Questions and answers

Real questions from community groups and constituents with Robbi's responses. 

Q: What is your position on development of Olympia's waterfront?

I will make case by case decisions based on the available data and information. I cannot say for certain how I would vote on a specific project until such time that final staff reports and recommendations are made, and public comment has closed.

 

Some great things about Olympia are that we have good walking paths, parks, views, and close-knit neighborhoods. I generally plan to support policies that favor keeping Olympia green and protecting the environment. Parks and greenspace are big parts of having a livable community. Being mindful of traffic and noise is part of that too. I would not support a project that does not have reasonable mitigation for traffic, noise, and environmental impacts.  As a Native American I grew up in a culture very sensitive to environmental issues. In the Northwest the shorelines, sea life, and water quality are particularly important.

 

There is no question that any development is going to take something away from the natural setting and have an impact. However, I appreciate that development done correctly can enhance an area. Developing and fostering policies that promote a livable community are not mutually exclusive. The right developments have the ability to enhance Olympia—as they can add tax revenue, add housing, bring more commerce to Olympia, and in certain cases clean up an eyesore. I would likely support projects if the project plans are able to meet requirements from relevant agencies for environmental factors (if the project includes ways to protect the waterways and improve the shoreline), if the plans are able to mitigate other concerns (e.g. traffic concerns), and if the project includes ways to enhance the area. (February 18, 2021)

Q: What do you most want to accomplish as an elected official?

Shifting the Olympia City Council's focus from broad political ideology to community level, city government specific work.  I will use my critical thinking skills to improve livability by supporting policies and actions that take attainable steps toward progress on the goals set forth in the Comprehensive Plan and the priorities identified by the community. (March 4, 2021)

Q: What is your position on Collective Bargaining [as a Councilmember directing management]?

Collective Bargaining is an important practice that gives individual workers power to amplify their voice and protect their rights as employees.  I witnessed the importance of this as a child by watching my dad and stepdad participate in IBEW (they are both retired linemen) to ensure important worker protections related to salary, benefits, safety, and advancement.  As a Councilmember I will be mindful of not only the cost during negotiations, but also the benefit of protecting working conditions to ensure Olympia benefits from retention of employees and stays attractive to future recruits. (March 4, 2021)

Q: How much do you pay in rent (or if you own your home, what's your mortgage payment)?

I have a broad range of personal experience when it comes to housing. I rented while in college (Seattle) and law school (Phoenix area). I had to obtain student loans to afford rent while attending school and then studying for the bar exam.

 

I continued to rent for a couple of years after obtaining employment—and while paying rent I was paying student loans that were in part obligations related to past rent.

In 2008, housing prices were skyrocketing (for that time). My husband and I purchased a home at the top of our price range. We thought we had better get a house before prices soared even higher. The market dropped significantly soon after our purchase and we were upside down in our mortgage.  In 2014 I saw a listing for a foreclosed (bank owned) condo in Olympia near my husband’s office. We purchased the condo in order to downsize and live in a more walkable area - and then tried to sell our first house. The house we purchased in 2008 did not attract any offers despite several price drops. We were forced to become landlords to afford both mortgages—the rent income did not cover the mortgage on that first house, but obviously helped.  We were eventually able to sell the first house after renting it for a time. Prices recovered by the time of sale, but purchasing the first house was not a good investment—in retrospect, renting would have been a better personal financial decision between 2008 and 2014.

 

My current housing situation is that I live with my family of four in that condo - approximately 1300 square ft. in a twenty-four unit community in Olympia's west side; I have no mortgage at this time (we recently paid off the loan thanks to the low purchase price several years ago and recent professional success) but pay property taxes, insurance, and $440 per month in HOA dues for common area maintenance and some utilities.  

 

I have been a renter, landlord, and homeowner. I understand housing issues from each of these perspectives based on my personal experience. (May 14, 2021)

Q:What is your position on development, infill, and growth?

Property rights are often described in a legal context as a bundle of rights—and the bundle consists of numerous sticks. For example, one stick in the bundle is the right to exclude others from your property. Another right is to develop your property in the manner you would like. However, our legal system and society requires individuals (and property owners) to give up certain rights for the greater good. For example, local laws may prevent property owners in certain areas from burning an open wood fire on their property even if that is something they would enjoy doing in their backyard. Eminent domain laws may require a property owner to allow the government to take property for public use. An extreme example would be the prohibition against a pig farm in the middle of a dense, residential neighborhood.

 

It is sensible to have laws that take away some of a property owner’s bundle of rights. Limiting certain activities and development rights can reduce air pollution, noise pollution, light pollution, etc., etc., which reductions benefit the greater good. There is no question we must have development restrictions. The question is—what is the right balance of restrictions given the rights of property owners and the needs of the community/society?

 

I would like to give property owners back some of the bundle of rights that has been taken away by restrictions on development. I believe property owners should more easily be able to use their properties to create more housing. I support easing restrictions on accessory dwelling units and multi-family housing within most of Olympia’s residential neighborhoods.

 

It is understandable that many residents want to protect the character of their specific neighborhoods, keep traffic in their neighborhoods at a minimum, etc. However, you cannot make all of the people happy all of the time, and one property owner’s desire to keep their neighbor from building a tri-plex (for example) could be interfering with their neighbor’s desire to create more housing on their property (or sell their property to a developer willing to build the additional housing if laws allow).

