Four candidates are vying for the Yakima City Council District 4 seat currently held by Kay Funk.
Candidates for the seat are Janice Deccio, Eduardo Luis Gutierrez Jr., Tony Sandoval and Mark Shervey. The top two vote-getters in the Aug. 3 primary will advance to the November general election.
The winner of the general election will be elected to a four-year term representing the 4th District. The district primarily includes residents living west of downtown Yakima and roughly borders D Street to the north, West Mead Avenue to the south, South Sixth Street to the east and South 32nd Avenue to the west.
Yakima City Council members receive $1,075 a month plus benefits.
Three of the four candidates are running for office for the first time, while Sandoval has run for Yakima City Council in 2015 and 2017 and the 4th Congressional District seat in 2014.
Deccio and Shervey are leading in fundraising efforts. Deccio has $4,334 and Shervey had $4,050 in donations as of Friday. Tony Sandoval reported $397.70 in donations, while Eduardo Luis Gutierrez Jr. reported no contributions.
The Yakima City Council has been tackling several issues, including aiding businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, gang violence and crime, housing affordability, and homelessness. Each of the candidates answered questions about these issues.
What does the Yakima City Council need to do to reduce crime?
“I would support laws that provide enhanced penalties for violent crime sprung from gang activity. I think enforcement of those laws needs to be strengthened,” she said.
Deccio also said she supports efforts aimed at helping families discourage their children from joining gangs.
“We can change the trajectory of many lives if we can stop people from joining gangs,” she said.
She also hopes that the council can look into methods other communities have tried to reduce crime.
“It’s a complex issue,” she said. “It will take collaboration by multiple agencies.”
Eduardo Luis Gutierrez Jr.
Gutierrez supports efforts to get people working or engaged with the community, with the idea they would be less apt to turn to criminal activity. He also feels that people turn to criminal activity when they have lost hope.
And with the pandemic leading to massive job loss, that likely contributed to criminal activity.
“I think to reduce crime, we need to put people to work,” he said. “There are a lot of infrastructure projects, such as fixing roads, that could put people to work.”
He also feels the police can do a better job reaching out to the community. He will push for efforts for police to have more interaction with the community outside of a crime or emergency.
“A lot of times, people only come across police officers when they get pulled over or something negative,” he said.
One option is looking into funding sources, he said. That could include seeking out state and federal grants as well as raising donations from private citizens.
Sandoval also believes there is a case for calling a state of emergency, which would allow the city to access additional public funding sources.
“We are all in danger at any time,” he said. “Gang members are killing and hurting innocent people.”
Sandoval said that tackling the crime issue is a top priority.
“The city needs to step up; they’re just sitting back,” he said. “If they don’t focus on crime, there’s no point of putting efforts in economic development. What company would want to come to a place that has crime? We got to come together as a community; everyone needs to take ownership.”
Crime has been a top issue with voters, he said.
“It’s top of mind for them because there’s been so much violence in the last few months,” he said.
He supports full funding for police. He also advocates aiding police in hiring efforts. Shervey talked to a recruiter who revealed how difficult it has been to fill existing positions, and that’s kept the department short-handed for the last year.
“I would give full support to our police to make sure they have the manpower and equipment to do their job,” he said.
What is your plan to help businesses recover from the COVID-19 pandemic?
The City Council will need to decide how to use federal funds from the latest coronavirus relief package, she said. Previously the city used such funds to provide business grants to those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Deccio also feels the city could do a better job in helping people start new businesses and help them thrive.
“Yakima is not necessarily the easiest place to start a business. I would like to make that process easier,” she said.
The Yakima City Council should focus on small businesses, which were more impacted by prolonged closures and limited capacity, he said.
In comparison, larger national retailers, for the most part, were able to remain open.
“It didn’t seem didn’t seem fair for small business owners,” he said.
He also believes the pandemic was a wake-up call for local communities to prepare for future emergencies.
“I think it’s worth developing reserves that can be used in similar emergencies,” he said. “They can get the help they need and not have to close their doors.”
The city did a poor job in helping businesses prepare for opening or extending capacity, Sandoval said.
“The city should have worked with businesses as things opened up,” he said. “Now it’s opened up, and businesses cannot find workers. You need workers in order to function.”
