With the general election less than a month away, Federal Way’s mayoral candidates covered everything from homelessness and economic development to airplane noise and the Weyerhaeuser campus at a forum sponsored by the Federal Way Mirror.
At least 150 people attended the forum Wednesday at Twin Lakes Golf and Country Club to hear from Mayor Jim Ferrell and his challenger, Councilwoman Susan Honda. Below are a few highlights from the candidates’ responses to audience questions (some answers edited for clarity). A complete video of the forum can be seen on the Mirror’s Facebook page at facebook.com/FWMirror.
Q: City council recently rejected safe injection sites. How do you propose we address the challenges of drug overdoses in Federal Way?
Susan Honda: As a registered nurse, I don’t believe it’s the best way to treat the problem. I would like to see Federal Way find the money to get treatment beds for addiction. If someone wants to be treated for drug addiction and they come to us, chances are there is not a bed that they can go to, and they will have to wait. And that isn’t acceptable. If they want help, they want help now. They don’t want help tomorrow. With the state decrease in funding for mental health, that’s an issue because we need mental health therapy and treatment as well. I would like to find money for beds for drug overdoses and drug addiction treatment.
Jim Ferrell: I believe that the safe injection sites (proposal) is probably the worst public policy decision or proposal I’ve ever heard of. It is surrender in the face of addiction. … We’ve got the King County public health system and the public health clinic in our city, which I led the way with the partnership of the council to make sure we preserve, but it’s certainly not administering or having people administer narcotics in our city center. I certainly oppose that and we need leaders to stand up and say no when no is required.
Q: What should city officials do differently to update Federal Way planning and zoning codes to better prepare the city for future development – or are you satisfied with imposing moratoriums?
Honda: I do not like moratoriums. I think that they cause an issue for those that they’re against. For instance, we have a moratorium right now on self-storage units and we have a business owner who had been working with the city for a number of months. He was ready to drop his paperwork into the city and we imposed a moratorium. I think that is a problem, especially for him, since he’s making a significant amount of money in our city… I would like to see our planning commission meet on a very regular basis… I’d like to see the building department and the community development department have more staff so that they can meet on a reg basis. And I’d like to see our zoning changed for many different reasons, but we need the planning commission to be working first.
Ferrell: Moratoriums are important on occasion to prevent something that would be in the long-term interest of the city a very negative outcome … Just the number of applications of self-storage locations in the hopper, or pre-applications, was 200 percent of what the current inventory is. And in order to prevent something that would have really affected the city of Federal Way for decades, we made sure at the staff level, and then I brought it forward to the council to prevent something from happening. Looking at our zoning is an ongoing conversation and it’s something we have to continually look at. We need to look at our downtown in regards to multifamily housing – what does that look like in the future? – and make sure we have a full mix… Sometimes moratoriums are necessary.
Q: Do you have any ideas beyond lowering taxes and working with the Chamber of Commerce to deal with empty office and retail space throughout Federal Way?
Ferrell: For the first time in our 27-year history, we actually have a written economic development plan that I’m proud of. What we’re working on is making sure that we’re recruiting people and businesses to this community … We’re working in partnership and really talking about the great story that Federal Way has to tell. We are a city on the rise and there are great things happening in this community. What we’re doing is marketing Federal Way between two airports, between two major ports, and making sure that we talk about the kind of regional, statewide and global opportunities that we have here.
Honda: We do have empty retail space in Federal Way. We actually have a beautiful old building on the Weyerhaeuser campus that I’d love to see filled with an international business. It is important to work with the Chamber of Commerce, and right now as a city, we’re not working with the Chamber of Commerce, not to the best of our ability. So I would continue to build relationships with the Chamber and to work with the Chamber in bringing businesses here. We need to bring businesses that bring family wage earning jobs. When we build businesses such as Chick-fil-A – they did hire 90 people, but they didn’t hire family wage jobs. We need to go out regionally, statewide, internationally, and we need to bring those businesses here because this is one of the best places to be… We’re located in the best spot in the Puget Sound area.
Q: What concrete actions will you take to secure the open-space character of the historic Weyerhauser campus?
