That’s one of my big priorities. Then the other one is affordable housing. The third one, which is really overarching both of those two is climate change. So you know, with climate change, you want to reduce carbon, but you need to do it fairly equitably. My basic thing is that communities should be ‘work where you live, live where you work’. That kind of hits equity issues, hits traffic issues, and carbon footprint and all.
I’m also really focused on modest living – you know, I live in a 1,200 square foot home that’s downtown, and so I don’t have to drive a whole lot. I know everybody can’t, or doesn’t want to live that way. I value it – that I can live that way and, and be representative for that way of life saying, “Hey, the water’s great: Come on in!”
SG: What would you say are the top three specific current concerns that you hear from Islanders?
LS: The big issues are affordable housing. But that’s maybe from an organizational point of view…
SG: Specifically within affordable housing, what is the concern?
LS: Well, the concern is that we’re not going in the right direction on this island… we’re gentrifying… our demographics are older, richer, you know, we might end up a gated community if we don’t do something about it. So we’re losing families, we have workforce issues, the folks that we need to perform the services that we need on island, those folks are coming in, the people who can’t afford to live here are driving here, sometimes from Kitsap County, taking hours to get here.
A lot of times, there just aren’t enough workers available, who are willing to do that long haul. With my relationship with the Chamber, I’ve heard a lot from individual business owners who just can’t hire the people they need to work here. So, I’m really grateful that now that businesses are getting behind affordable housing as an important need to help balance who we are as an island.
SG: So beyond affordable housing, what are two other things that you that you hear from constituents?
LS: Well, so I hear a lot about sustainable transportation, maybe more than other council members, because, I’ve been involved in it for so long. They know that I’m probably their biggest advocate on council. I hear from a lot of folks who want a better bicycle infrastructure, better local transit, like a circulator and whatnot.
The biggest thing I feel very proud of having fought for funding first to get a sustainable transportation coordinator [Hannah Boettcher]… she just got introduced to council last night – that was thrilling. I was able to be in on the interview process for that, so I think we’re making progress. For me, the next thing that needs to happen to protect that sustainable transportation plan is to get an advisory committee back together. That’s kind of my next challenge on that front.
SG: That’s two concerns that specifically you’ve heard. Do you have a third?
LS: I specifically received a lot of comments from folks when we rate when we lowered speed limits on the island, that was a very touchy issue. I was solidly behind reducing speed limits code. So it’s interesting to, you know, hear from from folks about it, and these were people that I knew and love and respect and all that. I just don’t agree. That was a lot of pushback on something that council did.
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 are the top three things you think those documents must create for Bainbridge?
LS: Looking at the Winslow Subarea Plan specifically I kind of divvy it up in my mind, as we have our responsibility to state requirements, and then we have responsibility to our own priorities. We must and will change allowable densities in Winslow so that we can offer the potential for more housing types and greater density for more housing. I don’t think that’s going to be too hard to do; I don’t think that’s going to be terribly controversial.
Then on top of that, we also need to go further and not just create the potential for more housing but actually create more affordable housing – that’s going to require subsidy incentives. So we need to get that right. Then we also have the opportunity to expand the boundaries of Winslow and I haven’t made a complete decision [on that] yet. The alternatives are just recently out there.
I kind of liked the idea of expanding the boundaries of Winslow to accommodate for instance, the water district, sewer area. But we don’t have enough information on that yet to know what it actually means. With the Comp Plan, similarly, we have some obligations for state requirements. And going beyond that, I just want to make really sure that we are looking at potentially updating elements… that are sort of optional for us.
So the economic element, for instance, I would love to see an acknowledgement of what is it that we need on the island. To sort of round out – it’s referred to generally as a circular economy – I don’t know how familiar that term is with most people. What do we do with our waste? You know, we right now we send it off the island and put it on a train and send it down to Oregon. We could do better than that.
