Council OKs bike lane projects, debates streateries, requests research on hybrid meeting technology

Councilmember Will Chen (top) is sworn in by his wife Lisa via Zoom Tuesday night.

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.

The map of the 76th Avenue West bike lane project in Perrinville.

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

 

 

9 Replies to “Council OKs bike lane projects, debates streateries, requests research on hybrid meeting technology”

  1. City Council’s actions are puzzling.

    Last night, City Council had 4 “Council Business” items. City Council voted during 3 of the Council Business items but failed to vote on anything during the “Request to Extend Permitting of Streateries” Business item. City Council did not vote to approve scheduling a Streatery related Public Hearing on December 7th.

    Does City Staff have the authority to schedule a Legislative Public Hearing without City Council first voting that Council wants to schedule a Public Hearing? If City Staff has such authority, what was the purpose of last night’s Council Business item for Streateries?

    On November 9th, City Council voted to continue the Legislative Public Hearing on the 2020 Budget to November 16th. Could City Staff have done that on their own without Council voting to do so?

    Who owns the decisions related to Legislative Public Hearings? Isn’t that decision owned by City Council, not City Staff?

    I believe the streatery permits have been invalid since Council failed to conduct a public hearing by mid-February, 2021. Last night’s Agenda Packet, page 94, proves that Ordinance 4209, makes the following Emergency Declaration:

    Without an immediate adoption of this Interim Zoning Ordinance, streateries would need to continue to operate under a special event permit.

    Interim Zoning Ordinances require a Public Hearing within 60 days. A Public Hearing was never held for Ordinance 4209.

    City Council also never amended Ordinance 4209 to remove the Emergency Declaration that it was an Interim Zoning Ordinance.

    Nevertheless, it has been known for almost a year that the streateries section of the Code shall sunset on December 31st. As such, why was Council President Susan Paine talking about moving quickly and hamstringing restaurant owners during the holiday season last night? How could the restaurants possibly not have time to make the necessary changes and get the equipment out of the right-of-way by December 31st?

    I imagine the related restaurants already have plans in place to remove the streateries by December 31st.

    Ignored

    1. Thank Ken for pointing these things out! There are so many things ignored and overlooked by City government I’m glad you’re able to keep up on it all. Council needs you as a consultant until you run for Council yourself or mayor in future.

      Ignored

  2. Thank you Teresa and staff. I look forward to this council meeting summary every Wednesday morning. I really appreciate it.

    Ignored

  3. The Council Person meeting comments, NOT reported here, are as interesting as what has been reported. AFM feels the need to tell us all that she will take her entertainment tax dollars to Lynnwood, if we sunset the streateries as currently planned. Laura Johnson tells us that we should keep the streateries going because she went on a road trip and lots of other Western cities have them, so we should keep ours too. Vivian Olson stated her concern that we (city officials) probably shouldn’t be favoring one form of business over another. Everyone can take away whatever they want from this added information, but I tend to think Vivian’s comments are a little more to the actual point of what our Mayor and City Council, aught to be in the business of doing here, rather than picking winners and losers in the retail sectors of our city. If we choose to maintain the streateries and walkable main street concepts, then the retail business’s should be compensated or moved at city expense.

    What I suspect will happen is the extension will be granted until June 2020 and along about April or May the restaurant lobby will come back to Council and say they need another extension because business is booming and we don’t want to chase off the Summer clientele by closing the streateries and losing all that sales tax revenue for the city. Streateries and walkable main street are probably pretty much here to stay, which I have no great problem with, except I think the losers in the whole deal should be compensated by the winners and the city that creates them.

    Ignored

  4. There was some conversation at last night’s council meeting that it would be useful to know how the current restaurant revenues compare with revenues prior to the epidemic. It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that since there are currently several additional restaurants in our downtown since the start of the epidemic some of the existing restaurants have lost customers to them. The older restaurants will likely regain their market share over time, but probably not in the very near term.

    The streeteries have been allowed for about as many months as inside dining had been disallowed. The owners of retail businesses have rightfully claimed that the streeteries have negatively impacted their sales – primarily because convenient parking has been taken away.

    In fairness to the retail businesses, and the citizens who dislike the presence of the streeteries, it seems only fair to not allow the streeteries after the end of 2021. Some of the streeterie owners claim that some of their customers remain afraid to eat inside. That is not a legitimate reason for their continuance since there are many restaurants that have outside eating that is not in our streets.

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  5. Great comments Ron. Going back even before the Earling administration the pattern for Edmonds government has been to try to mold the town as a regional entertainment destination for the surrounding communities and the Northwest region in general. I guess the assumption was the town is going to die, if we don’t do something to enhance our revenue base; sort of like Leavenworth becoming a theme town to survive being bypassed on Hwy. 2. I think this idea has been a false narrative for Edmonds from the idea’s inception; but it is too late to stop or even mitigate it now I’m afraid. We have what we have created and will have to live with it.

    Ignored

  6. Will Chen had a pretty good first night on the council. He was sworn in by his wife. Listen to the others. Asked lots of good questions. Stated decisions should include all the citizens including seniors. Added some pedestrian improvements. Prevented a major intersection from being degraded, which would have included degrading a neighborhood too. He seemed interested in representing all citizens of Edmonds not just a special interest or a partisan clique.

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  7. In the election process I saw Mr. Chen as a political opportunist. Based on his first night’s interaction, I’m very happy to state I think I was wrong about that. I publicly apologize to Mr. Chen for openly questioning his motives in running. I might have had the right to do that but I should have been a bigger person than to have done it.

    Ignored

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