Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson took to Zoom Thursday evening to continue his virtual neighborhood meetings — this time with a focus on North Edmonds.
Nelson began by providing his list of five priorities. At the top was the city’s response to COVID-19 and supporting the local economy. Unfortunately, the mayor said, COVID cases in Snohomish County are rising, which the Snohomish Health District has described as the fourth wave of the virus.
As a result, the county “most likely” is moving back from Phase 3 of Gov. Jay’s Inslee’s latest reopening plan to Phase 2, based on COVID case counts and hospitalizations.
For local residents, that means that “if you go into a business or a restaurant before they had 50% capacity, now they are going to have to go back to 25% capacity,” Nelson said. “So please, please, please wear your masks, watch your social distancing and get vaccinated.”
Congress recently passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan aimed at supporting those who have been impacted by the virus, Nelson said, and Edmonds anticipates receiving up to $9 million in federal funds soon “to help those most in need,” Nelson said.
The city has weathered the economic impacts of COVID better than many communities, Nelson said, as evidenced by the city’s real estate and sales tax revenues. During the first quarter of 2019, the city brought in $530,000 in real estate excise taxes, which increased to $685,000 during the same time period in 2020. And in 2021, that first-quarter number was $1.2 million. “So people are still wanting to live and buy homes and buy businesses in our community, which is wonderful,” Nelson said.
Edmonds saw similar gains in sales tax revenue, with $2.6 million in sales tax during the first four months of 2019 and $2.69 million during that same time period in 2020. For the first four months of 2021, over $3 million in sales tax revenue was generated.
“With the exception of bars and restaurants, retail sales in nearly all sectors of the Edmonds economy have grown from 2020 until today, despite being in a pandemic,” Nelson said, “which I think is really, really amazing for our city.”
Another of the mayor’s priorities is renewing Highway 99, which “has been neglected for a long, long time,” he said. The two-mile stretch of the highway that runs through Edmonds carries approximately 40,000 vehicles daily. It has also been designated as one of the most dangerous roadways in the state, the mayor said, in part due to the two-way center-turn lanes and lack of pedestrian crossings.
This year, the city will begin work to install a center median with plantings, with the goal of reducing one-quarter of the highway’s vehicle crashes. The plan also calls for a lighted pedestrian crosswalk as well as signs at either end that let people know they are entering and exiting Edmonds.
In addition, Nelson pointed to a “community renewal plan” for the southern-most portion of Highway 99 aimed at addressing crime, graffiti and abandoned buildings in the area, adding the city will likely be working with a consultant to develop public-private partnerships. The goal is “to really help redevelop and revitalize that area to make it look more like a neighborhood, which is really what we want that to be,” he said. The city is also working to establish a satellite office on the highway to provide city services.
Nelson then turned to his priority for “helping the most vulnerable,” noting that Edmonds for the first time created a human services program, with $500,000 in funding allocated by the city council in this year’s budget. The city will be bringing on a contracted social worker and social services agency to assist with that effort. The goal, he said, is “to help our seniors, to help those who are housing unstable, those who are unsheltered, prevent those from becoming homeless.”
As of April 1, the human services program will be housed in the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department, which has been “very involved in our COVID response,” Nelson said.
A fourth priority Nelson mentioned was equity and inclusion, pointing to the creation of his Equity and Justice Task Force, which issued a series of recommendations earlier this year focused mainly on policing and increasing the police department’s community engagement efforts. The police department is currently hiring a community engagement coordinator with an application deadline of May 14, the mayor said.
The Equity and Justice Task Force also recommended that city government as a whole view decision-making “through an equity lens,” he said. City departments have begun a training “to retool how we as a city operates.” As an example, he noted that if someone recommends building a city park on the waterfront, “we have to say, ‘OK, does that make sense, does that serve those who have been underserved historically?’ It makes us look at things from a different light.”
Also related to equity and inclusion, the city has a new art grant program with $50,000 designed “to promote diversity and access to arts and culture in Edmonds,” he said.
A fifth priority for the mayor is protecting parks and open spaces. He noted that the Washington State Legislature during its recently concluded session set aside a quarter of a million dollars in seed money to assist with Edmonds Marsh land acquisition. In addition, the state’s Transportation Budget now includes language that says the city could be first in line to purchase marsh property that is now owned by Unocal and will revert to state ownership once cleanup at the former Unocal fuel site is complete, Nelson said.
The mayor said his conservation advisory group is also working on a land acquisition strategy to guide the city when opportunities arise for open space purchases. He said the city is in “preliminary discussions” for open space acquisitions, including one “that could be in the North Edmonds area.”
In his final priority, the mayor said the city also later this year will be starting a safe salmon certification process, which involves a third-party review of policies and procedures related to the city’s watershed to ensure those “are actually (good) for our salmon.”
