Port Angeles council candidates debate vaccine mandate

Affordable housing, public safety, utility rates and future ideas also discussed

PORT ANGELES — Dr. Allison Berry’s countywide mandate that only COVID-19-vaccinated individuals can patronize indoor restaurants and bars was one focus of an election forum this week between two Port Angeles City Council candidates.

Incumbent Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin and Jena Stamper were featured during the hour-long Port Angeles Business Association question-and-answer session via Zoom.

They also discussed affordable housing, public safety on the city’s waterfront, utility rates and their visions for the future.

Schromen-Wawrin, the one-term Position 3 incumbent, ended his opening statement — during which he touted his efforts to stabilize utility rates — by challenging Stamper as “a leader among those who disagree with Dr. Berry’s order.”

Law enforcement officers blocked demonstrators who flooded into the courthouse last Friday when hundreds rallied at the building to protest Berry’s mandate, many calling for her ouster as public health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties.

Schromen-Wawrin said Stamper was among them, later citing a Facebook video that shows her speaking briefly outside to the crowd with a megaphone while carrying a “Fire Allison Berry” sign.

She calls the mandate unconstitutional and urges people to support businesses who do not enforce it.

County commissioners shut down the courthouse Monday until early afternoon over safety concerns that grew out of the protest.

Schromen-Wawrin, a mandate supporter, said Stamper’s “political ally” was Sequim Mayor Bill Armacost, and said he was connected to a group that showed up Aug. 26 at what they thought was Berry’s house to confront her. Armacost on Thursday denied any connection.

The sheriff’s office said the group did nothing illegal. The agency is investigating threatening communications directed at Berry unrelated to the events of Aug. 26.

“Will you please disavow any tactics that include attempting to locate Dr. Berry’s residence or threaten her personal safety?,” Schromen-Wawrin asked Stamper.

Stamper, who focused in her opening statement on making the City Pier area safer and less of an eyesore, said she disagreed with protesters showing up at Berry’s former residence.

“I do agree the public is not happy with the edict that’s gone out, and I think it’s important as leaders of our community that they should be listened to,” said Stamper, co-owner of Boulevard Natural Wellness Center.

“I would not call Armacost an ally of sorts,” Stamper said. “I’ve never met the man, so, I was not part of the parade that went by her house.”

Armacost and Stamper are listed among “our candidates” by the Sequim-based Independent Advisory Association, which has billed itself as a “conservative-populist” group on its restoreclallam.com website and which helps political candidates manage their campaigns.

Armacost said Thursday he did not go with protesters to the house they thought was Berry’s house last week and did not know what group of people did. He is pictured in a video tweet @SequimT speaking with protesters, but said he talked to that group outside his place of businesses and did not know if they were the group who went to what they thought was Berry’s house.

Armacost said he had not met Stamper.

“I am aware we may share similar values and morals,” he said.

In an interview Wednesday, Stamper said Berry’s mandate, which requires indoor diners and bar patrons to show proof of vaccination, is not in the best interests of the community.

“It’s important to protect medical freedom,” she said.

In the interview, Stamper would not say if she is vaccinated. “That’s personal medical information and shouldn’t be a question that’s asked,” she said.

The vast majority of new COVID-19 cases are among unvaccinated individuals, according to Berry.

Schromen-Wawrin said Wednesday he is vaccinated.

“As a community, we are in this together,” he said.

Schromen-Wawrin, a constitutional lawyer, said during the forum that he is focused on making Port Angeles more affordable. He said during his first term he helped stanch utility rate increases that saw average residential monthly utility bills increase by more than $57 between 2012-2017.

The average monthly bill in 2021 is more than $3 less than the 2017 bill, he said, adding he also is a leading proponent of not deferring public works maintenance.

Asked if Airb&b owners should be subject to more restrictions and lodging taxes due to the city’s housing shortage, Stamper said she has property she rents monthly.

“That is what worked out for me, and people should be able to do what works out best for themselves and their families,” Stamper said, calling herself a property-rights advocate and adding that Airbnbs pay lodging and business-and-occupation taxes.

She said property in town needs to be revitalized.

“We should take more of a look at the vacant property people are sitting on from out of town and using as tax write-offs and going about it that way to solve our housing crisis,” Stamper said.

Schromen-Wawrin said about 100-300 permits should be auctioned off for Airbnb units so owners could decide if it makes more sense to offer rentals in the long- or short-term market, adding that “housing should be a human right instead of a commodity.”

The trend is for people to buy real property and rent it for Airbnbs as a lucrative investment, he said, adding that housing stock for working people will be lost if the trend continues.

Stamper said Lincoln Park’s tall trees that block the flight path to neighboring William R. Fairchild International Airport should be replaced with lower-growing trees.

“I would really like to see this park turned into an amazingly well-maintained city RV park,” she said, adding it would generate revenue and fill a need.

Asked for their vision of the city in 20 years, Schromen-Wawrin lauded the ongoing rewrite of the city code, saying it aims to keeps the character of neighborhoods while allowing for more population capacity and closer proximity to services in the city limits.

“That development in the city is actually going to make Port Angeles a really vibrant and amazing place to live,” he said.

Stamper said her vision included a robust economic environment, an arts district, activities for youth, a proactive police department, shrinking government expenses, investments in self-sustaining infrastructure and zip lines and gondolas from Olympic National Park to the downtown area.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].

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