Aloha Cafe in Lynnwood was full of interested community members last week during a candidate coffee roundtable where City Council candidates could share a bit about themselves and their platforms.
Four candidates (Ben Corey, James Robert Deal, Christine Frizzell and Van AuBuchon) are running on the Aug. 1 primary ballot for City Council Position 1. The position is currently held by M. Christopher Boyer, who is not seeking re-election. The top two vote-getters in the primary qualify for the Nov. 7 general-election ballot.
My Edmonds News, MLTnews and Lynnwood Today sponsored the event on Thursday, July 6. Following brief one-minute introductions for each candidate, community members asked the candidates questions about topics they were most concerned about.
Below are some of the questions asked by voters and answers provided by the candidates. Answers have been provided in the order they were presented during the event.
Candidate Corey could not attend the round-table event. However, he did submit a statement, which is appended below the Q&A summary.
Q: Each candidate may have one minute to introduce themselves.
AuBuchon: I’m the only candidate here tonight who has some experience in city government. I spent four years in city government, and what I’m about is speaking about taxes, the taxes that have been increased during the time I was on council and since I’ve been on council. Your homeowners taxes are going up and people are literally being taxed out of their homes. I don’t think that’s necessary. When I first came on the council, we had a budget I believe of $52 million in revenues. Next year will be $62 million in revenues, and your taxes continue to go up even though we have the revenue to cover what the essential services are. The essential services haven’t changed.
Deal: I’m a real estate attorney and a real estate broker. Here are some things that are important to me, and I want you to ask my opponents if they are interested in these issues. I’m opposed to drinking water fluoridation. Smart meters are coming, Snohomish County PUD is going to put them in and I want to ask my opponents what’s your position on this. If I’m elected, I’m going to try to get on the Sound Transit Board and the Community Transit Board. I believe I can eliminate traffic congestion. Just like Mount Vernon installed a public utility to provide gigabyte internet connection, I think Lynnwood could do that too. I’m in favor of school gardens, and I’m in favor of banning the application of Round-Up. We have a golf course where 19 toxic waste chemicals are used and you look on the label and it says “kills fish.”
Frizzell: I’m running for Lynnwood City Council because I have a passion for this city. I have lived in Lynnwood most of my life. My first job was at Lynnwood Library, putting away all of those books that nobody else seemed to be able to get in the right slot. From there, I worked for my uncle’s landscape company and helped put in South Lynnwood Neighborhood Park, and I spent hours and hours during my college days watering the trees at Alderwood Mall. In 2005, I became a homeowner in Lynnwood. In 2014, I took a class that has changed my perspective on what a city is and what a city aught to be, and that was Lynnwood University. Since then, I have been going to almost every City Council meeting, Finance meeting, along with a number of Diversity meetings and any other meeting I can get involved in. I believe in giving back to the city I grew up in, and I look forward to being able to do that on a more regular basis.
Q: What have each of you done in the City of Lynnwood to become involved? I find it’s very important to be at council meetings regularly so you will be up to speed on the issues when you get there.
AuBuchon: I believe in the last two years, I have attended more regular business meetings than some of the members of council. So my record speaks for itself. While I was on the council, I missed three regular business meetings because of an accident I had, my attendance was also very good.
Deal: I think in a much broader approach to issues that we need to address in Lynnwood. You are drinking contaminated water that contains lead, arsenic along with the fluoride. This will shorten your life and make your old age miserable. It affects the fetus most of all. I have a website called fluorideclassaction.com. I am the webmaster and the author of the articles thereupon. Regarding Lynnwood issues, I keep up with what’s going on. My website JamesRobertDeal.org/radio, you can listen to my radio program and learn more about issues that are important. I’m warning you, smart meters are coming. In Seattle, there’s a war going on right now and people are trying to opt out, and if you have 20 smart meters in your apartment building, you are getting irradiated if you live on the other side of that wall. They are gathering the data on your behavior so they then sell it to marketers for a price. Our department of energy is subsidizing Seattle to do that. Now, we’re all frustrated by traffic congestion. I want to get on the Sound Transit Board and Community Transit Board, but in order to do that, you have to be a member of City Council or a mayor or on County Council. I believe traffic congestion can be completely eliminated by a van system which picks people up and takes them where they need to go. See these city buses drive by? Most of them are mostly empty most of the time. These are half-million and million-dollar buses. We depreciate them over 20 years then send them to Mexico for almost nothing. We spend $130 per hour driving these big buses around that almost nobody is using. We need a van system already tested in San Francisco, that picks you up where you are, requested by cell phone and takes you to the Park and Ride. Mass transit will always be of a limited success unless we figure out a way to get to and from the mass transit. These are broader issues that no one is addressing, and it’s my job to address these issues.
