It’s fitting that the Vancouver City Council held an informal town hall meeting at Clark College at Columbia Tech Center Tuesday, because the event looked more like class registration day than an official City Council meeting.
But that was the goal, as the council – unable to meet at its regular Monday time slot due to the Jan. 16 Martin Luther King Jr. holiday – opted to forego the pomp and circumstance of city hall and meet off site to listen to citizens in a more relaxed atmosphere.
Each councilor staffed a table as approximately 25 citizens rotated around the room, sharing their concerns. The cold and rain outside didn’t help attendance, but those that did come brought diverse topics to the table.
Vancouver’s Jesse Magana spoke to Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt about sidewalk access for the disabled. Magana became a paraplegic in an automobile accident in 1997 and volunteers with Clark County Americans with Disabilities, auditing parks and other public spaces to see how well they accommodate the disabled.
Magana said he has noticed an acute problem with businesses improperly placing A-frame signs on sidewalks and blocking the right of way for pedestrians.
Magana told Leavitt that he has called the city to complain, only to be told that disability access isn’t a top priority. He said that as a property owner he has to worry about codes, but the city won’t enforce blatant code violations on its own sidewalks.
“What’s the difference between me breaking the code and the city breaking the code?” Magana asked Leavitt.
“Nothing,” the mayor replied, making a note on his notepad.
One table over, Orchards resident Micheline Doan spoke with new city councilor Bill Turlay about the Columbia River Crossing Light Rail (CRC) project. Doan said she is opposed to the existing plan and likes the ideas put forth by a recent group of opponents called the Smarter Bridge Committee.
Doan also spoke passionately about the troubling state of disability access. Her husband, Mark, is a disabled veteran who is confined to a wheelchair. Doan said the number of parking spaces downtown for the disabled are so woefully inadequate that she and her husband no longer frequent downtown movie theaters.
She also said that during the Farmer’s Market at Esther Short Park in the summer, two of the four disabled parking spaces are put off-limits.
“Why do you have an entertainment center if the handicapped can’t be accommodated?” she asked.
Fireworks becomes hot topic
Making up nearly half of the guests were 10 Boy Scouts and two scoutmasters representing Vancouver Troop 325. The scouts, aged 12 to 14, were in the process of earning their Citizenship in the Community merit badges, according to assistant scoutmaster Al Olsen.
Olsen said counselor Bart Hansen was helpful in suggesting volunteer opportunities at area nonprofits for the scouts.
“It was interesting for them,” Olsen said.
But one of the major topics on the scouts’ minds was fireworks.
Scouts David Carpenter, Parker Thompson, and Chandler Alvarado told counselors that they would like to see July 4 fireworks allowed back in city parks – which currently ban all fireworks – so they don’t have to set them off in neighborhoods streets.
“Parks should be open for fireworks, instead of the neighborhoods,” said Alvarado.
Carpenter added that it would be fair to designate certain parts of the city off-limits to fireworks, to address the concerns of neighbors who don’t like the noise.
This topic lingered at the table of councilor Jack Burkman, who faced an equally passionate argument to ban fireworks from Stephanie Turlay, wife of councilor Bill Turlay.
“This is a dirty function that is allowed to happen in the city,” she said.
But Burkman responded by saying if the city put a vote on the ballot to ban fireworks it would fail, because it is a complicated issue that requires extensive public input.
“The stickier the problem, the more important the public process,” he said.
Even with the low turnout, the town hall appeared a success in terms of its goal of providing informal access to the City Council.
After the last of the guests filtered out, Mayor Leavitt flipped through three pages of notes covering what he heard, including the CRC, code enforcement, fireworks, speed limit signs in school zones, and tolling on the interstate bridge.
“There were people who said they wouldn’t be comfortable standing up in a City Council meeting (at city hall),” said Leavitt. “I think the format worked very well.”