Commentary: Sunset Avenue overlook – a proper public process?
In May of 2008, the Sunset Avenue Overlook was added to the City of Edmonds Parks, Recreation and Open Space (PROS) Comprehensive Plan. The planned improvements were annual maintenance and a viewing scope.
The Sunset Avenue Overlook has transitioned into a controversial project that proposes a multi-use pathway along Sunset Avenue plus improvements on Caspers Street. Who initiated this change? Has the level of public participation related to such change been appropriate?
A public hearing for the Six-Year (2012-2017) Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) was held on July 19, 2011. The related City Council-approved minutes include a councilmember comment that there had been a lot of staff work done on the Sunset Avenue project. The minutes include comments by the Public Works Director that the Sunset Avenue project includes a 12.5-foot-wide sidewalk and an adjacent 5-foot-wide bicycle facility. What is uncertain is why staff had done a lot of work on a project that had yet to be added to the TIP. The July 19, 2011 minutes document no public comments about the Sunset Avenue Overlook.
On Nov. 15, 2011, the original funding for the Sunset Walkway Project ($16,000) was drawn from the Traffic Calming Program via an amendment to the 2011 Budget. The budget amendment agenda item passed unanimously with no opportunity for public comment.
On Dec. 20, 2011, the City Council voted to adopt the Capital Facilities Plan (CFP) Element of the Comprehensive Plan for 2012-2017. The Sunset Avenue Walkway Project was one of two new projects added to the CFP. Were there any public comments related to the addition of Sunset Avenue to the CFP on or before this date? No one participated in the Planning Board’s related Sept. 28, 2011 public hearing. No public comments were made related to the Sunset Avenue Project during the City Council’s CFP Public Hearing on Oct. 4, 2011.
Page 214 of the 222-page City of Edmonds 2012 budget indicates that $50,000 was added to the City’s budget for the Sunset Avenue Walkway.
As the City moved into 2012, a total of $66,000 had been assigned to the Sunset Avenue Project. The City’s pursuit of grant funding was approaching. The April 17, 2012 City Council Meeting minutes document that the City took steps to approve Resolution No. 1273 authorizing the submission of an Application for Grant Funding Assistance to the Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO). Two citizen comments were made during this RESOLUTION process. One citizen commented: “he has a number of friends who live on Sunset Avenue and he did not think they were informed of the opportunity to speak to the Council tonight.” He requested a formal public hearing to allow the neighborhood to be involved.
Despite this, the City Council passed Resolution No. 1273 and the Mayor signed it the next day, April 18, 2012. Here is a link to the actual Resolution.
Please note that point #8 states that “We provided appropriate opportunity for public comment on this application.”
Was point #8 an accurate representation to the RCO?
Sixteen (16) months later, on Aug. 26, 2013, the City of Edmonds submitted another grant application, which represented the following to the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC):
“Public comment was received at a meeting held on April 11, 2012, and followed up with written survey results that were collected April 25, 2012. The response was overwhelmingly positive, with all respondents supporting the concept of a dedicated bicycle and pedestrian facility in this corridor.”
Later in the document, the City of Edmonds also stated: “To date, there have been no negative comments recorded.”
The City’s comments related to COMMUNITY SUPPORT of the Sunset Avenue Overlook Trail project can be found on pages 6 and 7 of the document found here.
Through the public record request process, the City has provided survey documentation that indicates negative comments were received 16 months before August 26, 2013. Also, the My Edmonds News article from April 24, 2012 includes several negative comments. Here is that link.
In conclusion, I recommend the City conduct a detailed case study of the Sunset Avenue Overlook Public Process. The purpose of this case study would include the following two items:
1. To use the Sunset Avenue Overlook Public Process to analyze whether the City’s Public Process is proper. If not, improvements can be made that will be of great benefit.
2. To determine if City Administration and elected officials acted appropriately during the submission of Grant Applications to the Recreation and Conservation Office and Puget Sound Regional Council.
— By Ken Reidy