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

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25 Comments

  1. Another piece of information related to the Sunset Avenue Overlook/Walkway Public Process is provided by the Sunset Trail Shoreline Substantial Development Permit (PLN20120014) applied for by the City of Edmonds. The related work description was:
    10-FOOT WIDE PEDESTRIAN PATH BETWEEN BELL ST. & CASPERS ST.

    This application is dated April 24, 2012, the same date that My Edmonds News announced that the “City wants your opinion on Sunset Avenue trail improvements” and provided a link to the related survey.

    The City’s online permit information page states that the City of Edmonds was the Property owner and that a consultant was being used, Parametric.

    The City’s own application was later ruled incomplete, for several reasons including that it did not include the required notarized adjoining property owner (APO) affidavit.

    The application expired roughly 3 months after the letter of incomplete application was provided to the City’s consultant, Parametrix.

  2. The Agenda for the Thursday, April 10, 2014 Puget Sound Regional Council Transportation Policy Board (TPB) meeting has been posted. The agenda includes the following:

    Consent Agenda: Approval of Minutes of Transportation Policy Board Meeting held March 13, 2014.

    The related March 13, 2014 TPB minutes include the following:

    Chair Balducci shared with the board a comment submitted via email by Mr. Ken Reidy, a citizen of Edmonds, concerning the “2013 Transportation Alternatives Program PSRC Regional Application Form.”

    Following are the comments I submitted which Chair Balducci read out loud during the March 13, 2014 meeting.

    Citizen Comments:

    The 2013 Transportation Alternatives Program PSRC Regional Application Form starts as follows:

    “The importance of complete and accurate information on every application cannot be overemphasized. The evaluation and scoring of all submitted projects will be based on the answers provided in this application. A project’s suitability for regional funding may be compromised if the application is found to have omissions or inaccuracies.”

    Despite this, the PSRC Regional Application Form appears to not require a dated signature. Please reconsider whether or not a dated signature should be required on each application form.

    As a citizen, I would like to know how the PSRC determines if an application has omissions or inaccuracies? Also, what steps does the PSRC take when omissions and/or inaccuracies are found by the PSRC or reported to the PSRC by others?

    Thank You.

    After reading my Citizen Comments, Chair Balducci asked a PSRC representative to contact me to discuss my comments/questions.

    I have not yet been contacted by a PSRC representative related to my comments/questions.

    When I am contacted, I hope to discuss the City of Edmonds August 26, 2013 grant application made to the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC).

    • I decided to attend today’s PSRC TPB meeting. I spoke and repeated my comments from March 13th. I concluded today by stating that a month ago, after reading my public comments, Chair Balducci requested that a response be made. I informed the TPB today that I have not yet heard from anybody.

      Hopefully that will change soon.

  3. I believe the grant obtained for the Sunset Project to the City of Edmonds by the Puget Sound Regional Council is under the huge umbrella of the Federal Highway Administration. There is plenty of information at the Federal Highway Administration in regards to grants and FEDERAL CRITERIA for grants. All Federal Depts. have a lot of information in regards to acquiring Federal Grants and criteria that MUST BE MET. There is no question about this.

    The Puget Sound Regional Council is just that, REGIONAL, and Federal guidleines for grants still must be met.

    I believe the City Of Edmonds needs to return all of the money from the Federal grant, as the criteria was not met, period.

  4. Edmonds has done a good job of getting grant dollars to augment out local budget. We have about $16m of grants in the bucket with about $4m being spent each year. Raising that money locally would add about $240 per average household to our local taxes. Grant money is our money, we paid it to the Feds and State and now our Council and Staff is just trying to get the most back we can for local projects. We may not like it but this is how it works today.

    Our Council has done a very good job of seeking and approving grant requests. Nothing can happen for a project without our Council setting into motion the process to pursue such grants. If they did not pursue this money we would have to pay twice for these projects, once to the Feds and State and leave it there for some other city and then again locally to raise the money through added taxes.

    If the Feds feel the criteria is not met they can ask for the money back. It is up to them to decide how well we are meeting the criteria and if they want to adjust their view of the criteria for the public good.

  5. As I see it, the problem is not with the getting of grants. It is getting grants for projects that are not needed or are not properly vetted. In nearly every case, grants do not pay for the entire project, so money will still come out of the “local budget.” Not only will money be spent on the project itself, most projects will require city funds to maintain the new infrastructure acquired. If the project wasn’t needed or desired in the first place, it is money ill-spent regardless of where it comes from. I have also observed that once a grant is obtained, the staff leverages it with the council and the public, warning that we will have to pay it back (this is more nervousness generated when the staff has already spent some of the grant). To me it’s just bad business practice.

