Council ends work on Landmark project but supports future Hwy 99 investments

Members of the Edmonds City Council and Mayor Mike Rosen listen as city staff present on the Landmark 99 project Tuesday night.

After hearing additional details from both Mayor Mike Rosen and a panel of advisors about Edmonds’ financial challenges, the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night voted 6-1 to support a resolution that ends the city’s current work on the $37 million Landmark 99 project.

Councilmember Will Chen made the motion to adopt resolution, which had been proposed by city staff. Pointing to the city’s financial challenges — which were highlighted Tuesday night in a report from the mayor’s appointed Blue Ribbon Panel of financial advisors — Chen said that “the best step… is for us to take a step back” from the Landmark project.

Approval of the resolution means that the city won’t exercise its option to purchase the 10-acre property, which would have required Edmonds to pay $1 million in earnest money by March 31, 2025, and complete the purchase by Sept. 30, 2025.

Instead, the council pledged to continue working to make community investments in the Highway 99 subarea as an alternative to purchasing Landmark. These include council passage of a community renewal plan, research into the availability of tax increment financing and ensuring inclusion of those planned investments in the city’s Capital Improvement Plan.

Those investments were recommended Tuesday night during a presentation by city staff who had been working for the past year on the Landmark project — Community and Economic Development Director Todd Tatum and Planning and Development Director Susan McLaughlin. McLaughlin reminded the council that the Landmark project was envisioned as a catalyst for change in an area, providing opportunities for public-private partnerships. Tatum spoke to the complexities of arranging financing for the project, especially given the city’s current financial situation. Specifically, Tatum said that “our lack of fiscal resources affords us no management reserves to manage risk as we move forward. That’s certainly a concern should we get into this project and meet bumps in the road as you inevitably will.”

Added McLaughlin: “What we found is our conversations is that really without previous planning and investing for an acquisition like this, we had less leverage at the table with a development partner. So establishing an investment fund will not only strengthen our negotiation power but it will also strengthen our confidence when we come to council for these decisions, that we actually have the resources to pursue.”

The rejection of the Landmark property purchase comes one year after the council authorized then-Mayor Mike Nelson to sign an option agreement for the 10-acre site, located at the southern edge of Edmonds’ Highway 99 neighborhood. The agreement initially included a refundable deposit of $100,000 to hold the property — home to the Burlington Coat Factory and Antique Mall businesses — for six months, to conduct public engagement and further study the idea. In December 2023, the council voted 4-3 to continue exploring whether the city should acquire the property; ending the effort now means the city will forfeit the $100,000 deposit.

Councilmember Susan Paine was the lone “no” vote on the resolution, stating throughout the evening’s discussion that the Highway 99 community has been ignored for too long and deserved more attention from the city. A similiar sentiment was expressed by Councilmember Chris Eck, who said that although she would be supporting the resolution, it was critical that the city begin “investing equitably” across all Edmonds neighborhoods — and following through on the Highway 99 community investments mentioned in the resolution. “These community members who live in this part of town are probably tired of waiting,” Eck said. “We have to show them at some point that we really are serious about treating them like all other neighbors throughout Edmonds.”

Councilmember Jenna Nand, who along with Chen lives in the Highway 99 area, proposed an amendment that would have removed a sentence in the resolution stating the council “supports the mayor’s recommendation to cease immediate work” related to the proposal. Nand said that deleting that sentence would leave the door open to future negotiations with the Landmark 99 landlord; although others pointed out that the resolution also stated the city should “monitor the Landmark site” and engage in discussions with current or future landlords if appropriate. The amendment failed on a 3-4 vote, with Paine and Eck supporting.

Additional amendments on various aspects of the resolution — made by Councilmembers Dotsch and Olson — failed to pass. In the end, Councilmembers Chen, Dotsch, Eck, Nand, Olson and Tibbott voted to support the measure.

The Landmark decision came after the council heard two different presentations that focused largely on the city’s financial woes, and how to address them.

Mayor Mike Rosen answers a question during a special meeting Tuesday.

