Olympia's mayoral race is on

Forum: 3 candidates answer questions, give vision for Olympia

August 11, 2011 

  • MAYORAL FORUM

    A forum with the three mayor candidates can be viewed here and will air four times on Thurston Community Television: at 8 p.m. today, 7 a.m. Friday, noon Saturday and 5 p.m. Sunday. The program can be found on Comcast Channel 77.

OLYMPIA — The three candidates for Olympia mayor fielded questions from The Olympian’s editorial board during a forum Wednesday.

Retired radio host Dick Pust and Olympia City Council members Stephen Buxbaum and Karen Rogers are vying for the job, and one will be eliminated in the Aug. 16 primary election.

They answered 15 questions on a range of issues. Here’s a summary of their responses.

Why are you running for mayor, and what do you feel best qualifies you?

Pust: “For me, it’s just a natural continuation of what I’ve been doing.” He spent decades at KGY Radio and worked on Citizens for Schools and the Olympia Planning Commission.

Rogers: “First, it’s because I care about our community.” She said she is committed to listening to citizens by having forums and taking information back to the council.

Buxbaum: “It’s really a natural extension of what I’ve been doing,” citing his community-development work for the state. He also mentioned his work as a council member, including the successful effort to reduce height limits on the isthmus, development of a plan to prevent homelessness and beginning a $2 million low-interest development loan fund.

Where do you stand on a fireworks ban like the one in Lacey?

Rogers: She said she will vote for a ban when it’s on the ballot in November.

Buxbaum: He supports putting the issue before voters.

Pust: He is not sure how he will vote on the issue.

Do you favor retaining Capitol Lake as a reflecting pool or converting it to an estuary?

Buxbaum: “My own preference is to work toward a master plan for this area that includes a very aesthetically pleasing water feature,” as well as a watershed-management plan for the entire river and South Sound.

Pust: “Do what it takes to keep it a lake.”

Karen: She wants to keep it a lake.

What initiatives do you propose to make downtown Olympia feel safer?

Pust: “There are a lot of people who just drive through downtown. … We need to get those people to want to go downtown, and there are ways to do it, and let’s do it.”

Rogers: She wants to continue the downtown police patrol and get additional housing downtown. But she said the city needs retail first. She also said the city must deal with drug problems downtown, light alleyways and create an area restricting the sale of low-price, high-alcohol drinks.

Buxbaum: Percival Landing revitalization will spark “an extraordinary renaissance.” He said more should be done to prevent homelessness and that the city should use a $2 million low-interest loan program and pursue a Community Renewal Area to redevelop parts of downtown.

Are you satisfied with the new parking pay stations? Should the city change its parking policies? Do you support or oppose a municipal parking garage?

Rogers: “I don’t like” the pay stations. She proposes moving them to near the Capitol Campus.

Buxbaum: “I’m not satisfied with the pay stations. … We need to continue to work with businesses.” The city should pursue structured parking in the long term and work with the state.

Pust: He doesn’t like the pay stations. “I really like free parking the best.” He suggested “leeway so that you don’t (get) stuck with a big fine because you are five minutes late.”

Downtown Olympia has a lot of subsidized housing. For years and years, the city has had a goal of creating more market-rate housing, yet nothing has happened. What steps would you take to create more market-rate housing downtown?

Buxbaum: “We need housing available at all income levels.” He would focus on creating amenities and a Community Renewal Area and put federal block grant dollars to better use.

Pust: “Maybe when you make downtown so attractive that people will want to live there, the housing will just automatically come.”

Rogers: She agreed with Pust. “First things first: Let’s make sure that we’re promoting downtown business. Let’s make sure we’re not driving them out of business.” She does not favor a Community Renewal Area now because of the expense of acquiring property.

One plan for market-rate housing and a mixed-use development for the isthmus between Capitol Lake and Budd Inlet drew criticism from some and praise from others. That development proposal has not materialized. What’s your vision for the isthmus property?

Pust: “I think someday the isthmus area is going to be a very nice park, and I could support that.”

