Q&A with Libby Urner Wennstrom, Tyler Myles Vega - Port Townsend City Council Position 5 | 2021 Election

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Posted 10/27/21

Libby Urner Wennstrom

Q: What are your three biggest substantive actions to prioritize if you win the council member position?

A: Our critical housing shortage is the top issue facing our city, …

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Q&A with Libby Urner Wennstrom, Tyler Myles Vega - Port Townsend City Council Position 5 | 2021 Election

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Libby Urner Wennstrom

Q: What are your three biggest substantive actions to prioritize if you win the council member position?

A: Our critical housing shortage is the top issue facing our city, and impacts our economy, our workforce and our ability to thrive as a community. Housing touches everything. To improve housing availability, I want to immediately prioritize:

Encouraging renting out existing rentals/ADUs;

Encouraging increased density on new construction; and

Reducing barriers to building both subsidized and market-rate housing.

Q:What policies or actions do you plan to propose relating to the housing prices for low-income residents looking to rent or purchase property in Port Townsend?

A: Our extreme shortage of rentals drives up rents and creates instability, staff shortages and homelessness. The city can help address the shortage of both subsidized and market-rate rentals and encourage creating additional housing by:

Creating incentives encouraging renting out already-existing ADUs to rapidly increase housing availability;

Streamlining permitting and inspections for adding new ADUs (pre-approved plans, checklist permitting, fee deferral or low interest paydown);

Allowing permitted RV occupancy for owner-builders or as a recognized option for rapidly creating ADUs;

Removing barriers to shared housing (multiple unrelated adults occupying a single-family residence);

Continuing to partner with non-profit, county, state, & federal agencies to help develop permanently affordable housing;

Continue to update zoning to encourage thoughtful, sensible housing density (shared-wall, clustering with zero lot line, smaller footprint); and

Continuing to offer SDC waivers for qualified low-income housing development.

Q: What should the city do to restore public trust in the Fort Worden Public Development Authority (PDA), and what steps should the city take to improve oversight of the PDA? While the city has taken some steps, such as creating a financial oversight committee, those meetings aren’t open to the public.

A: This process is already underway. The PDA now has a new board and new senior leadership. Significant financial oversight procedures are now in place, with findings publicly issued by financial staff and reported to both City Council and State Parks. Any irregularities noted by the financial oversight team are discussed by council in public meetings, and any corrective actions (such as refinancing of debt, changes in accounting methods, etc.) must be approved by council. These checks and balances help ensure that past financial mismanagement won’t happen again. Council has made a good start on this, and when I’m on council I’ll continue insisting on real oversight.

Q: Do you believe the city is doing enough to ensure that places offered for rent meet code compliance? Please give the city a letter grade (From A+ to F) on how it has been ensuring that housing rentals meet health and safety codes.

A: Everyone wants safe housing. But getting more housing built quickly should be the top priority for City Code Enforcement, not shutting down rentals because their deck railings are spaced  a half-inch too wide.

Stringent code compliance enforcement may further reduce rental housing availability, worsening our critical housing shortage. Our real goal is to make rental housing safer, and a self-checklist process can do a lot to bring housing up to code without bogging down city staff.

Let’s give landlords the tools to improve housing, and keep our focus on getting more housing available.  No letter grade; written feedback and clear stated goals are more effective at improving performance.

Q: Do you support  up-zoning areas of the city currently zoned for single-family dwellings to increase the supply of housing?

A: All City residential lots are zoned for at least a home plus an ADU.  Universal ADU zoning is a huge step  [toward] quickly increasing density, and we have this in place right now. If a quarter of our existing homes added an ADU, we’d make a huge dent in our housing shortage.

I do support increased density throughout city residential zones – we can make it easier to build duplexes or four-plexes on infill lots, and easier to site small apartment buildings (four to eight units). Having denser development means we get to keep having a full service hospital, fully staffed schools and restaurants, and police and firefighters who actually live here.

Ask yourself:  Do you mind having a duplex down the block, if it means you don’t have to drive to Silverdale for chemo?  If it means your favorite barista doesn’t leave town? If it means there’s a staffed ambulance ready to go when you need one? No housing means no services.

Tyler Myles Vega

Q: What are your three biggest substantive actions to prioritize if you win the council member position?

A: Housing almost goes without saying.  It affects literally everything in our sphere, from the obvious gentrification to the subtle yet ultimately significant impact on climate change to racial and social justice. Key concepts:  Housing overlay zone, Community Land Trust, Permitting, Density, relationshp to parking. 

2) Climate change itself has to be addressed at all levels, and is most easily affected locally.  This ties back strongly to the concepts in answer #1 in several substantive ways, most notably parking and density.

3) Taxation.  Also interrelated, our extremely regressive tax system is based on a bad 1930s court ruling that causes all manner of problems at every level of our reality from potholes to elders getting taxed out of their homes to the swimming pool and having enough resources  to pay key people to be able to live here. 

Somebody has to put direct pressure on the state supreme court on this front and that pressure needs to continue until the root of the problem is fixed.  I believe we are in a position to do so.

Q: What policies or actions do you plan to propose relating to the housing prices for low-income residents looking to rent or purchase property in Port Townsend?

A: There is no short or easy answer to this question, but the core concept of a housing overlay zone.  It’s basically what it sounds like and is worth a few minutes with your favorite search engine.

Q: What should the city do to restore public trust in the Fort Worden Public Development Authority (PDA), and what steps should the city take to improve oversight of the PDA? While the city has taken some steps, such as creating a financial oversight committee, those meetings aren’t open to the public.

A: The moves being made by the city are a good start. 

The new council will be obliged to keep tabs on this situation as it unfolds.  If the closed nature of those meetings are affecting public trust that should be on the table to change that or find an appropriate compromise.

Q: In your campaign you mentioned building a local Green New Deal, why is that a bigger priority than fixing city infrastructure such as streets and sidewalks that are already in disrepair?

A: The two are not mutually exclusive.  All decisions in this era have to be taken with the consideration that climate change will affect us and the outcome of the decision.  This is especially true with infrastructure and how it relates to fossil fuels. We need to be looking at this question with a seven generations type mindset, and the Green New Deal applied locally does a great job of speaking to basic infrastructure maintenance. This question also doubles back to progressive/regressive taxation.

Q: Point Hudson is an integral part of the city’s history, how much funding should the city earmark for the restoration of that vital piece of Port Townsend’s history? 

A: On my list of priorities, history and particularly maritime history are quite high. 

I think that we are obliged to put it at a lower slot than climate change and housing. 

This question really doubles back to regressive taxation and is an impossible question to answer with confidence, because the root of the problem is much deeper than the symptom. 

We don’t have enough money to do all the things we need to do, and that is because we are being held back by a bad law written almost a century ago.

 

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