Reader view: Don’t preempt Edmonds’ home rule

Representative Strom Peterson,
We are responding to your March 2, 2023 Edmonds Beacon “Guest View: On housing, we need a statewide response.”
You state: “this problem is bigger than any one city or county and a piecemeal approach hasn’t worked”
Your suggestion that the City of Edmonds extensive work through three Citizens Housing Commissions, Council and the Planning Board, and current work updating our Comprehensive Plan is “piecemeal” is highly disrespectful. In addition to the work of Council and staff, many Edmonds residents have participated actively in these public processes.
Further, you state: “we aren’t preempting local developmental regulations”
Yet, in the Feb. 28 Council meeting, Todd Tatum presented the following:
“– Requires cities to apply only clear and objective design review standards to the exterior of new development. It establishes a categorical exemption from the State Environmental Policy Act for residential housing units within an urban growth area.”
Mr. Tatum’s statement is confirmed in ESHB 1293, Section 1, p.2, passed by the house:
“(3) All project actions that propose to develop one or more residential housing units within an urban growth area designated pursuant to RCW 36.70A.110 shall be categorically exempt from the requirements of this chapter.”
You go on to state: “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.” You opine “These are our neighbors who must make decisions every month about paying for housing or paying for food or medicine.”
The housing bills will result in NO affordable housing. New housing will be sold/rented at market rates. The legislature has defined “low income” as 80% of the AMI. Snohomish County’s 2021 median income is $115,700/year. This will allow developers opting to build additional so-called “affordable” unit(s) to meet the “30% of income” criteria by charging rents way above 30% of what those earning minimum wage can afford. See:
The State Constitution grants “municipal power” to the “legislative bodies,” i.e. city councils. RCW 35A.11.050:
Do state legislators intend to preempt the Comprehensive Plan that they require cities to prepare, approve and adopt? Do state legislators intend to override local control over our own ordinances and code?
Ken Reidy 
Citizen of Edmonds
Joan Bloom 
Edmonds City Councilmember 2012-2015
  1. I suppose our legislators could have a change of heart at the end, one can hope anyway but even if they did it may not be enough to keep this terrible legislation from becoming law. It kind of feels like we are pissing into the wind at this point.

  2. Housing is in review by the State Senate (1110 middle housing; 1245 lot splitting; 1293 development regulations) and House (5466 transit-oriented development). These bills supposedly provide “affordable” housing. In 1110, the “affordable housing” specification is limited, depending on city population. Sec.3.a.iii: “The development of at least four units per lot on all lots zoned predominantly for residential use if at least one unit is affordable housing.” “Affordable housing” is optional. Cities must choose six housing types for residential zones: “duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, fiveplexes, sixplexes, townhouses, stacked flats, courtyard apartments, and cottage housing”.

    When there are too many apartments, and townhouses have overtaken neighborhoods, housing might be affordable. The tree canopy will have been decimated, impervious surfaces will create heat islands, street parking will be limited. Housing decisions by the 68th Legislature are serving one industry, and the affordable component is a deception. Most Senators and Representative are supporting these housing bills.

    Leave local building regulations with local jurisdictions, with citizen participation in Comprehensive Plans, as is happening in Edmonds, in Shoreline.

    Enter the housing bill number:
    The “bill information page” provides a link for comment on these bills. It is not too late.

  3. What really alarms me about these housing bills is that environmental impacts are ignored. In fact, HB1293 comes right out and says that housing development is exempt from environmental review.
    Jamming more people together without regard for the health of their surroundings is a recipe for disaster.

  4. Frankly, it feels like our state electeds have decided to file as many bills as possible to preempt local control, knowing that there will be intense citizen opposition, but also knowing many of the elements are likely to survive. It is disappointing….

    1. Dave if only we could have seen it coming? It is funny how the smartest people are always surprised. Many of us have shown our concerns years ago but those that did were/are considered extremist. We have a good balance of multi family and single family already and very little commercial because we don’t produce anything and our society is dependent on services and in our case tourism. Best hold on to the latter because other than population growth we got nothing else to provide the ever increasing need of government. My 2 cents..

    2. Ms. Bloom and Mr. Reidy thank you for your letter. How do Strom Peterson and colleagues want to be remembered? We all have a choice.

  5. Thankfully, it appears that our Edmonds’ citizens have become knowlegable and active on legislative bills that could be harmful to our neighborhoods. We should note that 21st District office holders are sponsors of these measures. Representative Strom Peterson is a sponsor of HB1110 (Increasing housing in areas dedicated to single family detached housing) and HB1245 (Increasing housing through lot splitting). Senator Marko Liias is a sponsor of SB5364 which is equivalent to HB1245. Hopefully, individuals in our community will express their concern about these measures by calling, emailing, and participating in the town hall meetings that are scheduled by our legislators this month. By remaining silent is an indication of acceptance of these dangerous bills.

  6. Our population is growing, and our housing supply is almost stagnant. If we are going to have any chance to preserve a rich ecology in Puget Sound over the next century, increasing housing density in urban areas over sprawling all the way between Canada and Olympia north/south and the ocean and the Cascades east/west is the only choice.

    What we really need nationwide is a DARPA like research program that encompasses all aspects of housing humans to look for the most sustainable and enriching human environment we can create that is also affordable by everyone. Robot structure building, Recycling of waste products, Societal relations that support safety and privacy, new materials that save energy, resources and labor, And many, many other related details. A wholistic investigation and research agency to improve human habitation.

    1. Ed, You’ve got a really good point. How we build homes now is a lot like how we built them in 1945, if not 1925. Housing has not been the hot topic that space travel has been. I’m impressed by the work on passivhaus standards. They show how dramatically different our houses can work for us when engineering attention is paid to the topic.

  7. Kathleen’s comment above about affordable housing at the expense of trees and nature makes me want to add one more thought: Increased density may make Edmonds affordable — by making it an undesirable place to live.

  8. You get what you elect. Affordable Housing,.in almost every instance, in almost every urban environment, in almost every example, is a myth. An absolute catch phrase dreamed up by the National Builders Association and other lobbying groups. It will tax single family homeowners for not maximizing density. It’s a tax bill, a penalty for not increasing density, a way for Strom to use feel good meaningless double talk, and really, when he or other representatoves can show widespread success if “urban density” affordable housing in the West Coast region on Coastal property, maybe it would be worth paying attention to. I don’t think he can show success stories.

    Sure, we need more density. That does change demand. It only slightly alters supply.

    Let’s go big and solve homelessness and affordability for everyone- Sunset and Ocean View Drive 15 Story High Rise rent controlled affordable housing projects. Go all in.

    It’s a myth. It’s a tax bill, plain and simple. You get what you elect.

  9. Edmonds citizens,

    There is a housing crisis. There are not enough homes. Do you not see the tents? Oh that’s right – you don’t. You force them to go to Everett.

    Even with a college education and a strong salary, how will my kids afford a home? Do you have a solution for that? No, you don’t. It seems to me that you got yours, and apparently that’s all that matters.

    We. Need. More. Homes.

    The fact is that HB1110 is a modest increase in density. I’m deeply grateful that there appears to be broad consensus and it is moving forward. We can no longer ignore the fact that we desperately need to increase the supply of housing. And yes, Edmonds, that means you too.

    Kevin Atkinson

    1. Yes, of course we need more homes, ones more affordable to more people, but we have seen no evidence, no analysis showing the best way to get them is to upzone single-family neighborhoods. Better to tell cities they need to accommodate, need to plan for X additional homes over the next 20 years~ and then let the cities figure out optimum ways to achieve those numbers. It”s called planning, and its better done locally than imposed from Olympia.

      Much of Edmonds was developed under county standards before incorporation into the city~ thus all the two-lane roads with no shoulders, no curbs, no sidewalks, and open ditch drainage. That’s OK for existing single-family houses, but not for additional density. Better to put new density into walkable neighborhoods nearer to transit and retail shopping.

      But Kevin, if you have evidence that supersedes all this, that demonstrates that upzoning singe-family neighborhoods is the best way forward, please provide it to us.

  10. Never mentioned in these bills is the actual cost to building these multi-unit plex’s is the environmental waste of tearing down a perfectly good already accounted-for house at 100% loss of energy and resources, the additional loss of trees and mature landscape, the edition of hardscapes, the loss is enormous. Think about that carbon footprint. The actual cost is staggering. I am saying nothing of the heat islands, loss of shade, or loss of natural beauty. The very thing that makes living here so special. It’s all greenwashing virtue signaling in the transit age, on a train that few will ride, that all of us are paying huge license tab bills for. I forgot the number of trees mowed down, another staggering number; it’s the arrogance that we are not smart enough to know what’s best for us. It feels like a frog boiling.

    1. Great points, Andrew. The density advocates pretend that we need density to alleviate climate change, but I’m pretty sure that whenever someone’s plan to fix climate change involves killing a bunch of trees, they don’t really care about climate change – it’s just a convenient excuse to do whatever (often nefarious) thing they actually want to do.

    2. Thank you for spelling this out. It’s been on my mind as well, the colossal extravagance of tearing down useful housing and replacing it with expensive free market housing. Best would be to add a story and/or ADU to existing houses.
      Besides that, after developer profits are accounted for prices don’t drop until you get into the smaller per house footprint of six-plexes.
      These bills offer next to nothing for sustainability or for those needing affordable housing.

  11. Follow the money…it’s NOT about Affordable Housing (a useless phrase)…it’s about lining the pockets of politicians and the National Builders Association.

    Politicians love the phase “Affordable Housing”…it’s something to gaslight about and gives them that warm sanctimonious afterglow while feeling their pockets and purses bulging with cash.

    …just sayin’

  12. There is no shortage of housing. Right now I’m looking out my window at 10 rather large homes all of which have at least one unused bedroom. I live in a home that would easily house another couple and it’s only about 2000 square feet in size. The problem is there is almost no cheap or even affordable housing available anywhere in our state. That problem is not going to be solved with these bills. The people living in tents are not going to be housed by the implementation of these bills. These bills are being voted in by both Democrat and Republican majorities in our Legislature and Senate. The people in tents need social work intervention, mental health treatment, drug and alcohol rehab and good jobs that pay living wages. Young people need free or inexpensive higher education and rich people and corporations need to pay their fare share of taxation. None of that is going to happen any time soon; or as the result of passing these bills. Our political system at all levels has generally become a useless, self serving waste of time and money for everyone except the people elected.

  13. @Mr Atkins

    Do you think your college-educated kids a right buy in Edmonds? When I purchased my first home, it was not what I wanted but what I could afford. Like most of us, we bought “up” over time. There are still affordable homes to be had; you have to be willing to commute or buy in less desirable locations; with businesses allowing remote workers, and the recent collapse of high-tech overstaffing, how can growth continue? Townhomes are not built to last; heck, some single-family homes are made cheaply, but at least you can repair them; townhomes are another thing.
    Let’s talk about the esthetic loss, folks with views of trees, mountains, and water, all gone once you start stuffing in 3 story monsters.
    Everyone but the developers lose.

    Do you believe that Doubling the number of houses is “modest”?

    We Need Calmer heads; we can’t Undo any of the damage this type of development will do to the way our city feels and looks. It’s beautiful for a reason; you will remove all the beauty and replace it with Row after Row of high-priced compact houses, massive street traffic, and a lack of parking.

    1. Just where in Washington state is this available affordable housing where someone can still earn a decent living and live there. Some of the cheapest housing is in the very depressed Aberdeen and Raymond areas and even there a basic fixer upper on a small lot goes for over $100K. A small run down home in places like Moses Lake and Republic is going to go in the $150k to $200K range, if you can find one. People can’t do what many of us did; starting small and using sweat equity to move up because they can’t even afford that fixer upper. Their available cash is tied up in first and last payments on a $2000/mo. one or two bedroom cheapo apartment. They can’t afford a down payment on even a fixer upper; of which few exist anywhere someone wants or can afford to live.

    1. More homes doesnt get rid of the issues with homelessness. That’s a straw man argument. Build more spaces so people have more places to live. It jas not worked in a single urban center. Not one. Increasing density just means the tents are on sidewalks and not front yards.

      It. Is. A. Myth.

      Affordability in a Region with some of the highest tax rates in the Nation, the highest fuel prices in the Nation, the highest food costs in the nation, seems to be a bit disingenuous.

      It is a tax bill. Call it affordable housing, but at the end of the day, rainbows do not shoot out of Unicorn Horns and more duplexes do not mean less expensive….

  14. I just did another frustrating orbit through Edmonds, trying to find a place to park near enough to my goal for my bad legs to be able to reach on foot. I finally found one, but only after several around-the-clock cruises. Last week I twice simply gave up and came home.

    And we want multiplexes? Shouldn’t Edmonds rather focus on making what we already have better, and more accessible? Improve paving in back streets? Find a way to add parking? Add and/or repair sidewalks? Deal with the increased speeding that comes with more growth?

    Make the city work with the population we have before bringing in more people we can’t really accommodate.

  15. Ms Bloom and Mr. Reidy – thank you for highlighting this issue of preemption of local control over housing decisions. You also highlighted the work done in the past by the Councils, Housing Commissions and Planning Boards. I served on one of the Housing Commissions. There are answers to adding more housing within Edmonds city limits. Those answers could be implemented far faster and with less uproar if staff and council did not have to manage through this proposed preemption of local control. From my service as a commissioner on the ECHC, I know there is a concern and willingness among our residents to develop the best possible solutions around housing needs for Edmonds, in concert with the plans of our neighboring cities and the needs of our environment. We need to register our opinions via not just here in the Comments section.

  16. The bill has been amended:

    It would require cities with populations between 25,000 and 75,000 to allow duplexes in all residential areas. In bigger cities (those with more than 75,000 people) — or smaller suburbs of Seattle — all residential areas would have to allow fourplexes.

    But a section that required areas close to major transit, parks or schools to allow fourplexes in smaller cities and six-plexes in larger cities was dropped, thanks to an amendment from Rep. Tana Senn, D-Mercer Island. And the requirement for fourplexes initially applied to suburbs of Spokane and Tacoma as well, but that was narrowed to just Seattle.

    In smaller cities, fourplexes would still be allowed anywhere, if one of the units meets affordable housing requirements, and six-plexes would be allowed anywhere in larger cities, provided two of the units are affordable.

  17. According to the amended middle housing bill, E2SHB 1110, approved by the House, and now in review by the Senate, all cities must select and allow six of nine housing types, in addition to SF housing, on residential zones. The nine housing types include duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, fiveplexes, sixplexes, townhouses, courtyard apartments, stacked flats, and cottage housing.

  18. Personally I believe the ‘affordable housing’ is a marketing ploy and nothing more. Every builder has to buy the property at market rate, the materials and labor at market rate so they will be selling at market rate. The builders are not going to take a loss, so the housing becomes more affordable. Regardless of the theory that more housing will create more supply therefore reduce housing costs does not take into consideration that more building puts pressure on the supply of materials and labor which increases costs as well. I just don’t see it. I see an industry using a long whip influencing the lawmakers into a ‘quick fix’ so the industry can keep building without impediment and make more money.
    I have registered my Con vote with the Senate. The climate change effect that Andrew aptly pointed out is a point to be taken seriously. We will continue to adapt to climate change however we cannot pretend to think we are smarter than Mother Nature.

  19. Andrew,

    Thanks so much for bringing up this issue, and for the link. Here is more on “embodied carbon” and the carbon release of demolishing buildings and replacing with new:

    From this article:

    “Embodied carbon is the sum of all greenhouse gas emissions (mostly carbon) resulting from the construction lifecycle of a building. This includes emissions from material extraction and transportation, the construction phase, keeping the building operational (such as refurbishment) activities, and ultimately the end of life stage through demolition and material disposal or processing.

    To date, very few projects focus on reducing embodied carbon emissions or becoming net-zero. However, since 11% of carbon emissions result from these activities, this is where the construction industry needs to prioritize its efforts. Unfortunately, the impacts of embodied carbon are less understood and this article will focus on these impacts and the steps we can take to reduce our contributions.”

  20. I’d like to thank all who took the time to read this Reader View. I’d also like to thank those who took the time to comment.

    A special thanks to Andrew Sell for teaching me about something I was largely unaware of.

    I highly encourage all to take steps to be heard on these matters.

    Following is a link to an excellent Reader View authored by Dr. Michelle Dotsch that provides more details on how to be heard:

    Please don’t wait- the time is NOW.

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