Vancouver City Council candidates for position 3 differ in terms of police reform and response to the homeless

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None of the candidates running for the Vancouver City Council‘s open 3rd place are newcomers to politics.

David Gellatly is the former chairman of the Clark County Republican Party and head of the party’s local recruiting group, Activate Republicans. Diana Perez, who has been appointed commissioner for Washington State Parks and Recreation and several local bodies and task forces, has twice tried for a seat on the city council. Glen Yung is co-chair of the Hough Neighborhood Association, served with Perez on the Task Force for Council Representation, and has barely missed a single city council meeting in the past two years.

All three are linked to local problems. They used their conversation with the editors of The Columbian to highlight this expertise in hopes of reaching out to voters and pushing through the August 3rd primaries.

On some topics – namely the city’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic – the candidates largely agreed. All three praised the current Vancouver leadership for their relatively level-headed response.

“I honestly think the city did a hell of a job,” said Yung. “Nobody has the crystal ball.”

Perez added that the pandemic had exposed the need for better resilience and fairer communication strategies. She pointed to the businesses along the Fourth Plain Corridor – mostly small, minority-owned businesses – that were struggling to get access to public grants and loans that could have helped them weather the worst of the pandemic.

“Rebuild the local economy that will lead to a more resilient … sustainable city,” said Perez. “Make sure no one is left behind.”

According to Gellatly, the biggest obstacle now will be to stimulate the local economy despite higher wages.

“What our local businesses are struggling with right now is the workforce,” said Gellatly.

On other issues, there was more daylight between each candidate’s position. They disagreed on how best to approach police reform.

While everyone agreed that officer-worn body cameras were a step in the right direction, Perez cautioned against treating the cameras as a panacea. She advocated greater integration of mental health professionals into the police force, more training on non-lethal interventions, and increased funding for the city’s homeless and resource team, which currently consists of just two people.

“When it comes to the VPD, I’ve talked to the boss and one of the most important things is to build that trust in the community,” said Perez. “The recent shootings – the four shootings that happened in a very short space of time – have been quite traumatic for our community.”

Gellatly cautioned against following in the footsteps of Portland, where homicide rates rose after a four percent cut in the Portland Police Bureau’s budget.

“There’s a knock on our door and we don’t want to comply with the failed Portland policies,” Gellatly said.

“I believe in increased accountability and that requires investment,” he added. “Overall, I think that as our population grows, the budget needs to increase.”

Yung, who testifies frequently at city council meetings to express his support for speedily tracking a body-worn camera program for the police, said cameras “may not come early enough.” He added that he supports reducing the duties of police officers so that they can respond to a narrower range of problems and advocate more resources for the mentally ill.

“We need to allow our police force to be fine-tuned to what they are doing and not be spread out too thinly and trained on so many different subjects,” Yung said.

Fight homelessness

Candidates differed in their comments on a new proposal from city officials to set up assisted campsites – small, fenced-in spaces where uninhabited people can temporarily live in tents, with a blessing from the city, access to better sanitation and more security.

Yung said he conditionally supports the plan Vancouver Homeless Resources Coordinator Jamie Spinelli came up with after months with local homeless communities. But he warned of a sloppy execution, fearing that if the idea were poorly executed, it could lead to a split between the neighbors that the navigation center had sparked.

“We have to acknowledge that we tried something, but we failed. We all have to admit that (the navigation center) failed, ”said Yung. “What (Spinelli) has planned is a way to mitigate the impact on the neighborhoods.”

Gellatly said the camps were a terrible idea. He suggested a tiered approach to tackling homelessness, citing similar schemes in San Diego and Rhode Island. Step one, he went on, make contact with a day center or similar animal shelter; Level two would help unhodged people connect to mental health or addiction services to address underlying issues; and stage three would see her in permanent shelter and a job.

“You can move people through the system to get them back on their feet,” Gellatly said. “It is not compassionate to let these camps be what they are.”

Perez said the campsites could function as part of the initial emergency response, but long-term changes will require more extensive changes to the city’s zoning to improve housing affordability.

“We can’t just rely on the status quo and the pavement. We need new ideas, ”said Perez. “We have to enable our residents and our developers when it comes to affordability, and we can do that.”

The three candidates will appear on the primary election of Vancouver residents on August 3rd. The incumbent, Mayor Pro Tem Linda Glover, is not seeking re-election.



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