Michael Pollock is running for the South Ward, District 6 city council seat. He opposes incumbent Sarah Blossom. He questionnaire appeared yesterday.
Candidate: Michael Pollock
Position #: 6, South Ward
Your Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ward of residence: South
Representation: Which Ward or At Large: South
Are you an incumbent? No
- If incumbent, how many terms have your served?
Current occupation: Scientist / Policy Analyst. I also remodel homes and manage rental properties on the side.
Previous Civic Activities: BI City Councilmember (1999-2003); President (2002), Committees include Land Use (Chair), Finance and Transportation. BI Parks Commissioner (2018-2019). Fiscally responsible advocate for non-motorized transportation, affordable housing, open space, public trails and right-of-ways, public access to waterfront. Founding member-Bainbridge Island Barks and Recreation; 20+ years public service working with community groups to conserve and restore streams, watersheds, forests and open spaces; Ph.D. University of Washington EcoSystems Analysis; B.S. Biochemistry, Humboldt State University. Scientist/Policy Analyst for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (1999-present). Island waterfront-owning family since 1905. Endorsed by Kitsap Democratic Women, Climate Action Bainbridge, Young Democrats of Washington/Kitsap Chapter.
Why you are running: To address the interrelated issues of growth and climate change, and ancillary and also interrelated issues such as traffic congestions, affordable housing and transportation.
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?
Many jurisdictions have parking problems and I have heard that up to 30% of traffic in some cities is people looking for parking. Others have addressed this issue by developing parking apps. Drivers can use these apps to find nearby available parking spots. I would explore this option and see what infrastructure we need to make this happen. This would be a lot more affordable than more pavement or parking structures. We could use data from the app to let our community know the times that parking is likely to be challenging and when there tend to be more spaces. In this way, people could train themselves to use downtown at times when it is less crowded. I also would advocate for increased EV park and charge opportunities, and would favor no-cost charging. I would also favor parking around the Senior Center reserved for those using the Senior Center. We could also do a better job promoting alternative transportation such as scooters and e-bikes, etc. so that tourists coming off the ferry would know that there are good alternatives to the car. Finally, if there were a means to provide a reduced rate for community members, that would be appropriate, because we have already paid for parking to a certain extent through our taxes, whereas that is not the case for visitors. I think we have to be mindful of taxpayers when considering any solution that potentially involves public financing, such as a parking garage.
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?
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?
I would give them a “C-“. I think the current government focuses more on proclamations of concern for the environment and sustainability, but does little substantive along these lines.
Q. What would you do the same or differently?
If elected, I will introduce an ordinance to require green building. There are many definitions, but the key feature of green building is that the carbon footprint is substantially reduced. We can create buildings with zero-carbon operations. It is being done around the world. It is more challenging to reduce construction-related carbon emissions. I will also introduce plans to develop an electric vehicle infrastructure. This includes charging stations, which I think should be free to use, EV parking spaces, and creating roads that are safe for slow moving electric vehicles. In terms of policy, we can provide incentives to city staff who drive EVs or use public transportation, and we should work with the State to provide priority loading, free charging while waiting for the ferry and discounted fares for those who use electric vehicles of all types, similar to carpooling. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here, but we do need to act. We need to have councilmembers willing to go out into the world and interact with other people and agencies and bring back solutions appropriate for our community.
Q. Do you think the current City government is doing enough to protect our island ecosystems for the long term?
I study and restore ecosystems for a living and develop and analyze policies intended to protect and restore watersheds and ecosystem functions. I can say with confidence that our City has a limited understanding of how ecosystems function. Because of this, they have developed a set of regulations that they think are protecting our Island ecosystem, but they have no idea if they are achieving their objectives. I would approach the problem by setting up clear, quantifiable environmental objectives and then setting up a monitoring system to see if we are achieving those objectives.
We are starting to do that with groundwater, a very important service that our ecosystems provide. The city is starting to develop a groundwater management plan, an initiative that my opponent voted against. There are other important metrics besides water. How many salmon are returning to our streams? How much carbon are we fixing from our forests and farmlands? How many species are found on the Island? How are key populations doing? Are there rare or endangered species or habitat that need to be monitored in particular? How much of our Island is covered with invasive species? How are our marine ecosystems doing? How much impervious surface is there on the island, and what is the rate of increase? How much forest land was cleared? Are we doing any ecosystem restoration? The questions go on. We won’t know if our ecosystems are adequately protected until we begin to monitor them.
