PORT ANGELES — Candidates for the Clallam County Commissioner District 3 seat agreed that housing is a major issue facing the county but disagreed on what to do about it at a forum on Tuesday.
Incumbent Bill Peach — in office since 2014 —is being challenged by Port Angeles City Council member Mike French in the Nov. 8 general election.
At the Port Angeles Business Association candidate forum, each offered their vision of how to stimulate economic growth in the county.
Peach said he takes pride that the current Board of Commissioners is well-balanced politically, with one Democrat, one Independent and himself, a Republican.
“That cuts out a lot of the partisan nonsense,” Peach said. “That was evident in what was done with COVID. We made certain we got those monies out to the community quickly.”
In the recent primary, Peach received 53 percent of the vote to French’s 46 percent, a difference of 499 votes. French, a Democrat who’s served on the Port Angeles City Council since 2018 and who has owned and operated the First Street Haven restaurant since 2008, said he wanted to see the county focus on housing to promote economic development.
“It’s hard to find a meeting in Clallam County where housing doesn’t come up,” French said.
The county needed to reform its rules to allow for more housing construction and should focus on increasing the supply of all kinds of housing, French said. He advocates increasing more than low-income housing, also encouraging denser housing in certain areas and the construction of new homes.
Peach agreed reforms were needed to allow for more housing stock to be built but said his focus was on the creation of what he called “family-wage jobs,” and said the county should focus on constructing infrastructure rather than subsidizing housing construction.
French argued supply was the bigger issue and said their respective housing philosophies were the biggest distinction between the two candidates.
“If we can’t find a way to get supply, we won’t see relief for working families,” French said.
Candidates differed on their approach to the issue of short-term rentals that have further constrained the housing supply.
French said the county could limit the areas in which short-term rentals are allowed to operate, such as residential neighborhoods, whereas Peach said the government shouldn’t interfere in the market.
“It’s not only investors from out of town,” Peach said. “It’s local people too, and we should not be interfering in a free-market situation.”
Both candidates said they wanted to build a good relationship with the incoming Department of Economic Development Director. The current DCD director, Mary Ellen Winborn, is in a legal dispute with the county and, in early July, commissioners named an interim director until Winborn’s term ends Dec. 31.
“I’m looking forward to working with the DCD director to decrease the expense associated with getting the permits to build a house,” Peach said.
Peach and French both said building relationships with the large number of organizations the county interacts with is critical to being a successful commissioner, and each pointed to their public services roles as evidence of their ability to collaborate.
As a commissioner, Peach said he served on more than 20 boards and commissions across the county and has served on the state Board of Natural Resources. French cited his work on the Port Angeles City Council including working with the Peninsula Housing Authority to create affordable housing units.
General election ballots are set to be mailed to registered voters on Oct. 19. Online registration is available at votewa.gov, and registration ends Oct. 31. Washington state allows same-day, in-person voter registration the day of the election.
Reporter Peter Segall can be reached at [email protected]