2020 San Juan County Council
Candidate Q&A

We recently asked Orcas Senior Center members what questions they would like to see answered by the 2020 San Juan County Council candidates for the General Election on November 3, 2020. Of the seventeen questions submitted, we consolidated them down to three questions and invited the candidates to answer.

The following responses were submitted by each candidate and the candidates are listed in order according to the online Washington State Voter’s Guide for the 2020 General Election.

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San Juan County Council Position 1
Christine Minney
Ryan T. Palmateer

San Juan County Council Position 2
Cindy Wolf
Rick Hughes

San Juan County Council Position 1

Christine Minney

christinem4council@gmail.com
(360) 298-1925

christine4council.org

1. Seniors are the majority of your constituency in San Juan County. If you are elected, what issues and needs of seniors do you perceive need to be addressed and what will you do about those issues that are not already being done? 

Our islands need to focus time and attention on senior housing needs, most specifically skilled nursing options, convalescent needs and rehabilitation housing. It is extremely disruptive to families and creates a real hardship when one member needs services and can only find them off island.

Transportation for seniors is another important service we can work on to find solutions. It is important to support our senior residents who are able to live independently, but can use help getting to appointments, buying groceries and picking up prescriptions. Allowing people access to this type of arrangement without forcing them to drive would be a valuable service throughout our islands. We need to find ways to link our county services for seniors to nonprofit volunteer service providers and strengthen available resources.

2. Do you recognize the impact on San Juan County seniors of the increasing dependence on tourism? What steps would you take to re-balance our islands’ economy that will benefit all islanders, young and old?

This question is compelling and created a great conversation in our household as we put ourselves into the shoes of a senior who lives in a tourist world. 

Tourism does not provide opportunities for our Senior residents. I also imagine it can lend to isolation as many resources are centered around tourist business rather than resident needs. 

Diversifying San Juan County’s economy and dependence on tourism is an important goal for a number of reasons, including the negative impacts it can have on our seniors and residents. Our islands could use more diversity in what ultimately funds county services, but we have to be realistic about this as it is very easy to say I’d like to diversify our economy without being able to deliver such changes in a short time span.

There can also be unintended consequences in diversification. More people being able to telecommute could create a housing or population boom that will further impact housing costs, cost of living and the environment. Instead of seasonal traffic and crowded conditions, we could make them year-round. 

3. What non-traditional forms of housing designed to support seniors, for example small housing, co-housing, and shared/mixed housing, would you be prepared to support?

We need to be flexible and creative in providing housing options for our seniors that allow them to age in place with connectivity to the greater neighborhood and natural surroundings. Designed for capability not disability. All options should be fully explored. Funding for housing, especially creative housing solutions can be challenging to find, but it can also create some great public/private partnership opportunities too.

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1. Seniors are the majority of your constituency in San Juan County. If you are elected, what issues and needs of seniors do you perceive need to be addressed and what will you do about those issues that are not already being done? 

I am very concerned about increased social isolation due to Covid 19, making it more difficult for our seniors to age in place. As a county council member, I would work with our hospital districts, our county’s various nonprofit organizations and the board of health to ensure better collaboration in serving our seniors. Finding new socially safe methods for island seniors to stay involved with the community as well as to have access to services will be critical in achieving this goal.

2. Do you recognize the impact on San Juan County seniors of the increasing dependence on tourism? What steps would you take to re-balance our islands’ economy that will benefit all islanders, young and old?

The increasing cost of living for many seniors on fixed incomes is especially concerning to me. I will support expanding programs designed to increase affordable housing options for all islanders, young and old, and work to promote a more year-round economy by working closely with the Economic Development Council as well as with the San Juan County Visitors Bureau to help improve and diversify our local economy and reduce our nearly complete economic dependence on summer tourism.

3. What non-traditional forms of housing designed to support seniors, for example small housing, co-housing, and shared/mixed housing, would you be prepared to support?

Increasing access to affordable housing is one of my top three issues going in this election. However, I still have concerns with co-habitation due to Covid 19. The group hit hardest by Covid 19 was retirement communities and convalescent centers. Once the threat to the health and safety to our more vulnerable populations has subsided, I would be in favor of helping to develop and expand more non-traditional housing options.

