Bainbridge Island City Council District 5 (Central Ward) candidate Rasham Nassar 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 Rasham Nassar:
In the Chamber’s initial email interview: https://bainbridgechamber.com/questions-for-the-candidates-central-south-wards/
At the official campaign website: https://reelectrasham.com/
At the official campaign facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/rashamforcitycouncil
Read the full interview here, or if you prefer to watch, simply jump straight to the video interview
Stefan Goldby: Talking about community engagement… Obviously, you have a high level currently as a councilmember and as mayor, but which Island organizations had you previously worked for, with, or volunteered at beyond City Council?
Rasham Nassar: Well, I was elected in 2018. So I ran my campaign in 2017. Prior to that, I had not necessarily been formally involved in any organization or, or nonprofit group or things of that nature.
I’d moved to the island in 2014. And my community engagement up to the point at which I filed was primarily around advocating and lobbying at City Council for environmental regulations. So unofficial kind of neighborhood, community groups, things of that nature, kind of learning the ropes of City government sitting in on City Council meetings, speaking before the Council, preparing proposals and sort of stuff like that. So that constitutes the majority of my community engagement here on the island.
Back in my other life in Berkeley, California, I worked at public law clinics. I was a philosophy major undergrad and always planned to go to law school. So I did a lot of legal advocacy throughout my undergrad, post grad. Also stuff like volunteering at the ASPCA, local pounds, really love animals. And other kinds of community stuff.
When I got hired as a manager at an athletic club, an athletic facility, I ran a mentorship program for at-risk youth. So we contracted with a high school in East Oakland, and we would bring over students, I would teach them about small business, about communications, and work with them to develop their business and communication skills. And then also ran a volunteer program where we taught basic gardening skills, food education, like organic health and food education, to at-risk youth as an after-school program.
SG: So as you’ve been now actively campaigning and talking to Islanders, what are the top three concerns you hear from the community right now? And did any of them surprise you?
RN: Well, councilmembers receive all sorts of concerns, we’ve received concerns about matters over which the city has jurisdiction. And of course, we receive concerns over management.
For example, the roundabout proposal by WSDOT over there at the north end, is a concern that we hear a lot about from residents, particularly in that area, that the Council has taken time to address but over which the city does not have jurisdiction because that’s a WSDOT project.
PSE’s high transmission line power proposal right now is another one of those community concerns that we are hearing volumes about… substantially from those members of the community that are opposed to the installation and development of new high school transmission lines, whose concerns include equity concerns, health concerns and environmental concerns as well as loss of value of property if those high transmission power lines are built, and some support for the increased need for reliability, particularly for our South Island residents.
Council actually just discussed this at the meeting last night, we sent a very well-crafted letter by our new city manager Blair King to PSE, again, not within the city’s jurisdiction per se, but the Council can use its authority to have these high level conversations with these agencies in hopes of influencing the agency to whatever outcome that community desires. And I’m a really huge proponent of that. I like sticking our nose where it might not belong, but where the community wants us to be spending our time and focus because these projects are going to have a huge, huge impact on Island residents and the quality of life here.
We hear a lot of concerns about COVID. We have a really strong emergency response department, I think the City’s handling of COVID has been quite excellent, areas for improvement of course, but this pandemic has been a priority for the City. And I’m really happy that the Council has remained engaged in that and well informed along the way. So those are kind of big picture, big concerns right now that are definitely being discussed at community level.
And then you have the ongoing concerns, the ones that haven’t gone away, that I’m hearing again, again since I last ran in 2017. And those are relating to policies and kind of the City itself. In particular, permitting issues. The fact that residents are applying for permits, they’re not getting responses per the City – or the permit turnaround time is just too long. And that, of course is due to the complexities in our code.
I believe we have some staff deficiency with the City, which the City Manager is working to address. But that’s a complaint again that has persisted. Not much has changed. And in my running for re-election, it’s probably at the top of my list and in terms of priorities to tackle.
Concerns about environmental loss, degradation, in general, overdevelopment, again, those concerns are sort of static, community response to big development that comes online. Hey, why does this stuff keep happening, seems inconsistent with our Comp Plan?
