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Forest Grove council candidates explain views on city

Marijuana, growth, sustainability all topics of discussion

Nearly 25 people braved the wind and rain Thursday, Oct. 13, to hear what Forest Grove City Council incumbents and challengers had to say about marijuana, sustainability, growth, parks and more.

Organized by the News-Times, the candidate forum drew together current city councilors Richard Kidd III, Victoria Lowe and Elena Uhing, who are up for reelection, and their challengers, Matt Vandehey and Timothy Rippe. The top three vote-getters will win the three council seats in the Nov. 8 election.

When asked to identify one of his top priorities for the next council, Kidd and Lowe both focused on sustainability.

Rippe, a member of the Public Safety Advisory Commission, gave top priority to a disaster-preparedness plan for potential natural calamities.

Vandehey said he’d like to focus on creating a sustainable budget, especially with the Forest Grove levy expiring in 2018, to ensure the police and fire departments have adequate funding. He’d also like to work on enticing businesses to downtown.

Uhing said her focus is on equitability for all citizens, including the most vulnerable.

During a discussion about an update to the city's parks and recreation master plan, Rippe said he was drawn to the proposal for nature-based play features. He and Vandehey agreed that improving existing parks, by adding bathrooms for example, should be a priority.

Vandehey had not seen the proposed update but said he sits on a long-term facility planning committee with the Forest Grove School District and would like to see more partnership between the school district and the parks department.

Uhing also wants to find partnerships with other organizations that would help the city bear the brunt of the cost of park facilities, much like the city’s aquatic center receives money from Pacific University and other groups that use it.

On a separate issue, all candidates supported the city's recent plastic-bag ban. "I buy 12 items and I feel like I get 10 plastic bags with them," Vandehey said.

Kidd, however, said he struggled with whether the ban was fair to businesses and citizens. And Uhing, Vandehey and Rippe were in favor of more education surrounding the use of disposable bags, including both plastic and paper.

In addition, all candidates supported the city's recent food-waste requirement except Vandehey, who said he felt the decision to compost should have been up to each resident.

In response to a question about climate change and how to limit the city's use of fossil fuels, Rippe touted bike and pedestrian trails and public transportation. He would like to expand GroveLink (the in-city transit service) and see a MAX line come out to Forest Grove, that last suggestion being something Kidd has worked on for years.

Kidd would also like to switch all the vehicles in the city's fleet to alternative fuels.

Uhing said she’d like to make sure housing is located close to public transportation lines, as well as to provide more job opportunities in Forest Grove so people don't have to commute. She’d also like to consider alternative energy options like wind and solar.

Vandehey suggested working with local businesses to encourage their employees to use public transportation and, in certain cases, to create more charging stations for electric cars.

All the candidates had strong feelings about marijuana.

While all support medical marijuana, both Rippe and Kidd said that as military men, they’ve taken oaths to uphold America's laws, so can't support recreational marijuana, which is still illegal at the federal level (although medical marijuana is as well).

Lowe and Uhing, too, struggled before coming to support recreational marijuana, leaving Vandehey its only outright supporter.

Vandehey argues that adults can decide on marijuana use just like they do with alcohol or tobacco use, although he supports diligent enforcement of state laws related to marijuana. He’s also concerned about an indoor grow operation he thinks would be too close to Neil Armstrong Middle School.

For all his support though, Vandehey started out strongly opposed to recreational marijuana but changed his mind after listening to all sides of the issue. "You can't have strong enough opinions to not be open-minded," he said, when the News-Times asked for evidence that he could change his mind on a subject when necessary.

Uhing's mind-changing example was related to medical marijuana, which she strongly opposed until she saw a documentary about how it dramatically changed the life of a seizure-prone girl.

Rippe said he used to instinctively dislike homeless people who were out begging on the streets but his global travels brought him into contact with third-world slums and with the complexity of the issue. Now, "I sense how much those folks are in need," he said.

Kidd and Lowe didn't give clear, specific examples of how they'd changed their minds but both said they are open-minded enough that they often decide on a council issue moments before they vote on it.

All the candidates except Lowe supported the new Tokola apartment complex that will go in on Pacific Avenue and A Street, saying it will revitalize the downtown area.

Lowe believes the project, which has been billed as "luxury apartments," should not get the roughly $960,000 in urban-renewal money that has been promised in order to make the development feasible.

Kidd said Tokola will accept Section 8 housing vouchers and claimed Forest Grove has more affordable housing than surrounding areas.

In response to a question about balancing the city's tax base with its growth, Vandehey noted that in an ideal world, any growth would be paid for by taxes on that growth but acknowledged the need to renew the city's levy.

Rippe said he doesn’t think outward growth using prime agricultural land is necessarily inevitable. He also favored growing upward rather than outward.

Kidd believes growth is inevitable but wants to make sure it’s planned and balanced between jobs and housing.