Sandoval believes that he and other Yakima City Council members should be more engaged with local business owners.
And with the Delta variant spreading, the city needs to figure out how to handle it, so businesses aren’t in the same situation as before, Sandoval said.
“Right now, we should go to businesses and see how we can solve their problems,” he said. “You have to work with the businesses.”
“The biggest hindrance to business is regulation, taxation and permitting,” he said. “A lot of businesses did survive the pandemic. If we let them be and streamline processes to make it more efficient and less cumbersome, businesses will thrive,” said.
Shervey notes there are infill lots in downtown Yakima. Such lots can be used to build new developments that would house businesses and more affordable housing units.
“Make the infill process easier for developments to come in,” said. “That will increase business and provide jobs, provide additional housing and make Yakima look more appealing.”
How would you approach improving access to affordable housing in the community?
She considers the city’s housing action plan “a good step.”
“I think the City Council needs to make it easier for people to get into housing,” she said. “And to work on the zoning and tax structure.”
The city can find places that aren’t being used, such as various downtown lots, to build multi-family housing units.
“I think we must think outside the box and find ways to find sites for new housing,” Deccio said. “I support multi-family housing and building on the land we have available. It’s not being utilized and just sitting there. We need to use the space that we have.”
Deccio said finding a home has been a challenge across all levels. “They’re so overpriced they can’t afford to get into them,” she said. “We’re not going to do it overnight, but I think one of the priorities is to make it easier for all people of all income levels to get into housing. That’s why my platform is affordable housing at every level of income.”
He planned on looking into vacant hotel rooms and housing units that could be used as an emergency shelter. One thing the city could do is provide subsidies for those who offer rooms or apartment units.
“That way, the hotel or the property owner (isn’t) just giving away a room or housing for free,” he said.
Gutierrez also thinks the council needs to find a way to encourage the construction of additional apartments.
“The waiting list for Section 8 housing is years long,” he said. “I think there needs to be more incentive to make affordable housing available.”
Affordable housing is a critical way to cut homelessness, he said.
“We should use some city funds, combined with state and federal funds and to sell city-owned property to encourage new housing,” he said.
Sandoval said he likes what he’s seen of the city’s housing plan, but the key is execution. “In my opinion, the city moves too slow on things. I would push for a timeline to execute the plan,” he said.
He said that housing availability historically had been an issue with Yakima residents, both for single-family homes and multi-family units.
“The region always had low vacancy rates for all housing and has been exacerbated with the influx of people moving in and the cost of housing going through the roof,” he said. “Every time the cost of housing goes up, it becomes more unobtainable for people to have a home.”
He said he supports funds, such as grants, that would incentivize developers to build housing that is affordable for low-income residents.
How do you think the council can best address issues with homelessness and substance abuse in Yakima?
There are many reasons why someone is homeless, whether it’s substance abuse, loss of income, the result of a domestic violence situation or aging out of foster care, she said.
“Each of these issues requires different approaches,” she said. “We have services and nonprofits that focus on each of these problems. I would like to see a task force with representatives from each agency that can identify ways to find adequate shelter.”
Deccio sees the issue as a group effort. “We can’t just say it’s a problem, and then no one steps up,” she said. “We got to work together to solve it or at least make a dent into it.”
There are plenty of vacant rooms and buildings just sitting there that can be used to shelter the homeless, he said.
“Maybe make it a condition for residents to be clean or seeking treatment as well as put in some hours of work or community service,” he said.
There has to be some incentive for people, he said. He’s seen businesses and schools provide incentives for positive actions; he believes that can extend that to adults.
He suggested providing counselors who can monitor people’s progress remaining clean or in treatment.
“We need to rely on the experts. We have all kinds of resources. We have mental health providers. We have private entities working with the homeless,” he said.
He said the city could assist entities that work with the homeless in several ways, including writing letters of support for grant applicants.
“It’s a multifaceted problem. I don’t think there is one direct approach to help homelessness and drug abuse,” he said.
He said organizations such as Union Gospel Mission and Camp Hope are doing a great job helping people in need in the community.
Shervey said, as a downtown business owner, he often talks to people who are homeless. They are seeking access to health care, mental health care, shelter and necessities.
“The City Council doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “We have programs in place — some are private, some are faith-based, and others are nonprofit. I think we can support them.”