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Tuesday, February 27, 2024
Feb. 27, 2024

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Much common ground in Vancouver City Council race

Candidates to replace Turlay seem to differ most on how to achieve goals

By , Columbian staff writer

The candidates for Vancouver City Council’s Position 6 are diverse in a number of ways — they span four decades in age, they come from a host of different backgrounds and bring a vast range of expertise to the table.

They are, however, all game for a selfie.

Following The Columbian’s Editorial Board meeting with six of the seven primary candidates Tuesday afternoon, the group snapped a few photos together in a show of camaraderie. And as the 90-minute discussion showed, they have more in common policy-wise than meets the eye.

Each touched on affordable housing, homelessness and working-wage jobs among their top issues. Where they differed most came down to methods, and as they jostle to replace incumbent Bill Turlay, who’s not seeking re-election, their ability to execute and communicate will likely be the deciding factor.

What follows is an abridged version of the topics discussed with the editorial board, and each candidate’s response.

The seventh candidate seeking the seat, local pastor Dorel Singeorzan, canceled Tuesday morning. A member of his congregation was dying, he wrote in a message, and he was spending the day with the congregant’s family. For a link to a previous interview with him, visit this story online at columbian.com.

Topic I: A Stronger Vancouver

The Stronger Vancouver plan relies on $30 million in additional annual revenue, collected through an evenly spread increase in business taxes, property taxes and miscellaneous taxes and fees. The result of nearly two years of committee deliberation, the plan was unveiled to the city council back in March.

Proponents argue that it’s a necessary investment in the community’s future, especially as the population booms and city staffing levels have been held at Great Recession levels. Opponents worry about the additional tax burden for residents and businesses.

Adam Aguilera: “Stronger Vancouver is a start,” Aguilera said. Washington’s regressive tax structure means that city leaders have limited options for raising revenue, but it’s necessary to do so, especially to strengthen first responder services, he added.

Sarah Fox: The Stronger Vancouver Executive Sponsors Council did a very thorough job exploring all the options available to the city, Fox said. “At this point, though, the (city) council needs to start doing their job,” she added. “The city needs to know what their council values.” Fox said she’s supportive of the plan, though worried that some of the business taxes might disproportionately affect small businesses over larger ones.

Paul Montague: Philosophically, Montague said, he supports Stronger Vancouver because it represents an investment in the future of the community. Currently the city’s budget is too lean to sustain as the population grows. “If we’re in agreement that there’s a solid investment to be made,” he said, “I think the next question is, is it equitable?”

Diana Perez: As a member of the Executive Sponsors Council, Perez said she’s well-versed in the options on the table for raising revenue. The city desperately needs more resources to fully fund its police and fire departments, she said, and when Vancouver leaders cut the local business and occupation tax from the budget back in 2002, they couldn’t have foreseen the way the internet would change the way people spend money. In the meantime, she said, residents have had to shoulder the burden. “We have a very disproportionate, unbalanced payment between residential and commercial,” Perez said.

Mike Pond: Stronger Vancouver is the largest issue before the city council, Pond said, but he would need to hear more feedback from community stakeholders before forming an opinion on the package.

Jeanne Stewart: She is worried about how an increase in taxes and fees could disrupt the balance of the community. From a holistic perspective, she said it’s crucial that neighborhoods in the north and eastern parts of the city stay affordable, and Stronger Vancouver could have unintended consequences. She’s especially nervous about reinstating a local B&O tax, which she called very regressive.

Topic II: Homelessness

The regional Point in Time count shows rising homelessness. Back in 2016, Vancouver voters approved Proposition 1 and established a $42 million, seven-year fund to support affordable housing projects, including new buildings and renovations.

Aguilera: As a teacher, Aguilera said, he comes face-to-face with homelessness daily. In his recent class of 30 students, he said, five were experiencing homelessness. He said that tackling the problem will take better affordable housing options, like accessory dwelling units, but that it’s also worthwhile to examine other issues that are pricing people out of their homes, like the costs of child care and transportation. The piecemeal approach isn’t effective, he said: “We’re already living the most expensive, worst-case scenario.”

Fox: Prop. 1 was a great start, Fox said. But there are still so many homeless people who aren’t immediately visible, like people couch-surfing or living in cars. She urged nimble, flexible spending solutions to help people get back on their feet — sometimes all someone needs is $200. “It is less expensive to house people than to be reacting to our homeless problem,” she said.

Montague: Around half of local students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch programs, Montague said. “It’s not just homelessness. It’s a broader economic issue,” he added. He urged a better process for gathering data about the city’s homeless population, including more detailed information about substance addiction and mental health to better guide policy.

