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West Bay Yards: the elephant in the election

In Olympia’s City Manager system, Council members exercise little direct control over decisions that shape the City and its neighborhoods. The Council delegates land turnover decisions to the City staff. The Council states they can’t interfere in the planning process. They send citizens to the Hearing Examiner who reinforces staff decisions. Only with a Superior Court appeal can a citizen find an impartial forum.

There is one exception. City Council members decide on “development agreements” and a developer has applied for one to cover the biggest market rate housing project in years, the West Bay Yards. Their decision and the project itself will no doubt emerge as one of the biggest issues in the coming election where five of seven seats are up for grabs.

Four Council members want to retain their seats: Jim Cooper, Clark Gilman, Yen Huynh and Lisa

Parshley. (A fifth Council member, Renata Rollins, is not running for re-election.)

Some candidates will face primaries.  The winners of those races will be on the November ballot along with the candidates who didn’t have primaries. Cooper, Gilman and Parshley have been strong supporters of the Walker John/Ron Thomas collaboration that reshaped the socio-economic status of downtown. They also approved eight-year property tax exemptions for market rate housing and new retail space in a city plagued by homelessness and vacant retail. Yen Huynh was only appointed to the Council in January. Will these Council members question a binding contract with a developer who wants to build 478 market rate rentals and 20,500 more square feet of retail space?

Jim Cooper has been a Council member for ten years. He has raised $4,280 and has the backing of former City Manager Steve Hall, former Council members Curt Pavola, Joe Hyer and Nathaniel Jones, former Mayor Mark Foutch and Democratic Party leaders Senator Sam Hunt and OSPI’s Chris Reykdal.

Spence Weigand filed to oppose Cooper. He’s a fourth generation Olympian, a graduate of Whitman College, a residential realtor with twenty-five years of experience and a Board member of the Washington Center. His priorities are creating affordable housing, improving small business vitality and addressing the root causes of homelessness. He has not reported any campaign contributions.

Lisa Parshley, first elected in 2017, has given her campaign $5000 of her own funds.  She spent $4,100 of that on Soaring Heights Consulting (SHC). SHC’s address in Aug. 2020 was the home of Council Member Jim Cooper. SHC is not registered with the Secretary of State. Parshley has retained Molly Sullivan and Rob Richards to run her campaign.

Talauna Reed has filed to oppose Parshley for position 5.  Reed is a long-time activist, organizer and a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement.  She leads the campaign for an independent investigation into the death of Yvonne McDonald and the confrontation between Officer Donald and Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin. She wants to prioritize finding permanent solutions for the homeless and police reform. Darek Ball is her campaign manager.

Clark Gilman was appointed to the Council in 2016 and elected to a four-year term in 2017. He has served as Chair of the Land Use and Environment Committee and now serves as Mayor Pro-Tem. He has not reported any campaign contributions.

Yen Huynh is a graduate of Evergreen’s MPA program and works as a Diversity Program Specialist for the State Office of Minority & Women’s Business Enterprises.  She grew up in the South Sound area, a daughter of Vietnamese refugees, and served a one-year term on the Olympia Planning Commission.

Her three priorities are public health and safety, economic recovery and climate justice. In her application for the Council she wrote that she wanted “to work collaboratively towards a more equitable and inclusive future for Olympia, where all members of the public can feel safe, where economic recovery is realized for our small businesses and residents and where more sustainable solutions for climate justice are put into practice.”  Huynh reported $1706 in contributions and also retained Molly Sullivan and Rob Richards to run her campaign.

Robbi Kesler applied for a seat on the Council and has now filed against Huynh for position 2. Kesler received her JD from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, has worked as an attorney for the state legislature and as general counsel for the Confederated Tribes of the Chehalis Reservation. She is an enrolled member of the Skokomish tribe and grew up in the South Sound area. Her three highest priorities are a better system to hold council members accountable, a compact with area governments to address public health issues associated with existing encampments of homeless persons and an increase in affordable housing. She has put in $2,500 of her own funds and has the support of fellow candidate Spence Weigand. She has raised a total of $4,280.

Dontae Payne had also applied for a Council position. Payne filed for the seat vacated by Renata Rollins. Payne grew up in Philadelphia, did two tours in Afghanistan with the US Army, settled in Olympia in 2015, graduated from Evergreen’s MPA program and worked as an outreach representative for Governor Inslee. He is on the staff of Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland. His three highest priorities are housing/homelessness, public safety and environment/climate change. He wants the Council to continue its pursuit of missing middle housing. He supports the Social Justice & Equity Advisory Board and the Crisis Response Unit. He sees sea-level rise as one of the most threatening issues for downtown and wants to promote urban density and sustainable development. He’s raised a total of $1,389. Taewin Um is his campaign manager.

Sarah DeStasio and Candace Mercer have also filed, but neither has indicated which position they intend to run for. Neither has reported receipt of campaign funds.

Sarah DeStasio was born and raised in Olympia. She built a career as a caregiver and was a founding member of Capitol Homecare Cooperative.  She has an MPA degree from Evergreen.  She writes that she is committed “to accessible, transparent government; to housing as a human right, reflected in policies that protect houseless people, tenants and vulnerable homeowners and to the right of every worker… to safety, dignity and economic survival.”

Candace Mercer describes herself as an “artist/writer/activist” who has worked with a variety of local groups including the Crisis Clinic, Northwest Justice Project, Rafah Sister City and GrUb. Her top priorities are homelessness/affordable housing, political violence/public safety and a focus on downtown small businesses.

Dan Leahy is an organizer. He lives in WestOly. 



  1. Bev Bassett March 5, 2021

    Thank you Dan for this and all you and Bethany do!

  2. Dan Leahy March 6, 2021

    Since my article was published, Wendy D. Carlson has filed for position five, Sarah DeStasio has filed for position 6 and Tyrone Brown has filed for position 7. Readers can follow financial contributions for all Council incumbents and candidates at

    Dan Leahy

  3. Nomy May 12, 2021

    I think it’s important for progressive sources to note that Candace Mercer is also a Trump supporter and anti-homeless.

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