PORT ANGELES — City Council candidates Martha Cunningham and Brendan Meyer debated jobs, affordable housing and other issues in a Port Angeles Business Association forum Tuesday.
Cunningham and Meyer are battling for the Port Angeles City Council Position 7 seat being vacated by Cherie Kidd in the Nov. 5 general election.
They answered 17 questions in a 45-minute forum attended by 25 association members at their weekly breakfast meeting.
Cunningham, who will be 67 on election day, is a freelance editor and substitute teacher.
Meyer, 35 as of Nov. 5, is a self-employed media marketer and consultant.
Kidd, a third-term council member and former mayor, cannot run for a fourth term under city ordinance.
Meyer said investments in infrastructure could help bring well-paying trade jobs to the city.
“Infrastructure is huge,” Meyer said. “It’s what the city needs.”
Entrepreneurship, Meyer added, is “one of the greatest things you can do” to bring 21st century jobs to Port Angeles.
“It’s the hardest thing you can do, but you’re making your own money,” Meyer said.
Cunningham said the city’s economy is still diversifying after a series of mill closures.
“I think we need to cooperate with the Port [of Port Angeles] because they are the ones who are bringing the jobs in,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham said the city and port should emphasize marine trades and new forest products such as cross-laminated timber.
“The tourism trade is taking off,” Cunningham added.
“Every year it’s growing and growing.”
The candidates agreed that allowances for more high-density zoning in municipal code would help spur housing development.
They also agreed that Port Angeles sells itself to business owners because of its mild climate and natural beauty.
“When it comes to information technologies, one of the costs associated with that is the cooling of servers and whatnot, and having a regulated climate like we do in Port Angeles is actually really beneficial,” Meyer said.
Cunningham, who identified jobs as her No. 1 priority, said the city has “so much to offer.”
“I think if we get these other things in line — like the schools, the hospital, the transportation — we don’t really need to sell it that much,” Cunningham said.
“It’s just absolutely wonderful here.”
Ballots for the all-mail general election will be mailed Oct. 16. The Peninsula Daily News voter guide will be published Oct. 13.
If approved by voters this November, the tax rate would rise from 8.7 percent to 8.8 percent and generate an estimated $325,000 in annual revenue for affordable housing initiatives, according to a fact sheet on the city’s website.
“I don’t think it’s going to do much,” Meyer said. “I think it’s more like virtue signaling.”
Meyer said the city could invest in affordable housing by cutting certain items from the Capital Facilities Plan.
“I saw one last night when I was looking through the Capital Facilities Plan — $25,000 for an air compressor,” Meyer said.
“It’s the old $600 hammer thing. You buy a hammer, but if the government buys a hammer it costs $600. So yeah, I think we can be a little more stringent on expenditures.”
Cunningham predicted the sales tax measure would fail in November.
“I’m not for it,” Cunningham said.
“For the citizens in Port Angeles, the median wage is already below the rest of the state, and I don’t think adding a sales tax onto that is going to help the situation at all.
“And I think that the money that would come in from the sales tax, we won’t get our best bang for the buck out of it because when the government builds something it costs more,” she added.
Cunningham said partnerships between private builders and local nonprofits could help drive down the cost of housing.
“There are other ways we can solve the housing problem without raising a sales tax,” Cunningham said.
Both candidates said the city lacks enough water for future development.
City officials issued a Stage 2 water alert in early August, calling for voluntary water conservation, because of low flows in the Elwha River. The Ranney well groundwater collector near the Elwha River is the city’s primary source of municipal water.
The City Council on Sept. 3 authorized City Manager Nathan West to implement a Stage 3 voluntary water restriction when the threshold for Stage 3 had been met.
Although the Elwha River dropped below the threshold — 300 cubic feet per second — the city remained under a Stage 2 advisory until rains returned in mid- to late-September.
“I don’t think we have an adequate water supply,” Cunningham told PABA members at Joshua’s Restaurant.
“We took the [Elwha] dam out, so we don’t have the water reservoir. I think we’re going to have to build some kind of reservoir.”
Meyer said the Olympic Mountains snowpack has been melting earlier in the season, causing the Elwha and other rivers to run low in the late summer.
“Since the snowpack is melting faster, all that water is released sooner, and then towards the end of the season we’re getting low on water,” Meyer said.
“I think a reservoir would be — if we have to build it, we have to build it. We can’t run out of water.”
When asked what program they would champion if elected to the City Council, Cunningham said her focus would be jobs.
“I think without jobs, good paying jobs, people can’t afford to buy houses,” Cunningham said.
“There’s a lot of houses sitting vacant right now that people can’t afford to buy. We can’t fix our schools properly, and people can’t have a good quality of life if they don’t have good-paying jobs.”
Meyer said he would push the City Council to broadcast its meetings and other public meetings on the city’s website. Clallam County’s government meetings are aired live and archived on the county website.
“That’s probably my most important thing,” Meyer said.
“Transparency in a local government, in the city especially, is sub par, and [live streaming] is one thing that I would definitely stand behind because I think it would drive civic engagement.
“It would help cut down on hearsay, and you can actually hold your officials accountable for what’s going on,” Meyer added.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].