Letter to the editor: Let’s talk about our vision for future of downtown Edmonds

Editor:

The fate of the streateries, put in place for “COVID safety and restaurant survival,” has yet to be decided.

I can attest that the strong advocacy for extending their sunset date is a mismatch for the empty streateries I’ve seen since the weather turned, passing them, as I do, up to three times a day. Often the same places with empty streateries have empty sidewalk dining too!

A few streateries are busy. By my count, three or four of the 17.

The sales tax numbers tell us it’s no longer about restaurant survival. Or even about COVID safety, with so much empty sidewalk and patio seating unused. The streateries merely expand that business’s service and profit opportunity and the public’s outdoor dining options. I disdain neither profit nor choice, but at this time of possible continuance on that basis instead of the original, there has to be a fee that levels the playing field between the financial beneficiary of the streatery and those renting their outdoor spaces from a landlord. And the fee needs to be used in a way that benefits the public making their right-of-way available― and the businesses sacrificing their supportive parking to make it happen.

Maybe a solution that deals with equity to all businesses, and leaves only the streateries with high utilization in place, would be a solution we could live with (safety, full code compliance and neutralizing the climate impacts assumed)…. We still have “function over form” at play at our house, thanks to COVID; as a community, can we accept a ding to our downtown charm a bit longer too?

Or maybe we let them go for the moment.

I ran for office promising to use the wisdom, perspective and experience of the people to inform my decisions and to create policy that reflects that.

It is a promise to be open. And I am hearing you, next generation, and thank you for weighing in. The discussion on extending the “COVID-safety and restaurant survival” streateries has revealed a significant population that loves the engagement they experienced because of them. Engagement that did not exist to the same extent without and that they don’t want to give up.

Personally, I miss our former downtown. The sightlines to store windows and signage, and to the Sound and trees. A beautiful place! And a happy business community; one carefully cultivated with the right balance of restaurants, bars, retail, art, coffee shops and books….

Let’s plan a town hall about downtown in the coming year. To listen…. Not for the opposition to what you want, but for what others like about their choice. If we all focus on the things most valued, the plan that meets them all will reveal itself. With the public and stakeholders working as a team, we will figure out how to build the more engaged street many desire, while maintaining that most valued in our pre-COVID downtown.

We just may end up with an Edmonds we all cherish more than ever.

Vivian Olson
Edmonds City Council

28 Replies to “Letter to the editor: Let’s talk about our vision for future of downtown Edmonds”

  1. I suggest city leaders also gather information from nearby cities. I think particularly of Langley on Whidbey Island, a smaller town with many similarities to Edmonds. Langley had streateries during the height of the pandemic and now they are gone. The town is lively with pedestrians, the restaurants appear to be thriving, and retail businesses have visibility once again. Parking is easier. A conversation with Langley’s city officials and business associations might yield useful insights into the value of streateries.

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    1. I wonder why there are 15 minute pickup parking spots. Seems if those of us not picking up food should be able to use these parking spaces while shopping at other businesses. If people shopping can find parking spots further from businesses, then why can’t people picking up Food To Go park further from the restaurant and walk, also? This would free up lots of street parking until streateries are gone.

      Before Covid people ordered food to go and parked wherever they could and picked up their order. Just a thought.

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  2. Creating a vision for our city and communicating with the citizens is what leaders must do. Ms Olson is stepping up and giving us the chance to participate. I agree with her plan and as a former council member appreciate her inclusiveness and willingness to listen and be civil. She reminds me of the old saying, “we can disagree without being disagreeable.”

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  3. Some of the streateries already have outside eating; if they served food outside before Covid it seems redundant to have another place to serve in the street. Maybe we can start there. I personally find them very dangerous when I am driving; I cannot tell you how many times I have been in a situation where I could not see cars coming when I am on a side street. Of course parking issues when trying to shop is a problem for retailers. (yes the stores are crowded but that’s because the malls are not) I personally think all the businesses need to have the same benefits when the city makes decisions going forward.