So Council’s always working to address the consideration of new code to help, kind of realigned development to be more consistent with what the community would like to see. Water concerns, groundwater. We just I think a few weeks ago, met our hydrogeologist who’s now hired at the city to undertake work on the development of a groundwater management plan. So that’s a really big turning point for the City and for the community. It’s something that I advocated really heavily for in 2018 to include funding in the budget for.
And then your basic concerns which I lumped into the category of things the City should just be doing anyway. Road safety, road maintenance, non-motorized improvements, minor ones, where it makes sense. You know, just general upkeep and maintenance of the utilities and infrastructures that comprise the fabric of our city.
SG: You mentioned the Comp Plan. The recent draft of the county wide land usage report, initially has suggested that our islands growth is roughly on track to hit its projected 2036 levels, but that the growth itself was not really happening in line with the Comp Plan itself. Do you agree with that? And how do you think the Island’s residential, commercial and community needs can best be balanced with the preservation of our natural resources?
RN: That’s a very big question. How long do we have?
We just talked about this last night. I think what you’re referring to is the buildable lands report.
RN: So, so there’s a draft that was published for public comment by the county. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a lot of time to comment on it. I think we had two weeks. So we put it on the agenda as a Council and talked about it once.
We had a second touch last night, which was the finalization of Council comments back to the county for incorporation of those comments into the buildable lands report. There that discussion at the Council was probably over half an hour long.
And what Council members very smartly raised were issues with the methodology under which the density, the current Island density, and the capacity figures were developed, as well as the growth projections. And one of the things… because I could talk about this forever, and it literally constitutes pages and pages of comment, and it gets pretty heady and really into the land use stuff.
But just to highlight an example: The buildable lands report when it’s looking at capacity looks at underlying zoning, for example. 90% of the island is comprised of the residential zones. You have R1 zoning – one house per acre, R2 – two two houses per acre, R4 – one house for two and a half acres roughly. That’s underlying zoning. That’s what you can do in the code.
However, over that we have a lot of regulations that allow for flexibility and additions to that density if you meet certain requirements – for example ADUs. Now, the buildable lands report does not consider that necessarily, when it’s looking at capacity.
So the figure is really a bare bones figure that only takes into account our underlying zoning, doesn’t take into account in our bonus density programs, of which we have one, Chapter 1812, which allows for increased density and exchange for affordable housing.
Case in point – the Wintergreen project that has just received Planning Commission approval that’s going in at Visconsi – proposed to go in at Visconsi, I should say – High School Road, etc. There are a number of projects on Madison that utilize some of those bonus density provisions. Those are numbers that you don’t necessarily see calculated into that buildable lands report.
So one of the things that the Council raised as well, I think, to answer maybe part two of your question that I’m gonna have to ask you to repeat part three, which is that it seems to suggest that the majority of development and growth, in contrast to what our comp plan says it should be, is happening in the residential zones. And meaning, we have a lot of single family residences being built around most of the island. And there were some concerns about that language from Council members who stated that in their opinion, the majority of the growth has, in fact happened in Winslow.
And I ‘m not sure if we got to the bottom of that last night. But one of the the causes, perhaps that one of the planners pointed out was with the real estate surge due to COVID. I think we’re all aware that our housing prices have skyrocketed since the pandemic, as we have more people wanting to move out into rural areas, has resulted in more permitting of development in those areas that’s the majority of the island, where property right now is just changing hands.
It’s very popular place to live in this era. So there are new homes being built. I don’t know if that’s necessarily a consistent market trend or if it’s just the result of the unusual circumstances that we’re in. And then what was part three of your question?
SG: How do you think the island’s residential, commercial and community needs can best be balanced with the preservation of our natural resources?
RN: Yes. So like you said yourself, even without considering all these density overlays that we have in our code, the ADUs and bonus density provisions, we’re still slated right now to meet our growth target per the allocation that the City’s received. And we receive that by part of the growth Management Act by Puget Sound Regional Council, which then sends those growth numbers over to the county.
And then it’s an exercise of county officials, figuring out who’s going to get what and how many; I was fortunate enough to participate in one of those exercises. And it’s interesting, because those are really where big decisions are made. It’s something that I definitely want to increase transparency around on the island, because I don’t think that anybody knew that that meeting was taking place. But I know for a fact that a lot of Islanders care about that and would have liked an opportunity to attend.
So in terms of our growth and population, our capacity and our projected population growth and meeting the allocations that are coming down from above, we’re pretty much set, meaning we don’t need to look at up-zoning any area of the island in order, in order to be consistent or accommodate any, quote “future growth”. And we can already do that.
On top of that we have provisions in the code that provide for bonus density incentives. At this point, it’s specifically for affordable housing. I think we maintain the historic preservation option as well for developers in certain areas of the downtown core. But our Comp Plan envisions that the Island that is 90% rural – the residential zones remains rural, remain residential zones.
The density that we do want to take in – our community has said we want that primarily in Winslow. That’s what the Comp Plan says. Currently. The Comp Plan is slated for an update starting next year, I think the Council will begin work on that. So the policy direction now is consistent with what has been the vision for the community.
Again, one of the reasons I’m running for re-election is because that Comp Plan update will be hugely important to preserving that vision for the island and perpetuity by making sure that it’s included in the Comp Plan and that there aren’t provisions or policy directions written in there that are going to exempt some areas of the rural zones to high density development.
That was an issue that came out of the Island Center Sub-area Planning Commission report that was not very well received by the public. And Rolling Bay is also listed as a neighborhood center. So that conversation could be happening down the pike.
In terms of business and economic development, I think that’s an area where the Council hasn’t taken a very strong look in terms of does our zoning currently allow for that. Per the Kitsap Buildable Lands Report, the answer is yes. We heard from planners, a planner last night that in addition to meeting our population capacity, that we’re also meeting our economic goals, as has been, you know, prescribed to our city. But I think we can do better in that regard.
And I think it has a lot to do with looking at our town center, our Winslow core. And I think when the Council, in addition to the Comp Plan updates, undergoes the exercise of redrafting the Winslow Master Plan update, that’s going to be a real, really critical area to look at the overlap between residential aspects of Bainbridge and the overlays with our local economy. And how can we build a Winslow that is supportive of both goals?
SG: You’re slightly preempting my next question, which is – What elements of the Winslow Master Plan do you think need the most urgent update?
RN: You know, I think all of it does. And the reason I say that is because we have to ask ourselves those questions again. And those aren’t questions that I’m prepared to answer, because I haven’t heard the response from the community.
I don’t have a vision for Winslow. I know that Winslow residents, just like residents in the rural zones of the island, care about natural environment, they care about aesthetics, they care about traffic, they care about quality of life. I don’t think and I can say this with confidence that anybody on the island wants to see high-rise towers go up. To, well, I’d say, create some sort of downtown on Bainbridge that would resemble something you would see in anywhere USA, or over in Seattle.
I think as much as possible, we want to preserve the elements that make Winslow unique, that make it attractive to tourists. That make it a great place to live, a walkable community. We want to enhance those while also making sure that we are meeting our growth targets so that and the targets of the Comp Plan – which is that growth should be focused kind of in the Winslow area – but in a manner that’s contained, very well managed and does not offset or hinder the quality of life for Winslow residents.
I don’t know what that looks like. I’ve heard a lot of ideas. I’ve heard, allow second, third-story development on Winslow way – figure out a way to promote that. And then I’ve heard, no – preserve Winslow as a historic walk, close it to traffic and allow pedestrians to flood the street – that will help boost the economy.
Public transportation – increase that from other parts of the island and around the ferry and the high school zones, so that we can get residents in Winslow to visit the shops who are reluctant to because of parking and traffic concerns. I’ve heard simple fixes. And then I’ve heard really big redevelopment plans and ideas.
And I’m eager to be on the Council so that I could be part of that conversation and take what the community wants and try to make it happen within the context of that plan. How much that plan changes? That’s for the community to decide.
But I’m happy to work really hard and diligently to make sure, number one – there’s adequate public process. Everybody needs to be able to participate in that and in a meaningful and substantial way. I don’t think that should be a Council-led project or process. Nor should the Comp Plan. It should be the community. These are the community’s visions, not the Council’s, and the Council should be responsive to that. So community outreach and engagement is hugely important for those two projects.
SG: COVID has prompted an unprecedented shift in the operations of businesses, nonprofits and city, 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?
RN: That’s a good question. I recall I think that the most intimate discussion I’ve had about this relative to Bainbridge and really especially in the local economy was when the Council was looking to develop a small business loan program or some sort of subsidy that would help improve or bolster the economy. This was would have been at the beginning of the COVID pandemic sometime last year.