What is it that we need on the island? We need a laundromat – at least one if not multiple. I look forward to, for instance, working with the Chamber to figure out where where we might go with that. I’m meeting with another resident to look at what’s called donut economics: Kate [an economist from from the UK] is talking about ‘donut economics’, which is balancing the needs of people so that you’re serving all people’s needs within the limits of the environment. So that you don’t want people falling into the hole of the doughnut and not getting what they need, and you don’t want to expand… you don’t want to be overreaching [beyond] what the environment can sustain. So that’s kind of the bottom line behind that. What was your question, again?
SG: What are the things that must come out of the Comp and the Subarea plan…
LS: A resident wrote in recently, that the Comp Plan is somewhat of an inspirational document, it’s aspirational. We’re not required to do everything that’s in the Comp Plan, because oftentimes, we can’t afford it, or it tends to be kind of a wish list. So one of the things, I think was a good idea that came out of this inquiry from someone, is to kind of look at what that would take financially. And is that a priority over other things that also are going to cost? You know, a lot of funding from the city and the funding for the city has to come from people and there’s a limit to what we can do.
While I think that it’s good that the Comp Plan is aspirational, I think also there could be a bit of realism. We do have periodic updates, so that when new technology comes in that kind of changes the game and so forth, we can accommodate for that and move our priorities around. I don’t know if that’s a must have, but I think it would help people understand what we can do versus what we would like to do.
SG: To get very specific: If you could change one thing in the city’s zoning code, what would it be?
LS: One thing, without having thought about it a long time, I’ll tell you what comes to mind: I’ll probably get into trouble for this, but parking requirements. I don’t know what difference it would make if we reduced or even eliminated parking requirements. I know that that’s what’s going on in cities large and small around the nation. The assumption there is that developers kind of know their market – if they think they can sell something with less parking, parking is hugely expensive. For making housing affordable, it just, it’s going the wrong way.
Also with that – we have to provide transportation alternatives. I guess that’s just a perspective shift that I think we’re probably going to be doing. And certainly, it might not be as important as upping the density of zoning in, you know, in Winslow, but I think that’s also something we’re going to do and I just… so that city code… yeah, without any preparation, I’ll stick with that.
SG: Within the city’s housing action plan is almost universal agreement that housing diversity and supply on the island needs to change for the sake of our community, but what kinds of housing you think are the most important and why?
LS: Well, so smaller homes. I think that meets with us all needing to live more modestly. We’re not going to be able to stop McMansions from happening in other areas. I live in an attached home, I’m side by side with a neighbor, in like a townhome. I think we can allow a lot more than that. I think multifamily housing in general – multifamily doesn’t really describe much – about you are in closer proximity to your neighbors and it’s in homes that are attached.
I saw an idea where… on the east coast somewhere, let’s say, North Carolina, I’m not sure… a market-rate developer took over a big church that was for sale and carved it up into a lot of very small units that were connected with common areas. These were rented at market rate. So your own private space was quite reduced, but then you had these common areas to sort of expand your life out into and, you know, I think that we need to allow, if not in incentivize, for that – it provides transitional housing.
My son is in his mid-20’s. He kind of lives in that way, in affordable housing in Vail where, he’s going to be teaching skiing and whatnot. We need to incentivize many, you know, existing, known types of smaller housing and attached housing, but also looking into other innovative housing types. Personally, you know I live in co-housing, where not only are our homes smaller and not detached, but we also share, rather generous common spaces, which I think is really important for living a big life in smaller space.
SG: 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: Car Share, buses, ferries, bike lanes, or or something else?
LS: All of the above. This is kind of an equity issue, we need to provide both the ability to live on the island so that you can be working on the island. At the same time realistically, that’s not going to be enough. I mean, even if we get very ambitious and aggressive about providing affordable housing, it’s still not going to completely take care of all of our workforce needs.
