Diversity commission name change, Boys and Girls Club lease among items discussed in council committees Tuesday

Edmonds City Councilmembers covered a range of issues during their three Tuesday committee meetings, from a possible name change for the Edmonds Diversity Commission to an agreement with Snohomish County to participate in the county’s diversion center aimed at helping adults who are homeless.

Councilmembers also talked about developing a framework around the process of mayoral and council appointments to city boards, commissions and committees — after Mayor Mike Nelson’s decision not to reappoint two Edmonds Planning Board members raised concerns about the city’s protocols.

And they discussed proposed increases in development fees, a new ground lease for the Edmonds Boys and Girls Club, and an update on solar panels proposed for the city’s downtown public safety building.

Here are highlights of the three committee meetings:

Edmonds Diversity Commission Chair Elaine Helm — bottom row, center — speaks to councilmembers (L-R top row) Jenna Nand, Neil Tibbott and Vivian Olson. Commissioner Jessie Owen is on bottom row – far right. Todd Tatum, the city’s director of community services and economic development, is on the bottom row, far left.

During the council’s public safety-planning-human services-personnel committee, two Edmonds Diversity Commission members — Chair Elaine Helm and Commissioner Jessie Owen — spoke about the commission’s desire to change its name to the Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Commission. Helm said the new name “really reflects the needs of the community as well as the direction the commission has been headed in its work for the last several years.” Edmonds’ demographics “show that our population differs in really meaningful ways across the city, whether that’s by age, gender, race, disability, housing level, income,” she said. “There’s just a lot of really interesting differences when we talk about diversity to be reflected in city government and programs and policies.”

Owen said that while the city has made a genuine and authentic commitment to diversity, more needs to be done. “By expanding our scope to include equity, inclusion and accessibility, we can place the emphasis on our commitment to policies, to procedures, to systems that better represent our people,” she said.

“While a truly inclusive group is diverse, a diverse group does not necessarily mean it’s inclusive or accessible — and we want to do it all,” Owen added.

Councilmember Jenna Nand raised the idea of also requiring at least one of the commissioners be under age 24, to ensure the group has younger representation. Helm noted that the commission in the past has had a liaison from the Edmonds Youth Commission and appreciated the youth voice. Some in the meeting expressed concerns about the city’s ability to find youth candidates, and noted the competition for members with the existing youth commission. In the end, Edmonds Community Services and Economic Development Director Todd Tatum — who staffs the commission — and committee members agreed to discuss the idea further and come back to the full council with a presentation on March 7.

Regarding the city’s agreement with Snohomish County to use its Everett-based Diversion Center, Parks, Recreation and Human Services Deputy Director Shannon Burley said the arrangement will give the city “another tool in our toolbox” to help those in Edmonds who are homeless and have substance abuse and behavioral health issues. The diversion center is a 44-bed facility — with space for 32 men and 12 women — that offers short-term placement and shelter.

The city wasn’t able to partner with the diversion center until it had a social worker who was working in partnership with the police department, an arrangment that Edmonds now has. That partnership also gives South County Fire paramedics the ability to transport individuals directly to the center, Burley said.

“This opens up a wide range of possiblities for our law enforcement in conjunction with our social work team to help people to receive the type of support in their treatment efforts that is available to them,” Burley added.

It doesn’t cost the city anything to participate, other than it is required to transport people to and from the diversion center. (Both Burley and councilmembers stressed during the meeting that this option is different from the county’s plan to convert a former Edmonds Highway 99 hotel to bridge housing.)

Council committee members voiced their support for the agreement and agreed to place it on a future council consent agenda.

The discussion about the recruitment and appointment of city board and commission members revolved around how to ensure that there is robust recruitment — including notices targeted to multilingual audiences — and that the appointments are made in a timely manner. Councilmember Nand, who along with Councilmember Will Chen had advocated in a previous council meeting for more multilingual announcements, said she had been assured by the city administration that such efforts would be made. Council President Neil Tibbott, who had originally raised the idea of amending the ordinance governing board and commission appointments, said it may take until the end of February to gather the information needed regarding possible amendments. One idea proposed by Councilmember Vivian Olson was to have the council take over the mayoral appointment process if appointments weren’t made within a specified timeframe.

