PORT ANGELES — Issues over affordable housing and Port Angeles’ growing homeless population were center stage Tuesday at the first Aug. 3 primary election forum.
City Council nonpartisan Position 3 challengers Jena Stamper and Jason Thompson joined one-term incumbent Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin in a 70-minute Port Angeles Business Association question-and-answer program.
Attendees also delved into a proposed upland pedestrian-bicycle bypass for the Waterfront Trail being championed by Schromen-Wawrin to address the continuing threat of bluff slides.
The City Council on May 25 had deferred the plan — as an unfunded long-term study priority — into the city’s five-year infrastructure plan before it met with a wall of public opposition, including from Peninsula Trails Coalition President Jeff Bohman.
Most of the questioners among the 50 meeting participants Tuesday trained their attention on the presence of unsheltered individuals who panhandle and tent-camp downtown and on the trail, and the attendant issue of housing inventory.
“We need to find a place for the homeless to be, but I think if we just keep increasing the amount of places for the homeless people, that more will come, and more will come, and when does it ever stop?” Stamper said.
The licensed massage therapist is supported by the conservative-populist Sequim-based Independent Advisory Association, whose co-organizer, Donnie Hall of Sequim, said he printed out the fact sheet Stamper handed out at the forum.
Stamper — who will be 37 on Nov. 2, General Election Day — suggested allowing RV camping in Lincoln Park as a revenue producer for the city that would fill a need.
“With Lincoln Park being an issue with the trees, and the airport, not everybody’s going to like this, cut them down, and plant more trees in their place, ones that don’t grow as tall,” she said.
Stamper said many homeless in Port Angeles are sent into town from other cities, an assertion that has been repeatedly denied by social services agency representatives who say that most of those without shelter are home-grown.
Stamper said the city can do its best for homeless individuals who “truly need” services.
“If they are not from this area, I do believe that they should get a one-way bus ticket back to where they came from,” she said.
“As long as we have these services, and as long as we keep expanding our services, they will keep sending them to our town,” she said, adding that the homeless “trickle in” to the area.
According to first-quarter, 2021 Point-in-Time homeless count, 90 percent of the 340 sheltered and unsheltered homeless who responded to the count in the first quarter this year said they are from Clallam County or have family in Clallam County. There were 518 homeless individuals in 2020 compared with 409 in 2019.
“There is a lot of affordable housing in Port Angeles,” Stamper said, saying she had driven around the city and seen opportunities for housing.
“We see a lot of homeless people in our streets. But in reality, those are people who have declined help for housing,” she said without attribution.
Schromen-Wawrin, who will be 42 on Nov. 2, said that housing isn’t in large supply in Port Angeles.
He said that, according to a housing assessment, the city needed 600 new housing units by 2020 and will be short 3,000 by 2030.
“That is the big challenge that we as a community need to address,” Schromen-Wawrin said.
“Let’s nip it in the bud right now, this line that is killing us, that is, they are coming here from somewhere else,” he said, adding that city officials from across the state hear that assertion.
“People are experiencing homelessness in Clallam County because the rent is too high, and that is why they’re being pushed out of rentals into homelessness.”
He noted Lincoln Park did at one time have a campground.
Thompson, responding to Red Lion Hotel Manager Donya Alward’s frustration over dealing with homeless people who set up camp on hotel property and the lack of safety felt by visitors, said the council has fallen short in addressing her concerns.
“I have a position of empathy for the homeless, do not get me wrong,” said Thompson, who will be 34 on Nov. 2. He is general manager at McCrorie Carpet One Floor & Home in Port Angeles.
“But it has no place on our streets and in our businesses when we are trying to represent a county. [Alward] needs pathways to get these people off her property,” he said.
“We need to tie in with local law enforcement.
“Our parks are not safe. The waterfront’s not safe. We need to get these people out of the way,” he said.
“You can look at the police reports and the scanner. There are multiple incidences of harassment, multiple incidences of people revealing themselves in public, there’s break-ins.
“We do need to get them out of our main streets and out of our business fronts.”
Thompson said city government needs to make it easier for housing to be built by creating an “express lane” for developers and fast-tracking permits.
He said his top issues are crime prevention, code enforcement, an expanded parks and recreation program and building up small businesses.
There should be more emphasis on code enforcement, and codes are not specific enough for officers “to make headway on the street,” Stamper said.
“Code enforcement would solve a good amount of the problems that people are seeing as visual problems in our town,” she said.
Schromen-Wawrin said he has addressed the housing crunch by supporting allowing of duplex dwelling structures in the city and making it easier to build accessory dwelling units.
His other top issues include fiscal sustainability of a general fund that has forced the city to defer maintenance, providing more affordable housing that will require upgrading the city’s infrastructure, and upgrading code enforcement.
Asked about the alternative route for the Waterfront Trail, Thompson said the trail is being managed by the wrong department — parks.
“They’re going to try to find a way to get this done,” Thompson predicted of the bypass, favoring trail maintenance.
“This is like taking a money-making section of your business and just abandoning it,” Stamper said.
She said she agreed with Thompson that the trail should be managed by public works.
“If Jason had stayed for the entire meeting, he would have heard what we did,” Schromen-Wawrin said, chiding Thompson.
“I said, and this is the reason we’re having this conversation, that this a very expensive piece of infrastructure.
“I hear loud and clear, we want to keep this asset.”
He said the trail was being switched from being a parks project to a transportation project.
“That makes logical sense to us,” he said.
“I would love it if this campaign were about who’s the biggest bicycle infrastructure advocate. I think we have other issues, but I’m happy to go there, too.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.