Commentary: Edmonds City Council has no appetite for climate action

With a 5-2 vote on Tuesday (councilmembers Susan Paine and Jenna Nand dissenting), the Edmonds City Council has, once again, decided that a climate crisis will not factor into its budget.

With only a few days’ warning of a public hearing for the 2024 budget taking place on Nov. 6, a significant number of residents spoke in favor of the city hiring a climate action manager (CAM), as well as more than half in the audience raising their hands in agreement. Just eight days later, the council summarily disregarded those voices, a request that mirrored a proposal made in the 2010 Climate Action Plan. We are no closer today to making that hire than we were back in 2010.

When will the council commit to hiring a full time, fully qualified CAM? According to Councilmember Dave Teitzel, “While this is a worthy proposal, the city’s financial position does not support this addition of a new full-time equivalent employee.” When did the city council ever think it was worthy enough?  Even lean budget years include money for a city’s priorities, so funding the CAP appears to be beyond councilmembers who don’t comprehend the relevance of their own climate policy. Both the original 2010 CAP and its update, which the council adopted last March as being “All in on the Call to Action,” required taxpayer money to draft. Was that appropriate use of funds for a policy that has, for all intents and purposes, landed on the proverbial shelf?

As I stated at the public hearing on the budget, “We know that most of you think that Edmonds’ volunteers can work on reducing the community’s 98% share of Edmonds’ GHG emissions.  That thinking is underestimating the specialized work that a CAP requires. City staff members, who have other work they must accomplish, had three action items to achieve in 2023. They’ve completed one. There are 61 action items in all. It doesn’t take much to figure that the CAP is already in serious trouble.”

Councilmember Paine indicated that she had found money in the budget for hiring a CAM.  Councilmember Chen wanted to table a vote on the amendment in order to hear the details of Paine’s idea, but it did not pass. So intent were those who were opposed to hiring a CAM, that they elected not to even hear her idea. No strong community support or a newly revealed funding source was going to keep the group from its short-sighted determination to bury the one action that would elevate the city’s climate policy.

While we know the council wisely puts a high priority on public safety, by not hiring a CAM it has ignored climate adaptation, which goes to the heart of protecting residents’ safety. Climate impacts are being encountered across the state, across the nation and around the world. Edmonds is not likely to escape its share of these risks — such as heat waves, flooding, more intense snow and ice storms, wildfires, drought, and, as a shoreline community, sea level rise. Is this list not daunting enough to any city council whose city has no adaptation plan? The development of such a plan could have been overseen by a qualified CAM and, thus, the city will have done its best to protect its community from being unprepared for extreme climate impacts.

The signs of a revenue shortfall should have been noticed by the council prior to it suddenly becoming an all-out financial crisis, and future climate vulnerabilities on a city’s economy can also be known if an appropriate study is undertaken.  Unfortunately, the city finds itself in the same position in both instances — unprepared. The same need not be the case should an extreme climate event occur when little warning is often par for the course, and the result can be deadly. Right now, the plan to create cooling and warming centers is scheduled for 2025. Apparently, the councilmembers who voted against hiring a CAM figure we can wait that long. Let’s hope so.

By Georgina Armstrong and Gayla Shoemake

Edmonds residents Georgina Armstrong and Gayla Shoemake are affiliated with several groups in Edmonds related to climate action. 

  1. I find this opinion highly offensive. Many of us on Council have dedicated years of service to the environment, our watersheds and listening to our citizens. More importantly, working together as team builders with many various groups.

    In six months we have $500k available for this position. Do you think with a new administrator and all the change that may take effect, that a new hire could happen sooner? We’ve yet to see a Redi-Manager hired which also is a specialized position to handle diversity, equity, and inclusion.

    When I was on the Mayors’ Climate Protection Committee (under Earling) we were able to do a variety of team building with other climate action groups to work on projects like Taming Bigfoot, the Tree code, the plastics regulations and educational help with Students Saving Salmon and Youth Commission on restoration techniques.

    More importantly our CAP is GHG centric and needs adaptation measures. Some of us are working these issues in our watersheds and code which is not being highlighted.

    Yes, we are all concerned about our environment and I’ve spent hours discussing adaptive measures with MCPC members who at first thought it was not necessary.

    So rather than point fingers let’s pull that CAP off the shelf and make it complete as six months will be here in no time. We can do it!

