These are answers to questions asked of various candidates during the Hood River Chamber of Commerce Candidate Forum on October 30, 2018. Each council candidate only received one question. Even in the case of the Budget Priorities question that I was asked, this text provides more precise detail as many of these issues are interconnected.
The City has identified ‘Initiate(ing) a comprehensive downtown parking study’ as a top tier priority in its Fiscal Year 2018-2019 budget. Please explain what answers you hope this survey will answer. Please detail one solution to our parking issues that you would propose as a council member right now (before the study is conducted/concluded).
We’ve had two studies and all the stakeholders with strong opinions and knowledge have been engaged and / or identified. The question at the end of any comprehensive study will be, should we or should we not build a parking structure? Let’s save some time and money, and get straight to the feasibility, cost and financing discussion.
The reason the idea of another study came up again is because a developer was essentially granted a waiver of the in-lieu parking fees to be charged for a 70+ unit development downtown, and many people correctly thought this was wrong. Parking rules, like all others, should be the same for everybody.
What is certain, is that during the summer, and winter snowfall, parking is limited, and this is harmful to the viability of downtown businesses. Until a decision on any future parking structure is made, it is essential that parking requirements for new development be maintained at high levels.
With recent developments in mind –
Do you think the current size, scope and type of development on the waterfront meets the needs of the City of Hood River? Why?
Explain in detail one change to the Waterfront Refinement Plan that you would advocate for should you be elected.
First, the Waterfront Refinement Plan is just four years old. The City was able to assert its will on The Port, public access to the waterfront was permanently protected and compromises regarding the types of development permitted were made. I believe most were satisfied with that process.
Decisions regarding size and scope were made at the time of implementation. It is not our place, after only four years, to make changes to something that hasn’t been demonstrated to be broken. Further, pending litigation needs to be settled before any useful conversations or decisions can be had.
The current issue regarding permitting and allowed use of the Ferment Brewing facility will, I expect, center on details relating to language contained in our building code, and how and why it was interpreted in the way it was. Simplicity of code is an issue identified in the 2015 Housing Needs Analysis, as well.
None of this suggests a problem with the Waterfront Refinement Plan. This is another example of our need to make clear, easy to understand rules and maintain the expectation that everyone follows them equally. Perhaps, if decisions made by The City were less controversial, the Planning Department could do some planning work rather than engage in enforcement and litigation.
To date, I have not seen a case be made regarding changes to the Waterfront Refinement Plan.
Do you see these code changes as having had a positive or negative effect on the City of Hood River?
As a Council member, would you advocate for any specific changes to how short-term rentals are regulated?
There was very little resistance to the idea of more robust permitting and operational requirements with respect to Short-Term Rentals (STR’s) – this was accomplished by Title 5. The contentious issues were related to changes in zoning (Title 17).
The justification for all the actions were loosely existent in the Housing Needs Analysis (HNA), which recommended that The City engage in a process of collecting data, including identifying how many STR’s were in existence at the time and then revisit the process a year later. Rather than collect data (as recommended by the HNA) The City declared an emergency and rushed to regulation. It is the poor result of the rushed process (including the Planning Commission deliberations), and the handling of the Morrison Park issue, that have many people concerned about future harmful decisions, such as what happens once The City is equipped with a completed Westside Plan.
The most glaring mistake in the STR regulations is that residential properties located in Office / Residential and Commercial zones were exempted from both the “primary residence” and “maximum number of nights” requirements. This was a de-facto transfer of property rights and STR ownership from one group of property owners to another (including the possibility of large corporate owned developments). The result appears to include a clustering of high numbers of STR’s in those neighborhoods, impacting both livability and parking throughout the year.
The hope that more housing would be made available by these regulations was completely negated by this oversight / carve-out for those property owners. Whatever you think of STR’s and their regulation, the rules for residential properties should be consistent regardless of the zone where they exist. This is especially true is light of the fact that the same Housing Needs Analysis identified Commercial zones as the greatest opportunity for affordable, multi-family housing.
I would advocate for the standard that any regulation be applied equally to all residential properties.
As a note, The City, and activist group Livable Hood River, maintain that the regulations have been successful in reducing the number of STR’s / increasing available housing. In November of 2017 there were 177 properties with active STR licenses in The City. Today there are 203, an increase of 14 percent.
Traffic / Infrastructure:
Please explain in detail what concrete steps you support to improve our transportation system.
Please explain in detail where the funding will come from to achieve the policies you have advocated for.
As our discussions surrounding the Westside Plan and the Heights Urban Renewal have evolved, the biggest immediate need is an updated Transportation System Plan (TSP). The Planning Director has acknowledged this, transportation is a critical component of the Westside Plan, ODOT is a critical partner in the Heights Urban Renewal project and will require it.
Completion of the Westside plan is a year away, but the road system will be largely the same regardless of the density proposals that are made. If there is an opportunity for help from ODOT with Westside infrastructure, the TSP is a first step and yesterday was not too soon to start.
In The Heights, likely improvements will include sidewalks, enhanced bike lanes and relocation of utilities underground. This will require new road surfaces and we should only do that once. Again, ODOT will want an updated TSP.
