Tuesday council meeting: Housing commissioners offer update, mayor plans stiffer fireworks fines, councilmember explains her email

Edmonds Housing Commissioner Leif Warren answers a question during a city council presentation Tuesday night. Appearing on the screen to Warren’s right, from top to bottom, are Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson, City Councilmember Diane Buckshnis, and Housing Commissioners Will Chen and Keith Soltner.

Despite the challenges of meeting during the COVID-19 outbreak, the Edmonds Citizens Housing Commission has been continuing its work to develop — by the end of 2020 — housing policy options for the Edmonds City Council to consider.

That was the message the council received from three housing commissioners providing an update during the council’s Tuesday, July 7 meeting held remotely via Zoom.

The commission’s next meeting will be July 9, where commissioners will be discussing a second round of policy ideas, that will then be presented to the public for feedback. Additional meetings and public engagement opportunities will be scheduled throughout the rest of the year, with the goal of voting on and approving final policy proposals by Dec. 10.

“We are launching our online open house and survey this month,” reported Commissioner Leif Warren.The commission will also be doing a mailing to Edmonds households, to reach different demographics in the city. Depending on COVID-19 restrictions for the remainder of the summer, they may also do some in-person outreach, Warren said.

“With the December deadline, we are doing our best to work around the clock to make this happen, with regards to COVID being a little difficult in terms of meetings,” Warren said.

The Edmonds City Council formed the housing commission by resolution in 2019, charging it with developing, by the end of 2020, “diverse housing policy options for council consideration designed to expand the range of housing (including rental and owned) available in Edmonds: options that are irrespective of age, gender, race, religious affiliation, physical disability or sexual orientation.”

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, five small committees of the Housing Commission — which had been appointed to work on policy ideas — were able to continue meeting virtually,

The first round of preliminary ideas, which the commission has agreed to move forward for community engagement and feedback, include the following:

  • Work with other local government and agencies in a collaborative effort toward regional housing solutions.
  • Allow one attached or detached accessory dwelling units per property in a single-family residential zone.
  • Allow duplex or two-unit townhomes in single-family zoning.
  • Locating zoning transition areas — with duplexes, triplexes or quadraplexes — to separate the larger multi-family and general commercial zone areas from single-family zone areas. “Those are smaller buildings that would basically stair step down from a large building to a smaller multifamily building to single-family residential,” Commissioner Keith Soltner explained. “It’s more of a buffer between the large and the small. It’s a great way of increasing the multi-family density without doing it in one large swoop in one area or two areas.”

Public input will help the commissioners decide which of the policy ideas to move forward or refine for further consideration.

The commission is comprised of 15 members and eight alternates, appointed by councilmembers and the mayor. You can learn more at the Edmonds Citizens’ Housing Commission website.

Also on Tuesday night, the council:

– Unanimously approved a long-discussed proposal for a pyrolysis and gasification project to replace the city’s aging mechanical incinerator, which the city has said is nearly a decade beyond the end of its useful life and has become increasingly expensive to maintain due to more stringent air quality standards. The city is eying bond funding to pay for the $26 million system although a decision on bonding terms is still to be decided. Because three other municipalities — the City of Mountlake Terrace, the Olympic View Water and Sewer District, and the Ronald Sewer District — send their sewage to Edmonds for treatment and disposal, the cost of the new sludge disposal system would be split, with Edmonds paying 50%.

– Heard an annual report from the City Attorney Jeff Taraday.

– Agreed to put on next week’s council consent agenda a lease agreement with the Edmonds Boys and Girls Club.

– Appointed Gregory Hinton to the board of the Edmonds Public Facilities District, which oversees operations of the Edmonds Center for the Arts. Hinton is the vice president of finance and operations for Edmonds College.

During his mayor’s comments Tuesday night, Mayor Mike Nelson acknowledged the high volume of complaints the city received from citizens about illegal fireworks displays set off in the city over the July 4th weekend. As a result, and given the potential for future injuries and building destruction, Nelson said he has asked the city attorney to update the city’s fireworks ordinance “to reflect the significant risk that fireworks pose to our community.” This includes a proposal — which will come before the council — to significantly increase fines and penalties.” Nelson said he has also contacted South County Fire Acting Chief Thad Hovis about enhancing education efforts related to fireworks use.