The mayor then turned the meeting over to the three department directors on hand for the meeting: Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Angie Feser, Acting Police Chief Michelle Bennett and Public Works and Utilities Director Phil Williams.
Feser talked about the city’s 2022 Parks, Recreation and Open Space (PROS) plan update, which she described as “very important document which we use as a guideline to map out our approach to how we manage and enhance our parks system, our trails, our open spaces and recreation programming for the entire community of Edmonds.”
Community involvement and engagement is a key part of developing the plan, and public meetings and a survey are planned as part of that effort, she said.
Speaking directly to issues affecting North Edmonds, Acting Police Chief Bennett said the police department is using its radar trailer – which indicates the speeds at which people are driving in certain areas “to try to control speed,” although she added that the north end “doesn’t have a high number of vehicle crashes.” She said she is also is looking forward to getting the department’s community engagement coordinator on board to interact with residents.
Public Works Director Phil Williams talked about the city’s response to recent flooding in Perrinville Creek, which has “turned into a major issue” for the city. He started by noting that the Perrinville Creek basin is unique in that it has “a steep gradient in the upland” and runs through very sandy, rocky soil. Due to climate change, the Pacific Northwest’s storm pattern has changed, with “a much larger percentage of our annual rainfall in fewer and fewer storms, so each of them to be larger and more intense.” As a result, storms in late 2020 and early 2021, “the flows in Perrinville Creek peak very high and very quickly and it carries with it all sorts of sediment,” overwhelming the culvert under Talbot Road and resulting in roadway flooding.
The city has two high-flow diversion boxes that the city designed and built nearly three decades ago “to allow normal flows to go underneath the fence (seen in the photo) and the higher flows to be stripped off and go out a pipeline directly to Puget Sound,” Williams said. “It worked well for a while but as our storm patterns have changed over the years it does not work now.”
The city has been working with the State Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Tulalip Tribes freshwater and saltwater fisheries biologists as well as the BNSF railroad and other stakeholders “to try to come up with a good answer here,” he said, adding the city now has “a rough plan to address the issue.”
He referred to a map showing Perrinville Creek in blue as it leaves Southwest County Park — lower right corner — and flows down to Talbot Road. The green area on the map is a hanging culvert, which means the bottom of the culvert is well above the bottom of the creek. As a result, any fish that end up in the lower creek can’t get back to the upper creek, he said adding that the fish blockage “has been an issue for years.”
The stream daylights where the two green dots are and that’s where the diversion boxes are located. It then makes several 90 degree turns before the BNSF culvert (shown in orange, it’s the pipe that goes under the railroad tracks. Those turns aren’t normal for streams, Williams said, adding “all that does is create a place for sediment to settle out. That entire channel, from the diversion boxes out to the BNSF culvert, is sompletely full of sand and rocks right now,” Williams said.
As of now, the plan is to build a new channel (shown on the map in purple) that has a more direct route out to the culvert. That would involve negoitations with a private property owner, which have begun, Williams said. “Our hope is that by straightening that out, widening the channel, deepening it, it will be able to handle the flows that Perrinville Creek is now exposed to.” The channel, Williams added, would be self-cleaning, meaning the city could eventually take out the diversion structures. The BNSF culvert would have to be replaced with an open-bottom culvert or bridge to create fish-friendly entrance to Perrinville Creek, he explained.
The city has also been taking other measures to help Perrinville Creek, including infiltration work where stormwater is intercepted and infiltrated into the groundwater so it can flow more slowly toward the creek. The first half of that infiltration work, at Seaview Park, was completed in 2018; phase two is in design this year with construction set for 2022, Williams said. Future infiltration work will also be conducted as funding is acquired, all of which will improve creek flow and sediment transfer, he added.
Mayor Nelson then addressed several questions that had been pre-submitted by attendees, including one that asked how residents can again get access to the beach in North Edmonds, which has been fenced off for the past 10 years due to safety concerns related to the railroad tracks.
Williams noted due to recent fatalities on the tracks, BNSF “has taken a very aggressive posture in the last two to three years about accessing across their tracks,” even for private property owners who have gates on their back fence that abut the railroad frontage.
“I doubt you are going to see that be more friendly going forward,” he said.
Another question asked about the possibility of building more sidewalks in North Edmonds. Williams said that it’s difficult for the city to get grant money for sidewalks, but did note that the city now has a “sidewalk crew” to do smaller projects.
In terms of prioritizing, Williams said, “what we look for is places where there are significant numbers of pedestrians and stretches of street where they make key connections between a school and a park, medical facilities, commercial areas and high-density residential.”
Nelson added that only half of Edmonds’ city streets have sidewalks “so it’s something we are constantly trying to play catchup with and really want to see more of. I’m committed to getting more sidewalks,” he said.
— By Teresa Wippel
Despite COVID, Edmonds eople are still wanting