Answering citizen questions in 2nd virtual town hall, mayor says city is ‘definitely closing’ Main Street for pilot no-vehicle project

Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson speaks during the virtual town hall Thursday afternoon.

Addressing citizens via his second virtual town hall meeting, Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson Thursday updated viewers on the city’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak — including a timeline for reopening popular amenities like playgrounds, public restrooms  and the dog park. Nelson also confirmed the city will be closing down a portion of Main Street to vehicle traffic as a pilot project, and said that building the new downtown Civic Park may be delayed as a result of “very, very high” construction bids.

Nelson started off by announcing that the Parks, Recreation and Culture Services Department will be launching a new Play It Safe plan that outlines how Edmonds will begin reopening its parks facilities. The plan follows Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Safe Start” phased approach for reopening the state following the shutdown aimed at slowing the COVID-19 outbreak. The Play It Safe plan would go into effect once Snohomish County (and Edmonds) enter Phase 2 of the governor’s plan, which is expected in early June but not official until the governor announces it. (That announcement is coming next week.)

Under Phase 2, Edmonds would allow outdoor sports including tennis, pickle ball, outdoor basketball courts, pétanque and sand volleyball — as long as there are groups of five or fewer. The Edmonds off-leash dog park will be reopened in Phase 3, which is approximately three weeks after Phase 2 is initiated, Nelson said. In addition, city playgrounds and playfields, the skatepark, permanent restrooms and shelter rentals, and the Frances Anderson Center will reopen in Phase 3, with group sizes of 50 or fewer.

Nelson then addressed a range of questions that citizens sent to him in advance of the town hall, followed by answering questions that came in live via Facebook.

The mayor said he has responded to citizens’ concerns about ways to help Edmonds’ long-term care facilities, which have been particularly hard hit by the virus. Nelson said he spoke with Snohomish Health District Health Officer Dr. Chris Spitters and established a program in which city staff communicates weekly with the city’s 65 long-term care facilities, and shares information about those facilities’ needs with the health district.

The city is also working with the Edmonds Senior Center to stay in touch with local seniors through meal delivery and tele-counseling, he said.

Nelson addressed how the city will coordinate with local businesses to ensure they can safely reopen to the public. City staff will be rededicated to providing information to businesses and will make site visits as well as take other steps to ensure businesses can safely open to the public.

Speaking in more detail about what the Phase 2 reopening could look like, Nelson talked specifically about requirements for restaurant dining during Phase 2. Restaurants will be at half capacity, with tables 6 feet apart, dining parties will be five or fewer, and bars won’t be open. There will also be paper menus and single-use condiments. Restaurant employees must wear masks and will undergo health screenings at every shift.

Retail businesses also will be at reduced capacity and employees will be required to wear masks, Nelson said.

The responsibilities of a business customer in the age of COVID-19 was another question Nelson addressed. He said those responsibilities include wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing and not going into a businesses if you have any physical symptoms of illness.

He noted that the city two days ago sent a survey to residents asking them 12 questions aimed at defining what a safe business looks like to them.”We’ve already heard from 1,200 people,” Nelson said. “So I think it’s clear people are very interested about making sure when businesses reopen they that have certain safety measures in place, so we’ll do what we can to help ensure that.”

The mayor was also asked what enforcement action the city would take if someone was found violating the governor’s stay-at-home orders. “We’ve primarily relied on voluntary compliance and it has been very effective,” Nelson said. “Folks have done their part and I think that moving forward that’s really what we are going to be relying on.” Police responses have focused on education, Nelson noted.

Another question was related to how the city is helping small businesses. Nelson said that in addition to the city’s efforts mentioned earlier, the county on Thursday announced a new Snohomish County program offering up to $25,000 grants to small businesses impacted by COVID-19. (Apply at workforcesnohmish.org.)

In addition, the city is providing $100,000 to the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce for business-to-business grants so that local businesses can help each other with services ranging from legal advice to graphic design to online shopping. A total of 52 grants have been awarded so far, the mayor said.

Addressing a question about whether mask wearing was required outside the home, Nelson said this: “The key thing about masks is to make sure.you are practicing social distancing while visiting businesses or around groups of people. If you cannot maintain that social distancing, put on that mask,” he said. “If you are going inside a building, put on a mask.”

Answering an inquiry about where to get masks, Nelson announced that the city has ordered 2,000 cloth masks that will be distributed free to the public in the next few weeks.

Asked how city government will look when things reopen, Nelson replied that many things will be different. Frontline staff will be wearing masks, and visitors to city buildings will also be asked to wear a mask. “We’ve also made things a lot more streamlined so you don’t have to come in,” Nelson said. He pointed to the city’s announcement Thursday that it is now offering online development permits, with online applications for other types of permits coming soon.

Nelson offered a short but heartfelt reply to the question of what city projects or programs he was looking forward to implementing, that may be delayed due to COVID-19,

“I’m looking forward to having a city where nobody is getting sick and dying, and anything else is on the back burner,” Nelson said.

He then turned to a much-discussed community topic: Whether part of Main Street in downtown Edmonds would be closed to vehicles — partly to give restaurants and retailers more space to spread out onto sidewalks, if they so desire, during this era of social distancing. The city has received feedback from citizens, community leaders and businesses on the idea, Nelson said, and “you better believe we are going to definitely close down Main Street at some point for a pilot project, so we have a pedestrian-safe experience for folks.” The city has started looking at ideas and will announce more details later, he said.

Nelson also received a question about city hiring, and why certain positions — such as the city’s new human services manager — were filled “when people are hurting.” While the city has initiated a hiring freeze, it is still filling positions that “are related to the COVID-19 response,” the mayor said. “Our human services manager is definitely helping those most in need and we’re seeing a lot more of those who have a lot of needs,” he said.

Among the other questions Nelson addressed:

Why are the city’s permanent restrooms closed at the parks and the beach? The city is developing a plan to ensure public restrooms can be cleaned properly, and that will be in place by Phase 3, Nelson said. Restrooms will have to be cleaned at least twice a day and workers will need to wear full personal protective equipment while doing so, he added.

The state says that outdoor tennis is allowed so why are the city’s tennis courts still locked? The tennis courts have to be staffed under new state guidance and there is no staffing at the city’s tennis courts. The hope is to have the courts open by Phase 2, in early June, Nelson said.

Why is the off-leash dog park still closed? Nelson said the city is following Centers for Disease Control guidelines that advise avoiding large gatherings of peoples and dogs. The dog park will reopen in Phase 3, Nelson said.

Why was the decision made so early to close Yost Pool? Nelson explained that the city contracts with the YMCA to provide aquatics staff, and the YMCA had to lay off staff when its own facilities were shut down due to COVID-19. Since it takes six to eight weeks to hire and train staff, it wasn’t feasible for the city to open Yost Pool late in the summer, he said.

Why are the playgrounds and splash park closed when children are not in an age range deemed at risk for the virus? Children can be carriers of the virus and can spread it, Nelson said. There is a lot of physical contact at playgrounds and the city doesn’t have the staff to constantly sanitize playground surfaces. Playgrounds will reopen in Phase 3, he said.

What’s up with Civic Field? The city did get bids back on the project to renovate the downtown Edmonds Civic Field site and those bids were “very, very high,” Nelson said. “There’s definitely some question marks as far as the future of Civic Field…in terms of moving forward with that this year.” More details will be shared later, he added.

“We will get through this hopefully sooner rather than later,” Nelson concluded. “I can’t wait to be able to take my kids to the playground, and play in the playground with them. I’m ready to dine in some restaurants and have a drink or two. But until that time, we really have to be proactive at being safe.”

The video was recorded on Facebook Live and you can watch it here:

— By Teresa Wippel

29 Replies to “Answering citizen questions in 2nd virtual town hall, mayor says city is ‘definitely closing’ Main Street for pilot no-vehicle project”

  1. Someone should point out to Mayor Nelson that, according to the charts shown below, there is absolutely no reason for Edmonds to be shut down and businesses destroyed. He should ignore governor Inslee’s ridiculous phasing plan and simply open up now. That would be leadership.