And one of the things that we heard, I think a proposal from a community member was that because of the reluctance of folks to visit in person, stores, and just the the sheer kind of decline in, in retail business, due to lack of customer activity, that switching to virtual or online forms of a business transactions. So online stores, things of that nature, and having some municipal funding or support behind that was something at the time that the local business community supported.
I think that we probably are seeing it and I don’t know how long this will last. I think a lot of us felt like we would be out of the pandemic. We’re not, I think some of us enjoy returning to in-person life, some of us don’t, some of us like not having to put on pants when we step out of the house in the morning, we can keep our, our pajamas on and sit in front of our screen and still be as productive as we were before. We don’t have to spend time commuting and such.
So we kind of have this hybrid world now, where we’re virtual and in person. That’s something I see persisting, and what that means for economy and how businesses are structured, I’m not quite sure. But I do think that opportunities for consumers to shop online, delivery services, for example, where goods could be delivered to you from local retail stores, I know that we have a new service on the island that delivers food, I forget what it’s called.
SG: Island Bite.
RN: Yes, Island Bite. He also came to the Council and spoke and I thought, how great is that, that, that in our shifting economy, we see new businesses and new creative ideas that are helping humanity kind of adapt to the restrictions, either legal, political or personal, personally imposed. And still maintain kind of a sense of normalcy of life.
But you know what one of the things is, and this is something that was somewhat of a concern was well, we don’t want our downtown stores to be empty. And I remember that being a very real reality at the time that the Council discussed it. And I forget what business – was it was an outdoor store, it was very beloved on the island that had been on the island for a very long time. And it closed in light of the pandemic. And I remember hearing concerns from citizens that, Oh my gosh, is our downtown going to be vacant? If stores leave, is anything going to come and take their place? So I think that’s something that we need to consider. And I think it should be something that Council members keep in the back of their minds, and then engage organizations like yours and local business owners to you know, sort of help try and figure out a solution around.
SG: Well, for those those local business owners right now, one of the biggest challenges is finding new employees. And one of the biggest struggles those potential new hires always point to is a lack of affordable workforce housing. What practical steps are you prepared to take to address the island’s need for workforce and all other kinds of affordable housing?
RN: Yeah, so that has been a very, again, another big question. And since I got on the Council in 2018, I can honestly say that the Council tried to take steps towards introducing new affordable units to the market, and just was unsuccessful at doing that. And one of those projects was the Suzuki project into which taxpayers poured over $250,000 and nothing was ever done there. And there are reasons for why it was unsuccessful – had to do with funding, neighborhood opposition and the fact that the density that was being proposed there in that zone of the island was not achievable under our existing code. So there were actually changes to the code that had to happen before the City could achieve that plan.
Anyways, 2020 happened. Council changed. COVID happened and priorities shifted and so that conversation was set aside. Since then, the Council had heard specifically about the kind of the emergency needs of our existing Island residents in response to the COVID pandemic, and addressed those and I lumped that in the category of affordable housing because we often think new development, and affordability to me also means taking care of existing residents – first and foremost keeping people that are in homes in their homes.
And we heard from, I believe, Helpline House, I’m not sure if we heard from HRB at the time the pandemic hit, but that the need for rental subsidies dramatically increased, people lost their jobs, they couldn’t afford the rent. There were policies in place at the state level that helped protect the interests of tenants, especially low income tenants. Those restrictions, if they haven’t lifted, they are slated to be lifted. So that’s something that I’m definitely concerned about.
In terms of affordability, I consider that a very, very real and immediate concern that needs to be possibly addressed even at the municipal level here. In fact, I mentioned it when we were discussing the funding distribution of the $7 million dollar federal grant funding last night.
In addition to that, recently, there was a project developer who proposed an affordable housing project, Wintergreen. I think I mentioned that already in this interview, over at High School Road/Visconsi. And I became involved in that I learned about the project, talked with the project developer, and learned about his concerns and the obstacles that he’d encountered at the permitting level along the permitting pipeline at the City, and helped worked with him, put him in communication with the City Manager or talk with the planning director around some of these concerns, some of which were addressed, some of which turned into a proposal that I brought to the Council for a developer agreement between the Council, the City, and that project developer, so that we can essentially make a deal/compromise, something that would help get the project through to be before the hearing examiner.
But that the Council could be satisfied with and competent with the goals of the project being consistent with the goals of the Comprehensive Plan, consistent with the land use element, and, of course, consistent with our affordable housing goals. So I was really proud to have worked on that, advocated for that. And I think I heard that just last week, they received the approval of the Planning Commission. So they’ll be moving forward to the hearing examiner, and on their way to building out what I believe to be 31 affordable units, which HRB in my understanding will help provide funding for, to place those 31 units of affordability into a community land trust.
In addition to that, Council and the City, I should say received a federal funding. And it’s, you know, more or less COVID funding, from the federal government, it was $7 million. So it’s pretty substantial amount of money. Comes to the City and the City and the Council have to decide how to spend it, how we’re going to allocate those funds.
The purpose of those federal grant monies was really to provide relief or assistance to some of our COVID response. Right? So what areas in our community have been most impacted by the pandemic? That’s what this money was really provided to the City to solve for, to help ease. And so the Council naturally felt that affordable housing, health and human services funding, helping people with that money, people that have really been impacted the most by the pandemic would be the best use of those funds.
Last night, the Council awarded – the exact amount it was 3.5 ish, if not more 3.7 ish, don’t quote me on that – million dollars to affordable housing. And then I think about 60,000 to increase the Health and Human Services funding, either for this year or for the next funding cycle. That’s pretty significant. $2 million of that went specifically to HRB’s – what was the 550 Madison, for those 13 units of affordable housing that Housing Resources Bainbridge intends to purchase from the for-market developer. So $2 million will go to purchase to subsidize HRB’s cost of purchasing those units. And the remainder is a set aside for the Council and the City to kind of develop some criteria as to how that can be spent. I think in the years that I’ve been paying attention to politics, and since I’ve been on the Council, that is probably the most significant action the Council has taken to support affordable housing on the island. So there’s that.
SG: Maybe following on from that, How best can equity and diversity be increased on Bainbridge?
RN: Yeah, um, that’s a really good question. And my response is, you know, being Palestinian, having been involved in local politics now for four years, being a woman of color. And not just as a resident of Bainbridge, but in politics on Bainbridge, I have a pretty good view into some of the issues that are not necessarily visible to the naked eye, I think that we, you know, what we call systemic racism, or institutionalized racism is really talking about biases or prejudices that are not so easily to put into words. They’re under the surface of our community in our social and cultural structures.
I started working with the Race Equity Task Force when it was formed, I believe, in 2019. And have been an advocate for race equity, at the municipal level, so very strongly support looking at policies to insert what we call an equity lens into review of those policies to see where at that level, we can inject more equity. Sounds simple, it’s actually a really difficult exercise to do. And I know that, having sat before consultants who perform this work in tandem with municipalities, because the prejudices and the biases are so inherent in our legislative, governmental processes, bodies, documents, they really have to be teased apart and redrafted and rebuilt.
One of the things I’d say, in addition to that, is that that was the intent of the Race Equity Task Force when it was formed, it was to come back with recommendations to the City Council as to how we can be more equitable. I don’t think any of us knew how hard that work would be. And one of the first things that became apparent was, and I don’t mean hard like we’re not capable or competent to do it, I mean, that the amount of opposition to that work was greater than any of us ever expected to encounter, including at the municipal level.
So the work then became focused on education. It became around promoting public interest in this issue, it became about marches, signage, being present at the Farmers Market, telling people why this was important, because it’s hard to believe that we have a problem here on Bainbridge Island. And the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one. I think that’s where Bainbridge Island is, I think we’re still coming to terms with the fact that we have a problem getting the unanimous consent of our elected body to agree that we have a problem. And then being willing to take the steps to do things that are very different from the way that we’ve been doing them, in order to start to solve for that problem.
I think as neighbors, what we can do to make this place more equitable, is to be kind to each other. Accepting. Those are the kinds of attitude changes that relate to our work of educating the community that need to take place before we can start to do the other things because we need public support to do those other things, because it’s really a huge lift. But regardless of whether or not I’m on the Council, I fully intend to stay involved in that work, because it is critical. And I don’t think there has ever been a time that has been more right to finally work to solve what’s likely going to be a decades-long process of healing our communities around the wounds of systemic and institutionalized racism that have plagued us for so long.
