Edmonds council should continue to hear quasi-judicial cases | Guest View

By John Reed | Oct 07, 2018
John Reed

In 2009, the Edmonds City Council legislated that after a land-use decision by the hearing examiner, if the decision was disputed, the parties would first be required to “present its case” to the City Council in a “court-like” matter, generally described as a “quasi-judicial” hearing (Edmonds Community Development Code Section Chapter 20.07 – Closed Record Appeals).

Attorneys are often, but not always, hired by the parties for this hearing. After the quasi-judicial hearing by council, it renders a decision, and both parties then have the option of appealing that decision to Snohomish County Superior Court.

In 2016, councilmembers passed by 4-3 vote a resolution to remove itself from quasi-judicial land-use proceedings. Since that resolution was passed, action on changing the code to be consistent with it was delayed until this year.

Then, in May and July of 2018, the Edmonds Planning Board discussed and held a public hearing on code changes designed to eliminate council involvement, along with other changes to Chapter 20 for other items unrelated to Council involvement in this hearing process.

They recommended the proposed changes be adopted.

On Sept. 4, councilmembers discussed this change, which also includes other changes unrelated to the quasi-judicial component. It held a public hearing Tuesday, Oct. 2, to reconsider and say that any land-use appeals from hearing examiners must go directly to Superior Court.

Councilmembers did not make a ruling at the meeting, but are expected to in a few weeks.

ACE supports retaining the quasi-judicial hearing process at the city council level because:

• Edmonds citizens elect councilmembers to represent them, and the existing process retains that representation.

• It provides a less-costly way for citizens to have their voice heard by local residents whom they elected.

• While the basis for this change is said to be certain risks involved in quasi-judicial hearings, the fact is all council decisions carry a degree of risk – it comes with the territory. That is why we have a city attorney, and also why the City carries liability insurance for such matters.

• Very few land-use matters are currently appealed beyond hearing examiners. Councilmembers currently do not spend much time on appeals.

• Councilmembers are familiar with Edmonds’ issues, while Snohomish County courts and land-use staff are not.

• Citizens retain the right to appeal land-use decisions (subdivision applications, critical area delineations, comprehensive plan designations, conditional use permits, special use permits, variances and boundary line adjustments) to appeal to Superior Court if they are not satisfied with the council decision.

We encourage the Edmonds Council to retain the local representation process for closed-record appeals.

Gary Nelson, a former Edmonds Planning Board and City Council member, Snohomish County Council member and 22-year Washington state Representative and Senator opposes this change for the following reasons:

• Court filing fees of $250 are required.

• Citizens will require representation by an attorney.

• Appeal will cause delays in resolving each case (approximately 9-10 months).

• Hearing examiner performance evaluation is questionable.

• Additional time and expenses by the City attorney and staff.

• An unfriendly appeal process.

Councilmember Mike Nelson also notes in an email that in November 2016 a ballot measure sending land-use disputes directly from a hearing examiner directly to Superior Court (i.e., this same process at the county level); Edmonds residents rejected the measure by almost 60 percent.

John Reed is a member of the Alliance of Citizens for Edmonds (ACE).


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