Most of the Edmonds City Council meeting was devoted to routine city business Tuesday night — from moving forward with a rezone of property in the Westgate neighborhood and a new event permitting process, to accepting a generous donation to support the city’s flower basket program. But a proposed resolution supporting reproductive freedom served as a bookend for both the start and end of the proccedings.
The meeting began with recognition of Edmonds Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Greg Urban — appearing remotely via Zoom with his 6-year-old daughter Ehle — for his many contributions overseeing chamber operations since 2014, including keeping the chamber afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s been a pleasure and a privilege to live and work in this community and it’s going to be greatly missed but not forgotten,” said Urban, who is moving out of the area next month to be closer to family in the Midwest.
The meeting continued with an annual report from the Edmonds Tree Board, led by chair Janelle Cass.
Then, Councilmember Laura Johnson made a motion to add the reproductive freedom resolution to the council agenda for consideration Tuesday (see related letter to the editor here). She argued that passage was urgent, since she has heard from many people in community who are “terrified” following the Supreme Court’s June 24 decision overturning Roe vs. Wade.
While she had the support of Councilmembers Susan Paine and Will Chen, other councilmembers said they wanted to instead have the resolution introduced during the next meeting, on Tuesday, July 5 — giving both the council and the public more time to review the resolution’s language and make comments. As a result, Laura Johnson’s motion failed on a 3-4 vote, with Councilmembers Diane Buckshnis, Kristiana Johnson, Vivian Olson and Neil Tibbott voting no.
Following that, a good portion of the meeting was devoted to a closed record review of an Edmonds Planning Board recommendation to rezone two parcels of property — located at 9516 and 9530 Edmonds Way — from multiple residential (RM 1.5) to multiple residential Edmonds Way (RM-EW). Staff explained that the rezone would allow for an increased maximum height — from 30 feet to 35 feet — but only if the property developers agreed to include — under city code — two of the following three elements as part of their design: sustainability, low-impact development and/or affordable housing. A maximum number of 30 units could be built on the two parcels.
Project developers answering council questions via Zoom noted that the increased building height would not increase the buildings’ residential density, but would instead allow for extra space between the floors so the design wasn’t so compressed
Stating that the Edmonds Way location was a good spot for multifamily housing, Councilmember Paine moved that the city attorney prepare a resolution approving a rezone of the two parcels, to appear on a future council consent agenda. It passed by a vote of 6-1 with Kristiana Johnson voting no, stating she didn’t see a need for the zoning change.
In other business, the council agreed to approve a resolution accepting a nearly $2.9 million donation from the estate of an Edmonds couple — Jack and Pat Goffette — with specific instructions that it be used “for hanging baskets, street corner flower planting and maintenance.” Referring to a statement from the attorney handling the estate, Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Director Angie Feser said the couple — who founded Northwood Homes –” both loved Edmonds. They built many homes in the Emerald Hills area in the 1970s and because of their success with Northwood Homes they considered Edmonds the place where their business began and therefore wanted to give back to the city.”
While the donation accepted by the council Tuesday night was for $2,884,615.38, Feser noted the city has learned that additional “considerable” donations to the city are likely as estate assets are sold.
And the council agreed to place on next week’s consent agenda — after several amendments — a staff proposal updating its procedure for permitting special event permits. It also includes new fees to process those permits, “consistent with the policy of recovering costs associated with reviewing and issuing city permits,” City Clerk Scott Passey said. The approved fees are $50 for small events of fewer than 100 people and $125 for large events with more than 100 attendees. However, the council unanimously agreed to amend that proposal to provide a 50% discount for Edmonds-based nonprofits.
As part of the permitting update, the council also approved by a 5-2 vote (Councilmembers Paine and Laura Johnson voting no) an amendment from Council President Olson that council approval is required for all special events that involve right-of-way closures that are recurring or five days in length.
When it came time for mayor and council comments at the end of the meeting, the topic turned again to the reproductive freedom resolution. Mayor Mike Nelson began by calling the council’s decision to delay consideration “a missed opportunity. A constitutional right for every woman in our nation has been abolished. I don’t know what’s more urgent than that,” the mayor added, reiterating his support for “reproductive freedom, reproductive rights for women.”
Nelson was followed in his comments by Laura Johnson and Susan Paine, who urged approval of the resolution during next week’s meeting, and who read portions of the resolution into the record for emphasis.
Laura Johnson also said that statements that abortion will remain legal in Washington despite the Supreme Court’s decision are not accurate, adding that a referendum approved in 1970 by the state’s voters could be overturned by the state Legislature in the future.
Olson said during her comments that she is committed to placing the resolution on next week’s agenda for consideration. She also added that she was “personally shocked, dismayed and outraged” over the Supreme Court’s decision. “However, on the subject of a (council) resolution and what we say on behalf of our city, I’m choosing to be thoughtful and I’m not apologetic about that,” Olson said. “I think that’s my duty and responsibility when I’m speaking on behalf of the entire community.”
Speaking next, Buckshnis said she found the court’s decision “catastrophically shocking,” adding that she participated in abortion rights rallies and sit-ins in high school.
Chen said he believes the council has “a responsibility to protect our mothers, my wife, our daughters, the woman’s health is at stake here.” He added that while he usually tries to be a peacemaker and find middle ground, “for this issue, there is no middle ground. Personally I am standing with women’s rights and human rights and I hope you will stand up with me.”
Kristiana Johnson was the only councilmember who didn’t address the resolution during her comments.
Speaking last was Neil Tibbott, who appeared remotely while on a visit with his wife’s family in Mexico. “From my perspective, the resolution is lacking in a number of different areas,” Tibbott said. He suggested it should have a whereas clause “stating that the unborn also have rights. I also think it’s important to recognize that the number of aborted fetuses over the last 50 years would be in the hundreds of millions. That’s just part of the context for the resolution.” It’s also important to note, Tibbott said, “that there are many people, including pro-abortion advocates, who appreciate the recognition that unborn life matters.” However, due to his trip, Tibbott said he would be in transit during the next council meeting “and unable to participate” during further discussions on the resolution.
As Tibbott was speaking, Laura Johnson left the dais and the meeting. In a followup email, she said that her departure was not “part of some grand protest statement. After channeling my emotions this weekend into the resolution, they started to flow while I was sitting at the dais. I left because I did not feel the need to stay and let everyone watch me ugly cry on camera, sharing in my personal, emotional reaction.
“I’ve already been told by someone that I should learn to control my emotions,” Johnson continued. “Maybe he is right, or, just maybe, there is room for understanding.”
— By Teresa Wippel