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Nov. 27, 2021

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Vancouver City Council candidates Blom, Harless see eye-to-eye on issues

Position 1 hopefuls overlap on housing, climate change

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Kim Harless speaks during a candidate forum at Trinity Baptist Church in June.
Kim Harless speaks during a candidate forum at Trinity Baptist Church in June. (Elayna Yussen for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

At first glance, Vancouver City Council candidates Kim Harless and John Blom don’t seem to have much in common.

Their resumes couldn’t be more distinct — Harless, who works for a recycling nonprofit, is an active member of the local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens and frequent volunteer for regional environmental groups. Blom, a real estate broker, served a term as a Republican member of the Clark County Council, where he earned a reputation as a moderate conservative.

But get them talking about issues facing Vancouver, and you’ll find that they overlap on just about every major policy position, from increasing housing density to supporting the city’s ongoing work on a climate action plan.

Blom was elected to the Clark County Council in 2016. In 2020, he dropped his party affiliation and ran for reelection as an independent, citing his belief that local politics should be less partisan. The strategy failed. He was eliminated in the primary election, and the seat ultimately went to the Republican candidate.

But the defeat also positioned Blom to launch his campaign for the nonpartisan Vancouver City Council. He touts his experience in local government as a practical matter.

“I think it’s easy to say things like climate change and homelessness are tremendously important issues, but it’s difficult to translate into, ‘Here’s what the city can do about that,’” Blom said, “to be able to take that into specific policy actions that the city can do.”

Harless is also a policy wonk — in addition to her tenure as chair of the Clark County Charter Review Commission, she spent nearly a decade handling waste and recycling systems for Clark County Public Health.

Most of her volunteer work has been centered around food security, with the goal of ensuring vulnerable communities have equal access to affordable nutrition. In candidate forums, she speaks about her own experiences growing up in Vancouver on the knife’s edge of poverty.

If elected, she pointed out, she’d be the first Indigenous person on the Vancouver City Council, which has a long, homogenous history of white-only councils.

“A lot of organizations and individuals have reached out to me just saying how proud they are that I’m even running,” Harless said. “I’m a first-generation everything.”

Policing and reform

Both are broadly supportive of the Vancouver Police Department and concerned about a recent report from the police chief indicating that the department is struggling to hire and retain enough staff.

“Right now, we’re not keeping pace with population as far as what’s been the ratio in the past, and possibly best practices,” Harless said. “Police are having to go from call to call, and not having opportunities to be more involved in neighborhoods.”

Harless said she’d once considered joining the Vancouver Police Department. Does she think that the discourse surrounding policing — which grew more critical in the last few years in the face of high profile use-of-force incidents locally and nationally — was earned?

“Yes and no. I think what it’s done is highlighted opportunities for our VPD,” Harless said. She added that she was excited to see the state grant that was recently awarded to the city’s Enhanced Mobile Crisis Response Team, allowing them to increase their ranks from three to six mental health responders.

Asked about the broader conversation surrounding law enforcement reform, Blom said he’s witnessed “a real loss of respect” toward the profession.

“I’m afraid that within that conversation, it’s been lost that the majority of police officers and law enforcement professionals out there in the community are doing it because they want to serve the communities they’re in,” Blom said.

Supported homeless encampments

The two candidates also shared optimism — and some trepidation — toward Vancouver’s new homelessness strategy. Staff are working toward opening supported, fenced campsites for unhoused people, hoping to have three sites up and running by the end of the year.

“If done right, it can be a really good temporary measure,” Blom said. “I don’t think it’s a perfect solution by any means.”

Both Harless and Blom agreed that the program’s success will come down to the staff on the ground. Vancouver city councilors awarded the operational contract for the first camp to nonprofit Outsiders Inn in September.

“There just has to be enforcement of laws. What wasn’t done right was when you saw people dealing and using drugs outside the Navigation Center, and there was virtually no response to that,” Blom said, referring to a day center for unhoused people in central Vancouver that closed permanently in March 2020.

“There has to be some enforcement of rules. This is common society, there are just some things that are not OK.”

Harless said she considers the campsites a necessary stopgap to help improve conditions for people living outside.

“I don’t think anyone enjoys or likes seeing folks have to live outside. But we have individuals that have no choice but to do that, and if we just continue to let it go, you have a huge public health situation,” Harless said. “Right now, we don’t have enough shelters. We just don’t. And they’re not going to pop up tomorrow.”

Blom and Harless will appear on Vancouver voters’ Nov. 2 general election ballot. They’re running for the Position 1 spot currently held by Laurie Lebowsky, who isn’t seeking reelection but has said she’ll support Blom in his bid.

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