ACE Candidate Forum Part 1: Edmonds Port Commission

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ACE’s John Reed welcomes candidates for Port Commissioner. From left, they are Steve Johnston, incumbent; Susan Paine, challenging Johnston; Bruce Faires, incumbent; Lora Petso, challenging Faires; Fred Gouge, incumbent. Gouge’s opponent Angela Harris was unable to attend due to out-of-town work commitments.

[Note: complete video of the October 16 ACE Forum for both Port and Council candidates is available for viewing here.]

The first half of Monday evening’s candidate forum sponsored by the Alliance of Citizens For Edmonds (ACE) pitted candidates vying for the three open seats on the five-member Edmonds Port Commission. Incumbents Fred Gouge, Bruce Faires and Steve Johnston are being challenged by Angela Harris, Lora Petso and Susan Paine, respectively.

All candidates were present with the exception of Harris, who was unable to attend due to prior professional commitments. She instead submitted a statement to be read at the forum. (We have included Harris’s statement in its entirety at the end of this article.)

Held at the Edmonds Senior Center, the forum allowed each candidate an opening statement followed by a series of questions posed to each candidate. There was also a chance for each candidate to ask a question of his or her opponent, concluding with closing statements.

Moderator Dave Buelow posed the following four questions to each candidate:

1) Harbor Square redevelopment

Despite rejection of the Port’s Master Plan for Harbor Square by City Council in 2013, the Port in March 2014 added what essentially is the same rejected plan in its “Eastside” Master Plan. Major issues in the Port Plan are:

  • Zoning is changed from commercial to mixed commercial/ residential uses,
  • Building height is increased from the current 35 feet to an overall average height of 45 feet and maximum height up to 55 feet adjacent to the marsh, and
  • Minimum setback off Dayton Street is a 15 foot sidewalk, and no stated setback from the marsh is included as compared to the 25 foot setback originally included in the port proposal.

Do you support the specific parameters listed above, and why or why not?

2) Transparency

What changes would you make in port meeting, publicity and decision-making procedures to increase transparency and encourage community involvement and input into your decision-making process?  

3) Impacts on the Edmonds Marsh

If the opportunity arose, what redevelopments on the land areas surrounding the marsh would you propose to incorporate the marsh as an asset rather than a hindrance to development?

4) Climate change

What steps would you propose the Port take to address the numerous impacts of climate change (such as water quality, water shortages, rising sea levels, increased energy consumption)?

Here’s how the candidates responded:

Harbor Square redevelopment (read the full master plan here)

Fred Gouge

Gouge pointed out that the council did not reject the Port’s Master Plan in 2013, but rather the port opted to withdraw the plan. “Our job as commissioners is to look out for the taxpayer,” he said. “Despite the Master Plan being on our website as the plan of record, I can state with certainty that we will not build at Harbor Square as long as I am a commissioner.”

Petso stated, “I do not support the current plan as adopted by the Port Commission,” citing in particular the plan’s failure to include appropriate marsh setbacks. Saying that she “would like to see enhanced buffers remain in the plan” she suggested looking for ways to implement these in the future. For example, if the athletic club decided to abandon the tennis courts, “it would create an opportunity to implement larger buffers.”

Faires responded saying that he “does not support the specific parameters in the plan.” Calling the current plan the “minimal approach that would be economically viable,” he stressed that the port has “no plans to develop Harbor Square at this point,” but rather to “continue running it under the present situation.”

Johnston also came out against the current plan, stating that in lieu of the 25-foot setbacks included in the plan he would support “60- to 65-foot setbacks, as suggested by the tribes, marsh experts, fish experts and scientists.” He then added that if “you want amenities closer to the marsh, taller building might be needed” at Harbor Square. He concluded by stressing that the current plan is merely “a placeholder to meet the state requirement that we have a plan.”

Paine, the last to respond to this question, also expressed her strong disagreement with the current plan. Adding that she objects to any residential development at Harbor Square as it would tend to “privatize views and access to natural areas” which should be open to all. She suggested the need for a wider community conversation to consider such amenities as an environmental learning center.

Transparency –

Bruce Faires

Faires stated that the main barrier to Port Commission transparency is that “no one comes to our meetings.” He stressed that recently the Port has tried to address this by sending out brochures and newsletters to constituents, and that more needs to be done in this regard. “We need to do all we can to get the information out,” he concluded.

