More talks but no decision – and a special meeting scheduled for Thursday. It was the result of Edmonds City Council’s Tuesday deliberations over an overnight camping ordinance that would make it illegal to occupy public property when shelter is available and subsequently refused.
To view or listen to Thursday’s virtual meeting, which begins at 8 p.m., paste the following into a web browser using a computer or smartphone: https://zoom.us/j/95798484261 . Or join us by phone: US: +1 253 215 8782 Webinar ID: 957 9848 4261.
The ordinance, first presented to council last week, was drafted by the city attorney in conjunction with assistant parks director Shannon Burley, who oversees the city’s social services program, and the chief of Police Michelle Bennett and her staff. It allows police to cite individuals for illegally occupying public property in what city staff consider to be very rare situations where two conditions are met: 1) when available overnight shelter exists and 2) when this available shelter was offered and refused.
The creation of the ordinance was sparked by an incident in the Lake Ballinger neighborhood last summer, when a woman spent several months living on a bench on the intercity trail. Although it was originally created to handle cases involving homeless people, the latest version includes updated language – requested by council member Will Chen – that it applies to anyone occupying unlawfully a public good.
The measure drew public comments from several speakers — including 21st District Representative Strom Peterson and former 32nd District Senator Maralyn Chase — saying they opposed it. Edmonds resident Kate Sullivan told council the order won’t solve homelessness, but instead “it’s intimidating, it’s terrorizing, it’s saying you’re not wanted here we don’t care about you, get out of my sight.”
Lisa Utter, president of Emergency Cold Weather of South Snohomish County, which provides shelter for the homeless when temperatures drop below freezing, also spoke out in opposition. “I think criminalizing people for existing, just to sleep is really the opposite of being an inclusive and welcoming neighborhood and city that you claim and it’s really being a bad neighbor to push people into other nearby cities. “, said Utter.
Councilwoman Laura Johnson expressed similar sentiments, adding that it takes months of building relationships and understanding to find appropriate services for the homeless. While the proposed order states that it will not be enforced unless the person refuses available shelter, “it does not specify that the service must meet the needs of the individual,” Johnson said. She pointed out that the city should work to expand the accommodation options available in Edmonds before further considering such an ordinance and offered to table it, but that motion failed on a 2–5 vote ( council member Paine also voted yes.)
Paine then asked Police Chief Michelle Bennett to determine how the department would enforce such an order. The chief responded that the process would be similar to how police currently handle similar calls involving homeless people: they would call a representative from the city’s Department of Social Services, who would assess the person’s service needs and try to help. If the person refuses accommodation, they have the option of leaving. “Any type of charge or arrest would be a last resort,” she added.
“It’s all about finding services to help first,” Bennett said, noting that many of his officers advocate for homeless people and work to provide them with the services they need.
Patricia Taraday of the Lighthouse Law Group, which contracts with Edmonds to provide city attorney services, reiterated comments from last week that the ordinance is not intended to criminalize homelessness. “The order will not be enforced against homeless people where no available shelter is in place for that particular person,” Taraday said. “Homeless people will not be arrested for sleeping outside when there is no shelter available.”
Although violation of the order is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or 90 days in jail, it includes a provision that the court may order any person unable to pay to perform at instead “community service or work crew instead of a monetary penalty.” .”
Councilman Chen proposed a new amendment to the ordinance requiring the city to provide — in addition to shelter — food, medical care and family notification. Board Chair Vivian Olson asked staff to assess the feasibility of putting these requirements into practice. Deputy Director Burley noted that necessary medical care would be provided by paramedics. Informing the family, she said, is “an incredibly compassionate suggestion” that staff could try but could not guarantee it would succeed.
Olson said she thought those two suggestions — medical care and family notification — could be part of the order’s implementation plan rather than in the order itself, and offered an amendment. to Chen’s amendment which removed these two elements. This amendment passed 4 to 3, with Chen, Laura Johnson and Paine voting no. The amended amendment later passed 5-2, with L. Johnson and Paine opposing.
Further discussion ensued before a final vote on the ordinance could be taken. At 10:45 p.m., a motion to extend the meeting further (it had already been extended three times, in 15-minute increments) failed. Olson quickly proposed that the meeting continue into a special meeting this Thursday.
In other actions, the council:
– Received a report on buildable land and an initial presentation of 2044 growth targets from Steven Toy, Snohomish County Senior Demographer. The presentation sets the stage for the 2024 update of its comprehensive city plan, which will begin this year. The Building Land Report is used by cities and counties for zoning analysis and to help with planning. It also examines the densities of various zoning areas and land capacity for future growth. In Edmonds, for example, Highway 99 and the Edmonds Way/Westgate areas have been identified for future residential capacity, Toy said.
Washington State’s Growth Management Act requires rapidly growing cities and counties to develop a comprehensive plan to manage their population growth. Based on current growth targets, Edmonds’ population is expected to reach 56,000 by 2044, which is 13,000 more than the city currently has.
Director of Development Susan McLaughlin reminded council that the city will be discussing, as part of the comprehensive plan update, a variety of options available to the city to meet growth targets – including recommendations made by the Edmonds Citizens Housing Commission, such as allowing detached secondary suites. units and group housing/cottages.
The timeline for updating the comprehensive plan starting this year includes a visioning and scoping process, the development of an environmental impact statement and public hearings.
– Awarded the construction contract for the Highway 99 overpass revitalization project to Westwater Construction Company, which submitted a low bid of $6,632,644, with a management reserve of $663,300. The bid was 25% higher than the engineer’s estimate, due to the tough bidding climate in the Seattle area. There is a backlog of projects due to the recent concrete strike and difficulties in hiring skilled labour, and material prices are also higher.
The scope of Highway 99 improvements includes the installation of a raised landscaped median with left-turn pockets in the middle of the block – replacing the center left-turn lane – as well as the addition of walkway panels at the northern and southern ends of the city limits. There will also be a pedestrian-activated HAWK signal 600 feet north of Southwest 234th Street — similar to the one currently installed on Highway 104 near City Park — aimed at making crosswalks safer.
The construction schedule is approximately six months and the bulk of the work is expected to be completed by the end of the year. The HAWK signal likely won’t be installed until the spring of 2023 due to supply chain issues, said Rob English, acting director of public works.
– Held a public hearing but took no action on city code amendments regarding residential occupancy, which seek to meet the requirements of Senate Bill 5235. State legislation lifts caps on the number of unrelated people allowed to share a home, and also lifts bans on tenants residing on land with accessory dwellings. A vote on the measure is scheduled for the May 17 council meeting.
– Approved proposals totaling over $200,000 for the purchase of a screening conveyor for the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
Two other agenda items — changing city code to allow special events and awarding contracts for the city’s contracting program — were deferred to a future meeting.
In a special meeting at 6 p.m., the council began discussing proposed changes to its bylaws and also interviewed Edmonds Sister City Commission nominee Colin Torretta. Torretta’s appointment was approved as part of the board’s consent agenda at the 7 p.m. meeting.
— By Teresa Wippel