Perez: She said referring to people without homes as “the homeless” dehumanizes them. The city needs a two-pronged approach, she said, with emergency services on one hand and a long-term, wraparound approach on the other. She said Prop. 1 has been effective — “It’s gotten to a better place than before. Imagine if we didn’t have that levy now,” she said — but it’s not the end of the discussion. “I think we need to stop boxing people,” Perez added.

Pond: When Vancouver’s residents voted for Prop. 1, they voted to see people get off the street, Pond said, and in that regard they haven’t seen much success. He said the city badly needs a new homeless shelter, as well as more options for transitional housing that would help people move into long-term stability. “It’s a homegrown problem. It’s not people coming here because it’s great to be homeless in Vancouver,” he added.

Stewart: The city and county need to collaborate to better understand why people are homeless, Stewart said, including a more thorough analysis of alcohol addiction, drug addiction and mental illness among the homeless population. As a former member of both the Clark County Council and the Vancouver City Council, she said she’s seen firsthand how finger-pointing between the two governing bodies has proved counterproductive. As a result, she said, residents are dealing with health risks, including hypodermic needles and excrement on their property. “The encroachment is galling the public,” Stewart said.

Topic III: District

Forming electoral districts was the top priority to come out of the Charter Review Committee’s analysis of Vancouver’s governing document.

Currently, Vancouver’s city council is elected at-large. Establishing districts would allow for more local campaigning, the committee reasoned, and hopefully encourage people from more diverse backgrounds to run for office.

The current city council shelved the proposal but vowed to discuss it further in August.

Aguilera: In favor. On Monday, he spoke at the city council meeting, encouraging them to change course: “Districting needs to be on the November ballot so our community can engage in a healthy debate.”

Fox: In favor. It’s hard for candidates from non-affluent backgrounds to get campaigns off the ground when they have to cover the entire city, she added.

Montague: In favor.

Perez: In favor, especially because Vancouver is the only charter community in the state that doesn’t already have electoral districts, she pointed out.

Pond: In favor. Turlay is the only city councilor who lives east of I-205, he said, leading to a lack of geographic diversity.

Stewart: Against. The sole opponent to elections by district, Stewart said she’d seen the county council devolve when districts were drawn in 2015. Districts encourage elected officials to become territorial, she said, instead of considering the entire region they serve. (Stewart won her seat in a countwide election, but lost her re-election bid while running as a Republican in a highly Democratic district.)

Topic IV: What’s your final pitch to voters?

Aguilera: As a teacher and small-business owner, Aguilera said, he’s seen firsthand how hard Vancouver families work to make ends meet. He’s been endorsed by Clark County Councilor Temple Lentz, Port of Vancouver Commissioner Don Orange and Vancouver School Board Director Wendy Smith.

More information about his campaign can be found at adam4citycouncil.com.

Fox: With a wealth of experience in both the public and private sector, Fox said she’s well-equipped to handle the responsibilities of a city councilor. If elected, she would also be the only veteran at the dais. Her endorsements include state Rep. Monica Stonier, former Port of Vancouver Commissioner Brian Wolfe and several local business owners.

Her campaign website is fox4citycouncil.com.

Montague: Montague has decades of experience in economic and workforce development and would use that expertise to shepherd Vancouver into a prosperous future, he said. As a late addition to the race, he added, he hasn’t gained any notable endorsements.

Montague’s campaign website is paul4vancouver.com.

Perez: She said she would be an “equity-filter,” adding, “I want people to see themselves reflected in the conversations in city council.” Her list of endorsers includes the National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington, Clark County Treasurer Alishia Topper, Vancouver City Councilor Laurie Lebowsky and Port of Vancouver Commissioner Eric LaBrant.

Her website is electdianaperez.com.

Pond: Pond is the youngest person running for city council and if elected would be the only renter, representing the half of Vancouver residents who aren’t homeowners. He’s been to more than 100 meetings of community groups and understands the issues, he said. “I have been one of those free- and reduced-lunch kids.” He’s endorsed by former State Rep. Jim Moeller.

Pond’s campaign website is votepond.com.

Stewart: Stewart has decades of local elected experience under her belt, and the knowledge, experience and integrity to serve as the best possible conduit for the interests of Vancouver’s residents, she said. She’s not soliciting endorsements, she told the editorial board. However, Turlay endorsed her as his successor when she announced her campaign in March.

Stewart does not have a campaign website, but she’s on Facebook at facebook.com/Jeanne4CityCouncil.

More information about Singeorzan, the seventh candidate for Vancouver City Council Position 6, can be found at his campaign website at dorelsingeorzan.com.

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Columbian staff writer