From the Edmonds Mayor: The art of compromise

Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling
Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling

One of the most compelling features of our community is the great community interest and involvement when we have important issues before us. This is a strength many cities wish they had more of: an engaged community. I suppose one downside arises when there are opposing views on an issue, with many folks on each side becoming entrenched in their opinion without allowing for consideration of the other side’s viewpoint.

On some issues we find a way to quick success, others we struggle with for longer periods……some even longer than longer! Perhaps a few examples would be helpful.

An example of easy success, with both sides reaching a quick compromise, recently came about between the city and Snohomish County PUD. About two weeks ago PUD was set to begin installing new, brighter street lights in much of the city. The new lights would provide much better illumination.

However, an advisory from the American Medical Association (AMA) indicated the new lights (at 4,000 degrees kelvin) could create some concerning health issues. Several citizens contacted the City with those concerns. We in turn contacted PUD and set up a meeting in which we both agreed to keep the lights to no more than 3,000 degrees kelvin, which does not create the same health concerns. A win for all.

Anyone remember the tussle we had over the 5 Corners roundabout? Endless Letters to the Editor, personal attacks on Council members and staff, nasty emails and posts on the online news blogs? Not one of our finer moments. And yet, after completion, most people see the benefits of the roundabout! In fact I have had many citizens come up to me and apologize for their attitude during the process. By the way, the Washington State Department of Transportation will be at our next Council meeting to present a statewide award for the community project. Again, a win for all.

In the next couple of months we will have two issues which will draw the community’s attention, and in some cases may become contentious, the master plan for the future of Civic Field and the Shoreline Master Program.

So far we have had a fabulous public process to envision the future of our Civic Field. The key challenge is too many good ideas for the eight-acre site. Our Parks Director Carrie Hite and the consultants have been clear from the beginning that we would try to accommodate as many ideas as possible.

The outstanding draft plan was presented last week at a public meeting and a few people/groups were not satisfied. I understand disappointment and welcome constructive criticism but we need to keep in mind the art of compromise and objective, civil discourse when expressing our viewpoints. Only in that way will we be able to appreciate each group’s viewpoints and reach a truly representative compromise for this great new public place for all of Edmonds.

The Shoreline Master Program provides a bit more of a challenge, inasmuch as we have several “players” involved. Besides the City Council, we have individuals and interest groups, as well as the Port of Edmonds who have all attempted to find a mutually acceptable solution. While it’s the State Department of Ecology who makes the final decision, I still hope that all three principal “players” can engage in artful compromise before Ecology’s ultimate verdict in the matter.

At this point the Department of Ecology has received preferences for the marsh setbacks and buffers from the City and the Port. The Port’s position is the current setback of 25 feet from the marsh is sufficient, The City is asking for a combined setback and buffer of 125 feet. Ecology is now reviewing their own original recommendation of 65 feet.

Once again strong emotions are beginning to emerge on this issue, which is understandable. The one important fact we all need to keep in mind is that we all share the same goal: to protect, improve and enrich the quality of the marsh. That is the goal, artfully crafting the right compromise solution, not which side wins over the other.

— By Dave Earling, Edmonds Mayor

  1. If our goal is “to protect, improve and enrich the quality of the marsh” why would some
    people be thinking of a 25″ buffer with new buildings along the edge? That is clearly
    contra-indicated for our marsh. How does that plan help create the best possible marsh?

  2. Regarding parking downtown post office. Convenience is compromised due to density of development. Trading garage parking spaces for lot parking in old building is a inconvenience. Parking further from the post office on street is a inconvenience . You can not match the past post office parking with the current post office parking. You have to change the way of thinking, and go for the inconvenience , or the time of day you visit the post office. It’s not I-405 but it’s realative.

  3. I continue to be disappointed with the negative way members of our City Council react to disagreement from other members. The objection by the majority to a published response from the minority on the marsh setback issue seemed overbearing. The minority opinions of our Supreme Court are published as well as the majority opinions and often contribute to refining the aspects of the issue in question. The majority reaction seemed more a suppression of speech than necessary.

  4. The concept of ‘compromise’ on dealing with opposing factions on an issue makes obvious sense when there is room to compromise. However, the science and the laws pertaining to an issue cannot be compromised.

