Coffee with Harry: Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and Ron Wambolt

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Ron Wambolt
Ron Wambolt
Adrienne Fraley-Monillas
Adrienne Fraley-Monillas

The final “Coffee with Harry” was held Thursday morning at Edmonds’ Chanterelle Restaurant. Hosted by Harry Gatjens, this session featured City Council Position 3 candidates Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, the incumbent, and challenger and former councilmember Ron Wambolt. The candidates fielded questions from a group of approximately a dozen citizens, with topics ranging from the predictable building heights to sources of campaign contributions and strategies to increase the city’s tax base.

Sources of campaign contributions:

One questioner asked about the sources of the two candidates’ monetary campaign contributions, noting that a significant part of Fraley-Monillas’ donations come from outside of Edmonds including labor unions, while Wambolt’s are largely from local developers and real estate interests who would benefit from being able to construct higher buildings than allowed by current codes. The candidates were asked whether these contributions would influence them to favor these interests.

Both candidates responded that as a city councilmember they would work for the interests of the Edmonds citizens and not for particular interest groups. Fraley-Monillas went on to stress that she has been involved in labor and union issues all her life, and that her supporters include the Boeing Machinists Union and the grocery clerks union. She also stated that she has received campaign contributions from private citizens across the political spectrum. She noted that none of her contributors would benefit in any way from higher buildings.

Controlling costs of city employee benefits:

Another citizen asked about the significant cost of Edmonds’ employee-related expenses (salaries, benefit packages, etc.), stating that the city budget “is dominated by these expenses,” and that these are out of line with similar costs in non-government sectors. The candidates were asked how they would propose to bring Edmonds’ costs in this area more in line with the private sector.

Fraley-Monillas responded that as a negotiator in the recent round of staff contracts for the city of Edmonds, she participated in a process that reduced the cost of employee health care packages by $500,000, and granted only a “modest” 1.5 percent salary increase. She also stated that she has worked to “hold the line” on these expenses for non-bargaining unit employees who were requesting the same benefits as in union contracts, observing that these are largely management personnel who are compensated at higher levels.

Wambolt stressed the importance of offering compensation packages that are competitive with other government and non-government entities, so that Edmonds can continue to attract high-quality employees.

Enhancing the tax base:

Another citizen question focused on generating more revenues for the city by enhancing the tax base. The questioner noted that neighboring cities have large industries and businesses (e.g., Mukilteo and Boeing) but Edmonds’ tax base is largely individual homes.

Wambolt responded that this is not a problem that can be solved overnight. He noted that a developer was interested in putting a hotel next to the current post office, but could not do so profitably within the current building height limits. While he opposes increasing height limits in the downtown core, he would take a critical look at other areas such as Firdale Village, where zoning could be made more attractive to developers. He concluded by saying that he sees development as the best source of new income, noting that the entire downtown core brings in less sales tax than one auto dealership.

Fraley-Monillas said that Edmonds only gets a small slice of property and sales taxes, as most goes to schools and other priorities. She went on to identify Highway 99 as key to expanding city’s tax base, citing as an example the development now underway at the Swedish/Edmonds campus including a $65 million triage center that will create “hundreds” of jobs. She stated that people moving in to take these jobs end up living not in Edmonds but in Mountlake Terrace, Shoreline and other areas, and that they spend their dollars in these communities rather than Edmonds. A development plan for the Highway 99 corridor that included businesses and housing for the workers attracted by these jobs would mean more money spent in Edmonds in addition to an enhanced tax base.

She went on to stress the need for Edmonds to adopt a “budgeting by priorities” approach that would be driven by community input. She noted that Mayor Earling has expressed interest in adopting this approach for the city general fund, a move she supports “100 percent.”

Building heights in the downtown core:

A citizen asked the candidates to clarify for the record the rules governing building heights in the downtown core, specifically the area zoned BD-1 roughly bounded by Bell Street on the north, Maple Street on the south, Sixth Avenue on the east, and Third Avenue on the west. She said that there is much public confusion over whether the limit is 30 feet, 25 feet plus 5 feet extra incentive, or something else.

