Op-Ed: Misleading statements by City of Bremerton Mayor don’t solve complex community issues

By Kitsap County Commissioners Charlotte Garrido, Robert Gelder and Edward Wolfe

Governing complex public issues requires cooperative leadership to develop balanced solutions. We recently faced one such challenge in our response to a state mandate allowing housing for civilly committed sexually violent predators. Statements by the City of Bremerton regarding this issue asserted Kitsap County does not care about families. These statements are inaccurate and misleading. Not only do they misrepresent the efforts of Kitsap County, they also incite fear rather than inform the public. Citizens deserve facts and achievable solutions, not rhetoric.

The public’s health, safety and wellbeing are paramount concerns for us, and our core mission as the legislative body of Kitsap County. This bedrock principle is infused in every decision we make.

State law and legal precedent limit what Kitsap County can do to regulate facilities for sexually violent predators, including prohibiting the county from banning them or unreasonably limiting their location within the county. State law identifies criteria to locate civilly committed individuals away from schools and their bus stops, public trails, playgrounds, places of worship, youth camps, public libraries, and recreational and community centers.

Despite statements to the contrary, our regulations adopted June 22, 2019 do not automatically allow these facilities near neighborhoods, nor do they attempt to concentrate facilities around one city over another. Instead, we passed regulations that balance the needs of our community while still complying with the law. Prior to adoption, the county’s zoning code did not define or regulate the placement of these facilities. This became clear when citizens notified the county of an existing state-contracted residence near Poulsbo. As your representatives, we took swift action to address this deficiency through the appropriate process and careful review.

Well over 100 written comments were received and verbal testimony was provided at multiple public hearings. County commissioners and staff seriously considered every comment. At no point in time was any community either targeted or ignored.

The adopted ordinance includes checks and balances in the permit review process to address public concerns that such a facility generates, including neighborhood compatibility. If an application is submitted to the county, there are opportunities for residents to participate and comment during permit review so all factors are considered. The resulting ordinance meets state mandates, provides life and safety requirements, and expands the public involvement process.

After working collaboratively with local jurisdictions, other cities within the county recently adopted almost identical regulations to the county’s ordinance.

As your elected representatives, we are routinely required to balance the requirements of the state and the needs of all Kitsap communities. We are thankful for the support of our staff and input from the public. We welcome residents, business owners, associations, public and private agencies and affected stakeholders to work with us and our state delegation in the coming legislative session to address issues with this state directive.

Rhetoric and misinformation don’t create the solutions communities need. These changes can only happen by working together.