Commentary: After Port’s withdrawal, now what?

By Eric Livingston

Now that I’ve had a few weeks to think about it, I find myself saddened by the Port’s decision to withdraw their Harbor Square Master Plan.

Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t changed my position about the HSMP but, and while I’m not entirely sure, if I were  in their position I might have done the same. Nevertheless, it just feels like the Port gave up the ship.

Yes, the City Council is just as guilty, and yes, the City Council did kick the can down the road. Each side of the issue will blame the other side for the demise of the HSMP and, oddly, both sides of the argument are somewhat correct. In any case, the blame game is a dopey argument that nobody wins.

So, what’s done is done; get over it.

However, there is one niggling little problem; the problem, and this will be true of all marinas (public or private), not just the Port of Edmonds, is that Boating or Yachting, as a leisure activity, will grow at a slower pace than in the past.

OK, so revenues will grow, just slower. But the costs of operation and maintenance of the marina, however, will grow much faster.
This means that the entire waterfront will become harder and more expensive for the Port to maintain. Even in its current state, one can see that some of the boards in the boardwalk will need to be replaced in the relatively near future. Some of the machinery the Port needs to operate is well beyond its life expectancy. Non-working machinery makes it harder for the Port to attract new customers to use the Port.

By the same token, Harbor Square is also aging and requires maintenance. This too is becoming more expensive, but is needed to attract new renters.  However, for the near term, Harbor Square will continue to operate in the black. But, at some point, H.S. will be in the red.

Is any of this the City’s problem?  Well, technically, no.

It is our problem.

The Port staff and the Commissioners work their heads to the bone on finding ways to hold down costs. Also, the Port genuinely makes what efforts it can to avoid having to raise moorage rates and/or the taxes of the citizens that live in the Port Districts. But market forces and economic issues are beyond their – or anybody’s – control. In short, the Port can’t avoid raising rates, (yes, the Port did raise moorage rates in the past couple of years, but not as much as was probably needed) and they can’t avoid raising taxes forever.

So, what to do?

On one hand, the City’s Strategic Plan says that H.S. redevelopment is a “Very High Priority.” The Strategic Plan also says that both the City of Edmonds and the Port of Edmonds are on point for developing a plan to meet the stated goal. Page 20 of the Strategic Plan shows that the Economic Development Department, Development Services Department, Public Works Department, Parks & Recreation Department, Community Transit, Sound Transit, Friends of Edmonds Marsh, Waterfront property and business owners, and finally, the Citizens of Edmonds are to participate in the development of a redevelopment plan to meet the Plan’s stated goal.
Page 20 also shows that this project’s complexity is “Very High”; an understatement, given the depth of passions and height of emotions shown over the past year regarding the HSMP.  The Plan projects a redevelopment scheme being achieved in 12 months. The likelihood of that happening is pretty thin.

Nevertheless, all the parties – including us citizens – will need to put aside the passions of the past year or so, the Port needs to return to conversation and begin to discuss what will work for the Citizens, the City and the Port.

Or, on the other hand, we can keep quiet and when the taxes increase, just accept that we’ll have no real complaint about having to pay.  We won’t get what we expect; we’ll get what we deserve.

Much of the reason that makes Edmonds a destination is the waterfront. Without a well maintained, fully operational and beautiful waterfront, Edmonds becomes a city that people simply drive though to get to the ferry on their way to the peninsula.

About the author: Eric B. Livingston has degrees in art (focusing on sculpture and a minor in music), culinary art, technical writing and has credits towards an MBA.  He has been awarded prizes for photography and portrait sculpture, has had a one man show, as well as having had work accepted in juried art exhibitions in Pennsylvania and Connecticut. He has researched and written papers on “Aesthetic Universals in Art”, “Linguistics of Food/Cookery” (which was submitted to the 2009 Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery), a white paper for a non-electric irrigation pump manufacturer and wrote several pieces for Seattle Home & Lifestyles magazine. Currently he is a freelance web designer and tech writer. He resides in Edmonds with wife, Eliza, and a dog, Pershing.

  1. Eric’s essays are always super interesting and well thought out. I look forward to reading more of them.

  2. I think both the City and the Port are acting like children in this; all puffed up and “playing the game my way or I am taking my ball and going home”. The Port may not feel that buildings should have the restrictions that the rest of the City has and the Counsel has leaders that shut people down but don’t seem to come up with anything to replace the ideas. I think it is great they are protecting what I believe most of us want but they need to help in the process of what should/could be built. I don’t want to look over the waterfront and see another modern version of “quaint” like Redmond, Mercer Island or Mill Creek, either. Maybe we need new voices that don’t just like their own to be heard.

  3. It is called the Port of Edmonds, is it not? If so why is it that the “Port of Edmonds” tax district does not include the entire City of Edmonds??Being included in the tax district do I receive any special consideration?? Do I receive a parking permit or a reduced rate on moorage?? Not on your life!! Make it fair and include all of the property within the city limits of Edmonds and charge the non property owners who have moorage an additional fee!! This has been an issue with me since the time I started my residence here in 1980. Think about it!!

  4. Eric,
    Don’t despair too much. I bet there is a good chance the Port’s plan will resurface, depending on two things. 1) What the Council comes up with in their current conversations and 2) how the fall elections turn out. If Peterson and Johnson retain their positions and Wambolt should get in, I suspect the Port Plan will resurface in all it’s glory. Of course, it might take a bit of incentive zoning to placate some Marsh advocates, but some on the Council seems willing to make that available.

  5. Sure if it were up to developers we could just pave over the marsh. Hooray for the marsh advocates!!

  6. Regarding the questions of Mr. Buc and Ms. Baker;

    I’m not entirely sure that I’m the right person to answer these questions; but I’ll try my best.

    First some background: I live in Port District 3. I don’t own a boat. I do walk my dog along the Marina and have enjoyed several dinners at the restaurants on the Port’s property. I pay the taxes as levied by the Port. Consequently, it can be argued, whatever tax dollars that I’ve paid to the Port have not been particularly beneficial to me.

    I also pay the taxes the City of Edmonds requires, most of which goes to funding the schools, yet I have no children. I have never needed to call the fire department or the police, so that whatever tax dollars which goes towards those services have yet to benefit me.

    The laws that govern the ports were initially enacted 102 years ago and were meant to curb some of the railroad’s questionable business practices as well as preventing them from controlling the State’s import and export revenues. The laws have been updated many times in an effort to define and refine what the Ports can and can’t do. (See: https://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?Cite=53)

    As to why the Port tax district does not include the entire city, I really don’t know. But, the Edmonds’ Port district was formed in 1948; in large part to prevent Everett from owning or controlling Edmonds’ waterfront. The population of Edmonds at the time was about 2000 people. Most of them lived close to the waterfront in the area we know as the “Bowl” and I would have to guess the Port Districts were drawn accordingly. I’ve no idea if the Port districts have been redrawn since.

    Given the above information, I think the question becomes one of trade offs – costs and benefits.

    At issue is the problem of dealing with actions, (actions of the Port), which have harmful effects, (some people in the Port district not receiving any benefits or value from their tax dollars), is not simply one of restraining those responsible for those actions.

    Therefore, what has to be decided is whether the gain from preventing the harm, (no realization of benefits or value from taxes paid), is greater than the loss, (less revenue to the Port), which would be suffered elsewhere, (by increasing fees and moorage rates) as a result of stopping the action which produced the original harm or problem.
    In this case, as I understand it, you’re asking for benefits – keeping your tax dollars in your pocket – by inflicting harms – raising fees/moorage rates to non-residents – thereby creating a mirror image of the original problem – which is transferring the harm to other people.

    Now the question becomes, what compromise would be satisfactory to both you and the Port of Edmonds?

    As to the question; “What does one get from being in the Port’s tax district besides being taxed?” Many of the events at the waterfront are because of the Port’s sponsorship or support such as Sea jazz, the Waterfront Festival and the shuttle service during the Edmonds Arts Festival. They support the Sea Scouts and Boy Scouts among other organizations.

    What my guess, regarding what one “gets” from their Port taxes is that that is pretty much up to the individual.

    The philosopher Jeremy Bentham is credited with saying: “It is the greatest good to the greatest number of people which is the measure of right and wrong.”

    Or a more contemporary version, as Spock said in the movie “Wrath of Kahn”: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.”

    Whether or not one likes these answers, I don’t know, but they are the best answers that I can offer.

  7. I have absolutely no question as to the benefits of the Marina. Having been in yachting and traveling up and down the west coast and the Great Lakes marinas, I truly believe The Port of Edmonds has one of the finest facilities that I have visited. I also do not mind paying taxes on the said facility. The Tax however should be spread over the entire city of Edmonds (fat chance of that ever happening). As for moorage fees I watched as my fee went from $50.00 to over $400.00 (after the rebuild) this eventually proved to be more than we could afford. Yes I still enjoy the marina, I walk it frequently and remember the enjoyable days past.

  8. I wish I’d have seen this sooner, but didn’t. For the most part I think that the comments are pretty good. However, when a person says that they pay their taxes but haven’t benefitted from them, I have to take issue with that.
    Whether or not you’ve had to call the police or the fire department, you do benefit from having them. Think not? Try living somewhere where the criminals know there are no police officers patrolling the streets. Every time a burglar is arrested, that burglar is prevented from going to another house, maybe yours. When the fire department puts out a fire in one location, it prevents the spread of the fire to another.
    As far as the Port taxes go, it appears to me that the Port does provide some enhancement to the community. The problem is, is that people with no boat there, are not welcome. Don’t think so, try parking in close proximity.

  9. I restate my solution, tax every property owner in the city of Edmonds for the benefits derived from the beautiful Port of Edmonds. Redraw the taxing district and make it fair for all and not just the few who are unfortunate to reside within the mis drawn Port district!!!

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