Wambolt stated that prior to 2006, height limits were 25 feet with a possible addition of 5 feet for a “modulated” roof. In 2006 it was changed to a straight 30 feet. He added that additional rules for this area require that the first floor have a minimum 15-foot ceiling height, and that this in conjunction with a 30-foot overall height limit precludes three-story buildings in this zone. He also added that to construct such a building would require a minimum height of 33 feet, and that he is opposed to relaxing the current standard by “even a single inch.”

Fraley-Monillas stated that she opposed the move from 25 plus 5 to 30 feet, as she favors retaining the incentive to modulate roof lines.

When queried about how this might apply to a location like Harbor Square, Wambolt characterized Harbor Square as posing a choice. “Do you want taller buildings with open space around them, or do you want lower buildings and little or no open space.”

This raised questions about whether he would favor holding the line on building heights in the BD-1 zone, but allowing them outside of this. He responded by stating that he would “be willing to consider” raising height limits by 5 feet outside of this zone, but only if the plan was consistent with local design standards.

Continuing on the Harbor Square topic, the candidates were asked their assessment of local sentiment toward the recent Port of Edmonds proposal to develop an urban village on that site.

Fraley-Monillas stated her view that the Port plan was conceived and put forward by groups who generally supported the Port’s view of how the area should be developed, and that these did not represent the sentiments of the citizens of Edmonds who “clearly didn’t want it.” She looks forward to a more collaborative approach that would include the council and citizen input from across the opinion spectrum on this issue.

Wambolt disagreed, saying that during his recent exhaustive door-belling campaign he heard strong citizen support for the proposal that the port had originally put forth.

Both candidates would welcome an initiative that takes a vote of the people to better gauge public opinion on this issue.

Strategic Plan:

The final question concerned the city’s recently-developed Strategic Plan, the observation that it “seems to not be moving forward,” and how to remedy this.

Fraley-Monillas suggested using some of the $600,000 set aside for Council-driven projects in the Mayor’s proposed 2014 budget for a part-time position tasked with identifying strategies for moving the Strategic Plan forward, and implementing these as appropriate.

Wambolt suggested regular status reports to the council from the Director of Economic Development regarding the progress of the plan, as a tool for the council to take action as needed to move the plan ahead.

The session concluded with a huge thank you to Randy and Brooke Baker for their generous hosting of “Coffee with Harry” at the Chanterelle.

— By Larry Vogel

7 COMMENTS

  1. Here is my complete response regarding building heights.
    When it comes to heights, it is not “a one size fits all” situation. It is generally accepted that Hwy 99 is suitable for relatively tall buildings. That is why when I was a city councilmember I voted to increase heights in the two CG zones there to 60’ and 75’ – thus enabling more intense economic development there.

    Also when I was on council there was a movement to raise the height limit in the core of our downtown to 33’. While that was only an increase of 3’, I strongly opposed doing that, and I would strongly oppose it today, because that 3’ would enable the construction of 3 story buildings in an area that currently has no 3 story buildings – that would be an undesirable change to our downtown.

    I do support the Planning Board’s proposal of more than 2 years ago to allow Development Agreements in a small number of situations – they would only be granted after 2 public hearings and final approval by city council.

    Those agreements, with restrictions, would allow up to 5 feet of additional height, or 35 feet. Because of the way heights are measured, averaging the four corners of the lot, many buildings on slopping lots are currently 35 feet or higher at the street front. I do not support allowing the additional 5 feet for buildings on sloping lots that are already able to achieve 35 feet or more. Approval of an agreement hinges on meeting at least two of three criteria: (1)attaining at least a LEED Gold or equivalent level of green building certification; (2) the development incorporates one or more uses designed to further the city’s economic development goals (such as a hotel, post office, farmers market, or space for artists; (3) the development includes enhanced public space and amenities. Approval of Development Agreements requires public hearings at both the Planning Board and City Council, with final approval by the Council.
    Making the development agreement available could be the catalyst needed to spark some redevelopment in the BD zones, where there have been no projects, except for two banks, since 2005.

