In a meeting that lasted until midnight, the Edmonds City Council Tuesday heard from nearly two dozen people commenting on the proposed continuation of downtown Edmonds streateries, with more discussion and a decision set for next week. The council also rejected by a 4-3 vote a claim brought by two councilmembers that Council President Susan Paine violated the council’s code of ethics while scheduling and managing the 2022 budget process.
The council in December 2020 passed an ordinance that allowed the temporary streateries in on-street parking spaces, giving the public an outdoor dining option during COVID-19. That ordinance is set to sunset on Dec. 31, but development services staff is recommending that it be extended. (A letter from the Washington Hospitality Association to the council suggested the extension run through June 2022.) Edmonds Mayor Nelson has also come out in favor of extending the ordinance.
While a number of those testifying Tuesday night supported the idea of keeping the structures in place to accommodate those who prefer outdoor dining during the pandemic, a nearly equal amount insisted it was time for the streateries to sunset. However, there were also a number of speakers who offered ideas for compromise.
Erika and Jeff Barnett, who own Salish Sea Brewing and recently opened their new Boathouse Taproom, said their streatery on Dayton Street has allowed them to provide their customers with a safe space to dine and socialize outdoors. Erika Barnett said she recognized that some Edmonds restaurants have their own patios or street-side dining — a bone of connection for those eateries who say it isn’t fair that they pay a premium for that type of real estate while the city doesn’t charge a fee for restaurants operating streateries in city right-of-way. “This does not need to be an all-or-nothing decision,” Erika Barnett said. “I think that most of us would be willing to address any inequities that have been seen and coming up with a plan that allows us to continue to provide outside dining — not just for the few that have… the luxury of having their own private dining patios,” but for those involved in the streateries program, she said.
Another player in the streateries conversation is downtown Edmonds merchants, who have said that the outdoor dining structures have taken away valuable parking spaces and forced patrons to travel some distance to their stores, which can be difficult for those who are older and/or disabled. Addressing that concern was Jen Lawson, who owns Crow Boutique and serves as president of the Downtown Edmonds Merchants Association (DEMA). “The streateries concept was important for keeping the doors open for many restaurants when indoor dining was not an option in 2020,” Lawson said during the public hearing. “We’ve now been at 100% indoor dining capacity since July, and the need for these structures as originally intended is greatly reduced. Additionally, more than a dozen restaurants already provide safe outdoor dining on-site, so there are lots of options for those who do not feel ready to dine inside safely.”
When it comes to a council vote to continue the streateries program, Lawson said, “the only fair and equitable solution is to charge ‘rent’ on these structures.” Lawson said that some restaurant owners have told her they would be open to paying a fee for continued use of the parking spaces, “and agree that retailers have been impacted the most from the lost parking.”
“The majority of restaurant owners and retailers are seeing eye to eye on this and any perceived drama is overblown and not conducive to compromise,” Lawson added. A council vote to continue the streateries without charging restaurants rent, she said, “would send a clear message that the retailers’ needs come second to that of the restaurants.”
Liz Morgan, who owns FIELD flower and gift shop on Main Street, is surrounded by streateries and said she appreciates all that city officials and restaurateurs have done during the pandemic to keep customers safe. She proposed the creation of a committee “that can look at this matter holistically. I like the idea of having a streateries program year-round or seasonally and possibly charging the restaurants for the space or designing the structures that are tasteful and keeping with the village feel of downtown Edmonds.” She called for completion of an objective analysis that looks factually at the issues involved. “We need facts, not sound bites,” Morgan said. “We need to come together and make these decisions, not to shame those merchants who expressed concerns or suggest that our restaurateurs are greedy and self-serving. These are our neighbors and we need to start acting like it.”
Following the public hearing, some councilmembers also raised the idea of finding common ground to make the streateries work for everyone. Council President Paine noted that the council had received 90 emails from citizens on the topic — and one of the main concerns they expressed was the need for parking — a topic she hoped city officials would address. Councilmember Will Chen suggested the council form a task force to look at long-term solutions, while continuing the streateries short term. And Councilmember Vivian Olson recommended a council subcommittee be created to discuss the matter further, an idea that was supported by Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas.
Councilmember Diane Buckshnis said she needed more financial data before she could make a decision, while Councilmember Kristiana Johnson said the streateries were meant to be short term and they shouldn’t be extended. The issue will be discussed again at next week’s meeting (the council will meet in committees, followed by a business meeting), when a decision is scheduled to be made whether to extend the permitting.
The debate over whether to sanction Council President Paine for her role in the budget scheduling process turned into a predicatably contentious affair. The complaint, brought by Councilmembers Buckshnis and Kristiana Johnson, recommended that the city attorney prepare a resolution to sanction Paine. The complaint said that Paine scheduled budget deliberations weeks ahead of the traditional city timeline, to ensure those discussions included the participation of appointed Councilmember Luke Distelhorst, rather than waiting for the seating of elected Councilmember Will Chen on Nov. 23. The complaint also accused Paine of introducing a “new public hearing rule” when the budget hearing was continued from Nov. 16 to a special meeting on Nov. 17 . That decision, Buckshnis and Johnson said, denied citizens an opportunity to comment Nov. 17 if they had also testified the previous day — even though new materials were available for them to comment on. Another complaint focused on Paine’s decision to schedule a continued budget hearing on Nov. 17, even though Buckshnis and Johnson were unable to attend, thus leaving budget amendments unvetted prior to the budget’s passage. Finally, the complaint cited Paine’s decision to cancel the council’s monthly finance committee meeting with no public notifications or reasons.
“Bringing this charge against me is reaching a new level of absurdity that is entirely divisive and partisan,” Paine said, adding that the most recent budget process has included a “greater level of community communication with us…than ever before.”
The council decided during its budget retreat that it wanted a more streamlined budget process, Paine said, and the city responded with a timeline that included questions from councilmembers and the community that were answered by staff. She said that both Buckshnis and Kristiana Johnson should have found a way to attend all the budget presentations “and be part of the process.”
The finance committee meeting was canceled because the only thing on the agenda was the budget, which was being discussed by the entire council that same evening, said Paine, although she admitted that “I didn’t follow the right steps” in canceling the meeting. She compared not allowing people to testify during the continued budget hearing Nov. 17 to a scenario of not allowing people to “run around to the back of the line and sign back up again” if they were testifying in person.
As for moving the budget timeline up to accommodate Distelhorst’s participation before he left the council, Paine said, “When it became clear to me that we were going to have this transfer of power on the same day that we were supposed to figure out and pass the budget, yes, it shifted a bit. But it doesn’t mean that it was undemocratic. We have seven councilmembers at the same time, we each carry the same authority and we each have the same ability to render a decision regarding the budget. The claim that this is something that is way out of order, I would deny it,” Paine said.
Councilmmber Fraley-Monillas agreed, noting that Distelhorst has spent two years on the council and served on the budget committee, so was qualified to vote on the budget.
She also criticized both Buckshnis and Johnson for not being available for budget deliberations, noting that she was out of town and still was able to call into meetings. “It’s appalling,” she said.
“Just because something has always been one way is not necessarily a reason to continue,” added Laura Johnson, noting the council not only finished the budget soooner, it started the budget process earlier. “And when it was noticed that the Nov. 23 council vote was just hours after a new councilmember would assume office, the scheduled moved up by a week to the 16th, allowing budget deliberations and vote by the same council.”
“I don’t see how you argue with that,” Johnson said.
Chen said he followed the entire budget process and he was ready to vote. He also noted that without Buckhsnis and Kristiana Johnson participating in the budget meetings, many important discussions surrounding budget amendments didn’t occur because Councilmember Olson — who was trying to raise those questions — “couldn’t get a second.”
“I think the whole budget process was rushed,” Chen said
That said, Chen said that he wants councilmembers “to treat each other like colleagues, like friends. We don’t try to poke people in the back.” He said he’s heard that certain councilmembers won’t talk to each other or look at each other, “and that’s not very healthy.”
“To be cohesive, I don’t want this sanction to go through,” Chen said. “I want to us to calm down, cool down a little bit and treat each other like friends.”
Olson reiterated her belief that the budget process “was undemocratic.” She pointed not only to the council’s extended agenda but to public notices that had been issued noting that budget approval was Nov. 23 — or Dec. 7 if needed — only to be changed after Distelhorst lost in the August primary. “It felt like the outcome was being fixed,” Olson said.
“This is a very serious charge against the council president, who manipulated the council process, following the correct rules…for her desired outcome, knowing full well she would have her four votes, perhaps only if Councilmember Distelhorst could be included,” added Councilmember Kristiana Johnson.
Fraley-Monillas concluded by saying the entire county is looking at the Edmonds City Council as “a cast of fools because we’re being set up to chew on each other and I think that’s really, really ridiculous. And I want people to understand that…that this is a very small, conservative minority that are pushing forward to make us look in this way,” adding that Paine’s actions regarding the budget were legal.
“A lot of things that are legal are not ethical, and this was a code of ethics violation,” Olson replied.
The final vote to sanction Paine was 3-4, with Councilmembers Buckshnis, Kristiana Johnson and Olson in favor, and Chen, Fraley-Monillas, Laura Johnson and Paine opposed.
In other business, the council:
– Heard a presentation on a compensation study for non-represented city employees. Consultants from Compensation Connections told the council that the City of Edmonds’ current non-represented salary scale is approximately 6% below market rate, and they recommend 29 jobs move to a different salary range, at an estimated cost of $220,409. The recommendation will be further discussed next week during the council’s public safety, personnel and planning committee and finance committee meetings.
– Approved an interlocal agreement with the Snohomish Health District to cover a 2021 appropriation to the district of 50 cents per resident, for a total of $21,450.
– Reviewed the city’s 2022 legislative agenda for the upcoming session of the Washington State Legislature.
– Discussed, but agreed to postpone until next week, whether to approve a resolution supporting House Bill 1156. The measure would give jurisdictions the option of using ranked choice voting in local elections. Learn more about that here.
— By Teresa Wippel