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Vancouver City Council candidates voice ideas at public forum

Candidates for Vancouver City Council, Position 1 participated in a League of Women Voters forum last week

VANCOUVER — Both candidates for Vancouver’s City Council Position 1 shared their opinions at a League of Women Voters forum on Tuesday, at Vancouver Community Library.

Laurie Lebowsky, the incumbent, is running against newcomer Sarah Fox. As the city council position is a non-partisan office, both candidates’ campaigns and responses were centered around their experience and fairly specific examples of changes they hope to see.

Laurie Lebowsky, (left), the incumbent candidate for Vancouver City Council Position 1, with her opponent Sarah Fox, (right), are shown here at a League of Women Voters forum last week. Photo by Mike Schultz
Laurie Lebowsky, (left), the incumbent candidate for Vancouver City Council Position 1, with her opponent Sarah Fox, (right), are shown here at a League of Women Voters forum last week. Photo by Mike Schultz

Each candidate was allowed a minute and a half to respond to seven pre-written questions, posed by a moderator. The first question of the evening focused on the Proposition 1 tax and how candidates believe all revenue from the tax should be spent.

“The specific plans for spending proposition tax, they’re along the lines of purchasing, rehabbing and preventing homelessness,” Fox said. “I think it’s a little too early to opine yet, whether or not the program’s effective, but I do believe that they’ve made great strides in the goals that they’ve set for Proposition 1. I also believe that our voters who put their faith in city council to solve the problem of homelessness and affordable housing, are right to be concerned about how the money’s spent.”

Lebowsky responded with numerical information for several areas related to Proposition 1.

“The affordable housing fund has $42 million dollars to spend over seven years,” Lebowsky said. “The affordable housing fund recently approved $628,237 to go to rehab three homeless shelters and increase their capacity. Under construction we have 81 units, 30 units completed this year. We also provide rental assistance and housing services, and also buying and building low income housing … As a city councilor, we need to ensure that that program is transparent and tax payers money is spent wisely.”

Incumbent candidate for Vancouver City Council, Laurie Lebowsky, was appointed to her current position earlier this year and served as the municipal planner for Clark County prior to being on council. Photo by Mike Schultz
Incumbent candidate for Vancouver City Council, Laurie Lebowsky, was appointed to her current position earlier this year and served as the municipal planner for Clark County prior to being on council. Photo by Mike Schultz

The second question centered around the Vancouver Police Department’s efforts to train officers to de-escalate potentially violent situations. The candidates were also asked to comment on whether or not officers have received anti-bias training.

“I believe those efforts have been pretty effective,” Lebowsky said. “Our Police Chief, (James) McElvain … he has a Police Chief’s Diversity committee, that includes people from the city of Vancouver, and work with the police officers … on addressing different types issues in our city related to violence; related to bias … I believe the police have done a very effective job in addressing violence, and there are grant programs that have been approved for training for bias and de-escalating violent situations in our city.”

Fox responded in a similar fashion, but then elaborated on the potential community opinion.

Candidate for Vancouver City Council, Sarah Fox, has been the president of the American Planning Association for Southwest Washington and has served as a member of the U.S. Army. Photo by Mike Schultz
Candidate for Vancouver City Council, Sarah Fox, has been the president of the American Planning Association for Southwest Washington and has served as a member of the U.S. Army. Photo by Mike Schultz

“I think another part of this question would be how do our citizens feel our police officers are doing,” Fox said. “We have positive community support for officers right now, and I believe that there are some cities that have a much bigger problem with our communities perception of police officers. I think we’re lucky that we aren’t one of those communities at this time because our police officers are well trained, and respond well in situations that have been very tense.”

Questions three and four centered around cost of living, affordable housing and the current status of the new day center for the homeless, along with any solutions or problems the center’s existence may cause.

“The city has a multi-family tax exemption program, they’ve been strengthening it over the last year, that is one of the major roles the city can play,” Fox said. “The day center is on track to be built. It is also the city’s responsibility as a humanitarian responsibility to ensure that everyone has a … safe place to live and stable housing in their community. I have talked to some of the residents in the neighborhood surrounding the new center, and they’ve also shared their fears. That their might be not a good plan for where the population will go at night.”

Lebowsky once more pointed to the numbers.

“Right now we have 1,621 multi-family units under construction, we have approximately 2,600 that are in the land use pipeline right now,” Lebowsky said. “I agree that we need to increase the supply of housing … The navigation center on Fourth Plain and Grand Boulevard, is gonna open November 12. I believe the city should play a role, because homelessness potentially is a public health crisis. And we need to ensure the success of people that need help, and that is one way to do it.”

The next question dealt with police service levels, and the degree of adequacy they currently achieve. Similar responses, overall, were heard from both candidates, with the question of funding solutions already taken care of by the current council.

“They’re not adequate,” Fox said. “We’re trying to hire police officers over the next four years. The funding was actually already asked and answered by city council … They’ve already approved a new set of funding sources, increased the utility tax, they’ve increased the business license fees, so that police services will be funded over the next … time frame I was just mentioning. So in a way this question is not relevant moving forward in the next few months.”

Lebowsky cited statistics and pointed to a need for more officer education once they are hired in Vancouver.

“I don’t know if you all know this, but currently there are approximately 240 police officers right now, who are eligible for retirement,” Lebowsky said. “So we need to get more police officers in the pipeline … We need to have more classes available for our police officers so they’re in the pipeline … We’ve had success recently with attracting police officers from other communities, but I also believe that we need to have officers that are from this community as well, I think their need to be a balance.”

The final two questions dealt with transportation concerns, the I-5 bridge in particularly, in addition to how the city should offer incentives be offered to annex new areas with the city’s growth boundaries.

“I believe the biggest traffic issue in Vancouver is the replacement of the I-5 bridge,” Lebowsky said. “We need to show Olympia we all here in southwest Washington are on the same page, and we want a new I-5 bridge … We need to have a conversation about annexation. Before we talk about incentives, I think we need to have a community conversation about what would our goals be as far as annexation and how we would want the city to look … We need to think about funding, and we have an effort right now called ‘Stronger Vancouver,’ to look at long term funding for our community.”

“Well our biggest issue in Vancouver is, our I-5 bridge; our I-5 corridor,” Fox said. “The way it will be addressed will be a replacement bridge. To get a new I-5 bridge we need these partnerships to be strong, we need to stay on course … I don’t believe our city should be annexing any more areas until we have a revised and updated annexation plan … We have to maintain all of these areas if they are annexed into the city, and I think that … a lot of these areas are really fallen behind in things as simple as road maintenance.”

Lebowsky closed by saying she wants to use her 25 years of experience in economic land development  in Vancouver and that is an “honor to serve.” Her website can be found here.

Fox closed by saying her background in the military and city government help her understand the challenges facing the city and that she is running for the “everyday citizens.” Her website can be found here.

For more information on the race, check out Clark County’s Voters Pamphlet for 2018.

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About The Author

Jacob Granneman

Jacob Granneman is a filmmaker and writer from Clark County. He is a recent graduate of Washington State University’s Edward R. Murrow College, where he studied media production. He has produced documentary stories all over the Pacific Northwest and in Argentina. His passions range from loving people, to cinematography, to going on adventures in the most beautiful place on earth, i.e. his backyard. He lives with his wife in Vancouver, WA.

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