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March 1, 2024

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Vancouver compiles ‘comprehensive’ list of legislative priorities

Agenda being prepared for beginning of new statehouse session Jan. 9

By , Columbian staff writer

In preparation for Washington’s upcoming legislative session, the city of Vancouver is in the process of compiling its most robust list of priorities yet.

“This is hands down our more comprehensive legislative agenda that we have put forward while I have been affiliated with the city,” said Brian Enslow, Vancouver’s consultant from lobbying firm Arbutus Consulting.

He told the council Monday that the collection will remain adaptive leading to Washington’s 2023 legislative session on Jan. 9.

The assortment of budget and policy items features the usual suspects, such as the I-5 Bridge replacement, Southwest Washington’s regional police training facility and fire station remodels. Included in the list was Vancouver’s backing of annexation laws, as it seeks to incorporate more of its existing urban growth area.

Other areas gained more consideration.

Aid during regional housing crisis

There was a slight setback when determining how to properly define the city’s efforts in tackling housing affordability.

The concern stemmed from the Association of Washington Cities’ anticipated package to establish a statewide baseline for boosting housing availability and affordability. The proposal, while still permitting cities to implement local solutions, focuses on expanding Washington’s “missing middle,” or multi-family housing types.

“My No. 1 concern is, I want to make sure we’re in the room where conversations are happening around these issues,” Mayor Pro Tem Ty Stober said. “I’m concerned that if we tie ourselves to this proposal, that will be a hindrance for us to be effective and advocate during the session.”

Stober emphasized his support to expand upon housing stock and affordability but is not interested in the association’s specific recommendations to get there. Council member Sarah Fox agreed with Stober, adding that the initiative is broad and doesn’t directly apply to Vancouver.

“I believe that our city does want more control over the type of changes that we’d like to make toward zoning,” she said. “We’ve already taken the lead on how we’re going to address housing affordability.”

To further Vancouver’s homelessness response, the city will advocate for the creation of an additional .25 percent real estate excise tax to directly fund these efforts.

Furthering climate goals

Washington’s new Climate Commitment Act, a recently passed law designed to curtail emissions by imposing carbon offset fees on companies, will roll out in early January. With its incoming implementation, the city will endorse a percentage of the policy’s funds being provided to local municipalities with established climate plans.

Enslow urged cautious optimism, though, as the state’s short-term economic outlook is uncertain, and it is not guaranteed what the policy’s monetary return would be.

“It’s always a little bit murky when you’re trying to forecast the economy and various pieces of it,” he said. “What we are seeing what was originally estimated for the fiscal impact of the Climate Commitment Act is likely something less than significant but enough that it creates opportunity.”

Vancouver also supports state policies to incentivize decarbonization efforts, such as creating rebate programs for electric vehicle purchases or allowing public utilities to incentivize customers to switch to more sustainable fuel types.

Further policy notes

Vancouver’s outlook coincides with much of the Association of Washington Cities’ priorities, including providing behavioral health resources, funding the Public Works Assistance Account and advocating for clarification surrounding the Blake drug-possession decision.

Among this list of policy items was providing support for ranked choice voting, a move that Fox disagreed with, saying it didn’t reflect locals’ interests. Although the voting method is included in the city’s charter, she recalled Clark County’s recent failed attempt to adopt ranked choice voting.

“To put it forward as a city supports the rank choice voting might be incongruent to what our citizens actually do support,” Fox said.

Columbian staff writer