Position 1 council hopefuls discuss housing, diversity

Goals similar, perspectives differ

Cameron Jones

Cameron Jones

PORT TOWNSEND — Cameron Jones, 33, and Ben Thomas, 50, have run distinctly low-key campaigns for Port Townsend City Council position 1. And while both talk about the need for change in the city’s housing landscape, and both are deeply involved in local agriculture, these men would bring very different perspectives to the council if elected on Nov. 2.

“I’m slightly more radical,” said Jones, an organizer with Black Lives Matter Jefferson County and a partner at the Black-owned Woodbridge Farm in Chimacum.

Jones grew up in a military family and himself served in the U.S. Army Reserves for eight years; he attended high school in Plantation, Fla., a place he enjoyed for its cultural diversity.

He went on to study philosophy at Florida International University and permaculture in Costa Rica. In 2013, Jones moved to Port Townsend to work on local farms.

In summer 2020, after the killing of George Floyd propelled people across the world into the streets to protest police brutality, Jones stepped forward, calling for Black, indigenous and people of color to be heard here in his adopted hometown.

There were some, he recalled, who said: “If you really care, you should run for City Council.”

So Jones, also a yoga teacher at Mystic Monkey in Port Townsend, decided to make his first bid for political office.

“Housing is No. 1,” in terms of things that must change, Jones said in an interview last week.

Far too much of the city is zoned for single-family dwellings. That’s the first thing the council should address, he said, along with permitting more accessory dwelling units, or ADUs, in neighborhoods.

Jones also has researched the community land trust model. It can help non-wealthy workers afford homes — and build equity — by providing affordable land leasing.

At the same time, Jones said, he wants to bring more voices, including those of people of color, into the discussion of Port Townsend’s future.

Thomas, in contrast, grew up in Port Townsend, moved away and then returned with his family. He’s now winemaker and vine grower at Port Townsend Vineyards and the father of a 2-year-old son.

Around the start of 2021, a local politician urged Thomas to run for a seat on the City Council. He was already primed to do it, he said, following the events of Jan. 6. Watching the assault on the U.S. Capitol underscored how divided and uncivil many Americans have become.

Here in Port Townsend, “the tensions have gotten higher” too, Thomas said.

If elected to the City Council, he added, he’ll seek to represent everybody, not just those who agree with him.

“I’m willing to listen to people’s stories,” in hopes of developing a community vision.

Thomas wants to see Port Townsend provide more housing options through what he calls infill density. This could mean duplexes and four-plexes mixed into the heart of town — rather than pushing all the “affordable” housing to the edges of the city.

Yet “the NIMBY thing is real,” he said of the not-in-my-backyard attitude held by some homeowners. There’s that division again.

Thomas wants to see it become easier to get building permits for ADUs, for example; he said the building department should serve as “more of a guide, not a guard.”

He also believes the City Council should take a strong, critical stand when the city manager advances ideas and makes proposals.

“We’re there to push,” he said. “The council is accountable to the people.”

Some 20 years ago, Thomas and a group of friends started an alternative newspaper they named the Vigilance. Journalism was like his college, he said; it taught him to learn from people.

Other changes Thomas wants to see include a smoother path for entrepreneurs. He believes it should be easier to start a small business here, whether you’re a farmer, a chef, a woodworker, a boatbuilder or a brewer. Microbusinesses such as food carts ought to be more possible, he added.

As dad to a toddler, Thomas has another item on his agenda: a child-care campus. This could be a center where more than one child care provider can run a day care or a preschool, while the property owner would provide the space and the insurance to make it feasible.

“That would allow younger families to live here,” provided they could also find housing, said Thomas, who takes his young son to a child care center in Chimacum.

After airing his ideas, Thomas acknowledged the ultimate question is how much a City Council “can actually pull off.” He believes he’s equipped to get the discussions going.

“At this point in my life,” he said, “I know I’m ready to do it.”

While Thomas and Jones vie for council position 1, to be vacated by Mayor Michelle Sandoval, two other seats are on the November ballot. Tyler Vega and Libby Wennstrom are running for position 5, from which Pamela Adams is retiring, and Aislinn Diamanti is running unopposed for position 2, after Ariel Speser decided not to run for re-election.

Jones, Thomas, Vega and Wennstrom took part in a League of Women Voters-Jefferson County candidates forum earlier this month, and a video recording of it can be found on the league’s website, https://lwvwa.org/Jefferson.

Residents who have yet to register to vote in the all-mail general election can do so online or by mail by Monday; information can be found at https://co.jefferson.wa.us/1266/Elections. In person voter registration stays open at the Jefferson County Courthouse, 1820 Jefferson St., through Election Day on Nov. 2.

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

Ben Thomas

Ben Thomas

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