Councilmembers also discussed a draft policy governing the employee practice of taking home city-owned vehicles. Human Resources Director Jessica Neill Hoyson described the policy as “a housekeeping issue,” adding that some departments already permit the practice but the city didn’t have rules reagarding it. Councilmembers agreed to place the policy on a future council consent agenda.

During the council finance committee meeting, Planning and Development Director Susan McLaughlin presented a proposal to update the city’s development fees. The city adopts its fees by resolution, with major updates coming every three years. The last update was in early 2020.

Recommended updates include:

– Increasing most flat fees and labor-based fees by 14.2% based on the Consumer Price Index for the last three years. The new rate for hourly staff charges is $126.

– Simplifying fees for plumbing and mechanical systems in new single-family homes.

– Adjusting fees for retaining wall permits to better reflect staff time spent.

– Adding fees for new permit types such as for generators and smoke control systems.

Committee members Will Chen and Susan Paine agreed to place the fee increases on the council’s Feb. 21 consent agenda.

During the parks and public works committee meeting, councilmembers talked about a proposed 40-year ground lease for the Edmonds Boys and Girls Club, which has occupied the field house at downtown Edmonds’ Civic Field since 1968. Parks, Recreation and Human Services Director Angie Feser explained that the initial lease arrangement was with the Edmonds School District, which owned the Civic Field property until the city purchased it in 2016. The Boys and Girls Club plans to demolish the existing field house and build a new building after Civic Park renovations are completed. Given the scope of — and interest in — the project, council committee members agreed to have the matter come before the full city council at a future meeting.

Parks and public works committee members Dave Teitzel and Diane Buckshnis also heard an update regarding the city’s plan to place a solar plant on top of the public safety building, which houses the city’s police station. During a presentation in August 2022, committee members learned that costs had escalated considerably on the project, and they asked to revisit the topic once numbers were finalized. During Tuesday’s committee meeting, city staff and consultants reported much better news. Shelby Sawyers from consultant McKinstry explained that project — which would involve installing 280 solar panels — will reduce both the city’s electricity use and its carbon footprint, aligning with Edmonds’ Climate Action Plan. The project would offset about 18% of the building’s annual grid consumption. Utility cost savings are estimated at $10,596 annually.

“Even more importantly, right now there’s really no more cost-effective time to install solar,” Sawyers said, pointing to State Department of Commerce grant funding of $119, 645 — covering 25% of the project cost — plus the federal Inflation Reduction Act, which will provide a 30% tax rebate estimated at $176,048.

A graphic from McKinstry describing the proposed solar project for the downtown Edmonds public safety building. A rendering of the project is at the right.

The total cost to Edmonds would be $394,692. Assuming council approval, construction would occur between July and September 2023, Sawyers said.

The proposed project will come before the full council at a later date.

Finally, the council heard from Public Works and Utilities Director Oscar Antillon regarding the city’s efforts to purchase 40 new vehicles, most of them for the police department, that were approved during the council’s last budget cycle. Antillon said that the city is “really struggling” to source vehicles locally, adding that the city usually contracts with the State of Washington but many of those orders were canceled due to lack of availability. To address the issue, he proposed the city enter into interlocal purchasing agreements with both the State of Arizona and Snohomish County to explore other markets.

Councilmembers agreed to place the proposal on a future council consent agenda for approval.

— By Teresa Wippel

  1. We need to also add a few buildings to add services, improvements to help the police.
    There is room to build both a police dog facility, and an underground firing range for the needed practice…… to keep the officers more able to stop crooks in their tracks.

