Councilmember Views

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COUNCILMEMBER QUITSLUND


COMMUNITY PLANNING MONTH on Bainbridge Island

October 3, 2022

In the City Council meeting last week, I had the pleasure of reading a Proclamation, which I then presented to Patty Charnas, the Director of Planning and Community Development.  Nationally, October is recognized as Community Planning Month, and the Council took action to celebrate this designation locally.

I am writing this essay to summarize the Proclamation’s content, and to offer some reflections based on my experience working with the Planning department over the last twenty years.  In the middle, you’ll find a digression into some fun facts from 19th- and 20th-century census reports.

The WHEREAS clauses of the Proclamation employ a mixture of lofty and plain language to describe community planning as a choice, not an obligation.  It’s a natural and creative response to the inevitability of change.  The choice isn’t available only to public officials; “community planning provides an opportunity for all residents to be meaningfully involved in making choices that determine the future.”

Community planning can be done well, or badly.  “The full benefits of planning require public officials and residents who understand, support, and demand excellence in planning and plan implementation.”  The Proclamation’s last WHEREAS recital offers recognition and heartfelt thanks to all “members of planning commissions, members of volunteer advisory committees and boards, and the professional community and planners who have contributed their time and expertise to the improvement of the City of Bainbridge Island.”

Citizens of Bainbridge Island have understood the need for community planning for many years, beginning long before the incorporation of the City and the creation of our first Comprehensive Plan.  I believe that planning for the future should always be grounded in an awareness of where we came from.  Character traits that defined our local culture many decades ago – both strengths and weaknesses – remain influential today.  We ought to honor the best in our past, and also recognize mistakes and failures.

II

The first non-native settlers established small and separate communities in different parts of the island, and for at least the first fifty years, little could be done to pull those settlements together into a cohesive whole.  Eventually, however, the town of Winslow emerged as the most prosperous and populous part of the Island, and a transportation network was developed, improving on logging roads and local pathways.

I recently came across a page copied from a Historical Society publication that provided information from U. S. Census records on the Island’s population growth.  The settlement in Port Madison appears for the first time in 1860, with a total of 188 residents.  (At that time there were 544 residents in all of Kitsap County.)  Those 188 pioneers were “168 men, 19 women, 1 free colored.”

A decade later, there were 249 people in Port Madison and 61 in another census tract, Port Blakely.  Eagle Harbor appears for the first time in 1900, with 330 residents, and by 1910 Eagle Harbor had grown to 1,055.  (I don’t know the boundaries of that census tract, but I’m guessing that it included areas on both sides of the harbor.)  

In 1950, Winslow appears for the first time, but there were only 637 residents within the incorporated town limits.  By that time, unincorporated Bainbridge Island had grown to include 3,495 people.  The population grew steadily, Island-wide, from that point on.  Forty years later, the 1990 census counted 3,081 residents in Winslow and 15,846 in the unincorporated areas.

During the 1980s, the “home rule” movement arose from a felt need to plan, locally and democratically, for the future of a growing community.  In 1990, by a narrow margin, voters approved the annexation of unincorporated Bainbridge Island by the town of Winslow.  The first Comprehensive Plan was completed in 1994, responsive to requirements of the recently passed Growth Management Act.

The contending forces that were apparent in the 1980s weren’t resolved by the formation of an all-Island government and completion of the first Comprehensive Plan in 1994.  From the beginning, the City of Bainbridge Island had an elected Mayor, a seven-person City Council, a Planning Commission, and a small police force.  Engaged citizens without official status contributed energy and intelligence to the foundation of the new City, and citizen engagement has been a feature of our government, not a bug, ever since. 

Apparently, people on both sides in the contest over incorporation agreed that the main objective was to “keep Bainbridge rural” – i. e., to preserve low-density development and maintain as much open space as possible.   The Growth Management Hearings Board didn’t accept the paradox of a city that was mostly rural, so the Comprehensive Plan’s first guiding principle was revised: “Preserve the special character of the Island . . .”  We continue to quarrel over how best to manage that duty of preservation.

III

I didn’t return to the Island for good until 2000, so I missed the first decade of all-Island government.  When I began following political discussions and the work of the City Council’s Land Use committee, I often saw the Department of Planning and Community Development caught in the middle between rival factions and interest groups.  Environmental activists (myself included) were on one side, and on the other were advocates for property rights and development.  The City Council was similarly divided, and many conflicts remained unresolved.

Nobody argued explicitly in favor of population growth, but it continued.  The 11.8% increase between 2000 and 2010 was a lower rate than in the previous two decades, but still significant.  Some (myself included) thought we should plan for growth and take steps to accommodate it, providing incentives and seeking subsidies for housing that the real estate market wasn’t producing.  Others resisted development on principle, and thought that land use regulations were too lax: it was said that residential development “never pays for itself,” and it inevitably harms our environment.

From the beginning, our Comprehensive Plan has promoted environmental conservation and the protection of our natural amenities and resources.  Those goals and policies have been carefully implemented in our Municipal Code, especially in Title 16 (Environment) but also in development regulations and Title 18 (Zoning).  The Comprehensive Plan does not, at the same time, promote population growth, and what should we make of that?  

Well, the Plan also doesn’t promote the growth of trees, proliferation of the deer population, or more rainy days.  The main premise of the Growth Management Act is that in our region the population has been growing and will continue to grow.  Other circumstances will change as well, and much of that change is beyond our control.  That’s why community planning is important.

I said at the beginning of this essay that planning is a choice, and an opportunity.  I also said that community planning can be done well, or badly.  It’s complicated, and consensus around policies affecting the built environment is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.  Our Comprehensive Plan contains many forward-looking policies pertaining to land use and housing, but too little has been done to implement those policies in the Municipal Code.

IV

Who is in charge of planning for our future?  I think it’s generally understood that the City Council is the ultimate policy-making body, answerable to Washington state law and responsive to the goals and policies of the Comprehensive Plan.   While the Council is ultimately responsible for policy-making, the City Manager is in charge, through the City’s administrative Departments (e. g., Planning and Public Works), of implementing those policies.  And as I see it, the relationship between policy-making and implementation is dynamic – necessarily slow-moving, but action-oriented, not meant to be stalled.

The whole process of community planning involves several distinct entities, each enjoying some autonomy and authority, all working together in a collaborative enterprise.  Sometimes the collaboration encounters conflicts, and there’s some need for check-and-balance course correction.  Individual citizens and organized groups have roles to play, sometimes ad hoc and sometimes within the formal structures of governance.  Given this complexity, I don’t see our local government as a hierarchy with the Council at the top.  It is true, however, that if the Council isn’t disciplined and working well together, the whole system suffers.

What kind of City government do the citizens of Bainbridge Island want?  There may never be a consensus with a single answer to this question.  I just hope that the community will evolve in the direction of stability and confidence in their elected and appointed public servants and the professional workforce of COBI.

I am troubled, but not entirely surprised, to find that in the minds of some people here, the whole enterprise of community planning is suspect and those in charge of it can’t be trusted.  This resistance is understandable, given the ambitious scope of several long-range planning efforts that have been undertaken, with the completion of most of that work expected by the end of 2024.  