Petso responded that the Port needs to ramp up its “ongoing public engagement” and not just send out brochures and materials “around election time.” She suggested having My Edmonds News and other media representatives routinely cover port meetings. “There’s a lot more the port could be doing,” she concluded.

Paine suggested having a regular minute-taker prepare public reports on each meeting. “We all love the waterfront,” she stated. “We need to let everyone know what’s going on. If stakeholders aren’t involved, the plan fails.”

Johnston disagreed, characterizing the port as “extraordinarily transparent” especially with the recent addition of a communications specialist to staff who handles “social media and brochures” among other things. “As a citizen I see major transparency,” he stated. “The port is transparent and I see a lot of it.”

Gouge reflected Johnston’s assessment, adding that “our gal is a professional note taker,” and that the Port Executive Director writes a regular column in the the Beacon. He also lamented that Port meetings are poorly attended by the public, saying that the “last time a meeting was full was when the marina collapsed.”

Impacts on the marsh –

Steve Johnston

Johnston stressed that “any development of Harbor Square would have to pencil out monetarily,” and that the port “needs to show reasonable return on investment.” In order to accomplish this, he allowed that economically sound development would “likely result in buildings that are out of scale.”

Paine responded that any development affecting the marsh needs to be “environmentally focused.” Saying that “we could add an environmental learning center without hurting return on investment,” and that this would bring the additional benefit of “highlighting Marsh restoration efforts.”

Gouge stated that while the port has been directed to “keep its hands off the marsh,” it has added a “beautiful walkway” and supported environment activities including Birdfest. Stressing that “we need to know what species are there and how to protect them,” he favors no development around Harbor Square for “many years.”

Lora Petso

Petso said that any development affecting the Marsh should take advantage of it as an educational opportunity. She also stressed the need to protect the marsh, saying that “the area around the marsh is for a vegetation buffer, not buildings.”

Faires stated that “current zoning requirements” preclude any development around the marsh. He also speculated that the Washington State Department of Transportation will likely “take over the Chevron property to use as a parking lot when the ferry terminal moves.”

Climate change –

Gouge pointed out that he attended the recent WWU student project presentations that included recommendations for how to prepare for expected rises in sea level and King tides. “A 2-foot sea level rise accompanied by a King tide would flood the marsh, and would have adverse impacts on water quality,” he stated. “But since the city owns 90 percent of the Marsh, they are responsible for this. Water quality is a city issue.”

Faires acknowledged that while the port can’t control the climate, it does need to take measures so that “runoff from Harbor Square is the highest quality it can be” and that the port will “continue its efforts to improve Harbor Square runoff quality.”

Petso suggested that the port “should take responsibility for its own power” through implementing solar and other technologies. Regarding runoff she said that the “student studies suggested a number of ways to improve storm water quality at Harbor Square,” and that “daylighting Willow Creek will help to flush contaminants.”

Susan Paine

Paine would like to see a “climate action plan” that would address increases in both sea levels and water temperatures, noting that a “one degree Fahrenheit increase in water temperature would result in a two-foot rise in sea levels.” She agreed with Petso on the need for energy plans as well, suggesting that solar panels on rooftops could be part of this. “We need a very green port,” she concluded, “and I want to lead that charge.”

Johnston pointed out that “the port is energy efficient,” citing a new HVAC system at Harbor Square and stating his support for more solar “as we move forward.” Saying that the Port is doing a “magnificent job” of managing boatyard runoff and ship wastewater, he also cited the “new storm drains and eco-friendly roofs” at Harbor Square.

With the formal questioning concluded, candidates were able to ask a single question of each other.

First up were Faires and Petso.

Faires to Petso – “You stress a ‘Save our Marsh’ theme in your campaign. Stormwater has been identified as the major threat to marsh water quality, and yet only 3 percent of the runoff entering the marsh comes from the port. Why do you make this a port issue?

Petso’s response – “We need to look beyond the runoff from a single source in our efforts to improve and protect Marsh water quality.”

Petso to Faires – “Why when council rejected the Master Plan in 2013 did you not provide a new plan per their direction?”

Faires’ response –  “There is no other plan that makes economic sense. This is the only one that’s feasible. Therefore, we won’t move forward with developing Harbor Square.”

Next were Johnston and Paine.

Johnston to Paine – “Given that the port is constrained to spending money only on port purposes, how do you plan to pay for these new things you are proposing that go beyond this?”

