PORT ANGELES — Five candidates for Port Angeles City Council debated housing, jobs, guns and other issues in a wide-ranging forum.
Charlie McCaughan, Richard “Doc” Robinson and Artur Wojnowski are vying for the Position 5 council seat being vacated by Michael Merideth.
They offered varying solutions to the city’s affordable housing crisis in a League of Women Voters of Clallam County forum at City Hall on Monday.
Martha Cunningham and Brendan Meyer are battling for the Position 7 seat being vacated by Cherie Kidd.
They agreed that the city needs more high-paying jobs to augment the growing tourism economy.
Tara Martin Lopez dropped out of the race for Position 7 last week but it was too late to remove her name from the primary ballot, Clallam County elections supervisor Becky Pettigrew has said.
The top two vote-getters in the Aug. 6 primary advance to the Nov. 5 general election.
The five candidates answered questions from a 20-member audience in a single-panel format.
A lack of affordable and available housing in Port Angeles has been a major issue for the seven-member council this year.
When asked how they would tackle affordable housing, the candidates agreed that the city should create incentives for construction and reduce the cost of permits.
“It costs way too much money to get started here,” said Robinson, executive director of Serenity House of Clallam County.
“I also believe we can do a better job as a community in coming up with community solutions.”
Robinson said pre-fabricated housing units — even cargo containers — could be used to reduce demand for low-cost housing.
“It’s time to start thinking outside the box and move quickly,” Robinson said.
“We need to get faster.”
McCaughan, procurement and facilities supervisor with Clallam County Public Utility District, said the Airbnb business is putting a squeeze on the rental market.
He said House Bill 1406, which the council has discussed to raise more sales tax revenue for housing initiatives, would help to create more affordable housing if approved by voters.
“In addition, the Planning Commission has been working on this problem very hard,” McCaughan said.
“They’re working on incentives to developers and builders to see if they can reduce this problem.”
The Planning Commission is considering recommendations on multi-family tax exemptions and lot variances to encourage housing development, McCaughan said.
Wojnowski, a Port Angeles general contractor and Home Guys owner, said the city should work closely with developers to find incentives for housing construction.
“At the same time, we should be looking to see what we could ease, and maybe change, whether it’s zoning, whether it’s code,” Wojnowski said.
“We should be looking at available options to the community.”
Wojnowski said it will take a “balanced approach” to solve the housing crisis.
Cunningham, a freelance editor and substitute teacher, said it costs about $36,000 to secure the permits needed to build a home in Port Angeles.
“The process is too long,” Cunningham added.
“There’s too many restrictions.”
Cunningham said the city could take advantage of the Emerald Coast Opportunity Zone, a development incentive effort for low-income areas, and House Bill 1406 to spur low-cost housing.
Meyer, a media marketer and consultant, said the city could learn from other local governments that have reduced housing costs.
“Let’s take lessons from other places and see how they would work here, if they work,” Meyer said.
Meyer said the planned reopening of the McKinley Paper Co. mill on Ediz Hook will restore a limited number of high-paying jobs.
“Most of those jobs are going to go to people who live in the county and have a five-minute drive into the city,” Meyer said.
“That is the way with a lot of jobs because housing is expensive in the city.”
Cunningham said a large percentage of the available jobs in Port Angeles are in the service industries.
“We need more high-paying jobs, and we need to have more job training,” Cunningham said.
McCaughan said the city should work with the Port of Port Angeles to attract living-wage jobs in the marine trades and forestry industries.
“I think McKinley is going to help a lot, but it’s not going to solve the problem,” McCaughan said.
Robinson said the city has seen widespread job growth at all income levels.
“What we don’t have is the ability to attract people here to do the work because we don’t have housing, and we don’t have schools that will keep folks here,” Robinson said.
When asked to weigh in on gun safety legislation, Wojnowski said he was a “big supporter of the Second Amendment.”
“We want to be careful about how we try to regulate people’s ability to use their Second Amendment for safety, for recreational shooting,” Wojnowski said.
“The firearm is just a tool. It’s the people who need to be educated on how to use the tool properly.”
Robinson said he “couldn’t disagree more.”
“When you see a crisis of people being gunned down on a regular basis, whether it’s in our community with small numbers or in other communities with huge numbers, you begin to do something about the tool,” Robinson said.
McCaughan said the Port Angeles area and its hunting community is “very big on gun ownership.”
“I just look at gun control as a federal issue,” McCaughan said.
“We have laws on the books that control that, and I’m not sure what we can do as a City Council as far as listening to recommendations that are brought to us.”
Citing statistics she gleaned from the Port Angeles Police Department, Cunningham said 95 percent of all crime in the city is drug related.
“I think it would be behoove us to work on that first,” Cunningham said.
Meyer said he would advocate for sensible gun control.
“I like my guns,” Meyer said.
“I like to go out and shoot. I think we need to have sensible gun control, but I haven’t seen that.”
Meanwhile, Nina Napiontek and Navarra Carr have filed to run for Mayor Sissi Bruch’s Position 6. They automatically advance to the Nov. 6 general election.
The three new council members will join four freshmen members who took office in January.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].