Candidate Questionnaire: Kirsten Hytopoulos, At Large, Dist. 1

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 Kirsten Hytopoulos is seeking the city council seat currently held by Ron Peltier, who is not seeking a second term. She is opposed by Anthony Oddo. His questionnaire appeared yesterday.

Candidate Questionnaire

Kirsten Hytopoulos
Kirsten Hytopoulos

Candidate:   Kirsten Hytopoulos

Position #:   1

Your Website: www.KirstenForCouncil2019.com

Your Email: Kirsten4Council@gmail.com

Ward of residence:   South

Representation: Which Ward or At Large:   At Large

Are you an incumbent?   No

Current occupation:   Collaborative attorney and mediator

Previous Civic Activities:

Board Member, Marge Williams Center (current)

Volunteer Mediator, Dispute Resolution Center of Kitsap Co. (current)

Parent Spokesperson, BISD Options United

Board Member, Helpline House

City Councilperson, City of Bainbridge Island (Mayor 2011)

Spokesperson, Vote Council-Manager ’09 Campaign

Co-Founder, Save Winslow Way Coalition

Founder, Green Voices for Bainbridge

Neighborhood Representative, South Island Sewer Project

Why you are running:  I am running for office for the same reason that I served previously on the City Council and for which I have worked in the community for nearly two decades, and that is the desire to work for the realization of the community’s vision for the Island as set forth in our Comprehensive Plan. That vision is for a city that grows sustainably and with intention, that serves as a responsible steward of our natural resources and sensitive ecosystems, and that values diversity and inclusivity. Climate change and the increasing development pressure on the Island have created a new level of urgency with regard to ensuring that our planning for current and future development is informed and effective, and I believe we need experienced voices now more than ever on the council dais.

Issues

Issues are listed alphabetically and not in any suggested priority.

Downtown parking

There is broad agreement that parking downtown is inadequate. The lack of parking spaces is probably costing businesses patronage. You were asked at the Chamber of Commerce candidates forum how you would solve parking. One candidate noted a lack of support from business. Another suggested creating a one-way street to add parking. Neither solves a problem.

Q. How would you solve the parking problem downtown so that both residents and tourists have sufficient places to park and shop?

I believe that the question is not how create more parking, but how we get people out of single-occupancy vehicles – both locals and visitors. Over the years a downtown parking garage has come and gone as a proposal to increase parking; however, studies show that that such a facility will only commensurately increase car use—build it and they will come. We need instead a coherent program to reduce car traffic on the island by creating a safer walking and biking infrastructure, and by increasing transit options.

We also need to actively promote the use of car alternatives and provide better incentives for those who work in Winslow, including city staff, to motivate them to bike or make use of transit. This would free up more existing parking for shoppers and visitors—although we must aim to get shoppers and visitors out of their cars as well. To that end, I support the idea of a shuttle service that would circulate through the Winslow core and provide transportation to grocery stores, other retailers, doctors’ offices and key locations such as the Senior Center. This service, combined with transit in and out of Winslow, would make it possible for those across the Island and off Island to leave their cars at home.

Q. Would you support a program that would incent tourists to leave the car at home while creating more transportation options when visiting the island?

Absolutely. We need to promote the Island regionally as a walking and biking destination, and provide options for those who cannot or will not walk or bike from the ferry to Winslow Way and other tourist attractions. The Sweet Deal extended golf cart that runs to and from the ferry, and the BI Ride run to and from Bloedel, are existing examples of this excellent method for reducing car use by tourists and islanders. The circulating shuttle that I mentioned above, or a second one running just between the ferry and Winslow Way, could be part of the solution. I am committed to working with Kitsap Transit and/or other potential service providers to explore options, and to investing in our non-motorized infrastructure so that we can honestly promote the Island as safe and welcoming place to walk and bike.

Environment

Islands are inherently fragile ecosystems that show stress quickly and have limited capacity to recover from environmental impacts.

 Q. What grade would you give the current City government on environmental protection and sustainability?

Grade:  C+

Q. What would you do the same or differently?

When it comes to the formulation of policy, the city has generally excelled at creating strong environmental protections. However, the city also has a long-standing reputation of inconsistent enforcement of those policies. A fair amount of the community’s distrust or lack of confidence in the city comes ironically from both those who believe the city is draconian in its enforcement and those who believe the city too often fails to enforce the code or adequately scrutinize the environmental impacts of projects, in particular large impactful projects.

