Port Townsend City Council hopefuls discuss visions

Bicycles, housing among policies

Ben Thomas.

Ben Thomas.

PORT TOWNSEND — Electric bicycles and deer are seemingly everywhere and affordable housing is nowhere. What can the Port Townsend City Council do about it?

Those were among the topics of the League of Women Voters’ candidates forum Thursday night.

“My wife and my little kid were two of the people who got chased” by a doe defending her fawn, said Ben Thomas, who’s running for City Council position 1.

Thomas said he was among several people who have reported aggressive deer behavior, according to Renee Klein, moderator of the forum.

Both Thomas and his opponent, Cameron Jones, have thought about culling the animals and using the meat as a food source.

But, “I don’t think people are going to feel OK about that,” Thomas said.

The deer issue would be “a great one to get some public comment on,” he said.

“I’d love to hear other people’s ideas on that.”

Jones, for his part, said trapping the deer once or twice a year could be an option.

“Take them away to a processing facility and bring in some venison,” he said.

During the forum, Thomas and Jones, who are both new to campaigning for elected office, answered questions previously submitted by the public.

The first hour was theirs; the second hour brought together Libby Wennstrom and Tyler Vega, candidates for City Council position 5.

The Nov. 2 general election ballot also will include candidate Aislinn Diamanti, who is running unopposed for Position 2.

The Port Townsend City Council is about to turn over three of its seven seats as Mayor Michelle Sandoval and members Pamela Adams and Ariel Speser aren’t seeking re-election.

Regarding electric bikes, which have become popular all over town, Thomas and Jones were asked whether and how they might update city code to regulate them.

“I have an electric bicycle, and I can get up to 25 miles an hour. And that’s our speed limit in town,” Thomas said.

“That speed is a game-changer,” which is not a bad thing, he said.

More people out biking benefits everyone, said Thomas, who added all city arterials should have clear bike lanes.

Jones, who also said he’s a bicyclist, touted the way e-bikes promote bicycling.

Jones said e-bikes encourage more cycling across the community.

“I dig that,” he said, advocating for creating more bike paths.

“Moving towards more of a green future: That’s where we need to go. Electric bicycles are great … I don’t want to punish people for bicycling at all.”

Klein also posed a question from the public about Port Townsend’s struggles with downtown parking, outdated zoning and an under-utilized Jefferson Transit system.

“What policies do you support to start to unravel this mess?” she asked.

Higher housing density is one key, Thomas said. A first step would be “smaller unit sizes on less land,” for a greater diversity of people living closer together, he added.

“Ben is right,” Jones said.

Much of the solution will have to do with better housing options — and integrating it with the existing wooded environment instead of removing trees to make room for buildings, Jones added.

Jones wants to see a more inclusive Port Townsend; “climate refugees,” as well as people of color and people of modest means should be able to live here, he said.

Vega and opponent Wennstrom took a different set of questions during the forum’s second hour.

Klein asked them to give an example of a time when they set aside their ego for the good of the community.

“For me, that’s every day; every day as a candidate … every day as a leader,” Vega said.

When disagreements arise, City Council members — and anyone serving in public office — must “keep on getting up and trying again,” he said.

“We have to evolve. So setting one’s ego aside is the core principle of what I’m trying to bring to the table.”

Wennstrom answered with examples from her work not only with the Jefferson County Democrats but also as a costume designer for Key City Public Theatre and for Port Townsend High School plays.

As vice chair of the Democrats, Wennstrom has worked on “a ton of campaigns” — for other people, she said.

At the high school, “you’re backstage with this group of kids, and the goal is not to make one person a star,” she said. “The goal is to have everybody shine and to help make each other better.”

That’s what we’re doing in a community sense, she added. If people work together for local causes, the community is stronger.

Vega also has been a longtime activist, with addressing climate change — on a local level — a primary issue.

Elected office is about “crossing divides that are very difficult,” he said.

“I bring to the table the ability to do that … what we need is a wide spectrum of viewpoints on this council, and I believe I bring that to the table,” Vega said.

Wennstrom spoke during the forum about her 23 years in Port Townsend, including many as a single mother.

“Now that my kids are raised, I felt like it was my turn to step up,” she said.

A recording of the candidates’ forum will be made available on the League of Women Voters-Jefferson County website, https://lwvwa.org/Jefferson.

Ballots will be mailed this week.

Residents who have yet to register to vote can do so online or by mail by Oct. 25; information can be found at https://co.jefferson.wa.us/1266/Elections. After that date, residents can register in person at the Jefferson County Courthouse, 1820 Jefferson St., through Election Day on Nov. 2.

________

Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]

Cameron Jones.

Cameron Jones.

Tyler Myles Vega.

Tyler Myles Vega.

Libby Wennstrom.

Libby Wennstrom.

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