  6. Our good Council is involved all the way along. They are smart and are not trapped into any actions they cannot control. Council is in the drivers seat for grants.

    When one looks at the details of the Strategic Plan their are references to the ideas of improving access, connecting trails, new sidewalks, and improving bike traffic. What we need to do is look at what the majority of folks said in the SP, sort out the issues, and move the things forward that the voters have outlined.

    The public process could be improved and that applies to all projects, not just Sunset.

  7. Jim:
    You have summed up the situation perfectly!!

  8. I appreciate the posts made earlier today. Have very little time to respond, but yes Tere – the City received $159,000 via the U.S. Dept. of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration – Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) Program.

    Jim- excellent post -thanks for making several solid points!

    I prefer a focus on true NEEDS.

  9. I’d appreciate other’s thoughts on city staff doing a lot of work on a project that had yet to be added to the TIP or anything else, especially during difficult financial times back in July of 2011. Why was city staff working on Sunset Avenue before July 19, 2011? The July 19, 2011 City Council Meeting Minutes indicate that the related work had resulted in some type of project concept that included a 12.5-foot-wide sidewalk and an adjacent 5-foot-wide bicycle facility.

    I would also appreciate other’s thoughts on the Nov. 15, 2011 decision to draw $16,000 away from the Traffic Calming Program to Sunset Avenue via an amendment to the 2011 Budget. I believe the Traffic Calming Project list included 23 projects, all of which required a petition with at least 8 signatures. Does anybody have any thoughts on why money was moved from Traffic Calming to Sunset Avenue?

  10. I think if we know the NAME of the ONE person in Edmonds that suggested the original idea for the Sunset Project to the council member, I believe everything else will fall in place, and a lot of questions answered.

    As an aside, on my walk this morning, 6 asphalting trucks and many workers at the north end of Sunset on east side of street …….interesting that they are asphalt trucks and not cement trucks to fix the missing cement sidewalk there, if that is what they are doing

    In response to Mr. Reidy’s reference to “true NEEDS” I would prefer a focus on that.

    On Sunset, “AIR QUALITY” (which the grant was also for) CANNOT be mitigated by the Sunset Project due to the passing of the train 18-20 times every day with diesel fuel and coal dust……There are many, many areas around the country that NEED air quality mitigation badly, and could use this money for that

    • I simply ask Counselperson Peterson via email. He provided the answer quickly and as always, very politely. You might just ask him. It didn’t magically all fall into place for me, by the way.

    • Today workers laid concrete sidewalk at the north end of Sunset.

  11. Federal grants are based on NEED, and not on augenting city coffers.

    It is very CLEAR in regards to Federal Grants that they are for a REAL “need”…….There would be no grant money left if every city in the country had been (and every city having major economic issues in the past 4-5 years because of the recession) augmenting their city coffers with need based grant money. This is not the way it “works now”……Federal law is FEDERAL LAW!

  12. I agree with what Jim and ron have to say about the grant situation, it seems to me that Phil Williams just trys to get grants and then do projects which seems to me to be doing things backwards Right now i would do as little as possible as far as new construction in edmonds and just focus on maintaining what is already there, Ron how did that sidewalk turn out

    • The sidewalk looks great!

  13. The grant monies are being used to line someone’s pockets. The Sunset project as well as other foo foo city projects receiving Federal grant funds are ill-conceived, not well thought out, not put out for bids by minority businesses and not supported by a majority of city folk.

    Perhaps a federal audit to force full disclosure is needed….after all it is Federal Law…

  14. If it is factual that $16M sits in “the bucket”, then I have a very hard time understanding why the City of Edmonds has failed to replace the pathetic sidewalks in the downtown Edmonds core. Shoppers must be irrelevant when compared to people who want to sit in their car and watch the “Sunset”.

    I have a personal correspondence from an Edmonds City Council person which states the facts of the “Sunset” walk proposal. Their mail states the following:

    “There’s lots more to this project, including the fact that the public process and right of way (ROW) issues were misrepresented by staff to the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) to obtain the grant from the TAP (the federal transportation program’s $70,000 grant)”. end quote.

    Darrol, you fail to address the relevant fact that the Sunset walkway is on proposed to be built on private property, owned by BNSF Railroad. It is their property and does not belong to Edmonds…period. I do not know if you have ever had dealings with BNSF, they take their legal rights and property very seriously. An entity does not tell them to do anything, no permission was ever requested from them as far as I know, nor was any granted to allow this “sidewalk to nowhere” to be built. Kind of, cart before the horse vision.

