Beacon forum: Edmonds mayoral candidates speak out on issues
Last updated 7/16/2019 at Noon
There are four candidates who want to be Edmonds’ next mayor, but only two will move on after the Aug. 6 primary and advance to the Nov. 5 general election.
Current Mayor Dave Earling is not running for a third term.
Primary ballots are being mailed this week. In advance of Wednesday’s first public mayoral forum, and to help voters narrow their decisions, the Beacon posed four questions to candidates Neil Tibbott, Mike Nelson, Brad Shipley and Kristiana Johnson.
Nelson and Johnson are City Council members who will retain their positions if they lose in either contest. Tibbott’s council seat is up this year, so he will not maintain it if he does not win the mayoral election, as he can only run for one position. Shipley is a planner for the City of Edmonds.
The Beacon will cover Wednesday’s candidate forum at the Edmonds Center for the Arts, and will be at one planned Monday, July 22, at City Council chambers. We will report on those forums in our Thursday, July 25 edition, as well as on our website and social media outlets.
For this story, each candidate was given space for 150 words, more or less, for each answer.
There have been issues recently with getting City information out to residents. What is your idea for improving relations between the City and residents?
Neil Tibbott: We can and we must do better as a City with how we inform and engage residents in a meaningful way and it begins with engagement, which begins with listening. As mayor, I will hold 100 listening groups throughout our city during my first 100 days in office. I will also ensure that we create significantly more opportunities for residents to offer their insights at a time, in a place and in a way that works for them.
I will also guarantee more government accountability and provide residents with the opportunity to track all major initiatives and projects in real-time. I will immediately advance the creation of a web-based interactive dashboard of every major project. The dashboard will tell people what is going on, what outcomes are intended, what the timeline and budget are supposed to be, and how we are tracking against those metrics.
Mike Nelson: We need to build trust and collaboration with our citizens. I believe that starts with more transparency in our City government. Issuing press releases or holding a public hearing while many people are unavailable is not sufficient. We need to proactively engage our citizens by coming to them directly instead of expecting our citizens to come to us.
We need to engage on a variety of social media platforms as part of regular, ongoing communication about current and future City projects and to address citizen questions. We also need to incorporate regularly scheduled neighborhood meetings to inform our citizens on what’s happening in the city, new issues that are on the horizon, and listen firsthand to the problems our community is facing.
We need to facilitate an environment where the exchange of ideas is open and collaborative.
Brad Shipley: The City has no centralized communication department. This means the current method of communication tasked to individuals within each department who while doing their best are not likely trained in communications. This results in inconsistent messaging that is hard for residents to follow.
A first step to improving relations between the City and residents would be to budget for and hire a professionally trained communications person to ensure consistency among city departments and make it easier for residents to find the information they seek.
Secondly, the City should engage residents early in the process so they can help define the problem before the City seeks a solution. An iterative process can help foster the collaboration, creativity, and consensus needed to define a vision that everyone can share. This will result in less surprises at the end of a project.
Kristiana Johnson: I have noticed a trend in Edmonds. Citizens are galvanized around issues that are being considered for action. Council has seen examples with the Waterfront Connector and the housing strategy.
We have identified the problem. Now what do we do about it? We need to involve citizens earlier.
For example, when we do the downtown parking study, we should ask people about their parking problems. I think staff needs to make a cultural change in the way they have been working. The City has a very capable staff, but I think we would all benefit from training and new methods for public engagement. We need to make a paradigm shift.
As mayor, I would want to change the City’s quarterly electronic newsletter to a paper newsletter bimonthly that is mailed to every address in the City. It would inform and also explain how citizens can be involved.
Affordable housing, or the lack of it, is a big issue in Edmonds. Is there anything the City could do to provide some relief? Is rent control an option?
Neil Tibbott: Rent control is not legal in Washington, and won't be considered. Affordable housing is a misleading term. What is affordable to one family isn't to another. I believe a better term is housing options.
I worked to form the Housing Commission, and look forward to working with them as mayor as they review existing and projected needs and consider potential opportunities. I also believe housing is a regional issue and will ensure that neighboring cities and the County work collaboratively with Edmonds to address housing.
Residents have been loud, clear and consistent in what they want: safe homes and safe neighborhoods; safe children who are not homeless; the ability for elderly to age in place; protection of property rights and property values; protected community aesthetics and natural spaces; and young people to build careers and raise their family here.
These are also things I want and will fight for as mayor.
Mike Nelson: Most cities are struggling with rising housing costs due to a regional supply and demand problem. One area we can make an impact is to provide more affordable housing choices through transit-oriented development along the Highway 99 corridor. We also need to consider local options to help our seniors and those on fixed incomes who are struggling to stay in their homes because of rising property values and taxes.
We are currently in the process of creating a Housing Commission to address some of these issues, but some options could include reduction in utility rates or home repair assistance for our seniors.
Brad Shipley: Home ownership is simply out of reach for many would-be first-time homebuyers. The median home value in Edmonds is $606,000 today, which requires an income of $142,000 annually to qualify. Fixed-income seniors wanting to downsize don’t fare much better; the two income-restricted senior housing projects in downtown Edmonds have seven- to eight-year wait lists.
Housing affordability is a regional issue, not just an Edmonds issue. As such, the City should continue to participate in regional strategies to address housing needs. By pooling resources, regional partners can better fund projects that address affordable housing.
Locally, the City has taken action to reduce housing costs by adopting provisions for reduced impact fees for new affordable housing units and utility payment reductions for low-income seniors. Additionally, the City Council has appointed a Citizens’ Housing Commission to review housing policy.
