Seven candidates for the Ward 4 seat formerly held by Medford Councilor Kim Wallan made their pitch to the City Council and a citizen’s committee Thursday night — offering their views on homeless issues, affordable housing and the local economy.
The candidates are Michelle Blum Atkinson, Richard Bradshaw, Michael Campbell, Jessica Gomez, Kevin Keating, Eric Stark and Dylan Moncus.
Blum Atkinson lost to Wallan in her bid for the House District 6 election Nov. 6, while Gomez lost to Jeff Golden for the Senate District 3.
The Ward 4 seat represents southeast Medford.
Initially, the selection process turned contentious when Wallan didn’t immediately offer her letter of resignation after winning the House District 6 race in November.
Candidates each spent a half-hour with the five-member citizen’s committee and a half hour with the council, which plans to make its choice of the seven candidates on Feb. 7. The citizen’s committee will recommend the top three candidates to the council.
Medford’s homeless issues dominated the questions posed by the council, particularly the impacts to the downtown area and the Bear Creek Greenway.
Bradshaw, a local dentist, praised the council for ordinances that banned scofflaws from the downtown and that have helped limit the number of errant shopping carts found around the city.
“But that has pushed the homeless problem to other areas,” he said.
Bradshaw recommended expanding the shelter options in the city to get more homeless people off the streets
His top three priorities for the city include dealing with homelessness, providing affordable housing and boosting support for parks.
Campbell, co-owner of Sis-Q Cellular and who served on the Medford School Board, said his priorities included dealing with homelessness and affordable housing but also economic development.
He said the city has taken steps to improve the downtown, citing Pear Blossom Park and the upcoming urban renewal efforts to improve the Liberty Park area, a low-income neighborhood just north of downtown.
Campbell said the city should increase patrols along the Greenway to reduce illegal camping and illegal activity.
“We need to be finding different places than the Greenway for people to be,” he said.
Keating, a teacher at St. Mary’s School who is on several city committees, was the only candidate who said the Public Employees Retirement System debt was his top priority, suggesting the city may have to cut back on services to deal with any shortfalls.
He said he would want to use marijuana taxes received by the city to help pay down that indebtedness.
Homelessness and the livability issues were his two other top priorities.
He suggested getting rid of brush and blackberries as one solution to stop illegal camping along the Greenway.
“It was designed for the citizens of Medford, not for shelters,” he said.
However, he said there are so many different aspects to the homeless issue that make it a difficult subject to tackle.
“I’m as befuddled as everyone else about what to do with the homeless problem,” he said.
Stark, a local lawyer who is involved in city boards, said affordable housing and homelessness are two pieces of a bigger problem for the city.
“We don’t have affordable rental rates for a large portion of our population,” he said.
He suggested the city should adopt different zoning rules and streamline the planning process to encourage more development of affordable housing.
Public safety and crime were other priority issues for Stark.
“We have a lot of officers, but they’re very busy,” he said. “There’s a lot of drug problems.”
Stark suggested building a better jail and emphasizing more rehabilitation efforts.
Blum Atkinson, with a background in technology who worked at ProCare Software in Medford, said the city needed to lure technology companies to the area to help residents get better paying jobs. She said she’d like the city to work with educators to help train residents in technology fields.
She said there are some 700 homeless people in the area, and she thought a solution could be found if community leaders work together.
Blum Atkinson suggested the city install cameras along the Greenway to discourage bad behavior, as well as installing SOS buttons, similar to those installed in universities.
While she acknowledged the city faces budget pressures, she said it shouldn’t stop leaders from setting goals such as building a community pool.
“Yes, you have to prioritize, but you have to have high expectations,” she said. “People are counting on us. There’s a lot of cities out there with a pool and less homelessness.”
Gomez, CEO of Rogue Valley Microdevices who is involved in various local and state committees, said the city lacks the kind of business-parks found in other cities in the state.
She said the lack of infrastructure, and the focus on service-sector jobs, has created a lack of better paying employment in the valley.
Gomez suggested the city might provide construction loans to companies as an incentive to attract industry to Medford.
She said the city should work with community partners to help with the homelessness crisis.
Moncus, a case manager at WorkSource Rogue Valley who is on local boards, voiced his support for attracting technology companies to Medford.
He said many tech companies in the Bay Area are moving away, but not to Medford. He said one of the things that would attract them to this area is paying $60,000 to $80,000 rather than $120,000 to $160,000 in Silicon Valley.
Moncus said one of the best achievements the city has undertaken recently is the new playground in Bear Creek Park.
“People have an emotional attachment to it,” he said. “It is sort of like a landmark moment for the city of Medford.”
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @reporterdm.