Rogers: “It’s not my vision. It’s the community’s vision.” Suggestions she’s heard include a library, low-height development and a coffee bar.

Buxbaum: A carefully developed waterfront is “the way to attract private capital.”

We see a lot of panhandling downtown and in other areas of the city. What would you do as mayor to help the people who truly need help and at the same time make downtown a pleasant place to be?

Rogers: Poverty is the underlying cause. The city needs to support nonprofits.

Buxbaum: “It’s really a regional issue. We need a regional approach.”

Pust: “There’s no simple answer.” He said nonprofits should be encouraged and better supported.

Residents complain about the status of multiple city streets that have been torn up for sewer and other projects, then poorly patched. Are you satisfied with the city’s repaving program? What priority would you put on street maintenance?

Buxbaum: “I think that we have a decent street-pavement-management plan. It suffered in recent years because of the economy and because of declining revenues.”

Pust: “Potholes, public safety, fire departments … should be a priority … Maybe we need a little more work on the potholes.”

Rogers: “This absolutely has to be a priority. … It’s right up there with public safety.”

We’ve seen several incidents in which protests have turned violent, with resulting confrontations with police. What would your instructions to the city manager and police chief be when it comes to dealing with protesters?

Pust: “I would stay (in) close touch with the city manager, the police chief and make sure that whatever we did would be done with a lot of thought and care.”

Rogers: “Rule No. 1 is that we shouldn’t be sparking off the protests in the first place,” she said, citing the council’s former declaration of a Nuclear Free Zone as a bad idea.

Buxbaum: He says the city’s approach must involve respect and security. “We need respectful engagement.” Crimes should be dealt with as crimes, he said, suggesting a restorative justice system.

We have merged many public services in South Sound. Examples include Medic One, central police and fire dispatch, the LOTT Alliance, Animal Services, Intercity Transit. What other public services in Olympia, Lacey and Tumwater are ripe for merger or consolidation?

Rogers: She favors a feasibility study on creating a fire district in Olympia. She also said the city should consider a regional jail if it can’t fund jail to community standards.

Buxbaum: “Should be driven by data and information and not emotions or single incidents.”

Pust: Emergency preparedness. “There’s one area that affects everyone equally.”

The city could face a significant budget shortfall in 2012. What three areas in city government would be at the top of your list for budget reductions?

Buxbaum: “I don’t know exactly what we’re looking for in terms of cuts. … Public health and safety have to be protected.”

Pust: “Without having more data and information … I’m going to have to sort of pass on that question.”

Rogers: She would postpone projects that can be delayed. She called for “shared sacrifice,” noting that she took a 3 percent pay cut (as a state worker). She voted against union contracts that give wage and bonus increases. She would cut city funding for public art and sell city properties not being used.

We’ve heard a lot about creating a sustainable community. What does that mean to you, and what steps would you take as mayor to put Olympia on a path toward sustainability?

Pust: “I think right now Olympia really has no vision.”

Rogers: Two approaches: jobs to support generation after generation and physically and environmentally.

Buxbaum: “Making sure that we have a diverse revenue base. … What’s good for the environment, I think, is good for business.” Art is also good for business.

Contrast yourself with the other two candidates.

Rogers: “What I like about me is I’m a listener. I’m a hard worker. I also have the government experience.”

Buxbaum: Experience in community development. Accomplishments on homelessness issues, funding for small businesses, working on code-enforcement issues. Endorsements.

Pust: “The big difference between Karen and Steve is that they’re already on the council and I’m not … If you vote for me you get all three.”

How will you know at the end of your term whether you have been a successful mayor?

Buxbaum: “What I hope to be able to point to at the end of my term of mayor is very specific accomplishments.”

Pust: “If at the end of my four-year term as mayor, at least some of my vision happens, I’ll be happy.” He wants Olympia to be a destination.

Rogers: She wants to complete the comprehensive plan and shoreline master plan, and do an emergency-management plan. “Do people feel safe? … Do people feel like their quality of life has increased?” She wants to make progress on (a) traffic plan, letting people know about spending, improve open government and improve the fabric of the council.

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@theolympian.com

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