As citizens packed the Edmonds City Council chambers Tuesday night, and an overflow crowd outside the room chanted “Save Our Beach,” the council voted 4-3 Tuesday night to kill a controversial overpass proposed to provide emergency access to the waterfront during train blockages.
Opposition to the proposed structure had been growing in recent weeks, and a group of about 400 people gathered prior to the meeting for a rally against the project. The rally was led by Edmonds resident Cam Tripp, who started a petition drive opposing the connector that gathered several thousand signatures. Several citizens offered comments, as did a number of city council candidates who oppose the connector plus current Councilmember Mike Nelson, who is running for mayor.
Another notable person to speak was Pamela Bond, a member of the Snohomish Tribal Council and the Snohomish Tribe’s fish, wildlife and environment director, who made it clear that the tribe opposes the connector. “It’s bad for the environment and it’s bad for the people,” she said.
After the rally, participants filed in to the council chambers, where it was standing-room only long before the meeting started.
Emotions ran high both in the crowd and among some councilmembers as Public Works Director Phil Williams presented the proposal before the council: To authorize Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling to sign a contract with consultant Parametrix to begin Phase 2 of the connector project.
If approved, the proposal would have brought the project to 60 percent design, developed the environmental documents and prepared permit applications, at a cost of $2.35 million.
Councilmembers each had their turn to ask questions of Williams, which focused on two main areas: Whether the project would negatively impact the marine sanctuary designation at Brackett’s Landing Beach and why the city wasn’t prioritizing increased safety in other areas of the city that had a much larger impact on citizens’ lives.
In particular, Council President Adrienne Fraley-Monillas pointed to traffic-related injuries and fatalities along the Highway 99 corridor — and wondered why city officials weren’t spending more time working to raise money to fund that improvements there. And Councilmember Mike Nelson reiterated his frustration with the council’s decision in 2016 to support administration-proposed reductions in staffing at the city’s three fire stations — a 6-1 decision (he was the lone vote against) that he says has increased emergency response times to residents.
“There are Edmonds residents injured and waiting in pain, waiting to be saved, today — not in the future — because of the cuts that were made,” Nelson said. “The people of Edmonds are not buying this,” Nelson said of the connector, then made a motion to prohibit the mayor from signing a contract with Parametrix for the project, soliciting cheers from the audience.
The motion was seconded by Councilmember Diane Buckshnis and then several additional minutes of discussion followed. Councilmember Tom Mesaros suggested that it would be important to first conduct an environmental study of the project before making a final decision to end it. Councilmember Kristiana Johnson — also a mayoral candidate — asked Williams the minimum amount of design work that could be done to determine environmental impacts, and how much that would cost. Williams replied that 30 percent design would be sufficient, at a cost of $1.55 million.
Councilmember Dave Teitzel then moved to amend Nelson’s motion to do 30 percent design in order to assess environmental issues, and that was seconded by Johnson.
In response to Teitzel’s amendment, Nelson retorted: “I’m confident to say that I don’t need an environmental study to determine putting a concrete overpass through the beach is not going to be helpful to the environment.”
When a roll call vote was taken on the amendment, Councilmembers Johnson, Teitzel and Mesaros voted in favor. The audience gasped and then burst into applause when Tibbott, also a candidate for mayor and who in the past has supported the connector, indicated he would be opposing the amendment. Tibbott then voted to join with longtime connector opponents Buckshnis, Fraley-Monillas and Nelson to support Nelson’s motion to kill the project.
At the end of the meeting, Tibbott said he wanted to explain his vote to oppose the connector because it “probably surprised a lot of people.” In speaking with citizens from a wide range of backgrounds and ages, Tibbott said, he heard a common theme: ” a desire to preserve the waterfront as a natural amenity for the city in perpetuity and the fear that a concrete structure manufactured along our waterfront would just destroy that.”
In other action Tuesday night, the council:
– Unanimously agreed to put on a future consent agenda an ordinance that would change the role of the council in quasi-judicial decisions. Under the ordinance, the council will retain its role in certain quasi-judicial decisions, but not for design review projects requiring a public hearing by the Architectural Design Board or for formal subdivisions and planned residential developments.
– In a follow-up to what was discussed during the council’s April 11 Parks and Public Works Committee meeting, agreed to rule changes in city parks that would make smoking and vaping (of both tobacco and marijuana) illegal and also agreed to a pilot project that would allow dogs in all parks as long as they are on a leash. (The exceptions would be playgrounds, athletic fields and the spray pad area in City Park.)
A discussion on utility rates was postponed to a future meeting.
— Story and photo by Teresa Wippel