First, during a special 5:30 p.m. meeting, Mayor Rosen spend an hour updating the council on a list of topics of interest and answering questions about them. Among the subjects he touched on were:

The status of the city’s wastewater treatment plant: The plant was originally built in 1957. In 2020, the council approved replacing the plant’s aging sludge incinerator with a new gasification system. The intent was threefold: reduce the city’s carbon footprint, increase energy efficiency and create a marketable byproduct. “It’s very new technology so whenever you are introducing something new with something old it comes with some challenges,” Rosen said. The sludge being treated varies in consistency both day to day and seasonally, which makes it difficult for the machinery to handle. “We’re still experiencing troubles,” Rosen said. The goal is to ensure the system operates smoothly and consistently without shutting down, and then training staff to operate it. Meanwhile, the city is continuing to truck the sludge byproduct to Oregon “until we can solve this problem,” Rosen said.

The elimination of the city’s hate portal and addressing ongoing community concerns about disturbing behavior: Shortly after he took office in January, Rosen eliminated the controversial online portal that had been established by then-Mayor Mike Nelson in 2021 to report incidents of bias, discrimination and hate. Rosen cited infrequent use of the portal and that it overlapped with other existing city reporting tools. However, the mayor said Tuesday that he’d heard from two councilmembers regarding recent “unfortunate experiences” by community members, adding the issue was “frustrating” because the nature of such events may not “cross a legal line” that would require police action. During a discussion about the issue, he told councilmembers he would work with the city’s diversity, equity, inclusion and accessbility commission to pursue other possible reporting alternatives.

Retail theft at businesses, especially along Highway 99: “My guiding principals are safety in general,” Rosen said. The goal is to figure out ways to preserve and enhance quality of life for those who live and work in the area, but also ensure those in need of food, shelter, behavioral health care and other needs are taken care of. Police are “trying to be very responsive” to graffiti and encampments, and the mayor said he has been scheduling meetings with officials representing businesses that are often victimized by retail theft, including those located in the Safeway and Burlington complexes and Winco. The mayor said he is also evaluating the role of the city’s Neighborhood Center office, located next to Safeway, and is considering “a much greater, permanent police presence in the area. It’s very preliminary at this point but it would be more than a satellite office.” Answering a followup question from Councilmember Chen, Rosen said he has been in discussion with South County Fire about the possibility of sharing the former Value Village property, located near Swedish Edmonds Hospital, for a joint fire and police facility.

The process for budget development: With the city moving to a biennial budget this year and following a budgeting by priorities process, Rosen said that would be “a big change” and predicted “it’s going to be bumpy.” He stressed the importance of public involvement in the process, with a statistically valid survey on budget priorities and a parallel survey process for other community members planned, plus community meetings. The council has scheduled a budget retreat Aug. 16 to discuss the findings.

Rosen also outlined Edmonds’ current budget situation, noting that the city had hoped to save $3.2 million by not hiring for unfilled positions, with the goal of ending the 2024 budget year with $2.2 million. That hiring “chill” covers 30 positions, with 19 of those in the general fund. In addition, the city has eliminated three full-time positions and the mayor said he has put on hold on some major purchases, reduced rental costs and professional and membership fees, and increased revenues. All of that added up to a savings of $3,660,000.

However, that savings has been impacted by several things:

– An ending 2023 fund balance that was $500,000 below the adopted budget.

– A revenue forecast that was off by $200,000.

– A police union contract that was $1.1 million above what was budgeted

– Damages from the June 2023 library flooding that was $408,000 beyond what the insurance covered.

“So we’ve added back to our problem, $2,208,000,” Rosen said. Subtract that amount from the $3,660,000 in savings, and the final balance is $1,452,000.

Returning to that original $3.2 million in hoped-for savings through unfilled positions, and subtracting $1,452,000 from that amount, the total is now $1,748,000 — below the $2.2 million originally projected for the year-end balance

As a result, the city has gone back to its department directors, asking for additional budget savings. It is also exploring ways to generate revenue by possibly offering use of equipment or services that other cities don’t have. And the city is “looking at what we can sell,” Rosen said.

Answering a question from Paine about examples of what was specifically eliminated, Rosen pointed to the planned $380,000 fence around the Public Safety Complex parking lot, a $250,000 hook life system and $150,000 in professonal services. He also cited the cancellation of a rental agreement for a satellite parks equipment facility, which saved the city another $42,000.

Consultant Mike Bailey reports on the work of the Blue Ribbon Panel.

The council also heard a report from the mayor-appointed Blue Ribbon Panel of certified public accountants and other financial experts regarding its conclusions and recommendations related to ensuring Edmonds’ financial health.

Consultant Mike Bailey, who led group, said the six-member panel offered the following observations:

General fund balances far below required policy targets, mainly due to additions to authorized expenditures occurring in 2022 and 2023 budget processes, plus additional authorized budget amendments in both years. “Revenues were not increased nor were sources of funding for the budgeted increases in expenditures identified at the time of the proposed budget amendments. As a result, expenditure budgets have exceeded revenue estimates by almost $20 million during the most recent two-year period,” the panel wrote.

Revenue estimates that were overstated in 2020, 2022 and 2023 in a cumulative amount of $7.6 million. “Revenue estimates are the basis for balancing a budget against authorized expenditures,” the panel noted. “Therefore, if it weren’t for staff underspending the authorized budgets, deficits in these three years could have been as high as $27.6 million. Spending was less than budgeted amounts by $16 million during these three years. which meant that expenditures exceeded revenues by $11.6 million – still a significant problem.”

The council didn’t have sufficient information to make proper decisions. “Revenue estimates were not adequately documented, which limited the potential for scrutiny of the estimates,” the panel said. Long-range forecasts were provided but contained no insights into the assumptions, which proved to be unrealistic. “Inadequate documentation and discussion occurred when budget amendments were proposed. Amendments in 2020-2023 amounted to a net increase of expenditures above revised revenues of $11.3 million.”

An antiquated budget process and related software systems. “The city has been embarking on an update to their core financial systems for years (the system was purchased by another company in 2004 and subsequently discontinued),” the panel wrote in its report. In addition, Edmonds “financially committed to a contemporary budget development and transparency system two years ago but never implemented the software. The software subscription costs are being paid by the city with no benefit from the systems. No centralized procurement systems are in place. No methods to evaluate the effectiveness of city programs using program metrics exists. An apparent lack of collaboration within city operations at several levels likely contributed to inefficient services to the community.”

The panel recommended resolving the current budget imbalance through a combination of:

New sources of non-tax revenues: Red light cameras, increased fees and other revenue increases,

Expense reductions: head count reductions, furloughs, professional service and other non-compensation reductions,

New taxes: A 1% annual increase for emergency medical services and the city’s general fund for 2025 and 2026, although the report noted that’s not going to close the gap. An additional property levy for the general fund and/or for the city to join South County Fire will require a vote and would not impact the revenues until 2026. (Since there will be a lag of significant revenue increases until 2025, the panel recommends “bridging” the 2025 budget by borrowing internally from available surplus resources in other city funds).

Now that the Blue Ribbon Panel’s work is done, Councilmember Nand asked who would be overseeing the city’s overall financial strategy going forward. Rosen answered that it would be him and Deputy Administrative Services Director Kim Dunscombe, with assistance from Mike Bailey, who has agreed “to stick around for a while.”

Bailey had recommended that the council receive a financial update as part of its standing agenda each week, and Councilmember Dotsch made a motion to begin receiving that report, which the council passed.

Both councilmembers and Mayor Rosen expressed their gratitude for the Blue Ribbon Panel volunteers, who had been working on the issue since early this year. “I am so grateful for you all,” Rosen said.

You can see more details regarding the panel’s findings at this council agenda link.

— By Teresa Wippel

 

  1. That you to the members of the blue ribbon panel for their work to shine a light on the city’s recent budget issues. Unfortunately many of their significant findings are not news and were painfully evident to anyone who was paying attention. These issues could and should have been identified and addressed long before the situation deteriorated to its current state.

  2. It’s ironic that the Landmark project is abandoned at the same time the Council wants to address crime at the Safeway and Burlington complexes. Maybe the Landmark project wasn’t exactly what was needed, but this area (my neighborhood) has been neglected for far too long, and it basically feels like we have been abandoned by the city. The downtown Bowl area is thriving and busier than ever and seems to get all the investment; and yet my part of Edmonds gets denser housing (which is good!) but no enhancement of infrastructure (more/better/safer sidewalks would be a good start) beyond a “Welcome to Edmonds” sign at the county line. When is it our turn?

