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At Tualatin forum, candidates rap TriMet, talk business barriers

Ten questions posed to candidates at Chamber-organized, FBLA-moderated forum.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The audience applauds at a Sept. 28 candidate forum organized by the Tualatin Chamber of Commerce and moderated by Tualatin High School students.A Sept. 28 candidate forum at the Tualatin Police Department organized by the Tualatin Chamber of Commerce was a civil and relatively staid affair, with local and legislative candidates appearing to disagree on few of the issues brought forward.

The four candidates running for Tualatin City Council — Sonya Ambuehl, Joelle Davis, Robert Kellogg and Paul Morrison — were in attendance, along with House District 37 candidates Julie Parrish and Paul Southwick.

Questions at the forum were generated by Chamber members as well as by the Tualatin Area Aging Task Force and the Citizen Involvement Organizations, or CIOs. Four more came from the audience. The questions asked were curated by students from Tualatin High School's Future Business Leaders of America chapter, with chapter President Allison Mo and Vice President Jordan Maddox moderating the event.

Candidates had the opportunity to introduce themselves to the public at the beginning of the forum, laying out their reasons for running.

Robert Kellogg.The value of citizen input

One question asked candidates how they would weigh citizen input in making decisions.

Kellogg, president of the Ibach CIO, noted that hundreds of residents of the Ibach neighborhood are active on the social network Nextdoor, often discussing and debating local issues with their neighbors. He said that as a city councilor, he would value that kind of insight into residents' thinking.

“If I'm going to make the decisions, I'm just smart enough to know that I'm not smart enough to know everything,” he said.

Ambuehl said she didn't know about the CIOs until 2013. Her neighborhood CIO is not very active, she said.

“I was disappointed after talking to several other members in Tualatin to find out that most neighborhoods, if not all neighborhoods, actually have one, and they're active and they're communicating with people in the neighborhoods,” she said, adding, “It was disappointing to find out that my neighborhood apparently is one, and there have got to be others, that aren't active. And I think all of them need to be active in order to understand what is going on in each development, each area.”

Morrison, who has been active in the Ibach CIO, said he strongly supports the CIO program.

“I think the CIO is a terrific start,” he said. “Hopefully, we will be able to keep moving it in the right direction.”

Both Parrish, a Republican, and Southwick, a Democrat, said they speak frequently with District 37 residents and want to represent citizens' views in the Legislature.

Joelle Davis.Barriers to small business

Another question asked how the candidates would deal with barriers to small businesses coming to Tualatin.

On this point, the candidates largely agreed that it should be easier than it is now for local businesses to get started.

“Some of the problems that we have are specific to how our development code is written, and we've already talked about the fact that it needs a major overhaul, which really, I've been wanting to do that for a long time, and I really can't wait for it to happen,” said Davis, the only incumbent Tualatin city councilor running for re-election this year. “We also have barriers, in particular, for the minority community here in town. And we are starting with a diversity sort of a work group that's meeting right now to talk about those barriers and to find ways to have better outreach to the minority community to make it easier for them to have the businesses that a lot of the rest of us have been able to have here in town.”

Kellogg, who is running unopposed for Position 4 on the Council, said he would like to see the city consider creating an incubator for startup businesses.

Sonya Ambuehl.While other candidates focused their answers on what the local or state government can do to create a more attractive climate for businesses to come to Tualatin, Ambuehl suggested some of those businesses threaten others' viability.

“I think the biggest barriers for local small businesses are the big-box companies that come in — as an example, Cabela's,” Ambuehl said. “That did bring a lot of business to Tualatin and brought a lot of jobs, but in the other hand, by bringing in such a large company and redoing the entire structure in the area around there, it took all the little spaces … and it made the rent so high and the utilities so high that a smaller business could no longer afford the space. So I think bigger businesses that are coming in, that are being drawn to our community, it has a tendency to push out small businesses.”

Morrison, who is Ambuehl's opponent for Position 2 on the City Council, made it clear he did not agree.

“We need the big box,” he said in response to a later question, referring back to Ambuehl's remarks. “We need the little. We need everybody.”

Morrison said it is expensive for businesses to start up and regulations should be “streamlined” to make it easier.

Paul Morrison.Southwick noted that Tualatin has had some new businesses starting up, like Ancestry Brewing and Industry Restaurant, both along Southwest Tualatin-Sherwood Road. He said the state can play a role in encouraging business development by providing public infrastructure.

But Parrish, who has represented District 37 since 2011, described the climate for small business in the Legislature as “pretty hostile.”

