Port Townsend council contenders discuss housing, deer, infrastructure at candidate forum

James Sloan jsloan@ptleader.com
Posted 10/13/21

rastructure, and helping the homeless dictated the debate for Port Townsend City Council hopefuls as they traded ideas at a candidate forum late last week.

Candidates for Position 1, Ben Thomas …

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Port Townsend council contenders discuss housing, deer, infrastructure at candidate forum

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Affordable housing, crumbling infrastructure, and helping the homeless dictated the debate for Port Townsend City Council hopefuls as they traded ideas at a candidate forum late last week.

Candidates for Position 1, Ben Thomas and Cameron Jones, along with Position 5 candidates Tyler Vega and Libby Wennstrom, met Thursday for the forum, sharing their visions for the city’s future.

Candidates fielded more than a dozen questions during the online affair, ranging from housing shortages for the workforce to the overpopulation of deer.

The candidates were questioned on the chronic disrepair of many local roads, and weathering and erosion issues plaguing infrastructure.

“It goes back to lessening our reliance on these large concrete slabs for transportation, returning to more of a green system, so more green space, less parking,” Jones said.

He suggested “water gardens that take away the water that’s flooding down the streets, [to] prevent it from going into the oceans.”

“Besides affordable housing, potholes seem to come up most when I’m talking to people,” Thomas said. “It’s symbolic that things aren’t working well if they see [potholes] driving over a bad road. It feels like that’s where it comes down to, a symbolic sign that we’re not taking care of our town.”

Next, candidates were asked to comment on the housing shortage for Port Townsend’s workforce.

“I’d love to see things like eliminating the off-street parking requirements in town,” Thomas said. “That off-street parking rule really does limit what people can do with their properties. Small units on less land, I think, is the basic theme I would use.”

Jones commented, “I think again it goes back to the single-family zoning, getting rid of that, increasing the amount of ADUs (accessory dwelling units) that can be on a single lot within city limits. I think long-term it’s really establishing relationships within the community with other organizations like Habitat for Humanity, the housing land trust[s], different housing authorities that can really create ownership of land that is affordable, that’s not just economically capitalist-based.”

Jones and Thomas were also questioned on potential solutions for the city’s deer overpopulation.

“What I’ve to say about this may not be popular,” Jones said.

“They’re a food source, and I think we’ve forgotten, ourselves in this system, we are a part of an ecosystem. And I’m not saying ‘everybody go out there and kill some deer,’ but there is a certain level where we can manage the population by either trapping and processing them for food.”

He further detailed negative environmental and economic impacts that the deer bring.

Thomas suggested sterilizing the animals.

“All the methods that I have researched are costly for lowering the deer population. I’ve been hearing some people’s thoughts, there’s still a lot of things that I feel like would have a hard time getting through,” Thomas said.

Vega and Wennstrom, the Position 5 hopefuls, came next, answering 14 questions centered around homelessness, the local economy, and incentivizing property owners to rent out unused spaces.

Both candidates focused on the need for a more holistic approach to homelessness.

“When somebody’s having a crisis, what they really need is not two days in jail and a whole bunch of court time, but access to services whether that’s housing, whether that’s navigating mental health, et cetera,” Wennstrom said. “It’s a complicated problem and it’s not one that we’re gonna all solve on our own.”

“We know just shuffling people along and punishing them for being poor, broke, or unstable doesn’t work,” Vega said. “It just dials back to housing, the only thing the city can really do is do what we’re already doing and continue to do, which is figuring out this housing crisis.”

Candidates were then asked to discuss boosting Port Townsend’s economy.

“I’m actually a really big proponent of the worker-owned co-op,” Vega answered.

“It’s going to keep small businesses here, it’s going to allow younger people, all people, to keep their jobs, and to write their own destinies in ways that I believe, on a very holistic and grand scale, we need to be doing in order to make it in these times.”

Wennstrom emphasized the power of keeping dollars local.

“It’s been shown over and over again that local dollars really matter, that if local people are spending money in local businesses, those dollars go around and around and provide a much bigger impact than a dollar that comes in and gets spent outside the community,” she said. “I’d like to see the city doing more small business incubator support, partnering with Main Street, partnering with the chamber [of commerce].”

How would each candidate appeal to existing property owners to rent out unused spaces for affordable housing?

“There’s a lot of existing ADUs that aren’t currently being rentals, and that is probably the biggest bang for the buck in terms of getting some housing online quickly,” Wennstrom responded. “I’d also like to really prevail on people who have second homes, would you consider renting this out for the school year?”

