The Edmonds City Council moved a step closer to temporarily banning turf infill made of recycled tires on all public property in the city, directing the City Attorney to prepare an ordinance that calls for a one-year ban. The council also said it would hold a public hearing on the draft ordinance at its next meeting, Dec. 8.
The original motion as proposed by Councilmember Lora Petso called for a three-year ban, but that was amended to one year after further council discussion. In addition, an amendment by Councilmember Diane Buckshnis was also approved that instructs the city attorney to compile data that the council has received so far from various sources on the issue and to engage “an independent person or entity to do our own examination.”
“We need to have a paper trail to support this ban,” Buckshnis added.
Mike Nelson, the council’s newest member and a father of two young children, spoke in support of the ban, stating: “Our federal government has failed to take action to protect our citizens, in my opinion,” Nelson said, “our state government hasn’t yet taken action to protect our citizens and our school district has refused to take action. Therefore I feel that we as a city must, and to protect our citizens, to protect our children.”
An amendment by Councilember Kristiana Johnson to have the ban apply only to City-owned property failed on a 2-5 vote. Councilmember Tom Mesaros, who voted against her amendment, said he believed it was important to have the ban apply to all public property to be effective. The Edmonds School District in its upcoming levy has plans to install a new baseball field at Edmonds-Woodway High School that would be made of tire crumb rubber, Mesaros added.
Tuesday’s action comes after several months of public testimony before the council and discussion among councilmembers about possible health and environmental impacts of artificial turf made of recycled tires, which contain known carcinogens. The issue first surfaced in Edmonds last spring after citizens became aware of a plan by the school district, under an agreement with the city and the Verdant Health Commission, to tear out natural grass fields next to the former Woodway High School (now known as the Woodway Campus) and replace them with crumb rubber artificial turf as part of a three-phase sports complex.
Following an outcry and protests, efforts by crumb rubber opponents to convince the school district to install an alternative infill failed, and two of the fields were installed over the summer. Two more are planned for the same location, although there currently isn’t funding for that phase of the project.
Edmonds resident Laura Johnson, who has been leading the charge for a ban, called Tuesday night’s vote “a win for Edmonds and it was proof that each of us can effect change for the better.
“I am very proud of my city council members for leading by example and working toward taking measures to safeguard human and environmental health,” Johnson said. “I am looking forward to the public hearing next week and moving this forward.”
(You can see City Development Director Shane Hope’s council presentation regarding the crumb rubber ban here.)
In the other significant action of the evening, the council voted 3-4 against a motion that would have prevented the Citizens Economic Development Commission from sunsetting in 2015.
The 17-member commission was formed in 2009 to advise the council on new strategies for economic development revenue generation. Its main accomplishment was the development of the city’s Strategic Action Plan, now being used to guide many city decisions. A few councilmembers have been increasingly critical of the commission in recent months, stating it was ineffective and lacked focus. On Tuesday night, some of those same councilmembers — including Joan Bloom, who described the commission as “clearly limping along” — admitted that the council itself was responsible because it didn’t provide the body with enough direction.
That led Councilmember Mesaros to state that the solution wasn’t to end the commission but to “give them the direction they are seeking.” However, his proposal to lift the sunset provision and allow the commission to continue failed, receiving support from only Buckshnis and Nelson.
The council also held a public hearing on the 2016 budget, and Finance Director Scott James shared a list of 17 councilmember-proposed amendments to consider. The discussion on the budget is likely to continue through at least mid-December; it must be passed by Dec. 31.
Among the budget-related concerns raised by citizens were a need for additional police traffic enforcement and a suggestion that the budget included too many requests for increased staffing.