We may be in a political moment now that resembles the contentious and creative time when the City of Bainbridge Island was incorporated and the first Comprehensive Plan was created.  The rationality and resilience of our whole community is being tested now, as it was then.


What Is “Density Done Right”?

September 16, 2022

In community planning, the regulations that set limits on the density of development are fundamental determinants of character, function and appeal in a neighborhood and throughout a broader zoning district.  Here on Bainbridge, for most of the island, density is determined on the basis of housing units per acre, and most of the units are single family homes: R-4 would mean four houses on an acre, and R-0.4 means one house on 2.5 acres.

How effectively do density standards manage residential development and population growth on Bainbridge?  In their present shape, do the zoning regulations (Title 18 in the Municipal Code) serve us well enough?  The significance of ‘density’ is not precise, but relative: “low density” stands in contrast to “high density,” and what’s called “high density” here is in a world apart from high density development in Seattle.

The prevalence of low density zoning on Bainbridge is given most of the credit for our uniqueness as a city.  It may be the foundation for our sense of place and some of our community values, but we ought to recognize that the development rights conferred by our zoning code produce some odd outcomes.  A big house on a small lot is equivalent to an even bigger house with several outbuildings.   How are both of them essentially the same, in terms of allowed density, as a small house on a large lot that remains mostly forested?

I am convinced that the density standards in the zoning code do relatively little to advance our conservation goals.  Density calculations do not measure the environmental impacts of development, and they are not related to a given property’s potential for conservation of natural resources.

Over the years, our preference for low-density development has produced sprawl and the traffic that accompanies it, plus high and rapidly increasing real estate prices.  Also, when the only good density is low density, it becomes impossible to plan effectively for diversity in housing types to suit an economically and culturally diverse population.  We have made commitments in the Comprehensive Plan’s conservation and development strategy (Goal LU-4) without taking the necessary steps to implement those policies.

The Bainbridge zoning map is not without a rationale, but its design is a patchwork, providing more for variety than for uniformity.  And variety – even inconsistency – contributes positively to our distinctive sense of place.  You’re likely to see R-2 lots across the road from an expanse of R-0.4 properties.  R-2 is the zoning classification for many waterfront lots, which are often long and narrow, with houses close together and close to the waterfront view.  

The R-0.4 zone, which mandates the lowest density of residential development, covers approximately 90% of the island’s land mass.  The actual density of development across that length and breadth of the island is far from uniform, which suits our variable terrain.  It’s the most rural portion of the island, and large tracts of the land are forested, including many acres that in the early 20th century were served by roads and cleared for houses and farms.  The Parks district and the B. I. Land Trust now reserve much of the acreage for recreational and conservation purposes.  On the other hand, in much of the R-0.4 zone residential development exists on nonconforming lots, one acre or less in area, because the lots were platted before the imposition of R-0.4 zoning.  Finally, we should bear in mind that this large part of the island, zoned for low-density residential use and conservation of our critical areas, wildlife habitat, and natural resources, also allows forestry and agriculture as permitted uses.  Several other uses, including multifamily housing, are conditionally permitted.

To summarize: across the expanse of R-0.4 zoning, the pattern of residential and other forms of development, together with large and small tracts that will never be developed for residences, forms a patchwork that is similar in its variety to the more suburban and urban densities zoned R-1 and at higher densities.

So far in this essay, I have mentioned only the units-per-acre zoning that is applicable where development is primarily residential.  In most of Winslow, a different set of rules applies, based on Floor Area Ratio (FAR) allowances.  Through this methodology, combined with limits on building height and lot coverage, density is defined not in terms of a maximum number of building units for housing or some other purpose, but by the building design, the uses it accommodates, and its relationship to other buildings.  These regulations are spelled out in BIMC 18.12 (Dimensional Standards).   The FAR methodology is well suited to medium-density urban development, supporting a mixture of commercial and other non-residential land uses, together with residential development at an urban density in a variety of housing types.

The units-per-acre zoning outside of Winslow and the FAR-based zoning in town are not in synch with each other.  In the single-family zones we place strict limits on the number of units permitted per acre, but only in special circumstances is the size of a house limited, so low-density housing can be big, bold, and environmentally high-impact.   In Winslow, where we expect higher densities and efficient uses of the limited land available, we also see single-story buildings, suburban-style sprawl, and spacious parking lots.  The FAR allowances for ‘base’ and ‘bonus’ density were set at low levels many years ago, and they have not been revised upward to enable the development and re-development that is needed now. 

Development in Winslow has not been prevented, but only certain types of development have been profitable.  Mixed-use development, combining residential capacity with retail and service-oriented businesses, has been neither mandated nor effectively supported by incentives.   According to the Comprehensive Plan, “increasing the diversity of housing types and the supply of affordable housing” is a high priority in Winslow, but to date nothing has been mandated.

During my years on the Planning Commission, I was involved in some wide-ranging conversations about possible changes in the zoning regulations for Winslow.  Back then, of course, no such changes were being called for by the City Council or the Planning department, so the talk went nowhere.   Now we all see the need for updating the Winslow sub-area plan, and it is time to get serious about making some such changes.

Based on the title of this essay, you may have thought that by the end it would reveal what “density done right” amounts to.  No such luck!   Google the phrase, and you’ll find lots to read, just as I have.  Finding out what’s right for Bainbridge will be, I assume, a slow, somewhat contentious, and ultimately collaborative process.  

Maybe, months from now, I’ll be able to say more on this topic.  At this point, I’m sure of only one thing: the right answer is not going to be “high density.”  We need to stop thinking in black-and-white absolute terms; we need moderate and purpose-driven increases in density, and imaginative design.  And planning for the future of this community can’t be a zero-sum game.


In Our Comprehensive Plan, Is the Housing Element Inconsistent with Land Use Goals and Policies?

September 9, 2022

In conversations about housing policies and the failure of our Municipal Code to provide effectively for the development of affordable housing, I have often complained that in the past, the City’s decision-makers have been lax and lacking in political will: they have not cared enough to implement the Comprehensive Plan’s forward-looking Housing element.

In response, I have heard more than once from a former Council member that policies promoted in the Housing element were, unfortunately, inconsistent or in conflict with the Land Use element’s goals and policies.  Remembering the care that was taken to achieve internal consistency throughout the Comprehensive Plan drafting process, both in the Planning Commission and in the City Council’s review, I haven’t accepted that excuse, but’s it’s been bothering me.

This morning, in one of the 4 a. m. intervals of wakefulness that are an occupational hazard of Council service, I decided to read the Land Use and Housing elements carefully, once again, to see whether or not they fit together.  Here is some of what I found.

For obvious reasons, Land Use comes first among the Comprehensive Plan elements; the goals and policies there establish a foundation for all that follows.  The Economic element comes next, and then Environmental and Water Resources.   Housing and Transportation follow.

The brief Introduction to the Land Use element ends with two paragraphs that seem specifically designed to establish consistency between Land Use and Housing.  They state that “any localized increase in density over current zoning should further one or more of these public purposes”: five are listed, one of which is “Increase the range and supply of housing types and affordable housing.”  As an example of the Plan’s benchmarks for measuring progress in implementation, “the Housing Element sets aspirational targets to increase the diversity of housing types and supply of affordable housing” (p. LU-1 & 2).

The ”Island-wide Conservation and Development Strategy” is described in Goal LU-4 and nine distinct Policy statements.  In the minds of many, conservation is the highest priority among land uses, and perennially a reason for saying NO! to development.  Actually, every one of the policies in LU-4 is a strategy for managing development in a way that is consistent with conservation.

To understand the Comprehensive Plan, it’s essential to think about conservation and development not as adversaries, but as potentially in a dynamic relationship.  That has always been possible, but it hasn’t happened consistently and conspicuously enough.

 Policy LU 4.3: “Updating the Winslow Master Plan is a high work program priority because the greatest potential for achieving many of the City’s development priorities is focused there, including increasing the diversity of housing types and the supply of affordable housing while helping to reduce the development pressures in the Island’s conservation areas.”  So here we are now, planning to make an updated Winslow Subarea Plan a centerpiece of the 2024 Comprehensive Plan update.  Time’s a-wasting!

As I look closely at the Land Use element and the list of implementation action items that the City Council appended to it (pp. LU-29 to 33), it is obvious that the Housing element wasn’t singled out for dilatory treatment.  Business as usual!  It’s also obvious that many “high priority” Land Use policies pertain directly to housing, and to the types of housing that are now so conspicuously in short supply.

Among the implementation action items, here is #7: “Consider development of a new Conservation Village land use regulation to incentivize creation of a new housing pattern that consolidates and dedicates open space” (p. LU-32).  This bright idea has found no traction yet.  In the highest-value conservation areas, zoned for the least-dense residential development, we are still stuck with regulations that facilitate market-driven single-family residential development.

Multi-family housing is a conditional use if it is not outright permitted in the zones outside of Winslow and the neighborhood centers, but I don’t see “a new housing pattern” emerging in Bainbridge Island’s expanse of R-0.4 zoning any time soon.  Funny thing, though: although it is confined by roadways, not in the midst of fields or a forest, the Bethany Lutheran project actually has a good deal in common with the conservation village concept.   When the project is appealing to so many people, why is it so bitterly opposed by defenders of the Comprehensive Plan’s conservation agenda?


What Is Equity, and What Strategy Is Needed

To Achieve and Maintain Equity in Our Culture on Bainbridge?

August 8, 2022

On July 20th, I participated in the first of the racial equity training sessions being offered to City Council members, City staff, members of the Police department, and others.  I jumped at the opportunity.  I have seen the need to become more self-aware of my unconscious biases and their effect on patterns of behavior.  I am also acutely aware that I haven’t been able to talk effectively about racial differences, about the presence of ingrained bias and inequities in our population and our policies, and about positive steps that we can take to address these problems.  The training session laid some groundwork, and I am writing this essay to reinforce the lessons I learned, that I will try to live by.  Writing is my way of finding out, beyond wishful thinking and lip service, what I believe and what makes sense to me as a course of action.  I hope that this essay makes sense to others and will be useful in the work we do as a community.

City Manager Blair King led off the session, calling attention to the goals of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity.  These are values espoused here, and their significance goes beyond good intentions, but in some respects they are not well embodied in our public policies.  I would say this is due to a certain lack of political will.  Regarding Equity, I think there is a good deal of confusion around what the word means, and what changes in attitudes and actions the principle requires of us.

In this essay I’ll try to convey the insights I have gained to date; I’m still learning, and I want to discuss equity and the concept’s practical implications with others, some of whom will disagree with me.

The racial equity training session was led by Scott Winn.   I’ll be referring to my notes and quoting from the power point deck that Mr. Winn used during the session and provided to participants afterwards.  I will also refer to a work plan published by the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC): the Council’s Regional Equity Strategy will inform the updating of our Comprehensive Plan, along with the Housing Action Plan and Winslow Subarea Plan that will contribute to the Comp Plan update.

Scott Winn skillfully addressed equity issues at an individual level, and he explained the concept as a social vision: “just and fair inclusion in a society in which all can participate, prosper and reach their full potential.”  The PSRC strategy establishes a historical framework and focuses on public policy initiatives.  “The central Puget Sound region has a long history of racism that continues to cause enormous harm. Generations of discrimination, disinvestment, and inequitable opportunities have helped lay the groundwork for a region where people of color and white residents too often have completely different experiences. . . . The region’s vision for advancing prosperity, a healthy environment, housing choices, and great public spaces in vibrant urban centers is not available to everyone, especially people of color.”

Equity, as “just and fair inclusion,” is a human right independent of racial categories, and inequities can be explained in strictly economic terms.  I have felt at times that the emotion-laden topic of racial identity distracts attention from the broader topic of equity, but there are several good reasons for putting race and racial bias in the foreground.  “PSRC will lead with race, which has proven to be an effective method for not only increasing equitable outcomes for people of color but developing a framework, tools, and resources that can remove barriers for other marginalized groups.”   Other marginalized groups include women, white people from poor or working-class backgrounds, the elderly, people with disabilities, those who are not sexually “straight,” and those for whom English is not their first language. 

I have thought for some time that we need race-sensitive policies, but our regulations must be race-neutral and non-discriminatory.  Members of racial minorities, together with equity advocates from the privileged majority, should recognize how multi-faceted the problem is – and how multi-faceted any success will be as we achieve a more inclusive community.

In any community within the United States today, racism may be unobtrusively powerful despite the invisibility of outright racists and the decent, tolerant attitudes of the general population.  Institutional racism is defined as “Policies, practices and procedures that work to the benefit of white people and to the detriment of people of color, often unintentionally or inadvertently.”   Heather McGhee, in The Sum of Us (2021), which examines how all Americans have been adversely affected by racism, points out that “segregation didn’t originate in the South; nor was it confined to the Jim Crow states.”  She also observes, “White people are the most segregated people in America” (pp. 168-69).

If we all live with the consequences of institutional racism as it has developed across many generations, nobody ought to feel guilty or ashamed, and nobody can claim the high ground and look down on others, can they?   So what can we say, and what should we do?  Scott Winn’s presentation described a sequence of strategic responses to racial and ethnic differences, emerging at different points in our history.

The first was assimilation, assuming that minority groups could and should be absorbed into the dominant culture.  That seemed to work with some individuals and not for others, who were then regarded as failures.  Another response to racism was color-blindness, assuming that separateness and differences should be tolerated and more or less ignored, along with obvious disparities in status and opportunities.  A more constructive alternative eventually emerged: commitments to diversity and multiculturalism, in which differences were celebrated and opened up for dialogue.   The problem with this mind-set is that despite its belief that we’re all equal, a hierarchy of privileges and disadvantages has remained in place.

Equity and equality are two different principles.  As Scott Winn put it, equality involves “sameness in inputs” (such advantages as equal rights under the law and equal opportunities in the marketplace), while equity insists on “fairness in outcomes”: some will need more obstacles removed from the path to success.  Both Scott Winn and the PSRC use the phrase targeted universalism, which “establishes universal goals while considering how different groups have faced, and continue to face, different barriers.”

Where liberal multiculturalism valued racial differences and rejected racist behavior, the commitment to equity starts from a recognition that racial differences are socially constructed, lodged in unconscious biases, and perpetuated institutionally by the dominant culture.   What must be dismantled is deeply entrenched: not only individual assumptions and behavior but the whole apparatus of inequities.  So where do we start?

All of us need to reflect on our biases.  We may not be prejudiced against any racial or cultural group, but there are always people out there to regard as different – committed to values or goals or a lifestyle different from our own.  And the assumptions we form around that polarizing difference may work incidentally to the disadvantage of a host of others standing outside of our frame of reference.

Scott Winn offered valuable insights into the consequences of unconscious bias.  When individuals and groups act on their biases consciously, they are discriminating, and they may be rude or hurtful, even violent, but the damage is limited in scope.  When they act on those biases unconsciously and imbed them in organizational policies and practices, the ripple effects may be huge over the course of time.  Also, unconscious biases are apt to motivate not just one person or a few, but a larger group devoted to what they regard as a righteous cause.

I see unconscious biases at work in the belief that any significant growth in the Island’s population should be resisted, and should not be planned for, because planned development (especially residential development) is destructive, not creative: it is apt to seem contrary to the Island’s “special character,” doing irreparable harm to our limited natural resources.  We are obligated to manage growth, and at the same time we have opportunities to accommodate growth that suits our long-range interests in a diverse and demographically balanced population.

At any one time on Bainbridge Island, there is always a lot going on, and nobody can be fully aware of more than a fraction of what’s happening.  Superficial observers think that year after year, the Island and its people don’t change.   Wrong: change happens slowly, and all at once it is noticeable – no longer on the margins but claiming a central place in our attention.  Some changes are imposed upon us, and largely beyond our control: prices in the upscale real estate market, for example.  Other problematic changes happen because those responsible for managing them have failed to act wisely, in time to make a difference.  We can no longer ignore the need for a more diverse, affordable, and well-planned stock of housing for a growing population.  


Guidance from the Puget Sound Regional Council on Housing Policies

July 12, 2022

I represent Bainbridge Island on the Growth Management Policy Board, and I found the meeting of the Board on July 7th to be especially important.  Two discussion items got my full attention.  The first was devoted to PSRC’s Climate Work Program, presented by Kelly McGourty.  I had an opportunity to speak with her afterwards; she volunteered an observation that Bainbridge, while a small community, is still “doing big things.”   We can be very proud of the work being done by Autumn Salamack and the Climate Change Advisory Committee.

The second discussion item was devoted to Comprehensive Plan Review, Housing, and Certification.   Paul Inghram, the Council’s Director of Growth Management, spoke on this topic, and the agenda packet included a six-page memo providing background for his remarks.  My summary, in what follows, will quote from that document and from my notes on the 30-minute presentation and discussion.

Mr. Inghram began by noting that “the 2024 periodic comprehensive plan update cycle is now underway.”  At the regional level, guidance is provided with reference to the overarching planning document, VISION 2050, and several more specific publications, such as the 18-page Regional Housing Strategy.  Kitsap County, through its Regional Coordinating Council (KRCC), is responsible for both planning and the implementation of the regional vision and strategies.  

Within this system, as I see it, Bainbridge Island and other local jurisdictions enjoy unencumbered autonomy in both comprehensive planning and the implementation of our own goals and policies.  We are still years away from the deadline for completion of the 2024 Comprehensive Plan, but in all of the long-range planning that’s been undertaken to date (on shoreline management, actions responding to climate change, surface and groundwater modeling, mobility and transportation plans, action on affordable housing, and plans for the future of Winslow), the City is already laying the groundwork for the 2024 update.

This essay will provide one person’s perspective on guidance from the PSRC, and I hope it will spark some discussion in the City Council, because I’m aware that we are not all in agreement on the land use and growth management issues that we’ll be dealing with in the months ahead.  Where we make different assumptions as individuals, those differences should be out in the open and discussed, so that we can understand each other better and determine where we stand as a group.

If, in the City Council as a whole, we enjoy unencumbered autonomy in our policy-making and planning, that doesn’t mean that we are free to do nothing, or to postpone decisions indefinitely.  There’s been enough of that in the past, and I think we can all agree that our community has suffered from lapses in long-range planning.  I firmly believe that the members of the present Council, with the City Manager and City staff, are capable of making tough decisions, and managing our future to the extent that that is possible.

You may wonder how the PSRC can contribute positively to our decision-making.  Their kind of strategic planning and agenda-setting is obviously more relevant to the municipalities in King County than to those in Kitsap, and we enjoy our separateness from both the east and the west sides of Puget Sound.  However, like it or not, we are umbilically connected to the vital and changeable environment that surrounds us.  I think that if we neglect those connections and dwell too much on our “special” status within the Puget Sound’s cultural ecosystems, our utopia will become increasingly dystopian.

I have digressed, and I will return to the specifics of planning for housing, which was one focus of Paul Inghram’s presentation.  He emphasized that “PSRC does not have regulatory power to enforce the actions of the Regional Housing Strategy.”  Also, with reference to the eventual review of Comprehensive Plans by PSRC and the Department of Commerce, he distinguished between approval and certification.  

PSRC review and certification are focused on transportation-related components of local Plans.  Those components are expected to be coordinated with other plans.  “PSRC’s goal is to help each jurisdiction in the region successfully demonstrate how their local plan is consistent with state planning requirements and VISION 2050.”  The process of certification establishes eligibility for PSRC-managed funding: that’s the carrot on the end of the stick.

Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council meetings have also made clear that there is a strong nexus between housing policies and the development of transportation infrastructure.   In both KRCC and PSRC meetings, a representative of the Department of Commerce has explained how HB 1220 has broadened the definition of affordable housing, going beyond “encouraging” such development.  In Paul Inghram’s words, “One of the most significant changes to GMA was the adoption of HB 1220 that expanded the requirements for housing elements and development regulations. Planning for sufficient housing options that meet household needs has a direct impact on travel choices and commute patterns.”

Here is one more quotation: “Every community has a role to play in expanding housing choices. Housing has become a regional issue—if housing becomes too expensive in one city, it impacts costs and affordability in neighboring communities.”

I am confident that the findings and recommendations in our forthcoming Housing Needs Assessment will be consistent with the PSRC’s guidance.  I also think that success with our Housing Action Plan will be enhanced, right from the start, if the Council gets up to speed and stands explicitly behind a set of goals and policies, based in our current Comprehensive Plan’s Housing Element and oriented toward its revision in 2024.

Throughout the summer and fall, the PSRC will be hosting workshops on topics such as housing, climate, and transportation.  PSRC staff are also available to “present to local councils and planning commissions to help guide local planning efforts.”  I will be seeking support from the City Manager and the Council for scheduling such a meeting, perhaps in a study session on August 16 or September 6.

What Is Wrong with “Single Family Zoning”?

June 30, 2022

Single-family homes are the most prevalent type of housing on Bainbridge Island. Some are on small lots and close together; some sit on five acres. Some homes are quite small, but for many years now, bigger has been identified as better, even on small lots. The trend may be turning: smaller homes are more climate-friendly, and given the rising costs of materials and construction, they are apt to be more affordable.

You may have heard a rumor that single-family homes have been outlawed in California, or that an attempt was made in the Washington legislature to impose such a new regime here. Actually, the sky isn’t falling – not yet. But we should expect some push against the market forces and building practices that have used our limited land resources wastefully and produced sprawling, high-priced development.

What gets left out of many discussions of this trend in housing policies is that as American cities expanded after World War II, up-scale new neighborhoods were created that were zoned for single family only development: with or without discriminatory covenants, this policy tended to create segregated all-white enclaves. Such exclusionary zoning is the true and proper target of policies that seek to diversify the types of housing available in cities and suburbs.

I gather that many years ago, there were some places on Bainbridge where discriminatory covenants excluded “less desirable” new residents. Such covenants have been invalidated, of course. And, with one exception (the “R-8 SF overlay district” in Fort Ward), our zoning code has never established any areas where single-family residences are the only permitted use. Multifamily dwellings (defined as two or more primary units under one roof) are a permitted use in the R-5 zone, in the neighborhood centers, and throughout the Winslow area. In all other zones, including the least dense conservation areas, multifamily development is a conditional use.

In fact, multifamily development has not been happening everywhere it is permitted on Bainbridge, nor where it is a conditional use. Why is this? I guess that in recent decades, single-family homes have suited the perceived best interests of our mostly white and mostly upper-middle-class population. 

It’s not hard to imagine, however, why more multifamily development is desirable now. Housing policies could be crafted to both encourage and regulate diversification of our housing stock, making more housing affordable for households in the middle of the income spectrum (between 80 and 120% of the area median income).

What is the median size of a single-family home on Bainbridge Island, and what is the average family size? In a few months, the updated Housing Needs Assessment will answer that and other questions. Here’s one piece of anecdotal evidence, from Jason Shutt’s real estate market report for May of this year: “Sold homes ranged in size from 1,112 to 4,819 square feet. The average was 2,806 sf.”

I am definitely not in favor of preventing the building of single-family homes, although our ability to control their design and environmental impacts is limited. Also, I am definitely not in favor of imposing incompatible structures and uses on an established neighborhood. But supposing that the average size of a single-family home is 2,800 square feet, why not permit a duplex of that size? Alternatively, since the compatibility of new development with the established neighborhood is important, it would be possible to determine the average or median square footage for homes within a quarter-mile radius of a new homesite, and let that determine the maximum size of a duplex.

Does allowing a duplex in place of a single-family home double the density?  Some would say “Yes, of course,” but I wouldn’t agree. Units per acre is a crude measure of density when we pay no attention to the size of the units and the number of occupants. If we’re regulating residential density, what matters most are the long-term impacts of development on the natural environment and on quality of life. There are many ways of limiting those impacts.

“Density done right” is a much-discussed topic in community planning circles nowadays, and I expect that topic to be addressed as we proceed with the Housing Action Plan.   What “done right” will mean here on Bainbridge has to be considered not in the abstract, but with reference to our specific limitations, obligations, and opportunities. 

The Puget Sound Regional Council’s Housing Strategy

May 31, 2022

I have written previously about useful information that is readily available on the Puget Sound Regional Council’s website.  Currently, several planning documents related to the development of housing are featured there.  This is timely, specifically for me, because on June 2nd I will represent Bainbridge Island in a meeting of the Growth Management Policy Board, and implementation of the Regional Housing Strategy will be the principal subject for discussion.

The following documents can be accessed on the website: the Regional Housing Strategy (18 pp.), an Executive Summary of the Regional Housing Needs Assessment (10 pp.), and the full Regional Housing Needs Assessment completed in January 2022 (116 pp.).  I have read only portions of the third document; I will be summarizing here what I’ve learned to date, primarily from the shorter documents and the upcoming meeting’s agenda packet.

Let me comment first on how I view the PSRC and the policy documents they publish for the benefit of the four counties in their jurisdiction (King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap).  Here’s a quotation from the June 2nd agenda: “By providing data, guidance, and technical assistance, PSRC supports jurisdictions in their efforts to adopt best housing practices and establish coordinated local housing and affordable housing targets.” 

The goals and policies articulated by the Regional Council resemble, on a more general level, those found in our Comprehensive Plan.  The policies are not mandatory regulations, and the goals are somewhat aspirational.  PSRC guidance is based on an understanding that local circumstances impose limits on what is appropriate and possible.  “At the local level, places vary in their needs for housing investments and interventions. A place typology is a way to identify actions based on local conditions such as size, housing needs, market conditions, demographics, growth expectations, and staff capacity” (quoting again from the meeting agenda regarding implementation of the regional strategy).

As I see it, the long-range planning efforts we are undertaking now, culminating in the 2024 Comprehensive Plan, are our opportunity to develop a “place typology” suited to Bainbridge Island that is consistent with PSRC’s broad strategies.

The Executive Summary of regional housing needs states bluntly, “The region is two years behind in housing production.”  46,000 units are needed to address this backlog.  Not only that: to accommodate the population growth anticipated by 2050, a breathtaking 810,000 new housing units are needed – 418,000 for King, 187,000 for Snohomish, 161,000 for Pierce, and 43,000 for Kitsap County.  

These numbers are daunting, but of course whatever progress is made in the next 25 years will be achieved gradually, in various ways, across the region.  Most important, perhaps, is the need for housing of different types, breaking with development practices that have relied too much on building for the single-family home ownership market.  “To meet the region’s vision for a more livable, prosperous, and equitable future, more housing is needed of different types, costs, and with access to jobs, transit and services.”  This diversity is easy enough to justify, but it will be hard to achieve.

The Regional Housing Strategy is a three-fold program devoted to Supply, Stability, and Subsidy.  Implementation of the strategy will not take place from the top down. “Many of the needed actions require work by cities and counties, as zoning and permitting are local functions.”  Pages 14 to 16 in the Strategy document display many ways in which a local jurisdiction’s initiatives can be supported by the Regional Council and by policies and funding at the State and Federal levels.

I will have more to say in another essay about information in the Regional Housing Needs Assessment that will be pertinent to our needs on Bainbridge Island.  For the time being, I will close with one passage that jumped out at me from p. 17 of the Assessment:

People of color make up about one-third of the region’s current population and increased by 174,000 residents, or 100 percent, from 2000 to 2018. This increase in population is over twice the size of the existing population in Kitsap County. The white population in the region has grown at a much slower rate of 159,000 residents, or 6 percent. People of color represent 83 percent of the region’s population growth since 2000.

Next Steps, Revising Ordinance 2022-02 (Affordable Housing on Church Property)

April 28, 2022

It goes without saying that the paragraphs below are one person’s views, not those of the City Council, which has not yet had an opportunity to discuss Ordinance 2022-02.  

The Planning Commission’s April 14 DRAFT of Ordinance No. 2022-02 can be the basis for a revised DRAFT that completes the Ordinance.   I think the Council will be able to reach agreement on several questions that divided the Planning Commission.  We should discuss the pros and cons of returning the unfinished business to the P C with some policy direction, but I would rather have the Council accept its decision-making role at this point.  The choices that have to be made are clear enough.

The Council must acknowledge that the up-zoning of property currently zoned R-0.4 is controversial.  For some people, up-zoning in the “conservation area” can’t or shouldn’t be permitted.  However, it should be recognized that R-0.4 zoning was applied across much of the Island in a haphazard fashion.  Throughout the R-0.4 zone, many already-platted lots are less than an acre, and properties are far from equal in their value for conservation.  Over the years, many things have changed, within the zone and around its edges.  The Council needs to decide whether, given the location and characteristics of Bethany Lutheran’s property, any amount of affordable housing is an appropriate use there.

It has come to my attention that our Code provides, in BIMC 2.16.140, for Site-specific rezones.  “The city may apply for a rezone of one or more properties as necessary to improve consistency between the official zoning map and the comprehensive plan” (140.D.2).  This is a quasi-judicial process, complicated enough to be convincing.

We will need to decide on a rationale for determining how much bonus density – i. e., how many housing units, how much lot coverage, and perhaps other dimensional standards – should be allowed for affordable housing on the Bethany Lutheran site.  It should be understood that the enabling Ordinance will only establish limits for a hypothetical project.  Several factors, as yet unknown, might modify what will be proposed and what will be permitted.  If the limit is set at 21 units, that does not mean 21 units can and will be built.

What is the proper scope for this Ordinance?  We will have to choose between a focus on the Bethany site only, and an attempt to provide regulations for churches across the Island, on the assumption that there might be any number of applications for a density bonus.  

We will need to determine whether this “pilot project” will set any kind of precedent for development of affordable housing on church property elsewhere on the Island.  To my own way of thinking, we are dealing with a one-of-a-kind project, and if there ever is another such project here, very different circumstances will have to be taken into account.  

Any such project will, I assume, involve a conditional use permit.  It remains to be seen whether Ordinance No. 2022-02 will include CUP conditions suited only to this pilot project, or possibly applicable to another project.  

What is most important, in my opinion, is a recognition within the Council, and broadly within the community, that in planning for this development, we are motivated by a commitment to equity in planning.   We will be breaking new ground, and we are just beginning to catch up to the world we live in.  

With the Bethany Lutheran project, the City can and should take deliberate steps toward the many-faceted goal of social equity: inclusion, free from partiality and prejudice, of people who, in the recent past, have had little or no opportunity to live on the Island.  Everybody here knows that for a person or a family interested in moving to Bainbridge Island now, this is an exclusive and expensive place, and it has been for at least the last decade.  This de facto policy of exclusion hasn’t happened deliberately.  We have just looked the other way, and we haven’t made the effort needed to counteract the consequences of our zonng regulations, planning and development practices, and market forces.

Equity in planning, and planning for equity, should be a pattern in the fabric of our Housing Action Plan.  Planning for equity involves imagining a future different from our present – a future that many of us will not live to see.  Understanding the importance of equity in planning, we must also understand the multi-cultural history of this country, and the fact that financial and other resources have never been equitably distributed.  Now it’s time to make what changes we can, responding better than in the past to the aspirational goals in our Comprehensive Plan.  

 

Regional Population Trends, 2010-20

April 12, 2022

The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), headquartered in Seattle, oversees planning efforts for four counties: King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap.  The PSRC website provides access to a great deal of information about our region, and care is taken to make the facts of life comprehensible and useful.  Our region is dynamic, and only by understanding the changes surrounding us and within our own community can we develop policies that will shape the future to our liking.

I have been studying several of the brief reports published in recent years under the heading of “PUGET SOUND TRENDS.”  In November 2021 – as soon as possible after completion of the 2020 census – the PSRC tallied the past decade’s population growth, across the region and at the county and municipal levels.

  • Regionally, the population now stands at 4.3 million, up from 3.7 million in 2010.
  • Of the four counties, Kitsap is the smallest (population 275,611), with the lowest rate of population growth (9.7%).
  • King County, geographically the largest and also the most populous (2,269,675), also experienced the most rapid rate of growth (17.5%).
  • The other two counties, though each remains under 1 million in population, are close to King in rate of growth: Pierce at 15.8% and Snohomish at 16.1%.

While Bainbridge Island is economically and culturally linked to Seattle, we are geographically closer to the West Sound, with its mix of suburban, small town, and rural characteristics.  We can’t be assured that the rate of growth in Kitsap County will remain below 10% for the next decade, but I think there’s no reason to assume otherwise.

Looking at Bainbridge Island in relation to other West Sound municipalities, I see food for thought.   The Island’s growth between 2010 and 2020 involved a net increase of 1,800 people, 7.8%.  Gig Harbor, in Pierce County, grew at the remarkable rate of 68.8%.    Port Orchard grew by 39.9% (partly by annexation).   Poulsbo grew by 30.2%, and if Poulsbo’s Urban Growth Area is included, the population there is 12,503 – roughly half of the Island’s.

Such words as “growth” and “development” are divisive – no way to start a conversation here.   Population growth is not something to wish for, and there are obstacles in the way of it, both in our zoning code and in environmental regulations.  However, there are downsides to our history of resisting growth: we’ve had to take it as it comes, and the housing market benefits some people while others are excluded.

We have an obligation to plan for population growth: this obligation is accepted and articulated in our Comprehensive Plan, and not something being forced upon us.  After more than thirty years as a City, it’s about time we got good at planning for the future.

Obstacles to Development of Comprehensive Housing Policies

March 28, 2022

Many obstacles stand in the way of our developing effective housing policies.  Under the Growth Management Act, the City has a long-standing obligation to plan for housing that “makes adequate provisions for existing and projected needs of all economic segments of the community.”  The GMA wouldn’t exist if its requirements were easy to satisfy; in practice, some of them have seemed impossible.  Now, however, we see the consequences of not even trying to make “adequate provisions.”  The need for concerted action is recognized in the Housing Element of our current Comprehensive Plan, but we have barely begun to implement those goals and policies.

By effective housing policies, I mean regulations that are not just “on the books,” but are productive of housing that meets a wide range of community needs.  In the not too distant past, such needs were met effectively by the housing market and the enterprise of property owners, whether they were building for themselves or for sale.  As the Island’s population has increased and the costs of property ownership and development have gone up, however, only the high end of the market has prospered.

The need for housing policies that provide equitably for an economically diverse population has been obvious to some Islanders for at least twenty years, and what has been done?   Not nothing, I would say, but not enough.  Why is that?

Bainbridge Island may be unique in many ways, but we are not alone in our dearth of affordable housing.   Across our region, housing that is accessible to lower-income households is in short supply, and the same is true for people of middle-income means.  However, other communities are well ahead of us in responding to the regional need.

What is the problem?   It’s not one problem, but many.   There are intrinsic difficulties in the crafting of any sort of land use regulations.  Whether they emphasize protection of environmental features or the permitting of development, such regulations are all about setting appropriate limits.  Except for raising a child, what could be more difficult than that?  When the development you desire is to any degree at odds with market forces and the profit motive, the difficulties are compounded exponentially.

Housing policies, like other provisions for the community’s long-term health, safety, and welfare, are designed to solve problems, or at least to make them manageable.  This objective has to be broadly understood and supported.  What if the so-called “problems” are not apparent and meaningful to the general public?  To many, if not most people here on Bainbridge, what is most obvious is that more housing means more people.  And – not to put too fine a point on it – would not many more people inevitably mean many more problems? 

One of the arguments in favor of establishing Bainbridge Island as a city was that property development and population growth could and would be constrained: we the people would control our own destiny.  Since incorporation, our Comprehensive Plan, Municipal Code, and administrative decisions have imposed many constraints on development.  Opinions vary on how effective they have been.

Population growth has definitely been constrained in recent years.  The Island’s population doubled between 1960 and 1980, going from 6,404 to 12,314.  In the next 20 years, the population increased by 64.9%, adding 8,000 people.   Then, between 2000 and 2020, the rate of increase was 23.4%, adding less than 5,000 people.  The rate of increase was 11.8% in the first decade of this century, and 8.9% in the most recent.  The current projections of future growth assume a rate of 1% per year.

How has population growth been constrained so effectively?  Not by any policy decisions, unless you count decisions not to go forward with a recommended course of action: there have been several such decisions.  To a great extent, market forces and the laws of supply and demand have controlled both the development of housing and population growth on the Island.  

Many will say that that’s as it should be.  Some people have certainly reaped financial benefits from the housing market.  Many others, comfortable in their homes and more or less unperturbed by gradual increases in their property taxes, may want the restrictive status quo to continue indefinitely.  I can understand, therefore, why it is difficult to develop long-range plans that will encourage development, and why any proposal for a small-scale change in the density allowed by current zoning regulations is regarded as setting a dangerous precedent.

It should be generally recognized that the housing market, as we’ve known it here on Bainbridge in recent years, provides generously for some people while it excludes many others.   An up-to-date Housing Needs Assessment will, I expect, force us to confront some difficult equity issues.   (By “us” I mean the general public as well the City Council and other public servants.)  I will try to address such issues some other time. 

 

Bainbridge Island’s Housing Needs Assessments, Part Two

March 10, 2022

The 2016 Housing Needs Assessment is more elaborate and data-rich than its predecessor.  It responds to guidance from the State level (in the Revised Code of Washington and the Washington Administrative Code) and from the Puget Sound Regional Council and Countywide planning policies.

Here is the opening sentence of the Introduction: “The purpose of this Housing Needs Assessment is to present the City of Bainbridge Island’s current housing goals and policies, along with the City’s current housing supply inventory and demographics, and provide some analysis based on these statistics to determine the current and future housing needs on the Island.”

As a component of the current Comprehensive Plan, the Needs Assessment adds a supplement, in its 62 pages, to the relatively brief Housing element: the “shoulds” and “shalls” in the Assessment could carry just as much weight as those in the Comprehensive Plan itself.  To date, however, relatively little has been done to implement the 2016 Housing element’s goals and policies, which is why we need a Housing Action Plan and an updated Winslow Subarea Plan.

As is noted on p. 9 of the Assessment, Kitsap County’s planning policies call for “equitable distribution of affordable housing at all income levels,” and for “implementing regulations to provide a mix of housing types and costs to achieve identified goals.”   Those policies focus on dispersing “housing for those below 120% countywide median income throughout Kitsap County” (p. 10).

Pages 12 to 33 provide a Housing Supply Inventory, documenting changes in the supply of different housing types and in the costs of ownership and rental tenancy between 1980 and 2010.  It comes as no surprise that “single-family housing makes up 81% of all housing units on Bainbridge Island” (p. 12).  Throughout those 30 years, more than 75% of those residences were owner-occupied (pp. 15-16).

As was noted in the 2003 Assessment, sale prices for homes on Bainbridge are well above prices in the rest of Kitsap County.  A graph on p. 23 shows that at the peak of the housing market in 2007, the average sale price of a single-family home on Bainbridge was above $800,000, while the average in the rest of Kitsap was below $400,000.  As the market rebounded, a similar gap was re-established in 2014.

Pages 33 to 49 provide a wealth of demographic information.  The number of households grew from 2,778 in 1970 to 10,584 in 2010, while the average household size decreased from 3.06 to 2.41 (p. 35).  Page 38 displays census statistics from 1980 to 2010 to document racial representation by numbers of people and percentages of the population.  The percentage classified as White varies from 95.1% in 1990 to 91% in 2010.  “African Americans, Some Other Race, and Hispanic categories showed consistent growth through 2010” (p. 37), but the numbers remained low.

As in the 2003 Assessment, changes in the age distribution across the growing population are of considerable interest.  “In 1980 Bainbridge Island had a fairly even distribution of age groups. Since that time the population has seen significant increases in the 5 to 17, 35 to 59, and the 60 and over groups” (p. 39).  The number of newborns and toddlers peaked at 1,046 in 1990 and was down to 931 in 2010.   The largest age group, 35 to 59, went from 3,887 in 1980 to 9,358 in 2010, and it makes sense that a good number of couples of that age would have children of school age.

Has the 35 to 59 age group expanded between 2010 and now, or held steady, or declined?  This is one of the questions that the updated Housing Needs Assessment will answer for us.  It won’t be my generation, or others who are over 65 now, who will populate and govern Bainbridge Island twenty years from now, but today’s younger citizens, and others who don’t live on Bainbridge now. 

It will surprise no one that for a large portion of Bainbridge residents, household incomes have been increasing steadily for decades.  The census provides median amounts: half of households will be above, and half below.  In 1990, the median household income was $42,135; in 2000, it was $70,110; in 2010, it was $92,558.  And the figure for 2020 is $117,990.

The last segment of the Assessment (pp. 49-62) is devoted to Determining Existing and Future Housing Needs.  One method used is “Cost Burden Analysis,” on the assumption that 30% of household income is an appropriate amount to spend on housing (rent or mortgage payments and basic utility costs).  If these costs are above 50%, a low-income household will be “extremely cost burdened.”   

Pages 50 to 53 provide a cost burden analysis based on statistics from 2012.  I find the figures and analysis in this section opaque, and the policy implications are not well articulated.  The message seems to be that in owner-occupied housing, a significant number of residents (35%) are cost-burdened, but for the majority of homeowners, their incomes are such ($75,000 or more a year) that paying more than 30% for housing is not an intolerable burden.  (On the contrary, it may be a smart investment.)   Most renters, however, have much lower incomes, and the limited supply of rental units is priced beyond what they can afford.

Pages 53 to 56 look into the availability of housing with reference to different income levels.   The population is sorted into Upper, Middle, Moderate, Low, and Very-low income households, with reference to different percentages of the Area Median Income.  It doesn’t surprise me to see that 46% of Bainbridge households were classified as Upper-income (earning more than 120% of the AMI), but the percentages in other categories are thought-provoking.  A total of 28% are classified as either Low-income or Very low-income (earning less than 50% of AMI): that’s more than I would expect.   And on the other hand, only 26% are classified as either Middle-income or Moderate-income (earning between 120% and 50% of AMI).  Regionally, the Middle and Moderate categories add up to 40% of the population.

Pages 56 to 62 are devoted to Workforce Housing and the related subjects of Jobs / Housing Balance and Transportation Costs.  Regionally and at the County level, growth management planning seeks to reduce the costs (in time, money, and environmental impacts) of long distances between homes and workplaces.  It is also worth considering that these costs may fall most heavily on lower-income workers.   “Bainbridge Island’s jobs / housing balance is .59 jobs for every housing unit in the City” (p. 61), where a ratio above 1.0 is indicative of a more “complete” community.

As we all know, Bainbridge Island has historically been a bedroom community, with many residents working off-Island.  At the same time, many who work on Bainbridge can’t afford to live here, and their transportation costs may tip them into cost-burdened status.

My next essay will consider some of the reasons why, despite recognition of the needs, Bainbridge Island has failed to develop an adequate supply of housing for individuals and families earning below 120% of the area median income.

Bainbridge Island’s Housing Needs Assessments, Part One

March 7, 2022

Last year, the Council voted to approve the design and development of a Housing Action Plan, and now work to accomplish the Plan’s ambitious goals is about to begin.  Among the components of that Plan is a Housing Needs Assessment, which will look comprehensively and analytically at our current and anticipated population, considering how well our housing stock meets that population’s needs.

While we’re waiting for an up-to-date Needs Assessment, we can learn a great deal from assessments that were produced at two historic junctures in the City’s past.  The City’s first Housing Needs Assessment was completed in September, 2003, to take stock approximately ten years after the creation of our first Comprehensive Plan.  Another Assessment was undertaken ten years later; a draft was completed in December, 2014, revised in 2016, and included as an Appendix in the most recent update of our Comprehensive Plan.

In this essay, I will bring to light some significant facts from the 2003 Assessment, and in Part Two I will discuss the 2016 update. 

It is startling to see, in a document from twenty years ago, that the issues we are struggling to address today were apparent back then.  The need for programmatic action in response to the assessment was also apparent.  The 2003 Needs Assessment was conceived as Phase I, to be followed by Phase II deliberations by the Planning Commission and the City Council “to determine what kind of housing programs would best meet the community’s needs and what tools are needed to achieve the desired housing.”  Sad to say, I don’t think much was achieved in Phase II.

An Executive Summary of “Key Findings” from the Assessment reports on changes in the Island’s population and residential development between 1980 and 2000 – a period in which the population went from 12,314 to 20,308.  These bullet points describe changes over those years:

  • The 18-34 year age group declined dramatically (26.2%) and is projected to continue to decrease.
  • The 35-59 year age group more than doubled.
  • The 60+ age group increased 75%.
  • Single parent households have doubled in number while total households increased only 75%.

The summary goes on to say, “The Island is losing the economic diversity it values: the number of households with incomes of $35K or less declined 40.5% while households with incomes of $50K+ increased 778.2%.”  The median household income in 2000 was $70,110; between 1990 and 2000, the Island’s median income grew by 60%.  During that same period, the average home price increased by 79% -- from $232,687 to $416,975.

Here are a few more bullet points:

  • There is a lack of entry level housing for young families.
  • Single-family residences have continued as the predominant housing type with almost 10 times as many single-family homes as multi-family units built between 1980 and 2000 – 3,121 single-family versus 329 multifamily units.
  • Increasing property taxes place a growing burden on modest-income households and retired citizens on fixed incomes, which could force community members off the Island.
  • There is a lack of permanent affordable rental housing, particularly for families needing three- and four-bedroom housing.

Pages 8-11 of the Assessment provide further analysis of population growth and changes in household size and age distribution.  It is worth noting that the Island’s population doubled between 1960 and 1980, going from 6,404 to 12,314, and the population increased by 64.9% between 1980 and 2000.  (Between 2000 and 2020, we’ve seen a leveling off: 20,308 in 2000, 23,025 in 2010, and 24,825 in 2020.)  

The population growth between 1980 and 2000 was very different in its composition from what we’ve seen in the last twenty years.  The Assessment notes, “The 35 to 59 age group experienced a 143.7% increase between 1980 and 2002, the largest age group increase,” and the 60+ age group was in second place with a 76.6% increase.  

By contrast, almost all of the Island’s population growth since 2000 has been in the cohort over 65.   Economic factors, including the very high cost of available housing today, account for this trend.  Being elderly myself, I hold nothing against people over 65, but looking ahead, I want to see more people in the 35 to 59 age group bringing their energy and creative potential here.  The market now supplies housing for only a fortunate few people of that age.

It is taken for granted today that as a place and as a community of people, Bainbridge Island is different in many ways from the rest of Kitsap County.  That was already true before our incorporation as a municipality, and the differences have grown since then.  The 2003 Assessment comments on this trend: “In 1990 the difference in the average home sale price between Bainbridge Island and Kitsap County was just over $125,000.  By 2002 the price differential had almost doubled to $247,561, despite three years on Bainbridge where the average home sale price dropped” (p. 25).  More statistics show that in those years, the population of Kitsap County grew at a faster rate than on Bainbridge, while incomes increased on Bainbridge faster than in the rest of the County.  

These are indicators of improvements in the quality of life on Bainbridge, but as the Assessment notes, they are at odds with the Growth Management Act and one of the 13 major goals in the Comprehensive Plan: “Encourage the availability of affordable housing to all economic segments of the population of this state, promote a variety of densities and housing types, and encourage preservation of existing housing stock” (p. 28).

There is much more to the Assessment, going deep into the difficulties of financing and building affordable housing.  I will close with one anecdote from the Housing Resources Board (now Housing Resources Bainbridge).  In their experience with three projects in ten years, “The per unit cost rose from $77,400 in 1992 to just under $129,000 by 2003,” and the cost (including land cost) per square foot rose from $84 to $213 (see pp. 43-45).  Today, of course, everything is much more expensive, but the need for housing suited to all economic segments of the population remains.



MAYOR DEETS


2nd Term Oath of Office Ceremony Comments 

It is an honor to represent this community for another term. I want to say something about this amazing place. In several key areas, Islanders are model citizens. We rock on vaccinations - 91% of Islanders 12 and up have completed vaccinations against COVID-19, over and above other jurisdictions in the County. We rock on Democracy too, 55% of registered voters here voted in the last election, again over and above other jurisdictions.  

This is an exceptionally well-educated, well-informed community. Islanders, naturally then, expect good governance from Council. They want us to listen and be responsive. They want us to plan for a future that, in-all-likelihood, is going to be different from what we have been accustomed to.   

These points were driven home to me during my re-election Campaign where I spent a lot of time canvassing door to door talking with people.  

Some other takeaways: people here understand that the world is not static. That it is changing. They totally get climate change. I found people genuinely interested in what we are doing to implement the Climate Action Plan, an ambitious plan to significantly reduce GHG on the Island and make us a more climate-resilient community. It is great that we are talking about the Plan tonight. Thank you, Autumn! 

They also want us to step up and take action to create more affordable housing. It’s about equity. It is about ensuring the strength and vitality of our community. It’s about doing the right thing. Islanders want us to implement solutions on housing that are going to make a difference - and not just talk about it.

And what is interesting - but not at all surprising - is that people really like bike paths and walking trails, so they can travel around the Island safely without having to get into their car. 

Islanders want us to carry on this important work on their behalf. And to do so without high conflict. 

This is the people’s expectation and I pledge to carry it out. 

Thank you and Onward! 

Joe Deets 

January 11,2022