Here’s our summaries of the remaining three candidates who were interviewed by the Edmonds City Council Monday, Aug. 29 to fill the Position 1 seat left vacant with the death of Councilmember Kristiana Johnson. You can read the summary of the first six interviews on Aug. 29 here. The council also met with 10 candidates Saturday, Aug. 27 and you can see those summaries of interviews here and here.
During the interviews Monday, each candidate gave an opening and closing statement, and also answered a series of six questions — one posed by each councilmember — which they received in advance.
We have also included a summary of interview notes of the 17th candidate, Erika Barnett, provided by Council President Vivian Olson. Barnett was out of town during the pre-scheduled interviews and as a result wasn’t interviewed in a public setting.
The council is scheduled to appoint a new Position 1 councilmember during a 5:30 p.m. special meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 6. This will be a hybrid meeting in the Edmonds City Council chambers, 250 5th Ave. N. You can see the complete agenda for that meeting here, which will be followed by a 7 p.m. regular business meeting.
Jeremy Mitchell, a two-year Edmonds resident, was raised in a small town in northern Idaho, which he said is similar to Edmonds in population size and character. “I was able to see first hand what a city, if they don’t proactively plan, can do to the overall city’s character,” he said, and that experience “made me want to explore this opportunity [to seek the council seat] since we’re kind of at the juncture as a city.” Mitchell has been an architect for 16 years, and said that he would honor late Councilmember Johnson’s legacy as a planner beause architecture is also planning. He was recently appointed to the Edmonds Historic Preservation Commission.
Councilmember Diane Buckshnis asked Mitchell for his opinion about zoning. He replied that he manages zoning and land-use codes on a daily basis as part of his job. From a city planning perspective, he said, “zoning is really a double-edged sword — while it protects in one way, it hinders in another.” Most of the time, Michell said, conventional zoning “distorts the real estate market when there’s a limited amount of housing and land, which ultimately drives up the cost of living and expands inequality.” Over time, he said, zoning codes “became increasingly complex and burdensome and the rules in my opinion have resulted in communities that are more so built for cars and projects for affluent people who can afford them.” Addressing this issue will require a holistic approach that both gathers the community’s input and also looks at case studies of other jurisdictions that have attempted to address the problem, Mitchell said.
Councilmember Neil Tibbott then asked Michell to share any activity he has been involved with in Edmonds that has given him insight into the city’s needs. Mitchell replied that he, his wife and children are avid park and beach users, and he said that allows him “to observe and take in the cultural aspect of the city from different viewpoints.” The “unique parks and open spaces that flank our historical district and charm of the downtown really initiated my involvement in wanting to be more active in the community,” he added, and it was also why he applied to be on the Historic Preservation Commission.
Councilmember Laura Johnson asked Mitchell to list what steps he would take to start implementation of his top three priorities, which are exploring and implementing an appropriate balance of affordable housing options, improving the city’s infrastructure, and expanding and improving parks and open spaces. With any of these, he said, the process would be to define the initiative, to work with the experts to analyze data and look for gaps, to identify stakeholders and seek their input, assign a team to the task and develop a strategic work plan that initiates the project and carries out the work. “You just need to keep the community involved,” he said. “Communicate the initiative and collaborate together with community input along the way.”
Councilmember Will Chen asked Mitchell to describe his understanding of the concept of ONE Edmonds with different neighborhoods and how the city can equitably deploy its resources. “My definition of a ONE Edmonds…should mean inclusive for all, a feeling of fellowship and respect for one another by sharing common attitudes, common interests and common goals,” Mitchell said. While Edmonds neighborhoods are very diverse, he added that “from a planning perspective they all share a common component and that’s a neighborhood center.” The most effective way to deploy the city’s resources is do it through these neighborhood centers, he said, and suggested that the city look at decentralizing its administrative and social services and create neighborhood hubs.
Councilmember Vivian Olson then asked Mitchell if he had time to devote to the council appointment. Mitchell replied that both his family members and his current employer “are well aware of the time commitment and have accepted those demands of the position.”
Next, Councilmember Susan Paine asked Mitchell for his opinion about streateries — temporary outdoor dining structures erected during the pandemic — and also how he feels about using city streets for non-vehicle purposes. “I thnk the streateries in the short term were a good stop-gap solution,” Mitchell said. Long term, streateries could also work if more time was taken to develop design standards and create community acceptance for them. “As a typical everyday Edmonds citizen, I think pedestrian-centric environments are some of the most enjoyable and community-engaging spaces to be in,” he said, adding they also bring customers to brick-and-mortar businesses that are dependent on street traffic.
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Lisa Sawyer grew up in Edmonds and both her parents were active in the community. She worked in public relations for 15 years, “so I’m a really quick study,” she said. “I’ve had to learn lots of industries and influencers.” For the last several years she has been a caregiver, caring for her son with special needs and a mother and sister who both had health issues. “I love Edmonds and I think there’s a lot of potential here but I hope that we can make it so that people who helped build Edmonds can stay in Edmonds and thrive in Edmonds,” she said.
