At most candidates’ forums, it doesn’t take long to see which candidates are better prepared than others and gave some thought to the questions going in.
In the recent candidates’ forum for Missoula County commissioner, held May 23 in the Missoula Children’s Theatre, the candidates knew the subject matter in advance. The forum, sponsored by Smart Growth Missoula, asked candidates to define what smart growth means to them and how it would affect their decisions over the next six years. Other questions addressed related issues such as affordable housing, transportation, the City-County Comprehensive Plan, Milltown Dam and the widening of Highway 93.
County Surveyor and Democratic candidate Horace Brown argues against zoning density, saying, “If you have people that have to live too dense, then you lose the quality of life … and it causes more problems than it solves.” One solution to the affordable housing issue, he says, is promoting manufactured homes, sited in an area between the city limits and the airport. Brown is critical of the bus system, which he says doesn’t pay for itself and isn’t well-used. Instead, he favors spending that money on pedestrian and bicycle trails. He asserts that widening Highway 93 will allow four times as many cars to travel the highway, but thinks the fate of Highway 93 North should be decided by the tribes.
On revising the Comprehensive Plan, Brown says, “What we’re talking about is more regulations. I don’t believe in more regulations. I think we have enough on the books already.”
Developer and Republican candidate Ken Knie claims, “smart growth to me just has one goal: to get back to basics. That means less government. In my opinion government has promoted itself with a severe case of incompetence and has lost the public trust.” To do so, he says, we must streamline government and “revitalize the American Dream.”
“We need a baseline when it comes to higher density,” says Knie, often referring back to his “baseline” agenda without ever having defined it. Knie is concerned about the time frame for development projects, which drives up their cost. Getting approval, he says, should be as simple as getting a license plate. “It shouldn’t be a subjective effort every time you go get a building permit.” On revising the Comprehensive Plan, he suggests it should be turned over to neighborhoods for their review. “Everybody needs to know where they’re at, instead of more government and more jamming down their throat,” he says.
On transportation, Knie says, “Most people want their car and their pickup in Montana and they’re not a whole lot interested in buses.”
On the disposition of Milltown Dam, he admits, “ I don’t have a clue what to do with the thing.”
Democrat Jean Curtiss defines smart growth as “planning livable communities that are economically prosperous and protect our quality of life and our sense of community, always keeping in mind the rights of property owners to develop their own property.” She would also consider such factors as livable wages and employee benefits, affordable housing, preservation of open space and wildlife habitat, the impact on air and water quality, the health of neighborhoods and schools, the proximity to services and whether there’s been broad-based public involvement in the planning process.
On transportation, Curtiss encourages agreements like the one adopted by the city, county and university to provide incentives for employees who use alternative transportation. On Highway 93, she says the best way to plan development is to keep the existing infrastructure in mind. She can’t say for sure whether Milltown Dam should be removed until a way is found to remove the hazardous waste without creating more problems.
Republican Doug Dove defines smart growth as “whatever it takes to ensure that property rights are protected.” He’s very concerned about putting more constraints on what people can do with their land. He rejects the notion that housing can be made affordable by driving down land costs and believes transportation decisions are mostly based on convenience. He says he’s “not up to speed” on the widening of Highway 93. Asked if he favors changing the Comprehensive Plan, he says simply, “No.”
Incumbent Michael Kennedy ran six years ago on the growth management platform and says, “Smart growth is doing things differently than we’ve done them before.”
“We want our children 20 years from now to look back and say smart growth was a smart plan that has resulted in an environment that is clean and healthy.” On affordable housing, Kennedy says the goal is not so much finding places to develop as creating mixed use that integrates people of different socioeconomic backgrounds.
“I think it’s dangerous to consider conglomerating all the people who are economically marginalized … in the same area.” He recognizes there are limits on the amount of pollution our airshed can handle and believes that health considerations compel us to reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled. Developments should minimize those miles, keeping services, industry, jobs and recreation closer to where people live. Kennedy opposes the Highway 93 widening, arguing that it only causes “induced traffic” that further degrades the environment.
On Milltown Dam, Kennedy says it’s been studied for 15 years, and points out the absurdity in EPA’s desire to find a safe place to put the hazardous waste when it’s OK to leave it in our drinking water.
Primary elections are Tuesday, June 6.