The list includes a mix of new names and a few familiar ones
VANCOUVER — The 2019 August Primary Election comes up on Tuesday, and one race in particular could prove to be interesting.
Vancouver City Council Position 6, which is being left vacant after Council Member Bill Turlay decided to retire, has no fewer than seven people vying for the seat. The list includes some well-known names, some political newcomers, and most seeking elected office for the first time.
Jeanne Stewart will be, perhaps, the most well-known name. Stewart served on the Vancouver City Council previously from 2001 until 2013, when Alishia Topper defeated her. Topper is now Clark County Treasurer and Stewart most recently lost her bid for re-election to the county council’s District 1 seat to Temple Lentz.
Sarah Fox has been a previous runner-up for Vancouver City Council, and twice been considered for vacated seats. Fox is currently an urban planner for the city of Camas, and was instrumental in crafting that city’s new urban forestry code aimed at protecting old growth trees. She is also a military veteran and previously worked in the construction industry.
Diana Perez works for the U.S. Forest Service and has served on a number of boards and commissions, including the Diversity Advisory Team for Vancouver Police, member of the Stronger Vancouver Executive Sponsors committee, and the governor’s State Parks and Recreation commission.
Paul Montague is a Marine veteran who owns a tax preparation service in Vancouver. He served as executive director of the Battle Ground Chamber of Commerce before it merged with the Greater Vancouver chapter. Montague is also executive director of Identity Clark County, and sits on a number of boards, including Columbia Credit Union, the Fort Vancouver Regional Library Foundation, and West Evergreen Habitat for Humanity.
Adam Aguilera is a teacher in the Evergreen School District and local union leader with the Evergreen Education Association and the Washington Education Association. He also serves as director of the Board of Professional Educator Standards. Aguilera is also a small business owner, operating The Potted Elephant, which sells succulents and other plant varieties out of a Portland greenhouse.
Mike Pond is a graduate of Western Washington University where he majored in the arts, but says he fell in love with politics. He currently serves as a precinct committee officer for the 49th Legislative District and has helped to run a number of area campaigns. Pond currently works as a marketing specialist for a local printing company and is a former Eagle Scout.
Dorel Singeorzan is senior pastor at Emanuel Church in Portland, a Romanian congregation. He has also served as a precinct committee officer. He also worked as a baker in his native Romania before moving to the United States. Singeorzan did not attend a recent League of Women Voters candidate forum, and did not return ClarkCountyToday.com’s questionnaire. There is a link to his campaign website at the end of this article.
The following is a recap of a July 17 League of Women Voters candidate forum, which aired on CVTV.org. Our article touches on the issues that are top of mind for most voters, but is by no means exhaustive. We encourage you to watch the entire candidate forum embedded within this article.
Homelessness and Housing Affordability
The forum started out with a question on housing affordability, and what kind of role the city should play in working to keep rent reasonable and making sure there are enough homes available to those making less than a median wage.
“This is a regional issue. This is a West Coast issue,” said Montague. “This is something we are seeing in all major metropolitan areas.”
Montague said he would continue to encourage mixed-use development and address changes to zoning codes to allow new types of housing within the city. He also said the city needs to continue looking to bring in businesses that provide higher-wage jobs.
Aguilera agreed, saying additional housing options, such as duplexes, triplexes, accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and cottage housing could give people more options at affordable prices.
“I think right now we are witnessing a massive transition of wealth between our households, and I think we’re going back to multi generational housing,” he said. “So we need to make sure that we have housing that adjusts to that.”
Pond said the question really is about rent control, which is a state issue, “so if you want to lobby our state representatives, that’s a good way to make changes in this effort.”
But Pond agreed the city of Vancouver has done well to encourage the building of more affordable housing, increasing rental assistance programs to keep people from losing their homes, and increasing eviction notice windows from 30 to 60 days. The city also has a 45-day window for rental increase notices, and could soon increase time for evictions for failure to pay rent from three days to two weeks.
