Developers, real estate agents, architects and construction companies have thrown their financial weight behind a candidate in each of Puyallup’s City Council races this year.
The City Council has just approved a downtown development plan to encourage housing close to the Sounder Station, and staff is looking to streamline the permitting process to encourage more applications. Interest in developing Puyallup is growing.
Puyallup’s current growth rate — 0.9 percent -— is about half the regional average, according to The Puget Sound Regional Council, but growth forecasts are favorable for cities with access to public transportation, like Puyallup.
A political action committee called Friends of Puyallup registered earlier this month and has financial backing from engineers, real estate agents and businesses, according to its spokesperson, Charla Neuman. They are endorsing candidates they believe will support business growth in the city, including Curtis Thiel, Paul Herrera, and Curt Gimmestad.
The PAC was created for businesses to be able to do business in Puyallup without the worry of the city changing its rules in the middle of the process, Neuman said.
“If you want to do business in Puyallup, you have to hire an attorney,” she said. “All they ask for is certainty that it will be fair.”
Candidates backed by companies in real estate and development have raised two and sometimes three times more than their opponents. Council member At-Large Dean Johnson has raised $30,862 compared to his challenger Heather Shadko with $8,377.
At-Large council race
Johnson has raised more campaigning than any Puyallup City Council candidate since at least 2007, according to the Public Disclosure Commissions’ records.
The incumbent has received $1,000 from each an architect firm, a financial group, a partner at a development firm and a property management firm.
He said his swing-vote position is seen as a positive for people because he listens to both viewpoints and doesn’t get into partisan politics.
“You can invest in me without disenfranchising your customers,” Johnson said. “They are investing in me because they see the philosophical view that I’m for the people.”
He describes as “cheap rhetoric” criticism by some that he is “pro-warehouse.” The city cannot intervene in a private sale, Johnson said, so residents can sell their property to whomever they want.
“I might not personally like it, but it’s inevitable,” Johnson said.
Shadko believes there are ways, like transferable development rights, to preserve farmland. She has received $1,000 from the Washington Education Association, $226 from the Washington State Democrats and $200 from the Pierce County Central Labor Council.
She told The News Tribune’s editorial board earlier this month that Johnson will be beholden to the development interests backing him if he’s re-elected.
“There is no such thing as free money,” Shadko said. “You do owe them.”
Incumbent Robin Farris has raised $5,486 while her challenger, Thiel, has reported $7,126 in campaign endorsements.
Thiel has received $350 from a co-sponsor of Friends of Puyallup, $450 from a real estate developer and $200 from a commercial developer. A developer has donated $1,000 to Farris’ campaign, as have Citizens for a Better Government and the Washington Education Association.
Farris said she’s bothered by the attention development interests have taken in the Puyallup campaigns.
“It’s interesting to see how bold some interest groups have been in both their endorsement and their financial backings,” Farris said.
She would prefer to see issues like parking downtown be addressed before more development enters the city.
Interest groups historically have supported elected officials to gain access, Thiel said, and now developers are joining those groups. He believes there needs to be more housing downtown, and development is the way to ensure affordable housing comes to the city.
“We don’t have enough inventory of housing, and it’s driving up the costs,” Thiel said. “They are trying to find ways to move projects forward, and Puyallup is known to have a lot of regulations.”
Herrera has raised $10,162 so far, $1,000 of which came from The Pierce County Affordable Housing Council, $500 from the director of a retail developer and $500 from the Washington Association Of Realtors PAC.
Incumbent Mayor John Palmer’s $5,026 in contributions includes $1,000 from a land planning consulting firm, $1,000 from the Pierce County Firefighters Union and $500 from the Washington Education Association.
Palmer said money doesn’t translate into votes. His biggest concern is that businesses outside the city are trying to influence the election. He believes his vocal opposition to warehouse development is the reason his opponent enjoys support from development interests.
“The citizens want to have council members who make the best decision for the community,” Palmer said.
Herrera did not respond to requests for comment.
Two new candidates are vying for District 3, Curt Gimmestad and Ned Witting. The PDC filings report Gimmestad at $10,790.43 raised and Witting with $6,460.
The operations director at a construction firm said development is inevitable, but he hopes to manage the growth. He also said development donors gave because he understands the difficulty of investing in Puyallup.
“That pressure is already coming from King County now,” Gimmestad said. “[Developers, architects, realtors] want candidates who understand the process and they are looking for individuals who have worked in those process and they understand the challenges.”
He has been funded by $1,000 each from the director of a construction company, The Pierce County Affordable Housing Council, and The Washington Association Of Realtors PAC.
Witting has been given $500 from the Washington Education Association and $960 from his former company, Print NW.
Witting said the development dollars spent in these races are going to impact the next council. He believes Puyallup needs to slow down development and work on infrastructure, like grappling with the growing congestion on the roads rather than building more homes.
“It’s going to take a battle for Puyallup to avoid being hugely gridlocked,” Witting said. “I can see that trajectory, and it’s not one that I’m crazy about.”