Housing, tsunami safety and a potential new school campus in Seaside dominated discussion Monday, Oct. 3, as the American Association of University Women hosted a candidate forum at City Hall.
Moderated by AAUW Finance Vice President Virginia Dideum of Gearhart, candidates from Gearhart and Seaside shared their viewpoints to an audience of more than 100 residents from both communities.
The mayoral race in Gearhart and the battle for City Council Ward 3 in Seaside were the only contested races, and differences between the candidates in each provided the starkest differences in political opinion.
Ward 3 Councilor Don Johnson faces a challenge from Tom Horning, a geologist and member of the city’s Planning Commission. Horning is running on a platform of tsunami awareness, and presented a visual presentation illustrating the risk to the city.
“One of the things I’ve found most compelling about this election is tsunami preparedness,” Horning said. “New information is coming now that compels us to doing evacuation infrastructure at a higher priority and a higher speed level than we have.”
Horning said the next tsunami is due every 340 years — and the last one occurred 316 years ago, in 1700. Seaside is “all going to be flooded” in the event of a tsunami, Horning said. “The most important thing to do is to take care of our evacuation infrastructure.”
“If we have to choose priorities for projects in Seaside, building bridges is first and foremost in my mind,” he said. “All of our bridges need to be earthquake-proof.”
Horning estimated the cost of replacement at $5 million for each of seven at-risk bridges. Upgrades could be financed by five-year city bonds, he said. “The first thing I would do is call a community gathering and come up with a design scenario,” he said.
Johnson said voters should not only consider tsunamis, but remember storms that come “even more frequently.”
“Prepare for the big one, but be ready for the other ones coming through,” Johnson, who serves as council president, said. “I think we’re doing a great job of getting ready as best we can with the limited resources we have available to us.”
Johnson pointed to his 16 years of experience and past leadership of the budget committee, Planning Commission, and other civic and fraternal organizations. “We are a city run by committees and decisions,” Johnson said. “I take their input very seriously and will keep doing that if I am elected.”
Both candidates are lifelong Seaside residents.
Gearhart’s mayoral candidates Matt Brown and Bob Shortman clashed on issues of short-term rentals, tsunami preparedness and housing. Brown, a PGA professional at Highlands Golf Club, said he supported Gearhart’s new short-term rental ordinance. “I talked to a lot of residents to get their feedback,” Brown said. “I was in favor of a true compromise, one where there were common-sense regulations like there are in other coastal communities. But I was also in favor of a compromise to grandfather in short-term rental owners.”
The city ordinance, which was put into law at the city’s last council session, could relieve the rental housing shortage in Gearhart, Brown said. “There just aren’t any long-term rentals,” he said. “If that number through attrition goes down over time, that will create a market for more long-term rentals.”
Shortman, who is head of the Clatsop County GOP, said Gearhart was “founded on the daddy trains.”
“I don’t agree with the law that was passed,” Shortman said of Gearhart’s short-term rental rules, which require registration and inspection of short-term rental properties. “Our town was founded on short-term rentals.”
Shortman said many residents never received the opportunity to share their opinions, and those who did were not heard by councilors. “Nobody from the mayor or council has personally talked to the people I talked to,” he said. “I don’t think these people should be painted with the scarlet letter.
The new rules will not add to the stock of workforce housing, Shortman said. “These houses are going for half-a-million dollars. The people who have these houses are pretty rich. They live in Portland and Seattle. They want to come down and use these houses. These houses are not going to rent for $900. People are alienated and I don’t like that.”
In Seaside, councilors Randy Frank and Seth Morrisey are running unopposed. In Gearhart, councilors Sue Lorain and Dan Jesse are also unchallenged. They shared their views on a wide variety of topics at Monday’s AAUW forum.
On the potential closing of Gearhart Elementary School:
On short-term rentals:
Dan Jesse: I supported the ordinance we came up with in Gearhart. I do believe that vacation rental dwellings are here to stay. Even if we did try to eliminate them, they wouldn’t go away, they would just go underground. It’s in our best interest to try to work with the concept of having them in our community, but try to keep them in check so that those who live there full time can live cohesively with the people who are there short term.”