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Friday, March 1, 2024
March 1, 2024

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City council candidates discuss Vancouver issues

Bridge replacement, homelessness, city development among top topics

By , Columbian politics reporter
4 Photos
Vancouver City Councilor Laurie Lebowsky, from left, candidate Mary Elkin, candidate Adam Shetler and candidate Sarah Fox speak with The Columbian’s Editorial Board.
Vancouver City Councilor Laurie Lebowsky, from left, candidate Mary Elkin, candidate Adam Shetler and candidate Sarah Fox speak with The Columbian’s Editorial Board. (Nathan Howard/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

For the second year in a row, Vancouver voters are choosing candidates for Position 1 on the city council. The winner of November’s election, Scott Campbell, died, and earlier this year the Vancouver City Council sifted through 56 applications before appointing Laurie Lebowsky.

Now Lebowsky is running for election to the last three years of the term, and is being challenged by Mary Elkin and Sarah Fox, both of whom were finalists during the appointment process.

There’s another familiar name in this special election: Maureen McGoldrick, who ran last year but gained just 37.9 percent of the vote. A fifth candidate, newcomer Adam Shetler, jumped in the race during filing week in May.

We asked the candidates a set of questions exploring the top issues facing Vancouver in advance of the Aug. 7 primary.


Mary Elkin

Age: 51.

Neighborhood: Image.

Political experience: This is my first time running for public office.

Endorsements: Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, Vancouver Police Officers’ Guild, Vancouver firefighters union IAFF Local 452.

Sarah Fox

Age: 44.

Neighborhood: Lincoln.

Political Experience: President, American Planning Association — SW WA Section (2017-present). Elected to various board positions prior to being elected as president-elect in 2014. President, Camas Public Employees Association (2012-2018). Intern, Congressman Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.

Endorsements: State Rep. Monica Stonier, Latte Da owner Scott Taylor, Gerald Taylor of Thrivent Financial.

Laurie Lebowsky

Age: 50.

Neighborhood: Lincoln.

Political experience: Incumbent city councilor; appointed in January.

Endorsements: State Rep. Sharon Wylie, Vancouver Port Commissioner Don Orange, City Councilor Alishia Topper.

McGoldrick and Shetler did not respond, but here is what the others had to say on the issues.

Bridge proposal

Elkin: I think that until we can identify a “win” for Oregon with (an Interstate 5) bridge replacement, this will not be easy. Vancouver citizens work and travel to Portland more than Portlanders travel here. The stakes aren’t as high for them. The federal government should play a major part in this replacement. If the current policies in Washington D.C. are to be a minority stakeholder and the states to be the major stakeholders, then we should lobby for change. We need to again be creative and identify an advantage for Oregon to come back to the table. The citizens need to be heard on what they are and are not willing to support throughout the entire process. We cannot afford to repeat our past mistakes.

Fox: Our council must continue to pressure our state and national leadership to ensure that Vancouver has a lead role in the decisions that affect us most. We need a replacement bridge now, not 10 years from now, but that is the trajectory at present. Our council needs to continue being vocal about the necessity of a replacement bridge, and we need to ensure that our state representatives consider this issue as highly as those issues that concern them in the north. I am not alone in feeling as if our state is often shortsightedly focused on solving the concerns of those in Seattle and Olympia, and leaving Vancouver to fend for ourselves.

Lebowsky: We need to show Oregon we have a unified front in Southwest Washington. I support the establishment of an office here in Vancouver to demonstrate to Oregon (and to the state of Washington for that matter) we are ready to talk about a replacement bridge on Interstate 5. We need to bring in all the stakeholders to participate in the discussion and planning. Time is of the essence. Not only are people stuck in traffic trying to get to and from work, but the commerce of the region is being impeded by the delay of the bridge replacement. We need to be able to get to our jobs, our activities within Vancouver, and every so often cross the river.

By the year 2030, the Washington State Department of Transportation estimates there will be a nearly 77 percent increase in freight traffic. We need to act now.


Fox: The city needs to prioritize and set goals for reducing the unsheltered population. Achieving those goals will require regional cooperation, strong leadership, and persistence. I am interested in results, and would ask that we review our progress annually and make adjustments to the grant program, or make other adjustments in our budget as warranted.

Lebowsky: Proposition 1 has been successful so far. The day center will be opening in the fall. I believe we need to look at the feasibility of emergency housing solutions that will alleviate pressure on shelters. I also know that we need to increase our inventory of low- and middle-income housing. As an urban planner, I am proud to bring my wealth of land use expertise to the table so we can pinpoint areas for appropriate housing options.

