Edmonds City Councilmember Luke Distelhorst launched his election campaign virtually Monday, running to retain his Position 2 seat. The 36-year-old candidate was appointed in January 2020 to fill the unexpired term of former Councilmember and now Mayor Mike Nelson,
He faces competition from three challengers in the Aug. 4 primary election: Janelle Cass, Will Chen and Laura Petso. The top two candidates in the primary vote will advance to the November general election.
A seven-year Edmonds resident, Distelhorst spent three years as president of Friends of the Edmonds Library and was a member of the Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation Board. A public information specialist for Community Transit, his educational background includes two years at Western Washington University in East Asia Studies followed by Mongolian Studies at the National University of Mongolia. He also spent a year as a journalist/photographer with Reuters.
According to the candidate’s website, his primary focus since being appointed to city council has been helping those most in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. Along these lines, he authored and worked with the council to pass a moratorium on residential evictions. He also supported the launch of a housing and relief fund to support Edmonds residents impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which distributed $580,000 for housing, food and other life necessities. He currently serves as the council representative on the city’s COVID-19 Recovery Task Force.
On hand to show their support Monday evening were State Sen. Marko Liias, a 21st District Democrat; fellow Edmonds City Councilmember Laura Johnson and several others. The event was emceed by Richard Suico.
“I’m proud to support Luke for Edmonds City Council,” began Liias. “We’ve just finished an historic state (legislative) session where we took bold action on housing affordability and a suite of police accountability measures – but we really rely on our local partners to make sure these changes reach our communities. I depend on strong partners like Luke to ensure that change actually reaches the folks it needs to.”
Liias went on to praise how Luke has “spoken up for those in Edmonds who haven’t been represented before,” and how when the pandemic hit, he made sure that families struggling with housing instability got the resources they needed, including grants and great city staff to help them.
“Luke is not focused on just folks who already have things aligned for themselves,” he continued. “Rather he makes it a real priority to address every segment of the community, especially those who don’t always see city government as being on their side.”
Pointing out that issues like housing affordability and transportation don’t start and stop at the city line, Liias stressed the critical importance of regional partnerships, building bridges and working collaboratively with our neighbors in the region.
“That’s exactly what Luke has been doing in his short time on city council,” Liias said. “Luke is a fantastic city councilmember, and someone I hope we all will support in November.”
Distelhorst next took the podium to outline and explain his priorities.
“We need to build equity into our decisions and into our city,” he began. “I mentioned this during my appointment process, and it remains among my top priorities.”
He went on to explain that this includes ensuring that city resources are available to all residents; that parks, open spaces and public art are spread throughout the city; that public engagement efforts involve a range of voices with no barriers to participation; and that public safety and human services center on the needs of those living in Edmonds. Distelhorst also pointed to the importance of legislation to reduce gun violence, and stressed that community resources be mobilized to address systemic racism.
“Going downtown for city services isn’t always an option for some of our residents,” he continued. Citing community courts as an example, he stressed the need to “bring government to where the people are.”
Noting Tuesday’s one-year anniversary of the George Floyd murder, he observed that “we have much to do to address systemic racism in our society and our city,” and pledged to work to ensure appropriate budget allocations to address this.
Moving to transportation, Distelhorst expressed support for a complete streets policy that helps balance the needs of all users – walkers, rollers, bicyclists and motorists – when projects are being planned. He noted that part of this would include incentivizing electric vehicles, and that this also ties into climate action by reducing emissions and pollutants that can harm the salmon recovery efforts currently underway in Edmonds.
Continuing on the subject of climate, he said that “Edmonds has been very forward on setting targets, and we don’t have time to waste in our efforts to implement action items.” This means looking at how the city’s decisions support the Paris Climate Agreement targets, including low-impact development principles, ongoing watershed improvement and salmon recovery work.
“I want to make sure we take a holistic approach to the environment by assessing each action in terms of how it will help us or hurt us in achieving our climate goals,” he said.
Moving on to housing, Distelhorst outlined his priorities to ensure thriving neighborhoods throughout Edmonds.
