Four council candidate field questions during forum

It may have been a virtual debate, but plenty of issues were covered.

The League of Women Voters of the San Juans hosted an online forum for the San Juan County Council candidates on Oct. 7.

Incumbent Rick Hughes and challenger Cindy Wolf are running for San Juan County Council Residency District 2. Christine Minney and Ryan Palmateer are running for San Juan County Council Residency District 1. San Juan County voters vote for both of the positions.

Hughes, who is running for his third term, opened the forum with his statement.

“It’s been a great honor to serve over these past eight years. It’s been the best job I’ve ever had in my life,” he said. “My son is sixth-generation Orcas Islander on my wife’s side and fourth-generation on my side. … There is nothing I want to do more than keep this community safe and prosperous.”

Hughes noted his 30 years of small business and corporate business experience, his time serving on many nonprofit boards, including co-founding the Agricultural Guild and the many connections he’s made during the past two terms, at both the local and state level.

Wolf said she is running because county government needs “new thinking.”

“We need to regenerate our economy in the face of COVID-19,” she said. “This moment offers the opportunity to recreate ourselves in a healthier and more sustainable way.”

Wolf noted fostering a diverse economy, increasing affordable housing and more oversight in public spending as topics of import.

“I want to make sure every penny we spend takes our carbon foot, our future climate and our economic health in consideration,” she said.

Minney has lived on San Juan Island for 24 years, raised two children, owned and operated a restaurant for close to 10 years and held a variety of volunteer positions.

“I have learned many things in my life here that will allow me to be effective, engaged and respectful of all our island residents,” she said. “I believe I have the personal tools as a strong, effective woman who can represent many in our community.”

Palmateer spoke about his first experience of the San Juans — taking his girlfriend for a romantic winter weekend getaway in Friday Harbor. The warmth and friendliness made it seem like, “We had known everyone for years.”

“Megan and I knew this was a place we wanted to spend the rest of our lives,” he said.

After experiencing his first summer on the island, living next to a collection of vacation rentals, Palmateer became committed to maintaining the “quality of life” the couple had found.

Below are some of the questions asked of the candidates. To watch the full recording, go to Passcode is ^5Q^lwbs.

Question and Answer portion

LWV: What are the three most pressing issues facing the county?

RP: Local economic recovery from COVID-19, affordable housing and vacation homes and agricultural support.

CW: Regenerating the economy, affordable housing and long-term planning.

CM: COVID-19 recovery, vacation rentals and affordable housing.

RH: COVID-19 response and economic recovery, renewable energy and sustainability and affordable housing, particularly for elders.

LWV: With the loss of the Life Care facility (on San Juan Island) our elderly population is now forced to leave to the mainland to receive appropriate care. What role does the county council have in creating a safe location so our elders do not have to leave?

RH: We work with the Department of Health as a sitting council, and part of it is overseeing the long-term plan of the hospital districts. … I was just working with Orcas Fire and Rescue on their long-term strategic growth plan, which is what this is all about. … Like any other rural community, we need to provide the infrastructure and council can provide this on many different levels that will allow someone who needs medical attention to receive it in 20 minutes.

CW: When I was speaking to the various people who are experts in the care of seniors, the major problem I heard was a lack of care for people who need to pay for medicare. There is a model called the Greenhouse Program that seems to be an effective way of providing care — it’s like an adult foster care program

CM: I understand there is a real, critical need to focus time and attention to address the lack of skilled nursing and the lack of convalescence and rehabilitation housing on all three islands. … We need to create public-private partnerships. I think that in the long run, having the hospital districts and county and outside regional organizations, we have the ability to create something that can fulfill the incredible need in terms of that elder care.

RP: I believe people have the right to affordable healthcare, and at the local level, we can work on this critical issue regarding healthcare in a variety of ways. County council is at best a coordinator of our public agencies. I will work with the office of the insurance commissioner, San Juan Health Department and the hospitals and clinics to make sure we have the right care for our elders.

LWV: Do you support placing limits on the number of transient vacation rentals in the county, and if so, would the number increase or decrease from what it currently is at?

CM: There needs to be a cap. I do believe there are some sensible approaches to establishing that cap. I think it will naturally decrease through the process of figuring out those vacation rentals that are sticking to the program and those not. I don’t think in any way I would make it higher than it is.

RH: Yes, I do support a cap or final number. I do support an annual lottery that would work very similar the way te guest house accessory dwelling unit lottery works, where there is an x amount of new permits that are available each year with a final cap. I think it’s premature to put a number on what the final cap is. We are still in the process of trying to figure out what the actual, usable, active number of vacation rentals that we have. We started at 1,200, reduced a bunch and are now at 932 and are code enforcing on 325 of those because they failed to turn in applications. And some of those are inactive. So the number we are looking at right now is somewhere around 432.

RP: I absolutely 100 percent support the implementation of a cap on vacation rentals, and possibly even one lower than we currently have, and it can be obtained through attrition. We need to make sure vacation rental are not the dominant use of our residential areas, and this will increase the inventory of year-round rentals.

CW: The way I’d implement it is it would one of the first things I’d propose as a councilperson. … We can cap where it is right now. Doing a moratorium won’t have the same kind of effect because the moratorium starts the clock running, and means that resources must be used … inside of a very short time frame.