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Candidates for Bozeman city commission answered questions focused on concerns college students have, like renters rights, public transportation and climate change during a forum Thursday at Montana State University.

The forum was hosted by MontPIRG, a nonpartisan public interest advocacy group that works with MSU students, and featured discussions ranging from how the candidates plan to deal with Bozeman’s rapid growth to whether they prefer dogs or cats (most said dogs, two said cats, and commission candidate Emily Talago said she prefers chickens).

During the forum, which had about 20 attendees, the mayoral candidates — Deputy Mayor Terry Cunningham, Christopher Brizzolara and Brian LaMeres — were asked what they would do to support keeping local businesses in town as rents skyrocket.

Brizzolara said his solutions would include working on increasing tenant rights — though the city’s power in that is limited under state law — and would work from the mayoral office to support local businesses and entrepreneurs.

LaMeres said he would support preferential treatment for locally owned businesses and said the city should look at addressing the taxes those businesses pay that are in the city’s control.

Cunningham said the city needs to think of downtown as not just a place for tourists.

“We need to reimagine downtown as a neighborhood … and that entails actually providing housing that people can afford in the downtown area,” Cunningham said. “The other part of it is that we have to have places that are not downtown that people can go that’s convenient to where they live, to be able to meet their basic needs.”

Commission candidates were asked how they would address the city’s growth. Commissioner Jennifer Madgic, who is running for a two-year seat, said it would be foolish to try to “close the doors” to Bozeman and that neighborhoods with a variety of housing types could support more people.

“If people can’t actually live in Bozeman, they’re going to hop across the city limits into Gallatin County, which leads to sprawl, which leads to impacts on our natural environment, which increases traffic coming into Bozeman,” Madgic said. “I really believe — and I’ve spoken to this frequently as city commissioner — in neighborhoods that are integrated. And I don’t just mean different races, I mean different housing types.”

Evan Rainey echoed his opponent, noting that there is little to be done about the demand for housing, and said the city’s current zoning has constrained how much housing can be created.

Joey Morrison, the other candidate in that race, said he would support incentives for things like encouraging people to rent spare bedrooms in their homes and creating a tenants’ union in Bozeman.

Commissioners Christopher Coburn, I-Ho Pomeroy and Talago, all vying for two four-year commission seats, were asked about the city’s climate action plan and what more the city should be doing.

“My worst nightmare is when we have these really incredible strategic planning documents that don’t ever leave the shelf, and so we need to make sure that we’re actively working on the climate action plan,” Coburn said, also noting NorthWestern Energy poses the biggest obstacle to the city’s goals.

Talago criticized how many plans the city has and said the city should scale back and look at tangible goals it can accomplish.

The candidates were all asked how they would address homelessness in Bozeman, and many said they support funding the creation of a full-time, year-round shelter in the city.

They were also asked how the city could support more biking and whether more public transportation is the answer to the city’s traffic woes.

Brizzolara said the city is too small to rely on public transportation and said he would want to build 11 parking garages, while LaMeres said he would support more public transportation.

“We have a lot of holes in our current system, the connectivities are not there, we’ve got a problem hiring and retaining bus drivers,” LaMeres said. “Traffic congestion out there is horrific, so I’m all for public transportation.”

Pomeroy said the city could use more routes and frequent stops for the bus services. She said she would work to get the county commission to help fund Streamline.

“We need more bus drivers, and more buses,” Pomeroy said.

The candidates were also asked what they would do to support renters, who make up most of the city’s residents.

Rainey said the city could lobby the state Legislature, but noted their ability to effect change in that area are limited.

“The powers that we might need to engage in to change these things fall outside of the scope of the city commission,” Rainey said.

Several candidates, including Coburn and Morrison, noted that they themselves are renters and would bring valuable perspective to the commission.

“What can we do? We can vote in all new faces,” Brizzolara said.

The election is Nov. 2.

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Nora Shelly can be reached at nshelly@dailychronicle.com or 406-582-2607.

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