    The decision on setting the appropriate buffer width for the Edmonds Marsh is bound by the Shoreline Management Act (state law) and the law says “to satisfy the requirements for the use of scientific and technical information in RCW 90.58.100(1), local governments shall …. assemble the most current, accurate, and complete scientific and technical information available that is applicable to the issues of concern” [WAC 173-26-201(2)(a)] . Thus, the law does not allow any ‘compromise’ on the use of science – the plain language of the law says the best available science must be used.

    Relative to using the “most current, accurate and complete scientific information” required by law, the Council used the 2016 Washington Dept. of Ecology publication # 16-06-001 titled “Wetland Guidance for CAO Updates; Western Washington Version” to obtain the best available science on the appropriate buffer width (it was published in June 2016, so you can’t get more “current” than that; and the report is the best available science on buffers in this state). Thus, the Council adopted the minimum buffer of 110 feet stipulated on page 28 of the report. [It’s important to note that the 110 feet is a MINIMUM, the Council could have adopted a much larger buffer based on available science.]

    Since the minimum buffer width of 110 feet was derived directly from the science (i.e., the 2016 Report), there cannot be any ‘compromise’ on the minimum buffer. However, the same report says “providing forage and nesting habitat for common wetland-dependent species such as waterfowl, herons, or amphibians in a high-quality wetland adjacent to residential development would require a buffer vegetated with trees and shrubs in the range of 200 to 300 feet”. Thus, there was a form of “compromise” in that the Council did not adopt a larger buffer of 200 to 300 feet that could be justified by the wide variety of birds and waterfowl that we know utilize the Marsh. There was also a “compromise” in using the Category II designation for the Marsh to determine the buffer, rather than the Category I designation that calls for a 150 foot buffer. The Council “compromised” by using recent equivocal statements by Ecology staff that the Marsh was Category II, rather than their own 2004 Best Available Science Report and a 2007 Shoreline Report that both determined the Marsh was Category I.

    So, there has already been significant “compromise” on the minimum buffer width. The City now needs to work with the Port of Edmonds to get them to address their environmental stewardship responsibility to protect and enhance the Edmonds Marsh rather than fighting about buffer widths that are dictated by science and the law. The concerned citizens of Edmonds dedicated to ‘Save Our Marsh’ stand ready to work with the City and the Port on this.

    1. Excellent statement of position, Joe. A lot of dedicated work went into reaching this point of compromise by the entire City Council. Why undo or diminish those efforts?? You are absolutely right, and the remaining City’s task is to work with the Port of Edmonds to become responsible environmental stewards to protect and enhance the Edmonds Marsh which is a valuable natural resource that belongs to the public…for the benefit of the public. As a concerned citizen and volunteer in the community, I stand to work in the public interest. Let’s move forward!

  5. I know Mayor Earling to be a sincere public official. I have endorse him, volunteer and supported him, I believe, every office he has run for. Voted for him to be council president – when I was next in line – three times. So it’s never easy for me to disagree with Mayor Earling.

    However, the law and science is on the side of a 110 foot buffer for the Edmonds Marsh. Folks more knowledgeable than me on the subject have written on that.

    However, no one on the Edmonds City Council or in Edmonds knows more about what compromises means on important issues in Edmonds than I do.

    I don’t have space, time or inclination to report how many times and in how many ways I’ve been told to “just compromise…..a little” on taller buildings in downtown Edmonds when I served.

    Let me tell ever person in Edmonds who thinks a compromise will improve the issues with the marsh you are fooling yourself.

    Because one compromise always leads to another. There will always be somebody who wants more height or less buffer and they will always say “just a little…just this one time.”

    Then the next one, then the next one – it never ends.

    There are more often than not issues that result in good compromise, I compromised on city legislation over my 14 years most of the time.

    But on fundamental principles: such as the 110 feet of buffer that is based on law, science, State policy, and what’s best for property owners, present and future people and species Save Our Marsh folks should stand firm.

    If Save Our Marsh can’t stand up for 110 feet and compromises it away they will establish a precedent that the Port will them take advantage of when they want to over-development Harbor Square with 350 condos (housing 700 people) in ten or more buildings taller than code allows , with thousands of square feet of commercial space and not enough parking all 25 feet from the marsh.

