By Richard Walker

As the Aug. 6 primary approaches, many candidates took the opportunity to share their views in a forum held July 11 at City Hall by the Anacortes Chamber of Commerce.

CITY COUNCIL

Candidates for Anacortes City Council Position 2 shared their views on improving downtown, the future of business and affordable housing.

Downtown improvements

Tor Fleming proposed diverting pass-through traffic from Commercial Avenue to R Avenue and improving the streetscape with landscaping, better crossings and wider sidewalks, “and make this attractive for people to move back and forth.”

Sara Holahan said walkability and crossings need to be improved. Speed limit controls and giving larger commercial vehicles another route would make the downtown core more visitor-friendly.

Christine Cleland-McGrath said a beautification plan is being implemented, and tree-planting has helped improve the streetscape in the Central Business District. “What we need to do is try to encourage more businesses to secure their location down there and also, with the help of possibly more multi-family units in the community, that will encourage small business,” she said.

Business in Anacortes

Fleming said he doesn’t expect the manufacturing sector to grow here.

“But we can grow in specialty jobs, in professional services, in IT and information jobs,” he said. “We need to market to companies to come in because we have low cost for space, we have low taxes, low crime and an available workforce that is ready to go.” He said developing a workforce for the future would be bolstered by asking Western Washington University to locate a campus here that focuses on entrepreneurship and business.

Holahan said higher education needs to be expanded beyond the marine trades, and there is industrial land available for green-industry businesses such as solar. “There are also a lot of businesses that are so necessary, such as infant care,” she said. “Also, nursing and health care. We are an older population and health care needs are huge. … Those are also well-paid jobs.”

Cleland-McGrath wants to work with EDASC, the chamber and other economic organizations in the region “to make sure we are recruiting environmentally sustainable business, so as things transition and technology changes, we can continue to have a well-paid labor force in our community.”

Homelessness and housing availability

Fleming said homelessness is driven by rising home costs, addiction, mental illness and domestic disturbances. He proposed expanding the Anacortes Family Center; 72 percent of its clients find a path to a home, he said. He also supports requiring a percentage of new homes meet affordable housing guidelines.

Holahan said homelessness is “not something Anacortes can solve on its own.” She said the city most work with other cities and the state to find funding and resources.

She also proposed using incentives to encourage the development of smaller, more affordable homes.

Cleland-McGrath cited the Anacortes Family Center as an example of a successful private-public partnership. She suggested partnerships that share with other communities the cost of an embedded social worker who can help people stay in their home or navigate out of homelessness. “We need to make sure we can somehow intervene when [someone] becomes housing insecure,” she said.

About the candidates

Tor Fleming is chief financial officer for a high-tech company, with experience in finance, strategy, organizational leadership, and business management.

Sara Holahan is retired deputy director of the Mount Vernon Library, with experience in management and working with city government.

Christine Cleland-McGrath is a real estate broker and city planning commissioner who helped develop the updated development regulations and zoning map amendments scheduled to go into effect in August.

SCHOOL BOARD

Two of three candidates for Anacortes School Board Position 4 — incumbent Bill Shaw, a scientific researcher, and local teacher Jennie Beltramini — talked about how they would provide for early childhood education and special education, and what they want in a new superintendent.

Candidate Maggie Santos, preschool director at Anacortes Lutheran Church, was not present.

The School District closed the preschool program at Whitney School, and Shaw said community partnerships are a likely way of making pre-K programs available.

“Our budget is probably not going to allow us to directly run a preschool program, however we can contribute with facilities and whatever support we might. But we’re going to have to partner with somebody to make a viable solution.”

Beltramini said early childhood education is an equity issue.

“Some kids have access to early childhood education and some don’t,” she said. “It’s a matter of strategically finding those places in the (district’s) strategic plan that are there so that it can be funded.” She said special education is as much a state issue as a local one, and “We need help in Olympia to better fund special education in our schools.”

The new board member will have a hand in hiring the successor to Superintendent Mark Wenzel, who is leaving at the end of the 2019-20 school year for a position in Singapore.

Beltramini said she wants someone with experience in all levels of education who can “take a hard look at how where we can get better,” someone who will be receptive to input from students, teachers, parents, and community members.

Shaw said he’ll look for good communication skills and ability to carry out the district’s strategic plan and support social and emotional learning. He also wants someone who will “inspire teachers on a daily basis.”

The forum also gave candidates on the general election ballot an early chance to be heard during the election season: local business owner John Schryvers and Councilman Ryan Walters, City Council Position 1; Jeremy Carter, Council Position 3 (the other candidate, James Finley, did not attend); Councilwoman Carolyn Moulton, Council Position 6 (John Espinoza did not attend); Miri Levi, School Board Position 3 (Marilyn Hanesworth did not attend); Connie Pangrazi, School Board Position 5 (Matthew Cutter did not attend); and Port Commission candidates Joe Verdoes and Bonnie Bowers, who are unopposed for positions 3 and 4, respectively.

The forum was moderated by John Sternlicht with the Economic Development Alliance of Skagit County and Amanda Hubik, aide to state Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Anacortes.

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