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San Juan County Council District 2

1. Seniors are the majority of your constituency in San Juan County. If you are elected, what issues and needs of seniors do you perceive need to be addressed and what will you do about those issues that are not already being done? 

We are in a nationwide crisis for Long Term Care and Aging in Place. We are forecast to have the largest shortage ever of RN’s in 2020. With so many baby boomer nurses retiring and 10,000 seniors retiring every day we are expected to fall approximately 220,000 nurses short of the need. We have large numbers of seniors entering their “golden years,” which are frequently their sickest years, and we will spend more health care dollars in this last chapter of our lives than at any other time.

In the face of that reality, we face our own struggle to provide our seniors with the ability to age in place. To do that we need home healthcare (medical), home care (assistance with daily living issues), affordable housing, access to transportation and assistance with home maintenance and repair. The problem is that all of these are notoriously difficult to provide adequately and well in small, rural communities. We currently provide some of these services, to some degree, on some of the islands but nowhere are all of the services readily available.

The good news is that the San Juan County LTC Coordination Network just received a grant from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) that will provide $250,000 per year for three years to address these problems in a comprehensive, county-wide approach. I think the county council could be most helpful by reaching out to the various entities and offering to coordinate some of the many conversations that will need to take place in this process and assist with advocacy at a state level to address barriers to services for our isolated, ferry-dependent communities as they arise.    

I think the county council has a role to play in addressing these problems but not the primary role. We have a county board of health and we now have public hospital districts on the three main islands. Those are the bodies, working together, that are best equipped to take the lead. Public health is their focus. The council can and should facilitate and assist them in every way it can.

2. Do you recognize the impact on San Juan County seniors of the increasing dependence on tourism? What steps would you take to re-balance our islands’ economy that will benefit all islanders, young and old?

Impacts on seniors from increasing tourism in the islands have been brought into stark relief by the COVID-19 pandemic. Getting off island for medical appointments was complicated during a normal summer, but the restricted ferry service coupled with the crowds has made this a serious struggle. Getting an appointment with local health providers also becomes far more difficult in summer. The added frustrations of the need to avoid crowds in grocery stores, restaurants and recreational areas in addition to the social isolation imposed by the pandemic are a strain on the mental and physical health of island residents in high-risk categories, which means a high percentage of permanent residents. While tourism will always be part of the island economy, our need for tourist dollars should not outweigh the well-being of our community and our environment.

We have an educated population, a need for trades people, a deadline to get off fossil fuels, a resurging agricultural community, and many retirees hoping to age in place. Each of these presents an opportunity to diversify our economy. Affordable housing is critical to supporting those jobs. How do we attract and retain the people to fill the jobs in those fields, to say nothing of our teachers, medical service workers and law enforcement personnel, if they can’t find an affordable place to live? The need for affordable housing, itself, presents job creation opportunities. We need to think much more creatively about public-private collaboration to create jobs in those fields.

There are now some highly skilled younger people moving to the islands who telecommute and many others already living here who do the jobs that make day to day life in the islands possible. They are the people most likely to have the energy and ideas to start new businesses. I think the county should engage in conversations with them to hear their ideas about what the economy in the islands should look like 5, 10 and 20 years from now and how the county can best support that vision. After all, they are the people who will build that economy.

3. What non-traditional forms of housing designed to support seniors, for example small housing, co-housing, and shared/mixed housing, would you be prepared to support?

Pilot programs for seniors sharing their homes with younger islanders are already in place. I would support any number of other models so long as basic health and safety requirements are met. One pressing need we have is for nursing facilities that are set up to accept Medicare. Multigenerational families on the islands need an affordable, nearby place for elder members to live that offers increasing levels of care. The Green House Project offers a promising model. https://www.thegreenhouseproject.org/about/visionmission

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1. Seniors are the majority of your constituency in San Juan County. If you are elected, what issues and needs of seniors do you perceive need to be addressed and what will you do about those issues that are not already being done? 

I recently responded to this question in another forum (Orcas Issues) and will offer the same response here:

The single biggest issue in our aging community is accessible housing. Although San Juan has a leg up with an excellent Assisted Living Facility – which Evan Perrollaz is doing a great job of managing – many challenges remain. On Orcas, I have formed a task force of those experienced in the industries of home care, home health care and assisted living. They’ve already identified many of the needs specific to the island.

