Newest councilor keeps eye on growth, housing affordability

Deanna Rusch will take over for former Camas city councilman Tim Hazen at Jan. 2 meeting

The newest member of the Camas City council, divorce attorney Deanna Rusch — appointed earlier this month to fill the Ward 1 position left vacant after former Councilor Tim Hazen resigned in mid-October — says she’s looking forward to serving on the council, representing her constituents and helping the city grow.

Oregon native Rusch, 36, earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington and continued her law school education at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, before returning to her home state of Oregon.

Rusch made the move from Oregon to Camas about two years ago, with her two dogs, Rocky and Adrianne, to be closer to her work in downtown Vancouver.

“I just fell in love with the community. I don’t know how you cannot love downtown Camas … it’s literally my favorite little location,” Rusch says.

Rusch’s love for Camas developed after she spent some time in the city’s downtown core, grabbing a bite to eat at A Beer At A Time, taking visitors to Feast 316, or indulging her love for shoes at Arktana. She says she also loves taking her two dogs to Crown Park, or driving around blasting music, whether it’s the Beauty and the Beast soundtrack, or her favorite rapper, Jay Z.

With an eye on Camas’ continued growth, Rusch says she wants to help city leaders figure out how to balance the benefits of growth and development with the drawbacks of growing too fast and too big.

The citizens of Camas still enjoy the quaint feel of the small town, Rusch points out, so the challenge is going to be maintaining that feeling despite a rapidly expanding city.

Current populations show that Clark County was the third fastest-growing county in Washington, and that, between April of 2016 and April of 2017, Camas was the fastest-growing city in Clark County. The city grew 120 percent from 1980 to 2000 and has nearly quadrupled in size since the early 1990s, going from a town of about 6,000 to a small city of 23,000 in just two decades.

“I don’t like getting rid of our green spaces, I don’t like getting rid of a lot of our natural habitats and forestry, but I think as with any city, it’s a necessary evil to some extent because you have to make room for more people and more employers,” Rusch says.

She adds that monitoring growth is important, since cities often don’t have the funds to support rapid expansions. However, as she admitted in her interview with city council members earlier this month, the new councilwoman still needs to brush up on the financial aspects of development and of funding a city’s growth.

“I’m a big fan of any way things can get paid (for) without costing people more money,” she says. “If there are developers who are going to make money off of having their developments here, it is certainly worth exploring how they might be able to contribute toward the cost of services.”

Rusch says affordable housing is something she believes there should be more of in Camas. When she moved here, finding a rental house was tough, and she says she can’t imagine doing that with severe budget constraints.

“I’m not quite up on the low-income or Section 8 housing that’s available in Camas, but I think every community has a need for that right now,” Rusch says.

She adds that people who can’t afford to buy or rent a Camas home shouldn’t be excluded from living in the area where they work, or where they hope to raise their families.

“I know a lot of people that work in Camas but don’t live here, and I think that’s because there are attractive employers in Camas, but I think the availability and cost of living can be somewhat prohibited sometimes, so I’m all for appropriate multi-family dwellings — not everywhere, not on every corner — but it’s definitely something that I think could be improved for the area,” she says.

Speaking of the city’s possible growing pains, Rusch says she wants to ensure that the city remains a safe place for Camas families.

She also hopes to do a lot of community outreach, especially to ensure that she is representing her Ward 1 constituents on the city council.

“I was appointed, not elected, but I’m representing a set of constituents, and so it’s (about) what’s important to them,” Rusch says. “(Constituents) in my ward may have different feelings (than) the constituents in another ward. That’s why we have the representation that we do.”

Camas Mayor Scott Higgins told The Post-Record that Rusch is a very strong leader and that her knowledge of the community, as well as conflict-resolution background, will be welcome additions to the council.

“Any new council member is going to have a steep learning curve, there’s going to be some time that she’s going to need to learn and study and get onto issues, and I’m sure she’ll do that,” Higgins says. “But some of the things she’s been trained in, I think, are going to serve her well.”

Rusch takes her oath on Tuesday, Jan. 2, and will represent Ward 1 on the city council for the first time that night.