Following months of controversy over the city’s attempt to develop a housing strategy, the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night agreed on several concepts aimed at increasing citizen involvement and transparency in the process.
Councilmembers Dave Teitzel and Neil Tibbott outlined a plan for revisiting the initiative, which has drawn vocal opposition from some who 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.
Based on that feedback, the city announced in October it was pausing the effort, and councilmembers committed to revisiting the process in 2019.
On Tuesday night, councilmembers appeared united in their approach to find a different way — one that is heavy on citizen involvement.
For starters, the initiative will no longer be referred to as an affordable housing strategy. Instead the focus will be on developing “housing options” for people with a range of needs, including senior citizens, veterans and those with disabilities.
And a high priority will be placed on ensuring all citizens are informed about the city’s efforts, with plans not only for more meetings and other forms of outreach, but expansion of a proposed citizen housing commission from seven members (one from each identified geographic zone) to 14.
Early in the discussion on the issue, some councilmembers wondered whether forming a commission was necessary. But in the end, they agreed it would be an important step, in the words of Councilmember Neil Tibbott, “to involve citizens from around the city to give input, from their perspective.”
The initial proposal had suggested just one representative from each of the seven zones, which were created to be roughly equal in population throughout the city. It also had proposed an extensive list of criteria for choosing members, ranging from past committee experience to length of residency. Councilmember Mike Nelson suggested that the group be expanded in size, and he and other councilmembers agreed that the council should also take another look at the proposed criteria, to see if items should be subtracted or added.
Councilmember Teitzel said he would work to revise the commission criteria based on council input and come back with a revised proposal for future consideration.
Once a final plan for creating a commission is approved, Teitzel stressed that the city will make an effort to notify all citizens “and give everyone in town an opportunity to apply.” This outreach will include mailing a postcard to every household, Teitzel said.
Additional efforts like that postcard and a large numbers of public meetings — which are likely to require outside facilitation due to city staff time limitations — will cost money. However Councilmember Diane Buckshnis stressed the importance of the effort and the need for involving citizens in the discussion.
“This is our city,” she said. “This is very important to many of us.”
Buckshnis also noted that the council has $93,000 in its own budget reserves to put toward expanded community outreach.
Another issue that is still on the horizon is whether the city will amend its Comprehensive Plan to extend the due date for developing a housing strategy or to change or remove related language in the plan. Since the Comprehensive Plan is only updated once annually — and that usually occurs later in the year — the council decided those decisions can be delayed for now.
At the end of the meeting, Tibbott expressed appreciation for the councilmembers’ efforts to collaborate on addressing citizen concerns about the housing strategy. “This would not have come together without each one of us having a different role,” Tibbott said. “I want our citizens to know that our council is working together on this.”
In other action, the council:
– Heard an Edmonds Marsh study update from Windward Environmental. The study is aimed at documenting current conditions within the marsh and its buffer areas, with the goal of evaluating ecological functions provided; identifying restoration opportunities such as vegetation enhancements; and coordinating with others to provide an overview of data and information being collected. The final report is expected in September of this year.
– Agreed to place on next week’s consent agenda approval of design work for a new system that will replace the city’s wastewater treatment plant sludge incinerator with a two-step process that creates a dried product. As we reported in our earlier story, the city has been finding it increasingly difficult to find spare parts for the city’s 30-year-old sludge incinerator, and stringent and expensive new regulatory requirements for sludge incineration are virtually impossible to meet. The planned solution is a two-step process that involves sludge drying and pyrolysis — the chemical decomposition of organic materials at high heat with little to no oxygen. This creates both a dried product and a “biochar,” which is sterile and has the appearance of charcoal. The biochar byproduct can be used in city parks or sold as a soil conditioner or amendment.
– Approved by a 4-3 vote (Councilmembers Mike Nelson, Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and Kristiana Johnson voting no) a proposal to change the way the council’s committee meetings are scheduled so that audio recordings of the meetings can be uploaded and made available on demand via the city’s website for next-day review. (Nelson reiterated his longstanding view that the meetings should be videotaped and that audio wasn’t sufficient.) To accommodate the new process with the city website technology, the committee meetings must start at 7 p.m. The council agreed to no longer have short business meetings at 7. p.m. preceding committee meeting nights (always the second Tuesday of the month).
– In a procedural move, held a public hearing on the council’s decision last week to extend the city’s moratorium prohibiting the use of tire crumb rubber infill on public playfields. No one testified on the matter and the resolution will go into effect as passed — with the moratorium in effect through Aug. 21, 2019.
— By Teresa Wippel