Honda: IRG (Industrial Realty Group) owns the prop and IRG has the right to develop their property. But we’re working with a 1994 legal agreement called a concomitant agreement, and that agreement has to be followed. I do not believe that warehouses are the very best thing for that. In fact I think they’re the worst thing. They will do nothing to bring taxes into the city. They will do nothing to grow Federal Way and make it a livable space. In fact it will make it worse because of the traffic. We need to take a timeout, we need to meet with IRG and we need to go over the plans for this city, for our economic development, for our growth, for our future. We need to be partners with IRG, and I don’t believe we are partners at this point.
Ferrell: We do meet with IRG all the time and they come to meetings, they come to City Hall, and there are pre-application meetings ongoing… The concrete steps that have been taken is the preservation of the 40 to 50 acres on the west side of North Lake. I’m very proud of the efforts that we have made since Weyerhaeuser sold that property… I led the way and recommended a million dollars surface water management funds to preserve that acreage on the west side of North Lake and to preserve those open spaces. I went down to the King County Courthouse and testified – I didn’t see my opponent there, I saw myself there – and I testified before the King County Council to ask for yet another million dollars, and we brought Forterra in. Concrete steps have been taken to preserve that property. It is owned by IRG, but we have done a lot to ensure the character is preserved at that property.
Q: What policies should the city implement to address the homeless issue and what options should homeless families have for food and shelter this winter?
Honda: I am the co-chair of the Homeless Mothers and Children Initiative. I had asked the mayor for at least over a year if I could do that and last January he finally agreed… We are nowhere closer than we were last January in finding a location to put a shelter for women and children. We’re working with Mary’s Place in Seattle, but we’re having a very difficult time finding a location here. I’m also talking to Valley Cities because Valley Cities has the same programs as Mary’s Place. And between the two of them, I’m very hopeful that we can get a shelter for children and families this winter when it’s very cold outside. I do not believe that clearing out the homeless camps and putting the homeless out on the street is the way to do it because then they just go find another place in the woods, and the cycle goes over and over and over. It’s expensive, it isn’t working, and we need to do something different.
Ferrell: I’ve got a three-part plan regarding homelessness. The first is the homeless services and encampment cleanup initiative. I have seen sites that would, like, quadruple the size of this room of debris and garbage, and just all out in our woods. One of the things I did that was absolutely essential is to make sure that we clean up those areas, and we’re doing that directly across the street on 336th from where the Day Center is and making sure that we’re taking control of our city. We’ve also invested $100,000 in taxpayer money on the second prong to make sure that we’ve got the Day Center up and running. And I did create the Homeless Mothers and Children Initiative and asked my opponent to chair that, and we are looking forward to a report in the next month or two in regard to what that status is. That’s what we’re doing to make sure that children and mothers do not get separated and that there’s a place to go when the weather gets cold.
Q: Seatac Airport is projecting a 200 percent increase in passenger flights and a 300 percent increase in cargo. What is your position regarding the Port of Seattle’s responsibility to mitigate the noise and health impacts of that increase in flights?
Ferrell: They have an absolute obligation… It’s a multi-dimensional issue between the federal level, the Port issues and state issues. One of the things that we’re working on in our particular ask of (Congressman Adam Smith) is to take a look at the particulates that are coming out of the planes and making sure that the matter coming down, the fuel, is safe. But there’s another issue of making sure that in the long run that our quality of life will not be detrimentally affected. That’s why we put together some great stakeholders, great people out in the community to talk about steps that we can take. We will be joining arms or linking arms with our neighboring cities to make sure we address this in a comprehensive way.
Honda: This is a quality of life issue for Federal Way. If you are out in certain neighborhoods – Marine Hills, 20th Avenue, 188th – and an airplane goes over, you cannot hear. You actually have to stop talking to the person you’re talking to and you cannot hear. This has become a problem that’s getting worse, and it will get worse, especially since the third runway. I attended a regional meeting in Des Moines, and it was sponsored by the Quiet Skies organization … my opponent was not there. It was a two and a half-hour meeting, very informative. I came back, suggested that we join that group of people. Instead the mayor started his own group. We need to join with this group because the more voices that we have, the stronger we are, and the more that the FAA will listen to us and we can get this noise situation taken care of.
Report by Andy Hobbs, Publisher, Federal Way Mirror. Watch the entire forum below, which includes comments from the mayoral candidates on revenue for police officers, Sound Transit and more: