Mill Creek City Council Meeting, 6/4/2019

Audience Communication was hopping at this meeting, with three of us rising to speak Jon Ramer presented a plaque on behalf of AmVets, in appreciation of Mill Creek’s support, as well as inviting all City staff to a thank you BBQ. I had a bit to say about the recent Snohomish County Housing Affordability Regional Taskforce, which I’ve included at the end. Finally, Benjamin Briles spoke in appreciation of the youth in attendance, regarding his application to the committee to be appointed during the meeting, and in support of accepting the fee in lieu of settlement to be discussed second under New Business.

A Presentation recognized the 23 graduating seniors who have been part of the Youth Advisory Board. The YAB contributes to many community programs throughout the year, logging over 2600 hours during the 2018/19 school year, in almost 20 service projects.

Updating our wireless communications ordinance, as discussed at the last meeting [my report], was pretty easily handled. A notice requirement was added, and the wording turned me around on my previous opposition. By focusing on making a notification of construction, it is much less likely that the notices will create fears where there were none previously. Having addressed all of the Council’s previous concerns, the measure was approved unanimously.

The next piece of business to return to the table was the proposed agreement with Puget Sound Energy for a fee in lieu of services. The gist of the question: PSE tore up our pavement, and are obligated to update the current, temporary patches, and fix them to our standards. However, we’re going to tear up our own pavement to make repairs to our water pipes, so it doesn’t necessarily make sense for them to be fixed now. PSE is offering to pay us their cost to do the work, instead of installing the new pavement.

The discussion essentially used a risk management lens to determine which course represents government efficiency. If we had certain knowledge of when various projects will happen, it would be easy, but there are unknown variables. If things line up in the way we expect, the $162,640.00 will come only at the cost of living with the temporary fixes for an unknown amount of time. But, if something goes wrong, we could end up paying more, an unknown amount, again, over the sure thing of having PSE handle the fixes.

It was a good thing that it made the most financial sense, and was the staff’s recommendation, to accept the agreement, as the idea of ripping out new work was distasteful. Common sense, practical values hung palpably over the room. Mayor Pam Pruitt felt that the agreement represents a big financial risk for Mill Creek, and voted against it, while the other six members voted to accept.

Whichever side I would join, I generally appreciate a split vote. A lot of what the Council enacts should be unanimous, as when the interests of the City are clear, or simply providing a formal check on a required action. Full agreement on complex questions, however, when they happen too often, shows a lack of diversity of thinking. That makes it too likely that important information and ideas may be missed.

In New Business, Council appointed a Planning Advisory Committee for the Mill Creek Boulevard Land Use and Infrastructure Subarea Plan (which will probably be referred to as the Mill Creek Boulevard committee, rather than PACMCBLUISP). The Council Agenda Summary is available here, and outlines the purpose and structure of the committee. It is comprised of 15 people, selected to make sure that there are representatives from numerous groups of stakeholders, and will help steer the redevelopment of Mill Creek Blvd. A firm was retained to study the land use possibilities in April. About two dozen people applied, whose letters of interest are included with the agenda notes.

Only three women, about 12% of candidates, appear to have applied for these roles. When we get results that are so dissimilar from our demographics, we should ask why. It is not simply statistical chance when a group that represents half the population makes up an eighth of an applicant pool. It doesn’t mean we did anything wrong, but is there any action we can take that would counter some of the impact of systemic gender bias?

This is a very similar situation to the search of a new city manager. All four of those brought in for final interviews were men. (Not to disparage any of them, I can attest they were all great possibilities, I was on the citizen interview panel.) This was enough of an optics problem that multiple council members approached me to explain that, while everyone wanted there to be women on the finalist list, very few had applied.

Of course, we should take the most qualified individuals for any appointment, I am not suggesting that there should be special preference. However, we can extrapolate from homogenous applicant pools that too many of the most qualified people are not applying. This is true of gender, as well as race.

Despite the fact that the population of Mill Creek is about a fifth Asian, we see very little representation in city government, whether staff, members of council and city boards, or even regular attendees of meetings. This is not true of the Youth Advisory Council, and it’s not true at community events, such as parades. Come to the Town Center on Halloween if you want to see what our demographic makeup really looks like. (Come in any case, it’s wonderful.)

I don’t yet know how to address these issues with representation. The first step has to be acknowledging that, if we want an inclusive government, we’re going to have to do something to get it.

Audience Communication Remarks

This past Friday I sat in on the inaugural meeting of the Snohomish County HART, which stands for Housing Affordability Regional Taskforce. HART’s mission is to collaboratively develop a countywide, systemic 5-year plan to address the housing needs of all county residents. It’s on a similar model to the taskforce that was formed about the opioid crisis. The plan is to publish a report of recommendations by December of this year.

I would like to ask and encourage the Council to plan now to be actively engaged with this work, throughout the year. It is a big, complex problem that impacts every area of life. There are a few really good reasons to make the time and effort to get the Council and Staff involved beyond the minimum attendance.

The first reason is, it’s a really bad problem, to call it a crisis is no exaggeration. I’m going to summarize 35 minutes of charts and data into 10 seconds: 1) the cost of housing is going up quickly 2) the population is going up quickly and 3) wages are going up slowly, if at all. The number of housing insecure people continues to snowball, which has a negative impact on the quality of life of every member of the community. Without a coordinated response, that all stakeholders contribute to, the problem will get dramatically worse.

We need to stay engaged because we have obligations under RCW 36.70A.130 to review and revise our comprehensive growth management plan within the next four years, and one goal of HART is to be an early step towards bringing the county into compliance. The more we stay ahead of what we are required to do, the more freedom we retain. Some areas of California can lose control of development if they have not met density targets. We should be proactive, to maintain the right to do our part, in a way that is right for us, and that means using our voice at the table.

Third, Mill Creek can be a leader in this area. During the initial presentation at the meeting, The Town Center was shown as a well-known, successful example of medium density housing, which I appreciated, since it’s my favorite example. With The Farm coming in as well, we’re ahead of the curve!

You might say, yes but look at the resistance we saw to workforce housing. It turns out, we’re not at all different in that regard from anywhere else. Everyone from national experts to most taskforce delegates agree that the biggest impediment to building affordable housing is that everyone says Not In My BackYard. I’m willing to speculate that opposition could have been a lot more severe. At this point, we have the opportunity to be at the forefront of high-quality, community-oriented housing solutions that work for everyone. Thank you.

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