State of the City: Change, yes, but retaining charm

Record revenue, but signs of caution, mayor says
By Brian Soergel | Mar 01, 2018
Courtesy of: The Mar·ket The Mar·ket - Edmonds Fishmonger & Eatery, will be another addition to the city's thriving restaurant scene. It plans to open in April next to the Starbucks by the fountain.

Is Edmonds better off now than 10 or 20 years ago?

It depends on whom you ask, of course. Certainly, there are restaurants seemingly opening every week, a world-class museum, and a sparkling performing arts center. A new waterfront center is coming, as is a reimagined downtown park. Summer weekends are packed with tourists spending money.

But then there’s the traffic and lack of parking. There’s the high cost of living, that’s closing Edmonds off to middle-class families and making it a struggle for those grandfathered in to afford their increased property taxes.

Of course, crowded conditions, high rents and affordable housing aren’t just Edmonds issues – the rest of the greater Seattle area is along for the ride.

On Thursday, Feb. 22, Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling did not have to mention that his city isn’t “Deadmonds” anymore during his sixth State of the City address. He didn’t have to. Everyone’s hip to it now.

The title of the mayor’s presentation? “Leave it Better Than When You Arrived (Building the Bridge).”

So is Edmonds better? Earling acknowledged that the city has had to adapt to change, both current and expected in the near future.

“Most of you have heard me speak before regarding the raw numbers we can expect in population, jobs, and housing units by 2035,” he said. “220,000 more people in Snohomish County, 5,500 more people in Edmonds, the need to anticipate 1,000 more jobs here and another 1,200 housing units.”

Throughout his presentation, Earling focused on what he and his city directors are doing – thinking differently about Edmonds and its role as a community while experiencing change, and how all of us in south Snohomish County and the region will adapt along with Edmonds to think about "the bridge" in the speech’s title and the “dynamic forces which are moving us forward.”

“I know a sometimes painful message for some is that our region is going through enormous growth and change, because we live in an incredible, energetic region with a dynamic economy, major industries of all types and fabulous recreation opportunities,” he said. “With those amenities and energy, our region has become a hot spot in the United States.”

New in town

Edmonds may be largely built out, as it is surrounded by neighboring cities and county land to the north, south and east, and Puget Sound to the west.

But that doesn’t mean new construction projects are a vestige of the past.

Earling pointed to a few near-future projects: Westgate Village, with 91 new apartments, 20 percent of them marked for affordable housing; new housing on the site of the former post office at Second and Main; Graphite Studios, on the other side of Second and Main; an expanded Magic Toyota (and its much-needed taxes) on Highway 99; a new Madrona K-8; Point Edwards Building 10 condos; the Edmonds Waterfront Center; and Cedar Creek Memory Care Center.

“By the way,” Earling added, “we issued 60 new single family home permits last year – not bad for a built-out community.”

Along with housing has come business. In addition to new restaurants, Earling pointed to Ten Gun Design, Keyport, Everett Clinic, WinCo and Puget Sound Express whale watching.

“The point is,” Earling said, “we have these fabulous dynamics going on, and we are moving to meet the challenges of housing units, providing new jobs and preparing to meet the changes that are to come.”

A daytime destination

Edmonds’ appeal as a daytime destination is only increasing. It’s hard to beat a quaint downtown, the ferry, the arts, Puget Sound views and all the yummy new eateries.

“I believe Edmonds is growing a flattering reputation as a daytime destination,” Earling said. “We talk to people weekly from across the region who, frustrated with the intensity, the congestion and the daily stress of large cities, come to Edmonds as a daytime retreat.”

Many of those visitors decide Edmonds is a pretty cool place to settle down in, not just retreat to. Increasingly, those new residents are younger – think Amazon. Earling said a mixture of established residents with newcomers is healthy.

“Ten to 15 years ago, you were hard-pressed to find a baby carriage in town,” he said. “Now they are everywhere. And 10-15 years ago, if you came downtown at 6 o'clock or after, you could park wherever you wanted. How about now?”

Newcomers now make up about 21 percent of the population, the mayor said.

“The point is, with the same shopping, restaurants, waterfront, parks and arts, our local 79 percenters are an important part of our daytime destination draw. Remember that, we the locals are an important part of being the regional destination. We, the 79 percent and the 21 percent, are the core of this destination. We are a community that gathers and knows one another. Again, we are the core and a part of being a destination.”

Not Kirkland

Earling did make a point to compare today’s Edmonds with yesterday’s. His point: We still are able to hang on to our charm.

“I want to emphasize how important, even with the changes in population and resulting community shifts we have coming, the council and I know maintaining the low profile, neighborhood feel of our downtown business core is important to all of us,” he said.

“We today often hear citizens worry we will become a Ballard-like or Kirkland-like changed community, which will mean the loss of the character and charm we now have.”

The mayor then displayed now-and-then photos that showed building heights have not changed much downtown, nor have the historic buildings that cluster around the fountain and Main Street.

“Changes yes,” he said, “but basically still downtown Edmonds with many of the same characteristics which have been here for 70 or 80 years. The photos I just showed you will always have some of you wanting to have the days back of slower times, less confusion, the way it used to be.

“I think most of you now understand that we will have to find positive ways to adjust to the reality of what is coming. I have tried to suggest to you that we may have a new reality, but we are doing what we can to anticipate that reality.”

The bridge to the future, he said, is exemplified in what he called four “visionary projects”: The Senior Center/Edmonds Waterfront Center, Civic Field redevelopment, revitalizing a 2-mile stretch of Highway 99, and the Edmonds Street Waterfront Connector.

“These four undertakings, while large and costly, are important improvements for the long-term vitality to the community and region,” Earling said. “While Edmonds will provide some dollars for the projects, the vast majority of costs will come from state and federal funding, along with foundation grants and private citizens.”


As usual, Earling acknowledged the city’s challenges.

He ticked off a few: maintaining a strong economy to continue delivering to the community the quality of life we have come to expect; continuing efforts to deliver more affordable housing, such as the Westgate project and Highway 99, Five Corners and other areas; addressing the homelessness and opioid epidemic; and recognizing that in the next year, Snohomish County voters will be asked to approve funding for the aging SERS (Snohomish Emergency Response System), boosted by towers throughout Snohomish County allowing 911 calls to be transmitted across the region.


Earling reported that the city had another record revenue year.

“Over the past six years, the staff and I have worked hard to bring the city’s finances back from what was an unhealthy place. Frankly, while I think we will have another strong financial year, there are a few early signs the economy has leveled off, or is even slowing a bit.

“A good example is car sales. While very good, they have slowed around 10 percent in the past year. Another caution is that interest rates have begun to move up a bit. However, assuming that strong year, I will once again set aside additional reserves, and hope the council will join me.

“We all know the economy will not hold at a record pace every year. The question is always, How deep will the down cycle be and when?”

The mayor closed his comments by asking residents to "leave it better than when you arrived."

“That, for me, and I'm guessing for you,” he said, “is a message and goal we can all seek.”


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