Top, L-R: Janelle Cass, Lora Petso. Bottom, L-R: Luke Distelhorst, Will Chen.

Top, L-R: Janelle Cass, Lora Petso. Bottom, L-R: Luke Distelhorst, Will Chen.

Issues abound as Edmonds council appointee seeks to keep seat

Luke Distelhorst faces challengers Janelle Cass, Will Chen, and Lora Petso in the Aug. 3 primary.

EDMONDS — The pace of new development, the fight against climate change and the need to restore transparency and civility to city hall are among the issues emerging in the four-person contest for Position 2 on the Edmonds City Council.

Luke Distelhorst is seeking to retain his seat against three challengers: local business owner and veteran Janelle Cass, Edmonds-based accountant Will Chen, and former Councilmember Lora Petso. The top two finishers in the Aug. 3 primary will advance to the November general election.

Distelhorst was appointed to the position in 2020, filling the vacancy created when Councilman Mike Nelson was elected mayor. It didn’t come easily. He, Chen, Petso and nine other candidates sought the seat. The city council labored through several rounds of voting before choosing Distelhorst.

Distelhorst, who is now seeking a full four-year term, touted his leading role on several issues in a short but busy 18-month tenure.

He said he authored the Housing and Relief Fund to provide assistance for residents impacted by the pandemic, brought civic and non-profit leaders together for a Suicide Prevention Month program, and helped drive negotiations for an agreement with the Housing Authority of Snohomish County to increase affordable housing in Edmonds.

“I’ve really just been trying to build a healthier, more equitable Edmonds that puts forward opportunities for all the diverse populations that we have,” Distelhorst said.

He said he wants to continue working on affordable housing options for all ages, with a focus on the development of different types of housing with options for renting and home ownership.

Equitable development is more than housing, he added. It must include the creation of thriving neighborhoods with community spaces and safe pedestrian walkways.

Distelhorst and his family live by Edmonds-Woodway High School, which he says is a neighborhood that has not received the same park and recreation opportunities as downtown Edmonds.

“We need to look at better equitable investment throughout the city and not just in the areas that have had it in the past,” Distelhorst said.

He also wants to tackle the climate crisis with what he says are “small incremental changes that can help people make shifts and start decreasing emissions.” His ideas include expanding opportunities for public transit, sidewalks and bike lanes, and constructing developments that meet clean building standards.

Cass, a first-time candidate, is passionate about environmental protection and impacts, as well.

With a background in civil and environmental engineering with the U.S. Air Force, Cass says she has “boots in the ground” and the experience to focus on environmental issues, such as improving stormwater drainage systems and wastewater treatment centers.

First, Cass says, the city council must restore transparency and accountability.

Residents and business owners aren’t being heard, and there are dysfunctional procedures and a lack of respectful discourse among council members, she said.

She cited the unsuccessful 18-month search for a police chief that consumed hundreds of hours of debate, cost more than $120,000, and left residents and city leaders with more questions than answers.

Additionally, the council is considering recommendations from the Citizens’ Housing Commission about changing single-family zoning — despite 78% of residents saying in a survey they opposed the move, she said.

The survey, which was completed in early 2020, received 907 respondents, a turnout equal to just over 2% of the city’s population.

Cass wants to slow down the process and re-engage the public to ensure the housing recommendations are the right ones for the community.

“We have to restore the prioritization of the people of Edmonds,” Cass said. “It’s about the people.”

With Chen’s background in accounting and finance, many of his concerns revolve around fiscal accountability and management. He plans to work with the council to balance the city budget and prioritize funding services needed by the community, with a special focus on small businesses who are struggling after the pandemic.

As a first generation American, Chen says he understands the difficulty some in the community face in accessing public services. He said he will engage residents of diverse backgrounds to overcome hurdle to access and work to bring them into the civic process.

“I am truly a voice for those who have felt unheard in the past,” Chen said.

He said future growth of the city is a big issue. He’s concerned that if there is too much new development too fast, it could make Edmonds “look like Seattle.”

“With the light rail coming and people on the move, it is of utmost importance that we plan for strategic growth,” Chen said. “And at the same time, we need to do our best effort to protect and preserve what Edmonds has.”

Petso has already had two council stints totaling eight years. She said she is running again to ensure the council is making the best decisions based on careful decision-making and good governance.

She says her experience is much needed on a council where many are new to the position, resulting in what she sees as a breakdown of process, communication, and public service.

“I’m the only candidate that Edmonds voters could elect to increase the level of experience on city council,” Petso said.

Like Cass, Petso thinks the decision to move forward with the Citizens’ Housing Commission recommendations is ill-advised, citing the same survey that opposed the development decision.

She is surprised the proposal has remained active in the city council, calling it a “waste of public assets and effort.” It would be in the council’s best interest to consider proposals that already have support first, she said.

Petso thinks simple actions, such as setting and publishing agendas ahead of time, can relieve tension among council members and residents. Talking to each other “like adults” will also help.

“These decisions often have permanent consequences,” Petso said, “and if council members will put in effort ahead of time to get the decisions right, you can avoid these costly errors.”

As of July 22, Chen has reported $35,113 in campaign contributions, at least $25,861 of which has been given by donors from outside of Edmonds. Contributor locations range from Seattle to San Francisco.

Cass comes in second with $26,299 raised and Distelhorst next with $13,153. Petso has reported no contributions.

Hannah Sheil: hannah.sheil@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3463. Twitter @thehannahsheil

Luke Distelhorst

Experience: Edmonds City Council, 2020-present; Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation, president; Friends of Edmonds Library, former president.

Website: lukeforedmonds.com

Janelle Cass

Experience: Edmonds Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors; Federal Aviation Administration, environmental engineer, 2008-2018; Ohana Hyberbarics, founder and president.

Website: janellecass.com

Will Chen

Experience: Edmonds Citizens’ Housing Commission, member; Edmonds Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors; small business owner; certified public accountant.

Website: friendsofwill.org

Lora Petso

Experience: Edmonds City Council, 2000-03, 2010-15; Olympic View Water and Sewer District Commissioner, 1995-present.

Website: None provided.

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