There’s already some Bus Rapid Transit planned up and down 305 that will help. As you know, I’ve been very interested in looking at the idea of various intra-county ferries, which I’m now thinking of calling water taxis, with the idea of more, and shorter stops. So what if there was a water taxi to Silverdale, Bremerton, Bainbridge, and then back again. So we could really start to get to some of the workforce possibilities in Bremerton and further south in Kitsap. Mostly we want to get people on the island. But whatever we can do to get them here without being in a single occupancy car is what I’m looking for.
SG: I will ask the follow up question, which is a little redundant now, which is: Do you formally support a new Bainbridge/Bremerton foot ferry to better connect North and South Kitsap?
LS: Of course I do. I recently went to this demonstration of a water taxi in Des Moines, WA. They did a pilot project – now they’re looking to get funding and figure out what making that service permanent might be – from Des Moines to Seattle. This is not this is not a new idea. This is not a Bainbridge-specific idea. This is just kind of growing to use our maritime highway more efficiently and whatnot…
It would be great if we had, like a water taxi that just went Bainbridge to Bremerton, but I’m expanding on that idea to also include Silverdale. I think that would help workforce issues. It would also help getting folks to Costco without having to drive there. It would be, you know, a lovely outing. I mean, of course, you need that last mile of transit at the other end, right? There are pieces that need to get coordinated.
Not only do I support it, but being on the Kitsap Transit Board, I know that when Kitsap Transit was doing its long-term plan, there was a big survey that went out and intra-county ferry service, additional intra-county ferry service, rated ranked highly from all areas. It’s not just on Bainbridge, it’s Poulsbo, Bremerton. Silverdale – It ranked highly everywhere. I’m pushing right now for Kitsap Transit to ask the legislature for funding for a feasibility study.
SG: How can the needs of both Bainbridge residents and visitors best be balanced?
LS: If we can keep those visitors out of cars, then that’s kind of the best of both worlds because we get them here to support our businesses and support our tax base to keep our other other taxes lowered. Bainbridge is a beautiful place, we’re always going to have visitors, and we want visitors. I know that that’s maybe a little bit controversial, I know that a lot of people would disagree with me about it, but I think we need to get them out of their cars. We need to acknowledge the importance that they have in our economy. I think that’s the main thing for me is helping them enjoy our island in a more carbon neutral way.
SG: Could you explain your understanding of the role of a city council member in promoting economic development?
LS: I don’t think there is any standard role for a council member promoting economic development. But I think that it’s kind of one of those things that doesn’t get addressed very well, by council generally. You know, we’ve been kind of hit and miss as far as having council members with the liaison to the Chamber of Commerce. We don’t really talk about the economic element in the Comp Plan very much, but I think it’s changing now. And I hope that I’ve been part of that change.
When I was being interviewed to replace another council member at the very beginning back in 2018, I think one of the benefits I promoted, that I think was seen as a positive, was that I had a small business myself. My small business being co-working, also helps other small businesses, it provides a venue for other businesses, and therefore has a relationship with a lot of other businesses. So it’s been an important part of what I feel like I’ve brought to council. But we don’t talk about it much – that’s one of the things I’ve been promoting, we need to make sure that we revisit the economic element of the Comp Plan in this in this periodic update.
SG: What role can the Chamber play for our community to best help Bainbridge?
LS: Workforce housing: I think that the Chamber can [there]. When we looked at the housing action plan, there was good data there about what we needed to provide for affordable housing for workforce. I kept asking questions, and other council members asked questions that those consultants weren’t really able to answer, but I think the Chamber could. So for instance, if the Chamber could find out from the top 10-15 employers on the island, I think we already know what the general incomes are of those [workers], but where are they coming from? In an anonymized way, where are your people coming from?
Then we can start to see what is it that we need to put in place to either allow them to get here more easily, less expensively, or to live here? Right? So I think gathering data and really presenting council with the needs of businesses.
I also know that there are businesses that are at risk of leaving the island – I personally think that would be a tragedy. But I don’t know that council members are all that aware of what the risks are for us losing our businesses. I think we need to raise the awareness. Do we care? I hope we do. I think data and presenting it in a in a concise, powerful way, is what the Chamber can do.
