Pointing to the “hard, complicated work” that both the City of Edmonds staff and the City Council undertake on a regular basis, Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling conducted the latest of his town hall meetings Wednesday night at the Edmonds Library Plaza Room.
As he did during Tuesday night’s city council meeting, Earling opened with a statement regarding a recent situation at an Edmonds construction site, where two African American apprentice workers quit in late October after discovering a noose hanging from a beam. “I find this incident abhorrent, offensive and entirely beneath the expectations we have in our community,” the mayor said. “We simply cannot tolerate this kind of conduct in Edmonds.” Earling noted that the Edmonds Police Department is conducting a thorough investigation of the issue, “which continues to this date.”
The mayor then turned to the city’s 2017 accomplishments, which included renegotiating the contract with Snohomish County Fire District 1 (now South Snohomish County Fire & Rescue); acquiring grant money during the state Legislature for key capital projects; ensuring the city’s financial stability; and continuing long-delayed road resurfacing, with 6.8 lane miles completed during the past year.
Earling spent some time discussing funding for those capital projects, including the Edmonds Street Waterfront Connector, an overpass linking Sunset Avenue at Edmonds Street to Brackett’s Landing Park. The goal is to provide an emergency, single-lane structure over the railroad tracks as an alternative to the at-grade rail crossings at Main and Dayton Streets. This approximately $29 million project will provide access for emergency vehicles, as well as ferry off-loading or on-loading with the assistance of traffic control officers when train breakdowns block the two crossings.
He noted that state Legislature earlier this year approved initial project funding of $700,000 for continued design, environmental and permitting work for the waterfront connector project; The project is also receiving $295,000 in matching local funds from the City of Edmonds, the Port of Edmonds, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF), Sound Transit and Community Transit. The city still must secure grant funding for the $29 million overpass construction.
He said the city will also eventually benefit from money for several capital projects, including $391,000 for the Frances Anderson Center roof; $500,000 for planned waterfront park redevelopment in front of the Edmonds Senior Center; and an early release of $1 million — out of $10 million approved earlier by the Legislature — to work on Highway 99 redevelopment. All of that money — contained in the Legislature’s capital projects budget — is currently being held up in Olympia due to a dispute between Democrats and Republicans, but Earling said it’s expected to be resolved soon.
The mayor then turned the podium over to his department directors, who provided brief updates on projects in their respective areas:
Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Carrie Hite pointed to a range of key projects that her department is focused on, including ongoing work to complete rehabilitation of the Edmonds Fishing Pier; the installation of a new band shell for outdoor performances at the Frances Anderson Center; the opening of the new Edmonds Veterans Plaza and developing a master plan for redevelopment of Civic Field.
Noting the myriad ideas proposed during the public engagement process for Civic Field planning, Hite said that “there was a lot of compromise, but I think we came up with a good design for this park.” Following city council approval of the design in March, the goal now is to find the $10 million to $12 million required to build the new downtown park, located at 250 6th Ave. N. One visible change there that citizens will be seeing soon is demolition of the stadium grandstands, which are structurally unsound, Hite added.
Hite also talked in more detail about the city’s plan to work on waterfront redevelopment in front of the Edmonds Senior Center, which will complement the senior center’s plan to redevelop its building as a multi-generational waterfront center. The city is still waiting for a Snohomish County Superior Court ruling regarding whether Edmonds can build a walkway on a public access easement in front of the privately owned Ebb Tide condominiums.
In addition, Hite mentioned that the city is working with Snohomish County to develop a plan for a community garden at Esperance Park, located in unincorporated Esperance but bordering Edmonds. The idea would be to create a “P-Patch” type garden where residents could grow their own food. The hope is also to grow food for local food banks, Hite said.
Next up was Assistant Police Chief Jim Lawless, filling in for Chief Al Compaan, who said that the police department is focused on regional partnerships, noting that “jurisdictional lines are not recognized by those we deal with.”
Among those partnerships is one with the City of Lynnwood for a social worker that will be shared between the Lynnwood and Edmonds police departments, and with the goal of helping those affected by homelessness, mental illness and drug addiction.
That social worker has been hired and will start work Nov. 20, Lawless added.
