The Edmonds City Council Tuesday night had a robust discussion about the future of the city’s outdoor dining structures downtown, approved a long-considered project for adding bicycle lanes and pedestrian improvements citywide, and delayed until the new year a decision on whether to return to hybrid council meetings.
The meeting began with the virtual swearing in of newly elected Position 2 Councilmember Will Chen, conducted by his wife Lisa. The swearing-in before councilmembers and the public watching via Zoom was ceremonial; Chen had already been officially sworn by Mayor Mike Nelson at city hall earlier in the day.
During council comments at the end of the meeting, Chen noted that Edmonds voters made history by electing a first-generation Chinese-American and naturalized citizen to the Edmonds City Council. “You showed the world that Edmonds is an open and welcoming community,” Chen said. “I’m humbled by your support and honored by your trust.”
Regarding the outdoor dining structures, in December 2020 the council passed an ordinance that allowed the temporary streateries in on-street parking spaces. That ordinance is set to sunset on Dec. 31, but development services staff is recommending that it be extended. In her first presentation to the council, new Development Services Director Susan McLaughlin went through the range of requirements that permitted streateries must meet to open, including creation of a site plan and dining plan and traffic safety controls. Up to 20 streateries are permitted downtown, but the city has fewer than that, McLaughlin added.
An official public hearing is scheduled for the council’s Dec. 7 meeting (the council isn’t meeting next week), but both supporters and detractors of the structures offered a range of public comments Tuesday night.
While several commenters expressed negative opinions about the streateries — ranging from their unsightly appearance to their perceived lack of safety — others said they found them to be a positive addition that they enjoyed and that also brought visitors to the city. Two representatives of local restaurants also spoke.
Erika Barnett, who along with her husband Jeff owns Salish Sea Brewing on Dayton Street, said the streateries “are allowing us to seat individuals who are still not yet comfortable dining inside but those who would still like to go out and be part of the community once again.” Extending the streateries ordinance until June 2022 — a date suggested in a letter from the Washington Hospitality Association to the council — “would allow us to safely take down and remove the streateries so there’s not a disruption in the middle of winter with construction and street blockage,” while continuing to provide for safe social distancing, Barnett said.
“Restaurants across the country have been through a lot over the past year,” Barnett said, “and these streateries have allowed us to provide a sense of community and normalcy at a time when things just were anything but normal.” Having the streateries has also allowed the Barnetts to employ up to 25 people, who “can in turn pay rent and frequent the local businesses,” she said.
Ricky Bobadilla, who manages Santa Fe Mexican Grill, said that as young professional, he has seen “this growing wave of younger people moving to Edmonds or visiting Edmonds…because of how lively and charming it is and that’s actually including the streateries.”
Councilmember Kristiana Johnson made a motion to have the streateries ordinance sunset Dec. 31. This was followed by discussion from other councilmembers — including new Councilmember Chen — who said they wanted to give the public a change to weigh in on the matter during the public hearing before voting.
Councilmember Vivian Olson said that while she was open to have the process move forward to a public hearing, she had concerns about the streateries. “There are a good number of restaurants that are paying for their outdoor space who find this to be highly inequitable,” Olson said, because those restaurants are competing against streateries that are using public spaces for a relatively small amount of money.
Chen said that after he received his first council agenda packet last week, he posted a request asking for streateries feedback on Facebook — and has already received 66 responses. However, he added he feels that the voices of older residents — who rely on their vehicles for getting around — haven’t yet been heard. “I want to encourage the seniors to speak up,” he said.
After hearing opinions from councilmembers, K. Johnson withdrew her motion to vote Tuesday night on the streateries ordinance.
In other business, the council made two decisions regarding bike lanes. The first was approving staff recommendations related to bicycle lanes funded by a $1.85 million Sound Transit Access grant, as well as related pedestrian improvements that would require $312,000 in additional city funding.
After substantial public engagement, staff and consultants developed a proposal to install bike lanes in the following areas — 100th Avenue West/9th Avenue South from 244th Street Southwest to Walnut Street, Walnut Street/Bowdoin Way from 9th Avenue South to 84th Avenue West and 228th Street Southwest from 78th Avenue West to 80th Avenue West. However, most of the discussion Tuesday night focused on just one project — the busy intersection of 100th Avenue West and Highway 104.
Staff and consultants recommended Alternative 2 — which would include a northbound bicycle lane crossing the intersection and a sharrow for the southbound lane — stating it would create fewer traffic backups. While staff admitted that Alternative 1 would be safer for cyclists, they did note that Alternative 2 provides ramps so that southbound cyclists can exit on to the sidewalk, walk through the intersection and re-enter the roadway south of the intersection.
Councilmember Laura Johnson reiterated earlier concerns that the delay for motorists — estimated at an average of 28 seconds during peak PM traffic — under Alternative 1 was insignificant when compared to the safety that a two-way bike lane would provide to bicycle riders. “The few seconds of delay for a few hours of the day is an acceptable tradeoff,” Johnson said.
However, other councilmembers found the vehicle delay unacceptable, especially given the congestion in the Westgate area.
Voting for Alternative 2 were Councilmembers Diane Buckshnis, Chen, K. Johnson and Vivian Olson.
Regarding the related pedestrian improvements, councilmembers approved by a 6-1 vote proposed enhancements at 9th and Pine, the entrance to Yost Park, at 100th and 224th, and the entrance to the Old Woodway High School Campus, which includes Scriber Lake High School and Edmonds Heights K-12.
In a separate matter, the council also agreed to add — in a shared project with the City of Lynnwood — a northbound bike lane on 76th Avenue West stretching from 196th Street Southwest north to approximately 1,000 feet south of Olympic View Drive in Perrinville. (A southbound bike lane already exists.)
On the topic of returning to hybrid in-person/remote council meetings, there were two issues of concern for councilmembers: safety and technology.
Councilmembers discussed whether they felt safe returning, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Some suggested that perhaps a viable option would be to have the council only return to chambers and have the public call in remotely, but City Attorney Jeff Taraday said he didn’t believe that was allowed under the governor’s current emergency guidance for public meetings. Councilmember Chen asked if the city could require meeting attendees to show proof of vaccination and/or wear masks, and Taraday said it wasn’t clear to him whether that would hold up to a legal challenge.
Regarding technology, the council heard from Information Technology staff member Dave Rohde about what it would take to develop a plan for reliable technology that would accommodate a return to hybrid gatherings. The issue, he said, is ensuring the platform involved is stable and reliable, noting that when the council returned briefly to hybrid meetings last summer there were ongoing issues with connection and delays.
The council voted 4-3 to have staff begin the process of researching what options are available for a hybrid meeting and come back at the first of year to hear recommendations and decide what to do next — including a review of current health guidance. Voting in support of this idea were Councilmembers Paine, L. Johnson, Fraley-Monillas and Chen.
Another topic of interest — the ongoing controversy over passage of the 2022 budget — was raised during the council comments at the end of the meeting. Councilmember Buckshnis noted she has received numerous citizen questions regarding the budget, including the timing of budget approval, the posting of notices, and the adjournment procedures — all of which some councilmembers say was done to ensure that former Councilmember Luke Distelhorst could participate before Chen took office. Buckshnis said that as a former auditor, she had contacted the State Auditor’s Office regarding the budget process. If there is any impropriety found, the budget would be reopened rather than be repealed, she said. Councilmember Vivian Olson reiterated her opinion that the budget process should have included new Councilmember Chen’s input, and that his participation would have happened if the budget had followed the council’s “historical window” for passage in early to mid-December. “The 2022 budget process was wrong,” said Olson, who added she has also asked the Municipal Research and Service Center to weigh in on whether the budget was passed legally. (City Attorney Jeff Taraday has stated that the budget process was legal.)
In response to those statements, Council President Susan Paine during her comments also addressed the budget process. She defended her decision to move up the budget timeline to ensure Chen’s appointed predecessor could participate, adding that Distelhorst “has been involved in all the projects with the level of diligence and appreciation for the fine-tuned needs that our budget does deserve.”
“Moving the timeline a bit was the right thing to do because we had the right people who understood all the projects that had been in place over the last two years,” Paine said
In other business Tuesday night, the council confirmed — via its consent agenda — the appointment of three people to the Edmonds Diversity Commission: Elaine Helm, Gracelynn Shibayama and Robert White. All three terms will expire Dec. 31, 2024.
— By Teresa Wippel