    Also, the Fed’s will demand the money to be repaid, as the paperwork was misrepresented to gain the $ 70K+- grant. That is fraud….. The taxpayers of the City of Edmonds will now need to repay $ 70K, these are REAL dollars, real taxpayer money wasted.

    Any City “staff” who falsified or misrepresented material facts to obtain grant money from the Federal Government or the State, should be fired and prosecuted. Employees of the city who intentionally commit Federal offences to obtain money for the City of Edmonds, really have no place employed within the City of Edmonds.

    I will go out on a limb and say that most people who live in Edmonds (I wouldn’t classify Edmonds as poor) would not have a problem in paying another $ 30.00 per month to improve their town, if shown real projects….. that are relevant.

    Grants, are not free money. Has the City of Edmonds degenerated to the point that right from wrong is no longer relevant? Is it ok to falsify documents to “get the money”? Are we really that desperate?

    Federal Grants, don’t make me laugh, we now owe over $ 17 Trillion dollars, money the Federal Government has borrowed in your name and mine from the Federal Reserve. They give it away by the billions and waste billions and billions, lest we forget it all has to be repaid, maybe you forgot about that. So do not attempt to tell us it is free, like a faucet with a never ending flow of $ 100 bills.

    Any resident of Edmonds, given the choice would rather live in a city with less, than become “a Chicago” known for it’s corrupt Government and policies.

    I, for one, reject any notion, that one’s “perceived rights” to have a walkway on the bluff, trump the rights of the residents of Edmonds to be able to voice their objections to any such project. I will also predict that every tax payer in Edmonds will not condone misrepresentation of material facts, to illegally gain grant money, which now needs to be repaid.

    Or, does the end result, always justify the means!

    • Brent, thanks for your comments. Since you used my name directly in your remarks I wanted to try and answer with a few comments and try to give you my viewpoint on your questions directed to me or referencing things I have said. Unlike others using this forum who do not respond to questions I feel if I can answer questions I will try.

      I too would like to see the end of grants, earmarks, and other programs that add red tape to taxing people and then finding ways to give it back for projects. This all take time and money and many times these dollars could be better spent with local collection and decision making on what to do with the money. But as long as the grant process is in place we have to choice to seek them or not. I am glad our city is seeking grant money to add to our already scarce funds for capital projects.

      I used the term bucket in my earlier remarks and that may lead someone to believe we can use the money any way we want. Grants are usually more targeted than just allowing it to be spent anyway locals want. Frankly if we were able to just get our money back that we paid to the Feds and spend it based on our needs that would be a much easier process but likely lead us to using grants to pay for basics.

      Research of the City web site under Public Works and Projects leads to a series of quarterly reports that give some insight to the types and amounts of grants we have. This is not a complete list but it does give a sample of grant dollars I found on a couple of quarterly reports.

      Public Works Yard Waste water …$311k; Interurban Trail…$1.3m; 228th street improvements…$4.8m; 5th Street Overlay…$511k; 76th Street intersection Improvements…$940k; 5-Corner Intersection Improvements…$2.4m; 99 enhancements…$684k; Main Street Lighting $1.23m. These items alone exceed, $12.3m The $16m quoted earlier was from an article the city wrote in MEN about the role of grants in Edmonds
      .
      Brient wrote…“Darrol, you fail to address the relevant fact that the Sunset walkway is on proposed to be built on private property, owned by BNSF Railroad.” This seems pretty damning but so be it. My remarks were confined to a statement about grants and not all the other issues others have raised. I would say however, that I have heard public statements about discussions with BNSF and that Edmonds will do a complete job of working on the property issues as this whole process moves along. If Council wants to direct staff to resolve this issue first then let then let them say so with a vote.

      Brent added comments about grants not being free money and borrowing to spend, and all the rest of the money flow discussion has validity and I said earlier that we should have a better way to pay for local projects, but to forego grants would only added to our local taxes while other cities use our taxes to pay for their projects.

      Brent aIso writes: “I will go out on a limb and say that most people who live in Edmonds (I wouldn’t classify Edmonds as poor) would not have a problem in paying another $ 30.00 per month to improve their town, if shown real projects….. that are relevant.” The last levy request asked voters to pay $7.50/month or $90/yr to restart the street overlay program and they voted no. Fixing the streets sounds like a good project to me but maybe the voters were hoping for a grant rather than using local dollars????

      Hope that addresses some of the questions directed toward me.

  15. I’ve been told by a representative of the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) that the PSRC ASSUMES that (grant) applications as submitted are correct per information known at the time by the sponsor.  I am not sure if “sponsor” is different than “applicant”.