I believe that we need both better code enforcement and a natural resources specialist on staff to help inform city policy creation and oversee the implementation of that policy. An important part of each significant project is the completion of a SEPA analysis (SEPA = State Environmental Protection Act). This function should be carried out by a specialist independent from the staff assigned to the project as the planners assigned to these projects are generalists and have, quite reasonably, ongoing relationships with their developer and architect clients.

There has been talk at city hall about providing natural resources training to all planners, but this will not bring their competence up to the level of someone who has dedicated their career to natural resources planning, nor will it change the relationship between the assigned planners and their clients, which makes it challenging if not impossible to ensure a neutral and thorough environmental analysis of a project.

Q. Do you think the current City government is doing enough to protect our island ecosystems for the long term?

I think that our current city council is doing an excellent job of trying to ensure that significant development not proceed before key sections of the code are revised. Those revisions are to increase environmental protections to address concerns about climate change impacts, the Island’s contribution to carbon emissions, water quantity and quality, tree cover and quality of life issues such as buffering neighboring properties from new development.

The building moratorium has been a significant and necessary part of that effort. That said, I have had some concerns about the city’s continued insistence that we “have enough water.” I’m also concerned about the pace at which the climate change assessment is being pursued, including what seems to be a lack of support for the Climate Change Advisory Committee. And I am now becoming increasingly concerned that the city council may be moving in a direction in its affordable housing policy that will significantly and prematurely upzone the Island in return for a small number of affordable units. I do not believe that the environmental (and quality of life) impacts of such a policy will be outweighed by the minimal impact on the affordable housing crisis.

Q. Do you think the island residents would support stricter protections? Please explain.

At this point, I have real concerns about whether they would, even though most of them value and appreciate the sensitivity of our natural environment and have significant concerns about climate change. We have seen the negative reaction by many to recent changes to the critical areas and subdivision ordinances, and I believe that most of that reaction arises from a combination of misinformation about the actual effects of the ordinances (and the available exceptions) and from a lack of education on the purposes they are intended to serve. The city council must always ensure maximum opportunities for the community to be involved in the creation of any policy that restricts the use of private property. It must also launch an intensive outreach program to educate those who are unable to be involved, or not interested in being involved, in the creation process about the important interests served by the policies.

Q. How do you think the City needs to prepare for climate change for the near term and long term?

With the total lack of action at the national level, it’s states, local government, organizations and individuals that must step up to act on climate change. As a responsible and caring community, we on Bainbridge must do our part to both reduce emissions and address the very real impacts of climate change we will be experiencing on the Island. Those impacts include sea level rise and subsequent loss of shoreline property and infrastructure, salt water intrusion and lack of recharge of our aquifers, the death of many of our trees and the resulting wildfire risk.

In addition to investing in a viable multimodal transportation system, incorporating climate change mitigation and adaptation into our city code—through the adoption of a Green Building Code and in updates to our Shoreline Management Plan and other city planning documents—it’s critical that the City educate citizens about both reducing emissions and preparing for the impacts of climate change. This will be an important role for the city’s Climate Change Advisory Committee, which is composed of local scientists and climate change experts who volunteer their time and expertise. The City Council needs to allow this group of experts to guide them, and city staff, in understanding the ramifications of climate change as well as advising them on programs and policies that need to be enacted to amend city policy and educate the public. And to do this, the committee needs to be provided staff support, ideally in the form of a natural resources planner.

Finance

Voters rejected recent levies for the new police department building and roads.

Q. Why do you think voters rejected these levies?

I believe the police department levy was rejected because voters objected to spending such a large amount for a police and court facility. And the reality is that a significant amount of our debt capacity is now consumed by that one project. Prop 1, the non-motorized improvement levy, was rejected for very different reasons. I believe that many of those who voted against the levy support the concept of investing in bike lanes, road shoulders and trails, but they lacked confidence in the city to deliver the projects. That may have been because of the lack of clarity as to what projects would be funded, a concern that the city would not manage the funds well, or a perception that the city just doesn’t get projects done. The lack of levy “marketing” was also likely a factor. Not unlike the education needed to help the public understand and get on board with environmental policies and the need for changes in our behavior in the face of climate change, they need to—deserve to—be educated as to why they should agree to take on more property tax burden and why they should have confidence that their tax dollars will be well spent.

