PORT ANGELES — Candidates for the Port Angeles City Council were grilled about how they will help ease the burden on housing developers and how they will clean up after the homeless during a Tuesday forum.
Incumbent Navarra Carr and candidate Nick Merrigan took the stage at Joshua’s Restaurant early Tuesday morning to field several questions from constituents at the forum hosted by the Port Angeles Business Association.
Candidate Mark Karjalainen was invited to the forum but said he was unable to attend due to a prior commitment.
The three face each other on the primary election ballot for the Position 6 seat. Ballots are begin mailed today for the Aug. 1 election. The top-two primary election narrows the race to the two candidates who win the most votes who go on to the general election Nov. 7.
Candidates were asked what policies or actions they support to ensure home builders can make a profit and that those homes are affordable.
Carr listed some of the policies, which she has supported, that the city has adopted over the last three years to ease the burden on housing developers.
“Last year we waived building permit fees for multifamily housing,” Carr said.
That decision came from talking to local developers who said permit fees area a major obstacle.
“Our city has a responsibility to do what we can at our level to try and get rid of the bureaucratic fees that all add up,” Carr said.
Carr said the city adopted an exemption for environmental review permit fees, specifically for mixed-use housing.
“Again we know those fees, those regulations that we have imposed on the city, all hinder building because it adds up,” Carr said.
Carr also touted Port Angeles’ move to allow duplexes in the city limits, before the requirements made by the state Legislature this year.
“We’re really on the cutting edge to allow more people to build on a lot and have our lots have more housing units of different kinds on it,” Carr said.
Merrigan said he supports expansion of such programs as the Port Angeles Housing Authority Mutual Self-Help program, which he used to build his own home.
In the program, “the homeowner acts as the builder, which not only puts someone in a new home but passes the profits on to them,” Merrigan said.
“This teaches the homeowner how to build a house and they get real-life experience, and when they’re done, they’re profitable because they have put the sweat equity into it.”
Merrigan noted that additional profits could come if the homeowner chooses to sell the house down the road to upsize or downsize.
Merrigan also said he would like to introduce a Building Trades program that could not only help with house costs but also fill a workforce gap in the trades.
“This program was put on through our technical school back in Missouri,” he said. “The school would buy a property and then put a house on it. Then the building trades students would go in and they would learn everything from framing to roofing, putting up drywall — the only thing they weren’t able to do were electrical and plumbing because of the licensing requirements,” Merrigan said.
Merrigan said once the house was built, the school would sell it and use the profits to continue the program; in exchange, someone got a home and the dwindling trades workforce got new experienced workers.
“I’d really like to work on getting a program like that out here,” Merrigan said.
Moving away from the topics of housing, candidates were asked their feelings about the Bird electric scooters that have popped up around town.
Carr voted in favor of the pilot program that brought the scooters to Port Angeles but said the rollout was less than ideal.
“I still stand by my vote, but I think the rollout of this program was unfortunate at best,” Carr said.
Carr said city officials were told that 12 scooters would be launched for the pilot program, but the city got more than it anticipated.
“It was a bit of a surprise,” Carr said.
Carr still sees hope for the program.
“One of the reasons I supported it was because I do think that our community needs to look at micro transit and provide people the ability to get around town in a meaningful and cost-effective way,” Carr said.
Merrigan agreed that the scooters are a good idea but that the rollout needed to be more thought out.
“I think the program is a really neat idea. The execution needs to be more thoughtful, but that’s what pilot programs are for,” Merrigan said.
Candidates were asked the proper role of the city in cleaning up homeless encampments.
“I think the city needs to be a little more active in it,” Merrigan said. “4PA is doing wonderful things, and I’m happy that volunteers are out there and willing to help.
“I think the city needs to look at how to fulfill homeless persons’ basic needs, rather than just cleaning up after them as they move on to other spaces. Once those basic needs are met, we can then look at what else they need to get to a better situation.”
Said Carr: “There’s just nowhere else for people to go. The shelter is at capacity and people don’t want to see people living in cars and RVs. There’s no safe place for them to park and people are forced into living in homeless encampments because there’s no available or affordable housing.”
Carr recommended that permanent supportive housing for homeless individuals be built.
“The best way to fix this problem is to build more housing, and housing that has case managers and permanent supportive housing where these folks can learn the skills that they need to be back in and be successful in the home,” Carr said.