With ballots scheduled to be mailed to voters later this week, Mountlake Terrace City Council candidates attended a general election forum Oct. 10 to speak on important topics regarding the city.
Hosted by MLTnews, the Mountlake Terrace Community Foundation and the Mountlake Terrace Business Association, the forum gave candidates the opportunity to answer questions on a variety of topics, including affordable housing, homelessness and the arrival of Sound Transit’s light rail in 2024.
Attending the forum at the Mountlake Terrace Library were candidates Crystal Gamon and Erin Murray, both vying for the council’s Position 7 seat. Also attending were current councilmembers Laura Sonmore (Position 6) and Steve Woodard (Position 2) — both of whom are running unopposed.
Also running unopposed is Councilmember Bryan Wahl, who is seeking re-election to the council’s Position 5 seat. He was out of the country and unable to attend.
Kicking off the event with her one-minute opening statement was Gamon, who said that if elected, she would be committed to using her education, professional experience as a commercial property manager and personal background to lead the community with transparency and accountability.
“I love serving this community in the schools, the parks and youth sports programs,” she said.
Murray spoke next, stating that she hopes to bring her experience working with the city and the Edmonds School District — as well as 15 years working in human resources — to the city council.
“I’m running for city council really to encourage and empower members of our community to get engaged civically,” she said.
During her opening statement, Sonmore spoke about her pride for the city she grew up in and her love for serving on the council. After 20 years as councilmember, Sonmore said she hopes to continue to serve the community that helped raise her.
“It always made me feel so good and I know the reason why is because I love helping people,” she said.
As the city’s newest councilmember, Woodard began his civic duties serving on the city’s Library Board and the Recreation and Parks Advisory Board. Woodard was appointed to the council following the death of the city’s late Mayor Jerry Smith last December.
Then it came time for questions, which were asked by MLTnews Publisher Teresa Wippel, Mountlake Terrace Community Foundation President Dustin DeKoekkoek and foundation secretary Rory Paine-Donovan, and Mountlake Terrace Business Association President Justin Elsner. Wippel asked Gamon what she believed was a topic that is never discussed by the city council, but should be.
Gamon replied that homelessness was an issue that is not mentioned enough by the council and when it is brought up, she said it is too quickly dismissed. She suggested city officials work regionally and with local law enforcement to find solutions, not only to homelessness but to the underlying issues associated with homelessness like mental health issues and drug addiction.
“That’s one big thing that I find is brought up by people in the community and the council acknowledges that it’s brought up and then they move along,” she said.
Next, DeKoekkoek asked Murray what the city’s biggest challenge will be when light rail arrives. Initially, Murray pointed out that light rail is a great opportunity for the city and as someone who uses public transit to commute to Seattle for work, she is anticipating its arrival. However, she said the city should strengthen its infrastructure and make sure the its law enforcement can handle the anticipated growth.
“I think to maintain the same level of community and services that we’ve gotten used to, it’s important to think of those things proactively as opposed to (being) reactive,” Murray said.
Elsner then asked Sonmore how she plans to work with the business community to ensure a better working relationship with the city. In response, Sonmore suggested hosting community outreach events at local businesses. She also acknowledged that there are concerns from local business owners that need to be addressed, like the new state-mandated changes regarding business licensing.
Paine-Donovan asked Woodard what budget cuts he would make if the city was hit by a recession. Woodard began by ensuring the audience he would not make cuts to the arts, which he said are already underfunded.
“I would try to make sure that we step back and prioritize what needs to be stabilized in a bad economy,” he said.
Asked what her plans were to address the city’s homelessness issue, Gamon restated her opinion that the city needs to collaborate at a regional level to resolve issues like drug addiction, mental health and housing affordability.
“Like it or not, Seattle affects us,” she said. “Fixing Mountlake Terrace doesn’t help if everyone around us isn’t fixing their city as well.”
When asked what she believes is the city’s biggest strength, Murray was quick to credit the city’s residents. Since moving to the city, Murray said she has developed supportive relationships through community involvement.
“I feel so fortunate to live in a community where people care so much about the people around them,” she said. “And I feel like that is exemplified in a million different ways.”
For her second question, Sonmore was asked what kind of businesses she would like to see come to Mountlake Terrace. When thinking about the future of the city’s downtown area, Sonmore said she envisions office buildings or a medical district.
