By The Herald Editorial Board
As with its sister cities in Snohomish County, three races for the Edmonds City Council — two of which are on the Aug. 3 primary ballot — have focused on issues of housing stock and affordability, climate change and environmental concerns, public safety and the city’s governance.
Among a field of qualified candidates for Positions 1 and 2, issues related to housing and the city’s handling of growth showed the greatest range of opinions and a sense for candidates’ approach to governance during a joint interview with the editorial board.
Incumbent city council member Kristiana Johnson is challenged by Alicia Crank and Brian Hartman.
Johnson has extensive background in public service. First appointed to the council in 2012 and twice winning reelection to her seat, she holds a certificate of municipal leadership from the Association of Washington Cities and 30 years of experience in growth management, environmental planning and transportation. Her volunteer work includes time with the Chamber of Commerce, Friends of Edmonds Library, the Edmonds Historical Museum and Rotary. Johnson did not return repeated requests to participate in a joint interview with the editorial board.
Crank, with a career in management for businesses and nonprofits, most recently as chief development officer for an employment recruiter, has made two prior runs for the council. Crank also has a long list of service to Edmonds and county agencies and groups. She serves currently on the city planning commission, the county’s Paine Field commission, the Hazel Miller Foundation board and Snohomish County Tomorrow steering committee. She has also been active with Rotary, the city’s senior center board, Chamber of Commerce and Edmonds Sister City Commission.
Hartman has worked in aerospace and information technology and served as a chief financial officer for a high-tech startup and a senior consultant for an accounting firm. Hartman has a master’s degree in business administration and has mentored business students at the University of Washington. Hartman did not return repeated requests to participate in a joint interview.
Crank, referring to recently completed work of the city’s Citizens Housing Commission and recently released policy recommendations, said the planning commission and the council now need to begin consideration of those policies and discussions with residents. Crank said she’s most concerned with assuring housing availability for the city’s current residents and for those who work in the city who often struggle to find affordable housing in Edmonds.
While respecting the findings of a recent survey related to the commission’s work, which found that 78 percent of those polled opposed changes to the city’s single-family zoning rules, Crank noted that the sample size of the survey was too small to draw fair conclusions from. A broader conversation with residents is needed, she said.
Johnson, while not part of the interview, participated in a July forum in which she expressed concern for residents’ fears of “wholesale rezoning of everything.”
On housing and other issues, Crank in her responses expressed a need for action by the council but balanced with transparency and inclusion of community consultation and discussions. Crank has notably led some of that discourse through a virtual discussion series she has led called Black in Edmonds.
Johnson, during her years on the council and in other efforts, has shown her dedication to Edmonds and the county at large and the value of her experience. But Crank has put in her time and effort as well and now deserves the opportunity to serve on the city council.
Current council member Luke Distelhorst was appointed to the position in early 2020, following Mike Nelson’s election as mayor in the 2019 election. His three challengers are Janelle Cass, Will Chen and Lora Petso. Both Chen and Petso were among candidates considered by the city council for the Position 2 appointment, which required several rounds of voting; a demonstration of the quality of candidates voters will chose from.
Distelhorst, who has worked for 14 years in communications and public engagement in public and private sectors, is employed by Community Transit. He is board president for the Sno-Isle Libraries Foundation and previously served as president of the Friends of the Edmonds Library and the Chamber of Commerce’s Edmonds Young Professionals group.
Cass is a bio-environmental engineer who has worked for the U.S. Air Force, the Federal Aviation Administration and currently is president and founder of an oxygen therapy provider. She has a degree in civil and environmental engineering. Her community service includes the Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors, the American Legion, Edmonds Sea Scouts and a youth soccer coach. Cass did not return requests to participate in a joint interview.
Chen, a CPA, owns an accounting firm in Edmonds He has a master’s degree in accounting and business administration. He has served on the city’s Citizens Housing Commission, Edmonds Chamber, Rotary, on the accounting advisory committee for Edmonds College, was the lead organizer of a Rally Against Hate at Esperance Park and collected and donated PPE to local businesses and organizations during the pandemic.
Petso’s past elected experience includes terms on the Edmonds City Council from 2000-03 and 2010-15. She also serves as a commissioner for a water and sewer district. An attorney with degrees in law and economics, she also is the co-owner of an actuarial consulting business. Among her volunteer work she has been a chess coach at Sherwood Elementary.
During the discussion with the editorial board, Petso had concerns that the city might move too quickly on the 15 recommendations of the Citizens Housing Commission, in particular those that could reduce protections for the city’s single-family residential zones. As an example, Petso said a proposal to allow detached accessory dwelling units, DADUs — more familiarly known as mother-in-law units — without requiring a conditional use permit could leave neighbors with reduced protection from impacts. Petso urged careful consideration of that and other proposals.
Chen, who participated on the panel and praised its work, disagreed, saying that adequate protections for neighbors have been included in the proposed approval process.
Distelhorst also spoke in general support of the panel’s recommendations and the DADU policy, noting the city’s need to provide an adequate supply of housing for the city’s college students and seniors who are looking to downsize and reduce their housing costs but want to remain in Edmonds, noting that other cities in the county and the county, itself, have streamlined applications and reduced permit costs for such units.
While Petso’s concerns for single-family neighborhoods are understandable, many of the residents in those neighborhoods also recognize the need for an increase in housing that’s available to the city’s seniors, young families and employees working in the city. Distelhorst and Chen noted that approving some or all of the proposed policies still requires a public process before the planning commission and council, where residents’ concerns can be addressed.
Among a field of four experienced and knowledgeable candidates, Distelhorst has, admittedly, gotten a jump-start with the last year-and-a-half of incumbency. But he’s used that time well, working with the county housing authority on solutions to housing affordability, developed a housing relief fund to assist city residents during the pandemic and brought community members together for a program on suicide prevention.
Distelhorst has shown justification for the council’s decision to appoint him. Voters can confidently make the same choice.
More on Edmonds races
For more information on the candidates for Edmonds City Council see The Herald’s coverage for Position 1 and Position 2 and watch videos of League of Women Voters forums at www.heraldnet.com/news/videos-meet-the-candidates-in-6-snohomish-county-cities/
Clarification: Details in Will Chen’s biographical information has been updated to clarify his current employment, college degree and role in organizing an anti-hate rally.