    1. An opinion about the lack of climate action in our City should not be considered offensive. The article merely points out the facts – the City has had a Climate Action Plan (CAP) in place for almost 14 years and has never funded it. The council has not voted on how the Commerce grant of $500k will be used, and there is sentiment on the council to share the position with a jurisdiction that doesn’t even have a CAP, and make it a junior, entry level position. Neither are advisable. The $500k could be used for a vital climate adaptation plan. Let’s not look back to the past to find the best remedies for the future when past inactions have brought us to this debacle.

      1. Hello Georgina,
        Some of your facts or assumptions are inaccurate. ONE Councilmember of SEVEN has made that statement of job-sharing. There are many good things this City has done since 2010 in terms of Climate Action but since you are new to this committee and our working groups, you can be highly critical. I would not put much faith in the rushed GHG centric CAP on historical achievements as it was evident the Administration wanted to check the box and docket it and move on. Our planning board only received a presentation and had lots of issues. The Plan was not even an update of 2010 and does not contain implementation methods either.

        The grant is the best option with the City’s financial condition – so I suggest taking that CAP off the shelf and working on the update as why should we hire a Climate Action Manager now at $193k when that person will have the same issues of those serious exclusions of adaptation and implementation. We have some excellent volunteers that have sufficient knowledge to help. This administration limited many participants and CMs from the MCPC and some left for similar reasons – so it’s time to welcome all folks with their ideas and pull that CAP centric document off the shelf and work on it for the next six months.

        1. Councilmember Buckshnis,

          Thanks for information about process/history of the CAP. I agree that the next six months should be spent obtaining more input.

          Some of my comments to Council, 3-5-23 Public hearing on the CAP follow. None of my suggestions were included:

          Edmonds Environmental Advocates request that the CAP update include a completed Climate Change matrix. For each strategy listed in the CAP the implementation plan should answer: 
          · What is the goal?
          · What action will be taken to meet that goal? 
          · Who is responsible for taking that action?
          · How will the action be taken?
          · What is the cost and where will funding come from?
          When will it be completed? 

          TR-1.1: Adopt a multimodal level of service to enable complete streets outcomes.
          – Include accessible shuttle service to connect Edmonds neighborhoods to one another.

          TR-4.1: Explore bike and scoot share programs within the City of Edmonds.
          – Add all micro-mobility.

          LC-2: Increase Local Food Production
          – Add establishing gardens at all schools in the Edmonds School District, or just schools in Edmonds if you have to be Edmonds-centric.

          Lifestyle and Consumption:

          – Include what individuals can do to increase tree canopy and habitat in their own yards. Simple, inexpensive actions that will further reduce their personal carbon footprint.

  2. We are a small town of 40,000, any “climate action” from Edmonds is purely performative activism aimed at using a hot button topic to generate votes

    1. I respectfully counter by asking that we consider the consequences of every small city calling this purely performative activism to let themselves off the hook for real climate action. There are 4000 cities in America alone with populations between 10,000 and 100,000 that add up to 100 million people — equivalent to the entire populations of Spain and France combined. If we all in small cities fail to act, we as a coastal community will be among the first to feel the impacts, and during our children’s/grandchildren’s lifetimes the can that we keep kicking down the road will be floating past partially submerged businesses, public buildings, homes and cars.

      We are behind on not only our emissions reduction goals, but also on developing solutions to adapt for the inevitable sea level rise even under conservative scientific forecasts. Getting real traction on both requires — beyond aware and engaged citizens and our hard-working volunteers — a dedicated climate action manager as so many other small coastal cities have, with environmental science and/or engineering training, deep program management experience, and strong communication skills.

      Small town? No excuse.

    2. Like the argument-poisoning phrase “virtue signaling,” which summarily disregard the other person’s argument, “purely performative activism … to generate votes” seems rather arrogantly dismissive, and certainly makes the assumption that the other person has nothing worth saying and is insincere and manipulative.

      Many would disagree with you, many would argue that climate action is crucial, and at least a few of us might argue that doing the right thing is the right thing, whether you are an individual, 40,000, or forty million. What is the breakthrough number that makes action worthwhile – or legitimate – in your estimation?

  3. I wonder what Cliff Mass, professor of Atmospheric Sciences at University of Washington, is saying about climate change particularly in the Pacific NW.

  4. I’m not sure why living in a town of 40,000 makes us any less responsible for the energy each of us uses. It seems to me we are all equally called upon to try to reduce the amount of fossil fuel that we consume to maintain our lifestyles.

