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