Q. What message would you convey to the citizens in support of future bonds?

Certainly, it all depends on what the bond will finance. There will need to be consensus that the project is needed and that the costs are reasonable, and there will need to be a delineation of clear deliverables. I think a sustainable transportation bond has a chance at passage in the future because we all know that traffic needs to be addressed, and that both climate change and the safety of our growing number of cyclists should be community priorities. Hopefully, the sustainable transportation study the city is undertaking will produce a plan that community can embrace.

Tim Eyman has another $30 car tab initiative on the November ballot. If it passes, Bainbridge Island will lose hundreds of thousands of dollars annual from its Transportation fund.

Q. How would you deal with this significant shortfall of transportation dollars in the Bainbridge budget?

If all car tab revenues for roads were lost, the city would lose $400,000 a year, which is a substantial amount but not so significant that it could not be paid out of general fund dollars going forward, albeit in combination with some other reduction in service. It should be noted that we will also lose the increase in car tab fees which was set to be enacted this fall and was earmarked for traffic calming and marketing BI Ride. Whether or not we lose the car tab fee revenue, the city needs to be rethinking the funding of road improvements, including non-motorized infrastructure, which is an integral part of a “complete street.”

One place we need to look for replacement or new funding is in our transportation impact fees. We currently charge new construction substantially lower impact fees than do neighboring communities like Poulsbo. By addressing concurrency and budgeting for improvements aimed at mitigating traffic, we could greatly increase the amount. And of course, there is the question of budget priorities and making “complete streets” a priority.  During my first term on council, we were faced with a serious and longstanding budget shortfall. We balanced the books by following a firm set of priorities. Pulling funds from “nice to have” to “need to have” is often the best way to proceed when expected funding dries up.

Growth and Development

GMA

City governments often use the GMA as a reason for increased growth and density, while authors of the GMA insist that the GMA provides tools with which to guide growth to be sustainable and in some cases, limit growth. 

Q. What’s your view of the GMA?

 I believe that the purpose of the GMA is indeed to plan for sustainable growth—which includes limiting growth in some places and redirecting growth to those places that have the resources needed to sustain it.

Q. Do you think the City of Bainbridge Island is using the GMA wisely to make growth sustainable?

Our Comprehensive Plan – which calls for focusing growth in the Winslow Core where there is infrastructure, services and proximity to the ferry – makes good use of the principles of the GMA. On the other hand, the Plan also calls for the development of neighborhood service centers which were intended to be somewhat self-sufficient and provide enough services to reduce trips into Winslow. That was never a realistic plan, and of course what we see now is that we have intensified growth at Lynwood Center, which has both increased the trips taken between the South End and Winslow and drawn people from across the Island to an increasing number of restaurants and other amenities in the neighborhood service center. At this point what we have done is deliberately create sprawl, the avoidance of which is one of the primary purposes of the GMA. I do not support growing any of the neighborhood service centers further until we have put in place real and viable multimodal connections between the centers and Winslow.

Q. Do you think Bainbridge Island has room to grow?

Only if we create the infrastructure to support it and only to the extent that growth does not exceed the carrying capacity of the Island—and does not significantly diminish the sense of place that is the very reason anyone wants to live here.

Q. How much and where should this growth be channeled in order to preserve the more rural nature of the majority of the island?

How much growth we accept should be dictated by both the carrying capacity of the Island and the growth projections we are allocated under the GMA. Our community has long expressed a desire to grow only as much as necessary. So, even if the carrying capacity of the Island is x+y, if we need only accept a population increase of x, that is what we should do. As much growth as possible should be channeled into Winslow, as that is where the infrastructure and services are, and because that will allow us to preserve the rural qualities and natural systems across the rest of the Island. That benefits the whole Island with regard to aquifer recharge and impacts on critical areas, including water quality.

It will make more sense under the GMA and in pursuit of the Comp Plan’s vision for the Island to incrementally push out the edges of the Winslow Core (in the long term) than to upzone the rest of the Island. Though again, the extent of such growth is not unlimited and should be dictated by the carrying capacity of the Island.

Housing

Q. Do you think the City should allow Tiny houses, ADUs and carriage houses to provide for more affordable housing while being more sustainable?

