Sunday, December 5, 2021
Dec. 5, 2021

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Candidates for Vancouver City Council Position 3 differ on police reform, homeless response

By , Columbian staff writer

None of the candidates running for Vancouver City Council’s open Position 3 seat are political newcomers.

David Gellatly is the former chair of the Clark County Republican Party and head of the party’s local recruitment group, Activate Republicans. Diana Perez, appointed commissioner for Washington State Parks and Recreation and to several local boards and task forces, has sought a city council seat twice before. Glen Yung co-chairs the Hough Neighborhood Association, served with Perez on the Task Force for Council Representation, and has hardly missed a single city council meeting in the last two years.

All three are plugged into local issues. They used their conversation with The Columbian’s editorial board to highlight that expertise, hoping to appeal to voters and carry through the Aug. 3 primary election.

On a few topics – namely, the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic – the candidates mostly aligned. All three lauded current Vancouver leadership for its relatively level-headed response.

“I honestly think the city did a pretty darn good job,” Yung said. “Nobody has the crystal ball.”

Perez added that the pandemic did lay bare the need for better resiliency and more equitable communication strategies. She pointed to the businesses along the Fourth Plain Corridor – mostly small, minority-owned businesses – that struggled to access the public grants and loans that could have helped carry them through the worst of the pandemic.

“Rebuild the local economy that results in a more resilient… sustainable city,” Perez said. “Ensure nobody is being left behind.”

According to Gellatly, the biggest obstacle now will be jump-starting the local economy despite higher wages.

“What our local businesses are struggling with right now is labor,” Gellatly said.

On other issues, there was more daylight between the candidates’ respective positions. They diverged on how best to address policing reforms.

While all agreed that officer-worn body cameras were a step in the right direction, Perez warned against treating the cameras as a panacea. She advocated for stronger integration of mental health professionals within the police department, more training on nonlethal responses and boosting funding for the city’s Homeless Assistance & Resources Team, which currently only includes two people.

“When it comes to the VPD, I have talked to the chief, and one of the main things is building that trust with the community,” Perez said. “The recent shootings – the four shootings that happened in a very short period – were quite traumatic for our community.”

Gellatly warned against following in the footsteps of Portland, where an increase in the homicide rate followed a 4 percent cut to the Portland Police Bureau’s budget.

“That’s knocking at our door, and we don’t want to meet the failed policies of Portland,” Gellatly said.

“I do believe in increasing accountability, and that will require investment,” he added. “Overall, I think the budget needs to increase along with the increase in our population.”

Yung, who frequently testifies in city council meetings to express his support for fast-tracking a body-worn camera program for police, said that cameras “couldn’t come soon enough.” He added that he supports scaling back the duties of police officers so that they’re responding to a narrower range of issues, championing more resources for mental health responders.

“We need to allow our police to be fine-tuned to what they’re doing, and not be spread too thin and have to be trained on so many different issues,” Yung said.

Addressing homelessness

The candidates offered different opinions on a new proposal from city staff to establish supported campsites – small, fenced sites where unhoused people can temporarily live from tents with a blessing from the city, access to better sanitation and more security.

Yung said he conditionally supports the plan, put forth by Vancouver Homeless Resources Coordinator Jamie Spinelli after months spent with local communities of people experiencing homelessness. But he warned against a slapdash execution, worried that the idea, if executed poorly, could lead to the kind of division between neighbors sparked by the Navigation Center.

“We have to appreciate that we tried something, but we failed. We all have to admit (the Navigation Center) failed,” Yung said. “What (Spinelli) has planned is a way we can mitigate the impacts to the neighborhoods.”

Gellatly said the camps are a horrible idea. He suggested a tiered approach to tackling homelessness, citing similar systems in San Diego and Rhode Island. Tier one, he continued, is making contact at a day center or similar shelter; tier two would help unhoused people connect with mental health or addiction services to help address any underlying issues; and tier three would see them in permanent housing and a job.

“You can move people through the system to get them back on their feet,” Gellatly said. “It’s not compassionate to let these camps be the way they are.”

Perez said that the campsites could work as part of the initial emergency crisis response, but long-term changes will require broader changes to the city’s zoning code to improve housing affordability.

“We can’t just rely on status quo and Band-Aids. We need new ideas,” Perez said. “We must make it pencil out for our residents and our developers when we’re looking at affordability, and we can do that.”

The three candidates will appear on Vancouver residents’ Aug. 3 primary ballot. The incumbent, Mayor Pro Tem Linda Glover, is not seeking reelection.

Columbian staff writer