“Those are some of the items we’ve looked at over the past,” she said. “But we really have to look at what we want here, because businesses are going to be coming here.”
Asked what he would do to help bring more affordable housing to the city, Woodard spoke about his work at Edmonds Community College, where he serves as Dean of Student Access and Completion. According to Woodard, Edmonds CC has been “leading the charge” for local community colleges to address issues like affordable housing and food insecurity. Woodard said he has been able to attend forums where he can meet with and discuss the need for affordable housing in the city.
“From a city council perspective, what I’m looking to do is to try and activate a number of our city councils to see what we can do collectively,” he said.
Woodard added that he is working with local foundations to establish a blueprint plan to move forward with addressing the issue.
Next, Murray was asked what issue she believed the council did not discuss enough. She repeated the need for more civic engagement from the community. When developing city policies and initiatives, Murray said community involvement is needed to ensure they are inclusive for everyone.
When asked about challenges facing the city when light rail arrives, Sonmore was quick to respond that parking would be number one, a growth-related concern she has raised during past city council meetings.
“I believe parking is going to be the worst issue that we’re going to be having,” she said. “And I believe we’re going to have to start protecting our neighborhoods now, because we’re not used to having a lot of parking on our streets.”
Addressing how to strengthen the working relationship between the city and business owners, Woodard said he would make himself available to learn more about business owners’ needs. Additionally, he proposed reviewing council policies to make development in Mountlake Terrace easier.
“Just really making sure from our perspective what we can do to streamline as well as make it a little bit more friendly for developers,” he said.
If the city was hit by a recession that required budget cuts, Gamon said it would be a complex issue that would require council review and multiple study sessions. Gamon added that budget cut decisions should also include community input.
“It’s not something that we should be sitting here on council deciding outright,” she said. “You have to talk to the community and have that open forum.”
When addressing homelessness in the city, Murray agreed with Gamon that it is a regional issue that the city cannot handle alone. If elected, Murray said she would encourage the council to partner with neighboring regions like King County. According to Murray, Seattle has begun working with other King County jurisdictions to address homelessness.
“Because we’re in Snohomish County we aren’t part of that conversation,” she said. “That’s why I’m encouraging Snohomish County to partner with King County.”
Asked about the city’s greatest strength, Sonmore said that as a Mountlake Terrace native, the answer is its residents, adding the city has always been the “underdog” compared to surrounding cities.
As for encouraging new businesses to come to Mountlake Terrace, Woodard said the city needs to be sure it’s meeting the needs of its diverse community, so residents don’t take their business to neighboring cities.
“I think there are (business) folks that would love to move into Mountlake Terrace, but don’t think that they have a clientele here,” he said.
Next, Gamon was asked how she would address the city’s need for affordable housing. She responded that single-family homes take up too much space and are too expensive and that the answer to the city’s need for affordable housing is multi-family housing.
“We can’t just keep having single-family home zoning and have enough housing for all the people that are going to be living here,” she said.
To strengthen the city’s relationships with businesses, Murray said she would encourage city outreach to ensure that business owners have what they need to be successful. During her campaign, Murray said she has learned from the business community that navigating city-imposed regulations can be challenging for some business owners.
In response to what budget cuts she would make in the event of a recession, Sonmore said she has been in that situation before and it’s never easy. According to Sonmore, city employees are usually the first to get cut. She also pointed out that city staff has to consider what money can be spent where and where cuts can be made.
“You have to think about where the money’s coming from,” she said. “Because certain money can only be used for certain things.”
When asked what challenges the city will face when light rail arrives, Woodard pointed out that light rail has both pros and cons, and the council should continue to promote the city’s interest. As Mountlake Terrace anticipates light rail bringing in more businesses and residents, it might also bring more of Seattle’s homeless population, he said. However, he added that people coming to Mountlake Terrace might also have the means to help the city address its homelessness issue.
“We trying to figure out, ‘How do we not lose ourselves as we’re opening up our world and welcoming folks into our world?’” he said.
When discussing how to attract businesses to Mountlake Terrace, Gamon said that the local businesses are what drew her to Mountlake Terrace. She added that she enjoys discussing local businesses and making recommendations to other community members, because those businesses are a great way to meet other residents.
