On Sept. 21, Port Angeles City Council Position #2 incumbent Mike French and challenger John Madden participated in an online candidate forum. The Port Angeles Business Association hosted the event.
French, who was elected to the city council in 2017, is the owner and operator of the First Street Haven Restaurant. Madden owns Ready Remodeling.
Over the span of an hour, the candidates discussed topics that included, among other things, the coronavirus pandemic, housing, the city budget, and the future of the city. What follows is a selection of the candidates’ responses.
Moderator: “Would each of you please articulate your thoughts on the current requirements in place [referring to a Clallam County and Jefferson County proof-of-vaccination requirement enacted by the North Olympic Peninsula health officer on Sept. 2]. What if anything would you change in them, and how long do you believe this pandemic would run if your particular policies were in place or you had the ability to set regulations.”
Mike French: “I support what the local health officer is doing, I think that she clearly has the authority to do this, and I think that, as a small business owner, it was definitely jarring to have that mandate come out with maybe, I think two days warning, you know, for all the policies at my restaurant. That was certainly jarring. She had signaled that this was something she was thinking about in the previous meeting. So, I certainly would have loved more notice if I had to do it over again.”
John Madden: “This is something that has to be done with support from the public and cannot be foisted on people, especially by dictatorial means. I’m very sensitive about breaches of the Constitution, and I would just like to see us return to a model that honors the integrity and individual choice of the human being. I see other countries dealing with this pandemic in a way that is a lot more effective, and they have reached herd immunity a long time ago, without shutdowns, masking, or forcing people to take an experimental vaccination.”
Moderator: “Affordable and available housing is an issue—it’s an issue not just for citizens to find a place but for us to attract very good professionals in here. With that said could each of you please articulate what you think is causing this problem and what is anything you could do as an individual council person or as a council together.”
Mike French: “I think in general this is a supply issue, and that’s why for the past four years, I’ve been really focused on what can government do to get out of the way so that markets can function, I think, more effectively. What we’ve tried to do is say, in our permitting processes, in our regulations, what is under our control and what is not under our control, because I think a lot people, there’s this impression that oh this is all the state, the state is doing all this. But that’s actually not true. What we found was that actually had a lot that was under our control. And so you know, two years ago, we did basically zoning reform citywide that was really targeted toward how can we make it more affordable for developers and people to remodel and add housing, both existing housing stock and new housing stock. I think what we did was we made a lot of parcels actually a lot more valuable for development in the city of Port Angeles by allowing them to be subdivided or allowing different rules on setback and all those kinds of things. And I think that was really successful and I think that’s in the long run going to be part of the solution . But of course then there’s advocacy work to be done on what the state rules are.”
John Madden: “This is where we need to have lower income housing available for people. What you’re running against here is a market dynamic where you’ve got AirBnBs and that type of offering, and in our situation right here now, we have a very limited stock of available rooms. People in their homes are inviting people from who knows where, whatever part of the world they’re from, to come and stay in one of their bedrooms for profit. A free market society does that and I don’t think it’s the purview of the city council to interfere with that. I believe more people will open up their homes to low-income housing and that’s going to take some guidance, because there are some considerations that need to be addressed in terms of health, community safety, and most of all contamination of our environment. We’re seeing this in places where the homeless are camping in different locations in town.”
Moderator: “How solid of ground do each of you think the Port Angeles budget is on? Where do you think our budget’s major concerns are especially as we extrapolate into the future?”
Mike French: “My focus for the budget is on how much capacity as a staff—our city staff—to respond to the issues that our citizens really expect us to respond to, not just in law enforcement and code enforcement, but in our building division. Are we delivering enough speed on building permit turnaround. That’s the question that this council is really focused on in our strategic plan is building staff capacity so that we can be responsive as a city to our citizens demands.”
John Madden: “I believe that a portion of our income in this city comes from tourism and we’ve had a problem with the ferry, so this is a fairly significant thing that needs to be addressed. There are certain elements outside of our control with these shutdowns all this type of behavior, but in the long run I believe the budget is not going to be as much of an issue because you’re going to have a resurgence of businesses coming into this city. Right now you see a lot of businesses that have been closed down as a result of the pandemic. I don’t think there are too many other reasons why businesses have been shut down over the last 18 months. As a community we need to work toward getting back to what we called “normal” before, and I believe it’s possible.”
The future of Port Angeles
Moderator: “Tell us how you see Port Angeles in 10 years from now, and most importantly, what would you be doing as a council member to help get to the vision that you see Port Angeles 10 years in the future.”
Mike French: “I really see us growing into a sustainable tourism economy that also has industry as a major sector. And I think that’s something that our community has shown a lot of favor toward through a lot of these open houses that we have. I think that in downtown we can build up, we can get more dense, we can have people living downtown, I think we can transform downtown into a really pedestrian-friendly experience. When a visitor comes to Port Angeles and says what do I need to see, we send them away. We say go to Hurricane Ridge, go to Lake Crescent. What I want to say is, yeah, of course you want to do those things, those are amazing things that show the natural beauty of our area. You also have to visit downtown. That needs to be the third thing on our list of unforgettable Port Angeles experiences and we need to bring our downtown product up to the level where it’s competitive with someone visiting Hurricane Ridge or going out and visiting Lake Crescent.”
John Madden: “Now that we’ve gone through, it’s important to note that we’ve got a sports arena where the younger people can go and play racquet ball, pickle ball, possibly, we have a swimming place here, that’s wonderful. We have all kinds of activities that are healthy for people to engage in. I’m glad that we’ve returned to having exercise at the senior center. That’s extremely important for the health of our people. I know that with population growth, there will be density issues that need to be addressed. I know that we have a new building downtown with mixed-use, which is a good way of dealing with housing and retail combined. It’s hard to see 10 years from now, but I’m optimistic. ”