“That really gives renters an opportunity to get that second paycheck in and pay their rent and not be evicted,” said Pond, “because social science tells us that it is more affordable to keep our individuals housed than to rehouse them after they’re homeless.”
The other candidates were generally in lock-step that more creativity was needed with zoning, housing types, and ways to keep people in their homes.
The issue naturally led into the topic of homelessness, which has seen a sharp increase in Vancouver over recent years, both in terms of raw numbers and the visibility of chronic homelessness around the city.
Stewart said part of the solution needs to start with a better understanding of the numerous causes of homelessness, and making sure people who just need a hand getting back on their feet can have quicker access to those programs.
“Having come just from Clark County Council, I will say that the people that are the problematic homeless are frequently suffering from alcohol addiction, drug addiction, and many, many are mentally ill,” said Stewart. “We have drug court and alcohol court and veterans court so that, rather than go to jail, people can choose to go into a treatment program.”
Stewart added that, for people who suffer from mental illness, “we should be ashamed of ourselves that those poor people live on the streets and are subject to the criminal conduct of others, we need to do something about that.”
Montague said he agrees more work needs to be done to figure out how to help those who would best benefit from programs that currently exist. But he also said more needs to be done to make it easier for people to navigate the complex system of housing and rental assistance programs.
“I had a conversation … with a friend who I would have never guessed was homeless for six years, “ said Montague. “And she spent two and a half months waiting for Counsel for the Homeless, and then another five to six weeks to find a place in a home. But it’s a confusing system for those folks.”
Aguilera pointed to recent issues surrounding the city’s homeless Navigation Center as a key indicator of how problematic the issue of homelessness has become.
“We can’t have one center be the one stop shop, like the Walmart that’s across the street from it, to serve all of our residents,” he said. “We must have transition steps of services to be able to have a prevention model in our city where we prevent families from becoming homeless.”
Fox said the city’s Affordable Housing Fund is a good first step, but it could be another year or two before the full effectiveness of the funding is known. Fox added that one idea being explored is a program to match houseless seniors with others who have a place.
“And I think those sorts of creative ideas are what we need to really continue to promote with our Proposition One funds,” she said, “and that’s how we’re going to start making an impact on our homeless problem.”
The candidates were also asked to weigh in on the state of police training in the wake of four officer-involved shootings in Vancouver earlier this year, three of which involved members of the black community.
Perez, who has served as a member of the Chief’s Diversity Advisory Team, said she is well aware that police officers go through a tremendous amount of training. However, she said the timing of that training, in her view, needs to improve.
“So when they come on board, let’s not wait a year before they have their first critical training,” she said,”let’s make sure that they get it before they start going out into the community.”
Stewart said her experience leads her to believe the Vancouver Police Department and the Clark County Sheriff’s Office are doing everything in their power to hire good people and train them well.
“It is difficult to recruit police officers, it’s difficult to put them through training. There’s one academy, it’s not in the local area. It costs a lot of money,” said Stewart. “They go through background checks you would not imagine.”
Stewart added that, in her view, police departments are working incredibly hard to adjust to the needs of the community and increase training for officers.
Aguilera said it’s his understanding that officers do regularly go through de-escalation training, and are taught to recognize implicit and explicit biases.
“As professional development trainer in that field, I would definitely like to look at how we can continually improve that,” he said, “because there’s always room and opportunity to be able to improve what kind of training we are providing all of our city staff members.”
Aguilera said he would support the addition of police body cameras and dash cameras in patrol cards to protect both officers and the community.
“I think that the standard should be that Vancouver is a place where residents and citizens should be able to come home at night and are not shot by the police,” said Pond. “So zero fatalities should be our goal.”
Pond said he would seek to accomplish that through attempting to recruit officers who are in line with the diversity of the community, so that minority communities feel more comfortable with the police.
On the topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion within city government, the candidates generally agreed that good work is already being done on that front.
Aguilera, an adult trainer for professional development, said he would be interested to see what kind of diversity and inclusiveness training city employees receive.