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  4. There is some misleading information being spread about the streaterie issue.

    THEY HAVE CAUSED INCREASED EMPLOYMENT
    The situation today is that there are more jobs available in Edmonds than there are people to fill them, and that certainly applies to restaurants. That’s the primary reason why some are not open as many days as they use to be open and why some are not open as many hours each day as they use to be. Streateries are therefore not needed to provide employment.

    SALES TAX
    Yes, the more business that restaurants do the more sales tax they collect. But the amount that the City of Edmonds receives may be a lot less they you think. While the total on each transaction is a little more than 10% or $10 on a $100 transaction, the city receives only about $1 of that amount. By far the major source of our sales tax revenue is the sales tax collected by our car dealers.

    REVENUE
    The streateries have been allowed for about as many months as inside dining had been disallowed, so they should have recovered their lost revenue. Additionally most have received some funds from the city that offsets a portion of their lost revenue. The restaurants that have streateries almost certainly now have substantially more revenue than what they had prior to the pandemic. That is because the streateries are providing incremental revenue. I drive thru our downtown every day and I walk thru it at least three days each week. I am observing that most times when there are customers in the streets the inside facilities are fully occupied. Some of those sitting in the streets are very likely there because they have safety concerns; when the streateries are taken away those people can patronize any of the many restaurants that have outside eating as a part of their facility.

    I suspect that most of the people who are supporting the retention of the streataries are people who are benefiting from this increased revenue.

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    1. Ron, [and] based on social media posts, it really doesn’t look like the restaurants are thankful at all to the cash and public space given to them. They have contempt for the retailers who want parking back.

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  5. Vivian, thank you for all the long hours you put in and the thought and concern you show for your constituents. Your suggestion to hold a town hall (hopefully a hybrid version) to discuss plans for 2022 in Edmonds is a common sense one that is appreciated and should be acted upon.

    Again, thank you for being there for us.

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  6. Extremely well thought out and articulated Vivian!!

    At the start of the pandemic the streateries made sense for economic reasons but now I agree with the notion of why streateries when they are seemingly empty 80-90% of the time?

    I live in Edmonds and work in Kirkland. I do view Kirkland with having a similar downtown vibe as Edmonds and right now they have only two streateries that both see little use.
    It seems Kirkland “get’s it” while we trudge onward with the streateries land grab.

    Let’s move forward with our downtown core returning to it’s superb mix of retailers, restaurants and office space that we all can enjoy!

    Oh and by the way, Vivian for Mayor in 2023!!

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  7. Thank you Vivian. We’ll stated! While the idea of a Town Hall meeting frightens me a bit, I’d be willing to attend if it is professionally moderated with strict behavior rules enforced. I would like to hear all the ideas from both sides of this matter. Thank you for your service.

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  8. Thank you CM Vivian for your well articulated issues and concerns. And possibly a civil way at arriving at a solution. I like your idea of a Town Hall meeting.

    And thank you to my fellow citizen’s for your comments above. All a snapshot in civility. Sometimes, in agreeing to disagree – and listening to one another – we discover another, possibly a better solution.

    I have only one thing to add. As to the argument that the streateries should continue because of the new Omicron virus – viruses undergo variations, mutations, it is a natural phenomenon. The Omicron virus is another mutation from COVID and then Delta. There will be others, it is science, viruses will continue to mutate. We are all familiar with the “common flu”. I don’t have the statistics at hand this moment, but I believe approximately 70,000 – 80,000 folks die each year of the common flu.

    Why do we get a flu shot every year? Because last year’s flu virus has mutated. And so it is with COVID and now Omicron. Yes, these viruses are of concern. We have learned to live with the common cold and mutations of the common flu for generations by taking appropriate precautions.

