Mayor Mike Nelson was the featured speaker Thursday at the Edmond Chamber of Commerce monthly lunch meeting at the Calypso Restaurant, where he provided the more than 30 attendees with a rundown of his plans, priorities and what to look for in the coming months.
“As a former member of the chamber board, I’m in a good position to recognize how important the chamber is to our city,” Nelson began. And with his election last November as mayor, Nelson added that he is “very excited” to foster the relationship between the two.
He went on to list his four major priorities:,1) communication/citizen engagement; 2) economic development; 3) public safety; and 4) the environment. He then proceeded to expand on each.
“I’m not a huge fan of town halls, where you just get to hear me speak,” he said, adding that he favors neighborhood meetings instead.
“I think it’s important to get out in the community and meet with the folks who live there,” he explained. “At these meetings I always ask three questions: What can we improve? What are we doing right? And what is the one thing you’d love to have done in your neighborhood?”
In addition to neighborhood meetings, Nelson stressed that he will be emphasizing engaging with citizens in what he called a “virtual way” that goes beyond traditional press releases by being present on social media. This would be more than a city Facebook or Twitter page, but also include having a presence on existing groups such as the Edmonds Moms Facebook group.
“Sometimes things happen very rapidly on these pages and sometimes the information is not correct,” he added. “It’s good for us to have that online presence to be a resource for folks to inform and for the city to learn what is happening in the community. Right now the city does not even have its own Twitter account – police and public works both do, but the city as a whole does not.”
Referencing the upcoming hire of a city public information officer/communications strategist, Nelson shared that so far about 20 people have applied, and he plans to hold interviews soon.
“Revitalizing Highway 99 has been on the agenda for more than 20 years,” he explained. “I know we have long-term ambitious plans, but they’ve stagnated so I asked city staff to come back to me with something different that will get this moving. To their credit they did, and two weeks ago council approved plans for a center median that will stretch the entire two miles of Highway 99 in Edmonds.”
Nelson said that the center median will accomplish two major goals: reduce vehicle accidents by eliminating the current 2-way center turn lane, and beautify the area with plantings. Also in the plan are pedestrian enhancements, including a pedestrian-activated crosswalk along the stretch between 228th and 238th Streets, where currently no crosswalk exists.
“These projects are expected to reduce accidents by a quarter, are set to start next year, and are scheduled to be complete in one year,” he concluded, adding: “We’re very excited and bullish about Highway 99.”
Nelson explained that his economic development plans also include creating a business advisory group to generate and share ideas about issues affecting the Edmonds business community. There are also plans to create a “business hotline” as a resource for business owners with questions or problems to call and be directed to appropriate resources and expertise.
“The hotline is now operational,” he added, “and I encourage you all to use it at 425-275-4823.”
Going hand in hand with this is what the mayor is calling the Business Accelerator Network. Scheduled to be up and running by mid-spring, it will provide an online portal as a central place for businesspeople and entrepreneurs to find resources.
“The big thing with me is reducing vehicle and traffic problems,” Nelson explained. “I’ll be working with the Edmonds Police Department to prioritize traffic enforcement in areas with higher accidents and heavy pedestrian activity, and we’ll work to educate the public about when and how we’ll be doing this enhanced enforcement.”
Adding that he expects a drop in crime along the Highway 99 as a result of the revitalization work there, Nelson said that this will free up officers to work on traffic issues.
Engineering solutions will also come into play, he explained, saying that the city will be looking into ways to design roads to calm traffic and make vehicle-pedestrian accidents less likely. He also plans to work with fire officials on ways to enhance emergency response on the Edmonds waterfront.
“The (Edmonds) Marsh has gotten lots of attention in recent years,” he said. “It’s complicated for a host of reasons: One of which is that there’s a number of different property owners, another is that it has been a cleanup site for an incredible 29 years.
“In my recent meeting with Gov. Inslee, his first stop in Edmonds in the past eight years, we discussed the marsh and I told him the time it’s taking to do the cleanup is unacceptable,” Nelson continued. “He agrees, and I’m looking forward to working with the governor and our other elected officials and state agencies to get some movement here and allow us to restore the marsh to where it fully functions as a saltwater estuary and serves as a place where healthy juvenile salmon can eat and get big.”
In other actions on the environment, Nelson told the chamber that he’s created a conservation advisory group to look at not just the marsh, but habitat creation citywide, starting with existing parks and the several streams that flow through the town.
Nelson also spoke of the new Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Angela Feser, who is due to come on board April 1. “I want to start looking at parks through a greener lens,” Nelson added. “I also want to look at how we can acquire more parks and open space. If we’re growing our housing, we also need to be growing our parks.”
He also spoke of working with Snohomish County PUD on ways to partner for energy conservation, observing that this dovetails with the city’s climate initiative that calls for 600 solar-paneled homes over the next 15 years.
Questions and answers followed, with one audience member observing how she loves that the holiday lights are remaining up longer than in the past, remarking that it’s both “beautiful and enhances pedestrian safety.”
Other questions addressed publicizing the dates and locations of neighborhood meetings, and Nelson responded that this is very important and will be among the first priorities of the new communications person.
Another questioner asked about the Swedish/SEIU labor dispute. Nelson responded that while he personally and publicly supports the workers, the city itself has no official position.
Asked about the recent council action to pull funding for an interpretive sign for the old high school portico now installed in Salish Crossing, Nelson explained that he supported this as a Councilmember, but that the new council chose to not fund the project.
Another attendee asked about the hit to the city over loss of car tab revenue, to which Nelson responded that the $670,000 shortfall it created means that in the short term — while the matter is still in the courts — the city is shifting funds to make up for the gap. However, should the court uphold the car tab initiative, the city will have to look for other ways to make up that revenue.
Other questions concerned the timeline for the Dayton Street improvement project, whether the new parks director would be available to speak to the chamber and public as soon as she comes on board (answer: yes), and what was the most surprising thing for him during his first days as mayor.
“For the first couple of days it was like standing in front of a fire hose,” Nelson laughed. “At first it was exciting, but it was tough to get things done. But I’m learning to control the flow, and focusing on the things that need to be done.”
In conclusion, Nelson reflected on his first two months in office.
“Edmonds is in a period of transition with lots of new people, businesses and much happening,” he began. “I’ve really enjoyed talking to city staff and meeting directly with front-line employees and seeing the things they do every day to keep our city functioning and safe. It’s an exciting time to be mayor and to be part of that, and to work with everyone in our community to find the balance between protecting what we love about Edmonds and making sure we continue to move forward.”
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel