Commentary: A call to action for Highway 99 neighborhood safety

Edmonds is certainly not immune to the crime issues facing the entire nation. In recent months, there have been countless instances of shop lifting, illegal narcotics use, car thefts, catalytic converter thefts, vandalism, home break-ins, and other various forms of petty crime. This data is easily accessible by the general public on the Snohomish County crime statistics map. There is something different going on though, which is new to our city. That new issue is violent crime, which has had a serious and immediate negative quality-of-life effect, particularly on the communities on and near Highway 99. Crimes of this nature include a drive-by shooting at the Emerald’s Best Hotel, a random shooting that happened right outside the day care facility at 240th Street Southwest and Highway 99, an assault of an innocent bystander at 220th last summer outside of Starbuck’s and, most recently, a violent armed robbery at the Interurban trailhead on 76th Avenue West.

As the authors of this article, we are not only neighbors but we are friends.We both live in the Lake Ballinger neighborhood and have on many occasions discussed the issues facing our neighborhood. We’ve talked about the quickly-changing nature of our part of town, which is both very diverse and getting younger, with predominantly young families moving in, such as my own. After the events on Wednesday, at the trailhead, we both felt we needed to write something to MyEdmonds News to bring some attention to the crime and safety issues plaguing our neighborhood.

To get most anywhere in Edmonds, our day will certainly involve crossing and traveling along Highway 99. Pretty much any time of day, you can witness firsthand some sort of crime taking place. Certain areas have been affected by blight, with vacant buildings covered in graffiti, garbage and used drug paraphernalia. The Aurora Marketplace shopping center has a rampant shoplifting issue, and at times was so unsafe that going at night to shop was no longer an option. The park — specifically Mathay Ballinger, which is one of the only parks accessible to this part of the city — was regularly abused with needles found in the bushes and around the kids’ play structure for those keeping an eye out for them. Some of our most important businesses in the city, those being our car dealers, have had more cars stolen in the last few months than the last few years combined. It is no surprise that the current state of that road is a magnet for criminal activity, both petty in nature and violent.

Some work has been done to bring focus to these issues, but more needs to be done. The problems are serious and getting worse. No part of Edmonds is immune to criminal activity, but certainly Highway 99 and the adjacent neighborhoods suffer the brunt of these issues. City resources need to be directed to improving safety and security of our residents. We need the community office fully staffed and open as much as possible. The revitalization project needs to start and be completed, creating a more inviting pedestrian experience. The focus on crime at the motels needs to be constant and enforced. Blighted buildings need to be assessed and codes need to be enforced by the city. The Edmonds Police Department needs the tools and resources to do their jobs effectively and they need to have a regular presence along the stretch of highway. And most importantly, all this work needs the backing of our elected officials and the community at large.

That starts with a general acceptance that we have a very serious problem on our hands, and agreement that all branches of government will work together in cohesion to get this tough work done. So much effort has been wasted on what’s not working in Edmonds. Perhaps it’s time to use some of that energy to focus on solutions that we need to make this a great place for everyone to live.

We are making a commitment to seeing meaningful change along Highway 99 and to show that residents and elected officials can have a common goal and passion that makes this a great place to live for all. The community needs to come together and demand safety and security along Highway 99 so this long-overlooked part of our community finally gets the attention it needs. If not soon, then the situation is at risk of getting far worse before it can ever get better.

— By Tom Kozaczynski, Lake Ballinger resident and Will Chen, Edmonds city councilmember and Lake Ballinger resident



  1. Thank you for your thoughtful commentary. Quick question: Is the City of Edmonds giving unhoused people hotel/motel vouchers in the 99 neighborhood? I read recently that the City might increase its use of hotel/motel vouchers as a temporary way to provide shelter in light of the criminalization of camping on city property. Where can we obtain statistics about how many people the City is placing in hotels or motels along the 99 corridor in Edmonds? If this is happening, does the City perform criminal background checks before placing people in the 99 corridor neighborhood?


    1. Yes, it is very sad indeed. I believe some of the violence occurs or has occurred in those very motels. I wonder too? But with our police department trying their best to hire but giving no incentive it seems for police to want to come here is a problem. What can the Mayor do? I do not know but incentive and higher pay could help. A bonus up front things like that maybe. It is a problem. I have noticed that there is much also going on W of 9th and in the Bowl area and Seaview area. We have some in 5 corners but mainly it seems lately just really high speeds of cars. Domestic violence. Last police report I didn’t see many crashing windows and robbing. One I think. But we are all or many camera ready and lit up like a Christmas Tree at night. Some of our streets anyway. People here are watching and being pro active from what I see. WE are trying to help the police the best we can.

    2. Yes – they do use the motels currently on HWY99 for the voucher program. If you need further information on the specifics of voucher use and the requirements for being placed in the program (great questions, by the way), you should be in touch with the Human Services department who helps administer the program. My understanding is the city itself has its own vouchers and then also partners with our local non-profits who run their own voucher programs. Of course with the passing of the camping ordinance, there will be a lot of attention around the city’s use of vouchers for temporary housing. I encourage you to be in touch with that department. They are very responsive and really care about our city and our neighborhood.

  2. Thank you Mr. Kozaczynski and Mr. Chen for drawing attention to this important issue. I agree with you completely on wanting elected officials to work together to solve real problems in our community.

    1. Certainly. I encourage you to be in touch with said elected officials and implore them to come together to solve these challenging items for the benefit of our city. Once you get above the unfortunate political fray at the moment, you find that most of the folks in our city be that elected or staff are fully committed to being problem solvers. It is unfortunate that so much time and energy is wasted though on the squabbles they are having with one another.

  3. As Lake Ballinger area home owners, my husband and I are acutely aware of these issues. We’ve had suspicious activities on our cul-de-sac at night captured by our neighbor’s security cameras. We are 100% in agreement with this article. What more can we do to show our support or how can we get involved?

    1. Christine and Laurence – if you have evidence of suspicious activity, please call the police and let them know. Their policing in part is data driven, and if nobody calls, it’s like it never happened. Secondly, be in touch with your elected officials and with those in city administration. Most (but not all) are very responsive. If residents in the Bowl are in touch with someone from the city 10 times, people in our neighborhood are probably in touch only once. At no fault of their own, the city needs to respond to where the voices are loudest and right now that’s not our neighborhood. I’m not invalidating the concerns of other areas by any means, I’m just describing the dynamics. We also live in probably one of the least lit neighborhoods in the city. There is an effort to correct that underway, but the city needs input from the community. Start with Councilmembers Chen and Tibbot. Finally, in the course of that work, continue pressuring the city to move forward on the many items that have been promised for HWY99. The community office is still not fully staffed or open during meaningful hours. The median work along the corridor should start soon but we are owed an update as a community. And demand that the city enforce codes at vacant buildings. We can’t cut down a tree without a permit but vacant land owners can allow their property to get to such a state that I would consider it blight. I hope this helps as a start.

  4. Thanks for the thoughtful description of problem issues without blaming, finger pointing etc. and I applaud your leadership!

  5. Thank you, Will and Tom. As a neighbor in Lake Ballinger, I’ve seen the crime increase dramatically in the past few years. I am considering moving my young family out of Edmonds to a safer community where I’m not worried about needles in the park, unhoused individuals living on the Interurban Trail, and now armed robberies in the light of day. I know our police work tirelessly to keep Edmonds safe, but the burden now falls on the community members and those we elect to represent our needs. I appreciate the city council members passing a no camping law but perhaps the Mayor should spend time addressing ARMED ROBBERIES in his backyard rather than an employee with hurt feelings from 8 years ago. I’m sorry but when you don’t live in the bowl, it often doesn’t feel like “an Edmonds kind of day.”

  6. We’ve dumped all that money into an already nice Civic Park and now the Mayor and his rich Democratic Party pals are pressuring the citizens to look at “re-imagining” downtown as a walking mall, among other arguably useless and expensive projects that benefit a few with little benefit to the many. I totally agree with Will and Tom in this article. We need to come to a planned vision of Edmonds as a total community for the benefit of all it’s citizens. AFM, for example, has been very correct in her view that Hwy 99 neighborhood has been neglected while we heap tax money, investment, and emphasis on the Bowl area which is in good shape if we don’t spend any more money beyond basic upkeep there for ten years or more. We should take a serious look at moving our police and city buildings near to or into the Hwy 99 neighborhood as a beginning commitment to making that area safer and more a part of Edmonds overall greatness as a community for all it’s citizens.

  7. The police will hopefully increase patrols in the neighborhood and the Parks Dept will hopefully work on improving safety on the Interurban Trail. If the trail had a level of use similar to other regional trails such as the Burke Gilman it seems that these crooks might have been deterred?

    Increased traffic on the bike trail will provide a deterrent to the criminals. The only way to increase traffic on the dead end stretch of trail west of 76th (where the attack occurred) is to complete the trail connection to Shoreline with a bridge over SR104. This is a big project but planning needs to start now if there is to be any hope of getting the trail completed some day. It probably would cost more than our showpiece park in the bowl but could be shared with Shoreline and funded with all the grants that are out there for bike trails. Too bad we blew the ST grant on little used bike routes in the bowl.

    1. Thanks, John. I agree with you regarding “finishing” this section of the trail to Shoreline. I also recently reminded some folks working on solving some lighting issues in the Lake Ballinger neighborhood that once the light rail station is complete, the Interurban from 76th to 228th where one would turn right to go to the new Mountlake Terrace station at the top of Lake Ballinger on Lakeview is going to be the gateway so-to-speak for the city and those who are going to commute via bike or walk. In addition, Lake Ballinger park on the north side of the like is honestly one of the nicest open space parks in the county. I am completely shocked when multiple times a week I am the only person walking my dog in a multi-acre park. We should be thankful to the city of Mountlake Terrace that was not sold off to a developer when the golf course closed down. It would be wonderful for our city to promote the amenities we have in our neighborhood while making a commitment to improving the safety conditions, lighting, access, etc. The Interurban is really overlooked by many as a major transportation corridor. You are correct that I see bikers all day long going up and down the Interurban and when I am downtown those are empty.

  8. great col and great comments. totally agree less $$ spent on downtown and spend the $$ where needed the most.

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