No matter which way the Nov. 2 general election swings, the Vancouver City Council will look different next year.
Two incumbents aren’t seeking reelection, leaving a third of the council open for newcomers. But the winner of Position 3 won’t be an unfamiliar name.
Both Diana Perez and David Gellatly have been plugged into local politics for years.
Gellatly is the former chair of the Clark County Republican Party, overseeing the local party organizations for a tumultuous two-year tenure that concluded in 2018 (his successor, Earl Bowerman, is running for Vancouver mayor).
Gellatly continues his leadership role within the party through Activate Republicans, a local political organizing group. He’s emphasized that he doesn’t think partisan politics has any place in city government, and said he decided to launch his campaign for city council “because of what’s going on across the river.”
“Portland is 30 feet away, and the crime, the homelessness, the drug issues, it’s all at our doorstep,” Gellatly said.
Perez has sought a city council seat twice before: once through the appointment process to replace outgoing Councilor Alishia Topper, and again in the 2019 election. She fell short both times.
She has remained active in the Vancouver political sphere, serving on the Community Task Force for Council Representation, a group aimed at improving diversity within city leadership. Perez was also one of the community members to serve on the council that drafted A Stronger Vancouver, a plan that looks to ensure the city can keep up with the needs of its growing population.
“I am running for office because we do need a fresh perspective on our Vancouver City Council. I’m a voice that can really bring people together,” Perez said. “My approach to decisions and policymaking is different to what is on council now.”
Politically, there’s some significant daylight between the two candidates – their opinions on the major policy issues facing the city vary, with different approaches to tackling homelessness, righting Vancouver’s budget and improving relationships between police officers and the community.
Perez is mostly supportive of the city’s plan to establish sanctioned campsites for unhoused people, though she emphasized that it should be a temporary solution while longer-term shelter capacity can be built.
“We have to meet people where they’re at,” Perez said. “(Camping) in an organized way, I think, is better than having nothing.”
“It brings order, and it allows us to insert some accountability, and also to provide some basic needs such as handwashing, bathrooms, and it’s easier to start the process of outreach,” she added.
Gellatly is more skeptical of the supported campsites. He’s not convinced that Vancouver staff will choose locations for the campsites – three sites in total, according to the city’s current plan – without putting an undue burden on the neighbors. He pointed to the Navigation Center, a day shelter for unhoused people in central Vancouver that closed last year amid pressure from neighbors, as an example of what not to do.
“We should be setting parameters where they make sense. Not going to where people decided to camp in the middle of neighborhoods and parks,” Gellatly said.
“We don’t have to let it be a free-for-all in our community. If there’s a bunch of people that want to do drugs and do it in a park and put up a tent, we don’t have to be OK with that.”
The candidates also split on the best way to approach policing reform. Gellatly said he believes that the bills passed by the Legislature this year to address this issue – “based on media narratives that weren’t based on real facts,” he said – will harm the effectiveness of law enforcement.
“Every single one of them went in the wrong direction,” Gellatly continued. “We’re going to see the repercussions for that until they fix it in Olympia, but there’s nothing they can do here on the local level.”
Perez supports a wait-and-see approach on the new legislation.
The new laws include changes to circumstances in which officers can use force, how those use-of-force incidents will be investigated, and the process to decertify an officer, among other reforms.
It’s an opportunity for local law enforcement to think differently about safety, and how it can rebuild trust within the community, Perez continued, citing a 2020 report from the nonprofit Police Executive Research Forum that found 84 suggested reforms for the Vancouver Police Department to adopt.
“We have to let the policies work. We have to give them the opportunity to work,” Perez said. “We need to be able to adapt and to change, and those policies are there because we needed change.”
One place their views largely align is the environment. Both are supportive of the existing council’s ongoing work on a Climate Action Plan.
“I think the city’s on the right track. I think they’re doing it better than most cities,” Gellatly said.
“I’d like to see it moving a little bit faster, obviously,” Perez said.
“I do applaud the city for extending the moratorium on fossil fuels, and hope we can make it permanent,” she added, citing Vancouver’s temporary ban on most new fossil fuel infrastructure within city limits.
Gellatly and Perez are running for Position 3 and will appear on the Nov. 2 general election ballot in Vancouver. The seat is currently held by Mayor Pro Tem Linda Glover, who is not seeking a second term.