King County voters have until 8 p.m. on Feb. 14 to vote for the King Conservation District Board of Supervisors position 3 election. Voters can access their ballot online at https://kingcd.org/about/board-of-supervisors/elections-and-appointments/
King Conservation District (KCD) is one of Washington’s 45 local conservation districts, which are responsible for assisting cities and private landowners to advance conservation goals through programs such as grant making, technical assistance and education. Some of the programs KCD has spearheaded in recent years include providing assistance to small local farmers, especially those from marginalized backgrounds; coordinating volunteers to help with ecosystem restoration; and funding projects to mitigate the amount of pollution that enters the region’s waterways.
The KCD has a budget of about $8 million funded through a small property tax, which averages to roughly $13 per parcel of land. The district encompasses all of King County except the cities of Enumclaw, Federal Way, Milton, Pacific and Skykomish, which have either opted out or are part of other conservation districts.
The Board of Supervisors — an unpaid body that oversees the governmental agency — is composed of two appointed representatives and three elected ones.
Rosa Méndez-Perez, the executive director of KCD, said that the conservation district serves as a sort of hub to coordinate initiatives to improve environmental conservation in the area.
“Our goal is to be really a community resource for conservation,” Méndez-Perez said. “So anyone can reach out to us for either technical assistance or any question they may have about, ‘How do I handle natural resources that may be in my backyard?’ Or maybe it’s a city that has a forested park area, or stream, or anything like that, and we’ll work with them. We have a vision of a holistic approach and we like to maximize environmental benefits.”
According to KCD Engagement Program Manager Mark Dostal, state law mandates that conservation district elections be held between January and March. This means that election turnout is usually extremely low, since the cost is prohibitive to send out ballots to all constituents, in the range of about $1 million to $3 million. KCD is advocating for changes by the state legislature to add conservation district elections to the general election ballot.
This has led KCD to prioritize the online ballot access option, which means that voters can fill out their ballot through an online portal. King County Elections (KCE) then prints the filled-out ballot and tabulates it. This is different from some other conservation districts, which only allow people to vote if they request a ballot by mail ahead of time. KCD has also sent out postcards to voters explaining how to access the online portal in an effort to boost turnout.
Halei Watkins, a communications officer with KCE, wrote in an email to Real Change that the online process is secure and similar to the one regularly used for overseas and military voters. “On our end, the returned ballots are delivered to a secure inbox, which is monitored by our IT and ballot processing staff, and can only be accessed from our ballot processing floor,” Watkins wrote.
For the KCD position 3 election, Real Change emailed the three candidates — Chris Porter, April Brown and Csenka Favorini-Csorba — and asked them a few questions about their backgrounds and their plans, if elected. The answers have been edited for brevity and clarity and printed below.
Real Change: Could you tell me a little bit about yourself, your background and why you want to be on the King Conservation District Board?
Chris Porter: I ran for supervisor because of my passion for bees and pollinators. I noticed that someone with that background was not represented on the board. I had been a beekeeper for six years and have been a cyclist for over 20 years before running for the office. … My background is in health care and public health, and I am heavily involved in local, county and state politics. I serve on the executive board of the 34th [Legislative District] Democrats, and I am the state committee person to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee. I have volunteered and served in local and county organizations: West Seattle Food Bank, Veterans Seniors Housing Services Levy Advisory Board and the Seattle/King County HIV/AIDS Council.
April Brown: I am an enrolled member of the Muckleshoot Tribe. My family lineage stretches from the coast of Quinault to the Valley of Yakima and north to Tulalip Bay. My background is a concerned citizen who likes to create re-usable items from single use resources. The reason why I want to be on the [King Conservation District Board of Supervisors] is to be involved and see how I can involve my community through projects and education.
