Local businesses, the city’s recovery from the pandemic, future growth, affordable housing and development were all up for discussion Oct. 20 at the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce candidate forum.
With the Nov. 2 general election less than two weeks away, the forum was one of the last chances for Snoqualmie’s two mayoral and two city council candidates in competitive elections to speak directly to voters. Here are some of the highlights.
Katherine Ross and Peggy Shepard, who both sit on the city council, are vying to be the town’s first new mayor in 16 years after current Mayor Matt Larson announced earlier this year he would not seek re-election. Larson has endorsed Ross.
Ross has served on the council for the past four years and touted her experience on the city council, having served on all four of the council committees and having chaired two of them. She also highlighted her strong relationship with city staff and the endorsements she has received from other councilmembers.
“You need to be able to work with others. It takes collaboration with council and city staff,” Ross said. “Relationships are the most important thing you need to get things done.”
Ross said one of her biggest priorities would be helping the business community and economy recover from the pandemic. She proposed a key way to do this is restoring city events — lost due to the pandemic — to increase tourism and foot traffic in the city.
“This past year our general operating revenues were impacted by COVID,” she said. “We have to figure out how we are going to get additional revenue, you can cut costs, add revenue through taxes or engage in development, and I want to engage with the public on how we go forward.”
She also expressed priorities including restoring the Snoqualmie Parkway, working to bring more affordable housing to the community and providing more recreational opportunities for youth in the city, including working with state officials to find funding for a swimming pool.
“We have the youngest population in the state,” she said. “We need more recreation in the city. The community center is bursting at the seams, and there’s such a large request for a swimming pool.”
Ross also attacked her opponent for an ethics violation she face earlier this year for violating the appearance of fairness during city developments and sharing attorney-client privileged emails.
“Let address the ethics violation,“ Ross said. “Our residents are facing a moral dilemma can we vote for someone who violated the ethics code?”
In response, Shepard accused the current administration of using the city attorney’s office to “silence dissent.” She said the censure was a low point in the current administration and that her administration will support all councilmembers.
Shepard, who has served on the council since 2018, has listed her top priorities as preserving the environment, making city government more transparent and filling existing, empty storefronts before building new developments. Although she said she agrees with the way the city has handled the pandemic, she said she doesn’t see the point of building more when there are empty storefronts.
“There is a big difference between me and my opponent, I want to push back on development,” Shepard said. “The bottom line is we need to protect our environment for now and future generations and stop pushing development’s burden on our residents.”
Shepard also differs in her plans for the police, she said she wants to consider contracting police services with the King County Sheriff’s Office, something done in other Eastside cities, which she said will reduce costs and increase the quality of training and new recruits.
“I’ve been characterized as defunding the police but that’s not what I’m doing,” she said. “I’m looking at what costs are, and how we do we have the same police presences [with] better reporting and better training. I am not for reducing the number of police officers in our community.”
Shepard also expressed concerns about the city’s access to future water rights and shortfalls, as well as traffic, that could occur if the city grows too quickly. She also expressed concerns about the Mill Site development and the impacts it could have on the city’s water.
“Your city’s focus on development is jeopardizing your quality of life,” Shepard said. “Trying to build structures when we can’t fill existing spaces.”
The only competitive city council race in Snoqualmie is between four-year incumbent and architectural-firm owner Matt Laase and challenger Tanya Lavoy, who works as a legislative assistant in the Washington state senate.
Laase, who served on the planning commission prior to being on council, spoke about his experience working and living in Snoqualmie and his collaborative approach to getting policy done as keys to his success on council. He also said he views himself as the voice of fiscal responsibility in the city.
“We need to take care of our needs before our wants,” he said. “I won’t always support something, but I will always work to make it better.”
Laase said he supports building duplex and triplex homes, or tiny homes, on space traditionally meant for single-family homes to increase access to affordable housing. He said its important to allow everyone who works in the city to live there — including school teachers and police.
He also wants to designate more open spaces in the city and make sure all new developments have some component of open space. He said he supports a balanced method towards development but wants to alleviate the cost of development on residents, making developers pay the cost. Additionally, he discussed recreational improvements and making the city’s parks environmentally sustainable.
To help the business community, he highlighted his work as a small business owner and the connection between affordable housing and the employee shortage in the city.
“I think it’s really simple, it’s employees, employees, employees,” he said. “ They don’t have housing to live in the community they work, they may not have transportation to get here and there’s a lack of public transit.”
Further, he wants the city to go beyond the food and beverage industry when it supports local businesses
“Supporting business is more difficult in action, but I know that larger business ownership is office, commercial and industrial,” he said. “We want to support all businesses, not just food and beverage.”
Similarly, Lavoy also talked about the importance of employees not being able to live in the city they work in. She particularly highlighted the challenges women face with a lack of childcare in the area and how police living outside the city, including some who live on the other side of the pass, pose a safety issue.
“I represent a new generation of folks with younger families just starting out,” she said. “We have a max exodus of women leaving the workforce due to childcare.”
Lavoy also talked about the importance of police hiring more candidates from diverse backgrounds, including more women. She said she wants to explore hiring a behavioral health expert to work alongside the police and make sure police do not have to work overtime or extra jobs.
In terms of supporting the business community, Lavoy said it is all about giving them tools they can use to succeed and finding long-term solutions. She highlighted starting an online store, similar to one made by the City of Kirkland, that businesses could use to sell their products online. She also added it is important that the city council rotate meeting times to provide access to different residents.
“It’s about giving tools to our businesses,” she said. “I’m not going to think of everything, but I want to make time for conversations.”
She also wants to make sure that the city’s sidewalks and streets are safe so that the city can encourage walk-ability, something she said would help the business community, the environment and reduce the city’s reliance on cars.
Going forward, Lavoy said the city should look more for state help with funding issues. She called on her experience working alongside those in Olympia, getting to speak with business owners and connecting them to resources, as something that would be valuable on the council.
“I’m not a politician. My day-to-day is serving the public helping businesses access find relief funding,” she said. “Seeing policies at the state level, and what Snoqualmie could use, could bring a new approach to the council that others aren’t bringing.”
Check it out
To watch the full forum, visit the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber’s Facebook page or click below: