Letter to the editor: Don’t mistake a tactical withdrawal for a victory

Editor:

Nine thousand signatures for the Save the Beach Campaign. Four hundred people protesting in the Public Safety Complex during the June 2019 City Council meeting. Mike Nelson yard signs proliferating in Edmonds. It was probably difficult for the Earling-Tibbott political establishment to ignore the widespread and growing backlash against the Edmonds Viaduct.

But why did Tibbott flip? After all, he has been a consistent supporter of the Viaduct. I guess that the Earling-Tibbott establishment recognized that the anti-viaduct tsunami would vote Nelson into the Mayor’s office and perhaps even elect a city council that they cannot influence. I speculate that their strategy was to make the viaduct issue go away, at least until the November 2019 elections. This meant that one of the four pro-Viaduct votes in the city council needed to change. Tibbot was the only one of the four up for a “real” election.

Tibbott’s June 2019 flip should be interpreted only as a tactical withdrawal by the Edmonds establishment. The city council giveth, but the city council can taketh away too. In February 2019, the council voted 4-3 to move ahead with the viaduct. In June 2019, the same council voted 4-3 to stop the viaduct. What prevents the council from resurrecting the viaduct in the future?

Suppose there is an unfortunate medical emergency across the railway tracks. Emergency medical help does not reach in time. The Edmonds establishment quickly pins this delayed response on the viaduct opponents. There is a carefully constructed outrage with the mayor’s allies taking the lead in local papers denouncing the irresponsibility of viaduct opponents. The mayor demands an emergency meeting of the council. The viaduct is in play again.

What needs to be done? Three things. First, the council should come up with a plan to provide help for medical emergencies across the tracks. If the council is not willing to do so, let citizens form their own commission and give a recommendation. Save the Beach group should take the lead.

Second, we need to elect a mayor and a council that listens to us. Mike Nelson as mayor fits the bill here. But we also need a city council that shares the same perspective. Between 10,000-11,000 votes were cast in the 2017 City Council elections. Nine thousand-plus petitioners have signed the Save the Beach petition. Imagine if the signatories can be mobilized to vote for a specific non-partisan council slate. The 2019 city elections should remain a referendum on the Edmonds viaduct – don’t let the Earling-Tibbott establishment bury this issue.

Third, we need to revisit the so-called stakeholder consultation process and establish term limits for citizens serving on city commissions and committees. We were told that the viaduct has been discussed in many stakeholder dialogues. Really? Save the Beach Campaign gathered 9,000 signatures and mobilized 400 folks for the June 18 anti-viaduct rally. I could not find any campaign by “official” stakeholders in support of the viaduct.

How folks get appointed to various city-level commissions and committees is not transparent. We need political reform. I favor term limits for citizens to serve on any commission so that a more diverse group can serve on these consultative bodies. This will transform these bodies from country clubs packed with cronies to true consultative bodies.

The message of the June 2019 vote is clear: We, the people of Edmonds, need to take back our city.

Aseem Prakash
Edmonds

34 Replies to “Letter to the editor: Don’t mistake a tactical withdrawal for a victory”

    1. @Donald Williams, it’s documented on the change.org website. SaveTheBeach creates the campaign to clue the public in as to what was happening with this vote. In fairness, these aren’t all Edmonds residents, just people who love Edmonds Beach!

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        1. I don’t know about who funds change.org
          That’s not the issue
          I live in Edmonds
          I signed the petition
          I was at the rally
          There are other options
          I want a city government that listens to its constituents

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  1. Hi Aseem, The times we have worked together on issues for the economic development commission I never once heard you express that guys like me should be retired from my volunteer service on the EDC. You often said quite the opposite. I guess you have had a change of mind you feel our city would be better served if I stopped volunteering for that “country club” job. Actually I could spend more time doing fun things and save money besides if I were to not be reappointed to the EDC. I will take your suggestion to heart and consider resigning before my term has expired. Thanks for the suggestion.

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    1. Gosh darrol. I hope you don’t mean this. Would be great to have more diversity on some of these commissions but your long term and extremely valuable service to the community and the knowledge and historical perspective you bring to issues cannot be underestimated. I think that many are still still very excited about the decision and thoughtfulness will prevail. While I agree that we need to stay well informed vigilant and involved on this and all isdues we must also respect all opinions and the hard work so many people do on a daily basis as many of us go on with our daily lives.

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      1. Thanks for your kind words but Assem’s message is clear and does not appear to be driven by what you say is excitement of the decision. His remarks sound like an attack on all who volunteer their time to serve on commissions and boards. Hard to unring the bell.

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  2. There is strong value and importance in having diversity on commissions and panels. Having served on the EDC I can share that each commissioner was appointed by someone on the council or by the mayor. They likely reviewed a number of applications and after several interviews selected whom they wanted to represent their point of view – which is likely representative of those who elected them to their position. There is value also in having longevity or at least someone who is knowledgeable of why certain decisions were made or what issues were addressed previously on each commission – so we don’t repeat history. Having served with both Darrol and Aseem, while I didn’t always agree with either, their input – and certainly Darrol’s knowledge of past issues and the why behind certain decisions was valuable – and I believe it would be a great loss to lose historical perspective in favor of mob thinking, party and identify politics.

    I, like most in this city, truly love this area. Three generations. Born here. In some ways, I feel like it is my city and I’m surrounded by a few vocal outsiders who don’t appreciate what the generations before me have invested in to make it what it is today. I find it unfortunate. And while I respect Aseem’s point of view, I don’t agree. I find a bit of hypocrisy in this article – after all, it was Mike who led the task group to address the need for emergency access – and then changed his mind. Fine. And then Neil – after listening to the people, changed his mind. Fine. Now we are back to the drawing board. Fine. Let’s not make something out of nothing. What will destroy this city is politics – party politics. When we choose party over being civil to other people, this city will go the way of Seattle.

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  3. The involvement of Darrol and Michael is much more important to me. Aseem is not the”ultimate decider” of anything in our city. To me he’s just one more voice and a “Johnny come lately”.

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  4. Darrol, I disagree with you a lot here and I’ve made some admittedly snarky remarks to you, but there is no question in my mind that you love and support this little City of ours just as much as I do. Sometimes, there is just no real clear right or wrong on the issues, just opposite ways at looking at them.

    For the record I totally respect and admire you for what you do for the city and appreciate your ability to dig into and present the nuts and bolts of how things were studied and conclusions come to in the often messy business of running a town like Edmonds.

    Last night I had the pleasure of meeting one of the three loosing votes on the Connector issue through a mutual friend. He’s a great guy, who I just happen to disagree with a lot, in terms of how to run a town and what the role of a Council Member, a Mayor and Directors should play in relating to each other and the tax payers (their bosses), but I learned a lot about how we got where we are at, and firmed up in my own mind why I feel like I do about the Connector, and why I think I’m right about it.

    Basically, my point here is that we need to get personality conflicts and name calling out of the discourse (yes I plead guilty to being a major offender and can only say I’m working on this personal failing) and listen and respond to each other’s ideas and viewpoints in a reasonable fashion. My conversation last night gave me some reason to pause and think more about my up coming Mayoral vote. I’m looking forward to the debates.

    Don’t leave Darrol. I might disagree with you a lot, but I sure as hell would miss your input and expertise.

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  5. Clinton, thanks for your remarks. The offer still holds to meet and share between us the ways we might find better solutions for our complicated problems. Teresa will give you my email if you want. She usually reachs out, asked if I would be willing to share my email with person x. I have never said no and she gives out my email. Let’s talk, we can do good things together. Then we can figure out how to get the other 40,000 to the table.

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  6. What this whole connector thing should help us understand is we need to more carefully find ways to make decisions. Decisions are always a balance of many groups, special interests, and just plain folks. What we need is a process for good government that will get us balanced answers to complicated issues and not just serve the agenda of xxx(insert whatever you want here) What seems to be forgotten often is the difference between solving problems and working toward an agenda. Good government works best when we all agree on a process to solve problems and then we all agree to live with the results of the process.

    Here is an approach that may help us all stay informed, engaged and move our city forward.
    1. Start with “what is the problem(s) we are trying to solve?
    2. Identify stakeholders who should be at the table.
    3. Identify potential solutions.
    4. Identify the costs, benefits, and risks of different solutions or combinations of solutions.
    5. Identify ways to measure success.
    6. Commit to a process to always try and improve the outcome through monitoring and adjusting.

    Wes should use this model on the connector, civic park, parking, keeping downtown like it is, how do we pay for our utility infrastructure, how do we pay for and do the catch up with roads maintenance., how do we insure our parks stay as good as they are when city revenues fall, and then how do we find ways to do all the things we have listed in the Comprehensive Plan.

    We all like various aspects of Edmonds. This is one way to build a process to help build good government. Their are other ways as well, but in my mind any other way that does not use or account for the 6 item above will only create more issues.

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  7. I find it ironic that it is the “vocal outsiders” who are being accused of not “appreciating” Edmonds when it took a “California transplant” (Brian Soergel’s characterization in the Beacon) to lead the effort to protect a “sparsely used” beach against the wishes of the Establishment. The pros and cons of the Edmonds Street Overpass proposal were not well analyzed with too much deference given to the narrow perspective of the Fire District. Frankly, I am also disappointed in the approval votes of the three ultimately disapproving council members at the November 15, 2016 meeting. However, my reading of the minutes indicates that they were provided with biased information and not fully aware of the visual and physical impact on Brackett’s Landing Shoreline Sanctuary and its “protected” status. With more complete information, they made the right decision to cease funding the effort as it was unlikely to ever be constructed. I look forward to consideration of building a midblock pedestrian overpass to deal with what is truly an everyday safety hazard and something that would provide convenient Waterfront Access from Downtown Edmonds, Harbor Square and Salish Crossing mall, unlike the Edmonds Street Overpass. Also, it will be needed when a second track is constructed so Sound Transit and Amtrak should be partners as well as Washington State Ferries.

    When I inform people that I recently moved from Seattle, once known as “America’s Most Livable City,” to Edmonds, the response is immediate and universal, “Oh, I Love Edmonds.” Changes are inevitable and often necessary. But, let’s not lose sight of the small town atmosphere and aesthetics that make Edmonds special. Ballard will never be what it once was and the residents were powerless to stop the changes. Fortunately, by being vigilant, we can prevent the Mike O’Brien’s and Kshama Sawant’s from trying to transform our city into their vision of Utopia. Edmonds is Utopia just the way it is.

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    1. Richard – let me be clear. It’s not that I don’t think “vocal outsiders” don’t have anything to contribute – I think everyone who lives in this city has something to contribute – and should. I do think some don’t invest enough time to clearly understand the issues, or what has led up to some of the decisions. It’s the “oh…wait…you all clearly don’t understand. I’m from such and such and this is how we did it – I can’t believe you aren’t doing that too” thought process that is troubling. Each person has something to contribute – and their input should be weighed and measured. I grow frustrated with “locals” who wait until the last minute to pay attention and get involved too – that is an inefficient way to address issues.

      If I were to take Aseem’s advice, I’d not volunteer for future committees or even run for office since my arbitrary term limit to give to this city is likely past due. And the institutional knowledge that I have will be lost.

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    2. Richard,
      You stated that “my reading of the minutes indicates”, please everyone be advised that the City of Edmonds uses an outside person to dictate the written minutes from the City Council Meeting. These are not ABSOLUTE dictation of what was said during the meeting. As a public RECORD, they should be 100% factual, but they are not 100% factual.
      Just a FYI

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  8. Ron:

    There is no “Johhny come lately” in America and in Edmonds. We all have a voice in the political process, as was evident in the June 18, Save the Beach rally. The speakers included Native American leaders, whose communities have been here for a very long time, as well a resident who arrived in Edmonds 48 hours ago.

    But let me address substantive issues raised in the comments responding to my letter.

    Two issues:

    1. There are term limits for many political offices. The most obvious one is probably the US President. My rough count suggests that 36 of the 50 states have executive term limits; so do 15 state legislatures. It also seems that, of the nation’s 10 largest cities, nine have term limits on executives. In the 1990s, there was an active push for terms limits in the Congress. There is a compelling political logic for term limits. What is then so revolutionary about term limits at the local level?

    The pay off is substantial. If we want a wider and more diverse group of citizens to actively engage with city affairs, we should ensure that they have the opportunity to do so. I have met dozens of Edmonds residents who have applied for city commission assignments but have not been selected. Having served on the Economic Development Commission (with Mike and Doug), my sense is that the same set of people tend to serve for a long time on these bodies. And many of them also tend to serve on other commissions and committees. So, why not create an institutional system to encourage diverse individuals with new ideas to contribute to our city’s governance?

    2. As I see it, the Viaduct episode revealed that the city establishment is disconnected with the popular sentiment. Arguably, a number of “stakeholder” consultations about the viaduct did not reveal the true preferences of our citizens. As I understand from many who attended these “consultations,” the conversations tended to be one-sided. The presenters were not really there to listen to citizens, but to persuade them. No wonder the viaduct has so little visible public support. And various commissions and committees that are supposed to serve as conduits between the City Hall and citizens also did not or could not communicate to the city establishment that the viaduct has very little support. I suggest that the new Mayor and the new city council carefully think about this communication failure. One strategy is to ensure that a wider and more diverse set of people sit on stakeholder bodies.

    We may disagree on several issues, but we all agree on one thing: Edmonds is a special and beautiful town. We all hope that it can retain its special character.

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  9. Being of a certain age, and knowing also that life can change in an instant for each of us at any time, I would hope that the safety of the lives of any and every citizen who happens to partake of the Edmonds wonderful waterfront amenities such as restaurants, beaches, marina, and walks along the pier be held in just as much importance as environmental concerns. Our fire, medical emergency and police services must have unobstructed access to come to the assistance of victims of critical health
    needs, whether they be diners, boaters, swimmers, joggers or walkers, picnickers or partakers of other activities.
    Building a needed access ramp to override disruption of emergency services by continually increasing railroad traffic is mandatory.
    With population increasing in Edmonds, there will be more need for emergency services.
    Let’s make sure we all promote the health and safety of our citizens, while coming up with a result that causes the least harm to the environment but serves the critical needs of all.
    It cannot be “either/or”, but must be “how best to protect both”.
    D Trinen

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  10. Teresa, please feel free to give Darrol my email, or me his. I would definitely enjoy communicating with him at a more personal level. I suspect that we might meet, anyway, at the upcoming Parking Studies or a Mayoral debate but I would enjoy having coffee with him, or perhaps inviting him to the Salish Brewing Co. Friday night discussion group (of somewhat disgusting old men about town) who solve all of Edmond’s and the World’s problems on an almost weekly basis.

    Generally speaking, I think some of the contention in our town comes from our Strong Mayor weak Council form of government.

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    1. Will do. Perhaps we will have own meeting of commenters/readers sometime and see if we can solve problems too!

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  11. Elaborating on the statement I made in my previous post, I think it might be good for Edmonds to take another look at switching to a Strong Council weak Mayor form of govenment. I know that idea was presented on the ballot a decade or so ago and lost.

    The fact that we keep having folks come late to the party all the time, indicates to me that vast numbers of the 40+K populace feel un or under represented by the current power structure in town. When they feel not listened to, they respond in what some in the power structure label as uncivil statements and actions. There is a perception, real or imagined, that a small group of downtown (the Bowl) development and business oriented people call virtually all the shots in Edmonds.

    It might make more sense to divide Edmonds into seven districts based on neighborhoods, or some other criteria determined by a non-partisan citizens commission and have an elected Councilman from each district. The Council would elect one of their fellows to be the Ceremonial Mayor of the town and she/he would receive some extra compensation for the extra duties. It might be a good idea to substantially increase the compensation for Council members, while we are at it, so more good people would run and be willing to put in the hours it takes to do the job. Under our current system, Council Members are not compensated proportional to the work and time commitment involved.

    The Council would preside over a City Manager who is hired by and answers to the Council. The Manager would be responsible for hiring Directors of departments (subject to Council approval) and running the city, but he would not be presenting any legislation or have any say in legislation by the Council. The Manager executes the ordinances period. We expect and demand a lot from our current Mayor and, in my opinion, he simply wields too much power for one person and the good of the town.

    The fact that you have highly valued but disgruntled employees leaving at the same time you have a lame duck Mayor, is one indication that you have vested too much power and influence in one person. Under this type of system you get biased and slanted reports from Directors who are trying to stay in good with, and make points with their boss, The Mayor.

    How are our Council members supposed to get good information for decision making under these conditions? No matter how well intended, a director referring to train suicides as “pedestrian casualties or deaths” is not good and totally accurate information in a public report that is critical to the possible spending of 30 million or more taxpayer dollars. In this case, a suicide apparently caused a four hour train blockage because the coroner or deputy wasn’t immediately available. You can plan for suicidal behavior by simply having a deputy coroner on the Edmonds police or fire staff, with a little training. That wouldn’t cost $30M and impact a Marine Santuary. Don’t you think this might have been critical information for the council to have from the Planning Director in his report to the City Council?

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    1. Council by districts would be interesting and certainly change our local politics. Likely for the good. Transition could be done in a way that no council member would loose their seat because of the transition. As the policy making group council has massive power. We the citizens need to create a greater discussion on the things we want for the city. A review of the SAP shows items that originated with the citizens, were approved by council twice and some have not found their way to the agenda. In the past council exercised its power better then today. Go back and look at council retreats and see what was discussed, what then found its way to the public agenda and what things got done. For the last two years council has not had their traditional retreat that set the discussion/work agenda for the year. By not having those “agenda setting” retreats council has not worked on the public agenda.

      At this years retreat, council had a series of conversations that as a citizen it gave hope that we were going to see renewed cooperation and discussion on our issues. Our last meeting dealing with the connector did little to assure the public they followed what was discussed in their retreat. Maybe they are waiting for the minutes to remind them of their discussions.

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  12. One thing which has been left out of the discussion is the need to require a model of any large project which would be displayed in several public places such as the library. Also more financial projections. As I recall the cost started out much lower and then escalated to almost 30 million. The cost changed many minds. I lived in a city which was proposing an overpass and a model was made. When people saw the model and realized the impact on their downtown support disappeared. I visited the town a few years ago and they had implemented a different solution. There is no magic solution to get citizen participation but the more information out there in different forms the better.

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  13. If we were based on a district system for Council members, rather than at large, as now constituted, we would at least have a situation where citizens would have a specific and locally well known individual to go to with their particular concerns and preferences for city actions. She/He might even be a neighbor and friend. They would have the opportunity to be heard outside of the restricted confines of a timed response at a council meeting. Some people are good in casual conversation situations, but not so good in formal ones. Neighborhood town halls would be the norm, and not the exception and could be done at convenient times when issues arise, not just at election time. In fact, I’m not sure why current council members aren’t demanding that change, as well as proper compensation for their demanding and often thankless duties?

    Now, if Council members ask tough questions, or try to represent the tax payer in any meaningful way, they are accused of belittling and running off easily offended employees. Man, we need some folks around here in city government to grow some spine and not be so thin skinned about everything that comes down the pike.

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    1. I’m following this closely. I am a fan of both a city manager/council format as well as having districts, but how sure that Edmonds is large enough population-wise (yet), at least for the latter. I am watching with interest how the districts for the appointment of housing commission members plays out, as it could end up being the layout if the city ends up going in that direction in the future.

      I had nothing but a good experience with the city manager/council format from my time in California. The one positive seemed to be the longevity of those managers in their respective cities (some being there for over 10+ years) as well as city staff having a buffer between the elected officials. I’m not seeing that as much here locally. I know Mill Creek has had some issues, and I’m watching to see what happens in Mukilteo should they vote this November to move into that format.

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      1. The Port runs a some in districts and some at large. School Board is all districts but elected by all. Watching how the Housing group is selected, how it gets its information, what it asks about and how it interacts with council and staff during the process will be very interesting. 20,000 households and 40,000 folks may be enough to make seven districts. We often hear from those outside the bowl that they are not represented. Districts would sure change that. Voter registration and voter turnout would likely go up with districts. Let’s watch, learn, and try to understand what would improve Edmonds.

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  14. Barbara,
    During our deliberations on the best solution for the Connector, I thought of a model. I think your idea is a good one but in this case where the land topography, the railroad and other surrounding features would be necessary to fully understand the pluses and minuses, it appeared too complicated.

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  15. Captain Greiner, thank you for all your volunteer work on this project and letter to editors on this subject as well. As one of only 11 members of the Mayors advisors task force on the Waterfront Connector Project. In your opinion what is the best alternative of the 50 studied options still available in the Waterfront study? Now that the Brackett’s Marine Sanctuary site is off the table, I feel your opinion would be greatly appreciated to our community being deeply involved in this process and project.

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  16. Thank you to all who worked to prevent the this costly and poorly located waterfront connector project. However, I feel that the data presented by the commission to study “at-grade railroad crossings” has identified a serious problem for our community. To use a real estate metaphor, this was the wrong location and not an affordable solution. As with home buyers, they still need a place to live at an affordable cost. Our City needs to correct what could be deadly incidents at a price we can afford. This Sunset “option” should not be considered a win or a loss for anyone; it should be an option that did not work period. Let us move on to make a decision on a location that is both acceptable and affordable.

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