Rent control is not an option, as it is illegal in the state of Washington. The City of Edmonds should not take a lead role in challenging the state on this matter we can leave that up to Seattle. Any solution for requiring affordable housing must be incentive-based.
Kristiana Johnson: We have a housing squeeze because of regional growth and prosperity. Market conditions for new housing is so strong, and available land so scarce, that prices keep increasing. In a free-market society, what can we do?
I don’t think that rent control is a practical solution. However, there are other tools available. The City Council has offered some relief through the multifamily tax exemption; 20% of the units are below market rate. This program is not used citywide, but targets Westgate and Highway 99.
Here are three examples where churches, philanthropists, and service clubs are working together to provide housing. A church in Lynnwood donated land and built senior housing. Another church in Edmonds is partnering to build Blokable housing units. Finally, Rick Steves purchased a multifamily property and partnered with the Edmonds Rotary for building and property maintenance, and this facility is run by the YWCA.
Edmonds is seen as a destination by many. What can be done to solve the lack of parking in the city, for both visitors and residents? Would you be in favor of a parking garage?
Neil Tibbott: Parking will best be addressed through sharing ideas, sharing costs, and using multiple solutions. As mayor, I will convene Sound Transit, the Port, downtown businesses, Washington State Ferries, ECA, and others to look at projected needs, shared solutions, and shared financing.
We are not alone in facing parking challenges and successful advances will come from advancing multiple solutions simultaneously. More parking is one solution. However, there are others, such as changing when deliveries are made, providing convenient and frequent shuttles, separating staff parking from customer parking, increasing public transportation, making it easier and safer for biking and walking, and shared options like cars and bikes.
Encouraging trip sharing, carpooling, telecommuting and off-peak travel have all proven successful by other communities. I am committed to making sure we can get people and goods where they need to go without compromising the character of this amazing city.
Mike Nelson: We need a parking solution that fits our downtown. A super structure is not the answer. We need citizen input into possible solutions to help fix this problem. I support an underground parking garage that is financed privately, rather than overburdening the City’s own budget.
We need a community discussion about the broader vision for our downtown and how parking management can support it. This decision cannot be made haphazardly, because any solution to our parking problem must contemplate the future needs of our downtown.
Brad Shipley: Parking is becoming increasingly difficult in the downtown core of Edmonds. The City is currently working on a parking study to collect baseline data and evaluate potential actions that address any issues discovered during the process. I believe the study will result in several cost-effective solutions that the City could implement on a short timeframe.
Structured parking costs between $35,000-50,000 per stall to construct. Ignoring land costs, this translates to an estimate of $8.75 million to $12.5 million to build a 250-stall structure. The City simply does not have the finances to provide this type of parking.
Kristiana Johnson: I agree, Edmonds is attracting more and more visitors, which results in parking problems. We have plenty of parking, but how is it being managed? We have two institutional problems: limited parking enforcement and poor parking management.
I don’t think we need another expensive study, and I don’t think we need to spend millions of dollars for a parking garage. Instead the City should ask residents and business: What are your parking problems?
Some residents dislike commuters from Kingston who leave their vehicles all weekend. Others near the ferry complain about golfers who leave their cars for extended time.
As mayor, I would direct staff to talk with the community: engage the homeowners associations, the Downtown Edmonds Merchants Association, the Chamber of Commerce and Edmonds Downtown Alliance (ED!). What we need is parking enforcement seven days a week, and better management of our existing parking.
What do you think is the biggest issue concerning Edmonds that isn’t mentioned above and how would you address it?
Neil Tibbott: I think trust in government needs to be addressed, by government. Too many residents do not believe they have been informed, heard, or represented. I believe residents also question the motives of some elected officials who seem to be making decisions based on political agendas or aspirations that do not necessarily represent the needs of citizens.
Edmonds is a very rare and a very special place filled with very special people. I am honored to have the earned the trust of so many friends and neighbors from across our city. I serve in an elected position, but would never consider myself a politician.
I am not a member of a political party. I have not received funds from any political party. My wife and I have grown our careers, raised our families, and created lifelong relationships here. I believe we are at our best when we work together.
Mike Nelson: Protecting our natural environment from overdevelopment. We need to establish more protections to preserve our beaches, parks, open spaces, and trees for future generations.
We are adapting to growth all around us and expected to accommodate more people, yet our natural areas are disappearing, our streams are struggling to bear salmon, and our marsh is unable to adequately function. We need to prioritize and preserve our city’s natural beauty and not continue to take it for granted.
Brad Shipley: Edmonds doesn’t exist in isolation from the rest of the Puget Sound region. Every neighboring jurisdiction is experiencing rapid growth in anticipation of future light rail service. A few thousand housing units currently in various stages of permitting and development are being added near the periphery of Edmonds. Population will increase demand for Edmonds’ parks and traffic on our streets.
We need to take a proactive approach to determine the future we want for Edmonds. I will work with residents, staff, and our business community to create a cohesive strategic plan with a clear set of prioritized goals and objectives to address future growth while preserving the charm of Edmonds.
Kristiana Johnson: Highway 99 is a great concern. We have too many accidents. We have too many driveways for a single property. We have motels which are strife with crime. In short, most of our urban problems are in the Highway 99 corridor.
Highway 99, however, is our greatest opportunity for change. We can build smart development here. Shoreline has shown us what can be accomplished through urban design. As a transportation planner experienced in highway corridor planning and access management, I envision wonderful improvements.
As mayor, I would work with staff and our state and federal legislators to secure the money to transform this corridor. We will have transit-oriented housing development along Highway 99 with an international district, hospital district, grocery stores, and many small businesses.