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    1. As a nurse you should know those Streateries are not covid free. Not even close. You should know that no distancing is occurring and my guess is this and the crowds in the low bowl area are responsible for most of the cases here. You should know that Covid 19 and Delta are much worse than any flu. You should know that covid particles are airborne not cough and drop to ground or surface. SO did you get the vaccination. I see you day you are retired? I am just saying you are not a Dr. You are not a scientist and you being a nurse should probably not second guess things you have no data and no real evidence of at all. I am sorry. I assume you didn’t participate during the worst here with the covid patients in hospitals? Or did you? I think giving medical advice and not just your opinion would be better. Infact I think unless you are a scientist which you are not you should leave it to them. Most of us are well aware of the flu and the deaths world wide from flu which is nothing compared to this.

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  9. One thing we all know for sure is the ’streateries’ structures will eventually come down and we need to look for opportunities when that happens. Each structure was a significant investment of over $10,000 in materials and labor; however, most businesses do not have a second use for them once the ordinance ends. At that point most will have to pay for them to be removal and thrown out.

    How do we take advantage of these structures and give them another life?

    Relocating the structures on vacant parcels of land around the community may provide new opportunities. Imagine them as a semi-permanent structure for a new neighborhood farmers/craft market, as dining structures for a food truck pop-up location or as small greenhouses in a community pea patch. All we need to do is imagine, find a location and make it happen.

    What are the next steps?
    1. Outreach to owners of vacant parcels or churches with space and share the idea.
    2. Inquire with the City about the location and any permitting or building code issues.
    3. Work with the restaurants to secure their structures once the ordinance ends.
    4. Find the volunteers to help remove and relocate the structures to the new location.
    5. Coordinate with community groups who can programs, provide insurance coverages and do marketing.

    Let’s find a way to give new life to these structures and benefit other areas of our community.

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  10. Vivian, Providing a forum for Edmonds citizens to express their viewpoints and ideas will always lead to the best solutions. Thank you for being the people’s advocate, and calm, voice of reason within our city leadership.

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  11. I would like to see the streateries removed and replaced with a requirement for proof of vaccination for employees and patrons of indoor dining. That would make parking more available, remove a safety hazard, and allow folks to eat indoors in relative safety. Just my thoughts.

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  12. Thank you, councilmember Olson. Your idea to have a collaborative brainstorming session(s) is timely. I agree, we lack a vision not only for downtown, but for the city as a whole.

    As the city starts to prepare to update our Comprehensive Plan, articulating our city’s values/guiding principles and developing a vision for how we want our city to look like in the future are initial first steps. The Comprehensive Plan is a strategic document which should be used to navigate us to this future state, highlighting priorities which are then used for budgetary purposes. A complete closed loop process. But we need to know where we’re going first – our vision.

    With some strong leadership we can make this happen. Without it, we’ll continue to flounder.

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  13. Maybe others will build on that idea with specific how and where—thanks for that great thought Greg. Bonus to keep them out of the landfill too.

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    1. Repurposing absolutely. I think your ideas are excellent. Every single one of them. You managed to incorporate all into the wants and don’t wants. But the best is the Can Be’s. I love the idea of different areas for these open air restaurants outside the bowl too. Its a great and diverse Idea. It is clear you are thinking for the old the young and the middle. I love that. Thank you so much for just being you Vivian Olson a true woman in intellect and grace. Deb.

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  14. Jim O: good thoughts. We need a long term vision for what we want our city to be. It may be some sort of street dining would be part of that vision. It may be we could identify places for outdoor dining that don’t displace parking stalls. Maybe we could get creative and consider allowing rooftop dining. Or maybe we could consider closing Main Street on Sundays to create a sort of street mall. But we need to keep in mind the streateries are the product of an emergency ordinance that was intended to remain in effect until the Covid pandemic is over. Once we are at that point, it seems reasonable to remove the temporary on street structures until we have a holistic vision for our city.

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  15. Vivian Olsen is showing her leadership abilities by trying to get a broader and more cohesive vision of our city. She is a superb public official.

    As far as I can tell the only holistic view the patrons or the restaurants of the street shacks is a free ride or someone else paying the rent. They all talk about how much fun it is or how good the party is as long as somebody else is paying their way in the street. They really remind me of selfish immature children. I suspect that if the restaurants had to pay market rates for the space they are using in the streets they would decline and that would be the end of the party. There are plenty of restaurants in the city that have patio dining now and those restaurants need our support. Please remember that Edmonds is more than just the Downtown District and there are wonderful restaurants throughout the city that provide a quality experience. This should be part of our vision of the city.

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  16. Thanks Vivian for you thoughtful leadership. The council does not have an easy job, there are almost as many opinions as residents. I will trust you with your judgement. Covid will not be over for a long time. We will deal with it the best we can, using the best information we have. We all have different levels of risk we can live with. According to the paper today the 14 day case count was 26 new cases per 10,000 in Snohomish county. I am not sure how to use that information, but appears to me the risk level is not very high. I like the idea of restaurants checking for Vaccinations at the door, I am not fond of Streateries, have never used one and would prefer they were gone. There are a few places where you can eat out side on the sidewalk, I think that works. The one constituent I have not heard from is a restaurant owner, what do they think?

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    1. Vivian Olson is a true leader and a Stateswoman; not a politician and ideological follower. If we had six more like her on City Council we would have some fairness and meaningful direction as a town.

      The Streateries are a special interest benefit for a few and they need to go away at best or be charged fair use fees at the least with compensation to the non restaurant/tavern business’ adversely affected by them. There needs to be the public forum on this that V.O. is advocating here.

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  17. I don’t enjoy eating on the street and would like to see the Streeteries gone. I’m glad they helped our restaurant’s survive but it is time to open our streets to benefit all businesses. Covid will be around for a while and we need to live with it and take personal precautions as our situation warrants.

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  18. Thanks Vivian for your leadership on this issue. Greg Urban, great idea to recycle the materials. Cynthia makes a good point about the 15 min food pickup spots as well, they need to be re-considered. I also agree that non-restaurant establishments are not being treated fairly in the current dynamic and the city has lost some of its visual charm. Lots to unpack here. Also would mention that all of my go to spots to park are now pay lots so between that and the structures in parking spaces I also agree with the nickname some folks are using for the business district, “Inconvenient Edmonds”

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  19. Thank you, Vivian, for your dedication to your council position and to the citizens of Edmonds. And thank you for your thoughtful letter and town hall proposal. I know you want to do what’s right and fair. There are many different perspectives and factors being considered but, above all, what should be considered is — is it right and fair to allow private business to occupy public property, especially our downtown sidewalks and streets, which our citizens pay for and have a right to use? The streateries were allowed as a temporary emergency measure; but after 1.5 years, it is no longer temporary or an emergency. The restaurants with the streateries have recovered and some owners have opened new ones in the city and elsewhere. They are doing fine. People who would like to dine outside can choose from a multitude of restaurants in the downtown area and elsewhere in Edmonds that offer outdoor dining on their own property. The owners pay for it and we should support them. It is time now to do the right thing for the citizens and remove the streateries, return our sidewalks and streets, and restore the charm of our downtown. Please let them sunset as scheduled on December 31st.

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  20. Thank you Vivian for your continued leadership ( as a city council member) & direction. I appreciate you including citizens regarding the street huts throughout Edmonds. You always, are very thoughtful & logical In how you present ideas. One serious issue I would bring up is the multiple times you pass a large truck, commercial truck in edmonds. It can be very scary when you are inches away from a street hut and literally have to stop to make sure you don’t hit one of them. That has made me realize, I do not eat in the street huts anymore. I simply go into the reaturant or order to go. We all want our beautiful town to prosper, I believe they have served their purpose, thankful it helped all the resturants. Now it is time to consider the next steps to bring edmonds charm back and safety driving in edmonds.

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