Mayoral Candidates Discuss Tourism’s Affect on Friday Harbor in Online Forum
By Hayley Day, San Juan Island Update
Three candidates are vying to be the next Friday Harbor mayor.
Ray Jackson, Phil Carvalho and incumbent Farhad Ghatan spoke in an online forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of the San Juans on July 8.
Watch the recorded forum here with the passcode ut^WHQ88.
Ballots for the primary will be mailed July 16 and are due 8 p.m. Aug. 3. The top two candidates will go on to the Nov. 2 general election.
Topics in the forum centered around longtime local issues including the lack of affordable housing and the strain the tourism economy places on town residents.
Jackson said residents had “lost their town” to tourists at least four months out of the year when vacationers visit the islands during warmer weather.
Losing the town, he said, includes waiting in long lines at businesses and not being able to book ferry reservations. He questioned what residents get from this exchange and suggested businesses provide locals discounts because fulltime residents support island businesses all year.
Carvalho said tourists should be encouraged to visit in the off seasons so the island isn’t hit by vacationers all at once. He said the town could entice winter visitors by advertising the lack of crowds and hosting additional off-season events.
Carvalho said he tries to employ people year round at the Friday Harbor tap house Cease and Desist, but staff cannot find affordable housing. He said the town should support the creation of more housing so businesses can employ fulltime residents year round, not people from out of the area during the busy summer months.
Ghatan noted creating additional housing is difficult right now due to the high cost of construction. For example, he said a free parcel of land on the corner of Malcolm Street and Argyle Avenue has not attracted any developers to create affordable housing.
Carvalho said he would like to provide tax breaks to developers to create local affordable apartment complexes, as well as restrict the sale of apartments as individual condos. He said vacation rental owners in town should be limited to one unit each.
Ghatan — who said he has been involved in local government for 15 of the 30 years he’s been on the island — noted vacation rentals are only permitted in town commercial zones, and not in residential zones where neighborhoods are located. He said he wished the county would have done more to prevent the rampant temporary rentals across the islands today.
Ghatan noted that those making living wages on the island often cannot afford to buy homes when competing against off-island bidders who are jacking up prices.
He said the town is working to lift restrictions on guest houses to allow more people to live in converted garages or basements year round. He said the town will eventually look at allowing people to rent out guest houses that are additions to homes, as well as detached from houses.
Jackson — who is a member of the local American Legion and Masonic Lodge — said renting town guest houses out is too complicated today and he would like to streamline the process.
Services for Residents
Ghatan said he and other town officials suggested buying the island’s Montessori school, which is up for sale, to lease to a child care provider. He said leasing the property would be more affordable for the potential business than purchasing the building. The council did not agree the town should provide such services and decided against the purchase, Ghatan said.
Ghatan noted that his job as mayor for the past four years has been to be a neutral “conduit” to speak on behalf of residents to the council.
Jackson supported the purchase of the school to provide a location for child care and said islanders need to help each other more. Carvalho said more services were needed in town to support locals throughout their lives — from childbirth to hospice care.
Questions during the forum were submitted by the virtual audience, but no one asked Ghatan about his ties to a Seattle man who was marketing a homemade COVID-19 vaccine prior to the FDA-approved versions.
Ghatan and North Coast Biologics owner Johnny Stine publicly discussed arranging a time for Ghatan to take Stine’s vaccine in spring 2020 on social media.
In January 2020, the Washington State Attorney General’s Office reported staff was suing Stine for selling his vaccine and administering it to about 30 people.
About a year later, the U.S. Department of Justice reported Stine was being federally charged with the misdemeanor of “introducing misbranded drugs into interstate commerce.”
Ghatan told the New York Times in September 2020 that he did not have a chance to take Stine’s vaccine, but would have if he was able to.
Read more about the candidates at www.sanjuanco.com.