Candidates seeking seats on the city council shared views on Westminster’s aging infrastructure, wards, homelessness, street racers and other issues during a recent forum.
In all, 10 candidates are running for three vacant seats in the Nov. 7 election, including two incumbents: Bruce Baker and Richard Seymour. They’re facing Kristine Ireland, Claire Carmelia, Jeff Jones, Amber Hott, Karen Kalavity, Scott Shilling, Paul Page and Timothy Pegg. The seats are all city-wide because Westminster does not have council districts or wards.
Shilling, Baker, and Ireland are running together, described by Shilling on his campaign website as “common-sense candidates.” Baker’s site says the trio are “straightforward” and “passionate” and will work to lower water rates.
Carmelia, Hott and Pegg are not running as a team, but the three said they share many of the same values. Some of their volunteers are campaigning for all three.
Carmelia’s campaign says she hopes to help bring in more small businesses, ensure development stays on track and offers a welcoming downtown..Hott’s campaign says she will work to create a community with attainable homes, and economic opportunities. Pegg says he plans to address the housing and traffic crises, protect taxpayers and ensure sustainability.
Jones’ website says his goals include providing employment opportunities, affordable housing, and good transportation options.
Page’s says he will exercise “sound judgment” and work to “curtail high-density apartment growth.”
In a video on the city’s website, Kalavity said she will work for a “green and sustainable” Westminster.
You can watch the League of Women Voters-sponsored forum in its entirety. It took place Sept. 30 at the Westminster Grange Hall. Here a responses to a few of the hottest topics from the debate:
The homeless population has had a negative impact on south Westminster. What should the city be doing to help this area?
Seymour: Dealing with homelessness gets clouded when the… (federal) court tells cities you cannot arrest people for being homeless, cannot detain them, cannot ticket them, because they have rights as citizens in our country. It’s extremely frustrating. So we bring on mental health co-responders, homeless navigators, we have a budget to have beds available. If you have a bed available, you can offer them services. And if they decline, you can move them. But it’s a process unfortunately.
Pegg: I think we need to take a multi-pronged approach. Data shows the biggest driver is high rent. The high cost of housing here in Westminster, we need to work on that. Some of those folks have drug addiction and mental health problems. We need to seek out efficient ways to use our resources to help them get the help they need.
Page: There is a problem, it’s growing every day. I like what the city is doing with homeless outreach. More importantly is for us to find out what the cause is, not just the effects of it, which is people living in communities, under tarps, using drugs and being what we consider a burden.
Shilling: As I’ve come to understand it, is in reality about 10-20% of those we call homeless are actually homeless. … The other 70% are folks that are just basically, that’s a lifestyle they choose. I want to help those 10, 20% that are homeless. And the rest, I want to figure out how we can drive them out of the community. We have to find creative solutions to get them moved out.
(The Westminster Window reached out to Shilling via email and asked for a citation of the source of those percentages. Shilling did not return that email by deadline. This story will be updated when the Window receives his response.)
Baker: Homeless is the wrong label. Trespassing is the right label. And trespassing you can exercise our law enforcement capabilities on them. About a year and a half ago, council tried to use the continuum of compassion. And nothing worked, because we didn’t address the problem, which is trespassing. We need to fairly and vigorously enforce those laws.
Kalavity: I see a lot of the homeless situation having started after the recession, which I believe was partly caused by the housing and banking industry. Rents are allowed to go (up) every year. People just can’t keep up with that. That was a cause of the lot of homeless situation, which keeps on getting worse.
Hott: In 2010, I was living in Westminster and I became homeless. I was working full time hours. I was a homeless mother of three children. I was not a trespasser. That was not a lifestyle choice. It’s not a choice for many people. We do need to provide services for people who are homeless. When we have responsible government that takes care of their people, I am proof of what happens. I would not be here without it.
Jones: I believe this is more than just a community issue. I believe it should be a state, both communities, and even a federal issue. I believe there’s a difference between a hand up and a hand out. We should help everybody that needs both. A hand up to find housing, medical attention, food. There has to be a certain point where those who want that continuous handout, we have to be a little stronger. This is a big issue. We’ve got to be able to sit down as a state and counties and a city to all of us work it out.
Carmelia: Speaking as a formerly unhoused person who comes from an hunhoused family, I would caution against suggesting to know why families become homeless. I believe there are solutions we can come up with, such as finding areas for RVs to park, having affordable hookups for water and sewage for RVs. I think we can partner with the county (and) agencies that already provide solutions.
Ireland: I don’t want us to become the next San Francisco. Where the homeless have more rights than the taxpayers. Other areas are outlawing tents and blankets and it is effective. I’m into self reliance; those kinds of people I am more than willing to help.
Westminster’s capital infrastructure is aging and will warrant more repairs and replacement, which exceeds $10-15 million. How would you pay for these costs?
