Sarah Blossom is the incumbent city council member for the South Ward, District 6. She is opposed by Michael Pollock. His questionnaire appears tomorrow.
Candidate: Sarah Blossom
Position #: 6
Your Email: Blossom4Council@gmail.com
Ward of residence: South
Representation: Which Ward or At Large: Sarah
Are you an incumbent? Yes
- If incumbent, how many terms have your served? Finishing up my second term
- Current occupation: Attorney/Real Estate Manager
Previous Civic Activities:
Why you are running: The current Council has built up a lot of momentum and has been tackling several difficult tasks that are very important to the community and there is still a lot to do. When the Comprehensive Plan was updated in 2017 it included a long list of implementing actions having to do with climate change, transportation, natural resource management, affordable housing, diversity and more. The current Council has shown that it is committed to seeing this implementation through and I want to continue, and hopefully finish, what has been started.
Issues are listed alphabetically and not in any suggested priority.
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?
In 2018 the City hired a consultant to study our downtown parking and come up with some ways to more efficiently manage our parking demands (Bainbridge Island Downtown Parking Strategy – Strategies Report 2018, http://www.bainbridgewa.gov/DocumentCenter/View/11294/BI-Downtown-Parking-Strategy-Report-2018) . The consultant identified several different strategies, including converting some street to one-way. During one of his presentations he suggested we consider some of the easier and less costly approaches than a parking garage before deciding to embark down that path.
I don’t oppose the idea of a parking garage. My concern lies more with the financial aspects. I’m not convinced that a parking garage is something that our general population should pay for. I would say my support for or opposition to a parking garage largely depends on how it will be paid for.
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. I think we need to provide those alternatives to our residents and employees of our Island businesses. A lot of the parking demand comes from people who are working downtown and if we can make it more convenient for people to get to work without bringing their car downtown, that will ease some of the demand.
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?
B/B+. We have a Climate Change Advisory Committee that is tasked with creating Climate Action Plan for the City. We also hired a consultant to prepare an island-wide greenhouse has inventory so that we know what our baseline is and will be able to assess our progress in greenhouse gas reductions. We have tasked the City staff with the creation of a Groundwater Management Plan so that we can ensure that we adequately manage and monitor our groundwater resources. This Council is also responsible for passing the somewhat controversial Aquifer Recharge Protection Area (ARPA) regulations that protect our groundwater quantity and quality. We funded a study to look at how we can add tertiary treatment to our sewer plant ahead of regulations that may require it. When you look at the workplan and priorities of the current Council you can see that we recognize the importance of environmental protection and sustainability and have made it a priority. One area that has been difficult to make a lot of headway in is transportation. A large part of the reason for that is financial. We have many miles of roads to maintain for a relatively small population and tax base. It’s not possible to fund a meaningful amount of non-motorized transportation improvements.
Q. What would you do the same or differently?
I would like to see changes make their way through the process faster. However, having been part of the process I know that often the reason change seems to come so slowly is that we are trying to do so much at once.
Q. Do you think the current City government is doing enough to protect our island ecosystems for the long term?
We have done a lot. The ARPA regulations will provide some of the protection that is needed. Of course, there is always more that can be done. One way to protect our ecosystems is to encourage development to occur in our designated centers. One way to do this is with an effective Transfer of Development Rights program so that some of the density in our conservation areas is shifted to our designated centers. The City has a program but it doesn’t work and I want to fix that.
In addition to the efforts that that City has taken on that I identified above, we must continue to support our community partners, like the Bainbridge Island Land Trust, who also play a big role in protecting our ecosystems. It’s important to not ever think that we are done or that we’ve done enough. We must continue to look for ways to do things better.
Q. Do you think the island residents would support stricter protections? Please explain.
If they are reasonable then yes, I think most would. I think people in our community understand that we need to do things differently, but we need to be reasonable.
Q. How do you think the City needs to prepare for climate change for the near term and long term?
This is a difficult question for me to answer because I am not an expert. I know there are some simple steps, like requiring new construction to be EV ready, and there are more difficult issues like how to plan so our underground utilities near the shoreline aren’t impacted by sea-level rise. I’m looking forward to receiving the Climate Action Plan so that I know, from our experts, what we need to do in order to prepare.
Voters rejected recent levies for the new police department building and roads.
Q. Why do you think voters rejected these levies?
I think the police department levy was rejected because it was a concept that wasn’t supported.
The mobility levy failed because the plan presented to the voters was too vague. It’s a lot to ask people to hand over $15 million and only have a vague idea about what they could expect. I think it was rushed and the City Council should have waited and taken the time to create a more detailed plan. Voters need to know what their money is going to pay for.
Q. What message would you convey to the citizens in support of future bonds?
I think the City Council needs to acknowledge the mistakes it made with the previous attempt. I believe that most of the Island supports the overriding goal of the mobility levy, they just needed more information. It’s really important that the City Council not take the position that voters didn’t understand or were misinformed. The Council made a mistake by rushing to a vote without an adequate plan.
