Familiar topics dominate Port Angeles City Council candidate debate

Homelessness and housing are focus of talk

PORT ANGELES — Port Angeles City Council candidate Mark Karjalainen said his approach to governing would be much different than that of the existing city council members, including his opponent, Position 6 incumbent Navarra Carr.

“As an employee of the city for many years I’ve had some opinions on how the city council has run; its inefficiencies, its lackluster approach to what I’ve seen as problems in the city of Port Angeles,” Karjalainen said at a Port Angeles Kiwanis Club meeting Thursday.

“I realized that rather than just complain about things I wanted to step up and throw my name in the hat to be an alternate voice to what I see in the city council thus far,” he said.

Carr, who’s served on the city council since 2020, said serving on the city council has let her see the impact of her actions and allowed her to put her values of justice, compassion and public service into practice.

“These are values that guide the policies I support and the decisions I make and getting the opportunity to talk to people always gives me insights into how I can work to make Port Angeles better,” Carr said. “Being on city council has changed my life in ways I never expected.”

This is the second time Carr —a law student at Seattle University — and Karjalainen — a firefighter paramedic currently working in the Sequim area — have met before the Kiwanis Club and Thursday’s conversation, like their previous one, was dominated by the issues of housing and homelessness.

Karjalainen said he was frustrated that many of the crimes he sees as associated with homelessness — public drug use, public defecation and assault — were not being prosecuted and that mental health and substance abuse issues among the homeless were not being addressed.

He criticized the “housing first” approach to homelessness which says that finding homes for unhoused people is a top priority and said that instead, the top priority should be addressing mental health and drug use.

“So much of the problem is not that they are unsheltered or they don’t have a home to live in, it’s that we are not addressing the problem at the root cause,” Karjalainen said.

“We have $1,200,000 to put a Band-Aid on a broken arm, and that’s what we’re doing,” he said listing a variety of funding sources for the city.

Carr noted that while city police officers might arrest an individual for public drug use or another crime related to homelessness, it was ultimately up to the Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office to make the decision to prosecute a crime. Courts have also ruled that a person can’t be arrested for sleeping on city property if they have no alternative, Carr said.

The city has had success in providing housing for formerly homeless people, Carr said, pointing to the Dawn View Court apartments at the former All View Motel and a project with Habitat for Humanity of Clallam County to house distressed veterans.

“We’ve done some really exciting things, we also are working with different community groups on issues related to housing and we have hired a housing coordinator to really speed up some of those processes both working with the county and non-profit partners,” Carr said.

Carr also defended her vote to place a moratorium on short-term rentals which she said was giving the city the opportunity to collect data and implement reasonable regulations.

“I support having Airbnbs. I stay at them when I visit other communities, I think that our community also should have them,” Carr said.

“I don’t think that the policy that was passed in 2017 by the previous city council is a good one. It limits short-term rentals to only commercial and mixed-use zones.”

Karjalainen said he was an advocate for private property ownership and that short-term rentals actually make up a small percentage of the actual housing in Port Angeles.

“I don’t think that it’s a good policy for the city to come in a say ‘hey, we’re just going to stop short-term rentals’ when its people’s own private property and it supports this community,” Karjalainen said, noting tourism was a major economic driver for the city.

“We get complaints that we don’t have enough hotel rooms in Port Angeles,” Karjalainen said.

Karjalainen said he likely would be a lone voice among the current city council, but said he believed it was his civic duty to run for the office.

“I believe that my opinion does and is shared by many residents in the city of Port Angeles,” Karjalainen said. “I think that a lot of the opinions of my opponent align with the current city council and all of them share a similar mindset where I would be very starkly opposite.”

During her time on the council, Carr said she has supported policies to increase public safety, housing options and affordability and economic development.

“Now I want to continue the work that we’ve started and continue to build a Port Angeles where everyone can thrive, not just survive,” Carr said.

Port Angeles City Council members do not represent a particular district or area of the city and are elected to serve a four-year term. In addition to the Position 6 seat, Positions 5 and 7 are up for election this year. City Council races are non-partisan.

Election Day is Nov. 7, and ballots will be mailed to voters Oct. 18. Voter registration is available until 8 p.m. on Election Day but online voter registration ends Oct. 30.

Online voter registration and additional election information is available at Washington’s election website, votewa.gov.

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Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at peter.segall@peninsula dailynews.com.

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