As the Edmonds City Council again heard from citizens opposed to the city’s current draft housing strategy, councilmembers Tuesday night made one thing perfectly clear: The strategy isn’t likely to be approved in its current or even amended form.
However, after about an hour of discussion, it’s unclear what the council will do next.
The year-long effort to develop a housing strategy — a requirement that was included by the council in 2015 a part of the city’s Comprehensive Plan — has recently drawn vocal citizen opposition. Some fear that the strategy as written could lead to negative consequences for the city — from crime to overcrowding. Critics have also said that the city has not done enough to involve citizens in the planning effort, and that both the mayor-appointed task force and the city’s chosen consultant have not represented the city’s residents or its values.
City Development Services Director Shane Hope announced Oct. 18 that based on public feedback, the city was going to pause the strategy and rework it. Some citizens, however, have called for a complete “reboot” of the process, using language favored by Council President Mike Nelson, who held two town hall meetings to listen to residents’ concerns. There were further citizen concerns expressed after Hope formed her own Citizens Housing Advisory Committee, which met last week with little notice to the public.
“Your voices are being heard,” Councilmember Diane Buckshnis said as she opened council discussion on where to go next with the strategy. She said that citizens’ reactions to the draft document were similar to those regarding a proposed tree ordinance, which was eventually was shelved in favor of an urban forest management plan.
“What we found with the tree ordinance was, once people get mad they do not get un-mad,” Buckshnis said.
To address the public outcry, Hope had originally proposed five options for the council, with a sixth option offered Tuesday evening by Councilmember Dave Teitzel. In addition, a seventh proposal was submitted by a group of citizens — including those from the Save Edmonds group opposing the current strategy — aimed at providing “a direction to begin a more detailed, open, collaborative process for drafting and adopting this critical policy direction for our city.”
Buckshnis said that based on citizens’ feedback, the council wouldn’t be considering the first two options — accepting the draft strategy as is or accepting it with amendments.
As for the remaining options, the third — that the city pause the strategy and do a major rewrite — is the one recommended by city staff. The fourth option is to reject the strategy altogether and remove it from the Housing Element of the city’s Comprehensive Plan. The fifth option is to reboot the process, which could include the council appointing new members to the city’s existing housing task force that has been studying the issue, or creating its own task force, Buckshnis explained.
“There are so many different ways that we can turn the dials, that we can create whatever we want but what we want to make sure is that the citizens understand that we are listening to you and we are trying to attempt to move forward so that some of your frustrations and anger can be resolved,” she said.
Councilmember Tom Mesaros said there had been more public input regarding the housing strategy than any other issue in his more than four years on the city council, “and this is a good thing. I’m glad to see as much input as we’ve had,” he said.
Mesaros stated, however, that he didn’t believe the council was rushing the issue, as some residents had stated during the public comment period Tuesday night. The council is still reviewing the draft strategy, which has gone through many months of review, he said, adding “I think we are being patient and there is no end date as of yet.”
Councilmember Teitzel echoed Mesaros’ appreciation of citizen involvement in the issue, adding he would “far prefer to have passionate input from our community than apathy.”
Citing data that shows increasing housing prices and rents in Edmonds, Teitzel reminded the audience of the reasons why the city was pursuing the housing strategy in the first place. “This data shows people living or working in Edmonds are increasingly challenged to find affordable housing,” he said. “Many are being driven toward housing instability and some even into homelessness.”
While it’s tempting to take another year or two beyond 2019 to develop a housing strategy, Teitzel added, “the housing challenges and pressures on many of our fellow citizens will continue to mount.”
Teitzel said he believes his proposed option 6, which includes “a disciplined timeline” for completion of specific steps, will allow the council to work closely with the community to create a new housing strategy document by the end of 2019.
Council President Nelson criticized the city administration for forming “a handpicked group of people to develop a housing strategy,” followed by a draft report that resulted in “massive public concern and outcry and also lack of public involvement.” In response, he said, the city administration then selected a second group of people to get the housing strategy back off the ground, then hastily arranged a meeting last week that they didn’t inform the council or the public about until the day of the event.
“You have to wonder, is the public really going to be welcome,” Nelson said. Any attempt at developing a new strategy won’t work, he added, “unless it involves citizens and they are involved at the very beginning and that they are actually designing and creating and actually a part of it at the table.”
“I absolutely believe we have to have some type of housing strategy but we need to be smart about it, we need to take our time, we need to be deliberate and we need to include anyone,” Nelson concluded.
Councilmember Neil Tibbott said he has not been a fan of the existing housing strategy since it was proposed, noting it was a very repetitive and “cookie cutter” approach.
In addition, “as we moved forward to reviewing it with the public, it seemed like we were not adequately answering the questions people were continuing to bring up,” Tibbott said.
However, Tibbott said he would like to move forward with some version of a strategy that includes a narrowed focus, and that may very well be Teitzel’s proposal for option 6. While it may be a good idea to remove the housing strategy from the Comprehensive Plan, Tibbott said he is concerned about those citizens in the city who need housing solutions. He also said he believes it’s critical to “harness the momentum” created by citizens engaging in the housing strategy discussion.
Councilmember Kristiana Johnson said that she is most concerned about seniors on fixed incomes who can’t pay their property taxes, as well as veterans and disabled individuals. “We don’t have to meet the demands of the whole region,” Johnson said. “We have to do what’s best for the city of Edmonds.”
“I’d be willing to put this off and start in 2020,” Johnson added. “In my opinion, we have a lot of important work that needs to be done by the planning department.”
Buckshnis added that instead of doing any more work on the strategy, the city should prioritize efforts on its code rewrite to close loopholes for developers and address issues related to zoning.
She said she favors rejecting the strategy and removing it from the comprehensive plan, with the idea that it can be added back later if necessary.
“I honestly think we need a time out,” added Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas. “We have lost the public’s trust in this process.”
Fraley-Monillas also suggested that the city look into the idea of rent control as a way to make housing more affordable.
Councilmember Tibbott replied that it was his understanding that rent control was not allowed in Washington state. Fraley-Monillas then asked City Attorrey Jeff Taraday for a formal ruling on the legality of rent control, and the city attorney said he would do so and report back to the council at a later date.
Taraday also said that to amend the comprehensive plan in 2019 to remove the housing element, the council would need to pass a resolution by the end of 2018 to place that proposal on the docket for next year.
In other action Tuesday night, the council:
– Heard 2019 budget presentations from city staff, including proposed 2019-2024 Capital Facilities Plan/Capital Improvement Program and revenue sources.
-Unanimously approved renewals of interlocal agreements with the Mill Creek Police Department for Domestic Violence Coordinator Services and the Snohomish County Department of Emergency Management for region-wide coordinated emergency management services.
— By Teresa Wippel