I also support creating better communication avenues among nonprofits, faith groups, cities and county government so we can get a better handle on the depth of this issue. Homelessness is not just Vancouver’s problem, but we need to be part of a regional solution.

Elkin: So many different groups are working on the homelessness issue. I believe the city needs to foster relationships and develop partnerships among nonprofits, religious groups and governments to work together for a greater impact on the issue. We also need to make sure we have a plan in place and strategically allocate those funds where they will have the biggest impact. We need to be creative and compassionate while making sure that no single area or neighborhood is devoted to these solutions or have the quality of life diminished for any person.

City development

Lebowsky: When looking at development, I believe in urban infill rather than expanding into undeveloped areas — it simply makes more sense to use the existing infrastructure, such as power, water, roads, transit, etc.

I hope we can look at potential projects in east Vancouver. By east Vancouver, I mean areas east of 164th Avenue. For example, a public-private partnership aimed at ensuring that this large area begins to have a sense of community. We should also include the fast-growing area along 192nd Avenue.

Elkin: I would like to see the Rose Village and Fourth Plain neighborhoods with a shared border of an improved corridor of commerce and housing options. This area is close to Clark College, the Veterans Affairs campus as well as the Vine (rapid transit).

Fox: I have spent the past 13 years working to the east of Vancouver, in the city of Camas. The east side of the city has seen a lot of growth over those years. Some issues such as traffic safety, and increased criminal activity, need our immediate attention. Those issues have been of great concern to the residents that have reached out to me, and need to be addressed. Also, let’s re-evaluate the unique challenges and opportunities, and ensure that we are still in step with the vision of the future of those that live and work there.

Most important issue in Vancouver

Elkin: The City of Vancouver is faced with providing services for our citizens that keep our city safe, prosperous and vibrant. To do this well, we must budget and use our resources wisely. This involves constantly asking our citizens what they consider as priorities and be transparent in how much of our $1 billion budget it takes to fund those priorities. It also involves doing all we can to help our existing businesses to grow and expand and discovering opportunities for larger businesses to establish here in Vancouver. We must continue to be creative and think out of the box when it comes to providing services.

Fox: There isn’t just a single issue of importance to Vancouver. There are several competing issues, which is why the city does outreach to the community and creates planning documents such as their comprehensive plan and strategic plans. It is equally important to regularly assess the effectiveness of a plan and to adjust as needed. I believe that these plans are the best means for the city to accomplish their multiple goals in the most efficient way possible.

With that said, an issue that cannot be stressed enough is the need for more higher-paying, family-wage jobs. With higher wages the concern over housing affordability diminishes as less of your income is spent on housing costs. I support local businesses that are the backbone of our economy. When they succeed, more jobs are created, wages increase and more money goes into the pockets of our citizens. Let’s ensure that a portion of new jobs are apprenticeships, internships and other workforce training programs that will keep our economy diverse and strong. I believe in programs and policies that support, retain and help businesses thrive.

Lebowsky: Based on the many discussions I have had with citizens, homelessness and affordable housing are the issues people bring up the most. It is the homeless who seek only shelter, those who are older who are seeking a home in which to age in place, and the first-time home buyers. We need housing options for all of these people.

Proposition 1, the affordable housing levy, begins to help the homeless as well as the day center that will open in the fall. We need to develop emergency housing options and increase the supply of low-income and middle-income housing. As an urban planner, I can shed light on finding options and solutions.

Sustainable revenue and Vancouver Strong

Fox: I will not presuppose the options that will be presented at the conclusion of the advisory group’s work next year. The purpose of their work is to develop a comprehensive funding plan to support the city’s ability to provide the level of services that the community demands in the long term, and avoid piecemeal, short term fixes. I believe that we must be responsible with our budget, and make balanced decisions that will help our city weather another recession when (or if) it comes. As a council we are entrusted with the task of being trustworthy stewards of public funds.

Lebowsky: Although Vancouver’s current budget situation is good, over the long-term level-of-service will inevitably decline because of population growth and the state tax laws. When we talk about the budget, we need to ask two questions: what we want to fund and why. I believe in a mission-driven budget. We need to be flexible and creative and not rely on single revenue streams.

