The forum was put on by the League of Women Voters and the Battle Ground Chamber of Commerce
BATTLE GROUND — The candidates to become Clark County’s second council chair faced off Thursday afternoon at the Battle Ground Community Center. The forum, hosted by the League of Women Voters of Clark County and the Battle Ground Chamber of Commerce, saw current District 4 Councilor Eileen Quiring face off against political newcomer Eric Holt over a number of topics, including affordable housing, jobs, and the county budget.
The half-hour forum, which was recorded for playback on CVTV, included nine questions and gave each candidate between 90 seconds and two minutes to answer. Quiring started by touting her experience and readiness to take over the top job on the five-member council. Holt talked about the importance of having someone as chair who will listen to citizens and be willing to work with both sides to get things done.
On the issue of dealing with the county’s Comprehensive Growth Plan, Quiring said the most important element will be making sure they’re getting accurate data.
“That model needs to be correct. If you actually exploit these numbers what happens is that they can be terribly wrong,” she told the lunchtime crowd. “You know, garbage in, garbage out … You have to get your base information correct, and sometimes we have not allowed for enough growth in our Growth Management Plan.”
Quiring added that the county is currently working on implementing a model to determine how much need there is for agricultural land, in order to be careful with preserving open space while allowing room for growth. Holt said he believes the council has failed to properly follow language in the Growth Management Act intended to provide for parks and green space in the midst of growth.
“The quality of life is such a huge part of why Clark County is such an amazing place to live,” said Holt. “And if we lose that, for the sake of industry or the sake of building more homes, we lose a vital piece of what draws people into the county.”
The candidates’ views about the future of growth in Clark County was probably most notably different when talking about the suddenly controversial plan to allow freight rail dependent development along a stretch of the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad south of Brush Prairie.
“Any kind of industry that we bring in, we have to realize we’re going to have an incredible amount of infrastructure that has to come in with it,” said Holt. “Not just replacing the rails … but we also have to create roads and systems that can handle 50,000-60,000 more trucks.”
Instead, he would like to see a focus on agritourism which Holt believes would bring in more sustained revenue growth than the property taxes that industrial businesses would pay.
“We could make an immense amount of money in sales taxes just having tourists be able to enjoy this beautiful county that we have,” he said.
Quiring, who has been a supporter of the freight rail dependent development, countered that she sees it as an opportunity to bring living wage jobs to the county and reduce the reliance on Portland.
“There are industries — clean industries — that have come forward,” says Quiring, citing a recent report from the Columbia River Economic Development Council. “About 14 of them. Some providing thousands of jobs, some providing hundreds of jobs.”
As for concerns of neighbors, Quiring says she’s well aware of the potential problems, but believes the planning commission and council can craft a compromise that people will be able to live with.
“We are going to protect the neighbors,” she said. “And it does not have to be heavy industrial, it can be light industrial, we just have to carefully do that as we go forward.”
The next question dealt with the county budget as it pertains to funding mandated services and things the public has demanded. Quiring cited the requirement from citizens that they fund new parks, something she says she supports, but also realizes puts pressure on other areas.
“We have to maintain these parks,” Quiring says. “Part of the problem is that we do need to maintain it, but because our people want it, they have voted for it, we need to continue to do that.”
In his response to the question, Holt said he believes the county can both fulfill the desire by citizens to maintain the area’s rural nature, and also increase revenue.
“So many incredible opportunities that we’re not taking advantage of,” Holt says, referring back to the Chelatchie Prairie rail line development idea. “Clark County needs to be an economic engine, but it needs to be an engine of the future, not of the 1800’s.”
Another divergent point seemed to be the issues of homelessness and affordable housing, with councilor Quiring repeatedly saying new housing is needed to help keep the cost of a home within reach.
“That doesn’t mean going out into the hinterlands and paving over paradise,” she said. “I don’t mean that at all. I mean you have to allow some of these lands to be opened so that we can provide housing for the people in our county to be able to live.”
“Affordable housing is not something that can be taken care of by just building more houses throughout the county,” countered Holt. “You deal with affordable housing by raising the wages of the people who live here so that they can afford the houses that we already have.”
As for homelessness, Quiring said they had just heard from the Council for the Homeless at a work session this week. “It’s a huge problem,” she said, “and, you know, the answers are hard. They are not easy answers.”
But she said the county is working actively with its partners in the city of Vancouver to help fund as many programs as possible to help people dealing with addiction, or seeking a second chance after getting out of jail. Holt agreed that those programs are necessary to helping as many people as possible who are homeless.
“The most important thing we can do for people in that situation is to give them dignity and opportunity,” Holt said.
The issue of intervention and prevention also played into a discussion of the impending Clark County Jail issue, which an advisory committee is currently working on. Quiring and Holt were largely in agreement that more needs to be done to help keep people struggling with mental illness and drug addiction out of the jail system, so that they can be more effectively rehabilitated and make room for more serious offenders.
Both also agreed that the current jail facility is both inadequate and outdated, in addition to being largely unsafe for Sheriff’s office employees. There was little discussion of how the county would pay for an upgraded or brand new jail facility, but both candidates agreed that it will be a daunting task.
On the topic of county government, Holt and Quiring were asked whether they felt changes needed to be made to the county Home Rule Charter adopted in 2016. Both said that they feel more time is needed to figure out if any changes need to be made. Quiring admitted that she was opposed to the charter when it was proposed, but now believes it has been largely a positive change.
A secondary question to that one was whether the position of councilor should be changed to a nonpartisan one. Holt said he didn’t believe any local government position should be partisan. “I mean, how partisan is a pothole or a streetlight?” he quipped. “The problem is a lot of voters aren’t educated on the issues, and so having partisan races allows them kind of a cheat sheet of who shares their values, even though it might not always be that accurate.”
Quiring disagreed, “because I actually believe that Democrats and Republicans have various stances on the issues and those who do vote — we’re not dumbing it down. We’re actually allowing people to know what the basics of those two individuals are.”
ClarkCountyToday.com will conduct individual interviews with Quiring and Holt ahead of the Nov. 6 general election. If you have any questions you would like us to ask the candidates, sound off in the comments below. You can also email [email protected].