Four seeking to lead Washington County board appear in Tigard at first forum open to the public; they seek the open position in the May 15 primary.

TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Candidates seeking to lead the Washington County Board of Commissioners, from left, Ryan Deckert, Kathryn Harrington, Bob Terry and Shabba Woodley.Four candidates agree that housing and transportation are key issues in their campaign to lead the Washington County Board of Commissioners.

But predictably, they disagreed about how well the county has dealt with those issues — and what the county should do next.

They spoke March 1 at a forum sponsored by East Washington County Democrats and House District 35 Democrats at the Broadway Rose Theatre in Tigard.

"It's interesting to hear my fellow campaigners say how bad Washington County is," Commissioner Bob Terry of Hillsboro said. "But Washington County is really not a bad place." A clip of Bob Terry

Terry represents District 4 (west) on the board and seeks to succeed two-term Chairman Andy Duyck, who is retiring after 24 years on the board.

The others, all from Beaverton, are Ryan Deckert, a former state legislator and former president of the now-merged Oregon Business Association; Kathryn Harrington, a Metro Council member for 12 years, and a former high-tech employee, and Shabba Woodley, a telecommunications sales representative who made a bid for Congress two years ago.

If no one wins a majority for the nonpartisan position in the May 15 primary, the top two finishers advance to the Nov. 6 general election.

Asked by Dana Haynes, the forum moderator, what they would do to deal with an estimated shortage of 14,000 "affordable" housing units — the number comes from a 2016 study done by Portland State University and commissioned by the Housing Authority of Washington County — three candidates said they would support a bond issue of some sort to raise money.

The Metro Council is considering a regional measure for the Nov. 6 ballot, but Deckert said, "I am not sure Metro is the right mechanism to do the bond."

"All the sacred cows we have had in this region about land supply … about taxes we have not implemented … I think we are going to have to look at everything," Deckert added. A clip of Ryan Deckert

"If we don't think of dramatic real change in our vision for housing … this will be viewed as the best of times," as the post-World War II baby-boom generation retires and creates a new demand for housing.

Harrington said she would be a more aggressive leader.

"I think there are far more opportunities that the board of commissioners has not been willing to pursue and has been to the detriment of our community members," she said. A clip of Kathryn Harrington

As a result, she said, "we have very little money to invest in affordable housing to care for those segments of the population that the private market is not interested in serving."

But Terry dissented from a bond.

"Remember, if we just do a bond measure, you have to pay for it. That will hurt your taxes every November," he said. "I am all for affordable housing; I think there are other ways to deal with it."

Terry said the county could do more with private-public partnerships, under which the county has turned over surplus land — some of it unneeded after road work — to nonprofit sponsors able to secure grants for housing. The projects have resulted in hundreds of new units, but Terry acknowledged a need for more. He said land prices are a big deterrent.

"We can make a bond tomorrow," Woodley said. "But 14,000 units are going to take a long time. What we need right now is a effective rent control policy." A clip of Shabba Woodley

That step would require state lawmakers to lift a 33-year-old ban on local rent control. A repeal passed the House but died in the Senate in 2017.

Woodley said such a policy should be coupled with increased voucher aid to low-income renters.

Traffic tie-up

The candidates also agreed that traffic congestion was a major problem.

Only Terry supported a proposal, offered by state Rep. Rich Vial but shelved in 2017, to revive the concept of a westside bypass highway.

"We talk about congestion relief, but we don't want to bite the big bullet of congestion relief," Terry said. "A westside bypass does make sense. It does not mean you have to do the whole thing all at one time."

Terry said he would favor some way to relieve congestion on the Sunset Highway (U.S. 26) that skirts the northern parts of Beaverton and Hillsboro.

Deckert said if that means a linkage of U.S. 26 and 30 to allow freight trucks to bypass downtown Portland, he would support it — but that is all.

"We need big ideas. We need bold ideas. We are the most congested region in America today. We need big, bold, new thinking — but not that one (bypass)," he said.

The main reason, he said, is that such a project would require federal dollars that are unlikely to materialize.

"Anyone who think we can go back to the federal government for anything right now … it's not going to happen," he said. "It's going to be up to us to solve our own transportation infrastructure future."

Woodley also opposed a bypass, saying: "I think it does not solve the main problem," which is having more compact neighborhoods where people live close to work, shopping and recreation.

Light-rail debate

Deckert has supported the development of TriMet's regional light-rail system. But he said the development of autonomous cars and trucks will reshape communities — and make the proposed Southwest Corridor light-rail line unnecessary.

"I think we have to ask ourselves as a community whether we need another capital outlay of billions of dollars in rail when you look at where technology is leading us — and frankly, probably not," he said.

But Harrington, in response to a question about future development of the Tigard Triangle — bound by Highways 217 and 99W, and Interstate 5 — said the proposed line can enable smart growth of the area.

The line is proposed from downtown Portland through Tigard to Bridgeport Village in Tualatin. It is undergoing environmental studies now, and the Metro Council has endorsed the concept.

"The reason why our region is evaluating high-capacity transit is to see how we can provide transportation alternatives for people to get around without having to get on those three roadways," she said. "Autonomous vehicles are not going to solve that traffic congestion juggernaut."

As for a westside bypass, she said:

"I cannot imagine sinking money into acquiring the right of way and doing the planning for a major new capital project like that, when we have a long list of projects in our existing communities that are not yet funded."

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A link to the audio from the entire debate.

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