Citizen Harry: Report on Edmonds Mayor’s brown bag lunch

By Harry Gatjens

Mayor Mike Cooper had a brown bag lunch Tuesday with 20 or so concerned citizens who wanted to get an update on the budget and Edmonds in general.

The Mayor started out with some comments about what his “charge” was when compiling the budget. With no new immediate way to increase revenue,  the Mayor said he had to be creative in not cutting city services and still keeping a balanced budget. This was accomplished by finding some “one-time” savings and also deferring some capital expenditures that seemed reasonable.

The first two questions from the audience had to do with the City’s street preservation efforts. With the failure of the TBD proposition earlier in the month, what provisions were being made to keep up on street maintenance?  The mayor pointed out that there was still $580,000 going to street maintenance. This obviously isn’t sufficient to improve things above the current 80-year replacement schedule, but does allow for needed repairs. The city still  needs more money to get on a better replacement cycle, but there just isn’t enough money in the budget to do this and include other service levels.

Several comments were made complimenting city staff and their continued high level of service, both in day-to-day affairs and in dealing with the looming budget limitations.  Mayor Cooper pointed out that the city has been proactively anticipating the ever-tightening budget for the past 10 years. The city has reduced staff by 10 percent over that time and continues to look at innovative ways to reduce costs.

Several in the audience commented that they were concerned that despite the staff’s excellent service, it appears that they are continually being attacked. The mayor pointed out that public perception of government services and performance is universally low at this time, but if those who are attacking would study the City of Edmonds thoroughly, they would have a much greater appreciation of what the employees of the city do.

Another comment suggested that perhaps the city could gain even more efficiencies by investing more money in certain departments, such as Information Technology. Automation of utility billing, payments and other items all could save the City money while improving service to the consumer.

The crowd was generally pro-city and for the most part stated that they would support additional taxes if they felt that the City had a good strategic plan in place to ensure the monies would not be wasted. The mayor elaborated on how a good strategic plan was essential for moving the city forward in an efficient manner.

Mayor Cooper then encouraged citizens to communicate to the Council their thoughts on the budget and also visit the levy committee meetings to see what is going on.

The mayor said there would be more lunches like this one, so if you get a chance to attend one in the future, do so.

“Citizen Harry” Gatjens, a member of the Edmonds Citizens Levy Committee, reports on city government issues for My Edmonds News.

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10 Comments

  1. As always, good Job Harry.
    Yes, citizens need to come to our levy meetings and understand what we are doing and the groundwork we are establishing. We have had both Lake Forest Park and Shoreline’s Finance Directors come and discuss their levy issues and that information can be found on our webpage.

    This Wednesday, we will have Nick Brossiat of Edmonds School District come and discuss how the schools have been successful in their levy passage.

  2. Where are the most recent minutes from the levy committee? The
    Last ones available are from October. Why aren’t they more current?

  3. I attended the meeting and was surprised by the lack of knowledge displayed by a planning department staff member, whose name I do not know. This female staff member asked the mayor a question about what was being done about the height issue so that development could occur on the waterfront properties.

    I brought up that the ESC Associates (Antique Mall property) is located on an earthquake liquefaction zone. The staff member said she knew nothing about this.

    I have since obtained a copy of the document “Elements of the Environment- Sunset Landing Analysis/Initial Scoping Document’. (Sunset Landing is the name under which the contract rezone has been applied for) In this document it states that:

    “Site is within a mapped seismic hazard area as a high liquefaction hazard.
    Restricted uses listed in ECDC 23.80.040.B”

    I copied the text, below, directly from the Edmonds Community Development Code. See B. Seismic Hazard Areas:

    Part II. Allowed Activities – Geologically Hazardous Areas

    23.80.040 Allowed activities – Geologically hazardous areas.
    The following activities are allowed in geologically hazardous areas as consistent with ECDC 23.40.220, Allowed activities, Chapter 19.10 ECDC, Building Permits – Earth Subsidence and Landslide Hazard Areas, and Chapter 18.30 ECDC, Storm Water Management, and do not require submission of a critical area report:

    A. Erosion and Landslide Hazard Areas. Except as otherwise provided for in this title, only those activities approved and permitted consistent with an approved critical areas report in accordance with this title shall be allowed in erosion or landslide hazard areas.

    B. Seismic Hazard Areas. The following activities are allowed within seismic hazard areas:

    1. Construction of new buildings with less than 2,500 square feet of floor area or roof area, whichever is greater, and which are not residential structures or used as places of employment or public assembly;

    2. Additions to existing single-story residences that are 250 square feet or less; and

    3. Installation of fences. [Ord. 3527 § 2, 2004].

    END TEXT

    My concern is that a STAFF in the planning department, while asking about increasing the heights on the properties, knew nothing about the environmental conditions of the Sunset Landing site, and the related development restrictions.

    The document I quoted is located in the file of the Sunset Landing project, and therefore easily accessible to all planning staff. Citizens, on the other hand, have to submit public records requests to obtain such information.

    I will provide a copy of this document to the mayor and ask that he make sure that all of his planning staff members are educated as to the environmental conditions of the Waterfront Activity Center properties (Antique Mall, Harbor Square, old Skippers property). Certainly that should be expected of planning department staff.

  4. As a Sustainable Building Advisor and active with the Sierra Club in political doings, I’m always humored by the lack of any sustainable futures, by either the city of Edmonds, or Snohomish county…

    The height issue has been going on before and after I moved here in 1999! Why? How many citizens and council members does it take to make Edmonds sustainable, for the long term?

