League of Women Voters Observer Corps notes on public meetings

Submitted by the League of Women Voters Observer Corps

The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization, encourages informed participation in government. The Observer Corps attends and takes notes at government meetings to expand public understanding of public policy and decisions. The notes do not necessarily reflect the views of the League or its members.

Port Commission regular meeting of Feb. 9

Citizen Richard Grout asked the Commission not to accept new proposals at the airport that would include accommodations. Gib Black said the Commission wanted to respond to community needs. Any projects approved would not threaten the pilot community. They have a two-touch rule when implementing plans and this would be a discussion item at a future meeting.

The Commission approved the FlyGuys Construction lease for the property at the corner of Argyle and Mullis Streets. They will develop the corner per their original site plan.

The Port is planning a staff workshop on land use of Airport Non-aeronautical Lands immediately following the first Port Commission meeting in March.

The Commission discussed reviewing the current lease policy and lease proposal system. Barbara Marrett noted the commission historically has not agreed to seasonal workforce housing at the airport nor entertained proposals that have a housing element and suggested this become written policy. Gib Black would like each application weighed on its individual merits with no blanket policy. The Commission plans to put this on a future agenda for public comment and discussion and then bring it back for a Commission vote.

Airport energy efficiency projects are underway. Director Todd Nicholson will provide progress reports at future meetings. An environmental study and wetland evaluation will be published in May and provide more data to inform these projects. The Port has agreed to pay for remodeling two of the hangers that will undergo renovations. FAA funds will cover the cost of renovating the remaining hangers.

The Commission will continue to be involved in hiring top-level staff i.e. The Executive Director, Airport Manager, Harbormaster, and the appointment of the Auditor. All other hiring is handled by the Executive Director.

The staff reported on potential legal issues with a partnership with the non-profit Sailing Foundation such as leases, insurance, and maintenance responsibilities. One option would be for the Commission to pass a resolution to use the Port’s insurance and cover the costs and risks. The Port’s attorney has advised that the Port should protect itself as much as possible. This will be added to the next agenda for discussion.

Rich Goodhart shared a presentation by the Department of Natural Resources on the Cascadian Subduction zone with projections on how earthquake and tsunami activity will affect our communities and environment. The presentation is available at dnr.wa.gov/geology

Friday Harbor Town Council regular meeting of Feb. 15

During public comment, former Council member Noel Monin announced he had a five-year contract as the new SJI fire chief and looked forward to working with the County and the Town and the outer islands. He plans to do regular updates on the fire district to the town council.

Farhad Ghatan and Ryan Page gave an update on the SJC Housing Advisory Committee which Ghatan chairs and Page coordinates. Christine Minney will be the County Council liaison for 2024. The County recently completed the point-in-time count of homeless. The REET-funded Home Fund has $500k set aside for the Argylle project site development phase and another $500+k unallocated, with an expected $2 million to come in 2024. They will launch a new round of requests for proposals this year.

The Public Works Department is adding a new water filter at the treatment plant. In March they will ask the Council to review the 20-year Transportation Improvement Plan and priority array. A new smaller garbage truck will arrive by March that will allow more flexible pick-up in crowded areas and narrow roads. They have new garage doors at a facility that will save labor and heat. They will be sending out code enforcement letters to property owners with vegetation obstructing sidewalks or street lighting.

The Marguerite Place improvement project design deals with varying rights-of-way of 40, 45, and 50 feet. It will include curbs and gutters on both sides, street parking on one side, and sidewalks down the east side. Lanes will be eleven feet vs. the normal ten to allow for the high truck traffic n on the street. Public Works will be meeting with all the property owners along the street to go over the plan.

There were two docket requests in response to the December call for the updated comprehensive plan. Both requests are for map changes and rezoning from non-residential to residential multifamily zoning one on Guard Street and one adjacent to the Argylle lots. The council approved both requests going on the docket and they will go through the planning commission reviews and public hearing process with final council decisions scheduled for June 6.

The Council reviewed the Home Trust design variance application for Holliwalk and the planning commission response. The Home Trust made a presentation and said they were agreed to four items of the town response but asked that the measures be applied only to the north leg and not the east-side leg of Holli Place, which they viewed as an additional request since the suspended appeal hearing. The Council did not approve the variance request and asked for additional lighting beyond CDP’s recommendation but agreed to extend the time from two years to four years for the Home Trust to complete the work. The Council and the Home Trust exchanged some preliminary views on public input on the Argylle project.

Administrator Denice Kulseth reported that the water department had a new employee and that one employee had a higher certification. The town sent a letter to the County about a decision on water use at the Fairgrounds. The County may appeal the decisions. They are working on the Department of Ecology for funding for a wastewater treatment plant design. They held a short executive session on a complaint about a public officer.

Board of Health regular meeting of Feb.21

The Board introduced new member Richard Geffen of the Friday Harbor Town Council. The current chair and vice chair Cindy Wolf and Christine Minney were re-elected for 2024.

Marck Tompkins said the Accountable Communities for Health, which is working on the next Medicaid waiver under which ACHs, will coordinate care and fund prevention activities in Washington state. Some prevention projects funded by the North Sound ACH will make presentations to the Board of Health in April or May. In March, the superintendents of the three county hospital districts will present reports to the Board of Health.

In other committee reports, Cindy Wolf has replaced Jane Fuller as representative to the Norths Sound Behavioral Health Organization. Jane Fuller is the new Chair of the Northwest Regional Council, which will have its first Board meeting in April. Richard Jury is the County representative on the regional opioid abatement body that will distribute any funds from opioid settlements. Jury reported that state legislator Ramel said the state budget will include an additional $150 million this year for behavioral health.

Ellen Wilcox presented an overview of the results of the recently completed Community Health Assessment. San Juan County has the oldest population in the state and the least affordable housing. Most county residents think this is a good place to live. The top concerns affecting health identified by the community were mental health, housing, and access to care. Of the 5% of the county population that is Spanish speaking, 36% have limited English and this community faces the greatest barriers to getting health care. Women of all ages are far more likely to live in poverty than men in the county. Binge drinking and smoking are serious and growing problems. Unreliable ferry transport has made accessing care harder. The full report can be accessed at: https://sanjuancountywa.gov/DocumentCenter/View/29397/2023-San-Juan-County-Community-Health-Assessment

The Human Services Department reported its 2023 results. Senior Services provided information and assistance to over 1000 county residents and delivered 37,000 hot meals. Dementia is a growing issue needing support services. The Community Wellness Program funded mental health counseling for 246 residents. Seventy caregivers got support services and training. The County was able to provide over $100k in extra assistance to schools to address shocking levels of mental health needs among students. Fortunately, student mental health is beginning to improve. The County will be looking at ways to access more Medicaid money to serve underinsured residents.