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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Traffic and homelessness dominate conversation at Vancouver City Council forum

Residents don’t want the city to remove lanes from McGillivray but do want more camping enforcement

By Alexis Weisend, Columbian staff reporter
Published: June 25, 2024, 2:18pm
5 Photos
The Vancouver City Council held its second community forum of the year Monday night. Residents had concerns about changes to McGillivray Boulevard and homelessness.
The Vancouver City Council held its second community forum of the year Monday night. Residents had concerns about changes to McGillivray Boulevard and homelessness. (James Rexroad for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Homelessness and changes to McGillivray Boulevard were top of mind for residents attending the city of Vancouver’s second community forum of the year Monday night at the Firstenburg Community Center in east Vancouver.

The city holds quarterly community forums with city councilors to hear directly from residents.

Residents expressed frustration over how the city has handled the homeless crisis and pointed to a lack of community input over removing lanes at McGillivray Boulevard. Others expressed support for efforts to fund a 150-bed homeless shelter.

McGillivray Boulevard

The city is planning to remove one car lane in each direction on McGillivray between Southeast Seventh Street and Southeast 164th Avenue. The plan also includes creating a 10-foot-wide mobility lane for pedestrians and cyclists.

“It’s a very poorly thought out plan,” said Mark Christopher, who lives near McGillivray. “We want it to be safe. We really do. But we have to live there for the rest of our lives.”

Currently, the speed limit on the four-lane road is 25 miles per hour, but nearly all vehicles travel as fast as 10 mph above the limit, according to the city of Vancouver. City staff say removing a lane will reduce speeding while maintaining good traffic circulation.

Residents told councilors they feel like the city left them out of the initial planning process, and they’re worried the removal of lanes will increase congestion.

Residents argued the area around McGillivray is an aging community that relies on cars. The road serves residents of Fairway Village, a 55-and-older community. Many can’t bike to get groceries or access services.

People with “Save Our Streets” signs sat at tables outside the forum, urging residents to sign a ballot initiative that would require a vote with a majority of Vancouver residents in favor before the city could remove existing lanes.

Councilor Ty Stober said he understands residents’ concerns but pointed out that, according to the city, Fourth Plain Boulevard west of Interstate 5 has fewer accidents and carries more traffic with two lanes than Mill Plain Boulevard does with six.

Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle said the changes will allow McGillivray to handle more traffic as Vancouver’s population grows.

“We’re remodeling an old town for the next level of individuals coming in,” she said. “If we screw up on McGillivray, we’ll make changes.”

Homelessness issues

Several residents complained about the city not removing tents in certain areas despite the daytime camping ban.

Marina Vile lives behind a sound wall on Mill Plain, where about a dozen people camp in tents. She said there is rampant drug use around her home and people often walk around naked or try to do drugs on her porch. She asked city staff why the campers were allowed to stay.

“I do believe that we all deserve to live in a safe community,” Vile said. “We have to have other solutions to make sure our city is safe.”

Tyler Chavers, the city’s homeless response coordinator and a former Vancouver police officer, said the city prioritizes camping enforcement in certain areas, such as parks.

“We don’t have enough jail space or enough officers to enforce every day everywhere,” Chavers said.

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City Attorney Jonathan Young also pointed to Grants Pass v. Johnson, a case currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, which prohibits cities from enforcing camping bans if there is no available shelter space. Depending on the court’s ruling, which is expected any day, the city of Vancouver could enforce camping bans more often.

“So, when you’re saying, ‘How are we keeping our neighborhoods safe?’ It’s building the bridge shelter,” Chavers said.

The bridge sheltera 150-bed homeless shelter with drug treatment and other attached resources — was another topic of discussion.

The city asked the Clark County Council for quick help securing a property by committing to providing a third of the needed funds through the county’s mental health sales tax. However, the council is making the city go through the lengthy process with other requests for funding.

But that isn’t stopping the city’s plans.

“We’re going to do something that hasn’t been done in 27 years. We’re going to bring back the B&O tax,” McEnerny-Ogle said. The proposed business and occupation tax would be a 0.1 percent tax on retailers.

McEnerny-Ogle said most of the county’s mental health sales tax comes from Vancouver. Residents complained that Vancouver would not be getting a fair cut of the tax revenue if the county doesn’t help fund the bridge shelter.

“As a former social worker, I find that very disturbing because then it spills over in the community,” said Vancouver resident Vicki Abousamra, motioning to Vile.

The city will hold two more community forums this year.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect the correct number of lanes and part of Fourth Plain Boulevard Vancouver City Councilor Ty Stober described.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.