“When you look at some of the professional development training that is offered, there’s an aging video on diversity, harassment, inclusion that you can find where it’s very prescriptive,” he said, “the participants that are involved in the training video.”
He said as part of city council he would like to focus on making sure diversity training is current with modern terms and ideas.
“As we continue to grow and diversify as citizens and residents, we need to make sure that that diversity is matched in in our city,” said Pond. “We need to make sure that … developments are looked at through a diversity and inclusion lens, seeing how we can make sure that all residents of Vancouver are feeling welcome as we move forward and continue to grow as a city.”
Fox said one change she might look to make is reducing or eliminating the cost of tests required as part of an application to become a police officer.
“I think that’s a barrier to some of some in our population, it reduces the chance of some taking those tests,” said Fox. “I was actually a linguist in the military, and we got an extra pay benefit for our level of fluency in languages. And I think having an incentive for our employees, to know languages and to be proficient in them, would also help promote better communication throughout all of our departments.”
Perez added that diversity and inclusiveness training usually happens only for top managers in city department, and that she would like to see the training expanded further.
“The people on the ground who are face-to-face with the customer or the resident … need that training as well,” she said, adding that inclusiveness is more than just an occasional training. “It’s a change in mindset. Who is not at the table? Who are we not hearing from? Who has the power, and who doesn’t have the power? And what are those unintended consequences that we are going to face?”
Preparing for the Interstate Bridge replacement
Candidates were also asked to weigh in on the future project to replace the Interstate Bridge, and what they felt the city could be doing to help prepare residents for a long stretch of even more difficult daily commuting.
“Unfortunately, that project is not just a city of Vancouver issue, or we would have already had it solved by now,” said Pond. “We need to have a seat at the table in the discussion of what the mass transit component is of that bridge. If we’re not increasing capacity across that bridge, we’re not going to improve the problem and the issue for years to come.”
Fox said the city needs to be focused on communication ahead of any project to prepare the public for what will happen and “to really have alternative modes for everyone to get back and forth, get to their jobs, and not have a huge snarl all during construction.”
Perez expanded on that, saying she would explore the idea of incentivizing Clark County residents to use mass transit during the construction project.
“The other thing is that it’s not just I-5, it’s 205 as well,” she added. “It’s Highway 14, it’s our neighbors that live in Camas and Washougal, it’s all our arterial routes, so everything is connected.”
Stewart has been a strong advocate of a third Columbia River crossing ahead of a new Interstate Bridge, and warned that it remains likely any replacement won’t solve the existing traffic problems.
“I’m concerned [with] the impact it’ll have on downtown Vancouver, where we’re building many, many high-rise multi-story apartment buildings,” added Stewart. “And if this goes on for eight years, 24 hours a day, it is going to have an impact on that housing and the revenue.”
Montague said he lived and breathed the I-5 Bridge project for three years as part of Identity Clark County, and said his understanding was that construction would likely happen in stages meant to minimize impact to traffic wherever possible.
“Vancouver City Council, we need to make sure we’re staying on top of it and communicating the needs of our citizens and businesses,” added Montague.
Aguilera went a step further, throwing his support behind the idea of a frog ferry system, “where commuters can hop back and forth the Columbia River, from Vancouver to Portland, and then Portland to Vancouver in order to get to work and to meet those needs as we are building a new bridge.”
Outside of a new Interstate Bridge, Aguilera said he hopes Vancouver and the Southwest Washington region embraces longer term economic growth to encourage high-wage, high-tech jobs, so there are more career options outside of the Portland metro area.
“We have amazing and innovative entrepreneurs that are creating their own businesses here in our city … creating living wage jobs,” he concluded. “And that is the future of Vancouver.”
To learn more about each individual candidate you can visit their campaign websites.
(In alphabetical order)
You can view the entire Vancouver City Council, Position 6 League of Women Voters candidate forum by skipping to the 1:01:07 mark in the CVTV.org video embedded below.