Council committee hears updates on encampments, Hwy 99 transitional housing

Edmonds City Councilmember Will Chen, bottom row – right – asks a question during the council’s public safety-planning-human services-personnel meeting Tuesday night.

An update on how the City of Edmonds is addressing encampments for those who are homeless and the latest news on Snohomish County’s efforts to transform a former hotel into transitional housing were among the topics presented to the Edmonds City Council during virtual committee meetings Tuesday.

The council’s public safety-planning-human services-personnel committee meeting heard from Deputy Parks and Human Services Director Shannon Burley, who first addressed the issue of encampments and related cleanups. Edmonds doesn’t have a significant number of encampments, Burley said, but there has been garbage left over from people who have stopped in Edmonds “on their way somewhere else.”

A particular issue has been the intersection of Highway 99 and SR 104, where there was significant debris in what is known as the “clover” area. A couple was also camping there for “a period of time” and the city’s social work team was dispatched to meet with them and offered help, she added.

Because the property involved is owned by the Washington State Department of Transportation, Burley explained that she was able to contact officials there, who not only cleaned up the area but also placed it on the list for regular monitoring and cleanup by the Washington State Patrol’s Department of Corrections work crew.

Burley encourages members of the public who encounter an encampment — regardless of whether they believe it to be occupied — to call the Edmonds Police Department’s non-emergency number at 425-407-3999. The city’s social worker is dispatched through the police and the social worker can determine whether the site is active, to determine next action steps.

Burley noted that the city had accepted a proposal from the Lynnwood-based Hand Up project to assist with on-call needs for encampment cleanup, but that contract was rescinded before any work had begun. Burley said Edmonds is considering proposals from other service providers who may be able to provide similar services to those offered by Hand Up.

(While the city earlier this month declined to cite a reason for rescinding its contract, Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office PIO Courtney O’Keefe said that the sheriff’s office was investigating fraud allegations against Hand Up founder Robert Smiley.)

The city’s social worker, Burley added, has transitioned to “be nearly fully embedded with the police department,” which allows her to be more proactive in her outreach.” The social worker is also receiving referrals from Edmonds’ Highway 99 satellite office, where she often meets with people who need services, Burley added.

“Having our social worker be more embedded with and more closely aligned with our police department has really, really paid off,” Burley said. “More time spent with police officers has just broadened their toolbox and really the way that they respond to situations, and they’ve really come to see her as a significant asset to the team,” she added.

Burley then turned to the topic of the former America’s Best Value Inn on Highway 99, which Snohomish County purchased with plans to turn it into transitional housing for those who are homeless. The county also purchased a former Days Inn near Everett Mall and together, the two facilities will provide a total of 129 units offering immediate shelter in a stable environment, with 24/7 support services.

The two facilities will be known as the New Start Centers, and Burley said that she and Edmonds Assistant Police Chief Rod Sniffen have been the designated contacts for the Edmonds project. The earliest the facilities will open would be third quarter 2023 but it may not be until early next year, she said. “The reason for that timeline is permitting and construction and remodeling,” Burley said.

The county has conducted “a considerable amount of outreach” to both businesses and residents living near the Edmonds New Start Center, Burley said. However, Councilmember Jenna Nand said that the county should host a town hall soon to answer questions from the public about the facility, which has generated community concerns.

Burley said she can’t speak for the county but speculated it may be too early for such a meeting, noting that “many of the questions that would be asked there wouldn’t be answers for yet. At some point that would appropriate. Right now their outreach has really focused on one-on-one with people who might be potentially directly impacted.”

Councilmember Vivian Olson said she agreed with Nand. “My personal feeling is that early and often is the best time to communicate. I wish they were doing more and sooner,” Olson said.

Councilmember Will Chen said the community at large and residents who live in nearby neighborhoods — including Lake Ballinger, where he and Nand reside — “are very anxious — even the church members, the congregations, have contacted me many times.”

“I think if we can request (a meeting) it would be beneficial for the neighborhoods to know what’s going on, what to anticipate, what kind of programs, services…are going to be provided,” Chen added.

Also as part of her committee report, Burley said she has received questions from community members about how they can support human services. Always welcome, Burley said, are prepaid cards for food and gas. “Food often gets people to engage us. It gives us an opportunity to start the conversation and to collaborate,” Burley said. “We do appreciate receiving those.” Both Winco and Safeway stores in Edmonds have a prepaid option that excludes the purchase of alcohol and tobacco products.

“Often the gift cards for food go to our seniors so I don’t want us to forget the fact we have an elderly population that will sometimes choose not to eat in order to make ends meet,” Burley said. “These are not just for individuals living on the street.”

Other highlights of Tuesday’s committee business:

During the finance committee meeting, councilmembers heard an update from Administrative Services Director Dave Turley regarding the city’s efforts to collect money from businesses that received $235,500 in pandemic relief funds in 2020 but didn’t meet eligibility requirements, according to an audit from the Washington State Auditor’s Office.

Of 33 businesses identified during the city’s followup work, Turley said that four of them have either repaid the grant money they received or signed up for a repayment plan. Turley also said he identified 15 more businesses with paperwork indicating they met grant requirements, even if it wasn’t precisely in the format that the auditor’s office required. “I don’t think we should go after these people,” he said. That leaves 14 businesses and of those, two have closed and the other 12 “simply haven’t responded to any communication we’ve sent them,” Turley added.

Councilmembers discussed what action should be taken next and agreed the remaining 12 businesses should receive a certified letter from the city asking them to either provide proper documentation or identify a plan for repayment.

During the parks and public works committee meeting, councilmembers heard a presentation about next steps for the City of Edmonds Stormwater Management Action Plan update. The matter will come to the full council at a future meeting. The Washington State Department of Ecology’s stormwater planning guidance requires the city to select and prioritize a local watershed for improvement by March 31 — and the Perrinville Creek watershed was selected. City staff and consultants reported on recent public meetings that were held on topic, including a summary list of identified actions for improving the health of the watershed. (See the complete list in the graphic below.)

Committee members also had a robust discussion regarding a plan from public works staff to hire a consultant — at a cost of $360,000 — to look into the feasibility of shifting the city’s current process of assessing traffic impact fees for new development based on “vehicle-centric” levels of service to a multimodel level of service (MMLOS). The latter concept takes into account not just vehicular impacts of new development but also pedestrian, bicycle and transit needs.

Several jurisdictions in Western Washington have already implemented MMLOS, including Bellevue, Bellingham, Kirkland, SeaTac and Kenmore — and Shoreline is considering it, said City Transportation Engineer Bertrand Haus.

However, councilmembers attending the committee meeting said they were concerned about approving such a contract since the council has not yet been introduced to the concept of MMLOS and how it might impact the city financially.

“It seems like we should educate everybody first and make a decision and then enter the contract,” Councilmember Vivian Olson said. In the end, staff agreed to work with the consultant to develop “a primer” for the council on MMLOS, to be presented at a future council meeting.

— By Teresa Wippel

  1. Very informative and concise reporting on some critical issues. Great job Teresa and thank you for all who contributed.

  2. I watched almost all the Parks and Public Works Committee meeting on the monitor at the Council Conference room. I was the lone wolf public member on site. Hopefully others in the community watched it live via Zoom.

    This was the first time I’ve ever observed a Committee meeting and it was well worth my time to see the Council Members and Staff members interacting to try to get the business of the city done. I don’t think people, generally speaking, have any idea of the great amount of work, consideration of minute detail, and the high level of knowledge that Council and Staff have to embrace to get their work done.

    I’m really concerned about the great amount of power our current “Strong Mayor’s” position (not the specific person holding it) allows for spending decisions to be made outside of and ahead of the legislative process. We are giving non-elected positions a lot of (largely under the radar) power to spend our collective money. Our Mayor’s POSITION does not have proper public accountability for actions taken for the supposed greater good of the public.

    1. I watch them every opportunity I get Clint. I watched all 3 segments yesterday. I Zoom myself but I think its great that you were there. I have been watching the planning board meetings too. They have been interesting also. The more we know the more we can all help each other and help ourselves. I would say that the more we watch the more we realize what we don’t know and should have known. But now everyone has the opportunity which I do appreciate. So watch it folks. Be active, speak up. They don’t bite. Not at all.

  3. Computer Tech. is not really my thing, but maybe I’ll start watching more of these meetings on Zoom. I really do prefer such things as fishing, boating, camping, gardening and being a generally irritating commenter on MEN to mind numbing long business meetings, but more “just ordinary folks in town” need to start keeping better tabs on what’s coming down here. We have people starting the process of long term financial obligations for us without proper prior discussions and inputs from our elected representatives. These same people are real fond of buying high paid outside consultation from “experts.” Maybe we need better in house experts focused more on function and less on vision?

  4. Great write up. I wonder if we the public have enough information (knowledge) about alternative city goverment options. With out that I believe many people would just vote for the status quo. I realize you Clinton have written often on the subject and thanks for doing so. And Clinton thank you for being so “active” in this forum. You have “won” me over from believing otherwise. Charge ahead!

  5. I am the worst! But I got the zoom down haha. I also prefer fishing, boating and gardening. I just started doing this Clint. I’ve only been on FB for 8 years ha. And half the time it is just on I am not really being active. I do think you are right. People who are just ordinary people I think are not as obsessed by a party or as interested in a fantasy land. I think they are probably the ones who can watch, reason and repeat. I hope they do watch. It is great how its on TV channel 21 too. CC This way everyone can afford to see it easily. The Council meetings I really enjoy those. I project large screen so it’s like they are in here with me ha. I see everything 🙂 I think it is worth my time. I do walk my talk Clint. Always. Deb.

  6. The Days Inn and America’s Best Value Inn were both contaminated by meth.

    Yes, we need shelter space, and yes, council members Nand, Chen and Olson are right that communicating with the public is important. A town hall that addresses questions early on is a great idea.

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