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?
That’s a good question and we’ll find out soon. As I previously stated, it’s already difficult to fund transportation projects and this would just make it more difficult. We already rely heavily on grants for capital projects and those grant funds will become even more critical. We will likely be in a position where we barely have funds to maintain the roads so building new infrastructure will be very difficult.
Growth and Development
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 think you can look at it both ways. Certainly, there are some Cities that desire growth and use it the GMA to support that. That is not the case on Bainbridge Island. My view is that the GMA is about planning for growth, not promoting growth. I agree with you that the GMA provides tools to guide the growth to be sustainable, but I don’t believe that it provides tools to limit growth.
Q. Do you think the City of Bainbridge Island is using the GMA wisely to make growth sustainable?
Yes. Bainbridge is different than most other cities because we’re an Island and we have a defined boundary. If Poulsbo needs more room, they can annex part of the County. We can’t do that. We’re also different than most other cities because, even though the entire Island is an urban growth area (UGA), most of the Island is rural. Decades ago, when we became an all-Island city, we decided to continue the development pattern that existed, which was to concentrate growth in Winslow and, to a lesser extent, our Neighborhood Centers. I think that was a really smart way to address the UGA requirements of the GMA.
Q. Do you think Bainbridge Island has room to grow?
Yes, but I think we need to continue to be smart and strategic about it. I don’t believe in downzoning, but I do believe in programs, like development right transfers, that will help drive some of the growth to our designated centers.
Q. How much and where should this growth be channeled in order to preserve the more rural nature of the majority of the island?
One of the goals of the previous Comprehensive Plan was to direct 50% of growth into Winslow, 5% to the Neighborhood Centers, and 45% to what was called the Open Space Residential zones. The updated Comprehensive Plan removed the number targets and now the language is more general. Right now we are adequately zoned to accommodate our projected population increase, but that projection will be changing soon. That is something that is currently under discussion at the regional level. If, based on our new projection, we need to increase density somewhere, we should look to our designated centers first.
Q. Do you think the City should allow Tiny houses, ADUs and carriage houses to provide for more affordable housing while being more sustainable?
Yes. ADUs are currently allowed in most, if not all, zones. We are currently considering changes to our regulations so that tiny homes will be treated like an ADU. Some people argue that allowing ADUs essentially doubles our density. I don’t agree with that because it’s very unlikely that everyone will be able to build an ADU. When it comes to sewer and water, they are treated like an additional house. If someone is on a 2-party well, adding an ADU will require a Group B water system plan and the well may require additional setbacks that aren’t possible. No matter the size, an ADU, or tiny home, requires a 2-bedroom on-site sewage system and reserve area. It just isn’t possible on every parcel. For these reasons, and the cost, we are not going to see a surge in ADU construction. However, they can be a good source of housing that is more affordable and because of that we should encourage ADUs to be built where feasible.
Q. How would you regulate these housing options?
The City already allow one ADU per parcel and they can have up to 900 sq. ft. of living space – this was increased from 800 sq. ft. several years ago. I don’t think that I would change how ADUs are currently regulated. I would regulate a tiny home that is being used as an ADU, the same way that we regulate ADUs currently.
We are currently looking at regulations to address tiny homes. Currently, the problem with tiny homes on wheels is that they are, under State regulations, considered to be an RV, and we only allow someone to live in an RV under certain circumstances, and only temporarily. Our new regulations will distinguish tiny homes on wheels from RVs and will allow us to regulate them separately.
Q. Do you believe RVs should be allowed as permanent housing?
The Council has been considering this, but I do want to clarify that at our last discussion we moved away from considering it “permanent” and are moving towards a program that is best described as a renewable permit. I also want to be clear that what we are discussing is allowing one (1) RV on a given parcel. There will not be RVs lining the streets and we aren’t talking about multiple RVs on a property.
We have heard a lot of concerns from various individuals and organizations. I think a lot those concerns can be addressed through regulation. I don’t support allowing this in our more dense zones but, if we can craft regulations that adequately address the concerns that have been identified, I do support allowing this on larger parcels. I like the idea of a renewable permit (with a fee) versus allowing them as “permanent” because that allows the City to be sure that the conditions and regulations imposed are being followed on some sort of regular schedule.
Q. Where would these RVs be allowed to park, and in what numbers, so as not to negatively impact adjacent neighborhoods?
A landowner would be allowed to have one RV on their property. They should have to submit a site plan for approval that shows the following: where the RV will be sited, that all required setbacks are met, how the RV will be screened from adjacent properties, and how water and sewer will be addressed. All other conditions that are imposed will be addressed on the permit that is issued.
Q. How do you answer the concerns expressed by the Fire Department over the potential use of RVs as permanent housing?
We partner with the Fire Department to address their concerns through regulation. Some of them will be easy to address and some will be more difficult. We have to have the conversation to sort these things out.
