The Edmonds City Council Tuesday night voted 5-2 to repeal the city’s Highway 99 Planned Action Ordinance. The ordinance, passed by the council in 2017, was meant to streamline environmental reviews for developers but councilmembers voting for the repeal agreed it made sense to roll it back and possibly revisit an updated version later.
Under the 2017 ordinance, development in the Highway 99 subarea could proceed without further environmental review under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) if the project met mitigation requirements.
“This repeal is basically moving the SEPA process back into the hands of the developer,” said Councilmember Diane Buckshnis, who sponsored the effort. Instead of having a streamlined process, developers will have to follow the same process as other developments citywide, she said.
When councilmembers conducted a five-year review of the ordinance in 2022, it prompted a closer look at the planned action process, which had been generating concerns among Highway 99 residents about future development. One of the outcomes of that council review was a 4-3 vote in October 2022 to conduct a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to the Planned Action Ordinance. Then in May 2023, the council OK’d permanent design standards for Highway 99 area development.
However, in July 2023, councilmembers approved a city staff proposal not to do that supplemental EIS for Highway 99 after all — but to instead perform a citywide EIS as part of Edmonds’ required 2024 Comprehensive Plan update.
With the repeal, Highway 99 residents can “rest assured that we will allow the developments that come forth to do a normal EIS procedure,” Buckshnis said. When the citywide EIS is complete, “future councils can decide whether they want to bring back this planned action ordinance,” she added.
Answering a question from Councilmember Susan Paine about the repeal proposal, Edmonds Planning and Development Director Susan McLaughlin said it’s true that the Planned Action Ordinance provides certainty for the developer because the environmental analysis has already been done. “What it does for the city,” McLaughlin said, “is it also provides us the cumulative analysis for understanding the impacts that will happen with the development if we see it at that magnitude over time.”
Council President Neil Tibbott asked City Attorney Jeff Taraday if there were any deficiencies in the ordinance that could be addressed with the repeal. Taraday pointed to the inability of the city under the current ordinance to require additional mitigation measures — including possible fees that could generate revenues to offset impacts from projects.
Voting for the repeal were Councilmembers Buckshnis, Tibbott, Vivian Olson, Dave Teitzel and Jenna Nand. Opposed were Councilmembers Paine and Will Chen.
In other business during the Tuesday meeting, councilmembers heard additional presentations from staff regarding 2024 budget requests, known as decision packages.
Development Director McLaughlin had two: $149,623 for a Climate Action Plan manager to make progress on the city’s 2023 Climate Action Plan goals, and $10,000 for projects undertaken by city boards and commissions.
The proposal for a Climate Action Plan manager drew considerable discussion. While councilmembers agreed the idea was worthy of consideration, there were worries about approving a new position when the city is facing budget challenges for 2024.
Tibbott asked what the climate manager would be doing on a day-to-day basis and whether the budget request could be deferred to 2025. McLaughlin replied that the job would be a combination of community education/outreach and administrative tasks. Regarding waiting a year for the position, she stressed that many community members have been asking for more aggressive actions to meet the city’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.
Councilmember Olson said she supported the position but asked if the department could find cuts elsewhere to afford it. McLaughlin replied that the department’s operation is already lean. Both Olson and Buckshnis mentioned the possibility of using state grant money to fund the position, at least temporarily.
Councilmember Jenna Nand suggested a couple of options: To share the position with nearby cities, both to save money and expand the reach, and to reduce the salary by turning the job into a more junior-level opportunity.
After McLaughlin’s presentation, Edmonds Police Chief Michelle Bennett offered her one budget proposal: $180,000 for red-light cameras at six unsafe intersections. These are Highway 99 and 220th Street Southwest, 220th and 76th Avenue West, 220th and 9th Avenue South, 212th Street Southwest and 76th, Highway 104 and Dayton Street and Highway 104 and 100th Avenue West.
City officials believe they can recoup the costs of the cameras through citations issued to offending drivers. The City of Lynnwood’s red-light cameras generate $3.5 million annually, Bennett told the council. She also noted that 80% of Lynnwood’s red-light camera violators “live outside their city — so these are people passing through. I think the same would probably be said for Edmonds.”
Councilmember Teitzel asked about staffing for the effort, which wasn’t included in the proposal. Bennett replied that the city would eventually need staffing after the cameras were installed and operating. “That would be something we would ask for later,” she said. Answering a follow-up question from Paine, Bennett noted that Edmonds Municipal Court may also need additional staff to process those who contest their violations.
Councilmember Nand said that many residents have a “very negative perception” of Lynnwood due to their red-light cameras, and drivers avoid traveling through the city as a result. “If people start getting these tickets, I think it’s going to discourage tourism activity to our city,” Nand said.
Bennett stressed that the goal of the cameras was to reduce accidents and improve safety. She also said that getting such a ticket doesn’t impact your insurance rates because it isn’t a moving violation. The police chief admitted that she received a ticket for violating a red-light camera. “I tell you what, when I drive through Lynnwood, I stop at every (light) if it is a faint pink,” she added.
The last item on the council agenda generated some tense moments after Council Finance Committee Chair Will Chen began discussing the city’s August 2023 financial report. While such reports are usually reserved for the council’s finance committee, Chen and Tibbott said they wanted the entire council to discuss the city’s budget challenges.
Councilmembers had agreed earlier in the meeting to move the report from the “received for filing” section — essentially meaning no discussion — to the council’s main agenda.
After Chen began asking questions about the city’s investment accounts and then moved on to other parts of the report, two councilmembers raised concerns. First, Councilmember Buckshnis reiterated her belief that the discussion should occur in the finance committee, and should be scheduled for when Administrative Services Director Dave Turley — who was absent — could attend. Then, Councilmember Paine — who is the other member of the finance committee — said she was “upset and irritated” that Chen and Tibbott didn’t consult with her first before bringing the matter to the full council.
Tibbott moved to postpone the finance discussion indefinitely, with the idea of scheduling a special meeting later. The motion passed and the council meeting was adjourned.
— By Teresa Wippel