    110 foot buffer is nothing compared to the “compromises” that will be asserted when the development plan is presented by the Seattle Public
    Relations company the Port has hired to convince you to “compromise” “just a little” “just this one time.”

    1. Thank you, Michael. I appreciate your years of service to the community and continued interest as a knowledgeable citizen. Your words are wise, inspiring community building. Actually, I appreciate everyone who serves with the best interest of the community in mind. I, too, voted and actually campaigned for Mayor Earling. Mayor Earling, I recognize that your direction for Edmonds has been to the best of your ability, though I find the latest actions divisive for our city. I feel that we are all overwhelmed with elections and what is happening in our country today. Politics has become so divisive, destroying the fiber of our country… when ‘We The People’ elect and look to our leaders to represent the common good and actually expect they will lead with integrity. Civility in times like this needs Nature for spiritual renewal and grounding. Current research indicates this need; it recommends creating Outdoor Schools beginning in preschool to offset the lack of civility which is pervasive these days. It’s certainly basic prevention and much cheaper than the cost of mental health and incarceration. It’s ALL interconnected. If you’d like reference to this research, just Google.

  6. Is it really unreasonable for the Port to want to have the ability to redevelop their buildings on their current footprints – no closer to the marsh? But they cannot do that. The setback and buffer requirements just established by city council makes some of their buildings non-conforming. So those buildings are grandfathered in their current state.

    1. Ron,

      As I understand it, the buildings that are currently within the 110-foot buffer + 15-foot setback (for 125 feet of protection) would not be affected unless they are re-developed. Everything else outside (beyond) the marsh protection area of 125 feet could be redeveloped in any manner that the building codes allow.

      1. PS — I added the word, “proposed,” in case there might be some confusion.

        “As I understand it, the buildings that are currently within the proposed 110-foot buffer + 15-foot setback (for 125 feet of protection) would not be affected unless they are re-developed. Everything else outside (beyond) the proposed marsh protection area of 125 feet could be redeveloped in any manner that the building codes allow.”

  7. Over the last 100+ years the Edmonds marsh has been compromised down from about 100 acres to 22-23 acres. The last few days have seen major news articles about stunning reductions in wildlife on our planet. In this age of humanity, wildlife can not survive unless we allow it. Because of the interconnectedness of all life forms, we probably can not yet appreciate what we are losing. But with seven billion humans on the planet, every decision we make impacts our remaining wildlife. The marsh has been compromised enough. If we want our community to support a cleaner, healthier Puget Sound, if we want our built-out community to support our remaining wildlife, if we want a place of significance that nurtures our spirits, then we will compromise the marsh away no further. Joe Scordino has aptly explained the law and the science above. Now it is time for all parties to pull together in support of the City Council’s decision, which is based on law and science.

  8. Michael, how have you been. Are you moving back to Edmonds and running for council. Some of your posts sound like your old campaign speeches. Now lots of opinions are being given but the only one that counts is the dept of ecology. they have leaned towards 65 ft but we shall see. No matter the decision who is going to restore and pay for it. There are so many questions to be answered with out bring up tall building and density which has nothing to do with what ecology is deciding

  9. I support the position of those who explain why the path of environmental compromise is dangerous for our planet. Our marsh has definitely been compromised enough.

  10. The 5-corners loop-da-loop boondoggle was not a compromise…it was the City’s way or else.

    Don’t get me started on its other redeem-less features …

  11. As we were asked to leave our credentials as “qualified” citizens: I am a retired educator and a retired RN. I hold a Master’s Degree from the State University if New York. I am an avid reader and try to read all sides of an issue. I was recently impressed by a study showing the direct 1:1 species loss with the loss of wild space. For biodiversity I am convinced that the 110 foot buffer does matter. But I would still be a citizen without my expensive education, and I would still approach the issue good taste and respect for Creation. All citizens’ votes should count here!
    Sincerely ,
    Dawna Lahti

    1. The Marsh! What a sorry looking Marsh it is. Choked by industry on all sides.And now all the talk about a few feet to save the Marsh. If you really want to get serious about saving the Marsh first eliminate the dams so salmon have a chance to return. Then remove the 80 + acres of Harbor Square and return the area to it original state. Then maybe the Marsh might have a chance to thrive. Wow that 125 ft. Sounds pretty good now.

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