Council OKs more budget amendments; sets Saturday meeting to discuss new Hwy 99 emergency ordinance

Gateway resident Judi Gladstone asks the council to protect her neighborhood.

Increasing fees for downtown parking passes and providing residents with financial incentives to ditch their gas-powered leaf blowers were among the 2023 budget amendments approved by the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night.

The council worked through 10 proposed amendments to the 2023 city budget Tuesday; that’s after reviewing 19 amendments during a special meeting Monday night. There are still dozens left to consider. The council is required by state law to pass the budget by Dec. 31.

The council agreed to continue Tuesday night’s meeting to noon Saturday, Dec. 10 in the downtown Edmonds council chambers. Whether any budget amendments will be considered during that meeting isn’t known as a detailed agenda hasn’t yet been released. However, the main impetus for the Saturday meeting is to further discuss ways to address concerns voiced by residents of Edmonds’ Gateway neighborhood — located just west of Highway 99 — related to a planned 261-unit apartment building there.

The council had been scheduled Tuesday to vote on whether to vacate an emergency ordinance — approved unanimously Oct. 4 — that was aimed at ensuring that new developments across the street from single-family zones in the Highway 99 subarea provide stepbacks. On Nov. 22, the council by a 4-3 vote reversed course on that Oct. 4 decision, approving a preliminary action to vacate the ordinance.

The interim ordinance would have applied to the Highway 99 area of Edmonds zoned general commercial as part of the Highway 99 subarea plan, which was approved by the council in 2017. The plan consolidated most of the zoning categories for the Highway 99 corridor into one general commercial (CG) designation. In the plan, stepback requirements were included for multifamily buildings adjacent to single-family properties, but not for those located across the street.

The action to vacate the emergency ordinance appeared on the council’s Tuesday consent agenda, meaning it could be approved without further council discussion. But Councilmember Jenna Nand, who lives in the Highway 99 corridor and voted against the ordinance vacation Nov. 22, signaled her intent to pull the item off consent so the council could debate it further. Several Gateway residents also attended Tuesday night’s council meeting, urging the council to reconsider its Nov. 22 decision.

After holding an executive session — closed to the public — Nand and Council President Vivian Olson announced that the council would delay any discussion on the consent agenda — including the stepback ordinance — until a future date. The council then approved an order of adjournment to continue the meeting at noon Saturday.

Following the council meeting, Nand explained that the city attorney is drafting a new emergency ordinance that would require Edmonds Architectural Design Board input and a public process — including community notification — for new CG zone projects in the Highway 99 subarea. “The council wanted to be able to review and vote on that ordinance before determining whether to proceed with vacating the stepback ordinance,” Nand said, adding that some councilmembers said they wouldn’t be comfortable repealing the stepbacks if there wasn’t another solution in place to address community concerns.

The project that generated initial community pushback is the seven-story Terrace Place apartment building proposed at 236th Street Southwest and 84th Avenue West. Neighbors have argued that stepbacks would provide an additional separation and more light between a large apartment building and single-family residences. However city officials have said the stepbacks wouldn’t offer the relief that the neighbors were seeking.

We will publish the complete agenda for Saturday’s meeting when it is available.

Edmonds Administrative Services Director Dave Turley, left, and Community and Economic Development Director Todd Tatum listen to questions from the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night.

In terms of budget amendments, here is a summary of those discussed Tuesday night:

– The council unanimously approved a proposal by Council President Olson — amended by Councilmember Dave Teitzel — to provide $50,000 for an electric leaf blower subsidy program. This would be a rebate program in which owners of gas-powered blowers would receive a $200 gift card for turning in their polluting gas blowers and replacing them with electric blowers intead.

– Also approved was an amendment by Councilmember Susan Paine to provide $50,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds for home improvement grants of up to $5,000 for low-income homeowners.

– A proposal by Paine to provide $10,000 from the city’s general fund to provide residents with a 50% subsidy on ORCA transit passes was amended by Olson to make it an ARPA-funded initiative, then cut in half — to $5,000 — with an amendment from Councilmember Diane Buckshnis. The amended measure was approved.

– Paine also proposed the city contribute $150,000 to the Lynnwood Neighborhood Center, a multigenerational, multicultural gathering space that will provide social, educational and behavioral services for families, older adults and individuals. It will be located next to Lynnwood’s Trinity Lutheran Church, just a few blocks from the Edmonds border, and will serve South Snohomish County residents. Olson moved to amend the amount to $100,000 and that was approved.