Paine responded that the Port “has a capacity problem” and needs to look at ways to expand and generate additional revenues to help fund assets like an environmental learning center and/or a conference center.

Paine to Johnston – “As a stated environmentalist, why did you not suggest any changes to the Harbor Square Master Plan?”

Johnston responded that he didn’t make additional recommendations because he “knew the plan was dead in the water and not going anywhere,” adding that we need to “put development in balance with natural resources.”

Closing statements were next.

Gouge stressed his 32 years experience in aerospace engineering which he brings to the commission. He expressed his desire to continue as a financial and environmental steward of the Port’s assets. “We run a business here,” he concluded. (Note – Gouge provided his statement prior to the candidates questions of each other, because he had to leave to join the Port Commission meeting in progress to make a quorum)

Faires summed up by stressing that “environmental considerations have been and remain a top priority at the port.” He also noted that the port has also done an admirable job helping the local economy, and has maintained a good balance between the two. “Everyone can’t always get everything they want,” he concluded, “but I truly believe we have the best-run port in the state.”

Johnston stated that while “the main mission of the port is economic development, we have established an enviable environmental record.” He concluded by reminding the audience that he is not endorsed by any special interests.

Paine stressed that “this election will be close, and don’t forget that every vote counts.” Stating that we need to “revisit the Master Plan,” she pledged to work to include a sea level and environmental action plan, to oppose any development that would privatize views and access, and to support measures to protect and enhance “our fantastic marsh.”

Petso began by citing her endorsements by the Sierra Club and the 32nd District Democrats. “I am running to be responsive to the community and to protect the marsh,” she said. “The Master Plan has to be more than just a placeholder. The port has been sitting on the plan for four years. We can do better. We deserve better.”

Here is the prepared statement from Angela Harris, quoted here in its entirety:

“Good evening everyone.

Please accept my apologies for not being with you tonight. I’m leading a major project for Microsoft that is unprecedented in my 12 1/2 years at Microsoft and fortunately, things will be back to normal by December.

I’ve learned in my life through a variety of circumstances to look at research, information and facts. My circumstances have made me stronger — propelling me through my 20-year business career — from starting my own consulting company — to landing at Microsoft where I excel in my role due to my ability to work collaboratively, my honesty, my ability to bring stability, to research, plan, and execute on those plans, and to do all of this with integrity.

It’s with this tenacity and focus that I’ve dived into the facts at the Port of Edmonds. Spending countless hours in research, reading past meeting minutes, plans, vision documents and talking to people who have been part of the community for longer than I have. My opponent attacked me personally at the last forum, stating I’m not interested nor knowledgeable about the Port. He couldn’t be more wrong. The research I have done is the most effective way to educate myself on Port matters.

Here are some of the facts I have learned about the Port of Edmonds that have led me to seek the position of Port Commissioner, District 1.

  • The Port of Edmonds has spent $84,000 of public money to challenge the Shoreline Master Program and the buffers advised by the Department of Ecology. The Commissioners wanted the buffers reduced.
  • The current Port Commission hired a public relations firm to promote how environmentally friendly they have been by cleaning up Harbor Square. The cleanup was not voluntary. It was in response to a tenant lawsuit and action by Department of Ecology. It was also fully reimbursed, primarily by Unocal. It was also years ago, and the property is still toxic today.
  • The current Port Commission wants the public to believe that their Harbor Square Master Plan – which includes up to 55-foot buildings and approximately 350 condominiums- is no longer being considered. However, the plan has been adopted into their strategic plan and is posted on the Port of Edmonds website. The minutes of the Port Commissioner’s March 1, 2017 meeting include the following statement when talking about the Harbor Square Master Plan and keeping it on record: “community tenor is changing and eventually the makeup of the City Council will change as well.” Commissioner Gouge even said in his candidate statement in 2013 “… I will continue to push for re-development, by getting changes to the Edmonds City Council.” Make no mistake, the Harbor Square Master Plan is still the plan of record for the Port and has been since 2012.

These are just a few of the facts that influenced my decision. Let’s not hang on to old plans. Let’s update our plans and vision for the Port. Let’s look ahead to what we’re going to face with changing demographics, fishing demand, and climate change. Let’s work to restore our Marsh and support the daylighting of Willow Creek. Let’s work together with the City, City Council, and others to figure out solutions to our stormwater issues. Edmonds is a wonderful destination – let’s do more to support tourism and encourage people to visit our waterfront.

Change can be positive – especially when ideas get stuck and people cannot work together to move forward. Change brings fresh perspectives, new ideas and a new landscape of what we can do together. It’s time for transparency and collaboration. That’s what I will bring. Tomorrow is coming – let’s prepare for that rather than talking about yesterday.

I am capable, I am willing, and I am excited to represent District 1 and all Port residents and residents of Edmonds and Town of Woodway as we look forward positively and begin working together to create actionable, community-driven plans for all our future.

Thank you.

– Angela Harris, candidate for Port Commission, District 1″

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

 

18 COMMENTS

  1. With respect to Mr. Gouge’s comment that “our gal is a professional note taker”, I would imagine he does not know how that expression might set some people to grinding their teeth. I suspect the “gal” in question is older than the age of, say, 12, and that she does not belong to the Port. If she is excellent at her job, perhaps she is a recording secretary, a trained scribe, or an administrative assistant.

    Words do matter. Please use better words.

  2. Here are the code references I promised to provide.

    RCW 53.20.010 requires a Port Commission to adopt a comprehensive scheme of harbor improvements before creating any improvements.

    RCW 53.20.020 requires that “every improvement to be made by said commission shall be made substantially in accordance” with the plan.

    Perhaps these are not the code sections referred to by the incumbents, but perhaps they are.

  3. Do any of the candidates favor selling Harbor Square to a private developer? That is what I would like to see. I would like to see Harbor Square improved consistent with what’s best for Edmonds: protecting the marsh and obtaining the best use of the land. I would also like to see an end to the squabbles between the Port and City council.

    The Port has demonstrated that they are not capable of redeveloping Harbor Square. One of the incumbents said “the main mission of the port is economic development…” The best way to spur economic development at Harbor Square is sell it to a developer and move on.

    • With the current zoning, developers will not pay an adequate price. That’s why the commissioners have rightly chosen to maintain what they have.

  4. Ron, That’s my point. The Port has demonstrated that they are not capable of increasing its value. Sell it for whatever it’s worth and let a private developer have a shot at it.

    Not sure how maintaining what they have provides economic development.

    • Developers are not interested because buildings taller than the present ones cannot be constructed and no residential is allowed.

  5. Ron and Susan, Despite the environmental and zoning issues with the property it is undoubtedly saleable at the right price.

    My point is the Port has missed out on the best real estate development boom to hit this area for decades. How much “economic development” occurred at Harbor Square during this boom? Was there positive or negative cash flow from this property while the surrounding area boomed? I think the best result for the Port taxpayers is to unload it “as is” to the highest bidder.

    The Port’s progress over the past 5 years does not promote confidence in the Port’s ability to promote economic development on this property.

    • I don’t have all of the answers for you, but before you condemn Port officials you should attend a Port meeting to get your questions answered.

      I suspect that they’ve created more economic development then you realize. And by the way, their role is to cause economic development for the port district not just for port properties. In the past few years they attracted Jacobsen’s Marine who constructed a significant facility on port property that contributes considerable sales tax revenue to our city. Additionally, also in the past few years, they brought Puget Sound Express Whale Watching to the port; that activity is bringing large numbers of tourists to Edmonds.

  6. Ron, I’m not trying to take sides in the election or condemn any actions of the Port officials. I agree that the Port has done a great job on the waterfront side of the tracks. But I’ve seen zero progress on Harbor Square during this unprecedented real estate gold rush.

    In summary I think the taxpayers would be better off if harbor Square was in private hands and I would like to see one of the candidates take that issue and run with it.

  7. Wow. Mr. Gouge’s statement, “our gal is a professional note taker” speaks volumes about his world view. And then there is Mr. Johnston’s, “The port is transparent and I see a lot of it.” Um, yes, you are a Port commissioner. Two almost spit takes while reading an article about the Port of Edmonds wasn’t what I was expecting. Thanks to My Edmonds News for transcribing this Forum. I’ll be sharing this with all of my fellow Edmonds friends and neighbors. Each incumbent said they do not support the Master Plan for redevelopment at Harbor Square that is on their own website! This is the plan they submitted in 2014. Over three years ago. If they don’t support their own plan (Mr. Gouge said, “Despite the Master Plan being on our website as the plan of record, I can state with certainty that we will not build at Harbor Square as long as I am a commissioner.” and “Johnston responded that he didn’t make additional recommendations because he “knew the plan was dead in the water and not going anywhere”) why hasn’t another plan been developed or language altered? I’m sorry but Mr Johnston’s stressing that the current plan is merely “a placeholder to meet the state requirement that we have a plan” was another spit take moment. As Susan Morrow said, “words do matter.” And the words that matter are the ones written in the current Master Plan not the words currently coming out of the mouths of the incumbents.