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    1. Jay Demme, the safety measures are why our COVID numbers are low. In many other places people have not had strong government leaders who will protect people. Also, this is not the 1st, nor the 2nd pandemic to effect our country, businesses who are strong, adapable, and needed, will survive. Lives are more important than businesses. As someone who has family, friends, and co-workers fighting to survive COVID and know good people who have died, as someone whose husband was laid off due to the pandemic, this difficult time has tested my family but my family is caring and community minded. We will adapt, wear masks to protect ourselves and others, and help our neighbors as was can. I think it is time you asked yourself if you are a caring community member of Edmonds or fear driven.

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  2. I went for a walk yesterday up Main, left on third to the turn, and back on Sunset. Hardly anyone was wearing a mask, and there were groups of walkers, people standing chatting in the middle of the sidewalk… Some were very thoughtful about distancing, some definitely not. One unmasked group even had small children, who like small children everywhere, were all over the place touching everything in sight – railings, car doors…

    I’d like to think we can do better than this.

    Can we?

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    1. This is a joke right? Unmasked Group, Small Children…………touching everything in sight……….Can we do better? Yes, we can do better than this; small children with their families should be outside playing and trying to touch everything. They are young, energetic and curious, just like we all were. Those that are more vulnerable and older, as myself, should stay home, mask up, if you need to walk, you need to be aware of others rights and freedoms. Our age/vulnerabilities do not take precedence over those whose lives, schools, jobs, have been severely impacted by this horrible virus. We have lived our lives, it is our responsibility to take care of ourselves; we cannot be so selfish that we expect younger families and children to follow the same criteria as that of the elderly.

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  3. Edmonds is a very thoughtful community. We help our at need population, and we care for our elderly. We are smart enough to use care in going out. So let’s open up before some businesses lose the ability to reopen. If you are at risk, by all means, stay home. If you are not at risk, being a caring citizen and use precautions… but let’s get it opened up. How will we feel a year from now, when there are once again for lease signs in the downtown windows and only the big box stores survive? Should we really be picking winners and losers? Go to Walmart – they are packed and social distancing and masks are used. Do we not owe it to small business to give them the same trust we give Walmart, Costco & Lowes. Open up and shop local!

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  4. We moved here right after the election, and I had been nervous about the local politics. I am pleasantly surprised at the vision Mayor Nelson has for our community. These are exceptionally strange times in which to lead, and I appreciate the efforts to keep the community informed, as well as creative ways to support our businesses as we cautiously move to reopening. Focusing on being increasingly more pedestrian-friendly will support our recovery – especially when (eventually) bringing in more tourism. We will do better if it’s not only us citizens trying to keep our local economy going. There’s a lot of data out there that demonstrates economic benefit when business districts are more friendly to people on foot or on bikes. I look forward to learning of ways to help with this vision as a volunteer.

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  5. Without giving it much thought, closing Main Street sounds like it might be a fun idea and an idea that might help some restaurants and retailers. I assume citizens will have time to think this over and prepare to make public comments in front of both the Planning Board and City Council.

    One potential problem is that the City has established a precedent of Code Enforcing against use of public easement areas, arguing that the City of Edmonds has a DUTY to remove obstructions in the public ways and liability if they fail to do so. In doing so, the City of Edmonds referenced a 1928 case Lund v. City of Seattle, as well as a 1967 case Turner v. City of Tacoma.

    The City has made this argument even for an unopened, unimproved easement area, an easement area never used by the City for any purpose after the City was platted in 1890.

    So how will the City close a long opened right of way and then avoid what the City has previously claimed is its duty – a duty to remove obstructions in the public ways? The City has established a precedent of arguing that the City has this duty even for an unopened, unimproved easement area. Or is the plan to keep the width of the closed portions of Main Street free and clear of any obstructions?

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    1. Ken, likely the city will use the street use permit process, just like other street use activities. Halloween, car shows, markets, and things like that. Probably no new ordinances need to be considered.