Money has been committed from the Road Fund ($500k for 2nd and Oak, $550k Cascade and Rand). I do not know how these figures were originally established and I believe ODOT contributed matching funds. I have heard only anecdotal evidence that cost is a factor in delaying the projects. Of note, $100k was also diverted from the Road Fund to Affordable Housing which leads me to believe that the Road Fund can support actual road building.
First, if money is available from the state (as these are state highways), the Transportation System Plan update is the first step. Second, if only one of these projects can be completed, and it is necessary to use money that was earmarked for the other, I would advocate for moving forward with the most beneficial of the two projects.
The current City Council in its Fiscal Year 2018-2019 budget identified the following as their top tier priorities.
1- Promote affordable/ attainable housing.
2- Initiate a comprehensive downtown parking plan
3- Continuation of the Westside Area Concept Planning process
Eliminate one of the existing priorities and replace it with one of your own. Explain why you chose to eliminate the one you did, and why your replacement priority will be of benefit to the City.
As stated before, I believe we are beyond the need of a downtown parking study. A parking structure is desirable if we can pay for it.
The priority I would add is to update the Transportation System Plan (TSP) and begin the process of working with state legislators and ODOT with respect to assistance with our transportation infrastructure priorities.
Transportation / infrastructure improvements, which will be aided by an updated TSP, will be a step toward affordable / attainable housing, be useful in the Heights Urban Renewal project and make implementing recommendations from any future Westside Plan more feasible.
Do you feel that the City has an adequate level of workforce housing at the time?
Explain one specific policy you would support as a City Council member that would encourage the development of more workforce housing in Hood River.
Everyone wants affordable housing. This is a regional issue that will require regional solutions. I believe that it is appropriate for a municipality to take steps to ensure that critical services are provided for that community, and that may include making housing available for needed nurses, public safety employees and teachers, for example. But not, to be clear, at the expense of parks. We have better options.
I don’t think we have an obligation to subsidize the housing costs of non-critical workforce. That said, we have good news in that it looks like we could finally be on our way to a partnership with Hood River County for a local building department and that is likely to improve housing availability. This should have been done years ago (even before the Housing Needs Analysis). When I say that we should do the small things well, this is the type of thing I’m speaking of.
Another missed opportunity is that several years ago Odell went through the process of updating its unincorporated community boundary. Employers in Odell had expressed a need for workforce housing there. The ability to expand was resisted even though Odell has a need for workforce housing and is already equipped with infrastructure required to add it on affordable land. This is an example where collaboration regarding a regional housing policy would have reduced pressure on workforce housing in Hood River
As a point of reference, keep in mind that Hood River Crossing, the last project of Mid-Columbia Housing Authority in Hood River, is within the city and was promoted as farmworker housing. If “workforce” housing is a priority, we would benefit from regional cooperation to make low-cost market-rate housing available near where people work, when possible.
I would support a program that provided grants for improvements to current housing stock to make it livable. I would fund it with money collected via the current excise tax on construction.
Housing – Future Development:
Do you believe that the Westside Area Concept Plan is a useful process that will yield beneficial results for the both current and future residents of Hood River and will you support the continuation of this process?
Please describe one specific part of the plan that you support and why or describe one specific part of the plan that you disagree with and why?
The Housing Needs Analysis concluded that we meet state requirements of a 20-year supply of buildable land if we devote enough of our Commercial (C2) land to affordable multi-family housing.
Regarding the usefulness of the Westside Area Concept Plan – there is a lot of information to be considered and much of it speaks directly to the challenges we will face, regardless of what level of density occurs. We can prepare to respond positively to some of those challenges now.
As the plan will be completed in about a year, there is little value in halting the process at this point. However, it has already identified challenges we will face. It specifies that parks will be one of them. My concern is that, as the plan data already confirms, we are not being assertive enough in our attention to our stated desire for parks. We don’t need a study to confirm that most of us value parks – we need a plan to acquire them now.
Also, regardless of the density level eventually decided upon, the road system will be largely the same. Our Transportation System Plan was last updated in 2011 and is a necessary first step to orderly and responsible expansion into the Urban Growth Boundary. We don’t need continued studies to know this – let’s get on with it.
Parks and Open Space:
What specific steps will you take to assure the citizens of Hood River that adequate land for parks is both identified and more importantly acquired by Hood River Parks and Recreation or the City within the West Side Plan area?
Regarding parks generally, there are candidates present who advocated (or voted) for the sale and conversion of park land to housing without addressing any need for future parks. They will claim that the agreement protected half of what we hope will remain Morrison Park, but this is not true – it was a bad deal that didn’t guarantee a future park and gave away a valuable city asset.
We are currently heading in the wrong direction on parks. If you believe our shared value system includes a priority placed on open space, you have a choice, and this is a clear one.
The reason parks related to the Westside Plan have garnered attention is that while the plan calls for them, the plan when presented, will specifically acknowledge that making them a reality is a big challenge.
A parks Master Plan has never been adopted, so at this point, responsibility for new parks rests firmly with council as part of any plan that may be adopted. I will not support any increase in zoning until we are able to either acquire land, or place a coherent plan in place, that will insure that parks are a guaranteed component of future development.