Meeting with the council’s candidates running in the primary election on August 6

Council candidates attended a June 29 forum in the downstairs of American Legion Post 163 in anticipation of the Aug. 6 primary. Two candidates for districts one and two will advance to the general election in November. All county residents vote for the candidates regardless of district.

The event was sponsored by a group of citizens who have come together, according to member Minnie Kynch, to solve problems and take action on several issues facing the county. Each candidate was first given a few minutes to introduce themselves.

“I believe in collaborative government,” said Kari McVeigh, county council candidate for District 1. “We have to work collaboratively with the city, and right now it’s a broken relationship.”

McVeigh emphasized the need to promote more civil dialogue and increase affordable housing, citing her role as Shaw School District Superintendent in building teacher housing for Shaw schools.

“I’m running to maintain our resources, infrastructure and transportation,” McVeigh said. “We need effective advocacy with state and federal ferries. I am proud to say that I have the support of our 40th District Legislators, Alex Ramel, Debora Lekinoff and Liz Lovelett.”

Next, Adrian Kilpatrick, also a county council candidate for District 1, spoke. Kilpatrick, now 39 years old, grew up in San Juan and has served on the county’s Climate and Sustainability Advisory Committee and the city’s Arts Commission.

“Our generation here on San Juan Island doesn’t have a lot of representation,” Kilpatrick said. “We are struggling because of that, mainly with housing. Rent is super high, housing stock is super low and development costs are through the roof.”

Kilpatrick noted that he would like to see a permanent affordable housing department that would help provide resources to an understaffed community development department and would look at where potential cluster housing or other affordable housing could be located throughout the county.

Stephanie O’Day, the third council candidate for District 1 spoke after Kilpatrick.

“Thank you, Adrian, for talking about the younger generation, because the younger generation is hurting,” O’Day began. “We have to do something to protect the island way of life, which is disappearing. Things are out of balance, and we have to get back into balance.”

She explained to the crowd that she has been a land use attorney on the island for 33 years and has seen the beyond ditch that DCD has been in almost daily.

“It affects housing, it affects child care, it affects staffing,” O’Day said.

One of her solutions would be to ease permit restrictions, and another would be to work to adjust state land bank directives to allow for alternative uses such as affordable housing development.

County Council candidate for District 2, Jonathan Welch, addressed the crowd next.

“The state of the county is poor and disorderly,” he said. “And for me, that needs to change.”

More public engagement is critical to changing the situation, and Welch noted he’s happy to see more of it.

“You don’t get the way of life we ​​have anywhere else in the world. We are very lucky, but I think it is time to fight. Fight for our society. It is time to defend and protect it and it is time to participate,” he said.

Justin Paulsen, District 2 County Council candidate, addressed the crowd with his coaching voice rather than a microphone.

“We have a new county executive on the way, and we’ll be filling some critical positions,” he said, adding that combined with two new council members, it presents a unique opportunity for change. “Everything everyone has said here is important. Housing is important. Jobs is important. Ferries, if we want a two-hour forum on that later.”

Paulsen is acting chair of the San Juan County Ferry Advisory Committee.

“We’ve been trying to figure out what we can do to make incremental changes in a system that’s not easy to change,” he told the audience.

Rick Hughes, also a candidate for District 2, introduced himself to the crowd.

“I served as (District 2 Council Member) from 2013-2020. I’ve been through almost every crazy thing that can be thrown at us,” he began, noting that he was chairman at the beginning of the pandemic. “I have endorsements from the secretary of state, the DNR, various senators on both sides of the aisle, and I have friends in every county across the state.”

Hughes said the county was in a good place while he was a council member. He added that given the unique challenges of living on an island and governing an island county, the community and government must come up with creative solutions.

“There are many questions, but I think the foundation of the county is in a good place. We have good personnel, we just have to do better. Civil discourse is key, and so is solid leadership, Hughes says.

The candidates then answered questions from the audience. Questions were written on cards for the moderator, who combined them into topics to keep the conversation going. They had two minutes to answer. The first question was about Accessory Dwelling Units.

O’Day stated that she believed ADUs would help the housing crisis but that restrictions on them should be maintained. She also specified that she is not in favor of additional vacation rentals.

Paulsen told the audience that he felt ADUs could help working families and that the county could consider the best locations to avoid increased density.

Hughes felt they could be placed anywhere, but make sure they are not for short-term rentals and that there is a mechanism to ensure they would be permanently affordable.

Welch cited Whatcom County as an example of using ADUs as an affordable housing solution. Whatcom, he said, has been actively helping property owners obtain ADU permits.

McVeigh agreed that ADU restrictions make sense, saying, “We have to be careful, it can’t just be anywhere. We have to look at the resources, especially water, that are available. At some point, we have to have the discussion about capacity .How many people and how many homes can we support?”

Kilpatrick noted that San Juan County has a high vacancy rate.

“About 40% of the homes on San Juan Island are partly year-round. That’s a big number,” he noted, adding that the county needs to look at the housing inventory and gain a better understanding of water resources.

The next question asked if the candidates supported the renewal of the Land Bank. Welch, Paulsen, McVeigh and Hughes all said yes. Welch added that he would like to see the REET tax evolve. Paulsen said the Land Bank is critical to conservation, especially protecting watersheds. Hughes pointed out the importance of citizens of all economic levels having access to the county’s wilderness areas. McVeigh stated that she is in favor of Land Bank renewal for all of the reasons previously mentioned and that it secures the island’s resources and beauty for the future.

O’Day discussed some of the history of the Land Bank and its early instigators, including Sam Buck, Sr.

“I think some people are tired of so many properties going into the Land Bank that raise our taxes, and a lot of these preserves aren’t even open to the public,” she said, to which some in the crowd applauded. O’Day continued, saying there are 39 canneries and nine of them are closed to the public.

“I have my doubts (we would ever vote) to kill the Land Bank. But it should be a wake-up call to the county council that we need to reshape the land bank,” she said.

Candidates were asked if they supported the San Juan Island Library’s fee hike. All six agreed that it was not a council-related issue.

On the issue of trails, particularly the controversial Zylstray Lake trail, candidates agreed that the proposal was not handled well.

“It was a big mess,” McVeigh began, adding that she didn’t know many people who were against trails, but that this was a situation where the county was getting ahead of itself by chasing a grant without a plan. A plan with community and property owner involvement needed to come first.

Kilpatrick agreed that the issue was not one of trail but of process.

“What I heard from property owners was outrage,” O’Day said, wondering why more tracks couldn’t be put on Land Bank properties.

Hughes noted that a track on Orcas was initially controversial and that it took 10 years for the community and property owners to work through all the issues and come up with a plan that people could support and stand by.

Paulsen said just because something is on the table doesn’t mean it’s going to happen, adding, “We have a lot of big problems, and if a grant comes along, we can’t go chasing the next shiny thing.”

Attendees questioned the size of the county budget, about $21 million, and expressed concern about adding more things like the Environmental Stewardship Department, which has eight employees.

Hughes noted that the county has a fair budget but some of that money is carried over from year to year and some of those funds are also limited and come from grants and other outside sources.

Paulsen pointed out that the Environmental Stewardship Department is largely funded by grants and that the work they do was removed from the Public Works sign so they could be more efficient.

McVeigh echoed Paulsen’s comments regarding the Environmental Stewardship Department but added that the county’s budget was headed for a fiscal cliff and changes and difficult decisions would need to be made.

“The budget has gone up, and so has everything else,” Kilpatrick said.

“We need to do more to protect the islanders,” O’Day said, “not hire more consultants.” The county, she noted, had recently hired a consultant to the tune of $185,000.

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