Vega was no stranger to the idea.

“This conversation comes up all the time, the vacancy tax comes up again and again and again. I don’t know what the nuts and bolts around it would be, but it seems like a no-brainer,” he said. “In this economy, in this world, money talks and it would alleviate problems elsewhere because we’re bringing revenue so we can deal with some other problems.”

The forum was hosted by the League of Women Voters of Jefferson County, with Renee Klein moderating the discussion. Candidates were given one hour per council position to persuade voters, and were given two minutes each per answer, along with opening statements.

Thomas was raised in Port Townsend, and is a winemaker at the Port Townsend Vineyards.

“We have a 2-year-old, my wife and I, and that informs a lot of why I’m running for city council, because I think the decisions you make today bears fruit often 20, 40 years down the line,” Thomas said.

Cameron Jones is a partner at Woodbridge Farm in the Chimacum Valley, and moved to Port Townsend around eight years ago after serving in the Army Reserve.

“From the time I’ve been here since 2013, I’ve realized that there’s been a lack of representation for the working class folks, especially BIPOC folks on city council,” Jones said.

Jones plans to apply his experience in the agricultural industry to city council, utilizing a holistic approach to meeting the needs of residents with an intergenerational perspective on the future of the town.

Vega was born in Seattle and moved to Port Townsend six years ago, is a field technician for Dailey Computer Consulting, and ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 with the Green Party.

“Politics is not really new to me, but I come from an activism angle,” Vega said. “What we need is a wide spectrum of viewpoints on this council, and I believe I bring that to the table.”

Wennstrom has lived in Port Townsend the past 23 years, and has served as the director of the local farmers market, a volunteer coordinator for the Wooden Boat Festival, and a reporter for the Port Townsend Leader.

The candidate forum will be available for viewing at https://lwvwa.org/Jefferson.

Comments

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Jim Harkins

All consideration of killing deer for food must necessarily include testing of every single piece of flesh before it is served to any living thing. In the United States, we have a little something growing called a prion. It is slowly configuring itself to human beings, and one of the ways it does so, it's by human beings ingesting prion-infected deer. Would you like Port Townsend to be the world's next Wuhan? This prion would make our present little virus look like a cakewalk. Nothing known to humankind, defeats prions. No heat, bleach, freeze or medication destroys them. Keep this in mind as you discuss these plans. Dear north of us are already suffering from a wasting disease. We would do well at best to move the deer, or leave them alone. Did you learn nothing at all from Wujan? People lately are crying because the deer are aggressive. But we have a homeless man living in our midst who has nearly 300 counts against him of aggression and assault on our citizens. Maybe put some of that deer "culling" energy into keeping the rest of us safe from mentally ill antisocial people who have nowhere to live because you geniuses closed down all the mental care homes because they weren't profitable enough. Feeding them deer is not the answer to our problems.

Wednesday, October 13
HarveyW-Collateral Damage

"Candidates were then asked to discuss boosting Port Townsend’s economy."

“It goes back to lessening our reliance on these large concrete slabs for transportation, returning to more of a green system, so more green space, less parking,” Jones said.

Sounds great!!!!!!!!!!!!! Less access for business. Genius. Everyone can walk or bike. Simple. Should cut down customer base by at least 90%

“I’m actually a really big proponent of the worker-owned co-op,” Vega answered.

Great dream. Takes time. In the mean time the City Council has encouraged less business access due to no parking plan, enforcement, or education. A me first culture was born.

The false narrative is that its good for business, but visitors don't know about free all day parking, contrary to posted 2 hour signage in most of the Historic District. Employees and residents do. And dozens take advantage. Today, 7 years of yesterdays, and it looks like tomorrow ad infinitum. Some claim parking plans and enforcement are a "jackboot police state". Well off folk in political office ignoring laws and running the town and Fort Worden like a private club is Fascism.

Hotel and condo plans go forward with no consideration for parking. A crisis is managed into existence. It takes years to do so. Parking is eliminated, such as allowing the Maritime Center's new building that takes its lot to draw more visitors with a new structure. The Port Commissioners say not many used the pay lot. The do not connect the dots. That was due to free all day illegal but not illegal parking sponsored by the City Council and Real Estate focused 3 time appointed mayor.

If you open an ice cream store and the city gives free ice cream to all across the street, you won't be around for long.

Here comes the Marine Science center at the other end of town. More parking needed as it is eliminated, such as the Parklet at Water and Adams that used to be parking. The tool was Main Street. The City Manager and other special interests fingerprints are all over that. Seems the average Leader Reader isn't paying much attention.

