Edmonds moves to include public on housing strategy

New Citizens Housing Commission; three public meetings are planned
Nov 30, 2018

After hearing from irate citizens about the lack of transparency and public input on its draft housing strategy, the City now appears to be doing all it can to involve residents.

On Tuesday, City Councilmembers Neil Tibbott and Diane Buckshnis presented a proposal for creating a Citizens Housing Commission, which would provide advice to Mayor Dave Earling and the City’s seven councilmembers.

Tibbott cited two factors.

“One is to ride on the momentum that has been built during the housing strategy task force, and harness the energy of the citizen involvement and input. The second is, through a citizen commission, to narrow the focus of what our housing strategy would look like.”

The commission would join others in the City, including the new Youth Commission and Arts, Diversity and Historic Preservation, among others. Commissions hold regular meetings and include volunteer members of the public, as well as City staff or councilmembers.

The commission, which Tibbott said would only continue at this point through the end of 2020, could have one appointment per councilmember, as well as one from the mayor and a Planning Board member. Councilmembers would determine the application and selection process.

“A council-driven commission has to be codified and open to all people to apply for selection,” Buckshnis said. “At meetings, citizens are allowed around three to five minutes to comment, and it is totally transparent.”

Another citizen group

The commission, which could be finalized early next year, is a separate entity from the Citizens Advisory Committee, which had its first meeting Nov. 8. Development Services Director Shane Hope handpicked the nine members to advise her department on issues and processes that might help rework the controversial draft housing strategy, which the City has shelved.

The commission, which next meets 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29, at Edmonds City Hall, includes a current Planning Board member, City Council member, a retired condo developer, a real estate property manager, an Edmonds business owner, and others.

“I have committed to working with my department staff to develop a significantly revised draft housing strategy, with more public input, that can replace the July draft,” Hope said in a memo to community members who have registered for updates.

“This means robust public involvement. We will be proposing specific steps – including more public meetings, open houses, focus groups, and other means – for community members to share ideas and provide input for the next phase.”

A backfire

In 2015, the City Council adopted an update of the Citywide Comprehensive Plan under the Housing Element to include the requirement of developing a housing strategy.

An introduction was presented to City Council on July 24 after it went through the normal public process of Planning Board review, public hearings and recommendations. The stated purpose was to “identify what the City can or wants to do to provide for affordable housing for a range of income levels, and to meet diverse housing needs.”

Things went south quickly.

Mayor Earling’s housing task force was criticized by many citizens for its lack of diversity, as it included mostly real estate agents and nonprofit housing groups. Many citizens, in meetings and in emails to the Beacon, quickly focused on what they thought the strategy would bring – more density to a city already mostly built out, as well as problems they associated with low-income and formerly homeless residents offered subsidized housing.

The City hired Berk Consulting to offer ideas. But after a disastrous public meeting with citizens, who felt their concerns were pooh-poohed by Berk staff, the City cut ties with the consulting firm after spending $90,000 on the Seattle-based company.

Citizens Housing Commission

“During public hearings, both formal and informal, it became obvious that the recommendations put forth in the draft went far beyond the intentions of the original ‘implementation action’ for the housing strategy, which was to focus on options for affordability,” Buckshnis and Tibbott wrote in their proposal.

The commission, they continued, could consist of Edmonds citizens who may or may not represent various interests, but are able to incorporate views from across the entire city and are willing to serve in public engagement that is both productive and respectful.

The commission could serve at the direction of the council, and would be expected to produce a housing strategy that gives substantial guidance to future decisions regarding housing options for the City.

The commission would focus on housing affordability concerning a variety of styles and options and, as in any commission, audience comments will be encouraged.

Buckshnis and Tibbott say the proposal also requests that the mayor and staff return to working on the reviewing and revising of the City code – specifically in the areas of land use, zoning, subdivisions, accessory dwelling units, low impact development – and any other code amendments that are necessary to maintain and improve Edmonds livability.

Two upcoming housing strategy meetings

Informational public meetings on housing strategy issues will be held in December by the City of Edmonds in two locations:

• Dec. 3: 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the Library Plaza Meeting Room, 650 Main St.

• Dec. 13: 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Swedish Edmonds Hospital Conference Room, 21601 76th Ave. W.

Both meetings will follow a similar format, starting with a short presentation on housing and the status of the draft housing strategy, followed by questions from the audience and responses from the mayor or City staff.

“We believe the community is looking for information, as well as expressing ideas about housing needs for the future,” Earling said. “These sessions will provide an overview and respond to people’s questions about where we’ve been and what’s next for housing strategy issues in Edmonds.

“I think people still have questions and ideas about the process and what is intended. The public meetings are meant for the City to both listen and be helpful.”

Key information about the draft housing strategy process is online at www.edmondshousingstrategy.org. Anyone wanting to be on the City’s email list for housing updates can do so by sending a request to: diane.cunningham@edmondswa.gov.





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