  2. This seems to obvious to have been missed, but the Diversity Commission, if changing their name, could at least go for “Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility Commission” – IDEA Commission. On a more substantive side, I am really glad to see the proposed addition of accessibility. I was on the Commission a few years ago, and accessibility and accommodation issues came up often. There were some no-cost, really zero-effort ideas for improving things around Edmonds, but they didn’t seem to get much traction, or got push back. Everyone “able” is one small accident away from being disabled or needing help with accessibility, so it’s arguably the most universally relevant are for the Commission to work.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Brian! The commission considered this option in one of our early discussions about a name change. One of our commissioners pointed out that IDEA is a federal law, similar to the ADA. It relates to accommodations for people with disabilities in education. We didn’t want to create confusion by using the same acronym. If someone searches online for DEIA (or DEI) in Edmonds, we can be more certain they will end up in the right place.

  3. I agree the Edmonds Diversity Commission should be renamed Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility Commission and changed to reflect its evolution/change. I’m glad this is being reviewed/considered – it would much better represent the Edmonds population and provide recommendations and scope of work that will impact the community – should be an easy approval.

  4. Too many things in this article that I would like to comment on so I will just comment on 2 of them.
    1) re: the Diversity Commission name change, if they really feel changing the name is a higher priority than say, actually HAVING a diverse committee, they should also include LGBTQ and people who identify as Elves, Cats, Plants, etc. Let’s not leave anyone out. Humor aside, it is not the name but the actions that are important. First of all, they should focus on making the Committee more diverse. Not one of these is BIPOC. Who cares what name they go by. IMO, this is spinning wheels and acting like they are actually doing something. I am officially requesting here, that this ‘Commission’ provide us with a list of what they have done so far as well as their goals for 2023 and beyond.

    1. Hi Joe. Thanks for your interest in the agenda item about the Diversity Commission. Diversity on the commission is important. The current group of commissioners represents a range of races, ethnicities, and other identities.

      We needed to come before the council regarding the name change because it requires a council vote to update the ordinance that established the commission. It’s certainly not the most important, or even the most interesting, work we are doing. We will be back in front of the council next month to provide our annual report, which includes our accomplishments, ongoing activities, and goals. We will also seek their approval for the name change at that time.

  5. Now my second comment.
    I find it hard to believe that Edmonds needs 40 new city vehicles. Maybe I’m just from a different time but switching vehicles every couple of years regardless of the condition of the existing seems frivolous. This kind of expense must be justifiable. Do these vehicles have 200,000 miles on them? Are they in constant need of repairs? Are they 10 years or more old?
    From walking (and driving) around downtown, I feel this money would be much better spent on Public safety by repairing/replacing the horribly damaged sidewalks, streets, and crosswalks. The brickwork around the fountain is falling apart as is the brick crosswalk at 4th and Main.
    I work in Auburn sometimes and know that they absolutely do not allow sidewalks to be in such deplorable condition. Edmonds should consult with Auburn on how to maintain city property and ensure their Citizens can walk around safely.

    1. I simply think that if the name is to be changed then the idea IDEA is a good one. The acronym is not so complex and it fits very well. As all of the important elements of a Diversity Commision are ideas and furthering ideas. Inclusion means inclusion and this should cover every group imaginable. Of course the LGBTQ+ is welcome and a big part of inclusion and diversity. But if we go adding every group that does not really need to be a group but just a citizen with their own preferences is sexuality issues and fairness etc. I support the LGBTQ+ and have all of my life. I think adding anymore words or longer acronyms would just call for more to want a special inclusion. This could be vast ha. SO yeah lets not quibble over details IDEA is easy to remember and the point is, to use this commission. Right?

    2. 2nd comment. We were told some time back that the autos were old and and needed replacement. If our city workers and police have vehicles that are not in tip top condition then they should be replaced. Both are important and both are used to help Citizens of our city. I don’t think they are asking for brand new sparkly cars throughout every fleet. Not at all. And as far as I am concerned let them take them home. However it will mean mileage accounted for, and not for use traveling for leisure events. As that would add mileage to the vehicles.. It also could if they are locked down at night now be that they may not be as well protected at someone’s home unless they have a large garage. So possibility some liability issues there but each case is individual it seems to me. My husband had a car with his job but that was before window crashes, scratches, car thefts etc. So try it and if there is no problem continue in that mode. Logical I think.

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