Elect who you will. The next Appointed Mayor will be an attorney, Faber, who voted for the 1.2 million dollar visitor center park, does not stand up to enforce parking Municipal Codes meant to keep special interests from grabbing more than they should, and has done nothing regarding deteriorating roads. Not to mention the 17 million debt the city spends 1.7 million a year to pay for.

Faber in the past has said institutional continuity is important. Unless the continuity is in a downward spiral some do well in.

I had the chance to speak with a customer who turned out to have been a City Manager in 5 different Cities. He complained about full parking. We spoke of corruption. In one City he was fired for not approving of a new public building that was not needed. He was hired to save money. 20 years later the FBI contacted him regarding a Council member who was set to do serious prison time for selling influence. Some things really do take time. Of course this is Port Townsend. Nothing like that could happen here. No matter how it looks. Glad the new Police Chief has FBI training. When does parking planning, education, and last enforcement start for real. Without access and fairness no city flourishes for ALL.

Now, go vote for someone who understands cause and effect, the true big picture, and can connect dots. Faber will be ready to help. As he has been. What about the questionable experience of City Manager Mauro. Council ignored it. All smiles.

The last thing the City Manager with 5 cities in his experience said to me was. "Especially in small towns, people get the government they deserve." I expect we deserve the slow strangulation we have been experiencing, voters. Don't expect any revelations from the Leader.

Wednesday, October 13
Barney

Tyler and Libby are both caring, thoughtful people, but their answers to several questions were disappointing.

Libby said a question about whether city capital spending for streets is in sync with the needs and priorities of the average citizen was "weird." She went down a rabbit hole of semantics to argue that decisions on the capital budget for streets are of no importance; it's goals that matter. Then she all but scolded voters for supposedly misunderstanding city finances.

I'm the person who submitted that question, and I know city finances pretty well. The point she didn't "hear" is: With so few dollars in our capital budget for streets, should we squander them on just any idea that pops up or use our comprehensive plan and broad community input?

What did we spend on closing one block of Adams to vehicles, adding a handful of parking spaces at the visitors center, making Washington more hazardous to bicyclists and pedestrians, and adding a sidewalk but not bike lanes to Hastings, for example?

And why the sudden urge to spend tons of money replacing trees on Sims? Perhaps the average person would rather fix Lawrence Street before it turns to dust. The lack of disabled ramps in that area and elsewhere is shameful. [as Libby noted, some of the excess fire levy revenue is being allocated for accessibility projects, which I support even though it contradicts Libby's suggestion that street projects can't be funded by anything but street capital; there are legitimate ways to leverage our capital budgets).

It's not weird to ask the public to weigh in long before deciding to build one project at the cost of not being able to build others; it's the right thing to do.

Tyler seemed to suggest we can't set meaningful priorities as long as we have significant income inequality, but I wish he would recognize infrastructure is nonetheless a tool for addressing this. We need to make timely, smart investments in infrastructure if we're going to facilitate affordable housing, enhance nonmotorized transportation, mitigate the effects of climate change on people, etc.

The next time someone who stargazes once or twice a year proposes removing street lights, I hope Tyler will point out how the adverse effects of this are felt especially by lower income people. Why should people who can't afford a car have to walk to the bus or the grocery store on a darker, more dangerous street? It compounds the existing disparity of cities prioritizing citizens with cars over those who can't afford (or can't drive) cars.

Libby and Tyler puzzled over a question about a "no-idle" ordinance to reduce carbon and pollution. How would it ever be enforced, they wondered. Would it apply if you're delayed 30 seconds at F and San Juan during rush hour?

Come on now, lots of cities have done this. At the Edmonds ferry line, signs inform drivers of Edmonds' no-idle policy. Like speed limits, the goal is to encourage people to do the right thing for the common good: Don't keep spewing harmful exhaust when your vehicle is parked.

And then there's the deer crisis. Can we please put this aside until we make a dent in affordable housing, climate change, mental health and substance abuse, etc.?

Friday, October 15
HarveyW

Barney-

"adding a handful of parking spaces at the visitors center," is not true. Spaces were reduced. The area now with upscale weeds and concrete de luxe was an open gravel area that many cars, fishing folk with trailers, and RV's needing easy access to the Visitor Center used historically for years. No public input on 1.2 million including $600k financed to create what most or all on Council voted for. Without any public discussion.

Just correcting a mis statement. Seems the de railed train will continue on with a few new passengers in the caboose and an old hand as Appointed Mayor. The City Manager will chant "sustainability". He has a track record now.

Saturday, October 16