    1. Jennifer, what a coincidence that you mention that sidewalks is a place to start when building infrastructure in our neighborhood (I live next to Gateway district). The CIP/CFP project for the 84th street sidewalk is the next thing coming up. The public works committee reviewed the design last month. There’s a big problem- the staff is recommending spending $3 mil on a 4 block long sidewalk, and have added bike lanes to the scope of the project- thereby turning a walkway project into a roadway + walkway project. I am in the neighborhood group that has been advocating for increasing the priority of this sidewalk in the 6 yr CIP/CFP. I thought we asked for a Prius, but the consultant designed a Tesla. Of course we should not receive a Tesla next year from the City- the City’s general fund is broke. But I also don’t want to wait another 5 years. Can they just pave the asphalt shoulder along 84th, stripe it, install pylons that separate the pedestrian from the car traffic, and have it in use by Christmas of 2025? Remember that there’s not much money for new infrastructure until big apartment developments pay the big impact fees, or Congressman Larson facilitates a huge Federal grant like he’s done for other cities in his district.

    2. Hi Jennifer – I live in this area as well (Lake Ballinger) and was also very much against the Landmark project. Might I suggest that this IS actually to our benefit by releasing what otherwise would have been potentially millions of dollars of city funds that would have marginally, at best, addressed the issues you and I both experience. As is mentioned in the article and as confirmed by some other conversations, there are in fact real solutions being looked at to work on the crime and safety issues in our and surrounding neighborhoods. I suppose my one continued frustration is how much valuable time was wasted by talking about the Landmark project when all of the other solutions that have been offered could have been focused on for many months but instead were tabled due to this massive distraction. I know for certain that Mayor Rosen is not satisfied with the conditions in this part of town, and is making the best fiscal decisions to have the resources available for the best policy decisions. I am more hopeful than I have been in a very, very long time that we will finally start to see some real progress on the very valid issues that you and others have highlighted. I am glad there are others advocating for better conditions for us all.

  3. The ill-considered Landmark project always been a fruitless endeavor backed by the dull-witted. This easily explains why one council member voted against ending it.

  4. The true extent of how dire the city’s budget has become over the past few years is shocking. Thank you to mayor Rosen and the Blue Ribbon panel for investigating, and thank you also to council member Will Chen for his work last year shining an early spotlight on the situation. This belt-tightening period is tough but necessary.

  5. If our old Mayor, Council and Staff had listened to Jim Olganowski , Ken Reidy, Diane Bucksnis, Joe Scordino. Teresa Hollis and many others over a year ago and our new Mayor, Council and Staff had done the same six months ago we wouldn’t have had to go thru all this time and money wasting fact finding (10K for Bailey to state the obvious). Volunteer Citizens had already told everyone pretty much all of what was concluded here last night at least a year ago and much sooner in some cases. Jim, Ken and Diane have been ringing warning bells for as long ten years ago and more. Mike Rosen. Will Chen and the BR Committee aren’t the real heroes here at all and this great thanking of them is undeserved in my opinion. They just confirmed what the real movers, shakers and wise thinkers in town have been telling everyone all along. Patting them on the back now over cancelling Landmark and the squandering of a much needed 100K in public funding in the process is hardly anything to celebrate. After telling us for over a year that Landmark was a great deal, too good to pass up, the Planning Director turns around and tells us it’s a bad idea without specific funding to back it up. Utter NONSENSE people!

  6. Speaking of just plain bad planning, on advice of our current Planning Dept. our Council recently voted to allow developers to drill shallow injection wells for storm water into a CARA within our city limits that is used right now for large quantities of drinking water for people in South Edmonds and Woodway. This is sort of like hooking your own roof gutters into your refrigerator water supply for ice and drinking water. Not a great idea! especially with what we know about PFA.s and the current federal science on what equals a threat to human health. Just having storm water flow OVER these areas is a great risk, let alone INJECTING it directly into them.

