Updated: Councilmember Kristiana Johnson remembered for her passionate love of Edmonds

Kristiana Johnson

Updated with additional details.

Longtime Edmonds City Councilmember Kristiana Johnson passed away suddenly on Monday. Johnson, 70, was appointed to fill a vacancy on the council in 2012, then was elected to three terms, the latest in 2021. She also served as council president in 2016 and ran for mayor in 2019, losing in a four-way primary.

“Kristiana Johnson was a daughter of Edmonds through and through,” said Council President Vivian Olson. “She used her last strength and energy caretaking our great city. If she had another day, or week, or month… she would have wanted to spend it serving Edmonds.”

Edmonds City Councilmember Kristiana Johnson addresses attendees during her 2021 campaign kickoff. (My Edmonds News file photos)

Fellow councilmembers offered their condolences.

“I will always remember her love for the arts, particularly our Cascadia Museum,” said Councilmember Susan Paine. “I also appreciated her advocacy for planting native trees to help our tree canopy here. She loved serving Edmonds.”

Councilmember Will Chen said: “Her experience and dedication to our beloved city will be missed. My deepest condolences to her family and loved ones. The council will do whatever is needed to help her family get through this difficult time.”

Added Councilmember Laura Johnson: I am sad to learn about the passing of our colleague, Kristiana Johnson. She served the City of Edmonds with passion and dedication, and she will be missed by many.”

Said Councilmember Diane Buckshnis: “Kristiana was a kind, dedicated and always prepared councilmember and her contributions to the city and her fiscal conservatism will be missed. She was a pioneer in the field of planning and transportation and this assisted our city greatly both when she was on the planning board and then as an elected. I learned a lot from KJ and I will mourn her passing but am thankful that I was able to serve alongside her as she understood the importance of public service and listening to our citizens.”

(Councilmembers Neil Tibbott wasn’t immediately available for comment.)

Mayor Mike Nelson said that Johnson’s “tireless dedication to the City of Edmonds and our residents never wavered. I always appreciated how true she was to her convictions, never backing down to pressure from others.  In her last days Kristiana was concerned about her constituents and never stopped championing for our residents.”

Councilmember Kristiana Johnson reacts to the news that she has 61 percent of the vote as the initial returns roll in on Nov. 7, 2017.

Kristiana Johnson was born and raised in Edmonds; she grew up in the house her parents built near Yost Park. Fellow Councilmember Neil Tibbott once said: “She rode her horse down our dirt streets, tied them up at grocery stores, and built her own home here.”

Johnson was a Washington State University graduate and earned a master’s degree in city and urban planning from Rutgers University in New Jersey. She did advanced coursework in transportation planning at New York University.

Her first job after grad school was as an environmental planner and she served for 10 years on a local community environmental commission in New Jersey. “I was in my 20s and I was determined.” Johnson recalled in 2017. “There was no recycling, but I developed a curbside recycling program, which was unheard of at the time.”

Johnson also worked as a transportation planner for the State of New Jersey, then moved back West to work a similar job for King County. The Edmonds City Council selected Johnson to fill a vacant seat on the council in 2012 after then-Council member Michael Plunkett moved to Seattle.

Prior to being appointed to the council, she served on the Edmonds Planning Board, the Edmonds Economic Development Commission and the Edmonds Transportation Committee.

During her 2021 council campaign, Tibbott described her as  “a fiscal conservative. That means she goes through every line item in the budget, looks at every opportunity to save money, looks at every dollar that walks out of city hall.”

City Councilmembers Kristiana Johnson and Mike Nelson enjoy the festivities during the City of Edmonds 125th anniversary celebration in August 2015.

Johnson shared with the city her passions in history and the arts, saying that she found pottery fascinating and took every class she could find. Her council focus was on protecting three things, she once said: “our neighborhoods, our charming downtown and our environment.”

While on the council, Johnson served on the Historic Preservation Commission and also was an advocate for the city’s 4th Avenue Cultural Corridor. A champion for the environment and the Edmonds Marsh, Johnson also helped draft the city’s Zero Waste resolution. She served as council president in 2016.

