Council OKs Edmonds Municipal Court reorganization and return to remote meetings; rejects unit lot subdivisions downtown

Judge Whitney Rivera

In a nearly four-hour meeting Tuesday night, the Edmonds City Council okayed a plan to reorganize the Edmonds Municipal Court; denied a proposal to allow unit lot subdivisions in the city’s business district zones and approved a professional services contract with Compass Health for social work services. The council also agreed to return to meeting remotely in light of a resurgence in COVID-19 cases due to the delta variant.

The pitch to reorganize the city’s muncipal court was made by Judge Whitney Rivera, who said it was necessary to address increasing workloads of staff and ensure they were fairly compensated. It includes creating a new assistant court administrator position, reclassifying the court administrator job to include a salary increase, adding a relicensing court clerk, and increasing the judge’s salary to a full-time equivalent position instead of the .75 position as currently budgeted. Rivera explained that her work involves duties that are not reflected in the three-quarter-time FTE allocated for the position, including being available 24/7 to review search warrants and weekend jail bookings.

Rivera also noted that the Edmonds Court Administrator’s current pay is significantly below that of comparable cities.

Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas said that while she recognized the need for the proposed changes, the dollar impact —  estimated at $86,329 for the remainder of 2021 and at $258,989 for all of 2022 — was “an extremely high amount,” especially when the council doesn’t know what budget proposals or restrictions will be coming their way in 2022. Councilmember Kristiana Johnson made a motion to table a vote on the reorganization so it could be addressed as part of the 2022 budget. That vote failed on a 2-5 vote (K. Johnson and Fraley-Monillas voting in favor).

The council then approved — also on a 5-2 vote — a motion to approve the municipal court reorganization and its associated $86,000 increase for 2021 only, and then consider the 2022 amount during 2022 budget deliberations.

The council’s decision to deny a staff proposal to allow unit lot subdivisions in Edmonds’ business downtown (BD) zones was approved by a vote of 5-1, with one abstention. It came after councilmembers had heard from several citizens, during a continued public hearing, who opposed the idea — including one resident who rolled in an actual model he created to show what the proposed development would look like. The city in 2017 adopted a unit lot subdivision process to provide another option for home ownership. In the Edmonds code, it mainly pertains to townhouse-type buildings, allowing the units to be sold separately instead of going through a generally more expensive and complicated condo ownership process.

Edmonds resident Greg Brewer with the model he built to go along with his council testimony Tuesday night..

The project associated with this proposal — a 14-unit building with live/work units on the former Baskin and Robbins property at 614 and 616 5th Ave. S. — has already been approved for development, but the question before the council was whether to allow it to move forward as a unit lot subdivision.

Speakers testifying during the public hearing raised a range of concerns about the project, including the perceived lack of green space and the precedent it would set for similiar projects in other parts of downtown, leading to increased density.

When it came time to vote on a motion from Council President Susan Paine to deny the unit lot subdivision in BD zones, Councilmember Vivian Olson argued that procedurally, she didn’t believe that councilmembers should be voting on the measure the same night of a public hearing. As a result, she abstained from voting on the item. The motion passed on a 5-1 vote, with Councilmember Luke Distelhorst voting against. The item will return as an official ordinance on the council consent agenda Aug. 24.

The council then heard a presentation from staff working to develop the city’s new human services division, created by the city council during the 2021 budget process. The division is located in the city’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department, and Deputy Parks Director Shannon Burley explained the list of priorities that have been developed based on conversations with city councilmembers.

At the top of the list for Phase 1 priorities was the hiring of a dedicated social worker, which will be supplied through a contract with nonprofit Compass Health. The contract for $163,454 was approved unanimously by the council, and will include the use of Compass Health’s Community Transitions program staff, who work to proactively engage those in need before a crisis develops. While the social worker will provide support to the Edmonds Police Department as police encounter those in need, they will not be embedded with police as was the case in a former joint effort between Edmonds and Lynnwood police.

Burley noted that there are many other items on the “to do” list for the new division, including distributing federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to residents in need, partnering with Snohomish County Domestic Violence Services to offer prevention classes and applying for grant funding for social worker and shelter solutions. She also noted the need for data-driven decision making, and promised that a needs assessment and performance measurement proposal will be presented as part of the 2022 budget process.

Finally, Burley also praised the work of Human Services Program Manager Mindy Woods, who was hired in April 2020 and has so far responded to — and coordinated services for — more than 125 Edmonds residents, along with coordinating various COVID-19 vaccine clinics and testing sites, and a cooling and misting station during the heat wave.

In the final item of the evening, councilmembers voted 4-3 to return to remote meetings, citing worries over increasing COVID-19 cases due to the rapidly spreading delta variant. The vote came despite testimony by several residents earlier in the meeting who said that in-person meetings ensured better transparency and accountability in communicating with their elected officials. Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, a member of the county health board, said she didn’t see the need quite yet to return to remote meetings, noting that the governor’s office will make the statewide call on whether to once again to shut down in-person public meetings. In addition, some councilmembers noted that masking and distancing would allow for proper precautions. But Councilmember Laura Johnson disagreed, stating that even though people in the council chambers were wearing masks Tuesday night, they took them off when it came time to speak. “When you’re speaking, you have…particles coming out, right there that is an exposure if your mask is not staying on the entire time,” Johnson said. “I’m going to do the thing that’s right for our entire community to keep us safe.”

The final vote in the end to return to remote meetings: Councilmembers Laura Johnson, Kristiana Johnson, Luke Distelhorst and Susan Paine voting for and Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, Diane Buckshnis and Vivian Olson against. The council agreed to revisit the matter again by Sept. 28.

— By Teresa Wippel



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