  7. The Panel reported that for several years budgeted expenses exceeded budgeted revenues and actual revenues were even below the budgeted amount. Director McLaughlin made a comment that indicates little regard for expenses when she said, to paraphrase, that $40,000 for a consultant was a small amount in the scheme of things.

    I wonder how many of the directors live in Edmonds. I suspect that they’d have more concern about city finances if they were Edmonds residents

  8. In their own words “New sources of non-tax revenues: Red light cameras, increased fees and other revenue increases. Are we being lied to?
    In the article posted in MEN-June 26- the Council proponents of the measure stressed that red light cameras would contribute to traffic safety and the decision was not about generating additional revenue for the financially strapped City of Edmonds budget.Two council members-Nand and Dotsch-said the believed that the city’s true intent is to use the red light cameras for revenue generation. Council members opposed Dotsch’s motion as they believed traffic safety must be addressed now. There is a Regional Safety action plan being done-due out in 2025. The council stated they believed traffic safety needs to be done now. They know more than the study that will come out next year obviously. The public will be able to comment on that study. Chief Bennett stated there were only 18 red light related crashes. This community should be aware of how the majority of their council is not being truthful. In addition, Nand noted that the nearby City of Shoreline purposely decided not to institute automated safety cameras in their city, because officials “don’t want to create the perception that they are spying or playing gotcha games” with community members. The cameras are all about revenue-tourists will pay and not come back

  9. Thank you, they finally admitted what we knew already. New sources of non-tax revenues: Red light cameras.
    Can Mr. Bailey please share his projection for annual revenue and profit margin from this “safety program”? Is it possible Edmonds could be in a deficit for this program if no one ignores the red light?

  10. This page provides information about the use of automated traffic safety cameras (red light cameras and speed cameras) for local governments in Washington State, including statutory requirements, court decisions, examples, and recommended resources. New Legislation: Effective June 6, 2024: ESHB 2384 authorizes automated traffic safety cameras (traffic cameras) to be used to detect speed violations on state routes within city limits that are classified as city streets and in work zones. Makes permanent the pilot program in cities with populations above 500,000 permitting traffic cameras to be used at certain locations for public transportation-related infractions. Authorizes traffic cameras to be used to detect public transportation-only lane violations in cities with a bus rapid transit corridor or route. Authorizes traffic cameras to be used as part of a public transportation vehicle-mounted system by a transit authority within a county with a population of more than 1.5 million residents to detect bus stop zone violations. Authorizes civilian employees who work for a law enforcement agency or local public works or transportation department to review and issue notices of infraction for traffic camera enforced infractions. Restricts the use of revenue generated by traffic cameras to certain traffic safety purposes and requires that 25 percent of this revenue be deposited in the Cooper Jones Active Transportation Safety Account, subject to certain exceptions for existing traffic camera programs. SSB 61

  11. This is why the Edmonds council is in such a hurry with the red light cameras and don’t want to listen to the study that is coming out in 2025. It is gonna cramp their red light revenue. New legislation (Camera Laws) have been approved by the Washington State legislature for mid 2025. Do people of Edmonds want to be another Lynnwood? Here is the link http://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=46.63.170

    1. There are legitimate questions about red light cameras. Will they actually improve traffic safety? Will they create significant new revenue streams (after deducting vendor fees and ongoing administrative costs)? Will they have a chilling effect on visitors’ desire to come to Edmonds? Other cities have tried red light cameras and the results have been mixed.

      Our Council has decided to try red light cameras at two high volume intersections to gain first hand experience. I think this was a reasonable decision, and will allow us to develop our own comparative data set. After a period of time, if the Edmond data shows no net reduction in traffic accidents at those two intersections, the city should remove the cameras and discontinue consideration of installing such cameras elsewhere. Any other course would not be consistent with our elected officials’ repeated statements that traffic safety is the primary driver of red light camera deployment and revenue is only a secondary consideration.

      1. Dave, if this was really ONLY about safety with real honest evidence available in advance that our roads will be safer as a result of installing them, we would presumably want the program instituted even if we knew we would not make a bankable profit on it or even lose on it. Indeed, the legislation regarding how profits must be spent by government entities came out of the fact that towns like Lynnwood (right next door) were making great revenue off of essentially the same program. The real question is, would we still do this program if there wasn’t potentially great profits to be made? I suspect that honest answer would be a resounding NO.

