21st District legislators respond to questions on single-family housing, gun control and more at Saturday town hall

L-R: Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, Rep. Strom Peterson and Sen. Marko Liias.

Washington’s 21st District legislators — Sen. Marko Liias and Reps. Lillian Ortiz-Self and Strom Peterson — took the podium for two hours at a Saturday morning town hall meeting at the Edmonds Waterfront Center. The event attracted an estimated 250 attendees. While many came with questions on a range of topics, housing and zoning took center stage with multiple questions focused on the current efforts in Olympia to end single-family zoning statewide and allow multifamily housing across the board.

House Bill 1110, which passed the State House of Representatives with bipartisan support March 6. is aimed at increasing the pool of housing statewide by legalizing duplexes in every neighborhood of every city in Washington regardless of local zoning rules. It would also legalize fourplexes and sixplexes near public transit in cities with populations between 25,000 and 75,000 (Edmonds’ population is 42,000 and Lynnwood’s is 39,000). The bill now goes to the Senate, where initial opposition has been stronger.

Questions from attendees on this issue included asking for clarification on whether Sen. Liias’s alleged connection to the housing industry did not constitute a conflict of interest, since the bill would clearly benefit developers that would profit from financing, constructing, managing and operating multifamily buildings. Other questions touched on how to provide the infrastructure needed to serve the growing pool of new residents, including providing adequate parking. Also addressed was the perception that the most attractive targets for knocking down and redeveloping as multifamily are the older, smaller, mid-century homes that are today’s most affordable housing in our communities. Those opposing the housing legislation noted that these existing homes would be replaced by condos and townhouses, which would demand higher rents than the demolished units and thus displace those who could no longer afford to live here.

A Lynnwood resident asks, “Have you been to Ballard lately?” drawing applause.

One Lynnwood resident drew raucous applause when he asked, “Have you been to Ballard lately? We used to like going there, but we don’t anymore – there’s no place to park. Seattle has simply allowed too much multifamily housing. Why do you want to screw around with our zoning?”

In response to these questions, Sen. Liias first clarified that while his family started a green building company years ago, the business failed during the recession, and he is not today an investor in and does not have financial connections to any mult-family development interests.

Attendees arrive at the Edmonds Waterfront Center for Saturday morning’s legislative town hall.
Many came with placards and signs.

“We all file annual financial statements,” he said. “I invite you to look at these and you will see that I have no connection to multifamily developers.” He then added with a smile that “you will see, however, that this year I did finally pay off all my student loans.”

He went on to explain that the state does face a crisis in both housing access and affordability, with lots of folks unhoused or one paycheck or car repair bill away from losing their homes.

“We’re expecting more growth,” he continued. “We need to plan for a million new housing units over the next decade. Our aim is to focus on affordability and offering a variety of housing types. We’re also looking at increasing density near light rail, which means fewer cars on the roads contributing greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere. And accomplishing this must be done in cooperation with local government.  All of us know we need more housing to meet the needs of the future and bring people in from the cold.”

Several responses – especially on the zoning issue – drew applause and sign-waving from attendees.

Peterson then jumped in to address the issue of local control of zoning, pointing out that “local building codes will always trump zoning.” He then added that “we’ve never claimed that HB 1110 will make housing more affordable, and it won’t stop anyone from building a single-family home. What it will do is help folks struggling to afford a home; it will help a nurse find a home closer to work.”

He then referenced another bill – HB1337 – aimed at creating incentives for homeowners to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in their backyards. This bill has passed the House and is now in the Senate.

“We’ve worked with AARP as this came together as a way to create opportunities for folks to age in place, or perhaps give a caretaker a place to live,” he explained. “It helps democratize development. Developers won’t swoop in. It gives the homeowner options and builds intergenerational wealth that will pass down through families.”

Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self

Ortiz-Self stressed that the region really need middle housing.

“We have apartments and we have million-dollar homes,” she said. “If we want to recruit teachers, police, firefighters we need to think about offering them housing options closer to work. Also our young people are being increasingly priced out – they are depending on us to let them live in the community. There’s lots to learn from the Ballards – we need to learn how to do it better.”

Other questions touched on the issues of missing and murdered Native American women, on SB 5560 that would require mandatory retesting of drivers once they reach 70 years old and whether this constitutes age discrimination, the recently passed ban on assault weapons. and imposition of a 10-day waiting period on gun purchases (HB 1143),

In response to the issue of missing and murdered Native American women, Peterson pointed out that these efforts have been completely bipartisan. Ortiz-Self added that while there is no House companion bill at this point, the one in the Senate is looking at a treaty deal between state, local and tribal police for mutual assistance on these cases.  “The statistics on murder and missing Indigenous women are horrifying,” she added.