    The PSRC also stated that If information provided in the application related to the evaluation criteria is later suggested to be inaccurate, the PSRC does not have a SPECIFIC PROCESS to deal with this other than through public comment or through information provided through monitoring of the grant.

    The PSRC stated that if this information were a critical factor in the award of the grant to the project, PSRC’s Boards would be notified. Depending on the information in question, The PSRC would review the project scoring and the recommending committee’s discussions to determine if the suggested inaccuracy was a key factor in the project recommendation, and inform the Board accordingly.

    I hope to discuss this more with the PSRC. One item that concerns me is the concept that the PSRC may not considered certain inaccuracies to be a “key” factor. I would think that if an item was important enough to be asked on the application, that it would be a “key” factor. Even more alarming would be inaccuracies related to information that was known for a long time prior to the date of application.

  16. I believe the PSRC is required by law to ALSO make sure they are not giving away MILLIONS of dollars in Federal Highway Administration/Dept. of Transportation grant money if there is no need……, if there is false (or left out ) information on the forms, and the projects do not match the criteria of the grant.

    As noted a couple weeks ago, the PSRC received a WARNING letter from the Feds that they needed to have $$$$$$ for their 30 year transportation plan for the REGION. This is not a small item.

    That the PSRC is not accountable for its FEDERAL funds could not possibly be true…..It would be a real stretch to believe that the Feds would allow this. I guess I question WHY the PSRC has not contacted the Federal government regarding the misuse of these grant funds. We’re not talking rocket science here, just common sense.

  17. INDEPENDENCE – RESPECT – INTEGRITY

    Troy Kelley – Washington State Auditor
    Citizens Hotline

    https://portal.sao.wa.gov/saoportal/public.aspx/Hotline

  18. Walkway projects are subject to a public planning process, Comprehensive Plans are the starting point for any planning process and the centerpiece of local planning. The State’s Growth Management Act established the primacy of Comprehensive Planning.

    The 2002 City of Edmonds Comprehensive Walkway Plan recommended 33 prioritized projects be implemented over the next 20 years (2003 – 2022), at an approximate cost of $2,500,000. The Sunset Avenue Walkway was not one of these 33 prioritized projects.

    In 2008, the Edmonds Walkway Committee updated the 2002 City of Edmonds Comprehensive Walkway Plan. The Walkway Committee was comprised of 12 citizen volunteers who walked frequently and lived throughout the City. Their role was to evaluate criteria such as safety and access to schools and parks; prioritize proposed sidewalk projects based on the criteria; and to provide feedback and recommendations. The Walkway Committee met monthly from March 2008 through September 2008 and provided walkway recommendations related to the City’s Comprehensive Walkway Plan. Those recommendations were presented in Chapter 4 of the November, 2009 Comprehensive Transportation Plan. The Sunset Avenue Walkway was not one of their 10 recommended short walkway projects. It was not one of their 24 recommended long walkway projects.

    The July 19, 2011 City Council Meeting Minutes indicate that work related to the Sunset Walkway had resulted in some type of project concept that included a 12.5-foot-wide sidewalk and an adjacent 5-foot-wide bicycle facility. I would still like to know if it was proper for City staff to do a lot of work on the Sunset Avenue Walkway project before such was included in our Comprehensive Plans, the starting point for any planning process.

    Who approved this staff work and why was so much attention devoted to a walkway project that was not included in our November, 2009 Comprehensive Transportation Plan?

    Once the Sunset Walkway concept gained momentum, I believe it became difficult for those with a different vision of walkway planning in Edmonds to be heard. I believe limited public funds (federal, state or city) should be spent on walkways that have been prioritized via comprehensive planning.

    Now we have one more divisive project consuming public and private resources. Why?

    Furthermore, most of it (the part north of Edmonds Street) is not even located in a “Pedestrian Intensive Land Uses” area as defined in Figure 4-1 of the November, 2009 City of Edmonds Comprehensive Transportation Plan. The source of this information is City of Edmonds (2008), WSDOT (2008), and Snohomish County (2008).

  19. Thanks for providing links to the documents Reid. I appreciate that.

    As I have written, I recommend the City conduct a detailed case study of the Sunset Avenue Overlook Public Process. One purpose of such a study would be to determine whether or not the City’s Public Process was and is proper. If not, improvements can be made that will be of great benefit.

    I think it is helpful to realize that Comprehensive Plans are the starting point and centerpiece of local planning.

    I am concerned that the Sunset Walkway process to date has promoted divisiveness between citizens. I think we can do better.

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