A challenge facing the department is the fact that many officers are reaching retirement age and the department is working hard to find qualified new applicants for those jobs. “We don’t have a high turnover rate, and our older officers are hitting retirement at the same time,” Lawless said.
That same challenge was mentioned by the next director to speak, Human Resources Director Mary Ann Hardie, who noted that the city as a whole is experiencing retirements of baby boomers. Hardie also talked about the city’s focus on employee wellness, noting that such programs have been shown to reduce absenteeism and workers compensation claims and improve employee productivity.
Also speaking was Economic Development and Community Services Director Patrick Doherty, who said his department focuses on “four pillars” — attracting business, retaining business, business redevelopment and tourism.
The city attracts new businesses by targeting them via advertising in regional media, such as through business publications and public radio. Edmonds has many amenities that attract businesses, including walkability and a small-town feel, he said.
To ensure business retention, Doherty said his department offers assistance and free resources to Edmonds businesses. Redevelopment includes projects such as the new mixed use development planned for the Westgate area next to Bartell Drugs As for tourism, the city is currently collaborating with a variety of local organizations to draw non-residents to town, including the Port of Edmonds and the Edmonds Downtown Alliance.
Among Doherty’s other duties: serving as staff to the Edmonds Diversity Commission and the Economic Development Commission, helping manage the city’s legislative agenda, and overseeing the city’s communications efforts.
Development Director Shane Hope talked about how her department is feeling the effects of new projects in Edmonds. “Our permit numbers are very high and staff are very busy trying to keep up,” she said.
The aforementioned project next to Bartell Drugs — Westgate Village — is scheduled to break ground next spring and will include 91 residential units above retail. Other major projects of note include Graphite Studios, located on the former site of Marvel Marble, which will feature art studios, an art gallery, a cafe and three apartments; phase 2 of mixed use on the former Edmonds Post Office site, Building 10 at Point Edwards, The Shops at Aurora Village where the Highway 99 Denny’s is current located, and the expansion of Magic Toyota on Highway 99, with a 47,000-square-foot show room.
Still another major project coming up that Hope’s department will have a hand in: planning for the redevelopment of Highway 99. “It’s a 20-year plan so these things will happen over time,” she noted. And the department is involved in a feasibility study for the Five Corners area, which was the focus of an earlier study in 2011. The goal is to review the 2011 plan to determine if it “can go forward as it is, with changes, or work on something else,” she said.
Finally, Hope talked about the city’s effort to develop a housing strategy — including an approach for including more affordable housing — by 2019, which is required as part of the city’s comprehensive plan.
Finance Director Scott James came to the podium to talk about the city’s annual budget process — currently underway, and reviewed the state of the city’s finances including a review of the primary city revenue sources — property tax and sales tax. The city’s largest sales tax generators come from retail automotive, construction, and retail eating and drinking.
Last up for the city was Public Works Director Phil Williams, who oversees a department of 85 employees who work on a wide range of tasks, from water to wastewater to stormwater — “anything to do with water, we’re up to our necks in that” along with the engineering department that works on a variety of city project, including many of those mentioned during the evening by other department directors.
The department manages everything in the city’s right of way, from curbs to gutters to vegetation; runs the fleet system, maintains city-owned buildings and also oversees the city’s roadway maintenance and repairs.
Williams also talked about upcoming projects including work on Dayton Street from 3rd to 9th Avenue over a three-year period that is aimed at addressing flooding during heavy rainfall. “We need to put bigger storm pipes in the street,” he said. At the same time, the city will replace the old, cast-iron water line, which is very brittle and in danger of breaking. “While we’re at it, tearing up the street with those two things, we’ll rehabilitate the sewer in areas where it needs it.” Focusing on all three utilities at once means the city only has to tear up the street once “and not touch it for a long time,” Williams said.
He also discussed the Seaview Park infiltration project. The city plans to collect stormwater runoff and inject it deep into the soil to keep it out of Perrinville Creek during heavy rainstorms, which erodes the stream channel and “turns the habitat for fish and wildlife in a really bad direction,” Williams said.
Edmonds is the oldest city in Snohomish County and as a result the city’s water and sewer lines are very old and need to be replaced. That’s why the city’s utility rates have been increasing, “to generate the cash to start replacing these things so they don’t fail,” Williams said.
— Story and photos by Teresa Wippel