Q. Do you think the island residents would support stricter protections? Please explain.
Residents would support more effective and less punitive regulations. Here are examples. Many island shorelines are degraded, and are only going to become more so, as sea levels rise. Much of this degradation is cause by rip-rap bulkheads. When rip-rap fails during storms, landowners can get an emergency permit to protect their property. Under the guise of an emergency, it is a straightforward and cost-effective process to replace the rip-rap. In contrast, if a landowner wants to pursue an ecologically-friendly, “soft engineering” approach such as replacement of rip-rap with large wood to simulate natural beaches, they have to undergo a lengthy, painful and expensive shoreline permitting process. So there is no incentive to act proactively to improve habitat and plan for climate change.
As another example, the city has limited sense that wetlands need to be managed. Many wetlands have exotic or invasive species that should be removed, such as Japanese knotweed, English Ivy, Himalayan blackberry. Yet again, the permitting process is complicated and expensive and there are limitations to removals methods that can be used, driving up costs. Worse still, removal of invasive species, and replacement with native species can change the classification of a wetland, and thus increase the size of the buffers surrounding the wetland, further restricting landowner use of the property. So what is the effect of these rules: They protect degraded wetlands and facilitate the spread of invasive species. I support instead, tax incentives and assistance programs to owners who want to improve habitat.
Q. How do you think the City needs to prepare for climate change for the near term and long term?
I think the best approach is to provide incentives for private initiative and allow for adaptive management. We could be proactive in moving infrastructure from shorelines, As an example, along Crystal Springs Dr. the utilities poles are actually in the water, placed below the ordinary high water mark, adjacent to the road. There has been ongoing damage to the riprap that protects the road and repairs are frequent and expensive. A major storm could take out both electricity and access to the homes in the neighborhood. A proactive approach would be to underground the power lines on the landward side of the road, to pull back the road to one lane, and replace the rock rip rap with wood, which if engineered correctly would reduce underscour and help sand accumulate along the shore, helping to protect the road. We could also use the riprap to create a breakwater. This would dissipate the energy of storm surges, protecting the road, and also creating calm protected waters that would be of benefit to juvenile salmon and other species as they move along shorelines in search of food. The breakwater itself would provide habitat for rockfish and other organisms. So there are things we can do that are beneficial, but it takes regulatory flexibility, which this City is not known for. Most changes are driven by crises, and my sense is that it is will take a major crisis before the City will take meaningful steps to prepare for climate change.
Voters rejected recent levies for the new police department building and roads.
Q. Why do you think voters rejected these levies?
The diplomatic way to phrase it is that voters felt that the city lacked the institutional capacity to manage complex projects and that safeguards to ensure that taxpayer investments would be wisely spent were lacking.
Q. What message would you convey to the citizens in support of future bonds?
I don’t think we should be supporting future bonds until the City can demonstrate better transparency and fiscal accountability in its projects. It is a question of both trust and competency. As an example, the Suzuki “affordable” housing project that the Council just approved, with my opponent voting in favor, has come under attack as of questionable legality. There are enough obvious flaws in the initiative that it is sure to be tied up in court for years, running up legal fees, and resulting in no affordable housing into the foreseeable future. The cost is already expected to be in the $7-15 million range, depending on whose estimates you believe. All of the surrounding neighborhoods are rising up in opposition to this project, the current mayor opposes it, and even affordable housing supporters are beginning to question the wisdom of such a poorly thought out approach. You can find out more at https://suzukineighbors.org. So the message I would convey to the citizens is to hold your City accountable for the money it is already spending and demand transparency before supporting additional bonds. The message I would convey to the City Council is respect the will of the voters. I think both the Suzuki project and the police station project should be put to the voters and that the council should accept the results. The Parks, Fire, Libraries and School Districts ask voters when they need funding for land or building projects. The City should do the same.
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?
