Candidate Questionnaire: Leslie Schneider, Central Ward, Dist. 4

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Lesle Schneider is running for election for a full, four-year term to the city council’s Central Ward, District 4. She is opposed by Grayson William Wildsmith. His questionnaire appears tomorrow.

Candidate Questionnaire

Leslie Schneider
Leslie Schneider

Candidate:   Leslie Schneider

Position #:   Central Ward, Dist. 4

Your Website: schneider4council.com

Your Email: leslie@schneider4council.com

Ward of residence:   Central

Representation: Which Ward or At Large: Central

Are you an incumbent?   Yes, since May 1, 2018, appointed to fill a vacancy.

  • If incumbent, how many terms have your served?

Current occupation:   Co-owner, OfficeXpats Coworking; marketing director for FacilityQuest

Previous Civic Activities:  On boards of Sustainable Bainbridge, Kitsap Regional Library Foundation

Why you are running:   Bainbridge Island is a unique place with qualities of small town and rural feel, but greatly influenced by the fast-paced tech world of Seattle. For decades, I have been committed to building communities for living (cohousing) and working (coworking), and I now see how I can use my understanding of place and relationship to help find solutions for thriving in a world of new constraints due to climate change. City government is where innovation can directly solve problems for diverse people living together. It is the challenge of a lifetime.

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 would reframe the problem to solve as equitable access to services and businesses. Driving a car to such a destination and parking nearby is one way to attain access. This expected convenience is not always met in peak hours, and other transit options are not readily available, therefore we have a problem. We can prioritize parking for customers over employees; we can charge for parking; we can change parking time limits, along with other tweaks, and these partial solutions will help. However, just today the New York Times reports that 14th Street in Manhattan was recently closed to most car traffic, which allowed buses to glide through the street at efficient speeds. The strategic direction for many cities today is to prioritize moving people over cars and provide a better experience for people in the process. We will need some transitional parking solutions but should keep our eyes on the ultimate goal.

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. If tourists knew before coming across what to expect and how to accomplish their chosen activities via alternatives to cars, they would do it. The expense of car fares on the ferry is already a disincentive; the insecurity of not knowing how to get around without the car is something that we should be able to fix with better transit and communication.

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?

The moratorium was an ambitious and strategic way to buy time to get new environmental standards, such as aquifer recharge protection, in place. Much has been accomplished in that time for subdivision guidelines to reduce the impact of carving up the land. Next up in the work plan is rethinking our green building code and implementing the Climate Action Plan when it is delivered to Council. The work is never done.

Q. What would you do the same or differently?

We need to be sure we are not just playing catchup to green building standards but in fact are looking to the future of living within net-0 carbon constraints and responsible groundwater management. We have pioneers of the Living Building Challenge right here on the island that can guide us in setting ourselves up for success and innovation.

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

Council has set an ambitious agenda but that doesn’t mean we can’t do better. Having just returned from the Ecocity World Summit, I have just learned about the agendas of other city councils in Melbourne and Vancouver BC for instance. I think we can be inspired and learn from them as we figure out what is right for Bainbridge Island.

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

There is always a tension between protections for the common good and the environment and protections for land values. I believe that most people are willing to be generous and expansive with their perspective when they understand the real value both ways.  One way that West Vancouver is approaching this is to inventory and include the value of natural assets on its books, and to track the value over time.

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

One goal is to reduce the impact that City business has on the environment, and a second goal is to guide the island as a whole to reduce (and reverse) impact. The City needs to analyze the greenhouse gas inventory data and put a climate change lens on all policy creation and city business. We need to work with state government to get options for electrifying the vehicle fleet, for instance.

For the island as a whole, we most urgently need to address our transportation options and infrastructure and move to deprioritize driving alone in cars. Adding BI Ride options from Kitsap Transit, public-private partnerships for micro-transit in downtown Winslow, walking and cycling infrastructure improvements, and bike sharing are all potential pieces of the solution.

Then more generally, our island culture along with mainstream American culture needs to adapt quickly to a less consumptive lifestyle, with smaller homes, more local energy generation (e.g. community solar), and more closed-loop use of water and food.

Council has put the foundation for this change into motion by asking for a greenhouse gas inventory, a climate action plan, and a sustainable transportation plan. We need to stay laser-focused to act on this information and planning.

