With equity questions looming, Edmonds Council weighs future of proposed Civic Park

Edmonds Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Angie Feser makes a presentation about Civic Field renovations to the Edmonds City Conncil Tuesday night.

While there were no decisions made Tuesday night, the Edmonds City Council had a robust debate about the future of a redesign planned for Edmonds Civic Field. Among the issues: Whether the city should move forward at all with the downtown project, given its increasing cost, especially in light of the fact that there are pockets of the city — such as Edmonds’ Highway 99 neighborhood — that have very few parks nearby.

“The 22% of Edmonds that are people of color, predominantly they live up here,” said Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, who lives near Highway 99. “Approving another park in the downtown is creating social equity and equality issues in Edmonds, as I’m constantly talking about.” The Highway 99 area has one park — Mathay Ballinger — compared to dozens located elsewhere in the city, she added. “I think we deserve to have a little bit of money spent up here vs. down there,” she added.

It’s been more than four years since the city council approved a plan for redesigning Civic Field, with the goal of transforming it into a downtown Edmonds park with range of amenities — among them, upgraded youth athletic fields and sports lighting, an inclusive playground, a walking path, a petanque court grove and a pollinator meadow. The city has been working since 2017 to find ways to fund the project — estimated in 2017 to cost $12.1 million. But now, with challenges related to site design and increasing construction costs, the project faces an even higher price tag of between $13.5 million and $15 million.

Civic Center Playfield was acquired by the City of Edmonds from the Edmonds School District in 2015 for $1.9 million; all but $400,000 was funded by grants. A master plan for the park was developed in 2016-17 with significant community input for the design. Included in the $12.1 million in construction funding to develop the park is $3.47 million in grants, $1.35 million in park impact fees and $400,000 in donations (including $258,000 from the Rotary Club of Edmonds to fund the inclusive playground). The remaining $6.9 million consists of bonds, and money from the city’s general fund and real estate excise tax revenues that were allocated in 2019 and held over each year.

At next week’s meeting, the council will consider whether to award a construction contract to the low bidder — A-1 Landscaping and Construction — and approve the additional funding necessary via two other construction contracts to build the park. In addition to the base bid, the council will consider four bid alternates, each with an additional price tag. They include an interactive water feature at the park entrance, a scramble/climbing wall, a proposal to rubberize the current asphalt perimeter path and the addition of metal tree grates.

Councilmember Laura Johnson admitted she was conflicted about what to do next. She said her family had been very engaged in the outreach process for the new Civic Park design, but the equity issue is a concern. “As a councilmember, I wonder, do we have broad support for this across the community, or is it mostly in our downtown core?” she asked.

Councilmembers Luke Distelhorst and Diane Buckshnis expressed support for staying the course on completing the park project but agreed that the equity issue needs to be addressed with future park development. Both stressed that they see the issue not as one of “either/or” but of “yes and.”

Councilmembers Vivian Olson and Kristiana Johnson said that a better alternative to abandoning the park project entirely would be support the base Civic Park construction budget and eliminate some of the optional alternatives. The money saved could be put toward other needed park projects, Olson said.

“We’ve got a great project, we’re very far along in it,” Olson said. “And i really don’t think it’s prudent at this point to turn our back on the whole project.”

Laura Johnson said she wished the city was further along in conducting its outreach to community members regarding what they’d like to see in the city’s parks. The city has launched a community survey connected with updating the city’s Parks, Recreation & Open Space Plan (PROS Plan) — a six-year guide for managing and enhancing parks, open space, trails, recreation, and cultural arts opportunities.

She and Fraley-Monillas also said that the fact the city has already invested a lot of time and money in the project shouldn’t be an excuse to not consider scrapping the park renovation. “We’ve been deep in projects before and we’ve done a u-turn or where we’ve paused,” Johnson said. The proposed Edmonds Waterfront Connector, which would have provided emergency access over the railroad tracks, is a prime example of that, Fraley-Monillas said. “We spent millions of dollars on it…and we put a stop on it at the end,” she said.

In addition to the full council reviewing Civic Park construction contracts next week, the council’s Finance Committee will be asked to take a look at possible options for closing the funding gap. Among them: phasing construction to “pay as you go,” use existing city general funds or real estate excise tax dollars, and exploring funding through additional bonds or bank loans.

Prior to the 7 p.m. business. meeting, the council held a special meeting to discuss the logistics of resuming in-person meetings now that COVID-19 public gathering restrictions have eased.

The council agreed it will return to in-person gatherings starting Tuesday, July 20. These meetings will be a hybrid approach between in person and Zoom, in which all participants — councilmembers, staff and members of the public —  have the option of appearing in the council chambers or participating remotely.

The council also decided to stick with Zoom-only meetings for its three committees, which meet on the second Tuesday monthly. Council President Susan Paine was tasked with working out the logistics of how those meetings will be ordered, as well as specific start times.

In other business, the council unanimously approved a staff proposal to create a job order contracting program focused on quick engagement of contractors in performing small- to medium-sized public works projects. And it also unanimously approved an update to the City of Edmonds compensation policy, which will allow Human Resources Director Jessica Neill Hoyson to proceed with a study of the city’s current compensation practices.

You can watch the video of the council meeting here.

— By Teresa Wippel

  1. Any discussion over equity and access to parks is disingenuous without mentioning park access in neighboring jurisdictions. Esperance has a park and those in the Lake Ballinger area are a short bike ride/walk/drive from one of the best parks/attractions in south Snohomish county – Lake Ballinger Park in MLT. So, Councilmembers Johnson & Fraley- Monillas saying that the area has only “one park” is very misleading. Yes, it might be the only park located in Edmonds proper but residents have other options including one of the best parks around.

    The highway 99 area absolutely does need substantial investment and money for parks/open space should be very high on that list. I’m hopeful the Community Renewal Plan that the city started in the southern mile of Highway 99 will be a catalyst for that.

    It should also be mentioned that comparing the Civic Park project to the Waterfront Connector as an example where the City has changed course after substantial investment is missing one large and incredibly important detail. As this article mentions, there is over $400k of donated funds towards Civic field and that is not including the incredibly generous $1.5m committed from the Hazel Miller Foundation. It would be an act of bad faith for the city to just walk-away from the project at this juncture.

    Lastly – the renovated Civic Field will not just be a downtown attraction, but it will serve all of the residences of Edmonds and those in surrounding cities. It will spur new economic activity and increased tax dollars that can be spent throughout the city. We shouldn’t be short sighted. This project is a bold and great investment for our ENTIRE city.

    1. Kevin, your comments are well taken. Also, it should be noted our local Rotary club has committed to fund inclusive playground equipment at Civic Park that will serve kids from all parts of our city with physical disabilities. And on July 4, a very large crowd from all over the area was treated to a great fireworks show—there is simply no other park in town with the space needed to host that sort of civic celebration. The renovated Civic Park will be an amenity enjoyed by all Edmonds residents.

    2. Mr. Smith not only hits the nail on the head, but hits numerous nails on their heads.
      Mr. Smith’s letter should be reviewed and carefully considered by city council members.

  2. The November 10, 2015 City Council Meeting Agenda Packet is missing from the City’s website. I believe it is the only Agenda Packet missing for all of 2015.

    November 10, 2015 was the night City Council authorized the Mayor to execute the Purchase and Sale Agreement for the park use property at Civic Field. I have requested the Agenda Packet be added to the City’s website so citizens can review the important information included in that Agenda Packet.

    I would also like to see the legal documents that limit the property to park use.

    I wonder what the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office thinks about the discussion that took place last night. Will this impact their future decisions involving Edmonds?

    I wonder what the Snohomish County Conservation Futures Program Advisory Board (CFPAB) thinks about the discussion that took place last night. Will this impact their future decisions involving Edmonds?

