Wednesday, February 8, 2023
Feb. 8, 2023

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Vancouver council candidates weigh in on downtown school, annexation

By , Columbian politics reporter

Four Vancouver City Council hopefuls met with the Columbian’s editorial board Wednesday to discuss top issues facing the city and what makes them stand out from their opponents. There are five candidates running for Position 1, currently held by Councilor Laurie Lebowsky. The position was filled by appointment in February as Scott Campbell, who was elected in November, died before the election.

Lebowsky was joined by Sarah Fox, Mary Elkin and Adam Shetler. Maureen McGoldrick, the candidate who lost to Campbell in 2017, did not respond to the editorial board’s invitation.

As occurs with most discussions about Vancouver’s future, replacement of the Interstate 5 Bridge came up. All four candidates said they support replacement and Elkin, Fox and Lebowsky advocated for public transit in some form. While Elkin outright supports light rail, Fox and Lebowsky said they hope to focus on any form of transportation the community supports, likely an expanded bus rapid transit line.

As Lebowsky pointed out, any solution is unlikely to come from the city council directly.

“There’s very little we can do,” she said. “It’s reliant on working with the Washington (State) Department of Transportation and the state of Oregon.”

Candidates were asked if they believe downtown Vancouver is an appropriate place for a new elementary school as proposed by Vancouver Public Schools. Elkin said she understands planning for the future, but she’s concerned about student safety.

“I see some of the homeless problems I see on that street and think about sending my 7-year-old daughter or son down that street to go to school,” she said. “I have concerns about that.”

Shetler agreed with Elkin. Fox and Lebowsky, however, were supportive of the concept.

“For me I can imagine there’s going to be some great partnerships there,” Fox said. The downtown location could make it easier – and cheaper – to take students on walking field trips to places like the library and the Fort Vancouver National Site.

Lebowsky commended the school district for its forward thinking.

“Literally the ground is changing underneath our feet,” she said. “I think it’s great the school district is forward thinking. We need a downtown school location.”

Candidates were also asked to consider annexation. Vancouver is currently without an annexation blueprint, which means there is no current plan for city expansion. Fox said it’s beneficial to delay further expansion of the city limits.

“Just pushing it out prematurely is a bad idea for a lot of reasons,” Fox said. “We have to think 30 years down the road. If we gobble it up in the next 10 years, where are we going to be?”

Lebowsky agreed that annexation needs to be done thoughtfully, but alluded to the functionality as it relates to the city’s budget. Annexing property, specifically commercial property, provides a revenue boost to the city.

“One of my goals is to bring the city and county together, the city of Vancouver and Clark County need to work together as a team,” she said.

Elkin said the city is still struggling to catch up from the last annexation on the east side. She referred to missing sidewalks and outdated speed signs.

“I think we need to take care of our own first,” Elkin said.

Columbian politics reporter