Port Townsend council contenders discuss housing, deer, infrastructure at candidate forum

Posted 10/13/21

rastructure, and helping the homeless dictated the debate for Port Townsend City Council hopefuls as they traded ideas at a candidate forum late last week.

Candidates for Position 1, Ben Thomas …

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Port Townsend council contenders discuss housing, deer, infrastructure at candidate forum


Affordable housing, crumbling infrastructure, and helping the homeless dictated the debate for Port Townsend City Council hopefuls as they traded ideas at a candidate forum late last week.

Candidates for Position 1, Ben Thomas and Cameron Jones, along with Position 5 candidates Tyler Vega and Libby Wennstrom, met Thursday for the forum, sharing their visions for the city’s future.

Candidates fielded more than a dozen questions during the online affair, ranging from housing shortages for the workforce to the overpopulation of deer.

The candidates were questioned on the chronic disrepair of many local roads, and weathering and erosion issues plaguing infrastructure.

“It goes back to lessening our reliance on these large concrete slabs for transportation, returning to more of a green system, so more green space, less parking,” Jones said.

He suggested “water gardens that take away the water that’s flooding down the streets, [to] prevent it from going into the oceans.”

“Besides affordable housing, potholes seem to come up most when I’m talking to people,” Thomas said. “It’s symbolic that things aren’t working well if they see [potholes] driving over a bad road. It feels like that’s where it comes down to, a symbolic sign that we’re not taking care of our town.”

Next, candidates were asked to comment on the housing shortage for Port Townsend’s workforce.

“I’d love to see things like eliminating the off-street parking requirements in town,” Thomas said. “That off-street parking rule really does limit what people can do with their properties. Small units on less land, I think, is the basic theme I would use.”

Jones commented, “I think again it goes back to the single-family zoning, getting rid of that, increasing the amount of ADUs (accessory dwelling units) that can be on a single lot within city limits. I think long-term it’s really establishing relationships within the community with other organizations like Habitat for Humanity, the housing land trust[s], different housing authorities that can really create ownership of land that is affordable, that’s not just economically capitalist-based.”

Jones and Thomas were also questioned on potential solutions for the city’s deer overpopulation.

“What I’ve to say about this may not be popular,” Jones said.

“They’re a food source, and I think we’ve forgotten, ourselves in this system, we are a part of an ecosystem. And I’m not saying ‘everybody go out there and kill some deer,’ but there is a certain level where we can manage the population by either trapping and processing them for food.”

He further detailed negative environmental and economic impacts that the deer bring.

Thomas suggested sterilizing the animals.

“All the methods that I have researched are costly for lowering the deer population. I’ve been hearing some people’s thoughts, there’s still a lot of things that I feel like would have a hard time getting through,” Thomas said.

Vega and Wennstrom, the Position 5 hopefuls, came next, answering 14 questions centered around homelessness, the local economy, and incentivizing property owners to rent out unused spaces.

Both candidates focused on the need for a more holistic approach to homelessness.

“When somebody’s having a crisis, what they really need is not two days in jail and a whole bunch of court time, but access to services whether that’s housing, whether that’s navigating mental health, et cetera,” Wennstrom said. “It’s a complicated problem and it’s not one that we’re gonna all solve on our own.”

“We know just shuffling people along and punishing them for being poor, broke, or unstable doesn’t work,” Vega said. “It just dials back to housing, the only thing the city can really do is do what we’re already doing and continue to do, which is figuring out this housing crisis.”

Candidates were then asked to discuss boosting Port Townsend’s economy.

“I’m actually a really big proponent of the worker-owned co-op,” Vega answered.

“It’s going to keep small businesses here, it’s going to allow younger people, all people, to keep their jobs, and to write their own destinies in ways that I believe, on a very holistic and grand scale, we need to be doing in order to make it in these times.”

Wennstrom emphasized the power of keeping dollars local.

“It’s been shown over and over again that local dollars really matter, that if local people are spending money in local businesses, those dollars go around and around and provide a much bigger impact than a dollar that comes in and gets spent outside the community,” she said. “I’d like to see the city doing more small business incubator support, partnering with Main Street, partnering with the chamber [of commerce].”

How would each candidate appeal to existing property owners to rent out unused spaces for affordable housing?

“There’s a lot of existing ADUs that aren’t currently being rentals, and that is probably the biggest bang for the buck in terms of getting some housing online quickly,” Wennstrom responded. “I’d also like to really prevail on people who have second homes, would you consider renting this out for the school year?”

Vega was no stranger to the idea.

“This conversation comes up all the time, the vacancy tax comes up again and again and again. I don’t know what the nuts and bolts around it would be, but it seems like a no-brainer,” he said. “In this economy, in this world, money talks and it would alleviate problems elsewhere because we’re bringing revenue so we can deal with some other problems.”

The forum was hosted by the League of Women Voters of Jefferson County, with Renee Klein moderating the discussion. Candidates were given one hour per council position to persuade voters, and were given two minutes each per answer, along with opening statements.

Thomas was raised in Port Townsend, and is a winemaker at the Port Townsend Vineyards.

“We have a 2-year-old, my wife and I, and that informs a lot of why I’m running for city council, because I think the decisions you make today bears fruit often 20, 40 years down the line,” Thomas said.

Cameron Jones is a partner at Woodbridge Farm in the Chimacum Valley, and moved to Port Townsend around eight years ago after serving in the Army Reserve.

“From the time I’ve been here since 2013, I’ve realized that there’s been a lack of representation for the working class folks, especially BIPOC folks on city council,” Jones said.

Jones plans to apply his experience in the agricultural industry to city council, utilizing a holistic approach to meeting the needs of residents with an intergenerational perspective on the future of the town.

Vega was born in Seattle and moved to Port Townsend six years ago, is a field technician for Dailey Computer Consulting, and ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018 with the Green Party.

“Politics is not really new to me, but I come from an activism angle,” Vega said. “What we need is a wide spectrum of viewpoints on this council, and I believe I bring that to the table.”

Wennstrom has lived in Port Townsend the past 23 years, and has served as the director of the local farmers market, a volunteer coordinator for the Wooden Boat Festival, and a reporter for the Port Townsend Leader.

The candidate forum will be available for viewing at https://lwvwa.org/Jefferson.