Sen. Marko Liias

Responding to the question about requiring drivers license retesting for people over 70 years old, Liias clarified that “this bill has been pulled, but its intent was not to ask every 70-year-old to take an additional driving test. We do know that there are groups of drivers with higher crash rates — in order of severity these are young drivers, drivers in their 80s and drivers in their 70s. As responsible adults we need to ensure that as we age, we keep checking on and compensate, if necessary, for failing vision, attention, etc. and therefore we’re looking to develop an assessment at license renewal time for all these, not just vision. We’ll continue to refine these ideas.”

The recent ban on assault weapons passed by the House this session drew significant interest from attendees and was in second place — behind housing — in questions posed to the legislative team.

Peterson pointed out that HB 1143 creates a 10-day waiting period for the purchase of firearms.

Rep. Strom Peterson

“One big reason for this is that the number-one cause of death by firearms is suicide,” he explained. “By providing a cooling-off period, this will avoid countless deaths.”

Added Liias, “The federal ban on assault weapons was in effect for 10 years, and when it lapsed shootings immediately went up.”

“I do not want to take guns away,” said Ortiz-Self. “This is not about taking guns away, it’s about promoting safety. Let’s be practical — is it too much to ask legitimate gun owners to wait 10 days to help keep guns out of the hands of someone making a rash decision out of emotions of the moment?”

Other questions touched on widening broadband access to all, efforts to protect and provide services targeted to LGBTQ youth, improving traffic safety on Interstate 5, improving the mental health system, and allowing people who lost state jobs for refusing COVID vaccinations to return to work.

An attendee advocated for the rehiring of state employees terminated because of their refusal to get the COVID vaccine.

In closing, Liias thanked attendees for their time, and reminded them of the importance of events such as this.

“We are blessed to live in a country where these kinds of conversations are possible,” he said. “What you have said this morning resonated with me. At the end of the day, we may not agree 100%, but we all have the same goal — to build a better community. We have free and fair elections, and I urge you to register and vote. Our democratic process makes this country the best place to live. I pledge to listen to what I’ve heard here today, think about it, and bring it back to Olympia. Thank you for participating.”

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

  1. It is reported here that Peterson said : “HB 1110 won’t stop anyone from building a single-family home.” That’s not our concern. Our concern with the bill is that it will allow multi-family construction in areas that are now restricted to single -family construction.

  2. At my age I shouldn’t be surprised at the answers given by our legislators at the town hall meeting, but I was still disappointed. As a group they didn’t fully answer the difficult questions put to them about housing, the police etc., and the citizens had no way to ask a follow up question. Also, it was abundantly clear that they don’t care what the citizens of this area feel about state control of zoning. Their minds are made up, and to paraphrase Joni Mitchel they’ll “tear down paradise to put up a parking lot”. Hopefully, this will be a wake up for voters in our area.
    Since the town hall doesn’t really allow the citizens to get their tough questions answered, I’d love to see press conferences with the press of the 21st District asking the questions, and having the opportunity to ask follow up questions. I doubt that the press could get full answers, but it would be abundantly clear when the legislators are dodging them.

  3. Add to that, “we’ve never claimed HB 1110 will make housing more affordable” while Ortiz-Self claims we need to create housing options for those who serve the area? They really should get their story straight. At least we have the opportunity to build an ADU and maybe find a wealthy renter who will allow us to live on our own property? The social and ecological damage being done by this group is incalculable. Voters have a lot of explaining to do.

    1. I thought the town hall meeting was informative and did answer some of my questions about the Housing Bills. I would like more detailed information about potential impact. I did appreciate that local building codes will always trump zoning. It seems that Edmonds could be proactive there. I also appreciated the opportunity to talk with our elected officials and plan to follow up with specific questions by email.

  4. He then referenced another bill – HB1337 –
    We’ve worked with AARP as this came together as a way to create opportunities for folks to age in place, or perhaps give a caretaker a place to live,” he explained. “It helps democratize development. Developers won’t swoop in. It gives the homeowner options and builds intergenerational wealth that will pass down through families.”
    This is more BS, all it will do is allow folks to rent it, there are many whom do it now, although under current rules, it’s not legal and Edmonds let’s these things happen unless a neighbor turns the violaters in. Look at VBRO it becomes clear it’s not about a caregiver. It’s a joke !! SFR
    Means Single Family, let’s keep it that way.

