Reader view: It’s time to have ‘The Talk’

No, not THAT talk. But one almost as important.

At this Tuesday’s (Nov. 22) Edmonds City Council meeting, our mayor and council will be talking about a set of legislative agenda topics to send to our state representatives for the upcoming session in Olympia. It’s a rather extensive list. However, one glaring omission in my opinion is advocating for our right for self-determination. Particularly as it pertains to our land use and zoning policies and ordinances.

Over the last few legislative sessions in Olympia, our politicians have tried — in one way or another — to either change or eliminate single-family zoning regionally, or statewide. In the last legislative session, they once again proposed such a change, which eventually failed, but not for the lack of trying. Alternatively, what they did was to try to bribe cities, via a grant biased toward a predetermined outcome, to move their agenda forward. Wisely, our city council rejected pursuing the grant. But I’m certain our state legislators will try again.

They want to further urbanize our suburban community. Increase density at the expense of our single-family neighborhoods. Take away our freedom to control our city and turn it over to profit-minded developers. If enacted, we’ll lose our ability to choose to live in a single-family neighborhood because there won’t be any. If enacted, developers will quickly move in and destroy our community as they have in other areas of the region. If enacted, there would be no going back.

To make our position perfectly clear, I’m proposing that our city council draft a resolution to be forwarded to our state representatives to uphold our ability to control our own destiny. One where we retain control of our land use policies and zoning codes. Tell them to stop the nonsense. We know the council can move quickly when they want to. We need to let the council know that we want them to act on this resolution quickly and include it in the legislative agenda.

To this end, I’m also going to call out all want-to-be mayors and councilmembers. If you have intentions to run for office (or know someone who does), then you need to be part of the conversation now! Not waiting to gauge the political winds or alliances when it’s politically expedient. I’m not saying you must announce your candidacy now, but when we look back at these comments, we should be able to see your contribution to “the talk.” If not, that in itself will say a lot.

We, as a community, need to start to be proactive. The inaction of our elected officials on issues that truly affect the quality of life in Edmonds is disturbing. Get the word out and contact our city councilmembers directly at council@edmondswa.gov and/or post a comment here to further the conversation. And if you’re so inclined, please talk to the issue at this Tuesday’s city council meeting. Be aware that they changed the start time to 6 p.m. (rather than 7 p.m.) for this Tuesday.

— By Jim Ogonowski

Jim Ogonowski lives in Edmonds.

  1. I really dislike this kind of fear mongering. We absolutely need state wide zoning reform, and adding more flexibility will not ruin our city like this letter warns. There are many other checks in place that will allow for more density and other kinds of housing while still preserving what makes Edmonds (and other towns in WA) a lovely place to live.

    1. I totally agree with Jim Ogonowski and everything he said.
      This is not fear mongering this is information for the citizens of Edmonds the majority of which do not want what you or many at the state level are proposing. This is a large county. Edmonds can be Edmonds without destroying all our yards, our trees, and yes our safety. We are building now huge multi family buildings on 99 and in other parts of our city. We have already built new and have in our neighborhoods much multi living. We have no two lane highways on 220th or 21th two of the main lead ins to the bowl. We do not have the space or the infrastructure to support what you are suggesting. And Jim is right. All people should speak up and they should write to their council members and ask them to stop this now. This is not King County. Here there are many different viewpoints. This should be something we pay attention to right now. We cannot protect the citzens we have now. This is no fault of our EPD…it is the fault of not well thought out decisions. Our council will take care of us.

    2. Ms. Kimball,
      I really dislike your kind of passive naïveté in support of state politicians deciding what’s best for Edmonds, coupled with your accusation of fear mongering against the author of this informational LTE.

  2. I will add that the concrete monstrosities proposed by developers and Directors are not “affordable housing” Infact even triple or much more of the minimum wage cannot afford what is being suggested. No yards, no trees, a tiny bit of green on the concrete is not going to help our environment one bit. It will worsen our environment. Children need space to play and fresh air to breath and breeze to feel. To do this is asking for more chaos between citizens and the less fortunate which are once again left out!! It is asking to over overwhelm our infiltration systems and power grids. It is putting the cart before the horse. SLOW down. Don’t sell your SFH. Hold tight! You will see as time goes on we will be able to find a way to add actual affordable rentals. You will see your houses be valued at what they are truly worth and sold to those who can afford them. The bowl is pretty full. The town is full too. But we have a corridor that wants businesses and cultural centers. Lets do that to increase taxes with revenue. Lets build up our bergs again increasing revenue.

  3. The state just doesn’t need to be tinkering with local zoning in Edmonds. I’ve served on Planning Board for three-and-a-half years, and nobody has ever suggested we need to upzone any single-family neighborhoods in order to accommodate population growth.

    And even if we did need to change zoning to accommodate growth, there are far better places than in established single-family neighborhoods. It’s called Planning, and we can do that here for Edmonds far better than politicians in Olympia.

  4. In our litigation happy society, any state laws being written eliminating SFH zones everywhere would probably be tested all the way to the Federal Supreme Court, taking years to implement permanently, or be discarded permanently so the fear mongering aspect of this topic is vastly over stated at this point. Jim is very correct in stating that everyone with an interest in this needs to get involved and political types should put their true cards on the table sooner than later. Realistically, that probably won’t happen to any great extent. We can always dream.

    In the past fifty years our town favored the building of ever bigger housing buildings (single family and multiple family) on ever smaller lots with less and less green space; building out set back to set back and up in the air as much as our unique building height laws will allow. Many Edmonds neighborhoods do not fit the typical urban and suburban housing models and we need to start looking at zoning more from a district or neighborhood standpoint than a one size fits all perspective. That need is what we should be hyping to the Legislature and promoting locally.

  5. State legislature needs to establish rent controls. Rent increases in 2021 and 2022 have been excessive with no value for renters. This is an approach to affordable housing and to adjust rent to income rather than waiting for a non-existent Section 8 voucher.

    1. As a former long time NYC resident, I can tell you that rent control makes the problem worse: prices WILL increase, and investors who up to now have invested in Real Estate will not, because if the slew of laws necessary to bring about rent control will put them at a disadvantage.

  6. Yes, our elected officials will need support to counter this proposal.

    Here is my try: Zoning is the primary tool of land use planning. Planned land use is likely superior to unplanned land use.

    1. Thank you Lora. I know you have lived in Edmonds and served Edmonds well for a lifetime it seems. So yes you are right. I hope many call and show up on Tuesday at 6 PM to be sure our city and council know how we feel about zoning such as it is being suggested. I believe our council will see the danger in allowing this blanket zoning. It doesn’t mean progress where appropriate can’t be made. It just needs to make sense and not hamper or hinder our many tax paying citizens. Many of which are loyal to local business and care about our communities. All communities in Edmonds. I believe most of our CC will oppose this and blanket zoning will not occur. We have much to do here before we even think about more and more people moving in. Roads for one. I believe in progress but time is a teacher and we need time to fix what is broken before we add anything more than is already planned. I hope you have a lovely Thanksgiving.

    2. Lora, you’re right, except that the state is not asking us what we want, it’s telling us . Many of our city politicians with dreams of higher political office and congress/senate dreams, have declared through their proxies that if we’re for single family housing zoning we’re racists and classists, and have told us that that their dream is that we implement programs like Vienna, Paris and Amsterdam ( no, I’m not kidding), and they keep trying to lurch towards a pedestrian only downtown. We have the right to decide what we want for our town,and should not be dictated to by people who don’t live here, and who base this on studies by and urban planning fashion victims.

      1. Yes, but I feel that our elected officials do not want to appear to be against equity, affordable housing, or the environment.

        I am hoping they also do not want to appear to be against land use planning!

  7. Ms. Petso is someone who should be listened to since she has both legal and political credibility. Since Zoning is the primary tool that local governments (county and city) use to manage their growth and livability for all purposes; how could it be constitutional for the state to arbitrarily do away with one of the zoning categories that the cities and counties need as a tool to make things work well for the majority of all citizens? Maybe some legal research on zoning law and legal president would be the place to start on this? Knowledge is power, or at least it was before things got malignantly ideological in all our politics.

  8. Thank you Jim for your timely reminder that our representatives in Olympia will keep trying to control and replace our single family zoning in favor of urban density. This effort benefits big developers NOT the majority of residents who do not want single family neighborhoods destroyed. We do not need to drive far to remind us how that looks and feels. Attached is a link to a recent article from February 2022 where we are reminded that some of our Olympia representatives have promised to keep trying to pass their urban density agenda.
    https://myedmondsnews.com/2022/02/two-multifamily-housing-bills-dead-but-measure-supporting-accessory-dwelling-units-passes-state-house/

  9. Jim, thank you for taking the time to follow this issue and the excellent letter, that describes this problem so well. . I agree with you 100%, and will be at the meeting tomorrow.

  10. Great letter Jim. I share your sentiment and completely support your“ask” for CC to do whatever is in their power to keep zoning decisions local. The state appears to have an agenda that does not fit in Edmonds.

    78% of citizens surveyed stated they support single family zoning. Our density is already at or above our state requirement so council members, please do not allow politicians outside our community to dictate how we zone ourselves.

  11. I believe there is a strong contingent in our State Legislature that desires to force higher residential density on cities and towns regardless of the wishes of the citizens living in those locations. This contingent will try to limit local zoning authority to mandate higher density or offer inducements to local governments in order to achieve their dubious goal of higher urban density. Our Legislature has a long history of imposing unfunded mandates on local governments and mandating compliance regardless of the cost burdens on local governments. Higher urban density requires more roads, parks, parking, sewer and water lines and policing. I urge our Edmonds City Council to reject such inducements and to pass a resolution to those legislators telling them we want to retain local control over our growth destiny in conformance to the wishes of our Edmonds tax payers and to not have it dictated from Olympia.

  12. My comments to council@edmondswa.gov focus on the environment. Part of my comments follow:

    Please add local decision making on zoning to our lobbyist’s legislative agenda. A majority of Edmonds residents have said they do not support elimination of single family zoning in Edmonds. We must continue to have a say in how our neighborhoods are developed.

    Edmonds has unique environmental features and aging infrastructure which is ill equipped to address drainage issues and pollution that results from overbuilding on and near critical areas. Development has already done significant and lasting environmental damage to our fragile Edmonds’ ecosystem.

    Please consider who supports up-zoning – the Master Builders Association, developers, realtors, architects, engineers, and others who stand to gain from tearing down one home and building several new homes in its place. Each one of those new homes would be allowed, under our current code, an ADU, resulting in more impervious surfaces and more burden to our infrastructure. 

    If the state legislature votes to eliminate single family zoning, developers will have free reign to make their profits to the detriment of the environment and expense of the citizens of Edmonds. And the housing created will not be “affordable.”

  13. At last night’s City Council meeting, the council unanimously approved adding language to the legislative agenda which reinforces our right to self-determination, particularly for land use and zoning issues. I’d like to thank all who commented, emailed or made your voices heard, one way or another. It all mattered.

  14. We can be pretty sure that this will be the reaction of most municipal jurisdictions in the entire state and especially on the East side. My guess is doing away with SFH zoning statewide will most likely be a bridge too far even for the Dem. majorities in the Legislature. The push back will be huge.

  15. Thanks for your work Jim. Wack a Mole in reverse. Usually we see WAM when a proposal generates a “few” people into action. “Few” is relative with 42,000 residents. Only 19 comments from 12 people and a few off topic (rent control). Others took Jim’s advice or did their own research and wrote to council. The whole topic was local zoning control and the issue of single-family housing.

    SFH, have we as a community discussed that before? Housing Commission 1, no public input allowed. Housing Commission 2. Some public input allowed and town meetings in Gyms. A “few” attended. Many times SFH was on the table. More than 19 people have talked about Local Zoning and SFH before.

    Council did a good job to listen, read and gather the “will of the community”. 7/0.

    There are many WAM examples: Connector. Public meetings, multiple designs, and money. But the folks with Pitch Forks (credit to RA) and signs and voices before a council meeting tipped the scale and council responded.

    Let’s move forward with what Jim did. Work on the Comp Plan as a community. Implement Budgeting by Priorities. Largest public support in SAP. Council approved twice. Still have not implemented.

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