Councilmember Johnson asked Sawyer to explain what steps she would take to implement her top three priorities, which are planning for sustainable growth, addressing the lack of housing and services, and improving the city’s infrastructure. Regarding sustainable growth, Sawyer noted that in her Westgate neighborhood, homes are being torn down to build a “whole neighborhood of McMansions.” She wondered, when there is a need for affordable housing, what in the city’s zoning allows that to happen. “Affordability is important,” she said. “I think we’re a little too dear on the single-family home issue.” As for infrastructure, Sawyer said, “as we are talking about all the neighborhoods we should be talking about trying to figure out how everybody can have a place…with trees, a place with amenities, a place for people where they feel good about where they live and they can have community.”
Buckshnis asked Sawyer for her opinion about zoning. She replied that communities that are more walkable with mixed use offer a friendlier environment. “I don’t think we want just a neighborhood of million-dollar homes in Edmonds,” she said. “A lot of the people that are the great volunteers that helped build this community…are we going to price all those people out, those people that make it so special, that run the food banks and do different things in the community?” That includes people with “special-needs family situations that are quietly suffering,” Sawyer added. “Your family member shouldn’t always have to go to Everett or somewhere like that if they need low-income housing. There’s a lot of people who are less fortunate that grew up here who can’t stay here. It splits apart families.”
Sawyer’s opinion about streateries and using city streets for non-vehicle purposes was the next question, posed by Paine. “There’s definitely some value to not making everything directly accessible to a car, for people to walk and interact and eat on the street,” Sawyer said. However, she said it’s important to address disability and accessibility issues, and to ensure that parking is available. “I think it’s an opportunity to make Edmonds like more of a gathering place by opening up the streets more often,” she added. “I’d like to see more of it. I think it’s really been community building and every time we do it it just affirms that.”
Tibbott then asked Sawyer to describe a recent activity in Edmonds that has given her insight into the needs of the city. “Just trying to help my own family situation when I was a caregiver has sort of changed how I view the city,” she said. She added that she recently took the city’s survey on Edmonds Comprehensive Plan and thinks the city should “survey families on what they are struggling with or what could help you rather than asking tick boxes on what kind of housing would you like.” She said the city has been working to address housing affordability, but “there are so may families that are struggling with this because there really is no long-term solution.”
Chen asked Sawyer to share her understanding of the concept of ONE Edmonds and her ideas for deploying resources to the city’s unique neighborhoods. Sawyer replied it’s important to understand the needs of each neighborhood, including what types of support services they may require. As a followup question, Chen asked about ways to increase public safety in the Highway 99 neighborhood. She said the city should be building places that create community, like those in downtown Edmonds. “Obviously you can’t take the waterfront and drop it over on 99 but you can make green spaces, parks, services,” she said.
Olson then asked Sawyer if she had the time to devote to the council appointment. “I can be pretty passionate when I take on something,” Sawyer said. “I’ve always liked to volunteer and use my time and when I volunteer, I stick with it,” she said.
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Natalie Seitz moved to the Highway 99 area of Edmonds with her family three years ago. A project/program manager in King County, she is a frequent commenter during city council and planning board meetings, and was particularly vocal in advocating for equity in the city’s recently approve Parks, Recreation and Open Space (PROS) Plan.
Paine started the questioning by asking Seitz her opinion about streateries and using city streets for non-vehicle purposes. Seitz said she wanted to take a broader view of the issue that just downtown, explaining that “a city street is kind of a tough place to have a comprehensive policy, because there are various types of right of way.” In deciding to implement such a project, she said, the city should review public feedback and whether that process for gaining feedback was sufficient and adequately incorporated into a recommendation to the council. In addition, the city should determine both public risks and city liabilities, as well as the positive and negative impacts to the proposed and adjacent properties, and also address if there “are there general public benefits like jobs or access.” For something like streateries, “I’d want there to be a broader planning area,” Seitz said. “This type of public process that was allowed for streateries really is not afforded to other areas of the city, where decisions in the right of way are being made that are just as impactful.”
Olson asked whether Seitz has the time to devote to the council appointment. Seitz said both her family and her employer are aware of her intentions and are supportive. She also said her background in environmental planning and municipal organizations “would be an incredible stregth in balancing workloads because many of the topics that are brought before council are processes and topics that are somewhat familiar to me.” She also added that “working multiple jobs and having young families is not an atypical experience for many in Edmonds,” especially for those living on the city’s east side. “I believe that bringing the lived experiences of people who reside in Edmonds would be of benefit to the council,” she added.
Next came Tibbott’s request that Seitz speak to a recent activity she did in Edmonds that gave her an insight into the needs of the city. She pointed to her experience as an equity advocate during development of the city’s PROS plan, which informed her priorities of cost-effective policy and investments. The city does need to pay closer attention to the city’s needs-defined objectives and “the ability to achieve multiple benefits wihtin a single action,” she said. During the past several months, Seitz said she had an opportunity to visit nearly every park in city and noted that compared to the Highway 99/South Edmonds area, downtown Edmonds has about 12 times the per-capita park acres and north Edmonds and Five Corners have three to four time the per-capita park acres. “The parks were just sort of the gateway for me to understand how how underserved certain areas of the city are,” she said.