SG: Now, turning to a different kind of difficult problem, what kinds of infrastructure improvement do you think are most needed on the island?
RN: Yes. So infrastructure, you mean specifically roads and transportation or utilities?
SG: I believe it means both.
RN: Okay. So utilities is something that most people find very dull and boring to talk about. So we don’t tend to talk about it much at the City Council, but we need to. I talked about it last night, I was actually hoping and advocated that some of the federal grant funding would go towards improving utilities. And that sounds sort of like well, why would we do that? Well, if we have these affordable housing projects and density coming to Winslow, we need to make sure we have adequate, you know, utility infrastructure in order to hook them up so we’re not exceeding capacity.
Right now, our sewage treatment plan is at capacity. I think Islanders are will recall that it leaked twice over winter due to the substantial amount of rains. We also have more people home. Okay, this is my own personal theory: I don’t know if I’ve had this confirmed by an engineer. But it makes sense if we’re all in the COVID era, and suddenly everyone’s using their houses as offices, you’re seeing more use of homes, especially in terms of, you know, drinking water, and flushing toilets and things of that nature. So that said, our sewage needs a hard look at and there needs to be money spent towards it. We’re doing it anyway. Because it’s a requirement in order for us to keep our permit by the state. Yeah, well, yeah, we got dinged for that one.
But utilities, I think, are definitely something that we need to give more attention and focus to, especially to make sure that our utilities are somewhat in line with our environmental goals. One of the conversations I’ve been having with island residents lately is that, and this relates to the over-regulation of island residents, to the sheer length of permits it takes to do simple things, you know, window replacements, insulation or fences in certain areas, things of that nature, that really should just be a quick, you know, you pay your 10 or 25 bucks, and then you get your permit back – might take months and months and months. Solar panel installations. These chronic complaints that I’ve been hearing across the years.
We tend to treat land use and what people do with property as if it is the largest point/source contributor to pollution or to climate change. And not to say that building and development is not, but so is stormwater, if not a bigger cause and source of pollution to the health of the Puget Sound. Sewage, and the effluent that we pour out into the sound currently is not being treated by the highest level of technologies that we could be treating in a tertiary treatment.
And we know from the governor’s Orca Task Force, that in part the orca population is suffering because of the increased pollution in Puget Sound, which is a direct correlation to population growth. So for me, looking at our utilities and strengthening them, fits into what I call responsible growth, this bubble of responsible growth – you have to look at your utilities and you have to be willing to spend money and time to bringing them up to meet the standards that the community holds.
In terms of transportation, I am a common-sense problem solver, when it comes to transportation. I do believe in safe infrastructure. For non-motorized, especially in parts of the island where it is proven dangerous for folks to walk and bike, I believe in safe routes to schools; I like off road or separated pathways where they make sense. I like creating those linkages and and providing all ages, all abilities, safe opportunities to travel. I also am very keen on the idea of of using paint to solve some of our traffic complaints and problems and to improve safety.
Having grown up in Berkeley, and not having owned a car when I lived in Berkeley for about eight years, walking and biking everywhere, I can tell you that the city there, they don’t have a lot of funding to put towards fancy non-motorized improvements, what they had were buckets of paint and they would go out and they would redraw the lines, they would block certain roads off from through traffic and allow it through others in order to create a sense of safety for non-motorized traffic in the areas where it mattered. And there was this balance there.
And one of the things I’ve advocated for is that when we look to how we revise our roadways and systems, we shouldn’t be looking to accommodate car traffic, we should be looking to improve safety for non-motorized and pedestrians, specifically, especially around our school zones. And I think that’s a concept that has been adopted within the sustainable transportation plan. So I do hope that coming out of that plan and into the implementation mode, we start to see some of those changes.
And I do hope in addition to that, those changes are not so costly to taxpayers they don’t get done. I’d rather see something done than nothing done. And for my conversations with community members, a bucket of paint and a few road signs is sometimes all neighborhoods are asking for. And as a councilmember, you know, my responsibility is to advocate for the public need. And if we can solve it that way, then great.
SG: What do you think the the trend of the overall trend of following enrollment in Bainbridge is highly rated and well funded public school district is most indicative of?
RN: Well, yeah, I am raising two small children on the island, and I talk to a lot of parents, and a lot of my friends are mom-friends, folks that I’ve met through my children’s attendance at school, so I have a pretty good sense of the type of people who are coming to the island, moving to the island specifically to enroll their children in the school system, or, you know, coming over for jobs or such, and they have families and the children end up in the school system that way.
The issue of declining school enrollment, I think, has to do with the high cost of real estate here. People that have children and raise families tend to be at the beginning of their careers and unable to afford million dollar, million dollar plus homes. Unless they have some sort of, you know, wealth backing from family, or they have really good jobs, they’re both working parents.
So I think I think there’s definitely a correlation there. Affordable housing I’ve heard has been proposed as a solution to solving for declining school enrollment. I don’t know if it’s that simple. I think that one of the things that we need to look to specifically is in terms of how we have decided to allocate our density and growth allocations, meaning putting more density and growth in Winslow, which allows for the rural zones to remain rural. Well as a result of that you have high cost of living in the rural zones – million dollar plus homes.
We have programs such as the ADU program, for example, which I’m a huge supporter of – that allows property owners to build an additional dwelling unit, hence ADU an additional dwelling unit, on their lot if they meet basic certain criteria. That’s a right that every property owner has provided that they there’s no critical areas constraints, things of that nature on the lot. And that size of that unit is, I think it’s 900 square feet on the island.
So by virtue of its size and its location, proximity to the main dwelling unit, it is more or less affordable. And that would allow say a starter as a starter home or rental home for a young family that’s just starting out on the island. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen the development of a lot of ADUs and I think one of the hurdles there is that they’re really expensive to build, number one. We don’t have sewer service in the rural zones. So you have to, you know, increase your septic capacity, which in and of itself is a $20,000 to $50,000 expense.
So what incentive do property owners have right now to build an affordable unit that will rent below market rent. When they have to pay such a high cost in order to build the thing, there’s not a lot of financial incentive there. In addition to that, there’s the regulatory hurdles that a property owner has to go through, in order to get a permit to build an ADU. One of the things I’ve mentioned to the council that I would like to see and support in the coming years is, and I’ve actually discussed this with Phedra Elliot of Housing Resources Bainbridge, is developing an ADU subsidy program to provide some financial backing, municipal backing to property owners in order to develop ADUs.
And that’s a model that other cities, for example the City of San Jose, CA developed such a program. And one of the benefits of that is it creates dual affordability – the person that’s living in that single family residence, then gets the rental subsidy from the ADU that then helps them pay their high cost of living, their increased property taxes. And then on the flip side, they get to rent an ADU – 900 square feet, which would rent for more affordable than say, you know, your average single family residence would.
And then another thing would be to eliminate the regulatory hurdles to make it a very streamlined, very easy permit to obtain. And those are two incentives that the City could provide. I think if we had more of those kinds of housing units in stock on the island, those are attractive for young families just starting out, we might see more influx of young families with children who moved to the island to enroll their children in school. There’s lots of other things I could talk about too – hurdles at the county level with utility permits, tiny homes on wheels, but I don’t think we have the time.
SG: You actually have five minutes left and three questions to go. Not to make it a game show, but that’s where we’re at.
RN: Should I get a timer? So one minute!
SG: Should Bainbridge take a leadership position in reducing waste, educating consumers and promoting reusable items in our communities everyday life? And if so, what would be your key initiatives in this area?
RN: That’s a good thing. You know, we have so many community organizations that I feel do that so well. I think it’s I think it’s an issue of the City maintaining relationships with those community organizations, perhaps via our climate change committee, and then helping to promote those by using municipal resources for promotion, like our City website, City Manager report. And I’ve seen some of that in the past, maybe it can be done a little bit more or better. But that’s a question that I would actually, if that were coming to me on the council, I would make a motion to refer that to the climate change advisory committee and ask them how they thought we could do better at that, because we have such a strong base of intelligence and expertise already at the City, we just have to figure out a way to utilize that.
SG: Talking about utilization and resources, you will only have limited time and resources at your disposal to tackle the challenges of Bainbridge life in 2021. With that in mind, can you name 1 to 3 specific actions that you would like to define the legacy of your potential next term of office?
