Housing, response to the coronavirus pandemic and an open carry rally in September dominated the discussion of those running for the Ward 4 seat on the Seaside City Council during a candidate forum last Thursday.
Candidates David Posalski, Adam Wood and Kathy Kleczek discussed ways to balance the housing needs of local residents with those of vacation rental owners.
Posalski said as a member of the Planning Commission, he and commissioners established a code enforcement officer whose job is to monitor and verify the regulations and restrictions.
At first, the decision got “a lot of pushback from vacation rental dwelling owners because it added to their fees for business licenses,” he said.
Over time, however, they showed appreciation for the ability “to know when their management companies are actually doing the job they’re supposed to be doing,” Posalski said. “It ended up becoming a win-win.”
This type of measure, along with caps on the percentage of vacation rental dwellings, can help improve the livability of the community, Posalski said.
Kleczek responded that blaming vacation rentals for the city’s housing crisis is “a falsification.”
“It’s not to the point where we have empty and vacant rooms during the summer,” Kleczek said.
The problem is skyrocketing property values, she said, which prevents owners from renting out their properties to the working community. Seaside is not only in need of affordable housing for those below the poverty line, but “that middle ground, that achievable housing, that is there for the people who are working, who are maybe retired.”
Kleczek said solutions include using federal tax incentives and credits to develop public-private partnerships and going to the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals to expand or change regulations.
“There are tools and ways that other communities have done this,” she said.
Wood said many Seaside workers can’t afford to live here. Wood said he recently saw a studio apartment going for $1,100 per month, which is “not affordable unless you’re making a lot of money,” he said.
Wood said the city should work with the state, county and private developers to build smaller multifamily housing complexes so people can afford to live in the community they work in.
“The city can do more,” he added.
Candidates also weighed in on Seaside’s decision to reopen lodging and other businesses on a different timeline than Clatsop County.
“I would have liked to see them be more proactive and not just take a wait-and-see approach,” Wood said, adding the city needs to create an emergency response plan that includes a step-by-step process and protocol for keeping the public informed. “They missed the mark a little bit on that point,” he said.
Posalski and Kleczek agreed the City Council made the best decisions they could and, so far, South County fortunately has avoided a substantial increase of COVID-19 cases, even with the influx of tourists this summer.
Randy Frank, who is up for reelection to City Council and running unopposed, said there have been extensive housing studies done, and what the other candidates seem to misunderstand is there is not a lot of available land for development in Seaside.
“We don’t have the property,” he said.
Incumbent Tom Horning also participated in the discussion.
Frank, who represents the at large seat in Wards 1 and 2, said he has witnessed the trend of smaller, midrange residences suitable for a first family home or workforce housing being bought by people only interested in investment.
“They put a lot of money into (the houses) so they can turn them over and rent them for so much a night,” he said. “Those are vacation rentals. They take out of our housing market. It’s just a fact. … It’s unfortunate people in our area don’t have the opportunity to buy those homes.”
Horning, also running unopposed to represent Ward 3, urged continued vigilance to fight the cornonavirus pandemic. “Given the gravity of the situation, the possibility that things can spin out of control, the city should always take the most conservative approach,” Horning said.
“This is not something to finesse, it’s something to confront directly, and enforce masks and distancing behaviors. If everyone followed guidelines whole-heartedly, the threat of the virus could be eliminated in a matter of weeks,” he said. “All you have to do is follow the rules, but no one seems to do that.”