  5. When you are explaining you are losing. Seems they are losing confidence of the voters their top down antithetical positions serve only them. Why don’t we have leaders fighting for our positions? We should have leaders explaining how they are working for us not explaining why their ideas are good for us we are adults we don’t need nannies we just need leaders that do the bidding of the people they represent not special interest and large campaign donors or their specific ideological positions.

    1. Good journalism, Larry!
      It was informative but on the housing bill – quite depressing as we listened to the rhetoric. It was unfortunate that the no one really focused on the impacts on the environment. What about SEPA? Or even seeing the impacts that density is having on our watersheds and now add in climate change (which was asked but in a different context).

      Local lawmakers and citizens know what is best when it comes to zoning. It’s unfortunate they aren’t listening or as Marko stated “categorizing” us as “special interest organizations” when in fact we are concerned citizens from all over this City. Truly a missed opportunity to really listen and hear us!

  6. Jim Fairchild- you ask why we don’t have leaders fighting for our positions? You are assuming everyone at the Town Hall meeting shared your opinion. While many did, I felt the audience was split evenly between supporters of the bill, those against the bill, and people looking for information. There is still time in the process for the bill(s) to be tweaked; this meeting was an opportunity to give feedback to our elected officials.

    1. I don’t expect everyone agrees with me, what I have noticed is that even people supportive of more housing are against the top down approach. Local government is as close as one will ever get to having a real say in how things are or how they may change, I still may not like it and that is ok big brother is not the answer.

  7. Regarding Ortiz-Self’s comments about allowing more dwellings per lot to provide housing to teachers, firefighters, police and other folks who provide essential services and support to our community, don’t the very large apartment projects up and down Hwy 99/Aurora avenue take care of some of that need? I haven’t looked into the size and affordability of them but at least they are on transit lines. And do our representatives think that essential workers will be able to get housing loans to actually purchase ADU’s, considering their comparatively low wages plus today’s interest rates?

  8. Peterson said “we’ve never claimed that HB 1110 will make housing more affordable” Interesting. In the 3-2-23 Edmonds Beacon Guest View on HB 1110 Peterson said:

    “Perhaps even more troubling is that right here in Edmonds, nearly 40% of residents are cost-burdened, paying much more than 30% of their income on housing. These are our neighbors who must make decisions every month about paying for housing or paying for food or medicine.”

    Was Peterson manipulating constituents into thinking HB 1110 would create affordable housing?

    From the Dept of Commerce March 2023 update:

    “In 2021, the Washington Legislature changed the way communities are required to plan for housing. RCW 36.70A.070(2) was amended to say “plan for and accommodate” housing that is affordable to all income levels. This significantly strengthened the previous goal to “encourage affordable housing.” 
    …………“including planning for housing units for moderate, low, very low and extremely low-income households”

    Rep Peterson’s double-speak to his constituents is now even more disturbing. Peterson, Liias and Ryu aren’t following their own law – RCW 36.70A.070(2)

    1. Ms. Bloom, I was there at the meeting and also troubled by Peterson’s double speak. The question that immediately popped into my head at the time- “if this is not about creating affordable housing then what is it really about and why are you doing it? Can someone now please explain what this bill really is?

      1. Unfortunately I was out of town for the meeting.
        Zoning for housing in Edmonds should be left alone. We are overpopulated, what ever happen to the worry of overpopulation?
        Also confused about the missing or deaths of Native women. It is never discussed how this is happening. Is it a cultural situation happening on reservations, or are White men the cause of this tragedy?

        1. Regarding growth, that is my sentiment as well. There is never any discussion about limiting growth. It’s all a fait accompli. The state and overburdened counties like Pierce, King, and Snohomish should not just looking for ways to accommodate growth, but for ways to discourage it.

    2. Joan,

      I think the short answer to the question about double speak and dog whistles on this particular issue is yes.

      It is a tax bill disguised as a housing bill and even the legislators are having a hard time tripping over their tongues.

      I could not agree with you more.

  9. In the very same statement Peterson said, ” we’ve never claimed HB1110 will make housing more affordable . . . ” His next sentence says, “what it (the bill) will do is help folks struggling to afford a new home; . . . .”

    How does this work? Paraphrased : “We claim it will do what we have never claimed what it would do.” And no I’m not quoting out of context or putting words in his mouth. I was there as well as reading this article.