First it must be acknowledged that there is no guarantee that tiny houses or ADUs will result in affordable housing. Many such units are AirBnb’d or otherwise used as short-term rentals, and as we know, both living on the Island and living in a modest sized home are increasingly desirable to would-be renters. And so, it is very possible that we will see $3,000/mo ADUs, depending on location and quality of the design etc.

Certainly, if we continue to allow separate ownership of the main residence and accessory structure, property owners will continue to “condominium-ize” and sell their ADUs, and there is no guarantee that they will be priced to be affordable even for moderate-income individuals and couples. That said, I fully support facilitating the building of ADUs and tiny houses in the Winslow Core, and even allowing for two accessory units on properties upon which they can be accommodated without unreasonable impact on adjacent property owners. So long as common ownership is required, I am hopeful we will see some increase in affordable housing, at least for those just under moderate income.

I am less supportive of ADUs outside of the Core because I believe that the net effect is ultimately a doubling of density where it cannot be supported and without sufficient return to the community.

Q. How would you regulate these housing options?

 I would require common ownership of the units, enact the strongest limits legally possible on short-term rentals, and ensure that the impacts on adjacent properties are adequately mitigated.

Q. Do you believe RVs should be allowed as permanent housing?

This is a very difficult policy issue in my opinion. I can say that I do not support allowing people to reside permanently in an RV parked on public streets, or in an RV that is unable to be declared safe and sanitary, or an RV that is located in any manner that unreasonably impacts adjacent property owners.

That said, I believe that there are instances in which it would make a lot of sense to allow people to live in an RV for some period of time (e.g., while building a tiny house or traditional home) and other circumstances where it would be desirable to make it possible for someone to do so (e.g., allowing a friend or family member who would otherwise be homeless to reside on one’s property). But I would support it only if regulations can be put in place that assure that the RV is safe, sanitary and not creating more impacts on adjacent property owners that an ADU or tiny house would. I’m not sure that RVs can meet the standards that such regulations would need to require, but I support the city in exploring that question.

Q. Where would these RVs be allowed to park, and in what numbers, so as not to negatively impact adjacent neighborhoods?

Only on private property with the permission of the property owner and only in a manner that does not negatively impact adjacent properties. And certainly, only one RV at any given time on a property. I don’t support a property owner renting out multiple RVs on his or her property. I think it would also make sense to require that the owner of the property reside on the property, whether the owner is the person living in the RV or providing the space to the person living in the RV.

Q. How do you answer the concerns expressed by the Fire Department over the potential use of RVs as permanent housing?

 I think the concerns raised by BIFD and the city’s building official are valid and must be addressed. As I stated above, my approval of this use of property would be dependent on being able to modify RVs in whatever manner needed to make them safe and sanitary. That may not be possible. If I read the memorandum from BIFD on the issue correctly, the department would hold RVs to the same standards as standard residential construction, which may in and of itself prohibit this use.

Q. Given the problems Seattle has over the use of RVs as housing and the impacts on neighborhoods and business areas, why do you think RVs for Bainbridge may be a good idea?

My understanding is that Seattle does not prohibit living in a vehicle that is parked on a public street, as long as the vehicle is moved every 72 hours. For that reason, unscrupulous “landlords” have been able to maintain fleets of RVs on the streets of Seattle that are rented by the week and often in deplorable condition. As I stated above, I would not support allowing people to reside in RVs parked on public streets.

Social Services

Q. What do you propose to combat drug abuse, depression and suicides for young teens and high schoolers?

 As the mother of three teens, this is an issue of importance to me, and I wish that I could say that the city has ability to tackle it. But the city is not in a position to provide direct services to our youth, whether that be counseling services,  drug and alcohol treatment, or even a safe place to hang out. That said, the city can and should continue to do what it has done over the years and that is to provide annual funding to the community services organizations that do provide services to Island teens. The city also can and should be a key participant in the effort to assess the state of youth mental health on the Island and to determine what services are most critically needed. And should opportunities arise in which the City’s participation in seeking a grant for services would be helpful, I would certainly support that as well.

You were asked at the Chamber of Commerce candidates forum about the need for senior citizen housing and services. All agreed that there is a need but all were short on specifics, including how affordable housing would be paid for.

Q. Please detail how you would address these issues. Consider this a two-part question, allowing 250 words per part.

 With regard to senior services, my answer would be the same as my answer above to the question regarding the delivery of services to our troubled youth. Like any other city of its size, our city is not set up to provide direct services to our senior citizens. However, we can and should continue to provide funding to our community services organizations that do provide services. And of course, the city should continue to work cooperatively with the Senior Center whenever any issue arises related to the property leased by the center. I would also say that expanding multimodal transpiration options, in particular bus service and a downtown shuttle, would certainly be a service that would greatly benefit seniors for whom mobility is often a significant concern.

With regard to affordable housing for seniors, I would include that within the same approach I would take to affordable housing generally. And that is that with city’s limited dollars our focus must be first on current residents who are in the lowest income bands. As to what the city can provide in the way of affordable housing assistance, it is unlikely that the city will ever be the builder or manager of an affordable housing project, but rather a contributor or land and/funds towards a project in collaboration with other governmental and non-profit entities.

If the Suzuki project is ultimately determined to not be viable, I would support selling the property and investing the funds in project in the Winslow Core. Such a project would be well located for seniors as it would be walkable to amenities and in the vicinity of transit options. I believe that home sharing will increasing be part of the solution, and anything the city can do to facilitate that from a regulatory perspective would be appropriate.

Transportation

The city has had a transportation concurrency update on its “to-do” list for two or more years.

Q. What is your understanding of concurrency?

 It is my understanding that concurrency is the requirement that a jurisdiction’s infrastructure keeps up with growth, measured in terms of levels of service.

Q, Why hasn’t an update been prioritized and completed?

 I have no personal knowledge as to why the city has not recently done a concurrency update, though I imagine that the results may point to the need for a significant increase in capital spending that is not contemplated by the city’s Capital Improvement Plan.

Q. What do you hope to see as a result of a transportation concurrency update?

 As I understand it, a lack of concurrency in transportation allows for the denial of permits that would be served by the inadequate infrastructure pending an increase in level of service. And so, I would hope that the city will stop authorizing development that is further burdening our roads and prioritize bringing up the level service across the Island. I also understand that a concurrency update would put us in a position of being able to justify increased transportation impact fees, which I see as a barely tapped source of funding for road improvements, in particular the non-motorized improvements we so desperately need.

Q. Concurrency and Level of Service is based on traffic counts that date citywide to 2012-14. Do you think this is appropriate?

 Certainly not. We have all witnessed in increase in development and experienced an increase in traffic in recent years, and the most recent numbers possible should be included in any study or plan.

Water

There is conflicting information and opinion on the state of the island’s water resource. Some research says there’s plenty and enough for future growth, while other water experts strongly disagree and point to the fact that the island is a sole-source aquifer and with finite capacity, especially given risks posed by climate change. 

 Q. What’s your position on our island’s water capacity and quality? Please provide facts and research to support your views.

Some say, “we have enough water” and point to modeling of our aquifers done by Aspect Consulting. Even if that modeling holds up in the face of the unprecedented population increase expected regionally and the increasing occurrence of climate change impacts far exceeding what’s been forecasted, our deep aquifer is declining and will decline indefinitely. Our shallower aquifers are vulnerable to climate change and reduced recharge. This doesn’t mean we can’t accept any population growth in the near term, but it does mean we must identify the ultimate carrying capacity of the Island for long-term planning.

With regard to water quality, according to the last State of the Island Waters Report (2019), of 16 Island streams that are monitored, 13 were rated as in moderate condition and three in poor condition. Some believe extending sewer service is the answer, but malfunctioning septic systems are only one contributor to poor water quality and, importantly, septic systems are a significant source of groundwater recharge. Other contributors include livestock, pet waste and increasing water temperatures, which foster the growth of bacteria and depletion of oxygen in the water. It’s the County’s role to monitor septic system performance and to require repairs. The City’s primary role in the protection of our surface waters is as overseer of the treatment and dispersion of our stormwater. The City must insist that new development implement the most effective stormwater management practices, and it must continue to invest in the repair and upgrading of public stormwater facilities.

Q. Do you believe there should be a building moratorium until a consensus understanding on water aquifer viability is reached and a determination is made whether there is a long-term problem?

I do not believe that there should be a building moratorium on that basis; however, I would support an upzoning moratorium pending the completion of a well-vetted groundwater management plan. The Comprehensive Plan itself calls a determination of the carrying capacity of the Island and we are long overdue for that assessment and the related community conversation.

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