  8. John,
    If you have questions about my position, you’re welcome to call me, 206-371-5148 or watch the ACE forum at the Senior Center.
    Susan

  9. Theresa Goetz,
    Thanks for your excellent comments. The Harbor Square Master Plan was presented to Council in 2012, so has been the Port’s adopted plan for over FIVE years. A very long time for a “place holder”.

    At the League of Women’s Voters forum last Thursday night, the following question was asked of all Port candidates: “What is your position on building privately owned condominiums at Harbor Square and other waterfront properties?” None of the incumbents, Faires, Johnston, or Gouge, answered the question. Instead they chose to, again, make statements such as the ones above about the Harbor Square Master Plan.

    Susan Paine, Lora Petso, and Angela Harris are all on record as wanting to open a broad community process to re-write the Harbor Square Master Plan to be code compliant. The current code is CG (General Commercial), maximum 35 feet height, and residential is NOT allowed.

    • I apology to the challengers, Lora Petso, Susan Paine and Angela Harris, for speaking on their behalf, above. Only the candidate can speak to their own position on redevelopment of Harbor Square.

      • So are they on the record or not? If they are on record they have already spoken. If they are not on record then what lead you to believe what their record was? Maybe the challengers could clear up their positions either by stating a position or citing their position already spoken.

  10. It is disappointing that the Marsh and Harbor Square have become such lighting rods for our discussion. If you look at the issues for both we should look at some starting point and build from there. The taxpayers of the City own 90% of the Marsh. The tax payers of the Port District own 10% of the Marsh and 100% of the rest of the Port properties including HS. The City Council and the Port Commission are obligated by law to protect the values of their respective assets. The County has placed a value on the Marsh of $254,500 and in 2008 the value based on County records was $17m for the land and $13m for the buildings for a total of $30m. So, the value for each set of taxpayers is about $6 each for the Marsh and $2000 each for Harbor Square.

    Changing the regulations for setbacks at HS will reduce the value of HS and the commission should have and did try to preserve the value of HS. That is their job! It is also the job of Council to preserve the value of the Marsh. But what the Council did not only preserved the value of the Marsh, but it will enhance the value as well, but at the expense of the taxpayer who own HS. So, one group of taxpayers benefited at the expense of the other.

    The Council could have just condemned HS, and paid fair market value and then set out to restore the Marsh to the condition it was in in some past time period. These costs are estimates but help paint a picture of the economics of change. Purchase for $30m, demolition for $10m, and restoration for $10m or a total price tag of $50m. About double the cost for the waterfront access overpass. So, for $50m we could transform the Marsh to a point in time in the past.

    As a taxpayer in both groups I would want Council to protect the current value of the Marsh and if they want to change the value of HS in total or in part they should be willing to pay the other set of taxpayers for their loss. As a taxpayer in the Port I would want the Commission to preserve my value in HS and to do no added harm to the Marsh.

    Any candidate that wants to simply give away my interest in HS or to reduce my value of HS without compensation will not be doing their duty as outlined by the law.

    If HS can be redeveloped in a way to protect the Marsh and add economic vitality to Edmonds we should carefully examine such a plan.

  11. Really good reporting, Larry.
    So many speculative thoughts of what to do with Harbor Square: one only needs to look across the street to see what happened when Al Dykes finally “loss” to the wisdom of the crowd for the seven to nine story mixed used multi-family project.

    For the record, the City Council of Edmonds has never DIRECTED the Port to “keep its hands off the marsh” and the recent Port developments (Jacobsen Marine, American Brewery) requiring CAO mitigating dollars were utilized for enhancing the open space adjacent to the Marsh.

    Additionally, the City is actively pursuing the daylighting of Willow Creek. The City Council is currently looking to have a scientific baseline study performed for the Edmonds Marsh Estuary and Wildlife Sanctuary.

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