ANACORTES — About 50 people attended an online forum Thursday evening to hear from the two candidates running for Anacortes mayor.
Matt Miller and Ryan Walters, both Anacortes City Council members, discussed their visions for the city and took questions.
Miller, a retired member of the Navy and former small business owner, said his focus as mayor would be to promote "smart growth" with limited building space and 40% of the city comprised of forest lands.
He said another priority is public safety.
"Fully funding our police department and making sure they have the tools, not only the tools to do their job, the personnel to do their job, and the backing of their elected officials and their community to help them do their job," he said.
Miller said he supports continuation of the city's high-speed broadband network, completion of the Guemes Channel Trail, and the MJB redevelopment project to increase waterfront access.
He noted that the city's budget has jumped from about $45 million to $72 million during his time on the council.
"That's a pretty it's pretty substantial increase in an eight-year period," he said. "Although I would argue there's a lot of important things that require that kind of increase, it's something that we have to really pay close attention to."
Walters is a former deputy prosecutor for Skagit County and is currently the planning director for the Samish Indian Nation. He is serving his third term on the Anacortes City Council.
He said he had three priorities: preserving small-town character, protecting the natural environment, and improving affordability for the middle class.
“We need to keep the right scale of new development in Anacortes as much as we can,” he said. “I think that means not allowing five-story buildings in the middle of neighborhoods.”
He said he wrote the city’s emergency ordinance to pause building permit applications for five-story structures between Commercial and M avenues and 10th and 29th streets.
Walters said he supports new townhouses, condos, and multifamily buildings in appropriate areas, and that new housing would lessen the strain of the county’s nearly 0% rental vacancy rate.
He said another part of improving affordability is expanding access to child care and good-paying jobs.
He added that the city should rejuvenate the skate park and provide a good location for the Boys & Girls Club.
“I want to make sure that our kids have someplace to go and something to do especially now that we've just lost the bowling alley,” Walters said.
The candidates responded to several audience questions.
Both candidates agreed the city needed to adapt for climate change and focus on renewable energy, but cited different measures the city has taken.
Miller said the city has converted some of its vehicles to a gasoline-natural gas hybrid, explaining that natural gas burns cleaner than gasoline. He added that solar panels are installed on nearly every city building, and keeping the city’s forest lands intact helps absorb carbon dioxide.
“Anacortes is a green city, and a tree city, and we should continue to be a leader in that area,” he said
On the issue of climate change, Walters said the city has switched streetlights to more efficient LEDs, and converted city facilities to green power it purchases from a wind farm. He said the city also needs to enforce the state’s new energy code to ensure new buildings are energy efficient.
“And finally, housing affordability — which helps people who work here live here — can take cars off the road, it can improve traffic, which we're all very interested in. And that helps reduce greenhouse gas,” he said.
Another question asked the candidates if they would support a vaccine mandate for city employees with COVID-19 cases still surging.
About 62% of the city’s 236 employees are fully vaccinated, according to Emily Schuh, the city’s administrative services director.
“I'm not a proponent of mandatory vaccines for city employees,” Miller said.” I am a proponent of vaccines 100%. I think it's a great solution to the pandemic.”
He said he supports following the public health guidance of the county’s medical officer, but “I think ultimately, it comes down to the individuals making risk decisions.”
Walters said he doesn’t see himself supporting a vaccine mandate for all city employees, but supports the state’s vaccine requirement for emergency responders.
He agrees that the city should follow public health guidelines, and that “the most important thing is to slow community spread and protect the most vulnerable around us.”