“That’s where get our sense of community,” she said. “While the people are coming and going it’s almost as if the community is centered around small businesses.”
When bringing new businesses to Mountlake Terrace, Murray said it is important to ensure they bring jobs that pay livable wages. If elected, Murray said she would focus on encouraging businesses that can pay employees enough to keep up with the area’s cost of living.
“That would be my focus around economic development,” she said. “How we encourage higher-wage jobs (so) that people can afford to not only live here in Mountlake Terrace, but also be able to support our local businesses.”
When speaking on the city’s need for affordable housing, Sonmore said it would not be easy in this economy. Sonmore pointed out that the city was established to meet the area’s need for affordable housing after World War II, but the economy has driven up the cost of living. Additionally, she suggested offering paid daycare for parents and educating students about budgeting, so they leave school knowing how to live within the area’s cost of living.
In addition to its sense of community, Woodard said the city’s greatest strength is its location. According to Woodard, Mountlake Terrace’s has gained notoriety regionally and nationally and has sparked the interest from people who see it as a city on the rise.
“It’s a beautiful destination city, but it’s also a destination city that’s got other destinations cities around it that we can build upon and collaborate with,” he said.
Discussing the key to a good working relationship between the city and business, Gamon said it is communication and outreach. She said that the city should get feedback from business owners one issues like crime and parking to see how they can be improved to support local businesses.
“I really feel like we owe it to the businesses to talk to them,” she said.
Though Murray admitted she is not yet familiar enough with the city’s budget to say what cuts she would make in the event of a recession, she said that if elected she would consult city staff before doing so. Additionally, Murray said she would look at cutting costs instead of city services.
“When you’re struggling as an organization, everybody has to take a look at what they’re spending and adjust that to meet the new realities of our finances,” she said
After serving 20 years on the council, Sonmore said she is not sure what issues the council has not addressed that it should. However, she said she would be open to learning more about what topics the community thinks the council should be discussing.
“What’s important to me is what you all would want us to talk about,” she said.
According to Woodard, diversity is a topic the council should discuss more often. Since joining the council in February of this year, Woodard said he has been working to highlight diversity by working with surrounding cities like Lynnwood, which has a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commission.
“I take personal joy in that, because I feel like I was the accessibility point for them (Lynnwood),” he said. “They could have came to us at any point and they came while I was on staff.”
However, Woodard admitted the city still has work to do to be seen as a diverse and inclusive city.
As the city prepares for light rail, Gamon said the city should focus on two concerns — not becoming too big too fast and the crime associated with light rail stations. Speaking to her first concern, Gamon said the city should be wary of developing too many high rises. Also, she said crime associated with light rail stations will require a need for a higher police presence that the city will need to accommodate.
When addressing the city’s need for affordable housing, Murray said the city needs to look at different types of housing to meet the needs of its citizens. According to Murray, the term “affordable housing” has different meanings for everyone. If elected, she said she would explore looking at incentives for developers to bring more affordable housing to the city.
When asked what steps she would take to address homelessness, Sonmore said the issue was too large for cities to handle alone and the federal government should step in. Sonmore explained that local tax dollars need to be spent on improving and maintaining the city and money for housing is not part of the city’s budget.
“It is something that we’re going to have to be really strategic on,” she said. “But I think we’re going to have to go to the federal government.”
Moving on to the closing statements, Woodard said he felt humbled to be part of the city’s discussion on topics like diversity. As he is running unopposed, Woodard thanked the community for trusting the council’s decision to appoint him.
During her closing comments, Sonmore reminded the audience about the city’s current developments like the new city hall and the recently approved Town Center Plan, both of which were made possible because of support from residents. Sonmore also mentioned her work to serve the city, including securing $15 million in federal funding over the years for improvement projects.
Next, Murray said that if elected, she hoped to bring her experience and perspective to help bring more voices to the council that reflect the community.
“Most of all, I’ll work as a tireless public servant and listen to you and the community so we can all work together to make sure Mountlake Terrace is a place to continue to live,” she said.
To learn more about Murray, visit her campaign Facebook page.
Gamon closed the forum by inviting community members to join her for coffee to learn more about her and her campaign. To learn more about Gamon , or schedule a time to meet for coffee, visit her campaign website.
A full video of the general election candidate forum can be viewed here.
–By Cody Sexton