Candidates for Position 1 on the Port Angeles City Council disagreed on downtown safety, the city water supply and COVID-19 vaccinations when they debated at a Port Angeles Business Association forum.
LaTrisha Suggs, the appointed office-holder and a restoration planner for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, and Adam Garcia, a program support assistant for the Veterans Health Administration, answered questions Tuesday.
They were asked what they think the people of Port Angeles want.
Suggs answered broadly, saying she thinks there are many things Port Angeles residents want.
”I think one of the things is that they would like to see us work together and be successful as a city council to find the solutions that meet our needs within the community,” she said.
Garcia talked of homelessness, a constant theme for him during the forum, correlating unsheltered people with drug abuse, public camping and the safety and looks of the downtown.
“I would say that if I’m elected the people are trying to say that they want us to actually try and put priority to some of these major issues that are going on in our town,” Garcia said.
“When we say something is a priority and it’s been a priority for years you know it just isn’t apparent that way, it doesn’t appear to be the truth.”
When asked about how to make the downtown more appealing and safe, Garcia talked about public camping while Suggs focused on revitalization.
“Personally I don’t feel unsafe in the area (downtown), but I’m a pretty big guy so there’s not a whole lot of places I feel unsafe, but I definitely understand that position,” Garcia said.
“The drugs are bad, the camping is bad…and it’s just odd to me that our city says this (addressing homelessness) is a priority but it just keeps happening,” he said..
“So I do think that we need to take some action on public camping — it can’t just be allowed everywhere — and getting people better coordination with services.”
Said Suggs: “One of the things that our city council has put into our strategic plan and something that we have been really good at is our partnerships.
“We partner with the chamber of commerce to go through the things that they did with getting public input and looking at revitalizing downtown Port Angeles… I think we need to continue those partnerships.”
In answer to another question, Suggs said that she didn’t think tourists perceive Port Angeles as unsafe.
“We wouldn’t have the tourism that we have if they did,” she said.
“If you compare our area to other areas throughout the nation that have nightly shootings and homicides, I think our area is relatively safe, Suggs continued.
“We have issues in our small community, but compared to nationwide or even throughout the state I think our community is relatively safe.”
Garcia said safety is a “mixed bag.”
“I think it depends on where you live. I would say many folks who live over on the west side of town feel a little bit safer than those who live on the east side of town,” he said.
“We do have problems in our town with safety. Does it mean we have shootings every night? No. But that doesn’t mean that we live in a perfectly safe town. We just have different areas of safety that we are having to deal with.”
In regard to the future of Port Angeles water supply, which is from the Rainey well on the Elwha River, Garcia spoke of the impact of past agreements while Suggs referred to the effect of climate change.
“It wasn’t that long ago that the Elwha dam was removed and it had some unforeseen issues when it came to its impact on city utilities,” Garcia said. The removal of the Elwha Dam on the Elwha River was finished in 2012 and the Glines Canyon Dam upstream in 2014, both actions to reopen the river to salmon.
“When the city agreed to take over the Rainey Well and the water treatment facility from the federal government, it was a big issue, and one that I think was settled improperly,” Garcia continued.
“I don’t know that where we’re at is all that different as far as the water supply itself, I do think that because of the agreements that we made in the past we’re going to have to find ways to keep rates down when it comes to water.”
The candidates were asked if they would support a mandate requiring city employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment.
Suggs pointed out that the city has issued no such mandate, but that if it ever did she likely would support it with a medical exemption provision.
“I believe in vaccinations,” she said. “I believe and trust our public health officer Dr. (Allison) Berry who has provided recommendations.”
Said Garcia: “There is no world in where I would vote yes. There’s no reason for city employees need to be vaccinated. …it doesn’t make sense to me.”
Suggs is a registered member of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and is the first Native American to sit on the council since its inception in 1890. Suggs has a bachelor’s degree in environmental policy and planning from Western Washington University.
Garcia has been a resident of Port Angeles since 1992. He served in the Army for 15 years after graduating form port Angeles High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in business from Liberty University in 2018.
Ballots were mailed Wednesday for the Nov. 2 general election.
Voter guides have been published by the state Secretary of State’s Office and the Clallam County elections office.
Reporter Ken Park can be reached at [email protected]