In contentious meeting, council approves hybrid option for Edmonds Waterfront Connector project

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    The hybrid design concept

    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.

    Mayor Dave Earling with Sarah Brinkley.

    – 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

    11 Replies to “In contentious meeting, council approves hybrid option for Edmonds Waterfront Connector project”

    1. I appreciate the coverage too! And, wow, we spend $48,000 a month for legal counsel. Sounds like we could employ at least three full time city attorneys for that cost (judging from city attorney salaries on GlassDoor). That seems kinda high for a city of only 45,000 people. I’m glad it was taken off the consent agenda.

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      1. I reviewed the City Attorney’s 2017 Annual Report to the City Council, which is available at this link: http://edmondswa.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_Meeting.aspx?ID=2659. The report indicates that in the 2017 calendar year, attorneys at the law firm worked over 2,800 hours on city business, which by my count averages to a bit over 50 hours a week. The report also indicates that the effective hourly rate based on the number of hours worked and total legal fees comes out to about $190 an hour for legal services.

        If this issue interests readers, I recommend reviewing the report and watching the video of the city attorney’s presentation from March 6th of this year. It provides information on the role of a city attorney as well as some of the major legal issues affecting Edmonds in 2017.

        In my experience as a practicing attorney for over 40 years, such an hourly rate is extremely reasonable in the legal field in our geographical area.

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    2. The mayor and city council are bound and determined to ramrod this obscene monument to Earling down our throats. I would not be surprised if he named it the ‘Dave Earling Connector’.
      This man does not give a rats patoot about what the good Citizens of Edmonds want or need. He only cares about his agendas, his ego and leaving a ‘Legacy’ to himself.

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      1. A reminder to all. It appears we have already entered the 2019 election season. As such, I would request, per our commenting policy and code of conduct, that we avoid name calling and comments that are abusive and threatening. I will edit or delete those comments that do not comply. Please keep in mind our mission: to promote interactivity and dialogue that supports real community collaboration. Thank you.

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      2. This waste of $ 30 Million, will bring probably 50 construction workers, every day, to Edmonds for several years. Where will they park??
        Touted as Public Safety—-If it were really about public safety, Safety would be paramount- always. Let’s examine the TRUE Hypocrisy going on.
        The “Illuminated Forest”, touted by Earling as a great achievement of Public Art. So, the fact(s) are that an elderly lady was hit and killed by a car on 4th & Bell street, just less than two years before the installation of the “Public Art”.
        Legal Fact—- The installation is in violation of Federal Highway Design regulations. No City in the US has lighting in their streets as “Public Art”. City Hall’s reply to my query was: that it’s not specifically stated that you can’t have lights in the street. Like children, when you tell then: “you can’t throw rocks at the house”, so they throw them at the car. Even the manufacturer of the lighting depicts in their installation book, and promotional flier, pictures of illuminated sidewalks, not Highways. Even the manufacturer understands the Law, but not Earling. Only Edmonds City Hall has the arrogance to do what they wish, when they wish.
        Earling’s lack of understanding basic law, has placed peoples lives in harms way by the installation of illegal lighting into a public street. Earling could care less as long as it makes good press, and he can attach his picture to an article.
        A lady was killed there by a car at low speed. Earling’s administration only follows the LAW, when it suites their liking. Earling should personally be assessed for the cost of removal of this illegal art from the Public street.
        Edmonds needs real leadership, not a Mayor financed by and from Chicago.

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    3. Thank you Teresa for reminding people to be civil. You really set a great example of decorum and unbiased reporting—and so thorough. People like you will keep reporting alive and well.

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    4. I have never understood why this issue is not combined with the Chevron property issue. If a ferry terminal is ever moved to the Marina Beach Park area, there will have to be access to the waterfront across the tracks. So why not put the ’emergency’ access there? Note that the emergency access is not just for emergencies, the ferries can’t unload without it.

      Also, it seems to me the railroad should be part of the solution since they can choose to block the streets, or not.

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    5. This is a stupid, needless expenditure that will blight the view. The whole lot of the city council are oxygen thieves.

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