I would re-prioritize funds earmarked for the Suzuki project and the police station. As voters may recall, we rejected a bond for a $15 million new police station by a 3-1 majority, one of the most lopsided votes in the history of Bainbridge Island. I am still unclear why the current council (including my opponent) took that vote as a cue to work-around the will of the voters using councilmanic bonds and other devices not requiring voter approval to push forward a new police station that will cost $20 million…and counting. The taxpayer costs for the Suzuki project are not clear, but may exceed $10 million. So a realignment of priorities would be required to help pay for transportation. See also the discussion on concurrency towards the end of this questionnaire, for some other options for funding transportation improvements.
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?
The Growth Management Act first enacted in 1990, is a Washington state law (Chapter 36.70A RCW) that requires cities such as Bainbridge Island to develop comprehensive plans to manage growth. It has a series of specific Goals and Elements, focused around concentrating urban growth, reducing sprawl, protecting the natural environment, managing economic development and transportation, and providing housing. It has been a very useful tool to provide a relatively predictable regulatory environment that give both investors and residents a reasonable understanding of the changes that are likely to occur in a community in the coming years and decades. Of particular importance is the Land Use element, and the associated zoning map, which sets the direction for future growth. Under the GMA, our city receives a population allocation, that is, a projected population which we need to accommodate in terms of our zoning. The current iteration of the Comp Plan was passed in 2016 and requires us to zone to accommodate a population increase of about 5,600 by the year 2036, such that our population can reach about 28,660. A common misconception about growth is that it is required. That is not the case. We simply have to zone so that such population growth could occur. Bainbridge Island currently has zoning sufficient to accommodate 120% of our growth allocation. Unfortunately, the current council has passed or is contemplating passing laws that will upzone our Island far beyond what is required by the Comp. Plan.
Q. Do you think the City of Bainbridge Island (COBI) is using the GMA wisely to make growth sustainable?
No, and that is due to the makeup of the current Council. Our Comprehensive Plan is a community vision of what we want the future to look like. It was constructed by the citizens of our Island. The City is charged with implementing that plan. A basic tension lies between COBI and the citizens, in that the citizenry as expressed through the Comp. Plan call for minimal growth, with a focus on retention of open spaces, parks, forests and farms; with growth concentrated in Winslow, while also retaining a small town atmosphere. At the same time, COBI receives much of its funding from permit fees associated with building and development. Thus, COBI thrives when there is development, and withers when development drops. We saw this in the 2008 recession, when COBI had to layoff staff because the income stream from development fees dried up. So in my view, COBI is continually selling this narrative that we “have to grow”, simply because it is self-serving, allowing them to sustain themselves as an organization. The only real check on COBI is the City Council, which ideally keeps COBI focused on the Comp Plan goals. Unfortunately, a majority on the current Council have bought into the narrative that we have to grow, and they are in the process of opening up the doors of the island to development. If the makeup of the current council does not substantially change, we will likely see a rapid increase in growth.
Q. Do you think Bainbridge Island has room to grow?
We may be running out of the natural resources to maintain a sustainable community and need to recognize as a community there are limits to growth. I don’t know what those limits are, but the slower we grow, the longer it will take to hit those limits. We may be getting close to the limit with water. I have already heard of shallow groundwater wells going dry, and my understanding is that much of the City water is coming from ancient aquifers thousands of years old. So we are mining that water. It appears that it may not be being replenished, but data are ambiguous. I also hear of wells hitting saline water in places that used to yield fresh water, suggesting that our aquifer is shrinking. Observers of the Shel-Scheb creek noticed that once sewers went in, the creek dried in the summer, no longer sustained by the groundwater recharge from septic systems. The question of growth limits also pertains to questions of climate change, and community goals of reducing emissions. As we clear more forests to construct more buildings, we reduce the ability of our community to absorb greenhouse gases, while also consuming greenhouse gases in the building process, and then yet more once the building is in operation. This can be addressed in part through the adoption of green building codes to produce “zero-carbon” buildings. In terms of greenhouse gas emissions, I suspect we are far over the limit in terms of room to grow.
Q. How much and where should this growth be channeled in order to preserve the more rural nature of the majority of the island?
The GMA and our Comprehensive Plan call for the concentration of growth in urban areas, which in our case is Winslow. More controversial are the Neighborhood Centers of Lynnwood Center, Island Center and Rolling Bay, which are also designated for growth in our Comprehensive Plan. Lynnwood Center is the farthest along, and we now have a mini-urban hub on the south end of the Island, far away from transportation hubs, social services and businesses. This has resulted in increased traffic congestion all the way to downtown, where the population of Lynnwood Center invariably needs to travel to for the services they need. In my view, the NCs are essentially planned sprawl, and a major contradiction in our Comp Plan. There are currently plans to consider bringing sewer service to Island Center, which would open that area (and the area in between) to increased densification and urbanization. In my view we have already zoned for more than enough development through 2036 and do not need to spend time and money promoting development, particularly in the rural regions of our Island. There are similar plans for developing Rolling Bay, though they are not as far along.
Q. Do you think the City should allow Tiny houses, ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units) and carriage houses to provide for more affordable housing while being more sustainable?
The City allows for ADUs, and that in effect has doubled the underlying density of our island, since every home, in theory can have an ADU, though some may not have room because of septic and critical area limitations. As a tool for homeowners to build an additional small home on their land, ADUs are critical, because they allow people who may have limited means to generate some extra income and stay on their land. In this way, it helps to improve the affordable housing stock in that existing residents can afford to stay on the island, while also providing a small home that can be rented out at a price that is affordable for people of modest incomes. I think a carriage house would be defined as an ADU, as would a tiny house. I do not support upzoning that would allow both an ADU and a tiny house or multiple tiny houses. There is also a loophole in the ADU law that needs closing. It allows big developers to simply double the density of their apartments or condos from the get-go, by calling half their units ADUs. This loophole can be closed by allowing ADUs to be built only after some period of time has passed after construction of the initial or primary home. I believe these are also differentiates me from my opponent, who in general seems to favor laws that allow for upzoning and increased densification, both in rural and urban areas of our island.
Q. How would you regulate these housing options?
I discussed this above. I would close the loophole that allows developers to use the ADU ordinance to double the density above the underlying zoning map. I would treat all the other options as ADUs, and retain the existing law that allows homeowners to build a single ADU, whatever type it is that they prefer.
Q. Do you believe RVs should be allowed as permanent housing?
No as permanent housing. Yes as temporary or transitional housing, which I think is what is currently on the books.
Q. Where would these RVs be allowed to park, and in what numbers, so as not to negatively impact adjacent neighborhoods?
I wouldn’t change our existing code. We haven’t had a problem with RVs such as Seattle’s. If they become a problem, we should address it at that time.
Q. How do you answer the concerns expressed by the Fire Department over the potential use of RVs as permanent housing?
I agree with them. See above answers.
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?
I don’t think they are a good idea. They should be used in emergency or transitional situations, such as if a landowner is building a home and needs a place to stay during construction. But the septic issue needs to be addressed, so any RV, even a temporary one would need a portapotty, which again, I think is what is currently on the books. See also above answers.
Q. What do you propose to combat drug abuse, depression and suicides for young teens and high schoolers?
I have personal experience with the first two issues, and I do know that the reasons these arise are different in each individual. The teens I know that have dealt with these issues (I would also include anxiety as another common and related problem) are responding in some ways to the overwhelming complexity of our society and the sense that the world is heading in a really bad direction, which it is. They feel that they have been born into a world with limited hope and drugs are an escape from the depression and anxiety that come with this recognition. I think the best that we can do as City Council members is provide hope, provide a sense that we are taking the issues of climate change, species extinction, overpopulation and global resource depletion seriously and that we are going to fight it with everything we have, that we are determined to find solutions. If we ourselves don’t have hope and determination, it is hard to ask it of our children.
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.
I would collaborate with the Senior Center to develop solutions. They have been working on these issues for a long time. If elected, I would commit to regular, monthly meetings with them to get a better understanding of the issues and the specific ways the City can help. In my view, they are a well-run organization, and any City assistance to Seniors should be run through this organization if possible. There are options for forming public-private partnerships to construct affordable housing for our Seniors. There are community preference laws that have been adopted by other cities which help to ensure that Seniors, low-income households and other, occupy the affordable homes. The ADU law discussed above, provides another solution to Senior housing.
We need to look at the overall expenditures of the five taxing districts in our community (Library, Fire, Schools, Parks and the City), and work to ensure that the dollars are fairly distributed to the various age classes in our community. We have a high proportion of seniors and my sense is that they are underserved relative to the tax dollars that are allocated to their needs. If elected, I will work with the Senior Center to find solutions to that inequity. It might be small things, such as dedicating public parking spaces for the Senior Center, and creating spaces reserved for “Island Elders” at other places on the Island, similar to what the Suquamish Tribe does for their Tribal Elders.