 

Our community is growing. We have a shortage of housing now, and the population is expected to increase as time passes. We must encourage development and infill to keep up with growth. Moreover, home prices are largely driven by supply and demand, so affordable housing absolutely requires increasing the supply.

 

I will support policies that allow property owners more flexibility if they choose to develop to add housing. But here again, we must be mindful our society is based on balancing the rights of many. For example, if there were to be a large development expected to increase the number of families in a neighborhood by several dozen, I would expect the project owner, developer, and/or end users of the project (i.e. the families who move into the completed project) to pay impact fees that may be needed to increase amenities in the neighborhood.

 

There is a balance to impact fees too. They must be fair, but they must not overly discourage development from taking place. In the long-run, more housing is more revenue both from a standpoint of property taxes and from the people living in the new housing working and shopping in the area.

 

I have a legal background and have worked on development projects before in a professional capacity (commercial projects for the Chehalis Tribe). I have studied political theory. I have thought a great deal about this issue and others, and I believe I understand the issues and interplay of issues reasonably well. But I will certainly keep an open mind and continue to listen to stakeholders from different backgrounds in our community. I am not a civil engineer, an architect, or a developer. I have consistently stated during my campaign that any development agreements that might come before the Council while I am on it (if I am elected) will need to be decided on a case by case basis after considering relevant studies and input. But generally, I am in favor of development done right and recognize the need for more infill and housing as our community grows. (July 3, 2021)

Q:I am a one issue voter and that issue is homelessness.  What is your plan?  

I believe we can all agree that our homeless services system is not working. This is the issue that comes up most often as I doorbell and engage with voters. I am compassionate and want to both prevent homelessness from occurring for as many people as possible, and help those who are homeless. However, I want to change the dialogue in this City. I believe the way we currently talk about homelessness issues in Olympia is creating more division — compassion and sympathy for the homeless is not mutually exclusive to also including frank conversations of public safety and environmental protection. 

 

Right now the conditions on our streets and camps are inhumane. I do not have all the answers, and the Olympia City Council cannot solve the world’s problems; we must focus on the things we can do. We cannot fix years of broken systems and failed efforts at every level of government overnight. But we can do better.  We can set good examples and lead, but must have help. We need more collaboration with other local jurisdictions, including Thurston County, and the State. I have a good amount of experience helping to create inter-governmental agreements and working government-to-government. This type of experience is one thing the Olympia City Council needs most right now.

 

In summary, my plan is: to advocate for programs that prevent homelessness in the first place and for services that help existing homeless; recommend and support policies that increase the supply of housing; work with other governments on a regional plan for mitigation sites; formulate a City budget that provides adequate resources to both crisis response specialists (e.g. counselors) and traditional first responders, to transition those in existing camps to housing or mitigation sites in areas that make more sense (for a myriad of reasons including service delivery, environmental protection, and health and safety), and also maintain a reasonable level of public safety; and communicate a message of hope that shows we are compassionate, but will be firm when it comes to public safety and protecting the rights of property owners and local businesses. I have been studying the One Community Plan and appreciate all the work that went into creating it and would like to see the plans laid out come to fruition in a way that is transparent and keeps the public informed of action and progress. (July 19, 2021)

Q:Do you support moving the mitigation site to the Quince Street property?  (multiple emails asking this question from families attending St. Mike's School).

I sympathize with the parents of children who attend school at St. Mike’s and/or live in the area. My son went to St. Mike’s Tikes as an infant since I was a working mother and obviously I wanted him in a safe environment. My son later attended the new ORLA building on Boulevard for parts of elementary school and when that building first opened we felt safe taking before and after school walks on the Woodland Trail near Wheeler Avenue (this is not all that far from St. Mike’s too). Now, I personally do not consider it safe to walk on that trail in that area. The safety of children is in the forefront of my mind at all times as a mother.

 

We must resist villainizing the homeless population, but it is appropriate to consider that substance abuse and mental health issues are statistically prevalent among the homeless population. These types of issues can lead to persons being unpredictable and at times dangerous. The danger is not necessarily intentional, but frequently due to carelessness and/or altered state of mind. The point is, our city leadership needs to recognize there is a likelihood of certain crimes and safety issues at centers of the homeless population. However, this is true whether the center is a planned mitigation site or unplanned camp. And, currently, there are many unplanned camps in the city that pose a risk to families. My belief is that planned mitigation sites the government has a level of control over will be safer (for the homeless population and neighbors) than current camps.  However, this hasn’t been the actual experience so I understand your concern; of course it seems likely that the problems you highlight with the current mitigation site will simply follow to any new site.  The mitigation site is being moved after years of concerns registered by downtown business owners, residents, and patrons.

 

So while I believe creating planned mitigation sites will reduce the number and density of current camps, which will have a net positive effect on Olympia and believe having mitigation sites with places that could take in a homeless person gives the city more options when responding to an incident involving a homeless person; I share your concerns related to the current plan that does not seem to include the general public's health and safety concerns as part of any analysis regarding homeless response.

 

The residents of planned mitigation sites should be screened. Certainly, no resident of such a site near a school can have a background with violence and/or abuse toward minors. And mitigation sites in general must be implemented with safety in mind. In my opinion, it’s possible that a site (such as the tiny home development) could exist on the property near St. Mike’s if the site is run well. Perhaps my opinion differs from yours, but if elected I promise to keep an open mind and to always consider different opinions from different groups—especially groups of concerned parents. (October 20, 2021)

Contact Robbi at kesler4council@gmail.com with questions and/or feedback.  Selected questions and answers may be posted on this website.