Baker: Capital expenses are one of the major ingredients of the city budget. It’s ‘When do you replace and add new items that is the key. A tangible fixed example: In 2016, we decided to spend $20 million on a biosolids dewatering plant. It was absolutely unnecessary. It was a foolish expenditure. That’s why we’re in the hole on capital costs.
Shilling: In my opinion, a capital expenditure is fine as long as it improves the wellbeing of the citizens of Westminster. If it’s a big capital expenditure, I’m going to put it on the ballot. For me capital expenditure depends on what you’re spending it on, depends on the benefit to the citizens. That’s what I would focus on.
Page: If we need something, it should be analyzed and budgeted for. If it’s above and beyond the city’s budget, it should go to the voters. If you have to pick between a tank of gas or a new pet project for the city, I’d want to be sure you had money to put gas in your car as opposed to something the city may or may not need that was not budgeted for.
Pegg: I cannot undo previous capital expenditures. All we can do is look forward. Seventy percent of the city’s revenue comes from sales tax. One option I think we should look at carefully is how to encourage more businesses to move to Westminster so we can increase our sales tax revenue.
Seymour: Capital improvements is day-to-day life living. City and county government affects you every day from the moment you get up to when you go to sleep. It’s your water, your sewer, your curbs, gutters and capital buildings you have. How you finance that … do you really want to vote on every street, gutter and curb? I think not. That’s why you elect people.
Ireland: We have wasted so much money on big capital projects … (including millions) for a new courthouse. By the way, you didn’t even get to vote on it. They found a loophole to not put it on the ballot. That’s one of the reasons I’m running for office. I am sick of the wasteful spending.
Carmelia: As any strong project manager does, you do the ROI (return on investment) analysis first, you trust and listen to your city staff. You take that feedback, decide which projects are most valuable to the community. With a strong local economy, we can do more.
Jones: First, it’s a budget. The top priority has to be core services first; from there, capital improvements. You have to have city leaders and staff that can try to project what those capital improvements will be. And then based on the money you have, decide what to spend on capital improvements.
Hott: How are we going to have a strong economy if it’s unaffordable to live here? We need to focus on housing costs. The people run the economy. If we’re not taking care of the people, we’re not going to have a strong economy.
Kalavity: Capital improvements is a big issue. For instance, this water treatment plant is so far out of whack … because consultants, in my mind, have created a problem rather than addressed the problem. There are all sorts of ways of designing projects to fill a need that can be done efficiently or inefficiently.
Wards or districts are on the ballot as an issue. Is this change something the city needs right now?
Kalavity: One of the things I like about Westminster is city councilors are all at large. The big issue I think has been that the south part of town has been left with the dregs of city council decisions. This part of town seems to have been underrepresented. But I do not see a solution (in) having wards. It’s not a holistic approach.
Baker: I am absolutely in favor of wards, but you’ve got to define what a ward is. I like wards, but only the people who live in the ward should vote for the candidate. It would make the campaigns much more affordable and much more doable for people.
Shilling: The more I learn about them, the more I’m for them. Right now my vote is yes.
Page: I think it would be beneficial to have wards so we get more representation across the entire city as opposed to one end of town. I do agree people down south don’t have the representation I think they want, need and deserve. Perhaps even a split ward, to where it’s partially at large, partially set up for a ward district.
Pegg: I think we should have a ward system. There are questions about how we should shape that ward system. Should the mayor be the only elected at large official? Should we have one or two councilors who are also at large? We need to have a collaborative approach to defining exactly what a ward system would look like.
Seymour: I’m in favor of what the residents of Westminster want on the upcoming ballot. If you want wards, I’ll work hard to get that defined. I believe we should have a hybrid system. Running at large has really made a difference in my life, learning about what’s important to you from 148th to 72nd and from both counties.
Ireland: This is why I’m in favor of wards. There have been plenty of candidates in Westminster who moved into our city, we don’t know who they are. They spend a ton of money, get elected and move on to a higher office. This stuff has to quit. It’s not representing you.
Carmelia – I believe wards promote equity, and accessibility for the candidates who may want to run. It is a very large hurdle having to run at large, especially for those of us who still have a career. With that said, I think it relies heavily on the community deciding what those wards look like to ensure that representation exists. There are parts of the community that are more heavily Spanish speaking. What would it take to get a bilingual representative up here? It would probably take wards.
Jones: Let the voters decide if they want wards and how that would be done. I am in favor of wards in particular neighborhoods to get that input from those areas. The danger in that is getting people to run in those wards. What would happen if nobody ran? The first question should be do you want wards? The second question, what kind of wards would you like? And then take it from there.
Hott: I am also in favor of wards. I think it would be good to have a system where we have wards but also have people at large so everybody is being represented. I’m sure we have people in our community who would make fantastic candidates but they don’t have the financial means to run. The way our system is set up is for people from the middle class to run. We need representation from more than the middle class.
Visit the city’s Meet the Candidates page to learn more about each person.