RN: Legacy – I don’t… Oh, that makes me uncomfortable. Um, I definitely don’t serve for myself. And honestly, the work that I have done at the Council level really has just been to promote things that – and work towards the development of regulations that are consistent with producing outcomes and development that the community desires. I was a co-sponsor of the 2018 moratorium on development. There was a lot of work that went into that – a huge work plan that took a year, two years, I was really involved in that. And that’s, you know, that consumes a substantial amount of time and resources. I don’t know if I’d call that a legacy. It was really the community that supported it, and the Council then supported it, and then we undertook the work. There’s still more of that to be done now.
I think that what I would specifically like to spend the next four years doing is continuing to clean up City Hall. In 2017, 2018, I ran on a platform of change. The overwhelming complaint, including for myself, was that the City didn’t seem to be in line with the community values. And one of the things that happened when I got into City Hall was I realized all the reasons why. And there were issues that again, we don’t have time to discuss, but if anyone wants to talk to me about them, I’m very happy to.
One of the benefits that we have at this point in time is a new city manager on board, and I see a lot of the changes internally to the city that are helping to resolve some of those complaints. But these are deep-rooted problems and they’re systemic at our City, and we need leaders that are vocal and that understand the problem and are willing to face the problem – for example, the overregulation, the burden – what that means – how it actually defeats our purpose, it defeats our environmental goals, when you make people so poisoned against going to the City for a permit because they’re not going to get one, or they’re going to spend X amount of number of dollars and time engaging with the City in order to get something – so they just do the thing anyway – that’s not our goal. It’s not helping anybody that we have these systems in place.
So how do we begin to untangle that and create a City that works for everyone? A city that people actually want to engage in, a city that is efficient at delivering permits, so people can do simple things? That’s something that I – that right there that is my work, that is what I am focused on. The equity component to how do we bring more voices to city hall? How do we diversify the voices that we hear at City Hall. So that’s kind of in the real deep stuff, I call it – it’s, you know, not paint murals, or sorts of these kind of things. It’s really working to improve the health of our local democracy, which I think still has a long way to go.
SG: Alright, with one minute left, one more question on those lines – What kind of working atmosphere will you strive to create if elected to City Council?
RN: A healthy, respectful, professional climate. And I think that’s another area where the Council specifically has struggled. And one of the reasons I wanted to be mayor was to reintroduce parliamentary procedure to our council meetings. We hadn’t as a Council been strictly following them prior to and it led to a lot of issues at our Council meetings. And we were criticized both in the press and from constituents that watching our meetings was so painful, because there were so many personal attacks.
And when you have community members that don’t want to tune in to the work of their local elected body because it’s too painful to watch, that’s a problem. Because it doesn’t serve the goal of democracy, you’re actually toxifying that environment so that people don’t want to participate. We want people to participate. And we can do that by modeling professionalism, and you can model professionalism by following the rules.
So I’m really proud to have worked hard on that I took the time to study parliamentary procedure and read up on the rules. And I have to say, in my opinion, I think the Council this year has been really efficient, and has worked really hard together. And the dynamic between Council members has improved.
When I first got on the Council, I used to hear stories from Council members that served you know, decades ago and said, “hey, after a council meeting, we’d you know, we’d rip each other’s heads off, and there’s all these ugly stuff flying around, we’d butt heads on policy, and then we’d get off and we’d all go to the bar have a beer together”.
Everyone was friends. And that’s been one of the most unfortunate things about being on the City Council. It’s just how divisive and how nasty at times it has been and how personal our political system has been. It doesn’t have to be that way. We work better when we respect each other. And citizens want to engage more when that level of professionalism and respect is being modeled by those that they elected to office. So that is, in addition to what I said prior, another one of my focus and goals. The outcome of that is efficiency and results from the Council. A better City, healthy legislative body, healthy community.
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
00:54 Community Engagement
03:05 3 Community Concerns
07:49 Land Usage
16:20 Winslow Master Plan
19:16 COVID Pivot
23:01 Affordable Housing
29:46 Equity & Diversity
39:22 School Enrollment
44:47 Environmental Leadership
45:48 3 Specific Actions
49:09 Working Atmosphere
To see all eight of the 2021 City Council Candidate Interviews, head back to the Chamber News homepage…