“Where do we begin when we speak of creating a strong community for the future?” asked Mayor Earling as he took the podium Thursday morning for what would be the final State of the City address of his 7-year administration. “To talk about the future, we must first know and understand what we have done in the past to prepare, and how that preparedness will help launch us into the future.”
Earling was preceded by My Edmonds News publisher Teresa Wippel and Pastor Barry Crane of North Sound Church, both of whom remarked on the changes that have come to our community during the mayor’s tenure. Wippel stressed the tough job of elected officials in their dual roles of addressing the needs of the current generation while recognizing the inevitability of change and paving the way for the next generation to successfully meet it. She also noted the critical role of local news to both inform and provide a forum to community as they navigate these changes, citing studies that show a statistical correlation between consumption of local news and community participation, dedication and attachment.
“Keep talking with your neighbors, especially those with whom you disagree,” she noted. “Keep an open mind, and keep reading your local news sources.”
Crane noted that “Edmonds isn’t just a geographical entity that we call a city, and it’s not just a political unit. It’s a community made up of people like you in the room this morning. And together we have the ability to determine what kind of community this will be.”
Recalling the 1957 words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Crane talked of two approaches to community. One based on love builds up and unites, while one based on fear and hate tears down and destroys.
“The fruits of fighting fire with fire are bitterness and chaos,” he said. “But the aftermath of love is reconciliation and creation of what King called a beloved community.”
“So how do we build a beloved community in Edmonds?” he asked. “It boils down to individual choices to help and care for each other. John Gardner, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under President Johnson, famously said ‘America today faces breathtaking opportunities disguised as insoluble problems.’ I believe we make one into the other as we become a beloved community. It’s our choice. And if we do it here, maybe, just maybe, it will spread to the nation.”
Crane then thanked Earling for a “great run,” and putting Edmonds on a firm footing, balancing the environment with development, building bridges and encouraging vibrant business, shopping, dining and the arts.
Taking the podium, Earling began with a smile, remarking that the past seven years have been a “fun ride,” and pointing out notable attendees in the audience including members of the Edmonds City Council, City of Edmonds department heads, Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith, Verdant Health Commission Superintendent Robin Fenn, and Edmonds School District Superintendent Kris McDuffy.
He began his formal address by summarizing the progress Edmonds has made during his administration.
“When I was sworn in on Nov. 27, 2011, our city finances — along with the national economy — had hit rock bottom,” he began. “Back then we found it necessary to make some hard decisions to stabilize our finances. Those hard decisions included an across-the-board 4 percent budget cut in all departments, as well as a reduction of 12 staff members. With those changes, along with an obviously improved economy, and several other strategic decisions made over the course of the past seven years, we have come far. Today I can report that our ‘bank account’ is strong.”
Illustrating this with several graphs and charts, Earling pointed out how Edmonds’ sales tax revenue has risen from $5.5 million to $8.5 million and how the return on the city’s investments increased from less than $75,000 to more than $917,000.
He also noted the great success of city staff in seeking and competing for grants and funding, citing both the parks and public works departments, which together secured more than $60 million to fund important projects in our city.
Moving on, Earling asked for a show of hands from people who have lived and worked in Edmonds for the past 10 years, asking if they’ve noticed the changes in the flavor and ambiance of our community.
“Ten years ago if you came to downtown on a sunny summer morning you would find a stroller or two and the attached parents,” he said. “Now you will find more young families, lots of kids, strollers, seniors, and pets. But beyond the demographics, we have seen a revitalization of our community. We have become a community focused on healthier food choices and exercise; a walkable community, with parks for our children, entertainment for all, and restaurants and shops for our dining and shopping needs.”
Ticking off additional changes, Earling cited our vibrant new waterfront district, the large choice of restaurants, music venues and playhouses.
“It has long been a goal of mine to see Main Street from the ferry dock up to 6th Avenue transformed into a walkable corridor with restaurants, shops and intimate gathering places,” he added. “We are getting closer to this vision.”
He continued by highlighting two other corridors currently under transformation — Westgate and Highway 99.
“The new ‘Village at Westgate’ to be completed by mid-year will add to the already very active business community currently in place,” he said. “Along the Highway 99 corridor, we already have very important and successful automobile dealerships, the vibrant International District, and the ever-growing medical campus surrounding Swedish Hospital, along with plans for a new car dealership and a 182-unit apartment complex. In addition, we have a $10 million state grant to make traffic improvements that will be coming in 2021.”
Transitioning to planning and development, Earling highlighted the major projects taken on this year, including the already-mentioned Westgate Village Apartments, plus Magic Toyota. Salish Crossing, Edmonds Memory Care, Madrona School, Point Edwards Building 10, the Post Office Apartments, and permits for 293 new homes.
“And speaking of major projects, let’s give a round of applause to public works for their marvelous efforts during last month’s snow,” he added. “Our crews worked 12-hour shifts 24/7 sanding, plowing and keeping the streets clear. Thank you!”
Moving on to the arts, Earling detailed some of the significant steps taken over the past seven years to raise the visibility and stature of arts and culture in Edmonds.