– Another Paine suggestion called for the city to spend $40,000 to provide additional parking by leasing downtown Edmonds commercial parking lots for Saturdays and Sundays. Councilmember Chen moved that at least some of that funding come from money the city collected from the downtown Edmonds streateries, which has not yet been spent. That amendment passed, as did an amendment from Olson reducing the amount allocated to $30,000.

– Councilmembers Chen and Neil Tibbott made a motion that the city remove the ARPA grants manager position funded at $120,000. After hearing from Community Services and Economic Development Director Todd Tatum that the contract job provides documentation for ARPA grant spending and ensures the money is being allocated appropriately, Tibbott proposed $60,000 in funding for the position. Paine then noted that the position was created in response to a state audit finding, and she doesn’t support reducing the amount for the work. After Tibbott’s motion failed, a motion by Olson to amend the dollar amount to $90,000 was approved — as was the amended main motion.

– Teitzel proposed increasing by 25% the city’s annual fees for residential, employee and visitor parking in downtown areas where parking permits are required. Teitzel noted the fees haven’t increased since 2005 and are still very low — a residential permit is $25 per year and an employee permit is $50 per year. Additional revenue generated — estimated at $12,000 annually — could be used to provide street striping and signage to increase parking for those with disabilities. Paine proposed making the increase 50% but that was opposed by Nand, who said that it would negatively impact downtown workers in minimum- wage jobs who are already struggling. The council ended up approving the 25% increase.

– A proposal by Nand to hire a consultant for $30,000 to determine whether there was public support to make Edmonds a charter city died for lack of a second.

– Finally, Chen proposed hiring a REDI (racial equity, diversity and inclusion) manager as a full-time employee. This proposal was before the council last year but the council voted instead to make it a three-year contract position. That position has not yet been filled and Human Resources Director Jessica Neill Hoyson said the city would be more successful in implementing REDI initiatives if it had a full-time REDI manager. The vote on Chen’s proposal was 3-3 with one abstention, so it failed.

In other business, the council:

– Heard more about a public works department proposal to increase utility rates in 2023 to offset rising costs and inflation. Public Works and Utilities Director Oscar Antillon said a utility rate study was scheduled for this year but the department was unable to complete it. A study will be done as soon as possible next year, he said. One of the main drivers is an increase in the cost of water the city purchases from the Alderwood Water District — projected at 11.25% next year. In addition, the city recently conducted a study of its Yost and Seaview reservoirs and determined that both of them will need seismic retrofit (at an estimated cost of $14 million) or replacement (estimated at $22 million).

Proposed 2023 utility rate increases

The staff proposal includes a 5% hike in sewer rates and a 4% increase in both water and stormwater rates to account for the impact of inflation and to prevent future double-digit hikes necessary to meet the oeprational and capital needs for each of the utilities. The monthly equivalent increase for a single-family home would be $5.50, Antillon said.

A public hearing on the rate increase is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 13.

– Approved by a 6-1 vote — Councilmember Paine against — a resolution supporting retention of local control of Edmonds’ zoning and building codes without modification by county or state legislation.

During a 6 p.m. special meeting prior to the 7 p.m. business meeting, the council began discussing a proposed one-year, flat-rate contract with Lighthouse Law Group for city attorney services. The Lighthouse contract expires at the end of December and a council work group has been researching a one-year extension through 2023 while it looks at whether to renew a longer-term Lighthouse contract or seek out other options. Based on a recommendation from an independent law firm hired to review the contract, the council Tuesday agreed to remove language that would have allowed Lighthouse to respond to community commentary from time to time, “within the bounds of Rules of Professional Conduct.”

— By Teresa Wippel

  1. Please have the 3 hr parking limit enforced for cars without permits. On 4thS and 3rdS a number of those cars are parked all day long and some for many days at a time.

    1. Do you get the feeling that it doesn’t matter who is on the council when it comes to spending? Sure the policies may be different but it is always more of the same when it comes to this stuff. Spend $50k but raise the rates on sewer and water. My dollar is getting stretched already and I am in my earning prime. I hate to think about how the retired citizens are doing with the cost of everything going up.

      1. From Puget Sound Energy, to City of Edmonds water and sewer, to Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, all utilities are run as independent entities, with the user rates wholly paying for the expenses of running them. This includes personnel, infrastructure, and the service itself.

        Your message about life being expensive and the impact of taxes and fees on making ends meet is not lost on me. Just wanted to let you and others know that we cannot use other tax revenues to offset utility costs.

  2. Including Edmonds Architectural Design Board input and a public process — including community notification — for new CG zone projects should be business as usual and not just with an emergency ordinance. I guess late is better than never, as they say.

    1. Brian- when the Hwy 99 Planned Action was approved in 2017 it gave the review job to the Planning and Development department with the intention of getting faster project approvals. (The ADB would get involved only if the proposed building is higher than 75 ft). If you’ll watch Judi Gladstone’s public comments at the Dec 6th Council meeting you’ll hear the problems with the project review approach that’s in the Planned Action.

  3. I almost stopped reading when the $50,000.00 in tax dollars to get people to “turn in ” their gas-powered leaf blowers for battery operated ones was approved. That sort of “brain cramp” legislating does not give me confidence in other decisions the council may enact. If people want a battery powered leaf blower ILO gas powered, they will get one (like I did because there are only leaves to blow once a year). Cut the virtue signaling issues and concentrate on the important stuff….Please.

  4. Oh yeah! We use a rake haha. IT is the companies that use them the most at least on the up hill area. And they do smell horrid. The electric do work just as efficiently. I had one maybe 20 years ago but it blew my soil and everything to death. We also use an electric hedge trimmer. Works great. So I leave most of my leaves as mulch and dig in during early spring. Nice soil I have here. I thought the buy back was a good idea and I appreciate the receipt part of this also. Thanks Dave. I was smiling at the end of the meeting. I suggest in jest that Mike and Neil sleep in a bit in the mornings. Ha. XO Deb.

  5. So now we’re going to pay non-Edmonds residents to turn in their gas-powered leaf blowers! What nonsense. Particularly when it was acknowledged that Council will be taking up legislation to ban them altogether in the near future. If that’s the plan, then why are we paying for someone else’s leaf blower now? The city itself is not even willing to give up their gas-powered leaf blowers. I’m all for environmental stewardship, so let the city lead by example and then maybe more will follow. Besides, I happen to have an old corded, inefficient electric blower. Can I upgrade to a more efficient new one under this plan? I’m even an Edmonds resident.

    I liked Finance Director Turley’s off-the cuff comment at last night’s meeting. Will this program encourage gas-powered leaf blower theft so they can redeem them in for gift cards? This program will cost more to administer than what will be given out in gift cards.

    Our taxpayer money at work (or not).

    1. I liked Dir Turley’s comment also. A potential unintended consequence to avoid by fine-tuning the program details.

      The original proposal was well thought out. You can see it here on page 317 of the Nov 22, 2022 packet.

      Gas blowers are noisy and awful polluters. They really need to go- especially the ones used all day every day by the commercial entities. An unfunded gas blower prohibition could be very impactful to a small gardening and landscaping business relying on the gas blower they invested in to generate revenue, in a year following those with great challenge. Your federal taxes represented in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) were made available to bolster businesses (and people and other entities) recovering from these challenges. ARPA is the funding source for this program. I see both the points made in this comment thread and the value of supporting the operational gas blower turn in.

      1. We could fund the program by charging an Environmental Impact Fee for EV owners. That way, we reduce the CO2 emissions created by charging the cars, environmental offsets for lithium mining and recycling costs, and the stark fact that all electric chargeable items rely heavily on CO2 emitting fuel sources – whether we see it when we plug in the charger or not is a moot point. We could also charge a fee at PSE for any home that uses rechargeable items and voila – the PSE cost increases and local pollution problems and the noise problems are all solved!

        I just do not see how the City will enforce a ban on gas blowers, trimmers, hedgers, generators, pressure washers, or anything else that relies on fossil fuels. They are all loud. They are all inefficient, but hiding the problem with the “I plug it in, so I am saving the environment” just moves the lithium mining, recycling, and coal/gas fired generation to somewhere else.

        1. Good points – but I have a question: if I take care of it, the batteries on my mower and leaf blower last for several years. Given their lifetime, does the balance of fossil vs electric shift toward electric? And there are quite a few corded mowers, etc. – they must figure in as well.

          Perhaps one middle way would be to encourage proper disposal/recycling of electric equipment. At the moment, disposing of a battery or an old computer involves research, driving somewhere probably inconvenient… Posted, city-wide disposal sites? Require hardware stores to have a drop-off?

