Candidates for City of Edmonds offices met Monday evening at the Edmonds Senior Center to present their views and positions on local issues.
Candidates were asked questions by moderator Susan Paine, and in addition had the opportunity to ask questions directly of each other.
First up were the candidates for City Council position 2, Alvin Rutledge and Mike Nelson. Responding to a question about development at 5 Corners, Nelson praised the new roundabout, but observed that he “misses the gym” and pointed out the need to encourage additional restaurants and businesses to occupy that space. Rutledge commented that “development is moving along well,” the importance of adhering to the growth management act, and the need to put in place a “long-term vision for building height limits.”
Asked about climate change and the possible impacts to Edmonds of rising sea levels and other effects associated with global warming, Rutledge talked about the need to “be watchful” and to think of future generations. Nelson stressed the comprehensive plan goal of achieving zero waste and using more renewables. As an example, he cited that only one city building now uses solar, and that more of this should be encouraged.
The final question concerned height limits in downtown, Westgate and other areas, and whether the candidates would support incentives to allow higher buildings under certain conditions. Nelson stressed that downtown and Westgate are different and that a one-size-fits-all set of rules would not be appropriate. Stating that “we need to be very careful about downtown” to help preserve its “quaint” ambiance, he would oppose any incentives that would allow for taller buildings in the downtown core. Rutledge was unequivocal in his opposition to any increased building heights, saying that he will “always support keeping building heights as is.”
Moving to the direct questioning phase, Rutledge challenged Nelson about a potential conflict of interest due to his role as executive director of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), to which many Edmonds city workers belong. Nelson responded that as executive director he is an employee of the union, that it is a job like any other, and that he is proud to work for the employees who provide an array of valuable services to the citizens of Edmonds.
Nelson then asked Rutledge to clarify and provide specifics on his campaign pledge to make public safety a top priority. Rutledge responded by stating that he favors a “levy for police,” the addition of at least four new officers, and reiterated that he is “100 percent for public safety.”
In his concluding statement, Nelson related the clear message he receives from citizens that they love Edmonds and value it as a strong community with a healthy environment, values he is committed to support. Rutledge stressed the need for “moving the city in the right direction” and pledged to provide the necessary leadership to facilitate this.
Next up were the candidates for position 5, Alicia Crank and Dave Teitzel.
The first question asked for the candidate’s position on long-term solutions to the “ferry-train dilemma,” and whether they would favor the Edmonds Crossing option, a train trench, or a traffic overpass or underpass.
Teitzel responded that with the current railway crossing options study underway, he would favor waiting to see recommendations from the consultant. However, he would support an interim measure that would allow emergency responders unrestricted access to the waterfront. “Whatever we do, it will take time,” he said, “but we can’t afford to wait to address the question of emergency access to the waterfront.” Crank agreed that it is “premature” to come out in support of a specific solution while the crossing options study is in progress, and that it “will take time” to come up with the best solution. She also supports an interim measure to provide emergency access, suggesting a “bridge as a short-term solution.”
The next question asked the candidates to say what they would do to address the homeless issue, and whether more low-income housing would be appropriate.
Crank responded by first pointing out that the term “low-income housing” carries a stigma, and that a more durable solution would be to look at expanding housing options, which could include a range of mixed development and other affordable choices. She would also encourage expansion of shelters, “especially cold-weather shelters.” Teitzel said that in his doorbelling around the city he has seen directly that “Edmonds is more than a pretty downtown with flower baskets,” and that the homeless problem is real and endemic to the city. He favors a multi-faceted approach that would include more housing options and also better outreach and treatment of mental illnesses, drug addition and the other ills associated with homelessness.
Moving on to the building height limits issue, both candidates came out strongly in favor of maintaining limits in the Bowl and waterfront areas. Teitzel stressed the value of the “view and the light” in our downtown core, and Crank stated that Edmonds residents value our views and ambiance, and that these “shouldn’t be taken away by development.”
In direct questions, Crank asked Teitzel to clarify his campaign theme of “be included” and how he would ensure full representation on city boards and commissions. Teitzel responded that “be included” means bringing all of Edmonds citizens into the process. This means positive efforts to not only encourage participation by the full range of ethnic groups, but also those who live in outlying areas, stressing that ‘we need to move beyond being so Bowl-centric.”
Teitzel then asked Crank about her campaign slogan of “a new vision for Edmonds,” requesting that she clarify what the old vision is and how hers would be different. Crank responded that her new vision encompasses the existing one, but would add fresh perspectives and enhance it by providing additional opportunities for citizens to be involved.
Next up were the candidates for Council position 7, Neil Tibbott and Lora Petso. The first question asked about policies the candidates would favor to attract new businesses and help fill empty storefronts.
Petso stressed the key role of increasing the attractiveness of downtown with new public spaces. She cited the boost provided by the creation of Hazel Miller Plaza, and how it engendered the transformation of an area of empty storefronts to a vital, exciting space with interesting businesses, attractive places to sit and relax, and even a venue for performing artists. She pledged to give strong support to more development along these lines. Tibbott cited the progress that has already been made in attracting businesses to downtown, especially along the recently renovated section of Main Street east of the fountain. In addition to supporting more improvements in this vein, he stressed the importance of “strengthening relationships and partnerships” within the business/government community.
The next questions asked the candidates to list things they would advocate for if elected.
Tibbott’s list included implementation of the Strategic Action Plan, redevelopment of the Senior Center, and a permanent, effective solution to passage across the railroad tracks. Petso cited the current long-range planning effort, especially those goals falling within “the three- to five-year window.” She also stressed the importance of “getting a handle” on development along Highway 99, pointing out her belief that this needs to be done with sensitivity to each section, tailoring the blend of economic activity and mixed use to best fit the character of each.
Regarding height limits, Petso was clear that she would not support higher buildings in “our precious downtown and waterfront” areas. While she remains strongly opposed to any relaxation of height limits, if the council were to mandate incentives despite her opposition, she would argue for “creation of more public space” as the preferred option. Tibbott was clear that he “absolutely supports existing height limits” in the downtown and waterfront areas, but would be open to carefully considering incentives in other areas that could include “public spaces, architectural design and landscaping.”
On direct questioning, Tibbott asked Petso to provide details on her campaign statements taking credit for “saving the city $2 million,” asking what she personally did to make this happen. Petso responded that when she first interviewed for a seat on Council she suggested refinancing the city’s debt, and that once on Council she worked for two years to make it happen. She did allow that while she feels the original idea was hers, others were involved in bringing it to fruition. She then asked Tibbott about his proposal to increase car tab fees in Edmonds, to which Tibbott responded that the proposal was suggested as one possible way to raise additional needed funds for street repairs, which “had been deferred for years due to budget cutbacks.” Petso rejoined that she “would never support increased car tab fees.”
In closing, Petso said that she was “surprised” to hear Tibbott come out against higher buildings, when he had supported 55-foot building heights at Harbor Square as a member of the Planning Board. Tibbott related the strong message he got while doorbelling that people were “sick of all the squabbling on City Council,” and that it was keeping important work from being done. He then directly addressed Petso’s statement by reiterating his strong support of height limits.
Last up were the two unopposed candidates, Tom Mesaros for council position 6 and Dave Earling for mayor. Councilmember Diane Buckshnis, also running unopposed, was out of town and unable to attend the forum.
Asked what he is most proud of so far on council and what he plans for the next four years, Mesaros was quick to point out how he has helped foster a “spirit of cooperation” on council, stressing the importance of keeping the inevitable disagreements civil as key to a productive city council. For the upcoming four years, he would work to increase the “walkability” of Edmonds, and find opportunities to increase parking “probably around the outskirts of downtown” as a way of allowing more people to enjoy Edmonds. Regarding height limits he has heard strongly from constituents to keep downtown “the way it is now” and that he would oppose any relaxation of height restrictions there.
Mayor Earling was then asked to address where he sees the greatest needs over the next five years, and what he would do to address these. He was clear that financial stability is paramount, and that the best way to address this is by implementing ways to generate more revenue. “Raising taxes is not the way to do this,” he said. “Rather we want to look at new sources of revenue,” one source of which comes from the renaissance we are currently experiencing in our downtown area. “I’m almost proud of our current parking problem,” he quipped, “because is means our restaurants are full and our businesses are busy.” Asked to address the recent increase in residential burglaries, Earling voiced his strong support for reinstating the street crimes unit, which had been lost in previous budget cutbacks. In conclusion the Mayor stressed the satisfaction he gets every day from working with the city staff and the community. “It’s great to be part of a community that cares,” he said.
For those who missed the forum, My Edmonds News videoed the entire event. The link will be posted shortly.
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel