Reader view: Stand up for local control

Author’s note: The photos included here represent single lot shots. Imagine what this kind of density would look like when it covers all of Edmonds.

The Washington State Legislature is once again trying to strong-arm Edmonds and most Washington cities into giving up local control over land-use, density and zoning decisions. Two bills have just been introduced that would do just that: SB 5190 and companion bill HB 1110. Categorically, this one-size-fits-all scheme does not take into consideration Edmonds’ unique location and critical area topography along Puget Sound, which includes the Edmonds Marsh.

For those reading this who think “nothing can be done,” consider what those who care deeply about Edmonds’ unique qualities and fragile natural environment were able to accomplish over the last several years:

  1. Facilitated a full Edmonds City Council review and rejection of a 2022 state commerce grant that would have required Edmonds to upzone a minimum of 30% of our neighborhoods.
  2. Participated in the Citizens’ Housing Commission over 16 months that worked to bring forward ideas and debate a response to growth accommodation that specifically addressed Edmonds’ needs and took into consideration that 78% of Edmonds’ residents want to retain single-family zoning. (EHCH survey 2021).
  3. Helped prevent passage of a bill HB1782 (2022) that would have allowed two to six housing units per lot anywhere near a “transit center,” which would include ferry terminals and bus stops, essentially removing almost all single-family zoning in Edmonds.
  4. On Dec. 7, 2022, six of seven city councilmembers passed a resolution in support of retaining rights to self-determination in land-use, zoning and building codes and ordinances and to urge county and state elected officials to not take these rights away through legislative action.

We in Edmonds are being called upon again to stand up to the bullies in Olympia.

Two bills recently introduced are stunning in their overreach.  These bills allow for

  • At least four units per lot in all residential areas.
  • Six units per lot in all residential, if two of the six are “affordable.”
  • At least six units per lot in all residential if within a half mile of a major transit stop.

The bill(s) would lock Edmonds into straitjacket compliance. If we do not comply within a certain time frame, “model ordinances” based on the language mandating the mass increase in density would “supersede, preempt, and invalidate local development regulations” until we acquiesce.

If the state wants cities to focus on housing supply, a better approach than these heavy-handed bills — which preempt local control, especially for cities like Edmonds that are complying with the Growth Management Act — is to update the Growth Management Act (GMA) housing targets and then let local jurisdictions do what is best for their own communities. Cities have elected officials, planning departments and citizens who know best how to thoughtfully and appropriately increase housing supply to fit within their communities.

What can we as mere citizens do?

  • Call or email your lawmakers now to keep Edmonds in control of its own future. Absolutely reference the local rights resolution passed by our own city council. Let lawmakers know that we want to maintain local control!
  • You can find your own (and all) legislators online at: https://app.leg.wa.gov/districtfinder
  • Don’t forget to include our local councilmembers to show your support of maintaining local control by emailing them at: council@edmondswa.gov.
  • To continue staying involved, consider learning more about us at the Alliance of Citizens for Edmonds and join in our support of retaining Edmonds’ self-determination rights to our own city’s future.

— By Dr. Michelle Dotsch
Alliance of Citizens for Edmonds (ACE) President on behalf of the ACE Board

  1. Thank you for this article and encouragement for Edmonds residents to reach out to their state legislators to stop these bills. Edmonds voters: please note that 6 of 7 City Council members voted for the local control resolution but Susan Paine did not vote for it and gave no explanation. If she is up for reelection this year, please keep this in mind.

  2. Thank you for this important information. Edmonds residents should determine how our city develops, not the State Legislature and outside influences. It’s shocking and disappointing to see that our own local state representatives and senator are behind this push to take control away from us. Strom Peterson, Cindy Ryu and Marko Liias are sponsors of these bills. Please write and tell them that we want to keep local control. Thank you to the six council members who voted for the local control resolution. They support what’s best for Edmonds!

  3. Michelle, thank you for getting the word out. This is important!

    Where does this overreach stop? This sort of nonsense has to stop, and we can all help with our calls, our emails, our comments to make our collective voices heard. At this rate we won’t need local city governments because the State wants to dictate and control how we live.

    So, let’s become active and make our voices clear and loud.

  4. The hearing on the bill today was very interesting. I am in favor of the bill, personally, and won’t try and persuade you all to support it, but listening to testimony from different constituencies and industries and from both Republicans and Democrats was eye-opening and folks might find it interesting. The stakeholder group that met this summer has done a lot of work to get bipartisan agreement on some aspects of the bill. Hearings are archived on TVW for those who want to listen. Nothing posted yet about when the bill is scheduled for exec session.

    1. If this is such as good bill, then why aren’t we hearing a lot of local, grass roots support for it? Why haven’t the sponsors been out to the affected communities and try to educate us before they propose a bill such as this? I’ve never seen this so-called “stakeholder group” at a City Council meeting sharing their ideas and soliciting our input. Or, for that matter, at any public venue within our city. (Someone, correct me if I’m wrong.) Besides, why use a top-down approach to a local issue? Let’s bring this back to the cities that are affected and start over. As Dr. Dotsch points out, we have a demonstrated track record of being able to control our own land use and zoning policies and codes.

  5. I have seen more bills and taxes come out of this session… important take over bills. We want less Government and taxes…It’s almost like they are seeing how far they can go. Without pushback. Strom was never my choice..as this is exactly what I figured he would do. We need to not just complain, we need to vote them out. I no longer feel they are doing what the people want in this state. More of what California is doing.

  6. Please write to your Washington State Senators and Representatives to weigh in on this subject.
    They routinely hear from the interests that would benefit from this. They do not hear from residents hardly at all.

    Passage of this bill WILL NOT FIX the affordable housing problem!

    Currently, the State gives the Counties growth projections. The County divides these up and tells the cities how much growth to expect. The Cities modify their building zones to provide for the anticipated growth. We would all benefit from better Urban Growth planning but that is a different issue.
    It seems that the state Senators and Representatives sponsoring these bills are unaware of this zoning process. Short circuiting the process will have HUGE unintended consequences.

    1. Thank you for this piece. While the discussion of the bill may have been “interesting” this sort of top down governance is anathema to truly democratic ideas and will ultimately destroy the notion of one’s freedom to choose or create a community or neighborhood.

    2. Excellent points John. I worked as a Paige for Congressman Brian Baird when I was younger, and I can tell you from firsthand experience that we categorized every call and letter that we received for the representative to review.

      One thing that I would recommend for ACE is to make premade letters that would be accessible under the resources section of their website for people to send to their representatives. This would significantly increase the number of people who reached out to their representatives on this and other similar issue.

      There is a lot of excellent research and time that goes into these findings, and there is an overwhelming number of Edmonds Residents (78%) that want to retain single family zoning. Our representatives will not pay attention to the wishes of their constituents unless we organize at a much higher level.

  7. A long time ago I heard “whine and cheese” complement each other

    I’m really tired of all of the “whine” without any appropriate “cheese”

    I’m really tired of all of the complaints, not only here, but everywhere against bills, taxes and “big government

    You want “self-determination” for Edmonds?

    Surprise! The City of Edmonds, is not a separate ghetto in the middle of nowhere, it is a part of a much larger region with growing populations.

    Instead of complaining about what you don’t want, and believe me, I don’t like high density, re-frame the problems the bills and taxes are meant to address, and offer clear concise solutions to the problems

    Two solutions I would like to see:

    1 – Real alternatives to the 2-party lock on government

    2 – Make lawmakers representatives of “the people,” not big moneyed lobbyists

    I’m up for open discussions

    (true confession – because of financial matters I reside next door in Mountlake Terrace, not Edmonds)

    1. If only it was that easy! Big oil, Big pharma, and the Billionaires who reap all of the benefits control our government. Period.
      If you know how to, or have a plan on how to make the changes you described, it would benefit us all if you shared those.
      We can all write to our Reps and hopefully make a difference this time, but the next time, probably not. There is way too much profit to be made off of these types of bills.

    2. Victor, you may have missed an incredibly important point in Dr. D’s piece. Edmonds is already required under the State of Washington’s Growth Management Act to address the local population growth. Each municipality that falls under the Act must periodically revise its Comprehensive Plan to address the results of the latest census. Edmonds is indeed growing and the City is required to plan for the increased population in a meaningful way. Normally, a city would do what Cities have always done: adjust the local zoning code to allow construction of housing to meet the need. But a City can, of course, do that without tossing the entire zoning code. It may require expansion of the zones that allow greater density. But that is a far cry from turning the town into a mish-mash of uses, heights, and homes that look like what you might see in a “developing” nation or city that had no organization or pattern to its development.

  8. Use this tool to find your legislators:
    https://app.leg.wa.gov/districtfinder/

    Click on all 3 and bookmark their pages.

    Use this link to find specific Bills:
    https://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/
    This concerning HB 1110 and SB 5190

    Send a succinct and respectful message indicating your opposition/neutality/support for the legislation.

    There is a tool to send your message to all 3.

    I can’t stress enough how important this is.
    This bill has the very real potential to change our cities dramatically in ways we will not like.

    Please talk to your neighbors and pass these details on so they can respond too.
    Let them know how important this issue truly is.

  9. Thank you Dr. Dotsch for taking the time to inform us about the repeated attempts by Olympia politicians to control us, without our agreement. I will get on the phone tomorrow in order to share my opinion with our local representatives…. Another year, another attempt by them to grab powers that they have no right to .. ‍♀️

  10. Ok assume total local control.
    1. We are on course to achieve more than our required quota for population in the GMA.
    2. Do we have the proper strategies in place to change the housing mix?
    3. What are the numbers of housing units we would need to create a better balance? Those number are pretty large considering we have little or no vacant land and most of what we have is more expensive than vacant land in our neighboring communities.
    4. We have an obligation to develop a housing strategy for the updated Comprehensive Plan. How should we do that? Important update and where is the outline the worksteps and public engagement to develop not only the housing strategy but there are many many other issues to update. Where is the plan and how can we get involved?
    5. Michelle outlines the need to work to keep local control. All that is good. But given local control what’s next to update our CP??
    6. The heavy lifting will not be stopping these bills, but how we decide as a community to update our CP. Housing Strategy is only part of the CP update.