Finance

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

Q. Why do you think voters rejected these levies?

Cost was a huge factor with the police facility. At the time of the police/court facility levy, the projected costs were much higher than what is now budgeted to purchase and refurbish the Harrison building. In order to make the current solution work, the original program for the police/court building needed to be reduced by about 12% (if memory serves). Creative problem solving made that work.

The SAFE mobility levy was not communicated properly and many opportunities were missed to explain the value that would be achieved.

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

The current project to create a sustainable transportation plan will broaden the strategy from a focus on bikes and shoulders to expanding car-free options for the island. If there is a decision to go for another levy, it will have been preceded by public engagement and a clear strategy for the future of transportation on the island.

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 we are to keep the same levels of service on road repair that we have now, the funding will need to come from the general fund. This will not be a crisis in the near term because the city is in good financial condition with reserves. However, it is not a long term solution, and there will consequently be less funding available for other initiatives, such as multi-modal projects in the Capital Improvement Projects list, or climate change mitigation, or other Council ambitions in the future. Regardless of the outcome of I-976, I support adding transportation access fees specifically to fund multi-modal infrastructure as an additional revenue source.

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?

In general, “growth management” has succeeded in changing the direction of cities from unplanned and inefficient sprawl to planned concentration of resources and services in urban areas, and thus saving rural areas from a “death by a thousand cuts.” It’s a good start.

While the term “growth management” may not change for some time to come, we need to focus more ambitiously on how we can each live within the constraints of an equitable ‘one planet’ carbon footprint while recycling our water resources and our waste. It’s not equitable to simply preserve the status quo and then claim we can’t let anyone else on the island because we are currently using up the available resources beyond our share. We can accomplish this efficiency and equity better and faster if we honor—and go beyond—the underlying principles of the GMA. As individuals, we don’t have all the tools needed to do this on our own; we need government to set policy and facilitate the solutions.

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

Again, I would like to see the concept of “growth management” replaced by “equitable resource management.” Inherently, growth is NOT sustainable. But that doesn’t mean there is a clearly known max number of people and homes that the island can support. With goals for smaller homes, walkable neighborhoods, less consumption, circular use of water, and zero waste, we will create better lives for more people and become stronger for the diversity we enable.

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

I am not a proponent of growth for growth’s sake. All types of growth—economic, population, resource usage—need to be rethought in order to respect the carrying capacity of the earth generally and our island specifically. Within those constraints, we must become much smarter about delivering services efficiently and living within our means.

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

There is an art to density, and it can be done in ways that add character rather than detract. We need to preserve the small town nature of Winslow, but there are ample places to tuck in density on side streets, and we can plan for better development/re-development in the High School Road corridor. I am looking forward to the Winslow sub-area planning phase coming up soon in the work plan. I would like to see “ecocity” framework standards applied to the planning process, so that we work towards integrated systems for energy, food, water, and economics, etc.  

Housing

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

In general, I support all forms of smaller home options, for purposes of affordability and living lighter on the earth. I especially like the flexibility of tiny homes because they can be experimental or temporary as well as being a long term solution that creates affordability for both the primary homeowner and the resident of the tiny home.

Q. How would you regulate these housing options?

I would like to see more options for off-grid water and sewer allowed for tiny homes and ADUs. This is not currently regulated by the City, so we may have to take a collaborative or long term approach.

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

RVs are already being used as permanent housing, whether we allow it or not. We either choose to legalize and regulate them or enforce the code against them. I do not believe we should have a “don’t ask; don’t tell” policy that just creates uncertainty. When this issue was debated by Council, I suggested a permitting process that would allow regular check-ins on health and safety issues.  

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

RVs should not be allowed to change the character of a neighborhood. An RV can be treated as an ADU, and thus must be hosted by a homeowner (and not just parked on a street). ADU design guidelines can be applied to RVs e.g., for setbacks and buffers. I support the idea of allowing a maximum of 2 RVs, but this seems like an experiment that will require revisiting to fix any unintended consequences.

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

The City put significant resources into providing for liveaboards in our marina, and I see a parallel in acknowledging RVs as alternative homes. We need to pay attention to health and safety issues, which we can address with permitting regulations. But the reality is that RVs are already used as permanent housing, not just by people who can’t afford alternatives, but by people who have the means to choose. We are in a cultural transition of understanding shelter, and when so many don’t have it at all, I am reluctant to throw legal barriers in the way. Let’s look at it as an experiment and pay attention to the results.

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?