  2. Thanks to Chanterelle’s these discussion can happen. Both candidates deserve a vote of thanks for an open discussion of topics raised by citizens. I attended the Johnson/Hayden discussion and this one and while the candidates at both sessions tossed a few gentle barbs the discussions were helpful in learning about all the candidates. These discussions are more like what we see at council retreats and workshops vs what we see at Council meetings.

    Council is the lead agency in implementing several high priority items identified in the Strategic Plan. One high priority item expressed by the voters in the survey is the creation of Town Hall meetings to discuss issues.

    Democracy deserves more than “3 minutes at the mike” at council meetings. Town Hall meetings would move Edmonds forward to gathering more inputs from more people. Council approved the Strategic Plan April 2 of this year and now that 6 months and 17 days has gone by, they need to step up and move their items along.

    Meetings like the “Coffee with Harry” sessions are really great. Thanks Harry and thanks Chanterelle’s.

  3. Re Adrienne’s comments on development in the Hwy 99 corridor. I’m all for development there, but aren’t most of the health care facilities non-profit? Do these pay property taxes? If not, what’s the benefit to the City? John Carlin

  4. I remind all that the current Washington State Open Public Meetings Act, adopted in 1971, contains the following preamble:
    The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created. RCW 42.30.010.
    I’ve asked other candidates the following: Do you support the keeping of Executive Session Meeting Minutes and/or audio/video recordings for all Executive Sessions? Why or why not?
    Ms. Fraley Monillas and Mr. Wambolt, please answer this question on My Edmonds News so the voter’s will be informed of your stance on this important issue. Thank you.

  5. Ken:
    It seems obvious that minutes and/or recordings of Executive Sessions should be kept, and eventually disclosed to the public. But, as you know, there are some problems with doing that. Those problems have caused the current city attorney and the prior city attorney to recommend that city council not change their practice of requiring only summary notes. The State Legislature also had this issue on their agenda, but failed to implement any legislation. Should this issue come before city council, I would evaluate all of the available material at that time before deciding how to vote.

  6. Ken,

    Thanks for letting me know you would be asking this question on MEN.

    Our attorneys and every other city attorney have recommended summary notes.
    No city in the State of Washington, for many legal reasons, are keeping minutes or tapes of these Executive Sessions.

    I for many years have received the emails from the watch group “Washington Coalition for Open Government” so I can keep updated on this very issue.
    That being said I believe Kirkland is the first city to now keep minutes or tapes. We all will be watching how that works as we tip-toe into further transparency in government while keeping lawsuits at a minimum.

    As the resolve, I will not blame the State Legislature for not doing our hard work in the cities.

    The Washington Coalition for Open Government is nonpartisan group made up of many people coming from a wide variety of backgrounds.
    I encourage everyone who may have interest in this to sign up for these emails.

    http://www.washingtoncog.org/index.php

    Thanks for the question Ken!

  7. Thank you Ron and Adrienne for your timely response and thoughts. I wish I could have attended your “Coffee with Harry”. It sounds like it was an excellent event.
    A little history of Executive Session recordkeeping in Edmonds:
    City of Edmonds Resolution No. 853 was passed as part of the Consent Agenda on September 16, 1996.
    Resolution No. 853 established a procedure for keeping and retaining minutes of City Council Executive Sessions.
    The WHEREAS sections of Resolution No. 853 promote open government and provide evidence that the City Council desired to do MORE than state law required them to do. These sections are as follows:
    WHEREAS, no provision of state law requires the City to keep minutes of executive sessions of its City Council; and
    WHEREAS, the City Council finds it to be in the public interest to maintain summary minutes of executive sessions subject to release in accordance with the provisions of state law, if and when, the reason for the executive session expires; and
    WHEREAS, the City Council finds it to be in the public interest to provide a summary record of proceedings in order that, at some future date, the public may be advised of the substance of an executive session and in situations where such release is not appropriate, to have a record of the nature of the executive session that its decision to close a session is judicially challenged; NOW, THEREFORE, …

    It is very evident that the City Council voted in 1996 that is was in the public interest to KEEP and RETAIN summary minutes of executive sessions for reasons that included potential subsequent RELEASE to citizens. My hope is that we will continue to see improvements in Open Government and Transparency. Thanks again.

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