City of Edmonds Public Works Director responds to letter on street overlay levy

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We’re posting this response from Phil Williams, City of Edmonds Public Works Director, regarding the letter emailed from Peter Hodges that questioned how the city would prioritize street overlays.

It is difficult to know where to start in responding to this email. There are a number of misunderstandings and misinterpretations included in Mr. Hodges review of Proposition 2.

The City never said we had a “cast in stone” list of paving projects should Proposition 2 receive approval. Mr. Hodges seems to believe we have either a secret list of streets we don’t want to share or absolutely no idea what we would do with the money from Proposition 2. Neither of these is true. If we had a precise list of projects we would certainly share it with our citizens.

The “Top Ten” list that was discussed at the Levy Forum meeting is merely a numerical reporting of the worst rated streets in Edmonds based on their most recent Observed Condition Index (OCI). All of the street segments in our database are re-rated every two years using state approved protocols administered by employees specifically trained in those techniques. The “Top Ten” list is actually two lists. One is composed of our worst-rated local streets (mostly residential streets). The other list is our worst-rated collector/arterial street segments. My recommendation, should Proposition 2 pass, would be to split the funding raised equally between local streets and arterial streets. This would ensure that significant progress is made addressing the needs in both our residential communities and on our arterial street system.

Certainly, the basic condition of the street would be the primary factor in developing an actual project list to be put out to bid. But there would be, and should be, other criteria considered. Specifically for arterial streets, we would develop a matrix which weighed both the condition of the street and the traffic volumes carried on it. It makes sense that the worst-rated, busiest arterials would be targeted for improvement first. These streets are, overall, the most important to the community in terms of commerce, public safety, and commuting to and from work. Another complexity that should be considered for both arterial streets and local streets would be other capital projects planned for the street. We are currently pursuing, for example, an ambitious water line replacement program and will soon be starting a similar program for our sewer collection system. It would be inefficient and unwise to pave streets without coordinating closely with both our own utilities as well as with the capital replacement programs for telephone, electric, gas and other “dry” utilities that have franchises to locate in the City’s streets. Nothing so inflames the public as when they see a new street being cut in the first few years of its life. It always sounds good to say that we will strictly enforce a “no cut” policy for the first, say, five years after paving a street. I have never seen that approach be entirely successful however. What does work is to coordinate with all of these utilities closely upfront, before paving, and try to minimize their need to open the street later by encouraging them to do their work first. This balancing act can affect the sequence of paving individual street segments. For these reasons a paving program, developed in a deliberate fashion, can be a complex process. So what would be the best approach to developing a specific project list?

I would propose, if Prop 2 passes, staff prepare a recommended policy for City Council and the public that outlines a process for producing an annual project list. The process should include the considerations and features listed above and any others added as a result of Council input and public comment. That policy should then be followed to the letter. One of the elements of a policy should be a communication strategy for getting accurate and timely information out to our citizens so they will know what is coming and when, and can follow our progress.

Another concern expressed in Mr. Hodges email dealt with the question of whether there would be either a “downtown” or “bowl” bias in selecting paving projects. Whatever criteria are adopted by Council would be applied uniformly by staff without any geographic bias for one part of town over another. I think the best way to accomplish this would be to set aside half of the funding for local streets as suggested above.

I will admit I am a little confused by the obvious emotion and distrust in Mr. Hodges email. I don’t know exactly where that is coming from. I wasn’t at the Levy Forum meeting. I intended to go but didn’t end up making it. I wish I had been there to hear exactly what was said. What has been reported to me so far and even what is relayed in Mr. Hodges’ email suggests to me that Darrol Haug very accurately conveyed the facts of the matter. We are getting ready today to post information on the City’s website about Proposition 2, the amount of the levy would be $3 million over three years, and it would all go toward paving streets in Edmonds that badly need it. We would develop a very specific project list each year of the program. That list would be reviewed and approved by council after public comment and input. The approved list of projects would be implemented faithfully.

25 COMMENTS

  1. I fully trust Phil Williams and his staff to prudently spend any funds that his department receives.

    Most people are familar with “nimby” – not in my back yard. The street overlay situation seems to have spawned “yimby” – yes in my back yard. And some seem to forget that they drive on more streets than the one they live on.

    Anyone who doesn’t want to vote for the propostion should decide for some reason other than precisely which streets will be overlayed.

  2. Thank you, Mr. Williams, for providing this thoughtful and described clarification. This information should help voters in their decision-making process.

  3. Some of these same remarks are posted under the letter from Dr Hodges concerning Prop 2 Roads.

    Thanks to Phil Williams for his added comments to help us all understand the facts about Prop 2.

    1. I first met Dr. Hodges at the Oct 17 Levy Forum sponsored and paid for by My Edmonds News as a public service. Dr. Hodges letter was published on Oct 23, 6 days after the Forum not the stated 2 weeks. You can see Dr. Hodges first letter to MEN at the bottom of the page marked “a letter from a citizen” at the link below. Other items that will be referred to will also be at that link.

    http://myedmondsnews.com/2011/10/oct-17-levy-forum-now-available-for-viewing/

    While Dr. Hodges credits me as being chairman that is not the case. For levy issues I served on the 2010 Citizens Levy committee. I was just one of several members. I also was asked by Council President Strom Peterson to serve on the “Pro Committee” for Prop 2. I was one of 3 members and not the chair. The chair of that team asked me to be the presenter at the MEN forum because he was out of town.

    Reference was made to $1.5m for Streets in the letter and a clarification is needed. $1.5m per year is the estimate of money needed to keep Edmonds roads on the ideal maintenance cycle of 15-18 years for Arterials and 32-35 years for Local streets. The original presentation given to Council on Feb 22 recommended a $1.5m levy for roads. Between Feb 22 and August 2, the Mayor proposed a 4 year Catch all levy starting at $2.25m in 2012 and growing to $2.431m in 2015. In that levy it was noted that a “spending plan” for streets would be $704,000, less than half of the required amount to just stay even. You can see a full discussion in the council minutes for April 5. Council discussed several alternatives until it passed the 3 props August 2. Prop 2 “Roads” was slated as a 3 year $1m each year to do only road repaving. You can see on the link above the presentation that shows some estimates of how many miles of overlay work we may be able to do with the $1m per year. The $1m IF split between Arterials and Local streets would do 1.26 miles and 2.37 miles respectively. That would put our 145 miles of roads on a 21 year cycle for Arterials and 50 year cycle for local streets. Other details can be found at the link above.

    2. How does the levy process work? In a nutshell here is what happened in Edmonds. Aug 4, Council voted 6 to 1, DJ Wilson opposed, for Prop 2. Council President Peterson put out a call that night for anyone interested to service on the Pro and Con teams for each levy. Strom asked me and two others to serve on the Pro Roads team and we met on Aug 22. Our dead line was to have a Pro statement to the County Elections office by August 30. Not a lot of time gather the facts, craft some words and get it off to the County. On Aug 30 we were given the Con Teams statement and had to craft a rebuttal by September 2. We did not have access to all the final levy wording and financial analysis that finally was published in the voters’ pamphlet. City staff was available to answer our questions and it was at one of the meetings with staff that we asked for what is now called the “top 10 list” You can see that the MEN link above and you clearly see that the list says: “The roads listed should not be construed as a potential paving list nor should it be consider as all inclusive. The intent of this list is to document the city’s road conditions and to demonstrate the need for paving dollars to maintain our street infrastructure.”

    In my presentation a week ago, I tried to make that point very clear and as council members used different words to describe the same list it seems to create confusion. I tried to clarify the list and made the point above several times. You can also find at the link above the city map showing all the streets in Edmonds that are rated as poor to severe. This map is updated every two years and with no work on streets since 2008, the number of streets rated poor to severe keeps growing.

    3. It is hoped that later today or tomorrow at the latest the city web site will contain a number of links to factual data that will help the citizens understand the prop 2 levy. You should see links to the roads map discussed above. You should see a Q and A doc that outlines the proposed process to select the street that will actually be paved. You will see how staff proposes to balance the “bowl vs the colonies” issues. And you will see examples of streets that are in need of work. Remember that if the levy is approved, council will be approving the actual process and they will also have to approve the individual contracts that will be let to a contractor to do the work. So there is a very public process that will take place before any paving occurs.

  4. Mr. Williams, I appreciate the time and effort to put together this information. Your proposal for developing a policy and using that policy to determine which projects to do is a model of transparency. This is one of the most promising signs I’ve seen that the City of Edmonds is taking the issue of transparency seriously.

    Ideally, this process would have been implemented before the levy went to the voters, but I understand and accept that it really wasn’t practical to do that. Voters will have to trust that such a policy will be implemented. And they will also need to trust that the policy will be fair to all neighborhoods. I’m willing to trust you and the council on both counts, and I will be voting Yes on Proposition 2.

    I will hold Council accountable to creating a process that is both transparent and fair. I think many, if not most, “Yes” voters in the outlying neighborhoods feel similarly. If Proposition 2 passes, I will remember how this is handled when the the next vote comes around.

