Candidates for two seats on the Astoria City Council pitched themselves to the public on Tuesday night during an election forum at Clatsop Community College.
In Ward 2, City Councilor Tom Brownson faces a challenge from Floyd Holcom, the owner of Pier 39 and a former Port of Astoria commissioner, to represent the city’s South Slope and parts of the Port.
Running for Ward 4 to replace City Councilor Jessamyn Grace West are Tom Hilton, who runs Hanthorn Crab Co. on Pier 39; Joshua Conklin, a local service-sector worker and former hotel manager; and Lisa Morley, a behavioral workplace safety consultant who leads the community group Friends of Birch Field and Park in Alderbrook.
Brownson, who grew up in Clatsop County, has touted his four years of experience on the City Council as being invaluable in moving the city forward.
Holcom and Hilton, friends who grew up in Astoria and business partners through their ventures on Pier 39, have leaned on similar arguments for having multigenerational Astorians and local businesspeople on the City Council.
Conklin, who grew up in and around Astoria, has presented himself as a representative of the working class and of marginalized populations, such as the LGBTQ community. At 31 years old, he is also the youngest candidate.
Morley, a workplace behavioral safety consultant who worked for Intel and relocated to Astoria five years ago, called herself a scientist with an ability to effectively problem-solve. She used as an example her work leading the community group that took over maintenance of the Birch Field and Park in Alderbrook after it faced a possible sale.
During the forum, Holcom was critical of city staff and Mayor Bruce Jones, saying they have not been communicative enough with residents and business owners or about emergency preparation and support during the coronavirus pandemic.
Brownson defended the city’s performance in helping secure state relief grants for businesses. He also praised Jones, a former U.S. Coast Guard commander, he described as an ideal leader for an emergency.
Hilton and Conklin argued for people to buy local to support businesses during the pandemic, while Conklin noted the city’s support in expanding outdoor seating to help restaurants and bars. Morley echoed Holcom’s concerns about a lack of communication regarding emergency planning.
After the approval of a controversial four-story hotel on the waterfront near Uniontown, the City Council updated and tightened building restrictions laid out in the Riverfront Vision Plan, which guides development along the Columbia River.
Candidates were asked their opinions on waterfront development.
Holcom, who owns Pier 39 and has a development interest near the Port’s East Mooring Basin, said he supports keeping a working waterfront. He believes riverfront properties have been neglected because of bad communication on the city’s part.
“Right now we have a huge miscommunication between people who want to come to Astoria and invest and the goals and traditions of what the existing City Council are,” he said. “And that’s why we need to do better.”
Brownson said the City Council has been as busy as ever in regards to land use development, arguing the rules have already been decided by the approval of the Riverfront Vision Plan.
“I think that once a city has established development guidelines, we need to abide by them,” he said. “Developers, wherever they come from, need to know up front what the rules are and be able to tailor their plans and move forward, so that as long as they meet the requirements, they need not be arbitrarily rejected.”
Morley said that while the waterfront shouldn’t be sold to the highest bidder, there are business opportunities that could drive more local and visitor traffic. Conklin called for preserving what the city has on the Riverwalk and requiring new hotels to provide employee housing.
Hilton called the waterfront Astoria’s future and said people ought to be able to develop their property within the city’s rules to help bring in jobs and more tax revenue.
“The river is our most valuable asset,” he said. “If we’re not going to build up, then we need to build out. That river can do a lot for us. We just need to let it happen.”
The forum was moderated by Christopher Breitmeyer, the college president. Streamed on Facebook Live, the event was a collaboration by the American Association of University Women Astoria Branch, Clatsop Community College, The Astorian and Coast Community Radio.