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Candidate Q&A: Gordy Petersen, County Council San Juan South

1. Education and background: I am a long-time island resident. I have been an active participant in local affairs for almost 25 years. I have a strong foundation of practical experience gained from owning and operating two successful island grocery stores, Orcas Store and Friday Harbor Grocery.

I also have years of practical local land use and planning experience. I served on the original San Juan County Citizens Advisory Committee for drafting the Comprehensive Plan. I served as vice chairman of the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, and served a four-year term on the San Juan County Planning Commission (two years as chairman). Most recently, I served our community as an elected freeholder from District 1, helping draft our Home Rule Charter.

I am currently an active member of the San Juan Builders Association, San Juan Chamber of Commerce and the Visitors Bureau.

After a devastating fire burned down our downtown Friday Harbor building in 2002, I managed the project to rebuild the commercial complex now called Friday Harbor Center. This project won several prestigious awards in the industry and the first Historical Preservation Award from the Town of Friday Harbor. I currently own and operate this commercial building in downtown Friday Harbor.

I have 29 years of experience in real-world budgeting, managing employees, meeting payrolls and solving problems.

I have been happily married to my beautiful wife Lori for 35 years. I am an avid sport fisherman concerned about the long-term health of our marine environment and a columnist for the Island Guardian. I have academic degrees in Philosophy from Seattle Pacific University and Theology from Denver University and Seminary.

2. What priorities should determine where the island’s solid-waste transfer station will be located?
The priority should be to improve the existing site and find ways to consolidate loads into more efficient trips to the site that reduce traffic, improve safety and limit the impacts to the existing neighborhood. A separate site for recycling should be a priority.

I oppose moving the transfer station from its present location. The existing site has utilities and permits in place and the zoning is appropriate. The impacts and expectations of surrounding property owners are known. It defies common sense to trash another site in a residential neighborhood and create two transfer stations on our island. The Town will not only continue to use the existing site, they will remove their cash flow from the county operation and could compete with the county for the business of private haulers.

If we build a new trash facility, it will be used almost exclusively for self-haulers. If we build it with all the bells and whistles and fill it with county workers, the tipping fees will be astronomical! This will create a situation where many residents will not be able to afford the fees and will dump garbage at road ends or in the ditches along the roads. It could also result in an opportunity for a private company to offer service at a much lower cost and the County will end up with an expensive site that no one will use.

My vision for the future does not include endless lawsuits and unnecessary waste of tax dollars. We have just spent $150,000 on an EIS to evaluate three sites where the County has no formal agreements with property owners, no financial investment and no intention to purchase. County leaders are treating our tax dollars like solid waste!

3. What role, if any, should the county and town have with regard to affordable housing?

There is no single solution to the problem of affordable housing. Many factors contribute to housing affordability that government has no control over.

We need leaders that understand that every new tax or fee diminishes the possibility of affordable housing. Every new land-use regulation erodes the chances for affordable housing. Strict building codes have become a major barrier to affordable housing.

Solutions must include fewer regulations that unnecessarily drive up the cost of housing, and smart zoning to make more land available for housing in areas that have the resources necessary to support growth.

“No net loss of buildable land” is a concept that needs to be articulated and defended vigorously.

We also need to defend the owner-builder program from continuous assaults at all costs.

The council should reconsider its policy on accessory dwellings that are used for affordable housing. These are ideas that will help the situation immediately.

4. What changes, if any, would you like to see in ferry service to the San Juans?
We need better service and lower fares. Ferries are a necessity in our islands. We all pay a premium to live here. But there should be a limit to the penalties islanders must pay. Continuing fare increases are a real and direct threat to our local economy.

I will work with leaders in other ferry-served communities and support efforts to develop a predictable and sustainable source of state funding for ferry operations.

The Ferry Advisory Committee needs the support of the council. They do important work. I will work to keep lack of communication from becoming a continuing issue.

5. Are you satisfied with the progress of the pending replacement of the stretch of Cattle Point Road threatened by erosion? Please explain.
Not satisfied. The National Park Service will not place this road anywhere near the top of their priority list because there are many parks with roads that have fallen completely apart or are closed to traffic. The county has a right-of-way that is limited in size.

The section of road that needs repair is small and straightening out the curve by going into the bank would be a fairly simple project. The council should move forward with a request to expand the county right-of way into the landward bank. We can put this project in the Six-Year Road Plan. We need to do it before it caves in, not after. This plan would retain the road and the beautiful view and it makes common sense.

6. Are you satisfied with the implementation of the county charter? Please explain.
No. The administrator needs a five-year plan with clear direction and the council should get out of his way and let him do his job instead of treating him like a glorified staff member and micro-managing his daily affairs. We must get control of the runaway costs that this charter has created.

7. What issues do you think are unique to your district?
The Cattle Point Road through the National Park needs an expanded right-of-way. The transfer station public drama must end. The county must control spending before we turn our island into Martha’s Vineyard.

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