Council candidates talk environmental concerns

Their reasons for running are as diverse as their personal backgrounds. The four candidates vying for two seats on the San Juan County Council entered the race for four different reasons.

Community Rights San Juan Islands, Friends of the San Juans and the Madrona Institute asked the candidates six questions to find out more information about the people running for public office.

“In March 2020, just as COVID was making its mark, I found myself in dire need of leadership and direction because I own a small restaurant and the rules were changing fast. For me to be informed and aware of what was becoming daily changes, in reality, I had to start watching emergent County Council and Board of Health meetings to stay knowledgeable and make reasonable decisions for my business and my customers’ safety,” Christine Minney said. “I came to realize how approachable local government could and should be. When I understood that the County Council seat for Position 1 was up for election without an incumbent, I was compelled to make the choice to run.”

Minney is running for San Juan County Council District No. 1 – San Juan against Ryan Palmateer.

“I was inspired to run for county council after seeing what inadequately regulated VRs were doing to the quality of life in the islands and to our environment. I announced my candidacy at a Vacation Rental Working Group meeting,” Palmateer said. “Having worked on the three major islands for the past four years, I have learned a lot about each community’s concerns.”

Running for District No. 2 – Orcas are Cindy Wolf and incumbent Rick Hughes.

“I am running because my 12-year-old daughter needs a functioning society to live in and the county needs a change in leadership if we are going to be part of the solution,” Wolf said. “We are running out of time.”

Hughes has served the community in his council seat for the past eight years. He has stated that this would be his last time running for the position.

“My family has always brought forward an ethos of service above self and I have felt that calling to serve my community. I have served on volunteer boards most of my life and felt it was time for me to serve San Juan County,” Hughes said. “I felt that the county did not always treat the community fairly and — knowing that one must be the change they want to see — I stepped forward to work with the community to help make the county a better partner in the daily lives of its residents. In the years I’ve been involved, the county has made some great progress in this realm.”

Minney noted that she had confidence in previous council members in their decisions regarding the pandemic so far, but felt compelled to run because there was no incumbent to the position. She hopes that in the next three years, should she be elected, she hopes to be approachable and interactive.

“I want to hear the focuses of the community to make appropriate decisions based on those conversations and I want to advocate in strong and socially relevant ways to bolster any number of our [community’s] needs.”

Palmateer’s priorities include economic recovery, affordable housing and agricultural support.

“The pandemic has taught us that reliance on tourist dollars puts our local economy at high risk for major disruptions,” Palmateer said. “I’ll work with the Economic Development Council, the Agricultural Guild, and the people working with our seniors to explore the best ways to develop more year-round jobs.”

The need for affordable housing is critical, according to Palmateer. He said he’ll work with both governmental and non-governmental partners to create more affordable housing and find a solution to the proliferation of vacation rentals.

“We need better, fairer regulations designed to protect existing neighborhoods, make [vacation rentals] less attractive for non-local investors and speculators, and encourage more long-term affordable housing,” Palmateer said. “I will work with community groups to accomplish this.”

Wolf stated her disappointment in the lack of forward motion in relation to addressing the county’s carbon footprint. She observed that in 2008, the county adopted a climate change resolution but the goals were never made enforceable.

“In fact, the provisions that likely would have made the most difference in the county’s carbon footprint have been left out of the new resolution,” Wolf said. “There was an ask for an inventory of county government operational and geographical greenhouse gas emissions to be followed up with reduction targets. This never happened.”

Wolf noted a goal of 36 miles per gallon for every vehicle in the county’s fleet was never implemented and that LEED certification standards were never set for county buildings.

“The latest resolution only holds the county to the energy efficiency standards in [its] own building code,” Wolf said. “This is not the way to make meaningful change.”

Wolf’s view of the county government isn’t all doom and gloom, however, she noted that it has done good work for senior centers and the roads are well maintained and repaired.

In his time serving as a county councilmember, Hughes has said he is proud of many of the things the council has accomplished during his tenure but more recently, the voter-approved housing real estate excise tax.

“We have granted almost three million dollars toward active accessible housing construction — with even more to come,” Hughes said. “In addition to affordable housing, I’d like to see the county fulfill a goal of deploying one megawatt of renewable energy generation; expand our off-road bike/trail network and continue to diversify our local economy.”

The remaining five questions focused on the effect of tourism and economic growth in the islands; how the pandemic, wildfires and other threats to democracy would inform their leadership; addressing climate change, habitat and species loss; the health of the ecosystem; and the Madrona Institute’s New Deal San Juan Islands. The candidates’ responses to all of the questions can be viewed at