At a city council candidate forum hosted Wednesday evening by the League of Women Voters of Clark County, candidates spoke to issues dominating Vancouver’s public discourse: How they would fix the affordable housing shortage, address first-responder training and improve infrastructure.
But the candidates threw in some wild cards, too.
Before a crowd that included current city councilors packed into the auditorium at the Vancouver Community Library, one candidate speculated aloud about whether the city’s police officers are under the influence of steroids.
“Police officers are fit, and I think some of them are taking steroids, which makes them mentally unbalanced,” said Justin Forsman, one of three people running for Vancouver City Council Position 2.
In the final seconds left to answer, he added, “I support law enforcement.”
With a wide, robust roster for city council races this year, the forum hustled along. In addition to the three people seeking Position 2, the forum also hosted six out of the seven people running for Vancouver City Council Position 6, with candidates sitting elbow-to-elbow and answering the moderator’s questions in 90 seconds or less.
Among the inquiries were: What should the city council’s role be in addressing rising rent costs? What can they do to combat the effects of climate change? How do they think the city should approach constructing a new Interstate 5 Bridge?
The first Vancouver panel saw questions lobbed at Forsman, incumbent Councilor Erik Paulsen and Maureen McGoldrick, who made a rare appearance at the public forum after keeping a low profile for months following her declaration for candidacy.
In their opening statements, the three candidates laid out their top priorities. McGoldrick said she wanted to reduce homelessness and build a new women’s shelter. Forsman said he wanted to act as a check on government overreach and “to get chemicals out of our water.” Paulsen said if he’s re-elected he’d spend the next two years addressing homelessness and helping the city come to a consensus on what it wants to look like in a decade.
Two days before the forum, the Navigation Center, which serves as a day center for the area’s population of people experiencing homelessness, drew the city council’s frustration over a perceived failure to operate safely and effectively. On Wednesday, candidates addressed whether they thought the program had been successful.
Paulsen — who led the charge in calling for an outside investigation of the center’s operations earlier this week — said the purpose of the Navigation Center is currently unclear.
“We call it a Navigation Center, but it’s really a day center at the moment, because we didn’t allocate enough resources to create a true navigation center,” Paulsen said. “That’s why I asked for a third-party review.”
McGoldrick called for the concerns of the Navigation Center’s neighbors to be taken seriously.
“The neighborhood concerns are valid. They want security, they want safety. I think we need to have a greater presence of police patrols,” McGoldrick said.
Concerns about rent
During the Position 6 forum, candidates Adam Aguilera, Jeanne Stewart, Sarah Fox, Mike Pond, Diana Perez and Paul Montague spoke to the city’s role in addressing the rising cost of rent.
(The seventh candidate, Dorel Singeorzan, did not respond to the League’s invitation, organizers said.)
“We have too much single-family zoning in our state and cities,” said Fox, who’s been an urban planner for the last 14 years.
“This is a regional issue. This is a West Coast issue,” Montague said. “Part of it is supply and demand — we’re competing with folks from other cities for real estate.”
To a question on the Affordable Housing Fund, Stewart said there were many root causes of homelessness, including addiction and the rising cost of living. But for people with mental illness, she said, we as a society “should be ashamed of ourselves that those poor people live on the streets.”
Pond, who before seeking a seat on the city council cut his teeth working on local and regional campaigns, said that rent control was first and foremost a state issue. But when combating homelessness, he said, it’s better to be proactive than reactive.
“Social science tells us it is more affordable to keep our residents housed than to rehouse them once they’re homeless,” Pond said.
Council candidates also fielded a question on how the city can help combat climate change.
Aguilera said the current situation at Vancouver Lake is evidence the city can do more. Over the last few weeks, the lake has been the subject of health advisories for blue-green algae and E. coli, as well as the ongoing threat of milfoil.
“As a biologist, this is very close to my heart,” said Perez, who works for the U.S. Forest Service. She said if elected, she’d push for the city to pass a resolution and conduct a vulnerability assessment on all of its environmental assets, including Vancouver Lake.
Among the crowd were some familiar faces, including Democratic congressional candidate Peter Khalil. Current city Councilors Bart Hansen, who’s running unopposed this year, and Ty Stober, who’s facing one challenger and is therefore guaranteed a spot on the general election ballot, also attended.
Primary ballots are scheduled to be mailed out to voters Friday. The election will be held Aug. 6.