Frizzell: On the matter of attendance, as I mentioned, I’m at most City Council meetings. I also attend Finance Committee meetings and a number of other ones. I have had sit-down meetings with a number of the directors that represent the different areas of Lynnwood. I have heard from them and get my own spin on where Lynnwood is going and where the priorities on. I spend a lot of time volunteering because I think it’s so important that we reach out to our community. Not everyone has the same opportunities. There’s a lot of diversity within our community. One of the areas that I help in is with Neighbors in Need at Trinity Lutheran Church. Every Saturday morning, I’m there to help feed people, give them clothing, listen to them. I’m taking a Spanish class at the Rec Center so I can start to communicate with them better. We have a lot of fun as they correct my Spanish and I correct their English. I’m on the board for low-income housing for seniors down the road here. I’m on the board for education for homeless people. Education is such a big key, no matter what form that takes. I’m also on the board for interfaith church in Lynnwood, Living Interfaith. We get together with different people of different faiths, whether they are Muslim or Bahá’í or secular, we come together. We’re in the same room and we don’t beat each other up. We respect each other. I believe if I want to be a part of this city in a bigger way, I need to spend my time learning what’s going on.
Q: For Christine Frizzell, you said you have attended Diversity Commission meetings, but the last meeting they had was in February 2016. Also, you said you were on some advisory boards, have you had open government training? Finally, you said you have 30 years of accounting experience. Are you a CPA?
Frizzell: I don’t believe I said I was on an advisory board, I am on some boards within the community. As far as an official advisory board, not within the City of Lynnwood. For two years I attended diversity meetings and saw the way that was going, but I have not attended that they have not been here, but for the two years prior. I began attending in 2014. So it’s been a while, I’ve been around to see what’s going on. I have 35 years of accounting experience. I made the decision a long time ago not to get my CPA. I am a registered tax returner with the IRS and I run a large income tax practice and I work with many small and medium-sized companies.
Q: Having seen not only nationally but also in the local papers and even in the voter’s pamphlet, incredibly creative numbers, what experience have you had crunching numbers and being able to come up with realistic, believable facts that the city or citizens can understand with the RFA as well as everything else?
AuBuchon: Regarding the RFA, first and foremost, that is a ballot issue and we don’t know what is going to happen. My position in the past has been that I have objected to the RFA, not because of the RFA itself because let’s face it, I have a degree from the University of Washington in business, I understand the theory of economies of scale. I get it, and I understand how the RFA will cause a reduction of the cost to the authority, absolutely there are. But if I go back to how it was brought to the people. The failure of the council to allow the people to weigh in and backdoor negotiations that went on. The whole idea that there are 16,000 registered voters in the City of Lynnwood. There are 100-plus-thousand registered voters in the county. There is no way, even if all of the voters in the City of Lynnwood voted against it, there is no way this thing is not going to pass. Now, let’s take the RFA issue from 30,000 feet. Keep in mind, I’ve been through two complete biennial budget cycles. I understand all of the funds that are in there and how they work for the city. I’ve spent four years on the city’s finance committee so I understand those things. The number I’d like to throw out at you is in the first budget cycle of this current administration, they cut the Fire Department $2.4 million to try to balance the budget. This administration has gone through two budget cycles and has failed both times to balance the budget. The last budget cycle, they had to use the reserve fund, $6 million, to balance the budget. I can’t talk to you more about the city budget because we don’t know. I promise you I will find out.
Frizzell: I have sat down with Sonja Springer, our finance director, I have looked at an audit report, I bought a budget book and am working my way through that. I kind of like numbers. It’s what I do. I like figuring out what the cost of something is and whether or not that’s a good use of resources. I’ve do that with individuals with taxes. It’s a little weird but I do. I want to know where our tax dollars are going, not just mine, but for the people in this room and everybody watching. I want to make sure we’re spending money wisely and if there are places to cut, we need to be looking at it. What we do as seven people on the council impacts 38,000 people in Lynnwood whether they decide to vote or not. When we talk about the specifics with the RFA, I have been to the presentations. I don’t have any better numbers than the numbers that are presented but I have confidence that our books are audited every single year by Washington State government. We are doing what we need to be doing and procedures are being followed. Overall, I have a good feeling about where our numbers are, I believe they truthfully represent what is going on in our city. The City recently released a transparency tool online (to review the budget) and I’ve gone there a few times. I still don’t really know what it means, but it’s transparent. One of the handouts I put in the room takes a dollar bill and asks where does your property tax money go? Where does your sales tax money go? If you look at that graphic, it shows that less than 1 percent of the 10.4 percent people are taxed in Lynnwood (sales) comes back to the City of Lynnwood. Same with property taxes. They’re high. I agree, I got my property tax assessment the other day. But again, the amount that comes directly back to Lynnwood is small, other property taxes are taxes we voted in. Property taxes are going up, but assessed value is going up.
Deal: I still haven’t decided on an opinion on the RFA. But let’s talk about wasted money. One of the biggest wastes is your sales tax going into driving these empty buses up and down the street. Why is that? We started with trains. They have to run a fixed route. Then we switched to buses, which imitated trains by running fixed routes. Then cell phones were invented, then Uber came along and developed this technology where a person can request a ride and get picked up. If you run a van system instead of single-person taxis, six-person vans, you can divide the cost six ways. So if it’s three miles for me to go from north Lynnwood to the Park and Ride, and and Uber trip costs 12 dollars and there are six people on board, that ride is only $2 each, $4 round trip. Then, if you charge $10 to park at the Park and Ride, more people will use the vans, which will pick you up in five minutes and take you to the Aloha Restaurant, or to the mall, or to the grocery store, and when you’re done, you can request a ride and it will take you home. The people who run Sound Transit and Community Transit, I’ve addressed Community Transit about this and they just look through me like they just don’t get it. They are wasting your sales tax money. We can fill up the vans, we would fill up the buses on the freeway and fill up the buses on Highway 99 and take half the cars off the freeway, half the cars off of our congested roads. Then you also have this problem of toxic waste being added to your drinking water and lead in your pipes. We all have lead in our pipes. I’m talking more about big-picture economic issues. If elected, I will dive into these numbers, I have a minor in business and accounting.
Q: What are the top three issues in the City of Lynnwood?
AuBuchon: Taxes, taxes, taxes. (Chuckles.) No. Seriously, the major issues always remain the same and those are the essential services. It is the responsibility of city governments by state law to provide certain essential services required to the citizens. Those are things like first responders. Police Department, that’s one of my major issues. Get the Police Department back up to at least the 2008 levels plus normal growth plus some future growth, given the fact we have some major housing developments coming in and a large population growth has been forecasted for the future. Roads, of course, are a major issue. We have failed in the last, well since the recession, to catch up with what we need to have in terms of maintaining and fixing our roads. We need to put some shovels in the ground and move these infrastructure things along. Third, the Utility Fund. The Utility Fund is where your tax dollars go for sewer, water and storm drain fees to the city. We’ve been told and told and told about the possibility of “the big one” happening. One of the major services that will be in jeopardy when “the big one” happens is water. There’s plenty of water in those lakes, but getting that water from there to your tap or to your toilet is complicated. That’s the city’s responsibility. We make a lot of water selling water. We haven’t really in my mind addressed what happens when “the big one” hits.
Deal: Coming soon is Paine Field expansion. Alaska Airlines is already lined up to bring in 20 airplanes a day, and there’s no stopping any other carrier from bringing in more planes and 44th Avenue is the guide way. They’ll be flying right over 44th Avenue at low altitudes and you’re going to get pretty tired of it and it will be Sea-Tac Two with street walkers and hotels and low-paying jobs. Using Paine Field as it should be used for high-paying, high-tech related jobs. I already talked about smart meters, they are coming. Unless you raise your voice, every five seconds you’re going to have a burst of microwaves. The WHO has said this is a Type II D carcinogen, which is a probable human carcinogen. You’ve got routers in schools and offices. All of these places should be hard-wired. You shouldn’t even use routers in your homes. Turn it off whenever possible, you only need it to update your cell phones. Another issue is the salmon that we all love. Nevertheless, we fluoridate our water. Fluoride kills salmon. And our golf course that owes the city a million, million-and-a-half dollars, and they put 19 toxic chemicals on that golf course that kills fish. We could ban the application of Round-Up. Round-Up kills salmon. I should mention homelessness, although this is a very difficult issue to deal with. I will dedicate myself to finding solutions. We need to house these people and not make clean-and-sober a prerequisite. They are more likely to get clean and sober once they are housed.
Frizzell: The laws in Washington State say there are three things that make up a city: fire, police and roads. Anything without those three are called towns. So I agree with Van that all three of those are vastly important. I have happily sought out the endorsement of both the police and fire department and I am proud to have that designation. Another area that we need to be very careful with is the growth. We have a Growth Management Act. We need to be managing the growth that is coming, because Sound Transit 3 is coming, we have some skyscrapers changing our skyline. We need to be prepared. There are challenges with that. One of our biggest ones is roads. At one of the recent city council meetings, the gentleman from the growth department assured us that the right of ways are being worked on and we are moving along in the right direction. It’s not sitting on a shelf someplace. The third area I would like to focus on is diversity. We have a diverse community. We need to do a better job of bringing people together and celebrating differences. We need to bring everybody’s perspective and make them feel part of the city. The city is a living, breathing thing around us.
Candidates were also asked about affordable housing. All three agreed that it is an area that the city needs to improve, but each had their own perspective. Frizzell emphasized the need for nonprofits to fill in the gaps for people and help fill in the gaps. Deal would rather see the city invest in small, affordable apartments for singles and families in need. AuBuchon said the city is not large enough to get federal dollars for affordable housing, so the city could best address the issue by raising the minimum wage so that people with fewer skills or who are trying to get back on their feet can afford to pay rent on a minimum-wage job.
Another audience member asked about the city’s reserve fund and how best to replenish it. Deal declined to answer the question. Frizzell thought the city’s decision to deplete the reserve fund was wise, as it puts more tax dollars to work while maintaining a minimum that is slightly higher than what is required by state law. AuBuchon, on the contrary, remembered a budget cycle in about 2008 when the city was short $23 million. He said there is not a question of “if” that happens again, but “when,” and therefore would like to see the fund rebuilt.
Candidate Ben Corey’s statement is below:
My name is Ben Corey, and I am running for Lynnwood City Council, Position 1.
I believe that cities are vital aspects of a democracy. When our the federal government willfully fails to meet the needs of the people, and the state government is restrained from doing so by blatant partisanship, it is up to the cities to become stewards of social progress. This is the situation we find ourselves in now, and we must begin acting in that role without delay.
Thousands of people are streaming into Lynnwood because they are being priced out of Seattle, Shoreline and Edmonds. In addition to high-end housing developments, apartments and condos, we must ensure that housing is being made available that is affordable to new families and young individuals seeking a home. It is the American dream to own a home of your own, and we should keep that dream alive in Lynnwood.
Affordable housing is one part of that equation, but wages are another. It has been established clearly that when we all do better, we all do better. It’s not enough that someone who works full time is able only to pay their bills. When all of our hard-working residents are also able to buy a car, appliances and clothes, to go out to eat and enjoy a night on the town, that is when all of our local businesses do better. We need a wage that will allow every person in Lynnwood to not only survive, but thrive. We must raise our local minimum wage to $15 per hour immediately, and we need to be be willing to continue to raise that wage as our cost of living rises. Washington State will have a minimum wage of $13.50 in 2021. We live in an area far more expensive than the vast majority of Washington and our wages should reflect that.
We must also look at taxation. Sales, property and utility taxes unfairly burden our most economically vulnerable, and it is not feasible to run a city by draining the pockets of our city’s property owners. At 10.4 percent, Lynnwood has the highest sales tax in the state. We have literally maxed out our utilities tax, and our property taxes are sky high. It is time to lower these taxes. It’s important to remember that they impact our individuals as well as our small businesses, and we should be making life easier for small locally owned businesses.
Lynnwood must look at more progressive means of revenue. There are a multitude of million- and billion-dollar corporations greatly impacting our city while greatly profiting from being located here. It’s time they start giving back to Lynnwood. There isn’t one simple solution, but our council needs to be working towards tax reform in favor of the people and small businesses of Lynnwood. It is not clear that this has been the case in years past.
How we spend our money is also important. The government is not a for-profit business, but that doesn’t mean it can’t spend its money wisely. If there isn’t enough money for basic social services, then there isn’t enough money to give away resources to corporations. If we don’t have enough money to hire and properly train enough police officers, then there isn’t enough money for brand new police cars. If there isn’t enough money to care for all of our streets, bike paths and walkways, then there definitely isn’t enough money for raising government salaries.
Ultimately, I believe that Lynnwood has a choice. It can be a city where people live, commute to work and shop, or Lynnwood can embrace its future as a 21st century city. A city that is a home for all people, regardless of race, religion, identity or socioeconomic status. A city filled with options for children, including parks, affordable (if not free) after-school programs. A city where people just getting started in their adult lives thrive alongside long established residents. A city filled with small business, venues for music and art, and community events. That is the city that I want to live in, and I believe strongly that is as achievable as it is aspirational.
This is just part of my vision for Lynnwood. You can learn more at bencoreyforlynnwood.com and facebook.com/bencoreyforlynnwood. At both sites you will find ways to contact me directly. I’d love to hear your questions as well as your ideas.
Thanks so much for your time, and thank you for being a part of our democracy.