Edmonds City Council and mayoral candidate came back together for another candidates’ forum Monday night, this one sponsored by Alliance for Citizens of Edmonds (ACE) and the Edmonds Senior Center.
The format was similar to the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce-sponsored forum a week ago, with opening and closing statements plus questions from the moderator — but each candidate had a chance to ask his or her opponent one question, which generated some interesting responses.
In the interest of full disclosure, My Edmonds News did livestream the ACE event at the request of the forum organizers, but we did have some difficulties monitoring the sound during the first segment, featuring candidates Frank Yamamoto/Al Rutledge and Darlene Stern/Lora Petso. You can find the link to the segments where the sound is working here. Our intent was to include the question and answer from each candidate to the other, and our hope is to be able to do that with all the candidates by resubmitting to them the questions of any we did NOT capture and having them provide written answers. So look for those in the next two days.
Meanwhile, here’s a summary of the back and forth between mayoral candidates Dave Earling and Mike Cooper:
Both candidates talked about their involvement in the community — Earling noting his work starting in the 1980s when he served two terms as president of the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce, 12 years on the City Council and appointments to Sound Transit and Community Transit board and the Puget Sound Regional Council. “That coupled with my business background with Edmonds Realty for 23 years, I think, makes me uniquely qualified to be the next mayor,” he said. (Earling was serving on the Puget Sound Growth Management Board when he resigned to campaign against Cooper for mayor.)
Cooper pointed out that his family came to Edmonds in 1965 when his father became the City’s fire paid chief, and that Cooper himself first served the city as a volunteer firefighter at the age of 18, before becoming a career firefighter in Shoreline. “I spent countless years coaching wrestling, soccer, being a Boy Scout leader — you name it, I’ve done it, working with kids in this community.” Cooper cited his experience as an elected official for 14 years, serving four terms in the state House of Representatives, one year as chair of the County Charter Review Commission, and two-plus years on the Snohomish County Council. It was during his first County Council term that Cooper applied for — and was appointed to become — mayor after Gary Haakenson left Edmonds to become the deputy Snohomish County Executive.
Here are questions and answers posed to the mayoral candidates Monday night:
The City will be developing a strategic plan over the next several months. What are some of the major elements of your personal, 20-year vision for the city and what steps will you take as mayor to help move that plan toward your vision?
Earling: For me, the focus should be on several things: economic development — we have to figure out how we are going to increase our revenue stream over time. We have an unsustainable budget right now. I belive there should be a focus in the strategic plan on the development of neighborhoods; the neighborhoods of Westgate, the neighborhoods of Five Corners. We need to look at developing the neighborhood on our waterfront and to a certain extent, we can do some of that on Highway 99. We need to be proactive and have a very open discussion with the community. I know that’s the goal. We need to be sure that the community feels entirely involved in that strategic planning process. I will be an advocate for it and I will be sure that the project will move forward.
Cooper: The strategic planning process that we’re undergoing now came about during the time that I was your mayor with a vote of the City Council as part of last year’s budget. It’s a process that leads us into the future, and it’s really about sustainability. And sustainability a lot of people think is about the environment, but it’s really about being a sustainable community — a budget that’s sustainable through the use of the budgeting by priorities, about having sustainable policies in the city like our energy policy that we’ve developed since I’ve become mayor, about moving forward in all of those areas. Neighborhoods are important, budgets are important, our environmental protection is important, our building codes are important. All of those things need to be a road map to the future for the city, so when the city council makes decisions, they’re making decisions based on a road map that was developed by all of you, not just seven people and the mayor sitting in the council chambers.
The old Safeway Waterfront Antique Mall property has had no redevelopment since the Safeway closed many years ago, and remains an eyesore on the Waterfront. As mayor, what steps would you take to move redevelopment of that property forward, and what types of land use changes would you propose to facilitate that process, if any.
Earling: I think one of the things that you need to keep in mind, is that we’ve had a considerable disagreement with the folks who own that property. And of course before we can do any kind of planning, there has to be some kind of conclusion drawn. As I understand it right now, that is probably the last BC zone in the City of Edmonds — that is community business. It’s not only possible to develop retail there, but it’s also possible to do housing units over. It’s a mixed use, one that we should pursue within the confines, and the height limits, restrictions and zoning that we have in our community.
Cooper: You’ll probably find that Mr. Earling don’t disagree greatly on this issue. That piece of property across the street (from the Senior Center) is one of the most valuable opportunities that this community has. It has an opportunity for retail, for housing, for open space that could include an outdoor market. But what I want to share with you is that we are already working on opportunities in that location. We’ve met and discussed with Cascade Land Conservancy about different ways that we can do things, and not just that property across the street — there are three owners and you have to have a willing seller to do something. But we also have to look at including, I believe, the property on this side of the railroad tracks, so that this community that we’re sitting in right now — including the Old Antique Mall — becomes if you will the new Edmonds Crossing. And it’s an opportunity to really develop — within existing codes, without changing heights — but to do things that benefit this community and I’ll just close by saying we can do that if the state Legislature would approve tax increment financing so that we can partner with private developers and give them an opportunity to do partnerships like they do in communities like Bothell.
Citizens outside the Bowl complain that city government focuses too much on the downtown/waterfront area and ignores the issues in the rest of the city. If you agree, what will you do to change that perception and what will you do to be more inclusive of all the residents of Edmonds in all the areas of city policies and programs?
Cooper: Absolutely and that’s why in the past year since I’ve been your mayor, we’ve implemented land-use planning strategies in both the Westgate and the Five Corners neighborhoods of our community and had an ongoing strategy on Highway 99 to include that neighborhood. The next neighborhood we need to begin to talk about is Perrinville — while a couple of corners of that intersection are in the City of Lynnwood, we need to jointly plan with Lynnwood, just like we should jointly plan with Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace about Highway 99. Every neighborhood in the city should be considered when we’re looking at how we’re doing our land-use planning, both for retail and and housing, but also how we do our infrastructure. There’s no reason why we can’t be looking more intensely at providing more walkways in the neighborhoods outside of the Bowl.
Earling: I learned over the 11 years that I served on the Sound Transit Board that you didn’t just sit in an office somewhere making decisions to tell people how things would be done. You got out and you walked the streets. You walked the streets to find out what people who lived in the area really thought. And that’s a pledge that I think is incredibly important for all electeds to make. You need to do on-site visitations; you need to talk to the business owner. It’s not just the business owner, it’s also the people who shop at those stores. You need to talk to people who live in Ballinger, you need to talk to people who live around Five Corners, around Firdale Village, all kinds of communication that really builds the support that the city is actually interested in something more than just downtown. It’s a stigma that we need to get away from in our community.
Many citizens have said that levies that are coming up are short-term solutions to long-term problems that have been exacerbated by rising labor and other costs and the current economic downturn. As mayor, what specifically will you propose to stabilize and improve budget issues in the general fund, transportation, facilities and other areas?
Cooper: People that are concerned about the levies being short-term solutions, you are exactly right. The city council made a decision to put the levies on the ballot for three years instead of permanent and that’s their right to do that. But what it does do, is it gives us three years to continue our planning efforts; it gives us three years of good money to do street overlays that we haven’t done in many, many years; it gives us three years to do deferred maintenance on buildings like this, that have been deferred for several years; it gives us three years of a million dollars a year to stabliize our general fund while we do long-term planning to look for additional revenue, to look for ways that we can stabilize the budget. It’s not going to be an easy project but going to budgeting by priorities will be something that helps us in that effort, and our strategic plan will help us in that planning effort.
Earling: The city council appointed a committee to make economic recommendations to the council and to the mayor. The concept of budget priorities was floated to the mayor and the council last February for the first time. They’ve chosen not to become involved in it and I think that that’s a dramatic mistake. We now are going to be faced with — and I understand that the city, the current mayor will be involved with budget priorities for the next year — but that doesn’t really get to the heart of it because we should have already had the very important public process that takes place in a system like that. It has not taken place. We also need to be aware of the strategic plan, how that integrates with it, as well as the Economic Development Committee. After all the work that we should do, we need to prioritize all of the improvements we need to have. This needs to be a very open, public discussion that has the light of day.
Earling’s question to Cooper: Mike, you’ve known since February the budget was going to underrun by about $300,000 — would be in the black by the end of the year. In addition to that, the finance director just swept $369,000 out of department budgets and put it into one fund. We now have amassed a $669,000 surplus that we’re projecting by the end of the year. With that balance in mind, why is it that we are asking the voters for a million-dollar general fund increase to approve this year?
Cooper’s response: At the beginning of the year, our projection was that we would be $190,000 below budget not $300,000 or so, and since the beginning of the year I’ve done a hiring freeze to respond to the continued difficult economy that saved us several hundred thousand dollars. I’m not sure what Mr. Earling is referring to by sweeping money into one fund. We will finish the year roughly $600,000 to the good, but that’s because of conservative management by our city council and our staff and the mayor. And because we had $200,000 of additional revenue that we didn’t project at the beginning of the year. That’s good news for the city. All of those things combined, I still delivered a balanced budget to the city council that cut $700,000 out of the budget. Next year, we’ll have to cut an additional $500,000 and in 2014 we will have to cut an additional $1 million. Without new revenue, our finance director is projecting we will be $3 million down in three years.
Cooper’s question to Earling: You say are opposed to building height increases in Edmonds. Your campaign contributions would suggest otherwise — the people that are giving you money. My question is, what is your position on the proposal for Harbor Square (business complex, owned by the Port of Edmonds) that is proposing four- and sometimes five-story buildings?
Earling’s response: The long and the short of it is, there is not a proposal — yet. What’s going on simply is the Port is redefining their position related to the (City’s) Comp Plan. And we do not yet know what that outcome is going to be. I support the process that they’re going through; if they come back and start to talk about multi-story buildings, we probably will have another quick discussion. I find this whole thing about rich land baron developer stuff really interesting to me. I know that 70 percent of my contributions come from the citizens of Edmonds. I know that 38 percent of my opponents’ contributions come from citizens of the City of Edmonds. I know that I’ve raised 84 percent of the dollars that I’ve raised from individuals in the community. Mr. Cooper has raised 46 percent of his contributions from citizens in the city; 44 percent of his dollars have come from labor unions. I don’t find the contributions that I get to be peculiar, because as I’ve described the need for new leadership in our town, people have opened their checkbooks.