Three of the five Snohomish County Council positions are on the Nov. 7 ballot.
If there is one thing candidates for Snohomish County Council can agree on, it is that growth, and all its side effects, are being felt from the King County line to the Skagit County line, from Puget Sound to the Cascades.
Snohomish County is rapidly growing as the Greater Seattle area swells with new residents. More than 10,000 people moved to the county in 2016, making Snohomish the second fastest-growing county for people moving within the United States. Accommodating that many new residents a year is no small task for county government.
All the candidates this November want to help the county deal with creating infrastructure to match growth and development. How exactly that happens is where the differences arise.
Just because District 1 covers a vast rural area along with the cities of Marysville and Arlington doesn’t mean it isn’t feeling the growing pains of southern Snohomish County. Both candidates, incumbent Republican Nate Nehring and his Democratic challenger Ray Miller, want the county to create communities that offer jobs and services within a reasonable distance.
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“We are building massive communities with no plan,” Miller said. “We need to plan out communities before we turn the first dirt.”
Miller, who lives in Marysville, wants developments designed so that residents wouldn’t have to walk more than 20 or 30 minutes to destinations such as schools, libraries and grocery stores.
Nehring is a new face with a familiar name in Snohomish County politics. The 2016 Western Washington University graduate is the son of Marysville Mayor Jon Nehring. Nate Nehring was appointed to the council in January after Republican Ken Klein resigned to join the county executive’s administration.
Nehring would like to use a full term on the council to tackle housing and streamline permitting for developers so more affordable housing can be built. “We need more housing and more affordable housing,” the Stanwood resident said.
The opioid epidemic has hit the county hard, and both candidates have plans to deal with it. Nehring wants to use what he calls a three-tier approach of prevention, treatment and law enforcement. Nehring, who proposed a six-month moratorium for safe-injection sites that the council unanimously approved, said, “All three need to be put forward to be successful.”
Miller knows the world of addiction well. The Air Force veteran is a mental-health counselor who works with addicts. He proposes the county use what he calls “cycle educational training” to help addicts and prevent addiction. This would entail education in schools and expanded county services to help people get healthy. Miller supports the injection-site moratorium but said the debate served as a distraction for the council.
Snohomish County’s compact District 4 sits atop King County and includes Bothell, Brier, Mountlake Terrace and Mill Creek. This is where the growth now reverberating through the county began.
Infrastructure wasn’t built to keep pace with development and the influx of people, which has resulted in congested traffic and long commutes. The region’s soaring housing pricesalso have impacted District 4 and prompted Republican Marcus Barton to run against incumbent Democrat Terry Ryan.
Barton, an Army veteran, rents a townhome with his wife and two children in Bothell. They have watched as housing prices raced out of their grasp.
“If this continues, we are going to price ourselves out of a renters market,” he said.
Barton believes the urban-growth boundary is helping drive up housing prices, and he wants the council to look at allowing more development in unincorporated areas.
If elected he wants to implement a system to stagger projects, allowing builders in the queue to build out infrastructure for developments.
Ryan was elected to the council in 2014 after 17 years on the Mill Creek City Council. If re-elected, a priority for Ryan is working on making the district’s east-west corridors more efficient and pushing for diverse housing options.
To keep housing affordable, he believes the county needs to become more dense. “We have to increase the housing supply. We can’t just keep going out. We are going to have to go vertical,” he said.
He proposes to zone for taller apartment buildings and townhomes along corridors like Highway 99 and at transit hubs.
The race for District 5 pits a new council member, who beat longtime Snohomish County politician Hans Dunshee in a special election, against a candidate who has worked extensively on land-use and environmental issues.
Republican Sam Low took control of the reliably Democratic seat after Dave Somers was elected county executive. The Lake Stevens resident served on that city’s council from 2013 until joining the County Council. The driving force behind his bid for re-election is the increasingly bad traffic clogging the county’s roads.
“District 5 has been severely lacking in transportation projects,” he said. “People are sitting all day, every day, to get to work.”
One of his priorities is to work with state legislators from the district to secure funds to improve state roadways crisscrossing the district, which stretches from just east of Everett through Sky Valley to the mountains.
Low believes the county needs to address permitting for developers. He wants a streamlined process leading to affordable housing and more housing options.
Kristin Kelly, who lives in an unincorporated area and has twice been elected to the Snohomish County Charter Review, got into land use when a developer proposed a big-box development near her home. She mobilized with her neighbors, and eventually the development was halted. Cavalero Hill Park now stands where there was to be acres of pavement.
Working to thwart the box store led her to a job with Futurewise, a land-use organization, and she now serves as executive director of the Pilchuck Audubon Society.
Like Ryan, Kelly wants development focused in areas near major transportation corridors, like Highway 99, instead of pushing the urban-growth boundary.
Making the county more livable means more than new roads and housing. Kelly also wants the council to consider things like trees. Too often, she said, developers level mature trees, then replant with small, decorative trees that don’t serve the environment like big, old trees do.
“We are not only losing the beauty of our trees but the function of our trees,” she said, pointing out that trees do things like absorbing groundwater before it can run off and collect pollutants on the way into rivers and Puget Sound.