    These people do not have a clue about the consequences of what they are doing here. They are not creating any new affordable housing; as they claim, or don’t claim, depending on which group or groups they are talking to. (Peterson was trying to placate both groups in the room with this dumb statement).

    They are making my single family home (built in 1958) and lot, close to downtown Edmonds worth at least another half million $$, give or take. I’m not that greedy; this legislation is just plain wrong headed; and not going to do what they claim it will.

  10. These local politicians “catfished” their constituents. Selling that these bills are about affordable housing. environmental protections, or that these bills are beneficial to seniors is pure nonsense. Their fairy tale explanations are about as believable as the tooth fairy or the easter bunny or that Jimmy Hoffa died of natural causes.

  11. Mr. Murdock. You ask an excellent question and to my knowledge, it has never been answered by our legislatures. I guess they feel that their constituents and city and county councils are too dumb to know what’s best for them, or just maybe there is another reason.

      1. Ms. Bloom you make a good point regarding Jenn Nand’s comment. I guess what I really meant is, “What is their justification for taking zoning powers away from local governments?”

  12. Developers, aren’t building middle class housing because there is essentially no middle class people to build for. The system is now rigged so it is almost impossible for young people to move up from being poor to being what we used to know as “middle class.”

    Almost all young people today, except those from the most wealthy 10% or so, are doomed to be either cheap labor for a mega anti-labor union company; life Starbucks or Tesla; and/or forever indentured servants to the banks to repay student loans. Instead of making upper education (college or trade schools) as cheap as possible; we make them as expensive as possible. We worship great wealth so much that we let it go almost tax free (think 19th. Century Robber Barons) so we can over tax the least ablest to pay.

    America’s conflict is the Rich vs. the Poor, not the Left vs. the Right as the ultra rich control freaks want us to believe. The ultra rich now want American Autocracy. (Authoritarian control). Destruction of the middle class has destroyed “the middle” in our politics and problem solving abilities.

  13. Something as life altering as these housing bills will be to our town and neighborhoods should be brought to the vote of the people of Washington State, not mandated by a few people in Olympia. I want a chance to vote on these issues!

    1. Ron don’t quote my ineptitude but I believe through local code we could reduce the impact. Property setbacks height restrictions parking and aesthetics etc. Effectively nullifying it. Seems a lot of work for local government to do to keep what they deem desirable if that is indeed the case with our local government. Seems our mayor signed on to oppose these bills but has been absent from the convention about them. As usual he is missing in action. Could that be he supports these measures? Cause if apposed he certainly would be more vocal or at least one would think. Lies and deception are the norm in government today. Clinton is on the right track.

  14. Peterson was quoted as saying “Local building codes will always trump zoning.” It does not appear that “local building codes will always trump zoning” with regards to density, unless the city’s density related codes are equal to or achieve more density than those set forth in HB1110. Local “building codes” not related to density will still be set by the city as long as those applying to “middle housing” are not more restrictive than those for detached single-family residences, but the city may apply any objective development regulations that are required for detached single-family residences, including set-back and tree canopy and retention requirements.

    Parking will also be affected by HB1110. Edmonds building code 17.50.020 “parking space requirements” require 1.2 to 2.0 spaces per dwelling unit for multiple residential buildings. HB110 will prevent cities from requiring off-street parking within one-half mile walking distance of a major transit stop; nor require more than one off-street parking space per unit on lots smaller than 6,000 square feet (0.138 acres) nor require more than two off-street parking spaces per unit on lots larger than 6,000 square feet. Exceptions can be made for local governments proving the parking limitations affect safety or critical areas

  15. Great question Ron. I assume a building height limit would be construed as a city “building code.” Keeping Edmonds, Edmonds over the years has depended a great deal on our somewhat unique building height limits; fought over periodically since 1960.

    Based on some legal research Ken Reidy has brought to my attention, these new zoning laws might be contested in the Courts over the possible State Constitutional requirement that the state needs to claim control of all land use issues to negate local control of any specific zoning issues. I think Peterson and friends are just winging it in what they are stating about who will control what under these new laws. This will be a total can of legal worms, not soon settled for good. The bills need to be defeated in the Senate. The House is ideologically out of control.

  16. This is a tax bill made to look good. Level a family home, put in too many condos, tax every condo owner, more money for the politicians – City – State. BS bill vote no.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Real first and last names — as well as city of residence — are required for all commenters.
This is so we can verify your identity before approving your comment.

By commenting here you agree to abide by our Code of Conduct. Please read our code at the bottom of this page before commenting.