      2. Its true what Vivian says. It is amazing the odor and noise when I see these used in the summer months often not for leaves only but everything else. It is commercial property that use these companies and If you walk out into your yard the smell is bad. If the comparison of how much these spew into our air is correct it is a very good start to helping with our environment and lets be honest we can’t all afford electric cars so this is a great way to help eliminate some of our concerns while people try to convert in many ways, AS they are able. I like it myself. I do think that we shouldn’t be burdened here with some of the waste that our refuse companies are refusing to pick up. I feel if ya don’t want people driving a lot then we should have adequate trucks to go to homes and pick these things up (like the branches from our recent storms. I had none but I feel for others that had many. One large truck can carry a lot and use much less gasoline.

  6. Let me understand this; gas prices have recently spiked to unreasonable wallet demolishing prices, heating cost have increased just in time for winter, food costs stupid high prices, interest rates are at 40 year highs, Edmonds utility rates are increasing again without a proper study but homeowners and landscape companies can get rebates compliments of the City via our federal tax dollars intended for recovery from the Covid nightmare. Meanwhile Edmonds handed out cash to businesses without verifying those “loans” adequately according to the auditor, and the working folks who got us through the lockdowns who are now struggling mightily are being insulted with this nonsense. How about that money being used for movie and/ or entertainment grants (popcorn and snacks included) for those working folks who are really hard pressed right now and could probably use an evening off to just enjoy themselves if only for a few hours? They earned it.
    My battery leaf blower? In what world is that anywhere on anyone’s priority list? Oh, that’s right here in Edmonds.

  7. Diane’s comments are right on, as usual. The gas leaf blowers, because of pollution and noise, need to go. They’ve been banned in many communities, including L.A. decades ago. Some reasonable notice needs to be given here that they’ll no longer be legal, but we shouldn’t bribe the users with tax payer money to do this.

    1. Agreed. Why not just ban these outright? No incentives needed. I live on 5th Ave S and I hear the landscape companies that the apartment and condo complexes employ around here using the leaf blowers at least 2-3 times a week, year-round. It’s unnecessary, and they should go, but who is going to guarantee that these gift cards will be used the way that they are intended?

  8. I’m happy with the effort to get rid of gas leaf blowers. Incentives are a start, but the Council should go ahead with banning all of them soon. They are a polluting nuisance and I often watch workers simply blowing debris one way and then another for no apparent reason when a broom would be efficient. Sometimes they blow, then trimmers do their work and the same property is blown off a second time.

    1. Good comments, and I agree – mostly. I bought a good electric blower a while ago, and it does a great job on my lawn and path, as well as my parking area. But the drive is long, and the battery won’t last the whole way, nor does it have the power to deal with wet leaves. A plug-in blower is better, but at the end of 300 feet of wire, the power drop is enough to seriously weaken the blower. My gas blower is the only thing that really works on the drive. I use it very rarely, but on those rare occasions, it saves the day. And I’m too old to do it all with a broom or rake.

      Is there a reasonable compromise somewhere? They’re noisy, obnoxious and polluting, but sometimes they are the only thing that will do the job.

      We might also take a serious look at gas vs electric mowers – my battery-powered mower works great on my postage-stamp lawn – but the same basic issues obtain.

      1. Nathaniel,
        Battery powered electric blowers have truly come along way…I stopped using mine and the 200 foot power cord when I discovered that the battery operated ones can actually do the job and finally have a run time that actually gets the job done. They will be on sale at most big box stores until spring. Even used it to clear some snow off my walk and deck. All my lawn equipment is battery operated now because they finally make sense. No rebates or incentives needed..for those of us privileged enough to need such things.

  9. I am really impressed with this council. I think we are seeing a “working” council in action. I do not agree with everything that gets put on my tab, or everything that may or may not become a law, but I do really believe it is a breath of fresh air to see consensus and decorum with each measure that is taken up.

    These are not easy questions for a City to answer – but the current makeup of the Council certainly appears to be looking at this from outside their own unique perspective and is finding a way to work to the greater good.

    I hope this type of work – focusing on the needs of all of the Community – continues. I came out of the woodwork for the budget discussions – because at the end of the day, no matter what we think or feel or plan – it does not become real until we put a down payment on it!

    1. Thank you, George, we are trying our best to balance the various interests, from constituents, taxpayers, workers, and property owners in Edmonds, on each of these controversial issues. Unfortunately, we can’t please all of the interested parties all of the time, but we are trying to find compromises and solutions that work for the majority of people affected by our decisions.

