Rasham Nassar, City Council Candidate

Candidate Questions posed by Quality Bainbridge

1. What interests inspired you to run for a seat on the City Council?

We are facing serious problems with climate change, coupled with a national crisis in leadership. This reality prompts a close consideration of the direction of our Island.

As a mother to a young son, the concerns of our community echo my own – it’s for the future of our Island that I find myself inspired towards a position on the Bainbridge Island city council. I want to provide leadership committed to working towards sustainability – shifting the current direction of our Island to one that more closely mirrors the values present in the Comprehensive Plan.

Fiscal accountability to taxpayers, preservation of our Island character and natural systems, and workable solutions to affordability are the main focal points of my campaign. Also, providing responsible and responsive leadership to our community is a top priority of mine – I want to serve to improve the level of trust in our local government, working to make sure our community’s voice is heard and faithfully represented.

 

2. What are your top five priorities that you would work to have the City accomplish during your term in office? For each identified priority that requires the expenditure of money, please state how you would fund it.

  • Work to improve natural resource retention and management on the Island, recognizing the Island’s finite capacity to sustain current quality of life for future generations in our density decisions. Implement new green, sustainable, national building practices to protect our natural systems during development, looking to the 2006 Community Forest Management Plan as a resource to inform changes to existing policies and
  • Promote fiscal responsibility in city government by weighing our spending decisions against the principle of financial sustainability. This means a consideration of the cumulative tax impact on Islanders in capital project planning, the prioritization of budget decisions that serve the broader community base, and a commitment to restrict major expenses from the city’s general fund. Adopting an approach to long term planning is essential for our community’s financial sustainability, and has far- reaching implications related to affordability and our community’s trust in local government.
  • Work to update HDDP, our current affordable housing law. Intended as a pilot program, we need to either work to update it per recommendations or choose to simply not renew it, as it has proved ineffective in encouraging developers to incorporate affordable units into their projects (with the exception of Housing Resources Bainbridge).
  • Budget for general improvements to infrastructure. Considering the level of growth we’ve experienced and the effect of this growth, we need to concentrate city funds and staff resources to elevating the level of service to our existing community. We need safer pedestrian, cycling, and roads infrastructure, in Winslow and Island-Wide.
  • Working with the Affordable Housing Tax Force, consider updating our codes to allow for a greater variety of housing options. Following examples of other cities, explore models permitting tiny homes, additional ADU’s, micro-units, and granny units. Also, explore the possibility of passing an Affordable Housing Inclusionary Program, requiring developers to build affordable units into their design or pay into an affordable housing fund managed by the

 

3. What skills, training, resources, expertise and relevant previous experience will you bring to the Council?

I was born into an immigrant working class family. I entered the workforce at the age of 14 to contribute to household expenses. While in college I worked nights as a waitress and weekends at my father’s pharmacy to afford my way.

I hold a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley in Philosophy. My work experience ranges from law to management, and I’ve completed post-graduate work in Project Management. My volunteer experience includes legal advocacy in social justice and housing equality, as well as work with at-risk youth.

I am currently employed as a certified researcher in an Island-based Commercial Real Estate Appraisal firm. My husband and I own an organic farm on Bainbridge Island, through which we practice and teach sustainable farming methods. I also own a local Island business through my farm. I spent several years traveling the world by bicycle, and kept my passion for music alive as a performing and recording artist prior to moving to my husband’s home of Bainbridge Island.

Through my experiences I’ve developed independent and critical thinking skills essential to making and contributing to good decision making. I enjoy working within a group setting, doing so with a collaborative and positive spirit. My broad interests, enthusiasm for social justice as well as my Palestinian roots have contributed to my forward-thinking and creative perspective.

More importantly, I am passionate about sustainability; this is a value reflected in my personal life, and an integral component of the Comprehensive Plan. It is perhaps my passion and commitment to our community’s vision for the future that best qualifies me

for a seat on our city council. I know I am here to serve the people, and I am ready to get to work.

 

4. Islanders consistently identify water quality as a top community priority and yet a City study shows our streams are significantly polluted with fecal coliform, nitrogen and phosphorus. http://www.bainbridgewa.gov/516/Water-Quality-and-Flow-Monitoring-Program What ideas do you have for improving the health of island waters?

I believe this question relates to the City’s State of the Waters Report. I personally don’t have the expertise to fully understand its findings and conclusions, or to assess the limitations and outstanding issues not addressed by the report. Nonetheless, the issues raised, and the cost of the associated stream monitoring program, are significant. Hence, as a member of the City Council I would support the creation of a task force of qualified citizens to review the report and make a recommendation to Council with their interpretation of the report and possible actions that should be taken by the City.

 

5. How do you think growth (economic and population) on the island can best be managed? How would you address the balance between development and preserving our natural resources?

First, we must be willing to acknowledge that we are an Island with a finite capacity to sustain current quality of life for future generations. I think we need to embrace this fact and see it as a path to discover a new way forward, one that does not interfere with our environmental goals.

While other cities are working backwards, spending millions to reintroduce natural systems into their communities, we are fortunate to still have so many of our natural systems in place. However, development continues to occur in a manner which does not align with the concept of sustainability.

Preserving our wildlife habitats and corridors, water resources, forests, air quality, and special Island character has been identified as a primary goal of our community. The Comprehensive Plan can serve as a roadmap for achieving this, but only if we implement well. Furthermore, a consideration of the recommendations put forth in the 2006 Community Forest Management Plan will be beneficial in determining what actions to take.

In achieving this, the principle of sustainability recommends that we harness the invaluable resources of our intelligent and professional scientific community. Working collaboratively with individuals, committees, and task groups we can begin to make these changes our reality.

 

6. How should we address the issue of code enforcement?

There are a number of issues related to problems with code enforcement that should be addressed. For one, many enforcement issues arise from a failure by the City to adequately verify actual conditions on a particular site proposed for development. The code, and specifically the critical areas ordinance, needs to require site visits by staff to verify site conditions for all significant development applications.

Inadequate staff resources are currently devoted to verifying site conditions and responding to reported code violations. The result has been frequent violations that undermine the purposes and findings contained in such important chapters of the code as the critical areas ordinance. This deficiency has to be addressed.

Also, accountability on the part of the City in regards to enforcing its own code needs to be addressed: what happens when the City fails or refuses to enforce its own regulations? There should be recourse for citizens that doesn’t involve lawsuits that are expensive to both citizens and the City.

GIS mapping and information for Island properties would serve to provide more complete information to the City and citizens. Some of the information that we should consider including in a detailed parcels map are conditions attached to properties as part of development approval, wildlife corridors, watersheds, updated critical areas information, properties histories, including previous code violations, and images from over time showing deforestation, reforestation, and other changes.

 

7. What are your thoughts about the affordability of housing on Bainbridge Island? What policies or actions, if any, would you like to see our City implement to increase the inventory of affordable housing?

Guiding Policy 3.1 states: ‘Ensure a variety of housing choices to meet the needs of present and future residents in all economic segments and promote plans, projects, and proposals to create affordable housing’.

Working towards a greater degree of affordability foremost means a careful consideration of the total debt load of taxpayers – we need to make sure our spending decisions keep in mind the impact of rising property taxes on Islanders, recognizing that some Islanders live on limited or fixed incomes, and are heavily burdened by property tax increases.

Overall, I think our approach should be to implement creative solutions which ensure affordability without unnecessary developments or increasing taxes. Working with the Affordable Housing Task Force, developing strategies that do not interfere with our environmental goals is the next step to working through this issue.

Updating our housing codes to allow a greater variety of low-impact options like tiny homes, pod homes, granny units, and additional ADU’s are something we might consider. High-density affordable housing options, like micro-units, are another idea for improving affordability in the core of Winslow, following Seattle’s Transit Oriented Development model of development.

We also need to revise our current Affordable Housing Law, HDDP, which was implemented as a pilot project and was not intended to be extended without undergoing revisions per recommendations to council. Since it was passed, this law has not been used primarily to create affordable housing; rather to generate density bonuses related to innovative design.

In working to revise or not renew HDDP, we can consider an Affordable Housing Inclusionary Program for Winslow, requiring developers to build affordable units into their design or pay into an affordable housing fund managed by the city.

 

8. Kitsap PUD is soliciting indications of interest in expanding broadband access to neighborhoods on the Island. What role, if any, should the City have in assisting with this expansion?

Reliable and affordable Island wide broadband internet service will provide an economic boost and help many home-based businesses operate more efficiently.

I understand that the PUD recently negotiated an agreement with PSE to have much better access to their facilities which will help with building broadband infrastructure. The City’s role in helping to bring reliable and affordable broadband service to the entire Island isn’t clear to me at this time.

One idea that’s been used effectively in other communities is to create a broadband market where various businesses use the same infrastructure to offer broadband retail service. The City could help facilitate the creation of this retail broadband market place and even be one of the providers. The benefits of a broadband market are lower prices and better service through competition.