  11. I live near, but not in Edmonds.
    Edmonds has become a very desireable place to live, and as a result, very expensive.
    Edmonds is also boxed in so there is very little developable land available at any price.
    Basically they are down to knocking down old homes and building higher density housing on the lots in the right building Zones.
    None of these homes (existing or proposed) will be “middle” affordable.
    This proposed blanket Zoning override allowing 4-6 homes on every lot will not create any affordable, “middle” housing.
    This approach can not result in the desired effect.

    That said, I absolutely agree that we need affordable housing in our communities.
    As it stand now, you would need to make $125k a year to qualify for a mortgage for a very modest home. How many people working in Edmonds as bank tellers, barbers, insurance agents, police and fire, any service sector job, make that kind of annual salary?
    No one I know. They are all driving long distances, couch surfing, or using some other “creative” living arrangement.

    That’s the problem that we need to solve.

  12. Good points John.
    There are a few ways to reduce the cost of housing. Reduce or Eliminate the cost of the land. RoE the cost of permits, mitigation fees and other non-building costs. Develop new forms of living arrangements. Apodments/dorm/boarding house or other shared facilities. Share the kitchen, rec room, and lounge space. This reduces the sq ft cost per person and share the costly stuff. If we chuck all the permits and stuff for new development, then existing homeowners will subsidize loss of govt revenues with higher taxes. Some from of subsidy will be needed.

    One the wage side how far can we go with raising minimum wage for low paid workers. Added wage cost get added to the pizza just like the toppings. Should we be thinking of some form of income subsidy? Most would cringe and call it socialism. Hide that subsidy in a govt program and call it some clever name but in reality, it is income subsidy.

    Short run we will need some form of subsidy. Long run is much more difficult. We have difficult problems to solve so let’s get going.

  13. Your right…socialism. How do you think businesses can afford these minimum wage increases? Money does not grow on trees. Gads. Let’s not get off track…

  14. When a wise man speaks, we should listen. Darrol rightly brings up the elephant in the room. I’ve come to the same conclusion as Darrol has relative to some form of subsidy being part of the equation. I certainly didn’t start there as a member of the Housing Commission, however after doing enough research and weighting the alternatives, I would include subsidies in the discussion. Otherwise, it’s a race to the bottom.

    The current push for “affordable housing” actually becomes cheaply built housing. Housing which will not age well with time. Housing which will require significant maintenance and upkeep. Housing which serves as a short-term band-aid and not a long-term community asset.

    Yes, this a difficult discussion, but one we need to have. Both the income side and the cost side of affordable housing need to be considered in unison. The approach being drafted in Olympia is short-sighted.

  15. It’s important to realize Edmonds is and will be in compliance with the growth management requirements for years to come with current and pending projects. Most people agree we will need more housing in the future as GMA requirements will likely change. It’s how we get there that is critical to preserving the wonderful community of Edmonds we’ve all grown to cherish. Sprinkling multiplexes throughout our established single family zones is a shortsighted, lazy and haphazard solution to increasing housing units.

    We have established corridors with existing transit that can and will absorb the majority of the GMA growth requirements. It’s much better to increase density in concert with services and transportation and taper down heights and units per building as a transition to single family zones. Tapering density into single family looks right and functions well. Jamming a bunch of multiplexes throughout single family zones could be dangerous because proper road and sidewalk infrastructure to accommodate the additional traffic doesn’t always exist. Single family zones are just not prepared to take on increased density as well as our established corridors.

    Write or call the representatives and say no to Higgledy-Piggledy development in Edmonds!

  16. Hi Greg, good points. Few thoughts:
    1. Location, some good thoughts but the original traffic study along a location with transit etc. such as Hwy104 showed some issues that would be difficult and expensive to address. Not sure who would have to pay for those improvements, city taxpayers, developers, or state?
    2. Another location concept like our various “villages centers” like, Firdale, 5 Corners, Westgate, Perrinville (Lynnwood has already started), Hwy 99 the Edmonds, Lynnwood, MLT, and Esperance portions, and Harbor Square. They all have developable space.
    3. How many units at what price are needed to work toward the “quality, lower priced housing”? That was a big number and will get bigger if GMA adds to that requirement.
    4. Cost, we don’t want to build low standard structures how can we keep the housing affordable and quality?

    If we do nothing, we will exceed our GMA numbers but with more expensive housing. One idea maybe to join together with our neighbors, Lynnwood, MLT, Esperance, Brier…. (the Edmonds School District footprint) and approach the housing issue collectively. Light rail is driving a number of major development decisions.

    Our current tools like MFTE do not work.

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