      Jenna Nand
      Edmonds City Council Member, Pos. #7

      1. CM Nand, good start to your new role, keep up the good work. According to the city web site your term does not expire. That will save on campaign costs later.

    2. I agree. I found this to be a very productive and informative meeting. I enjoyed it very much. It is clear that our City Council is trying very hard and now even working an extra day on a weekend that I am sure they too would have liked to have this time. We don’t pay them enough and yet they work constantly even when we aren’t seeing them. So some respect I believe is in order. I say Thank you.

  10. Gosh why stop with leaf blowers why not force all tools pressure washers air compressors chainsaws and literally hundreds of other tools be electric? Heck why not ban fossil fuel powered boats etc. All I can say is banning these tools will just raise the price of service. I got a idea how about the city pay the replacement cost of whatever tools they ban a good leaf blower is easily double the 200 dollars. Funny part is these companies are going to have to run the truck all day to charge batteries or run a gas powered electricity generator which you will likely ban also.

  11. While much of the commentary here thus far has focused on budgetary issues, I’d like to bring some focus to the resolution the council passed this week as well. While getting only one sentence in Teresa’s article, this is a big deal. So, a big THANK YOU to all the council members who voted to send a clear message to our county and state representatives that we do not want them to take any legislative action which undermines our local right to self-determination of our land use policies. The resolution makes our intentions clear that we have, can, and will continue to manage our land use, including our zoning codes. Further, it upholds our intent to retain single-family zoning as an integral component of our land use policy.

    I’d also like to thank the community who voiced their opinion in support of this as well. Your voice was heard. Well done, Edmonds!

    1. Jim I saw that but didn’t hear the wording. I am not so sure the city wants to protect single family zoning but if that is indeed the case it is great news.

    2. Agreed. The 6-1 vote, Councilmember Paine voted against decision, of the council for Edmonds self-determination of land use policy and zoning is much more important than the leaf blowers consternation.

      1. It’s unclear why Councilmember Paine voted against the resolution. After the formal reading of the resolution during the meeting, there was no further discussion by any councilmember. In light of the unanimous vote the week before, it somewhat surprised me with the no vote. So, we don’t know the reason(s) for the change of heart/mind.

        1. Because she is a “Progressive” Democrat in ideology and they are generally in favor of eliminating single family zoning in the theory that this creates more affordable housing. She routinely brings her partisan views to the City Council, so why would this be a surprise to anyone? Our Council Persons are elected at large so by answering to everyone, they really answer to no one but themselves in reality. That’s just how it’s done here until it hopefully isn’t, someday.

  12. Great job Jim O. This is important stuff and Council should think about how to gather public input on this and other important stuff. They could “legislate” something like this. “Annually a public survey will be done x time before the legislative session to gather public input on legislative items”. Council could ask all boards and commissions for input idea and from among those a survey to gather public input could be done. Surveys are not expensive and done correctly can even do great summaries and tallies. This would be a great item to for council to discuss at their upcoming retreat! Try to find the date of that on the city web site. It’s there if you know how it is posted, but it will not come up by a search for “council retreat” Nor is it listed on the city calendar list or actual calendar. The search created a list to choose from and one needs to start guessing. I know some short cuts, but it still took me 9 clicks and several scrolls and yet another guess. Let council know what you want them to discuss at the retreat. Good job Jim O. You helped us all.

    1. Darrol, you make a great point towards the end of your comment. The City’s website is a mess~ the most user-unfriendly thing imaginable. A problem probably because nobody’s in charge. A search for “webmaster” yields the following~ ‘Your search for “webmaster” did not match any documents.’

      As you note, the way to find the Council Retreat is to not look for Council Retreat. Instead go to the council’s Extended Agenda where the retreat is listed for Friday, January 27th (probably in the Brackett Room of City Hall). But as you note, it takes savvy and too many clicks and scrolling to locate.

      1. Hi Roger, too bad I did not make any good point earlier. Let me know which ones are not so good so I can do better next time. Now that you gave folks the clue it stilll will not get them to the Jan 2023 retreat date. Do spill the beans on what the next error is to find the meeting.

  13. Not everyone in Edmonds supports the zoning resolution, and like many others, my family was disappointed by the vote, but we recognize that the majority on the Council did vote for it. Focusing our efforts on advocacy at the state level now.
    Thanks, neighbors, always a good discussion here.

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