“We have made spectacular progress in the past years,” he began. “While the Edmonds Arts Festival is our historic foundation, we have dramatically moved forward. The Edmonds Center for the Arts now acts as a year-round magnet. And how many cities our size have an historic downtown movie theater? What about the Olympic Ballet, Barclay-Shelton Dance Studio, Driftwood Theater, Phoenix Theater, Cascadia Art Museum, Cascade Symphony, SnoKing Choral, exterior Murals in the business area, Art Galleries, Art Walks, Writer Workshops…and the list goes on.”
He also noted Edmonds’ selection by Gov. Jay Inslee as the State of Washington’s first Certified Creative District, “a very important honor that will serve as a platform for continuing to grow the arts in our community.” And he pointed to the completion of research that found the economic impact of the arts on Edmonds supports overall economic health, and community vibrancy, and that “means big business.”
Strides in environmental protection include several measures to reduce consumption of plastics, partnering with the EnviroStars program to promote green business practices, and the upcoming restoration of the Edmonds Marsh.
“Working with our council, staff, consultants, the Save Our Marsh Group, and the State of Washington, we await the transfer of the property just south of the marsh from Unocal to WSDOT (Washington State Department of Transportation) so we can daylight a channel from the marsh to Puget Sound,” he explained. “This will be a critical lynchpin to restore salmon habitat.”
Earling also stressed the work done by city staff and others to package Edmonds as a daytime destination for those who want an escape from the crush and hubbub of large metropolitan areas and experience the particular ambiance our community offers.
“We have worked hard to let the people outside our community know of the daily draws we have in Edmonds,” he said. “Our unique small-town atmosphere, our fabulous parks, the variety of quality restaurants including our evolving Restaurant Row, the sensational quality of all the arts, the waterfront, our many festivals and the addition of new exciting businesses like Puget Sound Express Whale Watching, which brings in 20,000 customers yearly.”
He went on to explain how this is being accomplished through work with local media and expanded outreach to regional sources, visual and printed media, and by emphasizing our particular lifestyle.
“All of this, together with Edmonds’ recognition by Where to Retire magazine and on the Trip Advisor travel site as one of the 25 best family beach spots to visit in the United States, has begun to bring widespread regional acknowledgement to our ‘Visit Edmonds’ message,” Earling added.
The mayor then paused for a moment to acknowledge that much of this couldn’t happen without the strong spirit of volunteerism in our community.
“One cannot live in this community long without being impressed with the volunteers we have,” he said. “In fact, citizen involvement is a key thread to our city government success.” He then went on to list them, including the city’s 16 boards, commissions and committees, “including the Planning Board, Architectural Design Board, Sister City Commission, the new Youth Commission, Diversity Commission, Economic Development Commission and the Arts Commission.”
Private sector examples include the Edmonds Center for the Arts, Cascadia Art Museum, the Chamber of Commerce and the Arts Festival, he said. “In short, folks, our community becomes stronger with volunteers, and we need to thank them.”
Earling wrapped up by returning to his opening theme of creating a strong community for the future, and reviewing our accomplishments toward this end.
“To sum up, let’s stand back and think about how we have laid a solid foundation for creating a strong community for the future.” he began. “We have brought back our finances, which were in a painful state, to a positive stable position. We have worked hard to recover and update our infrastructure which fell behind from the challenges of the recession. We have expanded and improved our park system and we have developed stronger business districts.
“With the improved business climate, and more focus on community amenities, we are attracting a broader range of demographics,” he continued. “We have enriched the community through expansion of the arts, our parks, the waterfront, and, with community support, we have expanded special events such as the Christmas Holiday season, 4th of July celebration, Summer Market, and the Edmonds Arts Festival, as well as added others like the Clam Chowder Cook-off. In addition, we have created gathering places throughout the city at our parks, coffee shops, restaurants and concerts, providing us with the opportunity to come together and get to know each other better.
“Even without big box stores, shopping malls or many industrial businesses, we have found our niche, successfully creating a healthy and vibrant community and a quality of life of which we can be proud,” Earling said.
He noted that Edmonds is also “taking on large new projects which look to the future and provide dramatic and much needed improvements.” These include “a long-term commitment to Highway 99 to enrich that very important corridor, vast improvements to create a dramatic new central park in the heart of downtown now known as Civic Field, the dramatic Waterfront Center,, which will be another gathering place for all the community, and the Waterfront Connector, which will improve public safety and provide access to and from the waterfront for walking and bicycling,” he concluded.
“These projects are impressive and will greatly enhance Edmonds for future generations,” he said.
Earling wrapped up his address by looking at the challenges ahead. These include maintaining continued financial stability, carrying on with aggressive infrastructure improvement, pursuing and completing legacy projects such as Civic Field, the Waterfront Connector, and daylighting Willow Creek, addressing affordable housing, homelessness and the opioid epidemic, enhancing the desirability of Edmonds as a daytime destination, and last but not least, parking.
“This is my last State of the City address,” he concluded. “I’ve enjoyed the work. It has been a rare privilege and honor to work with a wonderful staff and all the citizens of our great community. I thank you all for seven years of a wonderful life.”
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel