Astoria reached a milestone this year by completing the Riverfront Vision Plan.
Over a decade in the making, the blueprint provides a sense of order and predictability to land use along the Columbia River from Uniontown to Alderbrook.
The deliberations show the city can balance competing interests, protecting our historic character while preserving a working waterfront.
That balance will be necessary as the city looks to improve the western gateway, revive Uniontown, redevelop Heritage Square and remodel the Astoria Library.
Before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted our lives, Astoria was also under pressure to respond to homelessness, offer incentives for workforce housing and develop a strategy for economic diversification.
For all the promise of the past several years, there were still too many empty storefronts, too much vacant or underused property, well before the virus hit.
When considering City Council candidates for endorsement in the November election, we looked at whether they have a clear-eyed, pragmatic view of Astoria’s challenges, have the potential to be effective, but also an ability to create some friction.
We endorse City Councilor Tom Brownson in Ward 2, which covers the South Slope, the western edge of Uniontown and the industrial piers at the Port of Astoria.
Brownson, who has worked as a contractor, takes a measured, deliberative approach to policy questions.
“What I think that I bring to the table — I’d like to say things like thoughtfulness, fairness. I listen to others. I work for consensus. I think that fairly well explains what I do up there,” he said.
“I work hard to be prepared for meetings. I want to know the subjects well. I ask questions. I’m not afraid to ask questions.”
Brownson was a voice of caution in the rush to strengthen development restrictions in the Bridge Vista section of the Riverfront Vision Plan last year after backlash over the city’s approval of a four-story Fairfield Inn and Suites.
He favored carving out plan districts within Bridge Vista for the Port and for the Astoria Warehousing property being redeveloped by Fort George Brewery. Without the flexibility of the plan districts, development restrictions could handcuff the Port and Fort George and undermine economic viability.
Brownson was unopposed when he ran for City Council in 2016, so he did not have to compete for voters. This year, he does.
Floyd Holcom, the owner of Pier 39, is the challenger.
The U.S. Army combat veteran has consulting, development and emergency management expertise and served on the Port Commission. Raised in Astoria, he believes hometown voices and business interests are missing in debates at City Hall.
While his “Astorians for Astoria” campaign theme lacks nuance, he does have a point. Our politics, especially around development, often seem weighted toward people who have moved here from bigger cities or who are retired and understandably want to protect a postcard version of Astoria.
Our concern is the tightrope Holcom could face if elected. He would represent the Port on the west side, while holding a significant development stake near the Port’s East Mooring Basin and around Pier 39.
Holcom explained he would recuse himself if conflicts of interests arise and speak as a citizen, not as a city councilor, if necessary.
We saw an aggressive side to Holcom’s advocacy last year after he was unable to get support from Clatsop County for $1.9 million in state money to restore the Salvage Chief for use in disaster response. He called the county’s skepticism over upgrading the World War II-era craft “political back-stabbing” and blamed the county for the setback in Salem.
In his endorsement interview, Holcom described disaster response as “life-and-death issues,” but doubted he would bring that same level of passion to most city concerns. Even so, the exchange with the county was a window into his leadership style.
We endorse Tom Hilton in Ward 4, which covers Uppertown and Alderbrook.
Like Holcom, Hilton, who operates Hanthorn Crab Co. at Pier 39, was raised in Astoria and feels a sense of history is lost in the city’s politics.
“I’m an Astorian,” he said. “I’ve listened to the people of the neighborhood. I’ve listened to the businesses of the neighborhood. And that’s who I represent and that’ll be what I do.
“It won’t be about me. It’ll be about what the people of that neighborhood want, the vision that they see for their future and the changes they feel that need to be made.”
The Ward 4 seat is open because City Councilor Jessamyn Grace West, who was appointed last year, chose not to run for election. Our choice to replace her is based mostly on having a blend of different backgrounds on the City Council.
A FisherPoet with deep ties to commercial fishing, Hilton would bring the perspective of a local trying to build a small business. We also think he can be a contrarian — an important quality, since city councilors are supposed to act as a check on city staff, not an extension.
We hope the other candidates also continue to take an interest in local government.
Lisa Morley, a workplace safety consultant, was a leader in organizing neighbors to save Birch Field in Alderbrook. The city had considered the park underused and a potential site for housing before Morley and others petitioned to preserve it as green space.
Joshua Conklin, who works at Costco in Warrenton, has experience in the service sector, a growing segment of our regional economy often overlooked in policy discussions.