    I think I need to say that I found the second paragraph to be quite disrespectful of Mr. Hodges. You didn’t go to the meeting and you didn’t watch the video of the meeting, and I think your speculation about what Mr. Hodges believes is uncalled for. The second paragraph is going to fuel the anger from citizens in the outlying neighborhoods. This letter would have been much more persuasive if you had omitted that paragraph.

    I think it is quite obvious when driving around the city that (1) streets in the bowl are better maintained than those in the neighborhoods, and (2) the process for prioritizing street work has not been transparent. That’s the source of the distrust. I’m not trying to assign blame, and I’m not assuming that this is intentional. But if you want to build trust, I would suggest you start by acknowledging these two facts. That would make it easier to move forward and let go of the past.

    And finally, I think we all owe Darrol Haug a debt of gratitude for his tireless efforts to make this issue clear. If Prop 2 passes, more credit will be due to Darrol than any other single person.

  5. Thank you Joe for your compliment. If prop 2 passes it will be the result of the voters seeing that they can have control over how their money is spent. If Prop 2 does not pass then we have to try and understand why and find an agreed upon strategy to keep our roads in adequate condition so we do not end up like the article in yesterdays Seattle Time. You would think black top is black top but Seattle has let the roads become so bad they are projecting some areas to be up to $3m/mile to fix. Working on our roads before this happens show Edmonds can do a 45 foot wide arterial for $396,000/mile and a 24 foot Local street for $212,000/mile.

    Note that on the link in 4 above Phil discusses a plan to help council create a more even handed policy to insure neighood streets are handled fairly. It will be up to council, with citizen imput to craft and implement a policy that is fair to all.

    Joe you once asked me about Prop 3, Building and Park Maintenance. We all seem to agree that we do not want to defered maintenance become and issue. You asked a great question that went something like this, and I will do my best to capture you question. “In these tough times asking people for money is difficult.” You further went on to say, ” what would be to consequenses for delaying this maintenance?” Hope I captured the essence of your question???? I went back and looked at the entire list of projects that were presented and discussed with the levy committee and used your “consequenses of delay” thinking and here are my thoughts. First there are always some projects that can be delayed and to cost to do them later is higher only because of inflation issues. Second, there are some projects listed that delay may cause other more costly issues. There are some roof repair issues that if delayed to the point that leaks do added damage the cost to repair will exceed the original estimate by more than the inflation rates. I am not al roofer today but while in college I was on crew for 4 years in the summer who took care of 22 acres of roofs in a plywood mill in Everett and it was alway more cost effective to stay ahead of the leaks.

    So in tough times it is hard to ask for money but I am confident that Phil Williams will also craft a very cost effective policy for council to consider to effectively use the Prop 3 money. Waiting May cost more to do the same work if damage like roof leaks develop. I trust Phil and besides all that I know where his office is.

  6. Darrol, you called Proposition 3 the Levy for “Building and Park Maintenance“. The actual title is “Levy for Building Maintenance and Park Improvements“. I’ll assume the mistake was unintentional, but the distinction is important.

    The problem I still have with Proposition 3 is it allows 100% of the money to go toward improving parks. In better times, I would vote for spending more money on improving parks. But in lean times like this, I think the impact on struggling homeowners makes this a bad idea.

    Despite my love for Edmonds’ parks, I plan to vote no on Proposition 3.

  7. Joe, thanks for pointing our my slip of the keys. The words “park improvements” are in the title of the Prop 3. I was just trying to identify the nature of the levy to make a point and not trying to slip one past anyone by not correctly identifying the title.

    I went back to look at the voters pamphlet for Prop 3 and the list provided shows a number of items relating to parks that some may suggest are repairs and some may say they are improvements. I will not debate that it may be in the eye of the beholder. For example “fixing dilapidated restrooms, resurfacing asphalt pathways, and repairing tennis and basketball courts in city parks” is one of the statements in the voters’ pamphlet. So is that an improvement or maintenance? When it comes to park almost any repair is an improvement. That is the benefit of letting the people decide. They can make their choice based on anything they want. I do have an issue with the “Statement Against” for Prop 3. It is the same as the “Statement Against” Prop 2: “Levy for Street Pavement Overlays” I could think of a better reasons to vote no on Prop 2 or 3 but they would not likely be the same for both.

    Joe, I am not as good a wordsmith as you but I read” Building Maintenance and Park Improvements” to be both and not just one or the other. How do you read that title? You must read it to mean that all the funds will be used for Parks and nothing for Buildings. Your statement. “The problem I still have with Proposition 3 is it allows 100% of the money to go toward improving parks.” I think the intent is to spend about half on building issues and half on park issues. When Carrie Hite and Phil Williams appeared before the levy committee the discussion these issues that is what I heard. I will take the Public Works and Parks Directors at their word. I believe the money will be more or less split between Buildings and Parks regardless of weither they are maintenance or improvements.

