New commissioner will tackle growth management, criminal justice and land use planning problems
The seat for Clark County Commissioner District 3 is up for grabs this November. The district represents the city of Vancouver residents and businesses and is currently held by Steve Stuart, who was appointed ten months ago.
Owner of Mielke Trucking for 18 years and state legislator for eight, Building Industry Association-endorsed Tom Mielke has worked on transportation, criminal justice and land use planning for Southwest Washington during his political career. His opponent for commissioner, Steve Stuart, brings to the table experience in land use planning and urban growth issues as executive director of Urban Reserve and Friends of Clark County and state policy director of 1000 Friends of Washington. He has a law degree from the University of Oregon School of Law and master’s degrees in both community planning and environmental law.
What is the county’s role in economic development? What should it be?
Stuart: Our role in economic development has simply been zoning land. We have the opportunity to be the coordinating body between the cities, port, private sector and the county. Utilizing focused economic development areas is a way we can avoid thinning our resources. The one I am working on is the Salmon Creek Research Park area with WSU Vancouver with Legacy Health Center, Kaiser, with the county and also the State Economic Development Council to figure out better ways to pluck that low hanging fruit of job creation. By focusing our resources, we can actually leverage a lot of investment in this community.
Mielke: What we have not done is allowed any parcels large enough to influence businesses to come in here. We have to give the businesses the flexibility that they require and that they want in terms of access to the freeway or to the railroad line or to the ship line. It’s not up to the county to tell me "you are going to locate over here whether it works for you or not." We have not planned for our growth. For example, since 1987, we have never grown less than 2 percent and yet we have never planned for that. But in the planning for that we need a balance of building in industrial and business to the homebuilding.
Talk about the pros and cons of the gas tax and its opposing initiative 912.
Mielke: I support I-912. I think most of the business community thinks construction improves the economy, but that’s not necessarily true. We should not be doing this at this time because of the economic impact. Having sat on transportation committee all eight years as a legislator, we offered up reform to the Department of Transportation. All the sales tax on the automobiles, on the tires that we buy – all those things go back into the general budget, they do not go back into our transportation needs.
Stuart: I am opposed to Initiative 912. There are about 30 billion dollars worth of existing needs in our transportation infrastructure, identified by the Department of Transportation and the legislature. Without the gas tax we will see worse safety problems on SR 14 and a complete bottleneck in Battle Ground, who so desperately wants to see jobs. How about Evergreen Airport and all of the new trips they want to add with that great economic development proposal that’s going on out there? I can almost guarantee that if it doesn’t go in quick, we will go back into failure before they ever get on line. There are reasons that the business community gets out maintaining this gas tax – it’s because it maintains the flow of our economy.
The moratorium of development at Salmon Creek has the effect of curtailing business growth. How did this situation come about in the first place? Is there an effective solution? How can it be avoided in other high growth areas?
Stuart: Growth got ahead of us and we hadn’t actually planned ahead to make sure the roads would be in place, and the reason we are in moratorium now is because the former board just lowered the level of service standards.
We want to figure out what the total capacity is in that corridor after improvements to 134th and 139th. Then we can start thinking about other routes we are going to move people to. Also, WSU Vancouver is one of the biggest users of trips in the corridor because there is no bus service to the college. That means WSU has to get more creative with C-Tran and the county to get bus service for their students so there are less kids riding on the east side of the corridor.
Mielke: For the last several years, C-Tran has promised us a park and ride on Highway 99 because the one on 134th is overbulging. If you can’t build the interchange right now the least you can do is move the park and ride up or down that highway or over to the other side or something, and that would be relatively affordable at this time. One of the things I proposed at the state legislature was…to make a new bridge and get rid of that one intersection completely.
There are affordable ways under the current budget to fix the problem we have right there.
Mielke: We are sitting on a goldmine here as far as development. Those businesses over there paying taxes to the state of Oregon should be over here. I think we have the man power. I think we have the land that we can grow on. We want to bring in the big business but we never want to forget mom and pop – mom and pop brings in 80 percent of our employment. We need to look forward and plan for the growth – we cannot stop that growth.
Stuart: Unless we make it more conducive for employers to come here, they will find somewhere else. I have talked about prioritizing our transportation investments. Businesses need access. It’s why I have talked about prioritizing our planning dollars and worked to create a better planning process that gets ahead of those jobs and actually tackles the two years worth of work that an employer would have to do just on environmental permitting alone. We can take that two years and make it two months using action ordinances and programmatic environmental impact statements that plan for the entire area.