Elkin: The Executive Sponsors Council (ESC) for the Vancouver Strong project has been working on researching the options the city has for new revenue streams. They are due to present recommendations to council next spring. We must maintain our excellent credit rating and budget for what revenue we have currently. The changes we wish to make as a city (more timely paving, more firefighter resources, watering our parks for example) need to have a clear price tag attached when presented to voters for additional revenue (tax increases). As elected representatives, we must demonstrate how we are using every dollar as efficiently as possible.

Dark fiber

Lebowsky: Dark fiber is putting the infrastructure in place for high-speed digital communication. From what I have read about what the Port of Ridgefield is doing with dark fiber, I see it as an essential pathway to the future. The City of Vancouver could take similar steps to install that infrastructure thereby laying the groundwork for businesses to break ground more readily, and the projects show businesses that the city is welcoming to expansion. When it comes to funding, we should also think of the Port of Ridgefield approach of a public-private partnership.

Elkin: I believe this would be something to explore with our port. If the partnership would have a great return on investment, we should certainly invest in infrastructure that would give our citizens more options, connect them with more of the world and attract new businesses to Vancouver. We could learn a lot about the process from our neighbors in Ridgefield. I would support an investment if the return was a favorable one for Vancouver.

Fox: There are subject areas that I feel confident as an expert, and others where I will need to study and meet with those in the community that intersect on an issue. This is one of those issues that I would return to the community in order to draw on their expertise before making any policy decisions.

Smart City connectivity

Elkin: Investing in technology is a good thing if it enhances the lives of our citizens and uses our resources wisely. While our population is aging, we must continue to plan for the future. I would like to see data on how long it would take for us to see a return on the investment.

Fox: Yes, Vancouver should pursue a smart city framework. There could be huge savings to our city and citizens, such as digital sensors that can better monitor our transportation system and decrease how long it takes for our residents to get from one place to another.

Lebowsky: The city should always be looking for ways to better communicate with its citizens and learn from the expertise of other cities as well. Whether the city actually chooses to pursue the Smart City connectivity option or similar options is an issue that needs to be discussed between members of city council and members of the public. It is important for our city to run more efficiently and effectively while responding to the demands of an increasingly high-tech society.

First action in office

Fox: I am not seeking election because I have a single issue or agenda. I am running for city council because I believe that I am the best person for the job. I am open to all possibilities, but foremost on my mind will be doing what is best for Vancouver.

Lebowsky: At the top of my list is getting Oregon and all the stakeholders back to the table and figure out how we’re going to replace the I-5 bridge. Our livelihood and quality of life depend on it.

Elkin: Start meeting with the city manager, other council members and city staff to get up to speed on how operations are going.

Voters should know …

Lebowsky: The Vancouver City Council chose me out of 56 people who applied for the vacant seat on the city council earlier this year. And now I’m eagerly running to earn the votes of the people of Vancouver.

Since my appointment, I have worked hard on the city council to address the issues the voters told me are important. Those four issues are: safety and security, affordable housing, economic development, and transportation.

I have worked for 25 years on economic land development. It has given me perspective on how communities work well together.

What I’m passionate about doing is putting my experience to work for the citizen of Vancouver so we have safety and security, affordable housing, jobs, and mobility for whether you’re driving, riding transit, walking, or biking.

Vancouver should not only be a place where you live, but where you also have a great life.

Elkin: I have lived in east Vancouver for over 16 years and I have been actively involved in our community. Six out of seven representatives on council live on the west side of Vancouver.

I understand this is a job of service to my community.

I was the first person to be nominated for the appointment to this council seat.

I own a small bookkeeping and accounting business that I started in 2003 and if elected, I would be the only for-profit small business owner on the council.

I am the current chairwoman of the Image Neighborhood Association.

I am the current chairwoman of the Vancouver Neighborhood Alliance.

I advocated for Fire Station 6 to remain open in 2010 and to re-open in 2011.

I have been a Fire Corps volunteer.

I have been an Art Discovery volunteer.

I have been the president of the Parent Teacher Organization at my son’s school.

I founded the Friends of Fire Station 6.

I established an annual neighborhoods clothes/blanket drive for the Evergreen and Vancouver School District’s Family Resource Centers.

If elected, I will serve everyone and listen to all voices.

I love Vancouver!

Fox: I am driven to be of service to my community and my country. I joined the military after high school and served overseas with the United Nations in Bosnia. This innate trait to serve permeates all aspects of my life. I am also a living kidney donor. I am sharing this in the hope that more people will feel comfortable and inspired to save a life by being living donors. The Camas-Washougal Post-Record published a story about my co-worker and me when he was in search of a kidney donor. He has since received a new kidney and is doing well.

Columbian politics reporter