    The November 10, 2015 City Council Meeting Minutes include:

    The acquisition of Civic Field is contained in the Comprehensive Plan, the Parks, Recreation and Open Space (PROS) Plan and in the recently adopted Strategic Plan. It has been present in the PROS Plan for the past 25 years and has been a high priority for the City for a long time. In addition to support in all the planning elements of the City, when the PROS Plan was updated recently, all the public comment and the random sample telephone survey identified the acquisition of Civic Field as a top priority.

    Does anybody remember us spending millions of dollars on the Waterfront Connector Project before Council put a stop on it at the end? I need to research this more, but I thought we spent just under a million dollars on it before putting a stop to it early in the planning process.

    1. The City emailed me a copy of the November 10, 2015 Agenda Packet yesterday. The related Narrative states that:
      “The acquisition of this property has been a long time goal of the City and in the City’s Comprehensive
      Plan since the 1980’s. The School District has never been willing to sell it. This is a very valuable piece
      of real estate in the heart of downtown Edmonds. The City has had the fortune to utilize this as a key
      community asset and has reaped the benefits for over 40 years. The School District has recently
      approached us with their intent to sell the property. We have been in active negotiations for the past
      year. The City of Edmonds lists this acquisition as a number one priority this year in the PROS plan and
      the City’s Comprehensive Plan.”

      I also researched the Waterfront Connector Issue. I believe it was stopped after Phase 1 of a 4 Phase planning process and less than $1 million was spent on that Phase 1. If I am wrong, hopefully somebody will provide better information. Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas did state: “We spent millions of dollars on it…and we put a stop on it at the end”.

  3. This Strong Mayor/Weak Council system is useless. We might as well just disband the Council and make running the city a serial dictatorship which it basically is anyway. It is just as easy and sensible for one person to make stupid decisions as it is to pay eight people to make stupid decisions. “I just can’t make up my mind about this issue.” “Over 20% of non-Whites don’t have a city park close by and we thru away millions on the Connector so why not throw away millions on the Civic Field Park.” Brilliant reasoning and comments. Thanks so much for all you do for us.

  4. Anybody else bothered by Laura and AFM saying that it is okay to spend millions of taxpayer dollars on projects just to change their mind? Aren’t Council supposed to be taking care of tax dollars in a responsible way? Its not THEIR money; its taxpayer money. How many millions of our taxes have they wasted?

  5. The following is from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition Website. They have a webpage for “Civic Park Development” that discusses the $500,000 WWRP Grant. The webpage includes the following Narrative:

    The City of Edmonds will use this grant to develop Civic Park, an 8 acre park, located in downtown Edmonds. Development will include upgrading the athletic fields, playground, skatepark, and tennis court. Additional development will include pathways, an outdoor fitness zone, multi-use sport court, gathering plaza, picnic area and restroom. The primary recreation opportunity provided by this project will be active recreation. The City recently purchased this park site, from the Edmonds School District in 2015, with help from a WWRP Local Parks acquisition grant. In 2016, the City implemented a robust public process to master plan this property. The Civic Park Master Plan embraces the potential of this downtown park to contribute to a sense of community identity and civic pride while promoting active, healthy lifestyles, energizing the local economy and bolstering the city’s growing reputation as a destination on Puget Sound. The legacy of the park as an iconic place for active and passive recreation, gathering, celebration and enhanced daily life is intended to serve Edmonds for generations to come.

    I believe the City has raised over $3.5 Million in Grants and Donations for Park Development. Will this be lost if Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and Laura Johnson are successful in stopping the City Park long desired at Civic Field?

    Will we also have to return the $1.5 Million the City received from the State and County to purchase the park property?

  6. Edmonds Civic Park is an investment worth completing – that’s the focus that is needed. It’s been in the planning stages for at least four years. How much longer do we really need to wait? I’m one of those that do use the park frequently, being a proud member of the Edmonds Pétanque Club. With that, I feel I have a good understanding of the patterns of the park – its used and unused areas as well as who uses it. Anyone who has spent time at Civic Park realizes that it requires a major face reconstruction rather than a carton worth of bandages applied in a higgledy-piggledy chaotic pattern. The tennis courts are in dire need of being overhauled and updated to include pickle ball usage. The Edmonds boys and girls Club facility (that serves a broad and diverse group of citizens) is past its prime and needs Medicare. The area inside the track is being used primarily by Canadian geese – without passports. The list goes on. This is valuable park real estate going to waste. It’s time to transform this underachieved plot of land into a cohesive and beautiful destination whether by foot, bike, car, bus, or ferry.
    Anyone who takes pride in our wonderful town hopefully can visualize the advantages of improving the park for the benefit of improving the entire city. The improvements that have been and are being completed show the abundance of a strong and connected community – a quality that should not be denied to Civic Park.
    Renovation is needed – that’s a given. The longer we wait, the more expensive it will become – that is a given: the delay due to covid has already demonstrated that. Time to stand up and move forward ASAP on this project. This should not negate any other progress in other areas of Edmonds as far as new parks go. Those projects deserve their own time at this point in time.

  7. Great comments Kevin.
    Edmonds has charted a course to attract more visitors. Walkable Edmonds, Bike Lanes, Dive Park, Dog Park, Arts Corridor, Creative District, Spray Pads, and all our other civic events and festivals. Civic Field/Park is just another in the long list of places and features that attracts folks to Edmonds. These features are widely marketed to attract folks to the area.
    1. A few years back when the State authorized the idea of “Metro Parks Districts” Edmonds was quick to set up a citizens group to explore MPD. That group recommended creating a MPD with Edmonds being the first to be part of the MPD. The vision of those citizens was to expand it to include other areas of South Snohomish County. One of the primary features of the MPD was to create a dedicated funding source for parks. That notion gained a lot of support when we created our Strategic Plan. The plan met with staff resistance when the citizens wanted to use the existing park funding and dedicate it to MPD and staff wanted to use the idea of MPD to float a tax measure to fund MPD and keep the current general fund money used for parks for things other than parks. It may be time to dust off the work done by that citizens committee and assess a MPD once again.
    2. Follow the money folks. Council has discuss for YEARS, to implement the most supported idea in the SAP…Budgeting By Priorities. We will always have less money than we want for public projects and BBP will go a long way to taking he individual whims of council members out of the equation and be more responsive to all the citizens.
    3. Using the Connector, its funding and council changing its position is a funny deal. We did not spend millions, we had lined out outside resources and we stopped. What did not stop was the need for an emergency crossing. Where is the plan and discussion for solving that problem?

    1. I suggest you read Ken Reidy’s comments past and present and you will see that Edmonds city government was dysfunctional long before this Left leaning crew took the reins. Some people get favorable treatment and some don’t. It has never paid dividends to be crossways with an Edmonds Mayor. Getting rid of AFM and LD is a band aid but no cure.

      1. Thanks Clint. The November 10, 2015 Agenda Packet that I obtained yesterday includes a discussion of the Civic Field Purchase and discloses that the City Council met several times in Executive Session to discuss pricing offers during the negotiations process with the Edmonds School District.

        City Council can enter Executive Session to consider the selection of a site or the acquisition of real estate by lease or purchase WHEN public knowledge regarding such consideration would cause a likelihood of increased price. I don’t recall if there was public knowledge that the City of Edmonds was considering the purchase of Civic Field when these Executive Sessions took place.

        On the topic of dysfunction, I believe one solid example is documented in my Public Comments made for the February 16, 2021 City Council Meeting. I encourage those interested to review my February 16th Public Comments. The comments are included in the February 16, 2021 City Council Meeting Minutes available on the City’s website. My comments discuss Executive Sessions and related issues. I believe the comments are very important.

        The City Council no longer keeps written minutes or notes of what is discussed in Executive Session. Recall of Executive Session discussions is subject to individual memories of what was discussed. If a Councilmember is absent, they have no written documentation to refer to. I guess they are left to asking a fellow councilmember if they remember what was discussed. Hopefully that memory is accurate and complete.

        Executive Session Meeting Minutes were kept between 1996 and 2016 because the 1996 City Council thought that such was in the public interest. The 2016 City Council ended that practice.

  8. Darrell you are so correct about taking individual council members whims out of the equation. Would not even be a factor except its election season. I always thought all are parks are open to all people who want to use them not just people in the bowl.

    1. When we set up the 7 zones for the Housing Work. I think the then council president assigned council members to zones. AMF lives in on of the zones along Hwy 99, but did not chose to represent those folks? Assigned someone else to her zone. If “equity” is so important why not represent the people in that area then as proposed now?

      1. Darrol – I could be wrong but I believe the council agreed that no councilmember would represent their own “district” for purpose of this exercise because not every “district” had a councilmember

  9. Wow, this council is messed up. It’s unbelievable to me that Edmonds residents would vote these wishy-washy non-decision makers into office.

    Just get on with the park already. My gosh. Time to quite playing with your navels and move on, council.

  10. Why are these questions now being raised just one meeting away from reviewing bids let alone the $ and city staff time spent on the project? Seems like a level of dysfunction that has been a constant in the City of Edmonds politics for some time. It would be great to know the true source of this dysfunction so we can vote this element out of office and return civility and proper governance to our great City. As taxpayers, we deserve a well functioning City government.

  11. King Richard III’s bones were found under a car park in England. Archeologists kicked off a site excavation and an extensive research project which exhumed his remans, studied them, and reburied them. They even did genetic analysis, determined a lot about how he ate, his lifestyle and how he died. A legal battle ensued over his remains and artifacts was initiated and settled. All this was done in just a couple years. City Park still endures. I wanna be buried there. Are plots for sale?


  12. The Waterfront Connector was stopped because a very tiny number of disproportionately affluent and outrageously self-entitled waterfront landowners cried, screamed, and lied their pants off until they got their way.

    The analogy isn’t especially apt, is all I’m sayin’.

    1. Simply not true CJ Alexander. Hundreds of people rose up in figurative arms (literally showed up in mass to protest at a city council meeting) to stop what was on the face of it a stupid plan to build an over pass onto the beach which is a marine sanctuary. The alleged “need” for this overpass was the safety of hundreds of people who could be trapped by trains and the need for an emergency exit for the ferry system. Both overblown fear claims by the politicos who then ran Edmonds. They went so far as to call very common local suicides by train, “pedestrian deaths,” to help push the plan forward. Like these deaths were accidental rather than purposeful. To blame the waterfront land owners for this is simplistic thinking and not true. They did tend to support Nelson for Mayor after he helped deep six the Connector with his Council vote, so to that extent, I suppose you are a little right, but they were a small minority of who actually opposed the connector.

  13. Something that rarely gets any ink… the cost to maintain all of our existing parks. Did they say there are 48 of them? Most existing parks, the ones not included in the Bowlie boundaries, are in terrible shape from lack of maintenance. Costs money, so it just isn’t done or it is minimal at best. We have many, many parks. Council is always hot to build new ones, but then neglects funding for maintenance and then onto acquiring more. Civic Field will become a money pit. Just for fun go out to Haines Wharf. Then try to imagine how the City managed to spend millions on that. Then imagine what that kind of money could do for maintaining all of of other quite nice and neglected parks. Not dumping on our parks workers at all. They are fabulous and work really hard. But their is only so much they can do with little money in the budget.

  14. There is a teensy, tiny minority of people who live in downtown Edmonds, near this proposed park. After all, Edmonds is on waterfront property, 98% of people cannot afford to live there. Well, that’s okay. The new park can still can serve the needs of the vast majority who visit Edmonds to enjoy its beauty and charm. I wish our city leaders would stop being ruled by the ‘it’s not fair’ mentality, and do the adult, responsible work required of them.

    1. You have no vast majority coming here. Infact now you don’t even have all of us. Thanks to your selfish take both days on the weekends with walkable main. You’ll see. But it may be too late.
      Why do we have less than more students enrolling at Woodway? Come on, give it up.

  15. It’s great to have residents with historical knowledge on these projects making comments. This is incredibly helpful to everyone. Thank you for sharing the information.

    By doing so you give us a better understanding of how we got to this point, what past decisions were made and why.

    This helps us when we reach out to our elected officials and ask intelligent questions and make comments. It’s good for Edmonds!

  16. I’m in total agreement those who support moving ahead with the Civic Park project. Why is it even a question? This project has been years in the making. It included an extensive public input process, with hundreds of Edmonds residents reviewing and commenting on the proposed design in public meetings. Their voices are just as strong today as they were two years ago when the park was in the planning stages.

    Over a two-year period, the City held numerous stakeholder meetings to discuss how groups would use the park. Stakeholders groups included citizens from all over Edmonds, not just the bowl area. Finally, a 15-20 person project advisory committee worked with the City and its contractor, Walker-Macy, in finalizing design elements. The high level of participation in all these activities shows just how strong public support is for event uses, team sports, petanque, basketball and other activities planned in the redesign of Civic Park.

    There has also been strong support for Civic Park through generous grants and donations. Funds have been secured over several years, and they are dedicated financial commitments that cannot be used for other projects. Finally, the City has solicited bids to complete the project and has identified a contractor to do the work. Why would the City go through all this work only to have the Council waiver in its support?

    Please, Council, give us a YES vote on moving forward with the Civic Park project. We support you in this and we hope that you will support us, the residents of the City of Edmonds.

  17. The old Civic Playfield is part of the history of not only Edmonds, but of the entire Edmonds School District #15. Eighty-six years ago, when it was developed as a WPA (Works Project Administration) project during the Great Depression time, it went on to serve as the playfield for the entire school district which now encompasses Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and Brier. That land should not just be remembered as the history of the bowl of Edmonds, it is a major part of the history of our entire school district. A lot of the movers and shakers of south Snohomish County played football, baseball, tennis and track on that old ground. It’s historic value should not be forgotten.

  18. We will never know Sam. Not really. But from now on we will know. I am willing to be nice…expect no more of the secrets, all of it. Some will be voted out this time. We are all deciding and thinking..All of us. I am a centrist…its a good spot to be…being open minded enough to see both sides and then compromise. I love compromise. I don’t like being treated like a fool. Remember I Have no children. I have no money issues…I simply care very much for our town. I don’t want to look like a hypocrite…or a saint…I just want to care… and I do.

  19. I live in a 99 corridor neighborhood and have several thoughts about this issue. It is disingenuous and insulting to say Edmonds can rely on per person expenditures of Mountlake Terrace or unincorporated Snohomish County in providing park space for Edmonds residents. A park across State Route 99 from the neighborhood doesn’t help children who walk to parks. Yes, it is true that bowl amenities serve us all, in a way. Again, not all citizens have cars to get there. Parents work and are not home to drive kids to parks. Nor is it safe for young kids to ride bikes to get there from the 99 neighborhood.

    There is, in fact, a disparity in how Edmonds allocates its tax dollars between the bowl and other parts of Edmonds and that is evident not only in lack of parks in the 99 corridor but also in whether it spends money on the parks/trail that do exist here. Edmonds does nothing other than mow the grass on its side of Lake Ballinger, and that location offers a magnificent opportunity to enhance recreation for all Edmonds residents. Edmonds also does almost nothing, other than showing up once a year or so, to maintain the Interurban Trail, which is bordered by overgrown blackberry bushes, toxic weeds and a damaged chain link fence. Compare that to how flowers and landscaping are installed and maintained in the bowl.

    I love all of Edmonds and do not like an “us” versus “them” mentality. But, it’s one thing to spend the five million dollars already raised on the Civic Park. It’s another to consider going into additional 10 million dollars worth of debt, which will directly affect Edmonds’ ability to fund other future park projects in a more equitable manner. It would add insult to injury to then add on even more debt for additional enhancements.

    Simply saying Edmonds should be more equitable in the future amounts to nothing as the future comes and that’s forgotten. I love Civic Park. I love Edmonds. Let’s find a way to compromise.

    1. If cost is a concern, best focus on the child-to-dollar ratio, maximizing the number of children who will use the park against how much it will cost.

    2. That was great. So glad most of you can write so much better than me. I agree and you should know. Thanks.

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