  5. Precisely because we are a relatively small community, we must coordinate efforts to sustain our environment with our neighbors within the county, state, nation and internationally. Something as simple yet so very complex as allowing our streams accessible to salmon for spawning. We must do our part to ensure that water from our fair city does not pollute the Sound. Due to a lack of foresight, our regional planners allowed the demise of the trolley between Seattle and Everett. Now we are paying dearly to reinstate it and other regional light rail travel.
    From my point of view a “purely performataive activism aimed at using a hot button topic to generate votes” would be to follow the climate crisis deniers who refuse to admit its reality and complain that nothing meaninful can be done.

    1. Mike, I have no doubt that there is climate change and it is caused by the actions of people since the beginning of the machine age. I think part of it is due to old fossil fuel technology; but a much bigger part of it is over population and bad management of our renewable natural resources. I guess one could even argue the bad management piece is even caused, at least in part, by the over population piece. The human species will probably have to continue to try to adapt and change to mitigate the climate problems through scientific innovation; but I fail to see how Edmonds hiring a Climate Action Manager, or not, is key to being the critical missing piece of the puzzle. People like Diane Buckshnis and Joe Scordino volunteering and recruiting more volunteers (actually walking the talk) are much more beneficial to the climate than any over paid desk jockey, with no real power to accomplish anything, is ever going to be. This Climate Action Manager is just feel good fluff.

    2. I think it’s obvious that Edmonds city government has climate change and mitigation responsibilities. Mostly in the form of budget and zoning policies, but also in other ways like how leaf blowers are powered. Of the comments I’ve read, I’m more in favor of a regional approach that includes a team of experts from all nearby cities. Our duty is to be sensitive, holistic and efficient as we uphold our ethical duties associated with how we impact climate. With our neighbor cities we will be front-line to some of the sea-level changes. Building and enhancing regional efforts makes the most sense to me.

  6. Councilmember Buckshnis,

    Thanks for adding actual data for consideration regarding the Climate Action Manager position. I agree that this Reader View is offensive. It is also accusatory and poorly informed. Although the following information was not available until yesterday, here is more to consider. A staff memo for Council’s November 20 Special Meeting, signed by all the directors, states:

    “The budget, with the spending cuts already made by Council, is balanced and provides city staff with predictability needed to operate effectively.
    Staff Recommendation:
    1. Work with staff outlining a collaborative process – beginning in the first quarter of 2024 – to address the structural budget deficit in 2025 and beyond.
    2. Amend the 2023 budget to bring $6.5m of remaining ARPA funds into the general fund
    3. Initiate the red-light camera study”

    Ms. Armstrong and Ms. Shoemake,

    “The budget, with the spending cuts already made by Council, is balanced” includes the elimination of the Climate Action Manager position. Apparently, none of the directors agree with Councilmember Paine that there is “money in the budget for hiring a CAM.”

    1. Joan,

      You are right in pointing out the staff memo. What the staff memo doesn’t tell you is that the budget is balanced still using even more emergency reserve funds. In fact, as proposed by staff, the financial hole will be even deeper at the end of 2024 than it is today. They still want to spend more than revenue. And they come clean with the true intent of the red-light cameras – revenue generation, not public safety. We can only hope that the City Council sees past this and continues to make some difficult decisions to make our city financially whole again.

      1. Jim:
        Is there a Strategic Outlook more recent that 10/4/2023? That document shows 2024 revenue to be $62,492,774 and expenses to be $59,429,234.

        1. Ron If wishes were fishes, projected and actual aren’t the same and we should not spend our tax dollars on what if projections. I don’t expect that we will find ourselves in a worse place but like climate change the future is unknown. So should we spend like there is no tomorrow bet on a uncertain future. Or should we have a more conservative approach to the future than wishful thinking?

        2. Ron,

          Yes. You would need to piece it together based on the amendments adopted by the Council last week. At a high level, last week the Council did not approve red-light cameras ($3.5M less revenue) and they did not approve transferring $2.0M of bond funds earmarked for deferred building maintenance to the General Fund. In total, that accounts for $5.5M in less revenue. The only expense reductions were not approving two employee positions. Hence expenses end up being greater than revenues as of now. However, more work is yet to be done in the next few weeks.

          It’s difficult to follow the bouncing ball.

  7. A Climate Action Manager is the last thing the City of Edmonds need. You want to talk about government waste & overreach this would be at the top of the list. What are we going to pay this CAM $157K+ benefits? To do what other than force carbon tax initiatives or failed Jay Inslee climate change ideas; or go to meetings & present these ideas that are nothing more than gladstanding. Please just stop ladies. For most people like myself & others working near 99 or the Bowl this is the last thing on their minds. They are more worried about inflation, food costs, their job, etc. than Climate Change.