    Has anybody looked into what the Edmonds/Woodway high school Architectural Dept. accomplished with their design of the sunset landing project? Answer; its better then what the city or any other faction came up with!

    Apparently, they have a better long term answers then anybody else…

    And, do we have to vote a mayor out and a city manager in?

  5. I was unable to attend the lunch with the mayor, because I was scheduled to work that day. I would like to thank Citizen Harry for reporting on the event.

    While I think that it is admirable for the mayor and his staff to reach out to the citizens, I was chagrined to discover that the city planning staff representative is unfamiliar with basic knowledge. Mrs. Bloom, in her comment, of December 4, 2010, stated that planner did not even know that the Old Safeway / Antique Mall property is located on an earthquake liquefaction zone.

    So, I will take the initiative to discuss the site’s soil. Mukilteo muck is a soil that is made up of decomposed sedges, reeds and rushes. Because the soil is composed of these organic aquatic plants, it is easily saturated and poorly drained. The site is prone to puddles of standing water. This problem is exacerbated by the high water table. In order to deal with the flooding, the developer will need a perpetual pump to flush out the ever-present water. Since the water constantly flows, it is almost impossible to keep it from entering underground crawlspaces, basements, or parking areas.
    Liquefaction is defined as the process of transforming a soil from a solid state to a liquid state. This process occurs in an earthquake when shaking begins and the wet Mukilteo mud takes on the characteristics of a liquid taking a toll on built structures.

    Only a geotechnical study of the site would reveal the liquefaction potential along with the depth and tilt of the bedrock below the mucky soil. Based on the proposed height of the building, the engineer would calculate the amount of rebar and concrete needed to withstand an earthquake and determine the type of anchor to secure the building to the bedrock.

    What the planner needs to understand is that the type of soil is a determining factor upon what can be built on a given site. That type information is available to the planning department via the geographic information system (GIS) which is an essential tool for land use planning and ecosystems management. Mrs. Bloom report that the planning “staff member asked the mayor a question about what was being done about the height issue so that development could occur on the waterfront properties.” The planner has it backwards. She needs to realize that science should determine what can be built on a given site. To quote Mark R. Tercek, President and CEO of the Nature Conservancy: “Science helps us know what places are most important to safeguard, how to go about protecting those places and how to help heal them when damaged.”

  6. Wow. I am amazed and disturbed at the “pile on” of an unidentified “female planning department staff member”. There are many assumptions, much speculation, and little of the spirit of cooperation and civility here.
    The “staff” were there to help us understand the issues better, and that someone in the planning department is not specifically familiar with one issue (a staffer who may or may not even have been a planner would probably have been more than cooperative in looking up the issue, and discussing it with Ms. Bloom). Instead, here we are. Geez.

  7. Many of the staff attended the Brown Bag Lunch on their lunch time and none were assigned to be at the meeting by the mayor. Because the person in the room did not know the answer to Ms Blooms question does not mean that the information had not been reviewed by the city. Ms Blooms comments were technical in nature and it would have been inapproriate for a staff person to “shoot from the hip” with an answer. All of those considerations would be adressed by engineers and planners as part of a SEPA process. Thank you all for your interest in our city. Working together cooperatively moves us forward.

  8. Mayor Cooper,

    Thanks for your clarification that staff members were there on their own time. Since it was meant to be a meeting for Edmonds citizens, it would have been helpful to know if staff members were present as citizens of Edmonds, or in their roles as staff members, which is still unclear. Since many of them sat at a table together, I assumed that they were there as staff members.

    As a citizen of Edmonds, when forming opinions about serious issues, such as the future development of the waterfront properties, I am careful to educate myself about the environmental conditions of the sites, and what this implies for development of the site and its future sustainability. Barbara Tipton’s comment says it best, “The planner has it backwards. She needs to realize that science should determine what can be built on a given site.”

    Your planner raised an issue that is very contentious in Edmonds. By the manner in which she raised the question, she led others to believe that she supported increased heights on the property. I feel strongly that, as a paid employee of the city of Edmonds working in the planning department, she has a responsibility to educate herself about the conditions of the site about which she is expressing an opinion. I continue to be shocked that she did not know the site was on an earthquake liquefaction zone. Planning staff should be better informed about such issues than citizens are, since they have immediate access to obtaining any of the information that they choose to review.

    It seems that I am holding your staff member to a higher standard than you are, Mayor Cooper. I would hope that the word “sustainability” would be more than a buzzword, especially to your planning staff.

  9. So much for an apology…. I am sure that “staff” will be happy to interact with us in future meetings knowing that they will get grilled and then bad mouthed because they didn’t give the “right” answer.
    Sustainable is a buzzword, so what does it mean to you Ms Bloom?
    To our Edmonds City employees, thanks for all you do. It cannot be easy.

  10. Wow – I thought this was the season of holiday cheer. Gee – I was wrong.

    To the individual who responded to Mrs. Bloom on December 6th at 10: 08 am and again at 2:01 pm; Mrs. Bloom was merely commenting upon the geology and soil conditions of the Old Safeway / Antique Mall properties. She was being helpful, yet you question her “spirit of cooperation” with respect to interacting with city staff members. As a part-time community volunteer, I would be happy to share my expertise any staff member. I view Mrs. Bloom’s comments in that same vein.

    Happy holidays.

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