One of the most consequential actions taken by the Clark County Council this year is its approval of a plan to open about 2,200 acres of land north of Vancouver near the 179th Street/I-5 interchange for development.
While the council in August moved forward with a public-private partnership to develop the area, Adrian Cortes, who is seeking a seat on the Clark County Council, called it the “wrong development” during an interview with The Columbian’s Editorial Board on Thursday.
“I don’t think we should be subsidizing growth,” he said.
Cortes, a Democrat who is challenging Republican county Councilor Gary Medvigy in a special election in November, said that the project has been touted as a way to attract employers.
“And right now, what the county has done is … basically turned it into one giant residential development,” said Cortes. “And my opponent has said that he thinks it’s a great project because it’s going to bring a lot of economic development, and I disagree with him.”
While a study commissioned by the county found that the project would generate thousands of jobs and millions in tax revenue, the bulk of the land is zoned residential. To finance the $66.5 million needed for infrastructure upgrades in the area, the county committed $8.8 million from its road fund and agreed to increase local traffic impact fees to be the third-highest in the state. Cortes took issue with both of these aspects of the project’s funding plan. “People in Hockinson and Brush Prairie that want their roads repaired and maintained, they’re now going to be paying to subsidize growth on 179th Street,” he said.
He said that the increased traffic impact fees would stymie growth and that there was “nothing conservative” about raising them to one of the highest levels in the state.
During the interview, Cortes highlighted his roots in Clark County and his long-standing involvement in its civic life, currently serving on the Battle Ground City Council. He also restated his goal for Clark County to undergo a visioning process, where the county solicits extensive input from residents before developing priorities. Battle Ground has already undergone the process.
Cortes also talked about the county’s jail, taxes, replacing the Interstate 5 Bridge — and the 40th president of the United States.
Although Medvigy had accepted an invitation to the interview, he was not present because of a scheduling error. The editorial board is trying to reschedule the interview.
Earlier this month, a task force delivered a report to the county council on the outmoded jail. The report stopped short of making a recommendation to replace the jail because of the untenable cost of replacing and operating a new facility.
Cortes said that he’s in favor of remodeling the current jail to bring it up to “21st century standards” while putting more emphasis on specialty courts, which have been shown to keep offenders from returning to incarceration.
“(I’m) not a professional when it comes to how we run and manage our jails,” he said. “But I think it’s more reasonable than not to think that there’s a solution, a more balanced solution, rather than spending half a billion dollars and gobbling up prime commercial real estate in downtown Vancouver.”
Cortes said that voters would also be against a large bond to replace the jail that would be funded with a property tax increase. He again reiterated his opposition to the county increasing its property tax levy by the 1 percent allowed annually.
He said before the county increases taxes, it needs to meet a series of benchmarks, such as improving the county’s notoriously sluggish permitting process. When asked how making less money would improve county operations, he said that the county needs to look for efficiencies and make better use of technology. He also said that Clark County Manager Shawn Henessee should be held accountable for the underperformance of county departments.
“The buck stops with him,” he said.
Washington and Oregon officials are currently reviving the effort to replace the Interstate 5 Bridge. Some Clark County politicians favor a third bridge over the current effort. Cortes said he was open to conversations about more crossings.
“But first and foremost, we need to replace that I-5 Bridge; it needed to be replaced 10, 20 years ago,” he said.
As chair of the C-Tran board of directors, Cortes said that the new bridge should have a dedicated lane for bus rapid transit, which the agency has made significant investments in.
Cortes is running in a predominantly rural and Republican-leaning district. When asked about how he was running as a Democrat in such a conservative district, Cortes said that he grew up in a conservative household where President Ronald Reagan was on the television. He said he would prefer the seat to be nonpartisan and he eschews labels.
“But if you want to label me, you can call me a conservative, a Ronald Reagan Democrat,” he said.