“A lot of the hostile environment to small business in the Legislature is where the government wants to tell small business how to run their small business,” Parrish said. “Most of the legislators in the Capitol have never signed the front of a paycheck before, so they don't really understand the ins and outs of how to run a business. It's been very difficult to watch. And I've heard from businesses in our district that if they get one more mandate, they will shut their doors and they'll leave.”

Transportation in the region

On a question about public transportation, some of the candidates took whacks at TriMet, which provides transit services to the region but has been criticized in Tualatin for not offering much service in the area. The agency operates the WES commuter rail, which stops in Tualatin in between Beaverton and Wilsonville, and has a handful of lines running through Tualatin — but service in the city is far sparser than it is in larger, closer-in Portland suburbs like Beaverton and Tigard.

Paul Southwick.“This part of the Metro area, we're really underserved by Metro,” Southwick said, referring to the regional government. “And so we're paying our fair share in taxes for it, but we're not getting service. I think the Wilsonville area has done a great job with some of their own transit services, so I think we can learn from Wilsonville and some of the things they've been able to do. But we need to increase transit locally within Tualatin.”

Parrish was blunt.

“South Metro transportation has always been just a total pain since I've lived here,” she said, adding, “There's no incentive right now for anybody to use transportation when Metro and TriMet is not servicing our community, and we are paying more than our fair share of employment taxes to support TriMet from all over House District 37.”

Parrish noted a partnership between TriMet and the assisted living facility Mary's Woods at Marylhurst to run a local shuttle. The nonprofit group Ride Connection operates a commuter shuttle in Tualatin that is coordinated with the WES and bus service along Tualatin-Sherwood Road, although there is no formal partnership.

“I'd like to see that expand,” Parrish said of the Mary's Woods shuttle.

Julie Parrish.She added, “I think we're going to have to get really smart and innovative about how we do transportation.”

The City Council candidates largely echoed the House candidates.

“We've got to get creative with the funding,” said Morrison. “We need a little bit of everything.”

Kellogg mentioned Ride Connection and WES but said he thinks “more can be done.” He suggested a ride-share model, not unlike Uber and Lyft, could be beneficial for the community.

Davis spoke passionately on the transportation issue, praising the remarks made by the other candidates while criticizing TriMet for, among other things, its unelected board of directors.

“They need to be accountable to the citizens that they're supposed to be serving, because you know that they haven't been serving us as well as they should have been for a very long time,” Davis said.

Davis said that she has “been happy to see the service improvements with TriMet … but it has been incredibly frustrating to work with them, and it takes forever.”

STEM and technical education

Candidates were also asked for their thoughts on STEM education, an acronym for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The Tigard-Tualatin School District, which serves most of Tualatin, has made STEM a top priority in recent years. The district has also partnered with the city of Tualatin and other local agencies, businesses and nonprofits in the America's Best Communities competition, through which Tualatin received a $100,000 grant to support its efforts to provide STEM and arts outreach education — especially to low-income and minority communities in the city — and is competing to win up to $3 million more.

Kellogg and Morrison both mentioned the America's Best Communities effort in their answers.

“I think that's going to do a great job of connecting local students with local businesses and give them good careers,” Kellogg said.

But, he added, “STEM's great, but an even more fundamental need among our youth is financial literacy.”

Davis talked about her own experience as the mother of a daughter who was very interested in science as a young girl.

“My kids have been out of high school for several years now, and my youngest had a tremendous interest in science as a kid. And there was just no place to take it, because STEM didn't exist when she was in school. And it was very frustrating,” Davis said, adding, “Especially for girls, their interest in this stuff drops off so significantly once they get into high school, and then you wind up with this giant disparity of a lack of women in these fields, because they don't see themselves in these fields. It's not something that is focused to them. And that's something I'd like to see changed.”

Ambuehl said she was not very familiar with STEM, but she supports the idea of creative learning.

“STEM, I don't know a ton about it, but it sounds like it's a little bit more of like an out-of-the-classroom, hands-on activity, and I think that's a great opportunity for kids' success,” she said.

Ten questions in total were asked of candidates at the forum.

The forum also included segments on Measure 97, the proposed state corporate sales tax, and Measure 34-247, a proposed amendment to Tualatin's city charter to impose term limits on members of the City Council.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The Sept. 28 candidate forum at the Tualatin Police Department was marked more by agreement among the candidates (from left: Sonya Ambuehl, Paul Morrison, Robert Kellogg, Joelle Davis, Paul Southwick and Julie Parrish) than discord.

By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor
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