      I think your assumption for public comment before the planning board is not going to happen. Public comment is now via surveys and media like this, and comments to council meetings.

      I do not know our code like you do but under what code did the city decide to get some masks and give them out? Hopefully it was part of the animal control stuff. We can simply define CV19 as an animal and then put it on a leash, and make the current owner responsible for keeping it under control and picking up after it!

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  6. I’m curious why tennis courts need to be staffed and what a tennis court staff person would do. Can anyone elaborate on this?

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    1. I believe it has to do with monitoring how many people are on the tennis courts at any one time.

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      1. Interesting the Mayor answering questions and asking for questions at the end of the Town Hall Meeting.

        He doesn’t respond to my emails and doesn’t answer any of my questions.

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    2. what amazing is the Lyndale courts are all open during the entire time ,, as well as several other Lynwood city courts … and twin ponds and Jackson high school … whats the point of rules ,, if everyone is making up their own as we go along … lets open pall the tennis courts .. we don’t need a monitor or a budget for a monitor.
      Yvonne Collins

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  7. Hi Darrol, I’m not so sure about that. I was told years ago that had I applied for an encroachment permit, my application would have been denied. Based on that, is it possible that the City will tell parties before they even apply for a street use permit that their application will be denied?

    As for Public Comments, Public Comments can be made via email to the City Council and I would hope the same would be true for the Planning Board.

    As for Ordinances and/or other action of the City Council or Planning Board, I found the following in our City Code:

    Per ECDC 18.50.010: That certain collection of maps, which is on file with the director of public works, entitled Official Street Map of Edmonds – 1980, is adopted by this reference as if set forth in full in this chapter. All prior official street and thoroughfare maps and plans previously adopted by the city are hereby readopted and affirmed, unless expressly repealed as to any particular street or thoroughfare. In the event a prior map or plan is in conflict with one adopted subsequent in time, the most recent shall prevail. Changes shall be by ordinance, attested to by the mayor and city clerk on the affected map. Dedications may be entered on the map without an ordinance after the city council has accepted the dedication.

    Per ECDC 20.65.010: The planning board shall review proposed changes to the official street map as a Type V decision, using as the basis for its review and recommendation the purposes of the comprehensive plan as stated in Chapter 15.05 ECDC, and the purposes of the comprehensive street plan, as stated in Chapter 15.40 ECDC, and the purposes of the official street map, as stated in Chapter 18.50 ECDC. [Ord. 3736 § 61, 2009].

    Per ECDC 15.40.000: The Comprehensive Street Plan shall have the following purposes, in addition to the general purpose of the comprehensive plan:
    A. To provide for adoption and enforcement of street and thoroughfare maps and coordinated plan including the official street map to implement the comprehensive plan.
    B. To facilitate the provision of utilities and transportation. [Ord. 3030 § 3, 1995].

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  8. Not sure how I posted to wrong place so re-posting here:

    I know that in the last few days other City Councils around the country have voted to close several streets to help shops and restaurants reopen and still observe social distancing guidelines. For example: Atlanta Georgia and Portland Maine. It seems logical to me that this would be a legislative decision made after the public has been allowed to comment. Maybe I am wrong.

    One thing I also want to know is whether or not the City will act consistent with its past conduct and claim it has a duty to keep even an unopened easement area free and clear of any obstructions.

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    1. I am assuming that closing the streets will go before the planning board and council, so the public can have their say. Did sunset go before the council.

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      1. Hi Don, I hope details are provided and that this goes before Planning Board and City Council. I support public involvement and the opportunity for Public Comment to both PB and Council.
        I don’t think Public Comment was allowed for the Sunset Avenue Decision. The Sunset Avenue situation might be somewhat different as Local traffic – drivers bound for residences along this stretch of Sunset – is still permitted.

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        1. Ken I think you are correct but it is still city street and the public should be able to use it. I agree what was done as long as it is temporary

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  9. I think there must already be legislative action in place to allow the public market and Halloween? Are you saying council has to take action every time we have a tree lighting, or a halloween event or something like that? Please give us the benefit of your knowledge and research abilities to help us under stand how we do the tree lighting, public market, and halloween. We are not in Main or Atlanta, this is Edmonds and I think we already have things in place legislatively to do the pilot.