Newly-elected Council President Tom Mesaros thanks 2016 President Kristiana Johnson for her service.

When Vivian Olson campaigned for Johnson last year, she called her “a hometown girl, folksy, down-to-earth, and the smartest person in the room.” Johnson was also never afraid to give voice to her feelings and opinions – one councilmember called her “fiercely independent.” That sometimes brought her into conflict with city administrators and fellow councilmembers, but Johnson figured she owed the people of Edmonds that candor.

Former Mayor Dave Earling said he valued Johnson’s independence, “Kristiana and I were friends. We didn’t always agree on issues, but she is so open for conversation, and understanding. It was a treat to work with her for the number of years. Kristiana was honest, straightforward, kind at heart and I think it’s just a great loss for city.”

The dirt flies as Edmonds Chamber Vice President Bob Reinhart, Boo Han Plaza owner Jay Han, Edmonds City Councilmember Kristiana Johnson, Edmonds Economic Development Director Stephen Clifton, and Mayor Dave Earling wield their golden shovels at a groundbreaking for the Edmonds International District Enhancements Project in September 2012.

Friend and former Edmonds High School classmate David Preston, an Edmonds Port Commissioner, said that “Kristiana was Edmonds through and through. I enjoyed serving with her on the Historic Preservation Commission. She had a great sense of humor and always had a story to tell about things that used to happen in Edmonds. She is a true asset that will be missed.”

Council President Kristiana Johnson in 2016 with Planning Board Vice Chair Carreen  Rubenkonig.

 Johnson’s sense of humor is what friend Carreen Rubenkonig recalls. “I will miss her good humor, fine wit and readiness to laugh,” she said. Ruebenkonig added that Johnson respected her position on the council and conducted herself with the professionalism she had acquired in decades of public service in planning.

Ruebenkonig said she thinks Johnson would want to remind us to “please take the time to treat each other with good manners. Listen intently. Question politely. If you have nothing nice to say then say nothing at all. Love her town of Edmonds carefully and dearly.”

We will provide more details on services for Johnson when they are available.

The city council will set a timetable for choosing a successor; that is not yet available.

— By Bob Throndsen

  1. I am deeply shocked and saddened by the news of Kristiana Johnsons passing today. Many people in our community are grieving right now. We are beyond grateful for the time we had her serving our community including into 2022. She will be greatly missed.

  2. This is such sad news. I spoke with Kristiana twice in the last week about my vacation and her upcoming surgery. Both times she was characteristically upbeat and making plans for the future. I will miss her greatly. She was a true friend and dedicated colleague. My grief is beyond words today.

  3. Thank you for your service to our city, Kristiana. I will miss seeing you at our city council meetings. May she Rest In Peace.

  4. I am so very sad to hear of Kristiana’s passing. Edmonds Citizens were so lucky to have her in our corner. I will forever be thankful for everything she did for Edmonds. RIP Kristiana

  5. This is such sad news. Edmonds has lost a great person and advocate for our city. She approached all of the issues we faced with a fair and open mind, reaching decisions with knowledge and wisdom. Kristiana will be greatly missed.

  6. I am very sorry to hear that, and sorry to those close to her. I appreciate Kristiana’s dedication to her community. Her absence will definitely be missed.

  7. The sudden loss of Kristiana Johnson is a loss for our City Council and our community. Her experience and dedication to our beloved city will be missed. My deepest condolences to her family and loved ones.

  8. I am totally heart sick after just seeing this. Such a wise and well informed woman was Kristiana Johnson. My absolute condolences to all her family and friends. I will miss her on the council and I will miss knowing she will not be here to be the voice of reason throughout our community. May you rest in Peace Kristiana Johnson… a hero to me.

  9. So sad to hear this news!!! Kristiana served our community selflessly and she will be greatly missed!!!! Thank you for your service Kristiana Johnson and rest in Peace!!!

  10. I am saddened to hear about Kristiana. Her professional knowledge of city planning and independent voice will be missed. I enjoyed working with her and found her dedication to helping the community inspiring. We will miss her and her voice.