    The purpose of my remarks in 6 that you took except to, was simply to answer a question you posed to me some time back. Next time I try to respond to you I will try to take more care in my choice of words. Sure do not want to get cross wise with you.

    I know it is tough times but I do see some risks for not acting now. If Prop 3 fails now, when will the council ever move forward with the things that will be funded with Prop 3 money? And to let the public decide at a later time and ballot does require the council to put it on the ballot again or find the money somewhere else. To me that may be a greater risk that I am not willing to take. Always fun to talk with you.

  8. Darrol, you are right to criticize my statement that it allows 100% of the money to go toward improving parks.. We both know that’s not going to happen, despite the fact that the wording of the proposition allows it. I’m guilty of a bit of hyperbole.

    The projects listed in the “Statement For” pamphlet do all seem like worthwhile projects. Do these projects alone require 1.5 million dollars? As DJ noted in his rebuttal, that project list was created by the “for” committee, not by City Council. If maintenance projects alone require $1.5 million, why does the levy title include Park Improvements? If this levy had been called “Building and Park Maintenance“, it would probably get my support.

    I’m sorry if my comments came across harshly. I was not intending to criticize you. I really do admire your work, your thoughts, and your words.

  9. Hi Joe, When the final levy discussions were moving through council in late July and August the Mayor offered, with the help of the city attorney, to put some words together that would form the basis of the voting. I think those can be found in the council agenda packet for Aug 2. So the wording came from the Mayor and was approved by the council who approved the dollar amounts. Because the word “AND” is in the title instead of “OR” some of both will have to be done. (Where are those blogging attorneys when you need one.) I will show you the complete list later in the post. Also in the voters’ pamphlet in the “Explanatory Statement” both “building maintenance and park improvements are mentioned. So I agree with you that it is unlikely that some of both will be done if the levy passes.

    When the levy committee made the recommendations to council in Feb we cited $1.5m of cost associated with 34 projects that were presented to us by the Publics Works dept. Parks had a smaller list but the costs were in excess of $1m. The combined list was more than 40 projects with total price tag of more than $2.5m. This is what I reported on the Oct 17 Levy Forum sponsored by MEN. Since the council set the value of Prop 3 at $500,000/yr for 3 years or $1.5m total the original list of 40+ had to be reduced both in number and in value.

    Now to the “For” and “Against” statements. You say “As DJ noted in his rebuttal, that project list was created by the “for” committee, not by City Council.” The list that is the basis of the Levy was not produced by the “FOR” committee, it was produced by the Public Works and Park Depts. I worked with both before presented the information to the levy committee for their consideration. The list has actually been around since before February and I personally went to DJ’s office and showed him the list before my Feb 22 presentation. He must have been busy with other things and failed to associate the Feb list of projects with the current references in the voters’ pamphlet. Before the presentation on Oct 17 I was sent several emails discussing the list that is in the voters’ pamphlet and I can assure you that my read of the emails is that the origin of the material is from the Public Works and Parks dept. I have not seen the entire chain of emails that account for the list being reduced from 40+ projects and $2.5m but summary that is in the voters’ pamphlet is based on PW and Parks work, not the creative minds of the “FOR” committee as DJ suggests.

    Now to the reality of what is planned and other explainations. If you go to this link:

    http://www.edmondswa.gov/government/government-prop3_faq.html

    You will see some good Q and A discussion about Prop 3 that includes a better discussion and what I have provided here and elsewhere and you will see 14 Building Maintenance Projects and 6 Parks projects. So the current list is down from 40 to 20 and down from $2.5m to $1.5m total. This is due to council reducing the original levy committee recommendation for these items just like they reduced the Street overlay amount from $1.5m to $1m per year. I cannot speak for council but it sounded like they did not ask for the full amounts because we are in tough times but they did want to get started. At least 6 out of 7 seemed to vote this way on Prop 3 and 2.

    In summary the original list for Building projects (40) along was $1.5m. Now the Buildings projects are down to 14 and just short of $750,000. The remaining 6 projects for park account for approximately the other half of the $1.5m.

    Near the end of your post you say two things: 1. “The projects listed in the “Statement For” pamphlet do all seem like worthwhile projects” The 8 things listed are really 20 that you can see on the link above. Hopefully you will feel that the total list of 20 are worthwhile. 2. You say “If this levy had been called “Building and Park Maintenance“, it would probably get my support.” I shared with you how the title was created by the Mayor and the city attorney. And yes it was approved by the council in a 6 to 1 vote.