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  10. Darrol, we have a Mayor, City Council and staff that can provide these answers. Hopefully they will. This is not a one day event like the tree lighting. The headline to this article states that “mayor says city is ‘definitely closing’ Main Street for pilot no-vehicle project”. Closing a street seems like a big deal to me that might warrant City Council approval. Council may want to review how such a change impacts our Comprehensive Street Plan and citizens may want to provide input via public comment. I would hope this would be easy to add to an agenda and for Council to take public comment on. I might support it – I would just like a little time to think about it.
    I also want to know if the City will meet its stated Duty to remove obstructions in the public ways. I ask this because of the City’s past conduct and I think it a reasonable, important question. Will the street be wide open for non vehicle ingress/egress – or will obstructions be allowed in the closed street contrary to what the City has represented in the past is a Duty?

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  11. I am hoping we can do all that is necessary and practical so we can do a pilot before Halloween.

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    1. As a resident of Edmonds since 1957, I hope you realize your plans to shut down access to the elderly and disabled would be challenged in court. It’s very narrow minded to think that everyone can walk to their destination. Let’s keep all options open to all people.

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      1. Susan:

        From everything that I have read, access to Main St. isn’t being “shut down” at all. This is just about not having vehicles on two blocks of Main Street itself, for a limited period of time – getting to Main Street will be just about the same as it always has been.

        As for not having vehicles on Main Street during the proposed times (i.e. a Saturday), how is closing down two blocks of Main Street any different than the current closing of two blocks of 5th/Bell St. for the weekly Saturday Market? Are you really trying to suggest that the Saturday Market is not accommodating or accessible to the elderly and the disabled? I have never heard such a thing, and while I don’t speak for them I am sure that the good folks that run the Saturday Market would be mortified to hear that such were the case.

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  12. On the issue of closing part of Main St. to cars… I have three recommendations:

    1. All the businesses involved must be at the table and their issues addressed. They have been hammered by the quarantine, they are major funders of our tax base and most of all, are the main reason people live and visit here – our wonderful, unique downtown shops and restaurants. We have to make sure that the relatively minor benefit to pedestrians – who already have sidewalks – does not become a major cost to our small businesses.

    2. Consider an alternative. Close portions of 5th and Main to cars after shops close as they do in many European cities. Families and couples and teens come out for “passeggita, a leisurely walk or stroll, especially one taken in the evening; a promenade.”

    3. Any major decision like this has to go through the vigorous public policy model process… Who are the stakeholders? Can we get agreement on what’s the problem we’re trying to solve? What are the alternatives and cost and benefits of those alternatives and How do we measure success?

    Lots of ideas sound good and in fact this may be a very good idea – but it also may have unintended consequences if not done correctly.

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    1. This post is a great example of the value of public participation and public input. Public input can assist policy makers greatly. From Cogan and Sharpe, 1986:

      Cogan suggests that citizen participation programs can make the planning process and planners more effective by:

      -Reducing isolation of the planner from the public;
      -Generating a spirit of cooperation and trust;
      -Providing opportunities to disseminate information;
      -Identifying additional dimensions of inquiry and research;
      -Assisting in identifying alternative solutions;
      -Providing legitimacy to the planning effort and political credibility of the agency; and
      -Increasing public support.

      They also say that an effective public participation program may actually save time and money by insuring that the proposed solution is acceptable to all of the interested stakeholders.

      Hopefully the Mayor, City Council or City Staff will inform the public as to whether or not there will be a public process for this or if the decision has already been made without involving the public.

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  13. We were up at the Mukilteo Lighthouse Park last Sunday, and the restrooms are open 7AM to 7PM. If Mukilteo can find a way to have open restrooms, Edmonds can do the same. It’s always struck me as a bit odd~ all the admonitions to wash our hands, and then they close the only public facilities that allow us to do that.

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