ILWACO — The campaign signs are up, the ballots are out, and in Ilwaco there are two city council candidates campaigning for their neighbors’ votes, incumbent Don Berger and challenger Vinessa Mulinix. 

Up for grabs are council seats #2 and #5, which are currently held by Berger and Gary Forner, respectively. 

At the time of candidate filings in June, Berger was running unopposed, but since then Mulinix has tossed her hat into the ring, initiating a write-in campaign for council seat #2. 

Forner is running for seat #5 unopposed. 

Back in May, Pacific County Commissioners appointed Berger and Butch Smith to positions #2 and #4 respectively after the city council failed to appoint new members to the two seats, which were vacated by Gini Chin and Will Greene.

Pacific County Auditor Pat Gardner has told the city that Smith may remain in seat #4 until the next election to be held in 2013. If Smith resigns, the city will have to appoint someone to fill the vacancy.

This week, the Observer asked Berger and Mulinix to share some written views on Ilwaco politics and their ideas for improving the community they wish to represent.


Why do you want to serve on the Ilwaco City Council?

Don Berger: It all started back in 2003 when I applied for a building permit to construct an airplane hangar on my property. I was charged $200 for a flood plain permit. After researching the ordinances I found that it was illegal to assess this charge. A city hall staff member encouraged me to take it before the city council. I went through two meetings with the city council and one meeting with the planning commission. Not one of those members understood the Ilwaco Municipal Code (ordinances). I felt it was my responsibility to make sure no property owner in Ilwaco would go through what I went through. And that no one in Ilwaco will pay for a flood plain permit for an accessory building. I could write a book on the inequalities of the playing field in Ilwaco.

Vinessa Mulinix: This year I became very active within my city’s government, and found a passionate desire to improve our town for its citizens. Through community volunteerism we can make a difference in our parks, trails, downtown business district and residential streets. The economy might have stalled but we don’t have to, and it’s up to our council to set a good example for its citizens and get us all involved.

What do you feel is the city’s most pressing issue?

DB: There are many, but if I had to pick one it would be the financial stability of Ilwaco. I have some knowledge in this field being a general contractor and developer for 30 years and keeping my own books, back in the days of journals, general ledgers, double entry systems. But I don’t claim to be an expert in this field. I have complete faith in [city treasurer] Elaine [McMillan] and support her work. I believe Ilwaco will dig itself out of this mess.

VM: Small business development. Some will say the water/sewer bills, but this ties in. We need more commerce here in Ilwaco, a small-scale urbanization movement so the money stays local. Council members should have a bold view of their city. Businesses should want to be here. We need to make it more enticing for them and in that way we could spread the utility costs out among many instead of the very few.

What is the city’s biggest asset?

DB: I am going to use one of our citizen’s analogies on this one. Ilwaco is a gold mine. For years the people of Ilwaco have been taking gold out of the city (logging, fishing, merchants, developers, etc.). This gold has not been replaced. Our infrastructure, buildings, streets, sidewalks, businesses have all declined. People, you need to help promote the revitalization of Ilwaco. I will help, but I need you to show an interest in Ilwaco.

VM: I feel that Ilwaco is the jewel of the Peninsula. We have a beautiful port, Black Lake and its nature viewing trails, state park beach access and Lewis and Clark trailheads, the Ocean Beach Hospital and Ilwaco’s Jr/Sr High School, beautiful vistas and cranberry farming. All this makes me wonder why growth isn’t booming here. If its citizens take pride in their community, others will flock to be a part of it and that’s what I intend to do — take pride in furthering our development.

If elected, how would you encourage the establishment of more businesses in Ilwaco?

DB: Last Friday I went to Denny Heck’s home in Olympia, to hear Denny and Adm. Joe Sestak (a congressman from Pennsylvania) talk about their drive to fund education, infrastructure, and jobs to small America. I totally support this philosophy. If Denny is elected and I am in Ilwaco politics, it won’t be the last time Denny will see me, I guarantee it.

VM: As I said earlier, this is top of my list of things to do. I would like to help create a more attractive downtown for our city to entice new small business owners. By forming painting parties, street clean-up groups to remove weeds and clean our street gutters. Also, I would encourage working with the Parks and Recreation commission more closely to see these projects through.

One of the council’s most recent agenda items was a resort district clarification that would allow short-term vacation rentals. What are your thoughts on vacation rentals within the city limits?

DB: This is still on the table and maybe I should not comment on this. But I can say what I have already said and which you have reported in the paper. My complaints are: A.) Public hearing without prior city council workshop or discussion; B.) No fees paid by developer; C.) No plan for this change; D.) There are plenty of lots available for sale; E.) There are motels with cottages, and trailer parks available; F.) I don’t believe a private owner can be prevented from renting his house; and G.) There are two separate issues: vacation rentals and small lots. I might go with vacation rentals. But will have a harder time with smaller lots. We have plenty of them in Ilwaco now, and they do cause problems.

VM: This is a specific zoned area up near Discovery Heights, just to be clear. I am open to the idea. If my family goes on a trip for more than a couple days we look at vacation rentals. It’s good sense if you have a family. With vacation rentals you get potential local  jobs in landscaping, house cleaning, as well as more downtown traffic, more commerce and more lodging taxes. Some of those taxes are allocated towards building tourism here in Ilwaco, which leads to more business development.

At a time when many cities are struggling with debt, decreased revenue and aging infrastructure, what actions would you suggest the city take to help keep Ilwaco afloat?

DB: Education and infrastructure is something you don’t readily see. But something that you could see is: A 300-room hotel with a convention center. This could be on the ridge overlooking the overlook project (which by the way, was put in by the city, for MSW) along with a golf course. Now there is a resort. Or on port property. Move the sewage treatment plant out to the airport and take over the trailer park. Move the traffic off Spruce Street and direct traffic to Howerton. This would take the visitor through all the current businesses in Ilwaco. “Gateway City” maybe. Manufacturing for jobs. Increase the runway length at the airport and zone for light industrial (manufacturing). Whoops! That may be a personal agenda (runway length).

VM: Working within our means is essential. The budget meetings are daunting and no one is denying that we are struggling right now. But we are not bankrupt, we are not helpless. I think we should be continuing to look at refinancing some of our old existing debt, continue to have our public works consider what projects could be done in-house or by way of volunteers before bidding them out. We also need to keep our options open for responsible future development and expansion to increase city revenue.

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