Aaron Studen is facing his first opponent in his six years on the Twisp town council. Studen was first appointed to fill out the term for a councilmember who resigned and served two years before running unopposed for the seat.
Studen is looking to build on the town’s accomplishments in infrastructure upgrades and to continue economic revitalization and capital improvements.
Dara Perez, who’s lived in town for a dozen years, is running against Studen. She wants to bring a voice to town residents whom she says feel excluded.
Studen works at several jobs — he decommissions underground storage tanks at gas stations, drives a Zamboni at the Winthrop Rink, and sells applewood for cooking and heating. He serves on several boards — Cascadia Music, Classroom in Bloom, and the Okanogan County Transit Authority, which operates the TranGO bus system.
Most important issues
Studen believes the No. 1 issue facing Twisp is the threat of wildfire and the need for wildfire preparedness. As the climate grows hotter and drier, the risk will only increase, Studen said.
Studen believes the town is taking necessary steps to address wildfire risk, pointing to the new civic center, which will include an emergency-response center and technology to improve response and protect the town.
Other components of fire preparedness are ensuring that fire hydrants have enough water to protect houses on the edges of town and to keep fire from coming into town from surrounding areas, and encouraging Firewise principles to make homes and buildings more resilient, Studen said.
The town is also working on potential annexation into Okanogan County Fire District 6 to ensure a strong working relationship. Residents will vote on annexation in a special election next year, Studen said.
The second most pressing issue is affordable housing — making sure there are no roadblocks to development, Studen said. Key elements include zoning that allows development on small lots, apartment dwellings, and so-called tiny homes. The town is taking steps to allow this type of development and needs to continue to foster these efforts, Studen said.
Infrastructure and economic revitalization
Other important issues include the dissolution of the Public Development Authority that created TwispWorks, and the need for Twisp to resolve the issue of a public bathroom, Studen said.
Twisp has a solid infrastructure plan that has already addressed long-overdue problems, Studen said. Streets and water and sewer lines are being redone and brought up to modern standards. A vital element is that the town’s current capital facilities plan provides for future maintenance and upgrades to keep infrastructure up to date, he said.
Studen supports the town’s economic-revitalization efforts, which include new streetlights and art installations to help businesses attract customers and to direct people from the highway to the business district on Glover Street.
Twisp is growing at a reasonable pace, but growth in other parts of the valley puts pressure on town services and infrastructure, even as it brings in important revenue, Studen said.
Studen pointed to accomplishments in his term, including progress on the civic center building, which is now under construction, despite some opposition. Replacement of water meters is another accomplishment, he said.
Being proactive in response to COVID — trimming the budget in 2020 in anticipation of a loss of revenue — has put the town in good shape, Studen said. Because revenue took less of a hit than expected and the town received financial help from the federal CARES Act, Twisp has come out ahead, he said.
Dara Perez has lived and worked in the Methow Valley for more than 20 years, 12 of them in Twisp. She manages mini-storage facilities in Winthrop and Twisp and is the office manager for Kevin’s Collision Repair in Twisp.
Perez has never held elected office, which she considers an asset. She believes it’s important for everyday people to be involved in their towns, and for community members — not politicians — to serve other community members.
Most important issues
One of the most important issues facing the town is improving communication between citizens and elected officials, Perez said. She believes people feel disenfranchised and don’t participate or raise concerns with town government because they feel no one is listening.
With meetings held remotely since the start of the pandemic, members of the public aren’t permitted to address the council directly. Instead, people must submit public comment in writing before the meeting, where the comment is read by the mayor. This system prevents people from participating in a meaningful way, Perez said.
Perez would like to see the town council discuss and follow up on people’s concerns immediately, at the meeting. Although people are usually specific about the help they need, there doesn’t seem to be any follow-up by the town, Perez said.
Changing the communication style between town government and residents would foster inclusiveness, she said.
Recent actions and decisions by the council have created problems for town businesses and residents, Perez said. For example, vacating Third Avenue obscured businesses such as Kevin’s Collision and interfered with deliveries, emergency vehicles and right-of-way access. Perez called these impacts “easily predictable and preventable” because the town didn’t conduct a traffic feasibility study before closing the street.
The ongoing issues over a public bathroom and complaints by the Merc Playhouse place another burden on businesses, Perez said. Businesses can’t be expected to participate in Twisp’s economic-revitalization plan without having the bathroom issue addressed, she said. The new civic center should have a restroom that’s accessible to the public even when town offices are closed, she said.
Housing insecurity is another important issue because of the effect it has on the labor force. Perez wants the town to focus on nightly rentals (compared with hotels and motels) as tourist accommodations to see if they reduce the number of full-time rentals for residents.
The town needs to figure out what’s affecting the housing market and causing prices to soar, Perez said.
Pool and infrastructure projects
Supporting and maintaining the Twisp pool is a big priority for Perez. The pool has been allowed to founder, when there’s nothing more important than investing in recreational activities for youths, Perez said. The town needs to fund the pool and major capital improvements to it, she said.
If there aren’t adequate funds, the town can alternate spending priorities. There are many ways to balance the budget, Perez said.
Perez criticized some of the town’s recent infrastructure projects, saying they haven’t improved the way streets and sidewalks move people. The traffic islands on Highway 20 by the Hank’s Harvest Food complex have worsened the traffic situation and indicate poor planning by town government, she said.
Bringing residents into the conversation and hearing ideas from those who are affected will take care of issues, she said. Perez vows that if she’s on the town council, the priorities of the community will be the town’s priorities.