PORT ANGELES — Housing issues topped a Port Angeles City Council primary election forum Tuesday as two candidates said the current council is doing a good job while the third person vying for the seat said a change is needed.
Charlie McCaughan, Artur Wojnowski and Richard “Doc” Robinson are vying for the Position 5 seat being vacated by Michael Merideth, who is not seeking re-election.
The top two vote-getters in the Aug. 5 primary will be on the Nov. 5 general election ballot, the winner joining a seven-person City Council on which no one has more than two years of experience. Primary election ballots will be mailed July 17.
McCaughan, the Clallam County Public Utility District’s procurement and facilities supervisor; Wojnowski, owner of a general contracting business, and Robinson, executive director of Serenity House, participated in a 50-minute forum before 50 breakfastgoers at the Port Angeles Business Association’s weekly meeting.
The candidates were asked how they would address stormwater regulations in connection with the city’s housing shortage.
Robinson said he favored higher land-use densities, stormwater credits to entice developers to build more housing and zoning restrictions on “dope shops,” or retail marijuana businesses, criticizing the council for talking too much and doing too little.
“We need to stop talking about zoning and make some changes,” he said, adding he does not favor “wild-open zoning.”
He criticized the council for commissioning “yet another” housing study and said more time should be devoted to public comment at council meetings and less time to council discussions.
“My overall focus is less talk, more do,” said Robinson, who will be 66 on General Election Day.
“We need to figure out how to build 2,000 units when we are not building any now.”
McCaughan, 63 as of Nov. 5, and Wojnowski, 35 on General Election Day, said they, too, would focus on housing if elected.
Wojnowski, who ran unsuccessfully for the City Council in 2017, said he agreed with Robinson and cited restrictions on accessory dwelling units and building heights.
“The only way for the city to thrive is with the exchange of dollars, creating incentives for businesses and options for housing,” he said.
Current council members “are doing the best they can,” he added.
McCaughan, who said he frequently attends City Council meetings, said he was unfamiliar with the stormwater-regulations issue.
“Honestly, I have not really looked at zoning,” he said, pledging to research the topic and adding zoning issues need to be addressed more often.
Presenting himself as “a great researcher” and “gatherer of facts,” McCaughan said the current council is “doing a great job.”
McCaughan said he would add more affordable housing density in the Ahlvers Road-Laurel Street area.
Robinson suggested multi-use housing on First and Front streets, increasing the height limit for buildings in that area and near Olympic Medical Center, and multi-use housing behind the Safeway grocery store downtown off Lincoln Street.
“Like Doc said, multi-use in different areas would be beneficial,” Wojnowski said.
“It should be spread and based on the market.”
Asked to identify the ideal business “to solve all our problems,” Wojnowski said “the free market” should dictate the answer, reiterating the need for “an incentive.”
McCaughan said living-wage businesses would be ideal but that it’s difficult to find qualified workers.
Asked about impediments to businesses moving to town, Robinson said many job applicants “don’t know how to show up” to work.
The housing crisis, he added, is “beyond measure,” affecting all income groups.
Candidates were asked what the council could do about panhandling and homelessness, and getting people the treatment they need or to job centers.
“I don’t give them money, to be honest,” McCaughan said.
“We promote it by handing them things,” he said, adding that more treatment centers are needed.
Wojnowski said it’s difficult to get people to stop panhandling.
“If they are not choosing to take the help, we can’t really do much about it.”
Robinson called panhandling a free-speech issue, and said that half the people who panhandle are homeless and the other half are not.
“The real answer is to work with that crowd,” and to find them jobs, he said.
In the first closing statement, McCaughan said he decided to run for City Council because he is retiring in two years and needs “to find something with purpose.”
Robinson said the council should make zoning changes, adding that mistakes will be made, but “let’s go ahead” anyway with a goal of making the city “a vital, young place.”
Wojnowski said he’s been mostly self-employed, adding that he views the city “as nothing but another business to work in and help fund.”
The council member who is elected Nov. 5 will vote annually on a general operating budget that in 2019 is $117.5 million, including $53 million for public works and funds wages for 250 employees.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].