  11. This is a truly sad and bad day for all Edmonds citizens. Thanks to a great lady and roll model for what a City Council person should be; all those years of service and, most importantly, being open minded about the issues in virtually every instance that I can recall. She legislated with much logic and with little emotion, anger and bias. People like her are hard to come by these days and should be cherished when and while we have them. We celebrate a life well lived and will miss her presence greatly I’m afraid.

    1. Kristiana was a good friend with a tremendous work ethic. She will leave a great legacy of pragmatism, maturity, and dedication to the citizens of Edmonds. Words cannot describe the sadness and void that I feel. She was one strong individual who fought to persevere the quaint town that she grew up in and I will definitely miss her opinions, laughter, and views on life. She definitely made a mark on this town and it was a privilege to be known as her friend and confidant.

      RIP KJ and thank you for your service and being you!

  12. So saddened and heartbroken to hear this news. Kristiana was someone you could always count on. She never left a stone unturned and was amazingly thorough in her preparation and research throughout her time on Planning Board and City Council. I admired her for her dedication and unwavering commitment to the citizens of Edmonds. She was one of a kind. Edmonds will miss her greatly and so will I.

  13. In 2021 Kristiana and I had a meeting with Public Works staff about pedestrian and bike infrastructure, especially around improving safety on Highway 99. Given her professional background and personal passion, it was a meeting that I think we were both fully engrossed in, and one that immediately comes to mind when thinking of her. Sending my sincere condolences to her family and friends…

  14. Peggy and I are deeply saddened by the loss of Kristiana, and wish her family our sincere condolences. Kristiana was a gift to our community. She loved Edmonds and worked hard to make it the wonderful city that it is.

    1. Kristiana will be greatly missed. She was an integral part of Edmonds, had deep roots in the community, loved her city dearly, and served it with honor and integrity. She was, above all, a kind and principled person who remained committed to her values and those of her constituents. Deepest sympathies to Kristiana’s family and friends.

    2. What a loss for Edmonds. I wish I had known her longer and better because what I saw was dedication to civic values and a drive to serve Edmonds.. all laced with humor. We are lucky to have had her.

  15. This is a very sad day for the Edmonds community and for Edmonds City Hall. What I respected most about Kristiana is she would never speak ill of anyone, not her council colleagues, not city staff, and certainly not anyone in the Edmonds community. She respected people and the process of governing. She did her homework and strove to get things done, aways in the best interest of Edmonds.

  16. Years ago, I used to run into Kristiana as she showed up at many community events and I was so impressed by her grasp of city matters, her openness, and her smarts. She connected, boots-on-the-ground. I loved seeing her dedication to our city as I watched her strong years as a council member. So sorry to see her gone and am sure she’ll smile down on us!

  17. I am saddened to hear such startling and sudden news without warning of Kristian’s passing. I have known Kristina since I was little – her older sister and I graduated in the same class at Edmonds High School in 68 – both of them took piano lessons from my mom. I love how Kristina’s was not only so unbelievably smart but she was passionate about what she was passionate about and wasn’t influenced by “influencers or bully’s” she was true to her core about the issues she supported. There was not an ounce of manipulation, bias, judgment or anything within her – she spoke her truth, listened, observed and acted accordingly. She will be missed and will never be forgotten. We were blessed to have her as much as we did. RIP dear Kristiana

  18. This is indeed a sad day for our Edmonds community. Kristiana will be missed as a council member. She was a leader, did her due diligence and paid attention to detail. She had a sharp wit, was respectful even when disagreeing, was so smart, and had such integrity. I appreciate that she took her Oath of Office seriously, always putting her constituents first.

    Kristiana gave us her all. Now may she Rest in Peace.

  19. It was a true honor to serve alongside Kristiana (or KJ as we liked to call her) on City Council. She was always respectful and thoughtful in her deliberations. It is a sad day for us all.

  20. News of Kristiana’s passing has been heartbreaking. She exemplified service with sincere consideration for everyone’s input and was dedicated to preserving the special charm that makes Edmonds unique. I especially admired and appreciated Kristiana for being a trailblazer for women in environmental and city/transportation planning careers. I will miss her poise, tenacity, wisdom and encouragement.