Csenka Favorini-Csorba: I’m a West Seattle resident with close to a decade of experience in conservation and natural resource management. Although much of my work has been at the international, national and statewide levels, I’m running for this position because I believe that real change is made at the local level. The impacts of climate change will be felt most acutely by individuals and communities, and as a result, our local parks, backyards and community gardens, as well as our forests and our farms that are critical to both mitigating and adapting to climate change. That’s why the work of the conservation district is so important. I hope to use my extensive expertise in conservation and natural resource management to yield tangible results for communities across the county.
If elected, what would be your top priorities and why?
Porter: Currently, I am the vice-chair and if re-elected, my top priorities will be to keep pushing elected officials to change the RCW to move these elections to a ballot and general election. … My great grandparents, grandparents, and parents were all born without the right to vote. …. So, the arguments about the cost and how disruptive having accessible elections to all voters rings hollow to me and is offensive given my history and the history of voting in this country. Additionally, no citizen can run for this office unless they own property. … My second priority is pushing Conservation Districts to embrace Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). Conservation has lagged behind just about all other organizations when it comes to this. Also, I was the first Black, openly gay male ever elected to a Conservation District, not only in King County but across the state.
Brown: If elected my priorities would be to try and involve [as] many marginalized communities as I can, even if that means I volunteer my time to get to know and share what KCD has to offer.
Favorini-Csorba: 1. Increase access to existing programs and services. I want to make sure that all communities are aware of the services that the conservation district provides, including those in more urban environments that may not typically “see” themselves in the conservation district (like people living in apartments!) and BIPOC and marginalized communities who may have encountered barriers to access and participation. … 2. Create and incentivize pathways to land ownership for marginalized or historically and systemically oppressed communities or individuals. … 3. Increased Tribal engagement and partnerships, including around access to first foods and food sovereignty. … 4. Facilitate and incentivize increased carbon sequestration and storage in local lands and waters. This doesn’t appear to be an explicit focus in the existing programs and focus areas, but it should rise to the top! … 5. Advocate for conservation districts to be included in the general election, and other election reform.
In your opinion, what role does KCD have in addressing the many climate and environmental justice issues that face our communities?
Porter: Since conservation is about protecting and preserving lands, waterways, forests and habitats, we must be centered in addressing the climate impact and environmental justice issues. For decades, Black farmers have struggled to keep their farms and properties because of racism and bias. How can they ever be interested in conserving farmland if they don’t have the proper resources and information to do so? We are beginning to do things like engage the Black [Farmers]
Collective remembering that, historically, they were never invited nor had a seat at the table. This is also the case for other farmers of color. As a beekeeper, it has become increasingly difficult to keep bees when smoke floods the county and winters get increasingly harsh. I lost two beehives last year due to the last ice storm and when we had weeks of smoke in King County. I wrote in my statement in the voter’s pamphlet: “As the population of bees and other pollinators continue to fall, this will not change until their survival is our priority. 1-3 bites of food are there because of bees so we cannot live without them.”
Brown: In my opinion I believe KCD has a role that can set standards and enact change and educate the public on toxins and how it can negatively affect all aspects of life in King County. An example would be to replace firework display shows with drone lightshows, to give the environment a chance to bring healing and restoration for all lifeforms (animal, water, plant, human) within King County.
Favorini-Csorba: Like I mentioned above, no matter what statewide or national policies are implemented, the impacts of climate change will be felt by individuals and communities. It’s going to be communities that will suffer from extreme heat without adequate tree canopy cover. It’s going to be backyard and community gardens that become more and more important as prices increase and crops are impacted around the world. And it’s going to be you, me and our neighbors that will have to come together to protect our remaining natural areas and take collective and individual action to ensure the health and resilience of our communities. The conservation district can play an important role in addressing each of these challenges, which of course requires a focus on the populations that are disproportionately impacted by climate change, including historically and systemically marginalized or oppressed communities.
Guy Oron is the staff reporter for Real Change. Find them on Twitter, @GuyOron.
Read more of the Feb. 1-7, 2023 issue.