“This means ensuring that housing supports local businesses, residents and the community,” he began. “Mixed-use neighborhood such as Firdale, Five Corners, Westgate and Perrinville form activity centers with walkable living, housing, local small businesses and public space that help create community.”
Focusing on housing, he pledged to work for diverse housing options to meet community needs that include housing over a range of sizes and prices to support seniors looking to downsize, college students and young professionals, essential workers and first responders, young couples and families – all with the goal of promoting “human-scaled” living that supports walkable neighborhoods and small businesses.
He said that since being appointed to the council, he’s “been lucky” to serve on three groups tackling the housing issue – the Alliance for Housing Affordability Board, the Snohomish County Tomorrow steering committee, and as one of two city council liaisons to the Citizens Housing Commission — and that these have provided an understanding of the range of issues involved.
As an example of his collaborative approach to addressing issues, he cited his work with fellow Councilmember Vivian Olson to forge an interlocal agreement with the Housing Authority of Snohomish County to create more opportunity for income-restricted housing.
“According to a recent regional report, the market does not build this kind of housing on its own,” he noted. “Rather it needs intentional action such as this.”
In closing, Distelhorst acknowledged his endorsements, including fellow councilmembers Paine and Johnson, Mayor Mike Nelson, State Sen. Liias, and State Reps Strom Peterson, Lillian Ortiz-Self, and Cindy Ryu. (Acomplete list is available on his website lukeforedmonds.com).
Next to speak was Edmonds Councilmember Laura Johnson.
“Over the 16 months I’ve served with Luke, I’ve learned that he is the real thing,” Johnson began. “He doesn’t grandstand. He’s skilled at big-picture thinking. He’s a natural at explaining things. He’s the true definition of a public servant.”
She went on to note how after only two months on council, Distelhorst brought forth the eviction moratorium to ensure that residents hit hardest by the pandemic would not be put out of their homes. She also pointed out how he walks the talk on climate, takes buses and bikes everywhere, and is committed to sustainable transportation and reducing his personal carbon footprint.
“We all benefit by having a millennial voice on the Council,” she concluded. “In short, Edmonds needs Luke!”
Questions and answers, fielded by emcee Suico, began with a query about transportation improvements happening in Edmonds right now.
Distelhorst responded by talking about the new bike lanes that will run along Walnut, Bowdoin, Ninth, and 100th to provide connections between key points for cyclists.
“Our existing bike lanes end abruptly, often leaving cyclists stranded,” he explained. “This project will provide key north-south and east-west connections and enhance safety.”
Asked about the recent slate of housing commission recommendations, Distelhorst responded that he sees a “pretty deliberative process ahead” as the council looks at these over the coming months — decideing what fits best for both residents and the city in developing housing options.
The next question asked how he works collaboratively with other councilmembers with whom he may not agree.
“One of the great things about serving on council is that we’re all neighbors, we all live here, and we’re all working together to make Edmonds the best possible for our residents,” he explained. “This keeps me grounded – and really helps in consensus building.”
On the subject of zoning, he was asked what he would say to residents who are afraid the council will change housing from single-family zoning in parts of Edmonds.
“Zoning decisions are big and take a long time,” he responded. “Zoning changes go through a long, multi-step process often involving changing the Comprehensive Plan and going through the planning board before council gets to see it. It’s not a decision council could make quickly even if it wanted to.”
The final question asked him to identify his favorite collaborative process to date.
“There are really two,” he said. The first was his work with Council President Susan Paine on how to treat offenders charged with third-degree driving on a suspended license.
“We got a stakeholder group together that included our Muni Court judge, the city prosecutor, public defenders and the police chief,” he explained. “We had a number of meetings over months to develop and make plans to implement a policy, and ended up with a great example of bringing stakeholders together to come up with an effective way to address our citizens who come in contact with the justice system for this offense.”
The second example was his work with Verdant Health, the Edmonds Waterfront Center, the Snohomish Health District, and students from Scriber Lake High School to promote mental health and suicide prevention.
“This was very fulfilling for me and very impactful,” he observed. “And it’s especially significant in that we were able to do it during the pandemic virtually on Zoom.”
In conclusion, Distelhorst thanked his supporters, noting that “when we work together, we can find great long-term positive solutions.”
— By Larry Vogel