From left: Melanie Lockhart, Heather Fulcher, Junelle Lewis and Jacob Walker

From left: Melanie Lockhart, Heather Fulcher, Junelle Lewis and Jacob Walker

Monroe City Council candidates focused on growth, safety

Monroe’s population has nearly doubled since 2000. How to handle that growth, along with public safety, were among candidates’ top concerns.

MONROE — Housing, transportation and illegal drug use are some of the priorities for those running for Monroe City Council.

Incumbent Heather Fulcher is being challenged by planning board member, Melanie Lockhart, for Position 4.

Two planning board members, Jacob Walker and Junelle Lewis, are facing off for Position 5.

Jason Gamble, an incumbent who is also city’s mayor pro tem, is running unopposed.

Terms on the council are four years. Council members are paid $900 per month.

Position 4

Melanie Lockhart

Melanie Lockhart

Melanie Lockhart

Lockhart is running to bring a new perspective to the council, she said, and to represent some of the new families who have moved into town.

“Ultimately I’m wanting to be a voice for the future, I’m running to be a voice for my kids,” Lockhart said.

Affordable housing is a priority for Lockhart. Many households in Monroe are “cost burdened,” meaning residents spend more than 30% on rent and utilities. Lockhart said it will take collaboration between local government and businesses to increase housing access. In 2021, when the city put a Housing Action Plan into action, there were 415 affordable housing units available for 2,075 cost-burdened households.

Attracting developers, finding innovative ways to fund housing and streamlining zoning laws and building codes are part of her campaign pitch. She said one stream of funding could be Microsoft, which has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to affordable housing projects in the Puget Sound region.

She said she would support a “variety” of housing options.

“Those are the type of innovative ideas that we need here and the collaboration that I think is needed,” Lockhart said. “And it’s not just the big businesses, we’ve got local nonprofits in the county, regionally and locally, that are interested in the housing piece too. We need to bring all those voices together to work intentionally for Monroe.”

Transportation is a priority too, and she said she is a supporter of a proposed U.S. 2 bypass around the city. Getting money for that project is an issue, she noted.

“The No. 1 thing, really, is that if you don’t have the funding, it’s not going to get done,” Lockhart said. “We need more collaborating, more partnerships and more intentional lobbying for things like a bypass.”

Drug use is on the rise across Snohomish County, though Lockhart said crime is perceived at a higher rate than it is actually occurring. Serious crimes in Monroe increased by 18.8% from 2017 to 2022.

“For the people that do want help, we need options, we need more resources,” Lockhart said.

Heather Fulcher

Heather Fulcher

Heather Fulcher

Fulcher is running on her experience.

Fulcher, who was elected to City Council in 2019, did not respond to an interview request. She is a fifth-generation Monroe resident and former member of the city’s planning commission, she wrote in the voters’ pamphlet.

She also owns Monroe Coffee Company and sits on the Housing Affordability Regional Taskforce.

“The Council is here to make sure the budget is balanced and the ordinances are appropriate,” Fulcher wrote in the voters’ pamphlet. “Our local government is already transparent; please join us at a Council meeting to see that.”

Position 5

Junelle Lewis

Junelle Lewis

Junelle Lewis

Attainable housing, support for small businesses and community engagement are three priorities for Lewis.

Lewis is a big proponent of mixed-use development — for example, commercial storefronts with residential on top — and multi-family housing. In 2015, about two-thirds of all housing in Monroe was single-family. Between 2000 and 2020, the population of the city increased 43.5%.

“At the end of the day, growth is coming whether we want it to or not,” Lewis said. “I think part of being a responsible … City Council member, is preparing for growth and not denying and ignoring the growth and think it’s going to go away.”

Part of the problem, Lewis said, is multi-family housing in Monroe is limited to just a few areas — the Kelsey neighborhood and Main Street. This is a problem, she said.

“The renters and the apartment complexes are literally in one cluster, in one little row and that feeds over into the schools, because of their boundaries,” Lewis said. “And then you’ve got schools that are made up of nothing but low-income families and that makes their schooling experience different because some staff don’t want to go to Title One schools.”

She added: “In my words, I feel like it’s very segregated in some ways and I don’t like that.”

A small-business owner — she and her husband own Avery’s Chicken and Waffles — Lewis wants to work to empower more people to own a business.

“I’d love to see more local businesses,” she said, with the idea people in town could shop “in Monroe and not have to leave.”

She also feels she would be a voice for many in Monroe who currently “don’t have a seat at the table.” Lewis has spoken about this at Juneteenth celebrations and school board meetings.

“I just feel there needs to be better representation, not just when we talk about ethnicity, but when we talk about economic class, when we talk about women representation — there just needs to be more of that,” Lewis said. “It needs to be more balanced.”

Five men and two women serve on the Monroe City Council.

Jacob Walker

Jacob Walker

Jacob Walker

Walker, a lifelong Monroe resident, is running on a platform that includes an emphasis on parks, public safety and traffic solutions.

If elected, Walker said he would push to invest in parks and trails. Looking to add more parkland to the city would be a priority as well. Expanding trail access was shown to be popular among city residents in Monroe’s 2022 parks and open space plan.

“Neighborhoods in Monroe can sometimes feel like islands,” Walker said. “There’s different areas … that just don’t have good sidewalks or trails. I think that’s one of our quickest options to improve pedestrian walkability.”

Public safety — both in parks and throughout the city — is a big part of Walker’s campaign pitch. He feels Al Borlin Park, which at 90 acres is the largest in Monroe and sits along the banks of the Skykomish River, is unsafe. He called it a casualty of increased crime.

“It’s basically too scary for most people to visit,” Walker said. “If you talk to any Monroe residents, they’ll be like, ‘We won’t go down there anymore,’ which is unfortunate, because it’s got so much history with Monroe, so much riverfront access … it ties back into law enforcement and proactive policing.”

Walker wants to add more officers to Monroe, a necessary step in his mind to combat property crimes and drug use. This could “unlock” some of those parks to more use.

He also wants to see increased lobbying to push back against policies implemented following the so-called “Blake decision.” The state Supreme Court ruling struck down a Washington law that made simple drug possession a crime. Many cities and towns looked to pass their own laws around drug use, though lawmakers pushed through new legislation in a one-day special session earlier this year.

“There have been a lot of services offered and the problem at this point is refusal of services offered,” Walker said. “You’ll hear all the time in Monroe, or at least in terms of aspirations, is giving more services, give our homeless population more services and it’ll solve the problem. But as so many nonprofits are experiencing, offering services can only go so far.”

Improving safety on side streets is important, as well, Walker said. With increased traffic on main roads, more vehicles have found other routes. He’d push for better traffic calming and similar measures as solutions.

More police officers could also be a solution, he said. Red light cameras could help, too, he added.

“Getting more cops, as soon as possible, is so much easier said than done,” Walker said. “We’ve got to be creative with ordinances, and in my opinion, technologies, to be able to have a larger footprint in those areas. If we can’t be as broad in enforcement, then we need to get more creative when it comes to pedestrian and safety mechanisms that we can put in place for pedestrians and homeowners, since those roads are getting so much more traffic.”

Ballots are due Nov. 7.

Jordan Hansen: 425-339-3046; jordan.hansen@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @jordyhansen.

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