Ridgefield City Council Position 5 has its first competitive race in more than a decade as city planning commission member Rob Aichele is facing the longtime incumbent Darren Wertz this November.
When he sat down with The Reflector Oct. 8, Aichele said he had visited some 1,900 homes going door-to-door in the past three weeks. He moved to Southwest Washington in 1988, living first in Vancouver and then Battle Ground before settling in Ridgefield.
Shortly after moving to the city in 2015, Aichele said he saw how “cohesive” the city was with its planning, leading him to become a member of the local Lions Club as a first step into service. Since then, he said he has been a regular attendee at the city council and Port of Ridgefield meetings.
When former councilor John Main resigned last year before moving to Idaho, Aichele said he had applied for the vacancy, which was ultimately filled by Jennifer Lindsay. Aichele was appointed to Lindsay’s former planning commission seat she gave up to serve on city council.
Aichele said he has a focus on parks and trails in the city, noting that when listening to residents trail connectivity among the different subdivisions is a chief desire. Making Ridgefield a regional employment center is important to Aichele, as is affordable housing. On the latter issue, he said the planning commission will be looking at reasonable measures the city can implement to make sure Ridgefield had the necessary housing stock, something that would ultimately be brought before council.
Aichele also mentioned $250,000 the city received to begin looking at a second connection to Interstate 5 on the south side of the city, as well as a project to put an overpass over the railroad in town that is moving forward as developments he’s kept his eye on.
“Downtown revitalization is very important to me,” Aichele said, noting that one of the reasons he moved to the city was the charm of downtown.
While developments such as those around the incoming Rosauers grocery store are bringing amenities elsewhere in the city, he stressed a desire to keep downtown in focus, which something such as the overpass opening up the Lake River waterfront to development could help.
He said his past career in the construction industry would be a boon to the council as it looks at development projects. During the last three years, he served as a service representative for the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters, getting union members on job sites and helping with benefits.
Though he’s retired from the construction industry, Aichele said he still has a desire to serve, mentioning he would “bring new energy to city council” should he be elected.
Aichele is the first challenger for Wertz since the incumbent was first elected in 2007. He acknowledged that taking on the longtime councilor would be tough, but that he is up for the challenge.
“It’s hard to unseat an incumbent … but I’ll give it a shot,” Aichele said.
Wertz said he ended up in Ridgefield about 40 years ago after taking a wrong turn, running into the city’s Fourth of July parade before ultimately settling in the city. Wertz’s focus was based on the six “S’s” of service — safety, smarts, streets, space, sustainability and a superior quality of life.
Which priority was paramount to address changed with time, as he gave examples of different “pushes” by council, such as managing the city budget during the Great Recession or securing funding for the Ridgefield Outdoor Recreation Complex
An economist by trade, Wertz spoke at length on financial sustainability for the city, which apart from keeping the city budget balanced also involved keeping the business community strong.
Wertz also addressed affordable housing, though he said one aspect that wasn’t being looked at is those who are retired on fixed incomes who had bought their homes but faced pressures from increasing taxes that can force them out of their properties.
“The only thing that really works is tax policy,” Wertz said regarding the issue with property owners on fixed incomes.
He said that councilors will have to lobby the county and the state in order to make changes, such as freezing assessed values to alleviate the pressure on those individuals.
Wertz has plans to pursue should he be elected for a fourth term, including implementation of a local investing program to help bring new business to the city through a funding network. He also is looking at having the city as a potential site for a rural demonstration project to bring in 5G wireless infrastructure.
Whereas Aichele is building name recognition as a relative newcomer, Wertz pointed to his long tenure on council and the direction the city has taken as reason to vote for him.
“If you like Ridgefield the way it is now, I’m proud of it,” Wertz said. “I felt that after 12 years, if people didn’t know what I’ve done … that should be kind of self-evident.