And during her council comments, Councilmember Kristiana Johnson apologized for the content of an email — read by Mayor Nelson during the June 23 council meeting — about the use of racial preferences to determine which Edmonds businesses should receive federal grant money to offset the financial impacts of COVID-19.

“I’d like to acknowledge that some people’s feelings were hurt by my words and for that I sincerely am sorry,” Johnson said Tuesday night. “And I assure you that was not my intention.”

Johnson’s email, which had been sent June 12 to Economic Development and Community Services Director Patrick Doherty, became the topic of community discussion after Nelson stated during the June there were “underlying issues” about the email that concerned him, Nelson read excerpts from the email during his discussion about how the city will allocate federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief And Economic Security (CARES) Act funds.

“The reality is you cannot have equality if you don’t have equity,” Nelson added.

Johnson said the purpose of her June 12 email was to explain the need for “measurable, quantitative data instead of subjective, qualitative data. I felt that this criteria should be used in a fair and unbiased fashion.” She then said she “posed a rhetorical question to point out inherent biases.” (You can read the full email from Kristiana Johnson at this link.)

In that email, Johnson asked “Is it fair to support an Asian owned business instead of a white owned business with the same number of employees? I don’t think so. We do not have an affirmative action program. Do we differentiate between the Asian who has been in the United States for eight generations and the new immigrant?”

Johnson noted Tuesday night that the question “was not taken very well. The comments were taken out of  context and he (the mayor) used it to illustrate a point. Unfortunately my question was politically incorrect and offensive to some people. I admit that there were words that were very provocative. That was the nature of a rhetorical question.”

Johnson’s statement drew a negative reaction not only from the mayor, but from two Edmonds city councilmembers who have Asian/Pacific Islander family members.

In his comment to the council June 23, Nelson reminded councilmembers that as part of the CARES Act, Congress intended to prioritize “small businesses that are underserved, including socially disadvantaged groups and women.” Nelson then added: “The reality is you cannot have equality if you don’t have equity.”

While stating she is uncomfortable discussing this type of conflict in public, Johnson said it was the mayor who “broke the rules of decorum” and “I feel the need to defend myself.”

“First, my words were taken out of context,” Johnson said. “Second, I was advocating for a fair, unbiased process. And third, my words provoked hard feelings and they were misunderstood. I feel this kind of political grandstanding was done to cast me in a negative light.”

She also said she did not understand at the time she wrote her email that the CARES Act funds were intended to prioritize underserved businesses.

“Looking forward, I would ask the mayor to pick up the phone and call me to discuss issues of concern to him,” Johnson said. “If I am misunderstood, I will explain. And if I am misinformed, then I will listen. And we can all benefit from better communication.”

— By Teresa Wippel

 

15 Replies to “Tuesday council meeting: Housing commissioners offer update, mayor plans stiffer fireworks fines, councilmember explains her email”

  1. Per MRSC, Mayors and staff do not make Policy decisions. However, they have strong influence on the Policymaking process and its resultant decisions. Mayors propose budgets and make Policy recommendations to City Councils. In a Mayor-Council Form of Government, Policy and administration are separate. All Legislative and Policymaking powers are vested in the City Council.
    I think it better for the City Council to ask the City Attorney to update the City’s Fireworks Ordinance if City Council feels it needs to be updated. City Council are our Policy Makers.
    Our current Fireworks related fines and penalties, adopted in 1995 state that:
    Any person violating or failing to comply with the provisions of this chapter which does not also constitute a violation of sate (state) law shall be guilty of a civil infraction and upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine of $50.00 for the first offense, $100.00 for the second offense, $150.00 for the third offense and $200.00 for each offense within a three-year period. Any violation of this chapter which also constitutes a violation of state law shall be punishable under state law penalties. In addition, any fireworks that are involved in the violation may be confiscated. [Ord. 3027 § 1, 1995].
    One problem with using fixed dollar amounts in the Code is that the value of a dollar changes over time. For example, a $50 fine in 1995 is roughly equal to a $29 fine today.
    Perhaps our Fireworks laws should be updated as part of an overall rewrite of the entire Code, made up of both the Edmonds City Code (ECC) and the Edmonds Community Development Code (ECDC). When such is done, all specific dollar amounts mentioned in the entire Code can be addressed. For example, the bonding requirements for our finance director, city clerk, deputy city clerk, chief of police and city attorney have not been updated since January of 1982. Currently, these officers shall be bonded and may be so bonded by an individual bond policy or by a blanket bond policy including other city employees, naming the city of Edmonds as its beneficiary and bonding all covered officers and employees for $5,000 or more for fidelity, for $5,000 or more for faithful performance, and for $45,000 or more as an aggregate excess fidelity coverage.
    To obtain similar coverage today, these bond requirements need to almost be tripled. $5,000 to over $13,500 and $45,000 to over $123,000.
    There was a time when our fireworks laws involved Criminal violations instead of Civil infractions. Ordinance 2900, passed September 25, 1992 included:
    “Any person violating or failing to comply with the provisions of this Chapter, except as provided in Subsection B, shall be guilty of a criminal violation, and upon conviction thereof, shall be punished by a fine not to exceed $ 1,000.00. In addition any fireworks that are involved in the violation may be confiscated.”
    Three years later it was changed to a Civil infraction via Ordinance #3027 passed June 6, 1995.

