There was no shortage of strong opinions and sharp words Tuesday night as the Edmonds City Council voted 4-3 to move forward with a preferred alternative for the overpass aimed at providing emergency access to the city’s waterfront.
Prior to the 4-3 vote, the three opposing councilmembers — Mike Nelson, Diane Buckshnis and Adrienne Fraley-Monillas — each read lengthy statements outlining their reasons for voting against the estimated $27 million Waterfront Connector Project.
In moving to approve the hybrid design recommended last week by Mayor Dave Earling, Councilmember Tom Mesaros called it a “monumental moment” for project, which will now enter the 30 percent design phase. He noted that it not yet clear when the overpass will be completed, since funding is still being acquired. The city has already received $1.7 million from the state of Washington, with an additional contribution of $6 million from the state forthcoming.
The city has been working for two years on a plan to address emergency access to the waterfront when both the Main Street and Dayton Street at-grade rail crossings are blocked. This included a 14-month study by a task force of public officials and citizens that examined 51 different options to address the problem. The current waterfront connector concept was approved by the city council in 2017, and the city signed a contract with consultant TetraTech to begin developing a range of pre-design alternatives for it.
The overpass will accommodate emergency vehicles and can also serve as an emergency offload route for ferries. Most of the time, however, it will be used as multi-use pedestrian and bicycle pathway to access the beach over the railroad tracks.
As project plans have unfolded over the past several months, Councilmembers Nelson and Buckshnis have become increasingly vocal in opposing the project, which calls for a 16-foot wide, single-lane roadway linking Sunset Avenue at Edmonds Street to Brackett’s Landing Park. Both of them reiterated their opposition Tuesday night, and were joined by Councilmember Fraley-Monillas — who had not yet publicly stated which way she was leaning on the project.
“This is about priorities,” Nelson said. While it’s true Edmonds deserves safe emergency access over the railroad tracks, “the question is, should this be our city’s number-one safety priority?” he asked. Nelson pointed to the council’s decision to reduce fire station staffing as part of its 2017 budget — he was the lone vote against — and to what he described as worsening traffic safety citywide, with an increasing number of accidents. He also provided a counter argument to those who have said the grant funding the city is seeking for the overpass couldn’t be used for other city needs, such as sidewalks. There are also numerous grants also available for traffic safety, Nelson said, but the city is choosing instead to look “for bridge grants and multimodal grants and not these types of (traffic safety) grants.”
“I believe this project should be put on hold because we have more urgent needs,” he added.
Buckshnis said the city should be examining the “dark side of the project,” including several possible negative scenarios. These included closure of the popular dive park due to pollution generated by debris around the connector, wild parties on and under the overpass, the necessity of a larger police force to handle the increasing number of homeless, transients and tourists, and destruction of the “once quaint ambience” of the Sunset Avenue neighborhood.
In her statement, Fraley-Monillas ticked off an extensive list of reasons why she is opposing the overpass. Among them: She believes that it could lead to expanded use of the overpass by the ferry system, sending more ferry traffic into nearby neighborhoods (As currently designed, it is designated for emergency ferry traffic use only, when one boat is docked and unable to unload.) She noted that environmental groups are opposing the bridge, due to the effects of runoff onto the beach. And she criticized the city administration for not doing a better job of soliciting public comment on the project, especially outside the Edmonds Bowl. Finally, Fraley-Monillas — who lives in Edmonds’ Lake Ballinger neighborhood near Highway 99 — said the city should be spending its time raising money to start work on Highway 99 redevelopment, which impacts a larger number of people and creates greater public safety concerns.
The acrimony among councilmembers continued as the council took up the issue of whether to renew the city’s contract with Lighthouse Law Group for four years, at a flat fee of $47,964 per month or $575,538 per year, starting in 2019.
Noting the five minutes allocated to discuss the item, Fraley-Monillas said that the council should do its “due diligence” prior to approving the contract. Mesaros agreed, adding that the council four years ago spent substantial time reviewing the contract prior to approving it.
Nelson said he was also concerned about the contract approval, noting that it was placed on the council’s consent agenda after review by the council’s finance committee, but hadn’t been listed on the finance committee agenda either. That meant it would have received no council discussion except for the fact that Nelson — who serves as council president — chose to instead move the issue to the regular agenda.
“I take exception to Council President Nelson’s comments that this is somehow an underhanded move by the finance committee,” replied Teitzel, who sits on that committee with Buckshnis, “It’s certainly not the case as we’re before full council tonight for debate and discussion.”
“You’re acting like we’re hiding something and we’re not hiding anything,” Buckshnis said, noting that councilmembers can listen to the audio recording of the meeting.
In the end, Councilmember Mesaros suggested that the council outline a process for conducting a full review and evaluation of Lighthouse. Meanwhile, the council should consider a short-time renewal of the Lighthouse Law Group contract — which expires at the end of 2018 — until the review is complete, he said.
Also during its meeting, the council:
– approved amendments to the ordinance establishing the city’s Youth Commission, proposed by youth who have been involved in the commission planning process. The commission will have nine members and two alternates, in grades 9-12, and recruiting will begin immediately so a full commission can be seated by December. An amendment was also made to encourage candidates to apply from a wide range of backgrounds, schools and neighborhoods.
– Approved an amendment to the city’s gun storage ordinance that incorporates the State of California’s list of approved locking devices to satisfy the definition of “locking device” called for in the ordinance. To provide additional time for compliance, the enforcement date was extended to March 21, 2019.
– Heard additional department presentations on proposals for the 2019 budget.
– Watched as Mayor Dave Earling recognized City of Edmonds lead custodian Sarah Brinkley for her role in helping residents affected by an Oct. 7 condominium fire across the street from the Edmonds Library. During the fire, Brinkley unlocked the library’s upper floor and restrooms so that residents could have a temporary place to take shelter. “She really took initiative on this and we thank her,” Earling said.
— By Teresa Wippel