  21. I am saddened to wake up to this news of Kristiana. My sincerest condolences to her friends, family, and colleagues, for their loss.

  22. Kristiana was a wonderful gift and a great asset for our city. She and I did not always agree on City Council, but we respected each other’s views and were amicable and friendly. No one was better prepared and no one care more for Edmonds. She will truly be missed.

  23. I am so saddened to hear this news. Kristiana was a true gift to our community and to me as a friend.

  24. Kristiana Johnson was a true Edmonds icon, a highly intelligent and thoughtful servant to our community. I’m shocked and saddened by her passing. I came to know her through more than a decade both on the Edmonds Historic Preservation Commission and as a local news reporter. I never failed to be impressed by her grace, kindness, intellect, education, depth of knowledge, and unfailing focus on bringing all these attributes to bear in the service of our community. On council she was never part of any voting block or political ideology – her vote was always her own, always informed by diligent study of the issues at hand, always driven by her personal litmus test of what best serves the Edmonds community. In debates she could be tough when needed but unfailingly stayed above the fray, sticking to issues and not personalities. Her passing leaves a void in our community. I fear we shall not see her like again.

  25. The City and the people of Edmonds were her family. I’ve worked with many elected officials but none who gave so much of their time and themselves to their job as Council Member Johnson. She was so smart but also very humble. It’s not surprising that she worked so hard up to the very end. It would be fitting for the City Council to consider naming a cherished part of Edmonds after her.

  26. Maggie Fimia, I agree, Kristiana deserves to be remembered by a lasting tribute from the City of Edmonds for her service, leadership and commitment to her community. I have been delighted by Kristiana’s friendship, fun character and stories about her life in Edmonds! She always stood up for what was right and served Edmonds with a gracious manner. I among many, will miss Kristiana.

  27. In reading through the comments in reaction to this terribly sad news of Kristiana Johnson’s sudden passing I’m taken by the incredible outpouring of respect, high regard, appreciation, and love for Kristiana. Her passing has hit our community hard.
    The outpouring here is a true testament to her legacy! Kristiana made a difference in everything she put her energy into and did so with integrity, forthrightness, and grace. That’s a legacy to be proud of, for sure.
    I want to personally thank Kristiana and her family for her dedicated service and the love she showed to Edmonds. She was revered by so many and she will be sorely missed.
    My prayers are with her family and loved ones in their time of sorrow and I wish Kristiana a restful peace.

  28. Every community needs a Kristiana Johnson. This was her home-not just where she lived. She cared for Edmonds and it’s citizens. They were her family. Unlike too many, she worked to sustain it by serving with smart, knowledgable, and sometimes courageous energy. We are better because she called Edmonds her home. She will be missed.

  29. Those writing before have noted all of KJ’s accomplishments and virtues. What I can add is to cite her honesty and courage both as an official of Edmonds and as a person. She faced health challenges with a smile and good humor. She was a rock on the City Council who was unafraid to ask the necessary questions of City officials in order to make an informed decsion. She will be much missed.
    R.I.P you proud Edmonds Tiger.

  30. Many kind words for Kristiana that she so deserves! I too am very sad. I didn’t know her personally but as a citizen who engages with Council, I can attest to her knowledge, thoughtfulness, dedication, ability to listen and consider all sides, respect and concern for us citizens and commitment to do what’s right for Edmonds. I always felt we were well represented and in good hands with her. She made Edmonds a better place. What a loss! We will miss her.

  31. Saddened by her passing. She was kind and modest when she spoke with people, but encyclopedic in her knowledge of the city’s business, goals and purpose. It was a learning experience to see her get through budgets and other arcane city matters. May she Rest In Peace.

  32. Kristiana will be missed by those of us who not only supported her during elections, but looked to her to always do “the right thing”. This amazing woman was the epitome of what a “Good” council person should be. The long legacy that she will leave should be used as a blueprint for future politicians on how to get along and how to get things done without injecting personal politics into issues that should not be political. She was truly one-of-a-kind, always reaching out to her community and never missed an opportunity to hear what you had to say. Thank you dear Kristiana for your unselfish endeavors. You have always set the bar high, Rest In Peace dear lady.

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