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 has a very specific legal meaning in Washington state: that adequate transportation improvements or strategies for maintaining the adopted level of service standards are in place at the time of development or that a financial commitment is in place to provide the improvements or strategies within six years.
Q. Why hasn’t an update been prioritized and completed?
The city council has been focused on other priorities, such as developing the Suzuki property and building a new police station. If you look at their 2019 priorities, a long laundry list of items they hoped to accomplish in 2019, you won’t see concurrency updates on the list. I would like to see how many of these tasks they have actually accomplished. I don’t think the council has a very good sense of the institutional capacity of COBI, which I think is quite limited. They are focusing on large “high-visibility” projects when they would do better to focus on the nuts and bolts of government, such as concurrency.
Q. What do you hope to see as a result of a transportation concurrency update?
A concurrency update that includes appropriate Bicycle and Pedestrian Levels of Service (BLOS and PLOS respectively) will go a long ways towards improving the friendliness of our community to walking and biking. We can also increase the expected LOS for automobile traffic. What this will do is require the city to make a financial commitment to improve our roads, bike lanes, sidewalks and trails prior to allowing new development. Since a major source of incomes for the City is development fees, as previously discussed, this would properly motivate them to make road improvements in advance of development or charge developers some or all of the cost of improving our roads to meet the required LOS. Either way, if we adopt appropriate BLOS and PLOS standards, I think we would start to see a rapid shift towards a more walkable and bikeable community because both the City and developers would then be properly motivated. Currently most of our roads don’t even meet the lowest BLOS or PLOS standards, meaning they are not at all designed for walking or biking. This needs to change.
Q. Concurrency and Level of Service is based on traffic counts that date citywide to 2012-14. Do you think this is appropriate?
No, the traffic counts are out of date. The LOS numbers are inaccurate. Take the Day Road-305 intersection. I use that intersection quite a bit, heading north from Miller road, and regularly experience wait times that extend through multiple lights. It should have an LOS rating of “F”, the lowest grade. Yet if you look at the COBI’s LOS maps, it lists it as doing just fine, and is meeting its designated LOS of “D”. We should also consider increasing the LOS standards, for example from LOS D to LOS B. The effect of this is to require road improvements to be made prior to development, rather than manage for a low-level of road capacity.
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.
There have been a number of reports related to the Island’s groundwater supplies, and there is some monitoring of groundwater. In contrast, there has been little effort to monitor our surface waters, or the interaction between the two. The groundwater reports are detailed, and rely heavily on modeling to arrive at conclusions, though empirical data from monitoring wells are also provided. The data suggest a number of our aquifers are being sustainably managed, but there is some indication of rapid drawdown in at least one instance. What the groundwater models and studies to not examine is the effect of groundwater withdrawals on surface water quality and quantity. This is unfortunate, because changes in surface water are the first indication of groundwater depletion. I have lived here for a few decades now, and in that relatively short time, I have had friends whose shallow wells have dried up, and I have observed creeks and wetlands that now seem to dry up more frequently in the summer, and now I hear reports of saline intrusion into some wells on the north end. I am not a groundwater modeler, but my sense is that the aquifers are much more spatially complex than the models assume, and that there are pocket of aquifers that are being overpumped and are drying out or experiencing saline intrusion. I support the groundwater management plan to determine the capacity of our water supplies. Vashon did a similar study and found that they had limits.
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 think there should be an upzoning moratorium because we already have enough capacity to accommodate projected growth through 2036 and beyond. I would also support a subdivision moratorium. I don’t think a building moratorium would be fair to landowners, and I don’t think that there is enough evidence to suggest rapid depletion of our aquifers such that a building moratorium is warranted. We are building about 100 homes a year on the Island, a number that will drop if we keep the subdivision moratorium in place and do not upzone (unfortunately, something the current council is considering, and that my opponent supports) and I don’t think a few hundred more homes being built while we sort out our aquifer capacity is going to cause irreparable harm. I do think we should be monitoring water usage at all of our wells, regardless of the size, and we should do more work to understand how much water is being drawn from each of our aquifers or sub-aquifers. We need more spatially detailed data.