The eventual successor to Clark County Councilor Julie Olson will focus on housing and land issues once elected.
During a candidate forum on June 23 put on by the League of Women Voters of Clark County, candidates Michelle Belkot, Kim Hamlik and Chartisha Roberts answered questions regarding their potential positions in the district 2 seat of the county council.
The district encompasses the majority of the land to the northwest of Vancouver city limits bounded by Interstate 205 to the east, save for a dozen voter precincts. The person who wins the election will succeed Olson, who has decided not to run again.
Roberts, like all of the candidates, said she wants to address homelessness, housing affordability, public safety and transportation. As a Black woman, she said she wants to be a representative of constituency not cuurently represented as all of the councilors are white.
“I want to create access for others who don’t have the privilege to run for office,” Roberts said.
Hamlik said she enjoys researching, is approachable and “love(s) to bring people together to work on solutions.” She said an increase in crime, homelessness, and affordable housing that features livable neighborhoods with supportive business industry are her concerns.
Belkot said she doesn’t want Clark County to morph into its biggest nearby metropolitan area.
“I’m running because I’m concerned Vancouver is becoming a Portland with the issues of homelessness, crime and the tolling issues that it doesn’t seem any state can agree on,” Belkot said.
Development and council division
On transportation, Hamlik said traffic studies are outdated, which impacts how the county is able to handle much-needed infrastructure work.
“We are adding a lot of homes, a lot of high-density homes, especially in our district, that we do not have the roads, safe roads (for). We do not have the sidewalks to walk on. We do not have the bike paths to ride our bikes,” Hamlik said.
Belkot turned the conversation to the replacement of the Interstate 5 bridge. She said she does not want light rail or tolling to be included in the project.
“It’s time for Clark County to have sensible solutions,” starting by “not just allowing Portland to do whatever they want,” Belkot said.
Leaning on experience in the transportation sector, Roberts said the expansion of C-Tran resources, incentives for carpooling and creating safer ways for cycling should be included.
Belkot said she has watched county council meetings for the past two years and has seen the division among councilors. She said the council could increase its time allotted for public comment, noting how during the council’s hearing on the county’s Vacant Buildable Lands Model and Report it had shut out proponents of the building industry due to the time restrictions.
Hamlik also remarked on the lack of input, but stressed her ability to work with people.
“I’m a person that can do that. I love meeting people. I love hearing both sides of all situations and treating each other with the utmost respect,” Hamlik said.
Roberts focused on bringing more perspectives to the council.
“We all have different perspectives that we bring. … How am I going to tell you that your perspective is wrong?” Roberts said.
Fireworks and housing
Councilors were also asked about fireworks, which their predecessor Olson has pushed back on during her tenure.
Roberts noted county residents are divided in regard to fireworks. She said she is in favor of meeting “somewhere in the middle” with the county populace regarding firework usage.
Hamlik agreed with Roberts’ assertion the issue has people on both sides, noting she personally is not a fan of fireworks but her husband is. She noted other sorts of celebrations can be considered inconvenient, like parades and the associated road closures.
“The true meaning of the celebration is the freedom and our independence, and that’s what people want to show,” Hamlik said.
Belkot said during her time in the military, Vancouver stood out for its fireworks celebration.
“I think it stands for fun, family and our country’s independence, which is huge for me,” Belkot said.
On housing, Hamlik said greater community participation is needed before work can take place.
“We cannot afford to … force houses in neighborhoods of it affecting the neighborhood it is being built in,” Hamlik said.
Belkot said interests in building and real estate are left out of county projects that aim to address housing.
“We need to be talking to people who are actually in the building trenches, so to speak, in construction, and hear what builders have to say, what (real estate agents) have to say,” Belkot said.
Roberts said not every family has the funds to put down toward the generational wealth provided through owning a home. It is important to have access to a variety of housing types, she added.
Belkot was the most defiant against Clark County Public Health’s work during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said there isn’t enough support from the community who has expressed concerns over how the health department handled itself.
“In the last two years that really didn’t happen, in my personal opinion,” Belkot said. “The role of the county councilors is to represent the people for the board of health. Their voice wasn’t really listened to on several different occasions.”
Roberts favored following the scientific guidelines during the pandemic.
“Yes, some of the measures were uncomfortable, but it indeed saved lives,” Roberts said.
Hamlik remarked on the amount of work the department does, from food safety to the safety of public beaches.
“I would do anything I needed to do to support them,” Hamlik said.
Although Roberts said she maintains a focus on housing, she said the county needs to work on its economic growth plan to keep jobs in Washington.
“We need to invest in the county to invest in ourselves to reap the benefits of that,” Roberts said.
Hamlik said she would like to see a focus on growing Clark County’s economic base, given the county’s reliance on Oregon.
“I would prefer to keep all the money and the jobs over on this side of the river,” Hamlik said.
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