In order to restore trust in our city government, the Edmonds City Council must vote for a complete reboot of the draft housing strategy. A “reboot” means start the process over again.
Some on the City Council and possibly the Mayor, advocate for a “pause” in the process. A mere pause or “reset” may actually make things worse for the following reasons: 1) there would not be enough time to fully engage all of Edmonds’ diverse neighborhoods and ensure they are represented on the task force 2) a longer time line is needed to allow residents to consider and understand the many complex issues involved, including multifamily tax exclusions, inclusionary zoning, the Edmonds Comprehensive Plan and its interplay with the Growth Management Act and 3) there is not adequate information after merely pausing to move forward. As an example, there was a study of Edmonds’ homelessness that was supposed to have been released in late September. We have yet to see that study.
It is important to note that arguing for a reboot versus a pause is not denying the need or requirement for a Housing Strategy, simply that the strategy must be created in a way that is fair and transparent to the Edmonds’ community.
Thank you to Council President, Mike Nelson, who has held several housing strategy town halls. After having heard from many Edmonds’ residents at the town halls, the majority of whom did not know about the housing strategy, he proposes a complete reboot. He favors a “New Housing Task Force” with significant Edmonds’ citizen representation. Shane Hope, Edmonds’ Development Services Director, however, is quickly moving forward to invite like-minded people to sit on the task force. This is business as usual. As it stands the task force is packed with housing special interest groups. A reboot with a longer timeline would permit a transparent process for appointing task force members who are more representative of Edmonds at large and different viewpoints.
Council President Nelson also favors year-long public engagement where the public is given the opportunity to help shape the housing strategy. This is important as the issue of affordable housing is complex with many threads. There is a need for more affordable housing in Edmonds but that must be carefully planned and weighed against the destruction of Edmonds’ “small town feel.” As the strategy has been envisioned to date, it includes what could be a significant number of large housing projects completely out of scale with what Edmonds can bear. We need adequate time to sort it all out.
Council President Nelson also recommends replacing the current housing consultant, BERK, with one better suited to coordinating a collaborative public process. I first became involved with the housing strategy process at a “workshop.” It was flawed from start to finish. The Brackett Room was packed, but no microphones were “working.” That meant there would be no audible public comment, but it also meant that many attendees could not hear what the consultants and Ms. Hope had to say. At this workshop every document, speech, exercise and comment from BERK and Ms. Hope and her staff were meant to make us all feel like we were morally bankrupt because we had some concerns with the radical housing strategy they were proposing. Also, at that “workshop” and at several meetings since I have heard housing strategy members say that “they” just need to “educate” us. This is about as far from collaborative as one can get.
There have also been concerns with BERK’s work product. An Edmonds resident at the workshop, who had done his research, came prepared to challenge some of BERK’s data and numbers from the website. But in fact, BERK had completely changed the information on the website the day of the meeting. There is also data supporting the fact that we are already exceeding our actual housing needs for the GMA via the work in the Highway 99 corridor and yet BERK contends that we are far short of that. I don’t think this leads to confidence in BERK’s work product.
Perhaps Mr. Nelson’s most important recommendation is that the housing strategy deadline be pushed back to 2020 by amending Edmonds’ Comprehensive Plan. There is not a downside to this idea. We will continue as a community to work on the housing strategy, but the extended time line would give us time to build collaboration, get all neighborhoods involved, understand the complex zoning and tax issues and, most importantly, restore confidence in Edmonds city government.
If the council votes for a “pause” over a complete reboot, it will simply add to the feeling many people have that the city tried to push through a radical strategy, hoping no one was paying attention. We are paying attention now.
City Council members, please be respectful of the citizens of Edmonds and completely reboot the housing strategy and rebuild the task force.
— By Lynne Chelius, Edmonds resident