Although a write-in upset is always possible, it looks like the outcome of Cannon Beach’s November general election may be a foregone conclusion: Three unopposed candidates are looking to fill three positions.
And, if elected, none of them will need much training in the ways of Cannon Beach (Precinct 20).
The mayoral candidate is former City Councilor Sam Steidel. Mike Benefield and George Vetter are seeking the council’s two available at-large positions currently held by none other than Mike Benefield and George Vetter.
Benefield and Vetter were appointed to the council last January to fill vacancies left by Steidel, who resigned to run for mayor, and Nancy Giasson, who resigned for personal reasons.
Steidel, looking to succeed Mike Morgan, would not come to the mayoral position with a radically new agenda for the City Council, he said.
Developing the 58-acre South Wind property, acquiring the south half of the Cannon Beach Elementary School site and furthering tsunami preparedness efforts will remain the council’s foci, he said. He added that, at least at the start of his first term, he will be running “status quo kind of meetings.”
In addition to serving on the City Council, Steidel has served on the design review board and planning commission. He is a current member of the city’s emergency preparedness committee and its subcommittee devoted to managing and expanding the pre-deployment container (aka pre-con container) program.
Once he becomes mayor, however, he will have to leave the emergency preparedness committee and possibly the pre-con committee. He will also have to step down from his position on the Cannon Beach Academy charter school’s building committee because he may have to vote on matters relating to the academy.
As mayor, Steidel will be the chairman of the City Council, setting the agenda and the tone of the council meetings, which he would like to ensure are clear and respectful, he said.
While Steidel is transitioning into his new position, the new City Manager Brant Kucera, will be stepping into his.
“There’s several ‘getting up to speed’ kind of processes” taking place at once, so Steidel’s first priority is to get the city team “on the same page and make sure we’re working together again with new people,” he said.
Where tsunami preparedness is concerned, the city is still looking to hire a new emergency management consultant. Its last consultant, Bill Vanderberg, left in fall 2013.
Steidel said he hopes that both the emergency preparedness and cache container committees “can both be included in the discussion” of Vanderberg’s replacement.
In Vetter’s view, the mayor’s main job, apart from representing Cannon Beach to the outside world, is to keep the council and the public engaged in the processes of local government, which Steidel called “entertaining in certain aspects” and “frustrating in others.”
Steidel said he is looking forward to learning how to cut ribbons and make mayoral speeches. “I think that’ll be fun.”
Mayor Mike Morgan — along with Gearhart Mayor Dianne Widdop, Seaside Mayor Don Larson, county business leaders and others — are working on an initiative to make members of the Port Commission governor-appointed rather than locally elected. Morgan hopes this move will allow for greater South County representation from the Port of Astoria, among other things.
Steidel has not expressed an opinion either way on the Port initiative and said he needs to gather more information before committing to a position.
As a City Councilor, Mike Benefield is focused on preserving the “uniqueness and character” of Cannon Beach while meeting the needs of the community and its visitor population.
Sometimes these interests don’t clash, but sometimes they do. Take the city’s summer parking problems, for example.
Because Cannon Beach is locked in by the Pacific Ocean to the west and forest reserves to the east, “the only way to increase parking is to go up, not out,” Benefield said. “And then you’re talking really big dollars.”
What’s more, any sort of proposed parking structure might run afoul of the city’s stringent design review board criteria (unless perhaps the structure resembles a log cabin).
Benefield, who spent four years on the planning commission, said he has heard some business owners remark that solving the parking problem may bring more people to Cannon Beach. But the city is already so packed during the summer that an increase in tourists may not necessarily lead to an increase in business.
Parking and traffic management are two concerns that the city will have to address long-term, he said.
Another pressing concern without a quick fix is the city’s “aging population and the inability to attract younger families,” he said.
It doesn’t help, he said, that the Seaside School District closed Cannon Beach Elementary School in June 2013.
“I know a couple families, at least anecdotally, who have moved because there’s no school, and they don’t want their kids to be bussed” to Seaside Heights Elementary School, he said.
For this reason, the city should encourage the movement to set up the Cannon Beach Academy charter school, he said.
Having so few young people in the community makes it difficult to bring “younger, fresher ideas” to the city’s committees, commissions and boards, he said.
“I think it would be fantastic if we had some competition in these positions,” he said, “or at least more volunteers to chose from (for) some of these appointed positions.”
The problem is exacerbated by the dearth of affordable low-income housing options in Cannon Beach, he added.
In the past, Benefield has said that second homeowners can make far more money renting to tourists during weekends than they can renting to the city’s low-income residents. The city’s high land values contribute to the problem, he said.
The city’s lower wage seasonal workers have to live in less expensive towns, like Seaside and Warrenton, and then commute to Cannon Beach.
Benefield said perhaps the city could look into developing incentives for providing long-term rentals.
“I’d like to do things that attract families to live here full time and not just the retirement or second-home community,” he said.
George Vetter said that one of the most important issues facing Cannon Beach is developing the South Wind property, east of U.S. Highway 101 near the Tolovana Mainline.
Over several years, the city plans to relocate its essential facilities (City Hall, the police and fire departments, etc.) to South Wind, which lies above the tsunami inundation line. The overriding goal is to retreat from the beach.
The big obstacle to moving forward, however, is getting the project into the budget, Vetter said, “because everything we need to do up there is expensive.”
The city has enough money, he said, to do “small studies” of the site: where it should connect with the highway, how much it’s going to cost to build the infrastructure, etc.
Not until the fiscal year 2015-16 budget is created will the city actually get down to financing major improvements, he said. It will probably take several budgetary installments before anything substantial is built up on the acreage, he said.
“We may put a bond out so that something could happen more quickly,” he said.
If and when the Cannon Beach Academy comes to fruition, its developers expect that a portion of South Wind will be set aside for the school’s permanent location.
In the meantime, though, the school will have to take up residence elsewhere, possibly at the city-owned RV Resort on Elk Creek Road. The city, however, has not yet granted the academy permission to set up temporary classroom portables on the land.
“If it’s the only place, then I think we should try to accommodate (the academy),” Vetter said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have opportunities for that school other than where we can’t afford to put it right now.”
He added that setting up a grade school right next to an area where transient visitors come and go is “not an ideal situation.”
During his next term, Vetter would like to spearhead an effort to get the downtown utility wires “undergrounded.” He called this a “natural step for the natural beauty of the area.”
Minimizing the number of power poles on the sidewalks will not only improve the city’s look, he said, it will reduce the danger of electrical wires getting blown down during coastal storms.
However, “I’m pretty happy with the way this town has developed, so it’s not like I’m coming in because I want to see some big changes,” he said. “I think that Cannon Beach has done a good job of being an aesthetic, artistic, nature-appreciating town, and that’s proved to do well for the town.”