Campaign for alternative seeks ‘win-win’ for all | Guest Column

First and Spring; controversy down on the corner.   - Journal file photo
First and Spring; controversy down on the corner.
— image credit: Journal file photo

By Grisha Krivchenia

Islanders cooperate. We live in close proximity without an easy escape route, so we have to figure out how to work well together.

Hundreds of island residents object to the proposed location of Customs and Border Patrol to First and Spring. The landowners worry that their livelihood may be threatened.  This is a big deal. We need to address the proposed relocation comprehensively, in a way that considers the needs of all our community members.

The public learned about the relocation just before Halloween, through local news outlets. By then, the lease had already been signed; federal government occupancy of the most prominent corner of our commercial downtown was presented as a “done deal.” This felt like a slap in the face to many island residents.

Our political framework allows Americans the freedom to ask U.S. representatives to contact a federal agency on our behalf. Citizens for the Core, a nonviolent community movement consisting of hundreds of islanders, led that charge.

In response to our letters of concern, Congressman Rick Larsen sent a very pointed request for information to the General Services Administration, the federal agency that chose the new location. Most importantly, Larsen reiterated our concern that the lease was signed without adequate opportunity for public comment.

Islanders have had only three months to inform ourselves and see if anything could be done to challenge the relocation. Our Freedom of Information Act request to the GSA was finally fulfilled on Jan. 21. It has been hard to organize against something that we couldn’t even see.

The GSA has valid reasons for keeping quiet about lease negotiations. If the entire process were open, investors could collude on bids, offering the federal government a corrupt or inflated deal. That said, the GSA has procedures in place for inviting public comment in ways that do not compromise negotiation.

In a meeting at the fire station on Nov. 25, a GSA representative admitted that such processes exist, but the GSA did not choose them in Friday Harbor. Another slap in the face.

I have spoken personally to countless islanders who are upset about the process or about the location itself. Only two people (the landlords) have told me that they thought it was a good location. A few have said “acceptable,” but not “good.” Even those who would passively accept this “deal” admit that they would rather see Customs outside of our commercial core.

In a Dec. 10 County Council meeting, Councilman Bob Jarman commented that the best situation would be “to put them [Customs] at the waterfront, make it easy for them to get access where they need to get access.”

Let’s explore another aspect of this issue. The landowners depend on rental income for livelihood and to pay the enormous mortgage that funded the rebuild of First and Spring after a fire in 2002. We do need a solid “anchor tenant” at First and Spring that can pay the rent and make productive use of the space. An empty storefront is not good for anyone.

On Jan. 22, Gordy Petersen came to my workplace and invited me to tour his building. I am pleased that he approached me, and I believe that he came with a sincere desire to be understood. We continue to meet for kind and thoughtful discussion.

Citizens for the Core does not support any outcome that injures the livelihood of our fellow islanders. We are committed to finding alternative renters or investors who would be willing to lease or purchase the location at First and Spring.

Please help Citizens for the Core move forward in our advocacy of government transparency and a public process.  It may involve serious work, but we are committed to an outcome that brings our community closer together.

The next Citizens for the Core meeting will be held at Brickworks on Feb. 5, in the evening. Every islander is welcome.

— Editor’s note: Grisha Krivchenia is director of music at Spring Street International School and board president of San Juan Island Food Co-op.  Contact Citizens for the Core: citizensforthecore@gmail.com


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