  12. Unfortunately the neglect will continue until the are improves by itself… That is the official policy it seems as Edmonds continues to think improving by neglecting will one day yield a outcome. I suppose the good side of the housing building is that more voters will move in. That may offset the power dynamics where the bowl basically hoards all the investment and everyone else has to fund their lavish infrastructure.

  13. Happy 4th! Another informative MEN article. Mayor Rosen is righting the ship! How about that $100k refund? oh yeah, no new taxes!

    It will be interesting to see what happens with the Landmark 10 acre site. Any other suitors? Will the value take a drop?

    How about small improvements on 99, paint / plants / cleanup? City, 99 Businesses, volunteers, I’d sign up.

  14. Thank you Teresa for your detailed reporting of council meetings. I don’t know how you do it but it is much appreciated!

  15. Congratulations to Council members finally seeing the light about the folly of Landmark project. Sad to have wasted so much money and time on this. No thanks to former Mayor Nelson and prior Council who failed fundamental duty to achieve balanced budgets. Mayor Rosen has hard choices to make now to fix prior mistakes. As Bush the father once said “We have more will than wallet.” Some wishes will have to be delayed for better economic times. Red light camera revenue is not a panacea. State law requires those revenues be for traffic safety improvements.

  16. Joe, as a person living in “the bowl” near Civic Field, FAC and ECA, I can assure you that I think the Civic Park makeover (other than the rotten bleachers that did need to come down) was a total rip off of everyone not living generally where I do in Edmonds. Plus what they did there made no sense from a climate and ecological perspective. We basically filled in what could have been and should have been a beautiful natural wetland overspending thousands to do it.

    I also think it’s totally nuts that we keep our City Hall, Main Fire Station and Main Police stations downtown, rather than somewhere central or more toward the International District on much less valuable dirt. I think it’s nuts that we keep city ownership of the Driftwood Facility when we already have a monetary connection with the ECA. (How many community owned arts and amusement centers do we need)? To be politically correct with certain people and Party Ideals, we are advocating policy for Edmonds that will destroy much of the traditional ambiance of the place along with some precious natural resources that we are blessed with. In short, there are people living in “the Bowl” that basically very much agree with you. The real problem is we are electing the wrong people to run the show.

  17. I agree with what Clint says. But as far as Civic is concerned mistake probably as it will eventually be the Marsh you want. The extra cost for the was it ground water situation was a temp resolution at best. It may take awhile for the sea to make it a big sink hole, but it will. It’s here so whatever. New Benches? How many? How many man hours. Those older benches are fine and nothing that a good and easy spray oil paint and some elbow grease ever heard of naval jelly. I have previously rusty pieces that I have owned for 30 years I painted them with oil paint and they did great. This constant improvement does cost us money. It accumulates folks. I am not mad at the Bowl people I never have been made at the people it’s the city itself that makes those decisions it’s not a public vote. I have mentioned more than once that the Driftwood on main or 212th whatever is a lot of space. It has a parking lot. It is a storage closet and that is all. We could put Apts there or condos and not screw with views. I find not using that area is a big tell. And yeah, we did elect people that just don’t bend at all.

  18. . And btw I on Wednesday went to Sky. I left here at 3 pm and was home by 4:30. DO whatever you want but I saw 4 people run red lights 2 goin down and 2 comin back. It wasn’t on 220th I didn’t go that way. I took 224th and out to 99. There wasn’t heavy traffic just people who pay no attention to the red light running because they know they won’t get caught. One of them almost very close to causing an accident. People honking at them but…I think we should quit worrying about people not coming to Edmonds. Why do we want people in Edmonds that have no respect for us or the laws? If we actually get enough revenue to pay for the admin of Red Lights, I think we do need them. Its summer and it is going to be a wild summer.. and fall and maybe years haha. PS don’t expect any Federal Grants etc. if T wins. He hates WA state. not a Trump person but? Wait don’t tought Fed grants in presentations. I just hate all of the speculation I have heard for several years and worse the last two years. Maybe, Should be, we speculate none of those words work for me when we are talking about money tax money. Stop it. Facts

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