Candidates face off at Vashon political forum

Housing, dog parks, and drug use law — it all came up at a candidate forum held at the Presbyterian Church.

Housing, dog parks, and drug use law — it all came up Thursday, Sept. 21 at a candidate forum held at the Vashon Presbyterian Church.

Candidates for the local school board, cemetery district, park district, and County Council Position #8 spoke, with Vashon Island Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Amy Drayer facilitating the evening.

A link to view a video of the candidate forum in its entirety can be found here.

Here’s some of what the candidates had to say. (See page 3 for a separate article about four Vashon School Board candidates. A longer version of this story appears online.)

King County Council #8

Sofia Aragon, a registered nurse, executive director of the Washington Center for Nursing, and the Mayor of Burien, attended the meeting via Zoom — she was experiencing a minor illness and did not want to risk exposing attendees in case it was contagious.

“Our region’s leaders need to do better,” Aragon said, citing challenges at the King County Regional Homelessness Authority and a recent spate of home invasions against elderly Asian residents in the county.

“We want King County to be a safe, health, inclusive place,” Aragon said. “I want to focus on treatment and common sense solutions on crime, homelessness and public health.

Teresa Mosqueda, whose career includes work and activism in healthcare, labor and public policy, is currently a Seattle City Councilmember — now seeking a seat at the county level.

Her desire to serve and craft policy is in concert with what she sees as islanders’ priorities, Mosqueda said: “A healthy connected and vibrant community” that promises access to affordable housing and solutions to climate change and environmental degradation.

Asked if they’d commit to attending or at least sending a staff member to the island’s regular community council meetings, both candidates said they supported the idea.

“I would definitely support having a staff member consistently attend the meeting,” Aragon said.

“My staff has attended the Community Council by Zoom in the past, and I would very much like to not just have a staff member, but be out here myself,” Mosqueda said.

Both candidates said they’d advocate for Vashon to have a seat on the King County Cities Climate Collaboration (K4C), a partnership of local governments dedicated to addressing climate change.

“You are on the front lines here in Vashon, and dependent on solutions to address climate change,” Mosqueda said. “I think it’s imperative that you have a seat there.”

“Vashon is left out of the conversation just because you’re not a city,” Aragon said. “I don’t have a problem having Vashon on the K4C table. And another area I see Vashon is absent … is around airport issues. … I always felt like it was wrong that Vashon was kind of on the side … but they’re constantly being ignored because they’re not an official airport city. So I think it’s really important Vashon be given that seat at the table.”

On affordable housing…

Aragon said it makes sense to increase density close to major thoroughfares and offer financial support to housing projects on the island.

“It depends on what the community wants to see … and how Vashon wants to be developed,” Aragon said.

She pointed to models such as Habitat for Humanity, King County’s EcoTHRIVE community land trust, and more straightforward affordable housing or mixed-market rate housing projects as options to ease the housing pressure. But those projects will take years to complete, she cautioned.

Mosqueda, who chairs Seattle’s city council housing committee, cited conversations she’d had with Vashon HouseHold, which at one point spent half a decade just to get permitting from the county. That wait cost millions of dollars and deprived people of housing in the meantime, she said, so Mosqueda advocated for expediting permitting with the county, investing in places such as Vashon-Maury and waiving fees for affordable housing.

“We know what it takes to invest in more affordable housing,” she said. “It’s resources, it’s expediting the permits and it’s waiving the fees.”

A speaker asked how candidates would handle short-term rental properties, like AirBNBs, which tend to serve tourists and visitors rather than local workers and residents.

There’s a lack of supply on the island, Aragon said, and she’d support a county position to grow housing density and consider regulations and restrictions on short-term rentals to promote housing for workers.

“I absolutely support regulating short-term rentals,” Mosqueda said. “It is not punitive to the property owner. In fact, it promotes greater economic activity if we have more people working and living on the island.”

She said she’s also looking into a vacancy tax, which could be a tool to compel property owners to put tenants in homes. It would require state authorization, she said.

On drug law…

One audience member questioned Mosqueda’s recent vote against criminalizing drug use and possession in Seattle, and whether she’d repeat it at the county level. The state legislature recently outlawed public illegal drug use or possession, and Seattle’s new ordinance gave the city’s attorney the explicit power to prosecute that use.

“I don’t think it’s good” for those in addiction to be using, nor for the community to see that use, Mosqueda said, but she rejected the idea of solving the problem with more criminal justice intervention.

“Instead of additional prosecutorial authority, we should be investing in pre-arrest diversion strategies that get people into housing, health, counseling services,” Mosqueda said. “That is what I voted to support.”

Aragon said she fully supported the new state law and its codification in Burien. This was an urgent need, she said, and the county needed a uniform standard (a gross misdemeanor) for addressing drug use.

“The gross misdemeanor was carefully negotiated through all of our legislators,” she said. “It was not an easy thing to do.”

Vashon Park District

There’s no drama in this race — both candidates said they felt the current board is doing good work.

Eight-year incumbent commissioner Bob McMahon is an engineer with experience in the Navy submarine service, the shipbuilding industry, manufacturing, project management and consulting.

His interest lately centers on the Park District’s pool, McMahon said, as it’s a source of consistent exercise for both older and younger island residents.

Vashon’s parks were in a poor financial situation when he came on the board, McMahon said, and the board is still working out of the aftershocks.

Now, he said, “the meetings are boring … we’re getting the work done, and I think everybody is happy with our performance.”

Challenger Mike Spranger, who’s worked in logistics and is now pursuing a news-making kelp farming operation on the island’s south side, said the board could be even better.

“I think I’ll reiterate what Bob said about there seemingly not being a lot of drama,” he said. “That implies things are going well. … From what I’ve seen, I think the board and the district are doing a great job.”

But the deteriorating Tramp Harbor Dock, which has been closed to the public since late 2019, could be one source of drama, Spranger said. The board is working to replace it with a roughly $2.7 million for a new dock, which Spranger supports, and he said he’s the right man for the hard work in securing grants and resources for the project.

He’s experienced in strategy and financial work from his career, which would aid in managing the budget and putting together the district’s next six-year plan in 2024, Spranger said.

And “I really, really like the parks,” he said.

A fenced dog park has long been requested by many dog owners. Asked for their support for a contingency match for such a project:

“I wouldn’t,” Spranger said. “Part of the park’s district mission is to acquire and maintain parks. I’d focus almost entirely on the maintenance component, and not the acquisition component.”

That doesn’t rule out placing a dog park on an existing park parcel, an idea to which Spranger said he’d be more open.

McMahon said the district has worked hard to try to find a place for such a park, but that’s been a challenge.

“It’s not a money issue, it’s really more of a compatibility issue,” McMahon said. “I love dogs and I’d like to see people be able to get them out there, run around without a leash, but it’s true; there are several parks where dogs are allowed to be off-leash, as long as they’re under the control of their owner.”

Vashon Cemetery District

Two candidates, Catherine Sullivan and Deborah Brown, are running to fill one open seat on Vashon’s Cemetery District board currently held by Jay Hanson, who is not running for re-election.

Vashon’s is the only publicly-owned cemetery in King County. As of this year, it also became the only cemetery in King County to offer completely green burials, developing a small section of the cemetery ground for this purpose.

The cemetery’s operations are funded by Vashon’s smallest tax levy, currently 2.5 cents/$1,000 of assessed property value.

Brown, a 35-year resident of Vashon, has worn many hats around the island, including Chamber of Commerce Director and working at the school district, health center and fire department. She’d seek to increase opportunities for schools to visit and learn history at the cemetery while prizing the solemnity that it deserves.

Sullivan, another longtime community member with experience in logistics and finance and work at Harborview Medical Center, said she wants to preserve the diverse pieces of the facility — its military, religious, progressive and creative roots.

Having only attended cemetery meetings for the last five or six months, Sullivan couldn’t say specifically how the agency sets its budget, though she said she intends to learn. Brown was in the same boat as Sullivan; she also praised the district for the scale of its programming given its small budget.

Asked about scheduling conflicts between funeral ceremonies and the Sportsman’s Club — which occasionally uses the grounds — both candidates said better communication is needed between the club and the cemetery district.

Election details

Ballots are mailed out on Oct. 20; you have until Oct. 30 to register or update your address online, though you can also do so in person at a county voting center through election day.

To register to vote, go here.

Election day is Nov. 7.