Let’s not let our affordability problem get as crisis-driven as Seattle’s! We need to provide flexibility where we can. Homeowners too can be helped by a little bit of extra income in order to discreetly host an RV without obvious impact to the neighborhood. This helps greater overall affordability.

Social Services

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

We need deeper engagement with our youth to understand the root causes of drug abuse, depression, and suicides, and we also need to support the human services organizations that can offer intervention. But maybe more fundamentally we need to give youth a purpose in the public realm. I am helping to plan an Ignite Bainbridge speaker event focused on youth voices, tentatively scheduled around Earth Day 2020, and I also plan to bring youth ideas into solving city issues such as resilience and climate change.

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.

In both of my opportunities of living in cohousing, I have experienced the magic of how proximity to shared resources results in more and better community relationships, which then results in even more informal sharing and mutual care, and therefore more overall affordability.

About a year ago I wondered if affordable housing for seniors could be integrated into a re-built Senior Center. I talked with architect Charlie Wenzlau*, who confirmed that a substantial number of units could be nestled into such a re-imagined building. The potential benefits are extraordinary. All the current and future resources of the Senior Center would be available with no transportation needs other than feet or wheelchair. The proximity of these internal resources will help build relationships between seniors such that even more life-sustaining interdependence develops.

(*Wenzlau is of Wenzlau Architects on Bainbridge–Editor.)

Then, add to all that the proximity of the Senior Center itself to downtown Winslow and essential services such as the grocery store and other retail, the ferry, and especially the safe, inviting lush green space of Waterfront Park for access to nature! Who wouldn’t want to live there, and yet it would be available to those with few other choices? That’s the kind of world I want to live in.

The other advantage of affordable housing for seniors at the Senior Center is feasibility. The City owns both the land and the Senior Center building. That alone does not solve how the new housing would be paid for, but it is a sturdy foundation from which to start planning. The City would not be looking to sell off the land in order to fund something else, so alternative land use options would not complicate the bigger story of improving affordability, health, access, and community for island seniors.

My intuition and hope is that bringing seniors together to live in a nurturing community environment such as the Senior Center will facilitate many other endeavors that people with powerful life experience can bring to the table. I believe that senior housing in this context could informally support a culture of innovative social entrepreneurship. As we all learn to age with dignity and health, we will have much yet to give, and in that giving is the true joy of life. I would be honored to help facilitate this foundation.

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?

Concurrency is about measuring and predicting traffic to determine if the transportation network is adequate to accommodate the growth that the Comprehensive Plan anticipates. Currently, our concurrency levels of service are focused on car-dominated infrastructure. Other cities, such as Bellingham, have transformed their concurrency levels of service to measure adequacy for multi-modal transportation networks as well. Current Council dialog shows an eagerness to also embrace this thinking, but we are not there yet.

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

It is scheduled (on the work plan), and the first step of briefing Council on current concurrency has happened in the past few months.

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

I will fight to de-prioritize infrastructure for cars in favor of pedestrians, bikes, and other more vulnerable but sustainable transportation options. While cars will be a reality on our island for many years to come, we have to shift priority to resources that make our lives better. Building infrastructure for yet more cars creates more traffic and more need for parking. By setting goals and planning for “mode shift” to walking, biking, and micro-mobility, we can start to shift culture from managing the necessary evils that come with more cars to facilitating more healthy, livable choices and essential services for mobility.

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

We need—and will get—updated data. We can’t make important decisions on old data, and we won’t. Additionally, the world of transportation is moving so fast that we need to bring in models for disruption from new technology, such as car/bike sharing, micro-mobility, and plan for continuously updating our expectations for the impact of autonomous vehicles. We can’t just play catchup.

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.

The City is in the process of updating current facts and research, and will come up with a groundwater management plan.  Regardless of the outcome of our water resources, my position is that we need to move toward Living Building Challenge standards for on-site rainwater collection, filtering, and graywater management. This will make us more resilient in the case of future impacts from climate change and even in the case of severe earthquake. Melbourne, Australia went through 10 years of drought, and now has a culture of rainwater collection and cisterns at most homes. We need to incentivize—and at least not get in the way of—these trends.

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?

No. The moratorium has been in place for almost 2 years, and groundwater was not in the original goals. Real islanders’ lives are impacted by the moratorium; not just big developers. We would lose public trust if we continued to add on even important goals as we thought of them. As stated previously, we have ample opportunity for strategies to conserve, capture, and re-use water resources, both in the short and long term.

 

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