The other one is just what the Chamber is already doing is providing us a partner to work with businesses in terms of ordinances. When we want to regulate something like short-term rentals, the Chamber has really stepped up to provide us with a way to discuss that and find out what’s the balanced way to do that.
SG: What strategies do you intend to use to promote civic engagement and boost citizen participation in our local government?
LS: In case I don’t get a chance to say this in a different question, I’m going to skip the government part right now and kind of work backwards from that and say that, you know, I really want to see Bainbridge take seriously what our gathering places are. So our placemaking, and bringing more people together. We’ve started to see that now with Moonlight Market and things like that. I’m working on the steering committee with the project for public spaces to create placemaking on the island.
So if we are bringing more people together more often, I think that more people will get involved in government. I don’t know if and when this is going to happen. I remember from the very beginning when I first got on council I was asking about doing a… the police has a police academy, where it opens it up for ordinary residents to go in and get a really deep understanding of what the police department does and what it deals with and whatnot. I would love to see that at the government/city hall level, where you could take a group of people, get them to go through ‘what is planning?’; ‘what does public works do?’; ‘how do we deal with budgeting?;’ ‘what does it mean for our public records requests?’
I would love to see that. I just honestly think right now, we’re a little overwhelmed with other priorities. I’m going to keep bringing it up. But maybe we can deal with that in the next couple of years, you know, with our budgeting next year for the biennium to come.
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?
LS: I would put it towards an electric shuttle circulator in Winslow and beyond – Winslow and connecting to the neighborhood centers, and actually I think a million dollars might end up being roughly what that would cost. I’m pushing for us to get information on what that would be, so we need to create the business plan for it. I think we’ve been waiting for that for a long time. We’ve seen examples of it like Bellevue right now has this thing called ‘Bellhop’, which is it’s a very small shuttle, but it’s all electric, it’s free, it just goes around and around downtown Bellevue. I don’t know if our system would look like that. But we need to get that going: It’s in the sustainable transportation plan. I think we’re all waiting for it.
SG: Last question, and back in the real world, with only limited time, money and resources 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?
LS: So what are three actions that you intend to take that you hope will be impactful? For climate change, we need to have more local, sustainable energy, we need to have… probably solar power. There’s also, you know, biodigesters that we could use – that would also take our waste and all that. I don’t know, like, what one action would [be] it’s more like where do you get your energy?
In general, it’s going to be related to climate change. And, specifically, I’m going to fight for that. Downtown shuttle is one and I’m going to fight for local energy to get us you know, solar power and a biodigester. We need safer bicycle infrastructure. I’m gonna call out those three. They’re pretty consistent with what I’ve been working on in the past.
I’m leaving out affordable housing in those in that statement, and I just want to comment that I think that I will continue to support affordable housing as a very, very high priority, I think we’re going in the right direction. So I don’t feel like the ship needs to get turned on affordable housing, I really sort of support what we’re doing. The ship needs to turn on sustainable transportation. The ship needs to turn on climate change, and specifically on, green energy, produced locally.
SG: Well, thank you for answering the Chamber’s 12 questions, we appreciate your time. And for running for council. We appreciate everybody who steps forward to work for our community. Other than saying thank you, are there any words that you would like to close this interview with?
LS: For me, in the past five years, where I’ve been on council, there has been a huge shift in how the Chamber has dealt with council in general. I just I’m really appreciative that you’re taking such an active role. I mean, just the newsletter that you put out, is an amazing summary of what’s going on in council; I think that’s a huge service. I think our City Manager is doing a good job with communications as well. But I think it’s really important that there’s like a third party out there with a different point of view that is, you know, that’s providing the perspective on that. And, yeah, I’ll close with that.
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 Leslie Schneider at her campaign website:
In a recent Bainbridge Review Interview: