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Journal Q&A: Gordy Petersen, candidate for San Juan County Council, San Juan South
About this series: The Journal’s series of Candidate Q&As for the Nov. 4 election continues this week with candidates for San Juan County Council, San Juan South.
The series schedule: Oct. 1, County Council, San Juan South — Gordy Petersen, Lovel Pratt. Oct. 8, State Senate — Kevin Ranker, Democrat; Steve Van Luven, Republican. Oct. 15, Congress — Rick Bart, Republican; Rick Larsen, Democrat.
About this position: San Juan County Council members are elected by district, serve four-year terms and receive $34,000 a year plus benefits. The County Council:
1. Is the legislative authority of the county.
2. Approves the annual county budget.
3. Is responsible for county property and funds.
4. Considers land-use appeals.
5. Provides for county infrastructure, roads and buildings.
6. Fixes the amount of county taxes according to law.
7. Serves as the county franchising authority.
124 Blackberry Lane, San Juan Island
Q: Should the solid waste transfer station be moved, or can the current site be modified to meet the island’s needs? Which option would be more cost-effective?
A: Let’s fix it and keep it where it is. Fairness is the basic issue. It is not fair to move it into someone else’s backyard. Zoning must be predictable. People in rural residential zones have a right to certain expectations for their property.
The existing site has been a landfill for generations. People that live next to it purchased property knowing that a solid waste facility was in their backyard. The land and its value were already impacted. This doesn’t mean the county can’t do a better job of reducing the impacts at the site. I will work to keep the transfer station where it is and find ways for the county to be a better neighbor.
There are simpler solutions that will reduce costs, ease congestion, and improve safety. For example, it would be more convenient and cost-effective for self-haul customers if incentives were created to use some form of curbside service. Self-haul would still be available but why would you go through the hassle if it cost less to have your garbage and recyclables picked up? One truck can pick up and compact the waste from 300 homes and this service could be cheaper than self-haul.
If we reduced 300 trips per day to the dump, we would not need to build a new expensive facility. This is the most cost effective and environmentally friendly option.
Q: Which areas of county government could operate more efficiently? Do you see any areas where expenses could be reduced?
There are always opportunities to increase efficiency. Spending priorities are my biggest concern. The fact that the council is already spending next year’s budget should be alarming to all of us. Areas to save are obvious.
Many of us drive around in island cars and get passed by shiny new county trucks and SUVs. We don’t need a new fleet every couple of years.
We are frequently shocked to find out how much money is spent on needless expensive studies that sit and collect dust on courthouse shelves.
What is amazing to many citizens is the fact that our county is the biggest fat-cat player in the real estate market. I would try to change this.
The multi-million dollar property purchases we have seen recently are excessive. While my opponent supports this kind of spending, I do not. My No. 1 priority will be fiscal responsibility.
Q: Some Friday Harbor officials are concerned that the town may not be able to afford the costs of providing utility services for a proposed affordable housing neighborhood near the former gravel pit.
Since the town is being required to shoulder most of the island’s responsibility for affordable housing, in what ways could the county and town work together on this issue?
A: I agree with the cautious approach of Mayor Jones. We must avoid “suburban sprawl.” We should always be aware of the unintended consequences of decisions and proceed only when all the costs are known and the interests of the people we represent are protected.
Existing affordable housing programs have trouble finding enough qualified applicants to fill the homes that are available now.
According to Mayor Jones, “Friday Harbor already has approximately 20 percent of its housing stock in rent-controlled projects, (and) is being asked to provide even more area for affordable housing units.”
There is more low-cost rental housing available now than I’ve seen in years. This proposal could flood the market with new houses, reduce the value of existing homes, and drive up taxes and utility costs to current residents.
Q: Can the island economy be more diverse and, if so, what types of businesses or industries would you like to see locate on the island?
A: A business perspective would be a real asset for the council. I have 25 years experience running businesses in these islands. My opponent has no such experience.
It would be important for our council to have a debate about what things government should be doing. For example, I do not believe it‘s government’s role to diversify the economy. However, it is the responsibility of government to understand the needs of local people in business that create jobs, serve the community, and pay their way.
I think government should do whatever they can to encourage an atmosphere where local businesses can thrive. They can also drive business away with policies that create uncertainty for potential investors and job creators. I believe some of the problems Rosario Resort experienced may have been avoided if our policies encouraged their business rather than raising costs, limiting options, and driving potential investment away from it by fear of restrictions that reduce their ability to thrive.
To turn this around, we must provide more zones where businesses can operate. The county should stop purchasing commercial properties in town and other land zoned for business. This kind of shortsightedness and insatiable desire to spend increases our taxes and stifles opportunities for business owners to create year-round living-wage jobs. We must provide certainty in the permit process so that entrepreneurs are willing to invest capital into our economy.
Q: Any concerns — economic, environmental, infrastructure, or otherwise — that you feel need to be addressed? How would you address those issues?
A: The freeholders envisioned a more efficient and cost-effective government. As a former freeholder, I will work toward that goal. I will stick to local issues and not use this office to solve the world’s problems. And I will never vote in favor of serving a citizen who files an initiative or referendum with a lawsuit!
Smart independent voters understand the need for balance on the council. I will bring a balanced, common sense, nonpartisan, approach to this job.
Q: What are your priorities if elected?
A: I will fight to protect our environment and maintain our quality of life. I will work with other council members to implement the charter and make it successful. I will work to control spending, increase efficiency and reduce taxes.
Open transparent government is my goal. Local control is a high priority and I will fight for the right to determine our own future and not give in to special interest groups.
Q: How much have you spent on your campaign? Who are your major contributors?
A: I have spent approximately $4,800. Although I have hundreds of supporters, I have not asked them for money. I am working hard to pay my campaign debts myself. I may ask for donations at some point. I haven’t yet.