I don’t like the idea of dismissing something without even providing for the opportunity to discuss it and make an attempt at addressing concerns.
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?
You can’t compare what is going on in Seattle to what we are considering here on Bainbridge. This is already going on here. There are already people who live in RVs and most people don’t know it because its being done in a manner that doesn’t create in impact.
Q. What do you propose to combat drug abuse, depression and suicides for young teens and high schoolers?
The City doesn’t have its own “Human Services” department. Instead, the City provides financial support to several community organizations who provide services, such as Bainbridge Youth Services and Island Volunteer Caregivers. Aside from that financial support we (the City) basically stay out of it. Fairly recently though, the City Council did decide to become more active involved when we heard concerns that, while there are several organization providing services, there seemed to be gaps in service that needed to be filled. We are hoping to work with other organizations, and our youth, to identify what our youth need from us that we aren’t providing and then how we can bests provide it.
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.
We desperately need more income-qualified housing, housing that meets the needs of seniors, and housing to address the “missing middle”. The problem with income-qualified housing is that you don’t want to fund it in a way that further burdens those in our community that are already just hanging on. A project like the Suzuki project uses a combination of funding sources – grants, Low Income Housing Tax Credits, permanent financing, grants, and donations.
The Council is currently looking at an Inclusionary Zoning Ordinance that would provide developers with “bonus” density in exchange for some amount of affordable housing (like 10%). This is affordable housing that is paid for by the developer, whose costs are offset by the increase in the number of units that can be developed.
We need more diversity in the type of housing that gets developed. In addition to income qualified housing, we need to incentivize the development of smaller homes and cottages where people can also age-in-place. Sometimes seniors are “stuck” in a large home, paying property taxes they can’t afford, just because that is there only option. We need more “starter” homes and homes that people can downsize to.
There has always been a big emphasis on having mixed-use developments; we even incentivize it. I thin developers should have more flexibility in deciding whether a space is used as a commercial or residential unit. When we incentivize mixed-use to the point that that is all that is built we lose out on the opportunity for ground floor units that would be especially beneficial to seniors or those with special needs.
With regards to services, the City does not provide services directly but does provide financial support to our community partners that do. That funding should continue so that the needs of our seniors can be met.
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?
To have transportation concurrency means that, within a specified time period, the City has adequate transportation related facilities available to serve new development. The idea being that new facilities that are needed to accommodate the demand from new development is constructed concurrently with the new development.
Q. Why hasn’t an update been prioritized and completed?
Some parts have been fixed; the concurrency code was updated in 2014 and, if I recall correctly, that update addressed some issues related to traffic studies. We do continue to hear complaints about the concurrency code, especially related to non-motorized improvements. I’ve heard from citizens that the Island-Wide Transportation Plan (IWTP) establishes levels of service, but what’s missing is the connection between the concurrency code and the IWTP. If this is true, we need to fix that, but my understanding is that while that may have been the case a few years ago, that issue has been fixed.
The reason it hasn’t been prioritized and completed is just a matter of bandwidth. The last two years have been substantially devoted to working our way through the moratorium work plan and addressing concurrency was not on the work plan. It was suggested recently that we extend the moratorium until it is completed, but this wasn’t suggested until we were 18 months in and getting ready to lift it.
The good news is that most of the moratorium work is done and soon the consultant will start to work Sustainable Transportation Plan and any outstanding concurrency issue can be rolled into that process.
Q. What do you hope to see as a result of a transportation concurrency update?
I hope to see more non-motorized improvements – bike lanes and sidewalks, where appropriate, and trails. What we do see will depend on the level of development that is occurring and what the specific impacts of each development are that warrant the improvements.
Q. Concurrency and Level of Service is based on traffic counts that date citywide to 2012-14. Do you think this is appropriate?
Since I’m not a traffic engineer, I can’t say if it is or not. It would be more ideal if we had more recent traffic counts, and I know we do for some areas of the Island, but I have to assume that there are engineering standards that dictate how “old” data can be and still be relevant. I trust that if using traffic counts from those years was a problem, our staff and/or outside engineers would address that.
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.
Having a sole-source aquifer designation means that aquifers are our only source of water – we don’t get our water from rivers and lakes. The Island is served by several aquifers and some of those aquifers may extend beyond Bainbridge Island. The growth models in the USGS study do show that we have enough water for some amount of future growth and I believe that to be true. However, those are models and the amount of future growth that can be served depends on some variables such as consumption and recharge, the patterns of which could be altered by climate change.
There is no way to know the exact number of people that can be served at some date in the future. So while I agree that we have enough water so serve some amount of future growth, if we want that to be the case in future years, we need to pay attention now to our consumption and our grounds ability to recharge. With water resources, you can’t wait until there is problem — if you wait that long it’s too late. It’s difficult to “undevelop” so we do need to be careful about how we do develop.
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, I do not think that the studies warrant a continued moratorium for this purpose.