PORT ANGELES — Downtown Port Angeles took center stage in a City Council debate last week.
One-term incumbent Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin and challengers Jena Stamper and Jason Thompson debated crime, housing issues and the health of downtown in a June 24 virtual forum hosted by Kiwanis Club of Port Angeles.
Schromen-Wawrin, Stamper and Thompson are vying for the Position 3 City Council seat in the Aug. 3 primary. The top two vote-getters in the primary will advance to the Nov. 2 general election.
Kiwanis Club moderator John Brewer, former Peninsula Daily News editor and publisher, asked each candidate if they thought downtown was healthy and successful and, if not, how they would change it.
“I do not believe that the downtown is healthy right now,” said Thompson, owner of Fogtown Coffee Bar in Port Angeles and manager of McCrorie Carpet One.
“I believe that we have successful businesses that are thriving, and I think that we have business owners that are taking it into their own hands to keep their sidewalks clean and their alleys clean.”
Business owners are paying employees to pressure-wash sidewalks and to pick up needles from downtown properties, Thompson said.
“I don’t think it’s a very healthy place right now, but I do think that there’s a lot of opportunity,” said Thompson, who will be 34 on the day of the general election.
Stamper, a chiropractor and co-owner of Boulevard Natural Wellness Center in Port Angeles, said downtown alleys are too often covered in garbage and graffiti.
“I would really love to see those alleys be turned into usable spaces,” said Stamper, who will be 37 on election day.
Stamper said tourists were being “accosted by street vagrants” and the city should do more to improve the safety of its parks and streets.
“We need to protect the tourists as well as our citizens,” she said.
“I think (downtown) can be improved upon.”
Schromen-Wawrin, a constitutional attorney who will be 42 on election day, touted the historic investments that are planned or underway in downtown Port Angeles, including Field Arts and Events Hall, the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe hotel, a re-designed wharf and proposed multi-story apartment complex and parking structure on West Front Street.
“Obviously, the issues that the other candidates mentioned are real and need to be addressed,” Schromen-Wawrin said of homelessness and crime.
Schromen-Wawrin said the city’s general fund, which supports police, fire, streets and parks and recreation, needs more revenue.
General fund revenue comes from sales tax, utility tax and property tax. Property tax increases are capped at 1 percent per year without a vote of the people, and Schromen-Wawrin said he would oppose utility tax hikes.
“We need to build up that sales tax base by encouraging more business development inside the city limits,” he said.
“The city needs to be a facilitator of the kinds of development we see, or we’re starting to see, and we’ll continue to see, in order to make downtown and the rest of the city thrive.”
Brewer repeated his question for Schromen-Wawrin.
“You know, it’s hard to define healthy and successful,” Schromen-Wawrin said.
“The improvements we’re making to downtown are working to increase residential capacity downtown so that there’s just more people downtown, and, frankly, eyes on the street works really well for discouraging vagrancy.”
The two challengers said they would work to clean up the city’s streets and parks in 2022 if elected to the seven-member council.
“I’d like to bring back some of that energy and get us excited again and get us out of the muck of coronavirus and the drug use and the crime,” Thompson said.
“Let’s take some pride and get excited about things, guys.”
Stamper said she would try to unite the council to “build a thriving city, to fill our empty storefronts, to engage our youth in our city programs and to really have more transparency with what the city government is doing.”
“I would love to clean up our downtown and clean up our parking lots and our streets so we don’t have that broken-window syndrome thing going on where they think it’s OK to act like that on our streets because they’re not very well taken care of in the first place,” Stamper said.
Said Schromen-Wawrin: “My opponents are describing the great things that we’re already doing as a City Council, and which I hope to continue to do.”
“One of the challenges is that the problems we’re facing right now, and that Gina just described, are things that are bigger than just us, and they’re happening all across the entire West Coast,” Schromen-Wawrin said.
“We are taking the lead in programs that are addressing those, and we are now a model for other cities to look at.”
Port Angeles has been recognized as a leader among cities of its size for its community policing and community paramedicine programs, said Schromen-Wawrin.
“I’m not running for City Council thinking that I can cure homelessness in four years, and I know that Lindsey didn’t, either,” Thompson said.
“It’s something I’d like to continue to support addressing.”
Thompson said he would work to end the “catch-and-release” cycle of recidivism.
“I’d like to see that changed, and I’d have to be strict on it because it’s what’s going to keep our streets safe and clean,” he said.
Stamper said she, too, would be tough on crime.
“We really need to make sure that our code is very specific so that our law enforcement agencies are able to enforce it and keep our streets clean and our sidewalks safe and our trails safe for families,” Stamper said.
“I know that when I go to some of our parks in Port Angeles with my children that I look around, I make sure there’s no needles around, and honestly a lot of them are in bad shape.
“I think we really need to support our local law enforcement to make sure that they are fully funded, so we have a way to keep our city clean and safe,” Stamper added.
The city is in the process of revamping its 130-year-old municipal code, which has been identified a barrier to new housing and commercial space.
The city has a dedicated web page for its Building Residential Capacity project at www.cityofpa.us/1051/Building-Residential-Capacity.
Meanwhile, the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce will host an “Elevate Port Angeles 2026 Downtown Visioning Workshop” from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. July 12 at the Vern Burton Community Center.
For information, click on www.portangeles.org.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at [email protected].