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County Council field answers questions on housing, ag land

EVERETT — There’s less than a month before Everett and Mukilteo voters will need to sift through eight candidates for County Council Position No. 2.
The primary Aug. 6 chops the candidate pool to two.
In the running are: Sharita Burton, Megan Dunn, Louis Harris, Jennifer Gregerson, Alex Lark, Tyler Verda, Cecilia Wilson and Anna Rohrbough.
Rohrbough is the sole Republican against seven Democrats.
The candidates gathered at a League of Women Voters forum last week in Everett to answer questions on county growth, homelessness, affordable housing and introduce themselves.
On affordable housing and trying to prevent people from becoming homeless, the candidates gave varied solutions.
Gregerson, the mayor of Mukilteo, pointed out she chairs the governmental Alliance for Housing Affordability. Gregerson suggested the county should utilize a “sales tax rebate that the legislature passed this year” to its advantage.
Lark, who works for Housing Hope, advocated for community land trusts and using sweat equity for homeownership. A community land trust is a nonprofit that owns land and can artificially cap sales prices for the housing on its land under the idea of creating a permanently affordable housing stock.
Burton, an attorney and small business owner, said the issue needs to be looked at from all angles to build a larger variety of housing stock. She noted she’s a quick learner.
Verda, who manages the county’s homeless housing and human services programs, said that nonprofits can leverage Medicaid dollars to increase their funding and the county should employ a person specifically trying to help these nonprofits obtain Medicaid dollars to help address homelessness. He also called the Rapid Rehousing programs “one of fastest, most cost-effective ways to address homelessness” and would like to see more funding for it.
Dunn, who works for a nonprofit on pesticide reduction policies and organized Everett’s council district elections effort, said everyone deserves a home. “If you’re a teacher, or a firefighter in this community, you should be able to afford a house. So we’d be different types of housing stock, we need to see more infill and different types of development,” Dunn said. She said she’d push to prevent county affordable housing plans from collecting dust on a shelf.
Harris, who works for the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), called for “more innovative and more robust housing options” and more housing stock near public transportation.
Wilson, an executive assistant to County Executive Dave Somers, pointed to the county’s new Housing Affordability Regional Task Force as one piece of progress. The county has a “big gap between what folks can afford (and) what folks can afford to buy. We are pricing people out of their homes. We need to have affordable housing,” Wilson said.
Rohrbough, a small business owner and Mukilteo City Councilwoman, said supply and demand is tied to housing stock. “We have to look at what is holding back the supply,” Rohrbough said, and said regulations imposed on developers and landlords are the problem. For what’s already built, tax increases on property owners are being passed on to renters.
On a question on growth encroaching agricultural land, Burton said local agriculture needs support to be strong and not susceptible to being lost.
Harris said “we need to invest in our agriculture” by making sure farmers have strong crop returns so developers do not buy up farmland. He clarified in a post-forum interview he isn’t suggesting to subsidize farmers with county money, but wants to see emerging crops such as hemp be able to thrive here.
Lark and Dunn, among others, said orienting zoning policies for dense urban growth will avoid sprawl.
Lark said giving people more walkable communities as well as setting up road lanes to give Bus Rapid Transit better right of way for faster commutes will be helpful in keeping growth to denser areas.
Dunn pointed out she has the Sierra Club’s sole endorsement.
Rohrbough gave a counterstatement on focusing so much on urban growth. Not everyone will want to live in a downtown area; “we have to increase the supply for housing for everybody,” she said.
On Paine Field noise, most candidates said that it’s too early to assess considering the airport began commercial flights in March.
Dunn suggested airlines could eventually use electric planes that are quieter than jets. There are no fully electric commercial passenger planes currently on the market.
Gregerson helped lead the City of Mukilteo’s fight against commercial flight at Paine Field, but now said it’s time to use it to the county’s economic advantage. “Now is the time to capitalize on the benefits and the economic development that we expect to come from that. It’s also time to stick to the commitment of the 24 scheduled flights” the Federal Aviation Administration capped Paine Field to.
Approximately 150 people attended the forum held at a public meeting room in the County Campus.
The forum also hosted the candidates for County Council Position No. 3 representing south county: Incumbent Stephanie Wright, Willie Russell and Meier G. Lowenthal.

  

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