But even this won’t be enough as our community ages. We can – and should – identify and problem-solve with the resources that we have, but the County must also modify land use allowances so that we have the space to build the accessible and assisted senior housing our community needs. We need more public spaces to provide the services and house the staff who will be critical to making it all work. If elected, I will address this important issue.

In addition to the efforts by the county, small businesses and nonprofits, I will continue to encourage and facilitate coordination between the fire department, hospital districts, medical centers and other important island entities to provide care for seniors. We have recently implemented a Mobile Integrated Healthcare Pilot Program which does just this and I look forward to watching it evolve as we see its impact in our community.

And this all requires funding – a component that will prove especially important, given the current market instability and far from predictable economy. In addition to building up much needed cash reserves over the years I have been in office, I have made sure to leverage my relationships and experience gained in Olympia to our county’s advantage. I will continue to do so on all levels, and particularly on behalf of our senior residents and their needs for care at home.

2. Do you recognize the impact on San Juan County seniors of the increasing dependence on tourism? What steps would you take to re-balance our islands’ economy that will benefit all islanders, young and old?

Our tourism economy is rapidly diversifying even as we discuss the matter – and I have long been an advocate for encouraging such change. Although I know tourism will always have its place in our islands, I have advocated and supported the work OPALCO/Rock Island and Orcas Online have done to make us one of the most connected counties in the country. The fiber to the home with, LTE mesh overlay and high speed fixed wireless radios have provided the infrastructure for a huge increase in our remote working population in the past several years- and without them – the adjustments in the workforce over these past few months would not have even been possible. This equates to many high paying, low impact jobs that are now flooding into our community. This type of work promotes diversification from tourism, encourages more year-round residents and increases stability in the local economy – factors that ultimately help support our senior population. 

As a community, we also need to continue to not only shop locally but expand our small scale manufacturing to create local brands of high end, locally made products. Girl Meets Dirt is a phenomenal example of such a product. As are Boathouse Ciderworks, Local Goods, Island Hoppin, Orcas Distillery and Island Thyme. There are many other great examples of this around the county, and the more we can promote these niche manufacturing markets – especially with products making use of our small agriculture industry – the better. 

I also feel it’s incredibly important for us to invest in the trades. To have a thriving, busy community – who can support our seniors and the rest of the community – we must invest in education advancement in the trades training to aid in the generational transfer of trade-related business. It’s also important to realize that many of our tradespeople will be working in Renewable Energy as we work to combat climate change. SJC is planning on investing over $1,000,000 in the deployment of solar panels on county buildings over the next several years. This to help both create Green Jobs in the county and jumpstart these trades for our community at large.

And whether they are tourism-related or otherwise, I am absolutely passionate when it comes to living wage employment. Every organization with which I’m involved- including those I operate – pays family wage jobs and a full array of benefits from health care to retirement. I have always believed that it is a business owner’s responsibility to care for their staff as if they are family and I always will bring this perspective to the table as your County Council member.

3. What non-traditional forms of housing designed to support seniors, for example small housing, co-housing, and shared/mixed housing, would you be prepared to support?

I feel the development of carefully designed senior housing is critical to ensuring a thriving senior culture in the islands. I’ve done a fair amount of outreach to understand what that means and it seems nearly everyone is looking for the same thing: single level, low maintenance, energy efficient, affordable homes that are close to town. Such housing should meet these physical descriptions and also be supported by a community infrastructure of medical, transportation and home care services. This is what I am working towards.

It’s hard for me to speak to whether any of this is traditional or not – it’s just not really how I look at it. I am focused on what our community wants and am committed to finding ways to make it happen. I understand that our islands often require a unique approach and imagine what we end up with will look much different from solutions on the mainland. I suppose one thing I would like to see, though, is mixed generational housing. I don’t think we should build complexes strictly for seniors – we shouldn’t separate our elders from our youth. We are all healthier when we have direct access to people different from us. The youth need the wisdom of the elderly and our elderly thrive off the energy of our youth. Together, we are stronger.

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