Outgoing Edmonds councilperson Laura Johnson sits in the shade at the park above Edmonds Library on Friday, in downtown Edmonds. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Outgoing Edmonds councilperson Laura Johnson sits in the shade at the park above Edmonds Library on Friday, in downtown Edmonds. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

After struggling to make Edmonds more progressive, council member moves

Laura Johnson is moving to Portland. Kristiana Johnson died in July. Now the Edmonds City Council’s ideological future is hazy.

EDMONDS — After nine months embroiled in battles on streetside cafes, the budget, homelessness and abortion rights, the Edmonds City Council is replacing two of its more outspoken members.

Following 41 rounds of council votes Tuesday, former council member Dave Teitzel emerged on top of 16 other applicants for the vacancy left by Kristiana Johnson, who died in July. He’s expected to vote alongside a more conservative council majority.

Teitzel, 70, a retired Qwest executive, was sworn in Tuesday night.

On the heels of his appointment, progressive Edmonds City Councilmember Laura Johnson announced she would step down. She said she’s not leaving because of anything that happened while on council.

Laura Johnson, who was elected in 2019, sold her Edmonds home this summer and plans to live closer to her parents and adult children in Portland. During her tenure, she was a proponent of safe gun storage, the creation of a Human Services division in the city and new approaches to everything from zoning to transportation.

Her departure could signal a shift in the ideological balance on the City Council.

Some of the issues she couldn’t make headway on are also reasons she’s leaving. For one, her kids can’t afford to rent or own property in the city.

“My oldest daughter graduated and was starting to make plans,” Laura Johnson said. “Do I want to go to grad school? Do I want to get a job? Can I afford an apartment? Like all of these things. And none of it was going to end up … here given the high cost of living.”

‘Stronger than I thought’

Last November, a conservative-leaning majority returned to the Edmonds City Council.

Two of Edmonds’ more prominent progressives lost their campaigns. Luke Distelhorst fell in the primary, in a race ultimately won by Will Chen. Adrienne Fraley-Monillas lost to former council member Neil Tibbott in the general election by over 25%.

Laura Johnson became a minority voice, alongside Councilmember Susan Paine.

The new City Council majority often consisted of Diane Buckshnis, Kristiana Johnson, Council President Vivian Olson, Tibbott and sometimes Chen.

They turned down a state grant for a “missing middle” housing study.

They passed a law making it illegal to sleep on public property if shelter is available within a 35-mile radius. They put a moratorium on building permits to decelerate plans for a 24-unit apartment building on the 600 block of Main Street.

Laura Johnson, Paine and sometimes Chen were often the sole opponents.

Laura Johnson said she learned she’s “stronger than I thought.” In December 2020, she was among the council majority that voted to speed up the process to confirm Sherman Pruitt as the city’s new police chief. The decision came before the revelations that Pruitt had a past allegation of domestic violence on his record, that he sued the City of Arlington over the arrest of his wife, and that he omitted required information on his resume.

Then, news headlines described council members’ “regret” in the decision.

“That process was uncomfortable,” Laura Johnson said, describing pressure from outside police unions, Edmonds officers and residents.

Did that cost anyone their seats in the next election?

“Yeah,” Laura Johnson said.

When the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade this summer, Paine and Laura Johnson drafted a resolution urging access to abortion, contraception and reproductive health care be carved into the state and U.S. constitutions. It passed the council 6-0. Council member Tibbott was not present.

In response, plenty of residents showed up to council meetings to ask why their local elected officials were addressing national issues. One resident called for a censure of Paine and Laura Johnson. Others spoke in favor of the resolution.

Thursday afternoon, Laura Johnson sat behind a laptop decorated in stickers “Keep abortion safe and legal” and “Support reproductive rights.”

She said Edmonds is just now dipping its toes into what it means to provide equitable services.

“We were still working on understanding what does that mean?” she said. “I wish I could continue to be a part of that.”

Laura Johnson (upper right) with her husband, Josh Johnson (upper left) and their children, Cade, Sierra and Emma in spring 2019. (Photo provided)

Laura Johnson (upper right) with her husband, Josh Johnson (upper left) and their children, Cade, Sierra and Emma in spring 2019. (Photo provided)

‘I’m a white male’

Councilmember Buckshnis said she felt Teitzel would best fill Kristiana Johnson’s shoes because of his knowledge of planning and “basic environmental needs.”

Buckshnis backed Teitzel, she said, because she was “trying to honor my friend,” Kristiana Johnson.

Teitzel, who said in a council interview that single-family zoning has largely contributed to Edmonds’ charm, “is very conservative about keeping the downtown, downtown,” Buckshnis said.

To many, Teitzel is a status quo candidate. He’s expected to vote like Kristiana Johnson.

The apparent runner-up for the vacant seat was Maria Montalvo, a nonprofit leader and active volunteer in the community. Montalvo, 52, previously served on the city’s Diversity Commission. In 2012, she was a Community Challenge Winner from First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden in recognition of her service to military families.

On Tuesday, for much of the evening, the council members’ votes were split between Teitzel and Montalvo, 3-3. Will Chen was the deciding vote.

“I’m a white male of a certain age and I can’t change that,” Teitzel told The Daily Herald.

What he can change, he said, is how the council “gets out and listens.” He said he recognizes many people of color and LGBTQ people continue to be underrepresented in local government.

Teitzel, who previously served one term from 2016 to 2019, said he doesn’t plan to run again. He said he stepped up after being nudged by peers, and he feels he can “plug in” quickly — in time for the 2023 budget process.

Teitzel said the city needs to be ready to accommodate growth, but “those decisions need to be judicious to ensure we don’t undermine Edmonds’ charm.” He said single-family neighborhoods shouldn’t be “overshadowed” by multifamily housing, but land bordering highways 104 and 99 are ripe for development.

He said before his term expires in 2023, he wants to see the city hire more police and firefighters.

Five council seats will be up for election next fall 2023.

Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; isabella.breda@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @BredaIsabella.

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