From housing to fire services, Edmonds City Council tackles questions in Thursday town hall

Six of the seven Edmonds city councilmembers at Thursday’s town hall. Councilmember Tibbott was absent.

The Edmonds City Council hosted a public town hall Thursday evening with the goal of enhancing public engagement on current city issues that have garnered a high level of public interest.  Topics included budget challenges, fire and emergency medical services options, the 2024 Comprehensive Plan update, and the city’s roadmap to fiscal stability.

The meeting was at the city’s public works building, but the hybrid format included opportunities for in-person and virtual attendees to pose brief two-minute questions, after which councilmembers responded with comments limited to four minutes. There were 25 in-person attendees, including six councilmembers and staff, and a handful of virtual attendees.  Councilmember Neil Tibbott was unable to attend.

Handouts detailing the city’s general fund situation and calculations of projected housing need were provided as background information.

Council President Vivian Olson welcomes those attending Thursday’s event.

Council President Vivian Olson began the meeting by welcoming attendees, characterizing the event part of an effort to “elevate our community engagement” beyond past levels. She also cautioned the audience that councilmembers’ comments and statements made during the event do not necessarily represent the position of the council body, and that each councilmember is speaking for themself. A microphone was provided for in-person attendees, while virtual attendees were asked to raise their Zoom hand to be recognized.

Audience questions and comments focused on several key areas.

 Several commentors questioned the basis of growth targets imposed by the state (13,000 population increase requiring 9,000 new housing units by 2044), whether these are realistic, are projections or targets, and how they were derived.

Councilmember Will Chen

Councilmember responses were varied, with Councilmember Will Chen noting that “the state comes up with these numbers and trickle down to the communities.” Councilmember Chris Eck pointed out that if Edmonds lets time slip, the city risks losing the ability to control growth within its boundaries, and “we risk the state making the decisions for us.” Dotsch noted that recent trends show households shrinking in size with fewer people living in an individual housing unit, and that the city should be thinking about “encouraging homes with fewer bedrooms” as it moves forward with its 2024 Comprehensive Plan update.

Several community members also expressed concerns about how to ensure that Edmonds’ infrastructure can handle increased density, and how the city defines equitable housing and affordable housing.

Resident Joe Scordino poses a question to the councilmembers.
Resident Karen Barnes asks a question.

Other questioners asked about tapping into Edmonds’ spirit of volunteerism to encourage citizens to get involved and help with things ranging from park cleanups to serving on boards and commissions — allowing the city to essentially get free services from involved residents.

Several attendees also raised concerns about the newly adopted state laws regarding zoning, and how these might apply to neighborhoods like Five Corners where residents worry about four- and five-story buildings being constructed. In response, Nand pointed out that the market will ultimately decide what gets built, and that zoning only tells you what you can build – no one will build something that doesn’t pencil out monetarily.

Councilmember Michelle Dotsch

Addressing several comments regarding growth and where it should go, Dotsch responded that Edmonds should focus on areas that already have the infrastructure and resources to handle the growth, while Eck said she favors looking more broadly with the aim of equitably “spreading the impact” throughout the city.

Councilmembers also discussed the pressing issue of providing fire and emergency medical services to Edmonds beyond the December 2025 expiration of the city’s contract with South County Fire and Rescue. Nand came out strongly in favor of joining the regional fire authority as the best way to ensure quality, high-level service to the community. This would be in lieu of other options being considered: to contract with the City of Shoreline or re-establish an Edmonds fire department. “There will be pain in the pocketbook no matter what we decide,” Nand said.

Councilmember Jenna Nand
Councilmember Susan Paine

Other questions addressed subjects ranging from the need to protect Edmonds watersheds, creeks and streams as the city grows, whether staff cuts will be part of the current belt-tightening efforts and whether the council would commit to not raising taxes on increased property values such as could happen with the addition of an accessory dwelling unit.

The session ended with councilmembers stressing their commitment to enhancing public engagement, providing their office hours, phone number and contact information and encouraging coming to them directly with questions and concerns.


View the livestream of this meeting on the City Council meeting webpage here.

Additional town halls are anticipated, and will be announced as they are scheduled.

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

  1. Good example of the City of EDM Council ‘reaching out’ to elevate public awareness and participation. Some sticky issues w/ fire protection/EMS service; growth issues!; and financial budget issues. Our seven concilmembers bear considerable responsibilty to make good decisions representing (approx) 45,000 Edmonds residents.

  2. It’s good for council members to get out and talk with the community. Clearly council president Olson’s lead. The question I would have wanted that have answered is: “Give me an example of a time after getting public input, you changed your mind on an issue and what it was?” There are at least a couple council members that I highly doubt ever will change an opinion based on public input, if it’s against their partisan background.

  3. I attended this meeting and was really disappointed to see the poor on site attendance after all the complaining and hand wringing in town all the time over our Council not being available and responsive to their constituents. They did a pretty credible job of really taking on the many questions about their actions and service including mine that I had written to them in advance. Niel Tibbott was the only CM not in attendance and he took the time to email me with some answers to my questions and we had an actual e-conversation. I’m not any more reassured about how actually open minded and contemplative of all viewpoints in town that four of the current CM’s expressed but at least they took on my questions with straight answers as to who they are and what they favor. There is some hope for this Council and this Mayor, but they really need to get on the stick about our dire environmental abuses and repair needs and there are still some glaring city management deficiencies that aren’t being dealt with as they should.

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