Buckshnis asked Seitz for her opinion about zoning. She replied that zoning is “an incredibly important process” that ensures the growth is near emergency and municipal services. “When evaluating zoning or future land use, the key questions I would ask or have in my mind are ‘What’s the public feedback? Was the process sufficient and has it been adequately incorporated into the city’s recommendation to council?'” Seitz said. In addition, she would ask: “What does the city need over next 30 years? Is the package that’s proposed meet the city’s needs or does it just kick the can down the road? Is the existing or proposed building stock going to be functional in next 50 to 100 years?” and also “Can the area equitably accommodate growth, which is a measure of existing and planned resources in relationship to where people live?”
Johnson asked Seitz how she would implement the three priorities listed on her application, which are cost-effective investments and policy decisions, equity and inclusive civic engagement. Seitz replied that she would work to gain council support for further investments in the city’s asset management systems. These systems would allow residents to request a service, which the city could easily track through completion and then communicate with the public, she said. They also provide detailed information and costs and benefits “over the lifecycle of an asset, which is invaluable for decision-making about costs and effects of investments,” she said. Finally, it can track investments by geography, “which is incredibly important to manage resources in an equitable way,” Seitz said. She also said she would work on an inclusive engagement ordinance that would set policy standards for public outreach.
Regarding Chen’s question about ONE Edmonds, Seitz said: “One Edmonds to me is the beginning of a vision statement that hasn’t really been created.” As an example, she said such a vision could include walkable neighborhoods and stable communities with a goal such as “every Edmonds resident should be able to walk safely to a park.” The investment could look very different in each neighborhood, but the vision of ONE Edmonds is the same. In the Five Corners neighborhood, which has Yost Park, implementing the vision could mean increased access points and lighting. In other areas, implementation could mean purchasing land or developing interlocal agreements or making significant street or sidewalk improvments. Seitz also noted that the city has a lot of events downtown, which benefits the downtown commercial center. “I would really love to see events that would invite the community into some of these neighorhood cultural centers,” she said. “Because then it would both enliven and enrich those community businesses too.”
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Erica Barnett works at Ten Gun Design, a downtown Edmonds company that does design, marketing and staffing for Microsoft and XBox. An eight-year Edmonds resident, she is also co-owner of the two Edmonds’ Salish Sea Brewing businesses and serves as current board chair for the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce.
The first question to Barnett: How would she begin implementing her top priorities which are economic development and support, transportation/infrastructure and planning for growth, public safety and quality of life? Barnett said she would start by evaluating where city is and how it got there, then focus on “where do we want to be in five, 10 and 25 years?” Next, she would “get buy-in from other councilmembers and residents that that is the goal, plan the work back to come up with the actions and investments that will actually get us there. I do not consider it government’s job to dictate the direction, but to set the framework for the residents to be able to register their choices (and collectively then set the direction), ultimately going with what the people want,” she said.
The next question was regarding whether Barnett can meet the time demands of the council. “I have skills that are of value to this process and feel I can make a meaningful impact, so will prioritize and make the time needed,” she said. “And I care; this role is of special interest due to my being a parent, resident and business owner in the community. The present and future of Edmonds is very important to me across a wide array of legislative areas. And this particular opportunity gives both the community and the Council/myself the opportunity to ‘try before you buy’ to determine if I am the right fit for this community role.
Barnett then offered her opinion about streateries and the city’s use of right of way for non-vehicular purpose. Barnett’s Salish Sea Brewing, which had a streatery during the pandemic, said “they were a great and extremely welcomed emergency response. As such, they weren’t planned for with the kind of care that would make them a long-term fit and solution. If this is something the public is asking for, I would look forward to being part of the conversation and making sure that infrastructure needs (like car and pedestrian traffic) are considered,” she said.
She then offered her opinion on zoning. “I am concerned about displacement of business and wanting to guard against that as we grow in population,” she said. “I also care that we maintain that aesthetic that made people choose Edmonds for in the first place. At the same time, we need to provide housing choice in the places where the infrastructure better supports the density.”
The next question was Barnett’s thoughts about the concept of ONE Edmonds and how to equitably distribute resources throughout the neighborhoods? “I would like to see more events — and more spaces around the town to support those events –more gathering spots, to congregate, celebrate and connect in all of the neighborhoods where people live,” she said.
Finally, Barnett was asked to share a recent activity in Edmonds that brought her new insights into the needs of the community. “Through the businesses and school networks, I get constant feedback from the community at large,” she said. “Many perspectives — most people don’t have the 360-degree view of an issue. The opportunity to learn more, know more and be able to share back is the opportunity that excites me.”
— By Teresa Wippel