  8. I don’t think anyone denies the climate is changing but we are certainly split on whether it is a emergency or not. Or that we need a special person on staff to address it. Question where are the solqr panels made? Where are the batteries made and what source of energy is used to make them? So what happens we spend millions here in Edmonds trillions nationally and that money goes to China and other places that use fossil fuels to make them and are also huge environmental polluters just so we can feel good about ourselves, one could argue this change to green energy is accelerating greenhouse gas emissions world wide that’s right accelerating the problem you say is a emergency. I get it I am not against some action but the idea that it is a emergency and the city of Edmonds needs to be leading the charge with the most extreme actions costing the taxpayers untold millions that actually accelerates the problem is beyond stupid to me. Want a electric car great just know the amount of fossil fuels it took to make it and the environmental damage takes years to break even and about that time you will need a new battery so did you really do the planet any favor?

  9. Lots of good comments here. There’s a certain group that has gone off the deep end with some kind of pseudo religious environmental extremism at all costs and I mean money. Of course responsible and common sense Environmental stewardship is something that Edmonds should embrace. Hopefully with partnerships with other local communities.

    They’re still work to be done on balancing the budget. The red light cameras were always about trying to bring in some cash, even if they had questionable benefits about safety.

    1. I wish I could have said your second sentence. Thank you. Got to try and be civil, and it is hard to express what frankly needs to be said, without the wrath of god descending upon me for owing a diesel truck.

  10. Yes, we are all aware of the change in our environment, temps rising water levels all over the world. I don’t like it when people say that those who do want to try to be as conscious as possible but cannot afford everything should be called climate deniers. This does not encourage people at all I would guess just the opposite is true. I expect as people can afford things many will switch over a lot of the wants and needs. I have said it for years and years extremists on either end of the political agenda do help either party. This should be clear to all who do read National News. Even our state shows a possible win for a Republican for our new Governor of WA. To those who are screaming the loudest if a Republican President is elected for the US there will be less $$ for grants and programs. Let’s all just do what we can, clean up our messes, clean up after your pets, keep your beaches clean (take it home). Ask your stores to keep the plastic and dispose of it properly. Keep your stats low, eat leftovers like we do. Be creative. Repurpose. It’s fun! Encourage repurposing in the Art World. Buy old solid wood furniture and cut off the knobby, create refinish ha Kinder for our World.

  11. I ran out of words. Maybe if our climate champions encouraged all I wrote above for now and adopted those causes here in Edmonds (studios, old buildings, garages not being used for people to gather and create encourages unity and hard work is good for the soul and the body. Much of what is in my gardens and my home I made these things, and they are beautiful, they are not plastic, or rubber wood. Don’t throw away old tiles, old dishes, old metal, paint and use them. I see things manufactured in China and Artisan pieces here (those cost a lot of $$ so make your own and show those off to your friends and community. When we save $ we have more money to switch to some of the thing’s climate activists want us to buy. Think, don’t fight. Be friendly not judgmental. Plant your gardens to encourage bees and butterflies. Yes, we can do this. I will help you. There is little I have not created in my long life. And I continue to do this it gives me great pleasure. Plant things that don’t need insecticides. Use those fall leaves for mulch and nutrients. Use boiling water in sidewalks etc. it kills those weeds. Yeah, I am a busy woman haha. Stop flappin your gums, and speak with your heart.

  12. I think this is kind of a useless discussion. We live in a real World where two political/ethnic/religious groups are literally killing each other’s babies, right now, over what God looks like and who his/her chosen people are that deserve a piece of dirt to live on. We live in a world with at least two, but probably more, countries that have enough nuclear bombs to destroy the world overnight. We live in a world that is overpopulated with most of it’s people living in some form of poverty from borderline (pay check to pay check); to abject (living in tents in the desert or on the street if they are lucky). We live in a world where one country is putting the world at risk for WWIII by attacking it’s neighbor in a land grab for agricultural land and a seaport. If only climate change was our biggest threat! And; I haven’t even mentioned a nut job Candidate for President who wants to do away with our Democracy and Constitution, (referring to people who disagree with him as “vermin”) and the looming threat of Artificial Intelligence. Kind of puts our supposed climate change problem in a little perspective, don’t you think?

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