Incumbent Debbie Bertlin and Jake Jacobson, both longtime Mercer Island residents, are competing for a spot on the Mercer Island City Council. The election will happen on Nov. 5.
Bertlin is a lifetime Islander and has been a council member for the past seven years, according to her candidate statement on the King County Auditor’s Office website. She attended Mercer Island High School, Stanford University and the University Sussex.
Jacobson has been a construction general contractor executive for more than 20 years. He’s also a member of the Washington and Alaska Bar Associations and has practiced law in both states, his election statement says.
How would you look to preserve or enhance Mercerdale Park?
Bertlin: Mercerdale is essentially Mercer Island’s town square. Because it is valued deeply by Islanders, it is time to undertake a full master planning process with community input at the center. Our Parks and Recreation Commission is up and running, comprised of seven qualified residents. I see this commission serving as a key asset in developing our parks strategy. Together, the community and the commission will provide critical perspective. I also advocate we include questions about Mercerdale on the next citizen survey. The city’s recently completed work on the critical areas policies which provides guidance on how to best steward the entire park – wetlands, hillside and play spaces – will also affect its future. Practically speaking, the park’s drainage needs to be improved. Specifically, I would like to see our veterans memorial take a more prominent role in the park. I support improved accessibility so more people can enjoy Mercerdale, evaluating the addition of bathrooms and water bottle refilling stations.
Jacobson:I strongly support placing Mercerdale Park (and our other remarkable parks, trails and beaches) in a trust similar to that which protects Pioneer Park for the benefit of future generations. I am unalterably opposed to the continued attempts to impose commercial uses in Mercerdale. For me, the issue is not enhancing Mercerdale, but rather continuing to protect, preserve and proactively maintain Mercerdale as well as all of our other park, trail and beach assets which constitute the unique and irreplaceable features of our Island.
What would be your budget priorities and why?
Bertlin: The first priority of government is public safety. I will continue to support our police and fire services, particularly improving services in our town center around the light rail. There is also growing interest in having more medical services within our fire department. The preventive services of our department of Youth and Family Services mental health counselors and school resource officer should be included in the category of public safety. Fiscal sustainability underpins the well-being of our community. As in the past, I will continue to work with community, experts, council and staff as well as research best practices to uncover new efficiencies and offer programs in less expensive ways. We have potential to continue improving income from some operations such as growing profitability at the Thrift Shop. And limited, service-specific levies may need to be considered by the community. Our plentiful parks and open spaces are cherished assets. Our citizen Parks Commission will play an important role. New maintenance practices (such as planting, watering and mowing), partnerships and volunteer services must be explored to ensure best use of limited resources. We must also re-commit to removing invasive plants and disease which impact our parks’ long-term health and can be done with our Scouts and volunteer organizations such as Earth Corp.
Jacobson: In the area of city finances and budgeting, my priorities are to deliver the highest acceptable services with the utmost efficiency. Unless we do so, we face the prospect that voters will not approve increases in property taxes which constitute the primary sources of revenue to fund the city’s operations. Running a city is a business and we need to start running Mercer Island as one as many municipalities have learned to do. It has been observed that in business, unless you measure, you cannot manage. As we learned during the run-up to the Proposition 1 vote, the city does not measure the components of its largest and most significant expense categories: personnel and equipment. Our financial forecasting has been consistently off target resulting in misguided decisions by the city council such as Proposition 1 rejected by a large majority. In terms of budget administration, costs must be tracked consistently and overruns must be identified and analyzed rather than simply increasing the budget line item to cover them. The zero based budgeting approach to determining our budgets should be considered and used wherever practicable.
How do you balance development and growth against maintaining the town’s current character?
Bertlin: There is significant pressure on all cities to accommodate growth and development. I believe Mercer Island should continue to be a constructive participant in regional planning, and be “foot forward” in supporting a town center that is based on our community values, residential scale, aesthetics and financial ability. Development must balance “Main Street” and “Wall Street.” Currently growth does not pay for growth. I will continue to pressure the state Legislature to provide local cities and towns more tools and local discretion in development. I currently serve as chair of the Sound Cities Caucus for the Growth Management Planning Council which enables me to work with other local communities to apply the right pressures. I am also committed to holding more study sessions and public outreach on what a more pedestrian-centric, multi-generational Town Center might look like. There is a growing vibrancy which is exciting, and which good design can further accelerate. I see the Chamber of Commerce, our town center businesses and all residents as stakeholders.
Jacobson: First of all, the bus intercept proposed by Sound Transit (for its own benefit and as a stalking horse for King County Metro) is completely antithetical to the character of our Island. Mercer Island is predominantly a single-family, residential community and that should be preserved and protected. Such attempts to undermine that character by such things as spot zoning — i.e. the Commercial Facilities Zone — for the benefit of selected commercial enterprises disserves our community and would give broad and unfettered discretion to city staff without a clear regulatory framework. Also, we need a plan which will reinvigorate our downtown core and provide retail and office opportunities with increased parking for the patrons of these businesses. A number of cities —Edmonds and Kirkland come to mind — in our region have creatively reinvigorated and, in some cases, repurposed their central cores so as to grow their business bases to enable its citizens to buy locally and by so doing, grow their tax bases. If elected, I will actively identify the “best practices” utilized by other cities in this area and work to shape these best practices to our community’s needs and expectations with the goal of benefitting Mercer Island and its residents.
How would you support transit developments and how/when would you push back?
Bertlin: Safety first. Any and all transit developments must be designed, implemented and maintained such that pedestrians, cyclists and motorists are safe and able to effectively, efficiently travel on, off and around the Island. Transit done the right way is and will be a real asset to Islanders’ mobility and our environmental future. I have and will continue to push back vociferously when the transit development contradicts existing agreements, and conflicts with our priorities and values. First- and last-mile access to transit must be integral to the design. I support bike lockers and facilities. Pedestrians need safely lit and landscaped routes to the stations. Cars need to be able to drop off and pick up without difficulty or risking the safety of others. The surrounding neighborhoods must be buffered. I believe in the positive impact transit may have on Mercer Island and for our environment. By supporting good design and smart transit options with examples such as Metro’s electrification of buses, and completing our bike and pedestrian routes, we can make strides in reducing our emissions and building an even more livable and sustainable community.
Jacobson: To begin with, my approach to transit developments is to identify and assert what is in the best interests of the citizens of Mercer Island. First is to enhance the mobility options for our residents which include added parking for Mercer Island residents only adjacent to the new light rail station and increased intra-island bus service to facilitate use of light rail connections to Seattle and the Eastside by Mercer Island residents. Second, clearly using Mercer Island as the only Eastside bus intercept flies in the face of our interests not only from a safety perspective but also from the fact that it would require our city to assume all unknown and unreimbursed costs for both safety and traffic rather than have the beneficiaries — Sound Transit and Metro — pay for them. Our community receives no benefits from being terminus for Sound Transit/Metro busses and having 14,000 commuters (Sound Transit’s figures) shuffling between buses and trains daily and being a layover area for those busses. The time to push back on this abomination is now by (1) instructing city staff not to continue to simply approve whatever Sound Transit proposes without any analysis or authority to do so; (2) rejecting the bus intercepts proposed by Sound Transit; (3) hiring competent outside counsel to assess, enforce and protect our rights under the 2017 agreement with Sound Transit.