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    1. Thank you Ken for your historical perspective on our code. Yes, our code is in need of a major overhaul. My dog park friends are happy that the Mayor stated that the ordinance will be reviewed and updated! But most importantly – will it be enforced next year as we (O.L.A.E. Off-Leash Area Edmonds) received a lot of complaints this year as to how bad it was with ALL the fireworks that occurred in Edmonds over a number of nights.

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      1. Thanks Diane. As a citizen, I do not want the Mayor’s office initiating changes to our Policies and directing the City Attorney to draft any Ordinance. All Legislative and Policymaking powers are vested in the City Council. I prefer the City Council initiate changes to our Policies, and I prefer that the City Council be the entity that directs the City Attorney to draft any and all Ordinances.

        The City Attorney just told the City Council during his Annual Report on Tuesday night that the highest authority is the City Council. I prefer that the City Council employ some of this authority to insist that our Mayors do what the Edmonds City Code requires Mayors to do per Chapter 2.01:

        2.01.010 Duties.
        The mayor shall be the chief executive and administrative officer of the city, in charge of all departments and employees, with authority to designate assistants and department heads. The mayor shall see that all laws and ordinances are faithfully enforced and that law and order is maintained in the city, and shall have general supervision of the administration of city government and all city interest. [Ord. 2349 § 2, 1983].

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  2. All this discussion is a waste of time unless someone is actually arrested, ticketed and fined for fireworks violations. I suspect this rarely, if ever, happens in actuality. I would welcome a statement from the Edmonds police public relations officer as to how many citations were issued this year and how much was actually paid in fines. Maybe a segment for “Ask the Edmonds Cop?”

    I would be happy to be proved wrong on my stated suspicions above. I would make an educated guess that people violate these laws and ordinances because they know the worst they will get in the way of punishment might be a lecture from a policeman or fire marshal and even that is highly unlikely in the real world we live in. In fairness to the police and fire officials here, this is just another “damned if they do, and damned if they don’t” situation they have to deal with so often in their chosen line of work.

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    1. The other factor in people not being caught is, they know it’s difficult to figure out who’s doing the fireworks if they set them off intermittently. From my home, I hear fireworks every year in City Park. But one will go off, then 15 minutes later, one more. Then five minutes later. And from the sound, they are obviously moving around within the park, or on the street adjacent. Finding the perpetrator is going to be a significant challenge.
      Homeowners doing it in their yard are a lot easier, and yes, I agree, they should be cited and fined. There’s no reason anyone should just get a warning, the fact it’s illegal is made abundantly clear.

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  3. Komo reported that: “In Edmonds, police say they handled about 75 fireworks calls between 7 p.m. Saturday and 1 a.m. Sunday.” It doesn’t say how many citations were issued but it looks like our police officers were kept very busy that night.

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  4. Great. Then let’s hear about how those contacts were handled, tickets given out and fines paid. We are all paying high taxes for our police and fire protection so it is only fair that we would get a financial accounting in regards to the fireworks issue. If the idea of all that enforcement is to stop the noise, then something obviously isn’t working the way it is supposed to. Fireworks cost a lot of money so paying some hefty fines should be no problem for the perpetrators, don’t you think?

