Q&A: Snoqualmie City Council Candidates Cotton & Walia Talk City Challenges, Affordable Housing and Issues that Made Them Decide to Run.

The two candidates running for Snoqualmie City Council Position #5 – Catherine (Cat) Cotton & Mandeep Kaur Walia submitted answers to three questions we asked.

The answers are in candidate alphabetical order. They were asked to keep answers under 300 words. After the Q&A, you will find a short bio for each candidate and a link to their websites.

The summer primary was held on August 1st. Ballots were mailed out yesterday, and November 7th will be the general election.

Question 1: How do you plan on addressing affordable housing for seniors and our local workforce if elected?

Cat: This issue is of great importance as it also contributes to the transportation issues we have here in the valley with so many workers commuting daily.  The SnoValley Chamber of Commerce hosts the SV Housing Task Force Forum monthly to find and work on options to address this issue.  Certainly looking at alternative housing model ideas for the valley from other states that are experiencing these or similar housing issues is logical. 

In Maui County every new housing development has a significant portion of smaller single family homes, townhomes and even “tiny” homes that are made available at a more affordable price.  Many times these are sold in a lottery by qualification.  Other considerations may be offering vouchers and/or tax credits to help meet qualifications for financing, etc. 

We should also consider the ability to support and let our seniors who want to age in place in their own home or community do just that.  Housing that can accommodate those needs (single level, wider doors, grab bars, decreased yard maintenance, etc.) can allow our senior citizens to live in a safe environment for many years.

Mandeep: I would first start with engaging our community, we have an abundance of engineers, architects and contractors who could guide us and provide suggestions and ideas on how to approach affordable housing. Also, turning to our neighbors, non-profit organizations, local governments including the Snoqualmie Tribal Council to work collaboratively to furnish innovative ideas and funding sources to mitigate this crisis.

We need to support the ongoing efforts by the state, county, and city governments on this matter. Such as, looking at available and underutilized land, as well as unused buildings that can be revitalized and used for housing. Looking at incentives and tax credits or exemptions for private builders so a portion of their building is allotted to affordable housing. We may need to make certain adjustments to zoning laws to allow more density and mixed-use development.

Interestingly, single person household in the US is on the rise to about 30% and therefore we should look at micro-units as a possible solution to lack of affordable housing especially when land is scarce. We would also need to establish a percentage of AMI that is affordable for our workforce and elderly and we need to consider housing such as assisted living facilities which can also provide our seniors with the added services they need to manage their activities of daily living. 

Question 2: What do you feel are the city’s biggest challenges, and how do you plan to address them?

Cat: Increasing and then maintaining an acceptable level of staffing for our Public Safety Departments is of vital importance.  Our Fire and Police Departments are amongst the lowest paid in King County.  Fire has had more mandatory overtime for the past 5-6 years than ever before and Police have been working mandatory 12 hour shifts since 2012.  When personnel go to training or are out sick/injured this also creates even more overtime.  This increases stress and potential for PTSD (burnout, compassion fatigue are other names) for our emergency personnel as well as the very real risk of staff migration to other jobs and departments.  This also ultimately leads to over-budget overtime costs and then there isn’t funding to provide additional personnel.  I’ve tried very hard to keep open communications with our Public Safety Departments to determine needs (and wants) by continuing to volunteer and do ride alongs with these agencies.

Being able to maintain the City’s revenue stream without raising taxes does provide  challenges in light of losing a large percentage of LVAT funding recently.  Fiscal accountability and budgeting are always so important … as is the old adage, “live within your means.”  Investigating other options to help with this including potentially increasing the retail and lodging footprint with those projects that have already been approved. 

Coming from the field of Veterinary Medicine which is always seeking ways to increase revenue stream as this health field deals primarily with a household’s expendable income as its source of cash flow.  It does help to be creative with our solutions.

Mandeep: First, balancing the need for increased development and growth without depletion of our natural resources. This can be achieved by preserving our cultural landmarks, historic buildings and green spaces. When planning for development there should be a focus on the use of energy-efficient construction, renewable materials, more public walkways and public transport to ensure sustainability and that the increased growth is not at the expense of our environment, and that strict regulatory guidelines are being adhered to. 

Second, a city cannot function without capital yet with cost of living on the rise and food, gas along with housing becoming unaffordable, raising taxes can cause a financial burden for many. Therefore, we need to look into alternative sources of revenue. Such as, increasing tourism through city hosted events or sports tournaments, attracting more entrepreneurs to open businesses here, and exploring grants, state and federal funding sources.

Finally, with growth and development there tends to be an increase in crime. Snoqualmie already has its share of property and auto thefts and with Washington’s violent crimes at a 9% increase public safety is a concern. We need to ensure that our police officers have the tools they need to do their job effectively. Preventative measures need to be initiated by finding and tracking the reason for the crime and focusing resources on the cause, as well as early intervention programs that target at-risk youth to provide them with educational, vocational, and mentorship opportunities

Question 3: What issue(s) made you decide to run (or run again) for the city council?

Cat: Interestingly enough … while Snoqualmie actually has 17 voting precincts each and every one of our voters are represented by every council member.  We need to insure that every voice is heard and that every voice matters.

We need to continue being proactive about improving some of our interventional services for drug use, mental health and homeless issues.  Believe it or not, it’s all right here in Snoqualmie!   Having a trained licensed Social Worker and Mental Health Counselor to ride with Snoqualmie Police is a great step in intervention on the front lines.  But there is always more work to do with shelter services and needs … which is quite noticeable when full or under quarantine as people start sleeping in City parks and wooded areas.   With the national fentanyl/opioid epidemic reaching into Washington (and Snoqualmie) it is imperative that we educate the community and our citizens (adults and children alike) to make good choices.  The Snoqualmie Fire Department is the only Fire Dept. in King County offering public courses on Emergency Opioid OD/Poisoning training (and Narcan administration).  There is no government bail-out for this issue.  

Other concerns previously stated are maintaining our City staff numbers for the Departments to be able to work effectively and efficiently.  We need our infrastructure (Police, Fire, Public Works, Transportation, etc.) to keep up with previous planned development.  Planning for the economic health of our community as well as current and future resources is vital now.

It would be my honor and privilege to receive your vote of support for Snoqualmie City Council.

Mandeep: First, public health and the wellbeing of our community is of utmost importance, and a city nor its people can sustain itself without equitable access to healthcare. The pandemic caused a health crisis that unmasked vulnerabilities in the infrastructure and economy of cities revealing the need to prepare for future emergencies.  We are privileged to have a large hospital system here, but we need more outreach, primary care, women’s health and diagnostic services. Additionally, we need increase focus on behavioral health. Not only is it one of our top calls to our already over stretched police officers, but it is one of the causes of homelessness and crime. Furthermore, with people living longer we must ensure that our seniors can age in place. They need transportation to appointments, access to caregivers, home health therapy and meal assistance.

Second, with the 2022 Snoqualmie census demonstrating that 32% of our population is under the age of 18, and suicide the second leading cause of death in children, it is extremely important that we invest in the healthy development and wellness of our children. We need indoor recreation and cultural activities to enhance their mental wellbeing, expand their skill set and increase social interaction. There are several issues that children deal with that are not being brought to the forefront and they need their voices heard. As a parent, I would like to see a youth advisory committee who regularly engages with our City Council. We need them to be excited about civic engagement as they are the future of our city.

Finally, we must focus on economic vibrancy. I hope to implement new and innovative ideas to help our small businesses thrive such as increased tourism through city hosted events and promotion and marketing of our business to neighboring cities. 

Candidate Bios with websites (if available) linked to names

Cat Bio:

Occupation: Veterinarian (recently retired); Snoqualmie Fire Dept. Volunteer EMS Instructor, Evaluator and EMT (active); Paramedic Firefighter (retired); Snoqualmie Arts Commission Co-Chair (active)

Education: Doctorate Veterinary Medicine and Surgery, Colorado State University; Emergency Medical Technician (WA); Paramedic Firefighter (CO, HI); Competency Based Training (CBT) Medical Instructor/Evaluator (WA)

Previous elected, volunteer or government experience:  Snoqualmie Fire Dept. EMT/EMS Instructor & Evaluator since 2002; Snoqualmie Firefighters Association Officer (Executive Board member) since 2002, current Vice-President; Snoqualmie Firefighters Association active member since 2002; Snoqualmie Firefighters Association Community Events Coordinator since 2002; actively participate in community training of Snoqualmie Fire’s Public Safety courses and events (including Stop the Bleed and Emergency Opioid OD and Poisoning training with Narcan administration). As well as participating in multiple COVID Vaccination Clinics at the Fire Department; City of Snoqualmie Arts Commission Co-Chair since 2022; City of Snoqualmie 2020 Virtual Citizens Academy; USDA/APHIS Accreditation since 1996;  State ofHawaii Emergency Medical Services Advisory Board appointed by two consecutive Governors (first Paramedic appointed to this advisory board) 1982-1990

Mandeep Bio:

I am Dr. Mandeep Walia and I am an Internal Medicine Physician with a focus on acute care medicine as a hospitalist and frontline worker. I have slowly transitioned to a more administrative role as the PACE (program for all inclusive care for the elderly) and HAWP (healthy aging and wellness program) medical director. As the medical director, I oversee all of the clinical aspects of the program along with policy, regulation and budgeting in order to help seniors age in place. I moved to Snoqualmie 8 years ago with my husband and three rambunctious boys.

We immediately fell in love with this quaint and beautiful city. So much so, that we moved my aging parents here as well. We plan to raise our children, retire and grow old in Snoqualmie. Therefore, I am highly invested in ensuring that our city remains economically vibrant, sustainable, resilient, safe and inclusive. I have been publicly engaged either through volunteer service, school, or sports activities and I would like to make a larger impact on my community by serving on the City Council. It is very important to me that I be open, honest, transparent and further engage and address the concerns of the residents here.

My background as a physician, mother, daughter to immigrant parents and small business owner, gives me an all-encompassing and unique insight into the various needs of the community and I hope to bring a new and diverse perspective to the City Council. 

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