    But Joe if you agree these are worthwhile projects and it is only the wording of the levy title is holding your back I hope I have given you enough detailed information for you to overlook the title issue. If this levy fails then I hold little hope that council in their work in the next couple of months will see fit to fund any of these projects and when damage is done to our infrastructure as a result the costs will be higher. Go to the Q and A on the link above to see a more complete and official answer to some very good questions.

  10. Darrol, I appreciate all this valuable information. I’m changing my No vote on Proposition 3 to Undecided while I mull over all of this. Voting can be hard work!

  11. Joe, you are halfway there. If you have other questions or concerns just let me know.

    In tough times we all need to allocate our scarce resources where they will get the biggest bang for the buck. Prop 2 and 3 do than and help set into motion the idea that citizens can vote for what the want or not and set their own priorities.

    On the “against” side, I have never heard how that side plans to fix the roads and buildings??? it just seems that the message is that 6 council members can do better or something like that.

  12. Another way for people to gain access to the Q an A information for Prop 2 and 3 is to go to the City’s web site and the links are all right on the front page.

  13. Darrol Haug has certainly given you as much information as you need for making your decisions on the levies. I don’t see the logic in not voting for something because it does not do the whole job. I was also on the levy committee so it helps me understand the thinking. In hard economic times you go for something rather than nothing. The buildings and roads will not get better as we wait for some perfect time.

  14. I wish that “Park Improvements” had not been included in the scope of the Levy. The REET funds should be sufficient for the modest park improvement needs we have. As I look through the projects, the only “park improvement” I see is “park pathway improvements”. I don’t think it should be included, but it is not a big enough expenditure to make much difference.

    I’m still nervous that a new City Council could decide to spend a significant portion of the Proposition 3 money on Park improvements. Politically, it will be very tempting to vote for spending money on projects the public can see and punting away the boring maintenance projects. As we all know, they will be empowered to completely ignore the list of 20 items. They have a history of ignoring committee recommendations. I’m hoping and trusting they will not do that.

    The bottom line is that Darrol has persuaded me to vote YES on proposition 3.

  15. Barbara, I assume you are referring to the nonsense in the “Statement Against” Propositions 2 and 3 in the Voters’ Pamphlet. The only valid point in those statements is that if the levy passes, Council is free to choose whatever projects they like, so we must trust them to act wisely within the constraints of each levy.

  16. Joe,
    I do have trust in the two directors that they will be able to convey the reasons for their choices of either public works or parks projects. I do know that the parks plan that was produced with the help of many citizens including me found that there was a lot of support for walking, hiking, biking paths. So finishing the Interurban trail and building sidewalks in the Meadowdale area followed that directive. As I read through the levy list, they were not all glamorous projects. But letting things deteriorate is not good practice. So I am hopeful that there will be a balance between projects with popular appeal and boring maintenance projects. I am not aware of the history of ignoring committee recommendations. You might enlighten me.
    Another thought: popular projects can often get money from community groups so the city should encourage such support.

  17. It is possible that we will have a new mayor and two new council members in office one month from today, because they were appointed until the next election. The election results will be certified on Nov. 29th.

  18. Joe,
    Are you talking about the recommendation to limit spaces in downtown to retail and food establishments? If so, that is different from not following ideas for parks repair projects since it is regulating private property whereas parks and street projects are city owned.
    I was wondering about projects recommended by park and public works projects being turned down.

  19. Barbara, I don’t remember any park and public works projects being turned down, but I haven’t followed these area closely enough for that to mean much. Maybe someone else has another example.

  20. Don’t get Joe upset. He has agreed to vote for Prop 2 and 3. I have done a lot of work to give him all the data to make an informed decision and he has correctly concluded it is ok to vote yes on these two levies and we all need to keep our hand on the accountability button going forward. I know I plan an effort to show what is being done with our money and I will bet that city staff will be very responsive.

  21. Don’t worry, Darrol – I’m not upset. Barbara is asking good questions. And all she’s trying to do is strengthen my support for Proposition 3.

  22. When Barbara speaks we should all listen. She has some very good thoughts and a lot of knowledge on the issues. He work for our community is so valuable.

  23. I think the idea of making an effort to show what is being done with our money if Levy 2 & 3 pass (and I hope they do) is very worthwhile. I think the idea of reporting on different funds on a regular basis should also be done. This is a way to educate citizens on our finances and regain some trust that seems to be lost.

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