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  5. If they make it widely known that first offense is a $50 fine I expect a lot more people to break the law. I had assumed it was at least $200 dollars, like running a red light cam. If someone goes out and spends $500 on fireworks do they really care about the extremely unlikely chance they will get $50 tacked on?

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  6. I agree that the fines should be increased to the point where they financially hurt the offender. More than that I just want them to stop! One of my neighbors sets fireworks off not only on the 4th, but also New Years, the Lunar New Year & occasionally other times. I’m sure the increase this year was due to the cancellation of the municipal shows. It was horrible where I live. It seemed to be all around me. I was ready to join my cat in the closet.

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  7. Was there the annual fireworks show downtown? If not, do you suppose that is why there were so many fireworks in neighborhoods?

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  8. With the cancellation of the annual 4th of July festivities we were able to dedicate two officers to fireworks response. This allowed the patrol staffing for that night (Sergeant, Corporal and four officers) to respond to the other 911 calls that were coming in. It was a busy night for those officers as well as they handled multiple other calls that required longer than normal investigations.

    The two officers that focused on fireworks, did so with an emphasis on education. No tickets were issued and there was one confiscation. Taking the time to contact every violator and take enforcement action would have significantly impacted our ability to get to as many calls as they did. Having a positive, educational contact with our residents on a day of celebration was going to be much more impactful given all our communities have endured this year. Of note, is that fireworks were lawful in the unincorporated Esperance area which spans roughly from 220th to 234th and from Highway 99 to 92nd Avenue. Many of the calls in that area of Edmonds were from fireworks in Esperance.

    While we did not stop every violation, we did address over 70 acts to include 58 dispatched calls. Between 8 and 1030pm, 54 fireworks calls had been addressed or were holding. By 1150pm there were none. Six calls more calls came in between 12:30 am and 6:00am. Officers found two fires (brush and dumpster) and did not encounter anyone injured from fireworks.

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    1. Most violators know that fireworks are illegal in our city. The only way to get their attention is thru their pocketbooks.

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  9. “diverse housing policy options for council consideration designed to expand the range of housing (including rental and owned) available in Edmonds:…”

    Traditionally Edmonds funding has come from property taxes. Developing more housing options (meaning changing zones because we have already built everywhere) just increases the city dependence on property taxes. The city continues to put all their eggs in one basket… property taxes (which by the way continue to go up).

    When will the city of Edmonds realize that they need to diversify their income and begin investing in business and business development zones. All focus should be placed on business development until property taxes are not the majority income for the city.

    Can someone please send a copy of Simcity to the city.

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  10. Regarding Fireworks enforcement, the Edmonds City Code states that the fire chief, or designee, is authorized to enforce all provisions of the Fireworks chapter of our Code. (ECC 5.27.180)

    Our City Code (ECC 2.12.010) also says that whenever any reference is made in the provisions of the Edmonds City Code or Edmonds Community Development Code to “fire chief,” “fire marshal,” “fire department” or any other reference to a fire fighter or fire services, such term shall include, for the provision of administrative or other day to day fire services, to reference the fire chief, fire marshal and fire fighting services performed for the city by contract by Snohomish County Fire District No. 1.

    So, I guess Snohomish County Fire District No. 1, or designee, is authorized to enforce all provisions of the Fireworks chapter of our Code.

    However, Snohomish County Fire District 1 and Lynnwood Fire Department joined forces on Oct. 1, 2017 to form South Snohomish County Fire & Rescue. Voters in Lynnwood and Fire District 1 approved the formation of this Regional Fire Authority in the Aug. 1, 2017 Primary Election.

    I don’t think there is a Snohomish County Fire District 1 any longer and I’m not sure why our Code hasn’t been updated to reflect this 2017 change.

    I wonder if South Snohomish County Fire & Rescue, a Regional Fire Authority, is now the entity authorized to enforce all provisions of the Fireworks chapter of the Edmonds City Code. If so, I wonder if they know this and if they designated Fireworks enforcement to the Edmonds Police Department. If so, I wonder how they made and documented such a designation.

    Hopefully our City Council will investigate, clarify and update all that needs to be updated. All Legislative and Policymaking powers are vested in the City Council. I prefer the City Council initiate changes to our Policies, and I prefer that the City Council be the entity that directs the City Attorney to draft any and all Ordinances.

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