During her annual State of the City address, Mayor Nicola Smith Thursday morning reflected on Lynnwood’s roots, its growth and the promising future she sees for a city that “has always been on the move” since its founding 60 years ago.
The mayor, who is midway through her second term, was upbeat about Lynnwood’s development as a regional hub, pointing to the arrival of the Lynnwood Link light rail station in 2024.
Speaking to a full house at the Lynnwood Convention Center, Smith also made the future personal, sharing photos of her four grandchildren as part of her presentation and noting that the second youngest happened to be in the audience. (And the infant slept soundly through his grandmother’s entire speech.)
The future was also evident in the faces of the special guests who made an appearance just before the mayor took the stage. Two sets of students from the Edmonds School District — four from Lynnwood Elementary and three from Mountlake Terrace High School — talked about their work to address the Mayor’s Challenge to Edmonds School District 4th-12th graders. In the challenge, the mayor asked students to explore solutions to six “real-world issues” using STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) principles.
More than 100 students submitted their ideas, and the two groups that came to the stage Friday included three STEM students from Mountlake Terrace High School — Ian Hofbeck, Seth Damiano and Seiki Magbuhat — focused on how to address the fact that Lynnwood’s radio repeater at City Hall — a backup communication method when cell phone towers and the Internet aren’t working — does not reach all areas around Lynnwood.
Then, four students from two 4th grade classes at Lynnwood Elementary School — Bayan Alzeir, Ariana Benitah, Trevor Gill and Sophia Chamaty — discussed the work of their classes to develop a public outreach program for Lynnwood storm and sewer utilities
In her speech, the mayor pointed to Lynnwood’s community vision as “a regional model for a sustainable, vibrant community with engaged citizens and an accountable government.” And she ticked through the five top priority areas — identified in the city’s 2018-2022 Strategic Plan — aimed at realizing that vision:
- Fulfilling the community vision for the City Center and Lynnwood Link Light Rail.
- Ensuring financial stability and economic success.
- Nurturing operational and organizational excellence.
- Be a safe, welcoming, livable city.
- Pursue and maintain collaborative relationships and partnerships.
Calling Lynnwood Link Light Rail “a real game changer” for the city, Smith said that the Sound Transit project — set to begin construction this summer — provides “a crucial piece” of the plan to develop City Center. A development agreement between the city and Sound Transit provides Lynnwood with $2.5 million in matching funds that will go toward improvements near the City Center light rail station to improve both “multimodal” transportation enhancements and better station access.
She also pointed to the efforts of Community Transit — which is working with Sound Transit to improve east-west connections so that commuters can get to and from the Lynnwood light rail station efficiently.
Work is progressing, Smith said, on several City Center developments aimed at bringing additional residential living space, more retail, office space, restaurants, parks and gathering spaces, and other characteristics that will make the area a desirable destination.
“The CityCenter Apartments and CityCenter Senior Apartments are already bustling with new residents,” the mayor said, “and the Hilton Garden Inn is nearing completion.”
To accommodate additional traffic that the new rail station and additional development will bring, Smith pointed to the 196th Street Southwest Improvement Project — set to begin soon — which will add two more business access and transit lanes to the roadway, plus medians for safety, wider sidewalks and landscape features.
Redevelopment may also be on the table for the Lynnwood Convention Center, Smith said, referring to recent recommendations from a joint task force that call for building an exhibition hall and flex-space that would accommodate musical performances, trade shows and cultural performances.
With an eye toward future growth, the city has been investing in major infrastructure improvements such as the 36th Avenue West Improvement Project, and upgrades to the city’s sewer and lift station. The city has also performed chip seal repairs on 12 lane miles of city streets and this summer will be working on complete overlays of selected streets, upgrading sidewalk curb ramps and replacing mid-block pedestrian crossings.
Smith noted that Lynnwood’s population has increased by about 3,500 residents since she took office in 2014, and the city is projected to grow by about 2,000 new residents annually. As a result, the city is also reviewing its current zoning policies and comprehensive plans, “looking at ways to continue to diversify our housing stock options.”
Housing affordability is also a key priority for Smith’s administration, and the mayor pointed to its work with Housing Hope and the Housing Authority of Snohomish County to find ways to address the city’s housing crisis.
Pointing to strategic priority 3, Smith stressed the city’s commitment to changing the culture of how it provides services to the community. There has been a particular focus, she said, on the city’s Development and Business Services — four departments that work together to assist homeowners, developers and business owners.
“We’ve heard from our residents and the business community that it can be challenging, even frustrating, to work with the City of Lynnwood on development projects,” she said. “We heard you. And we’re doing something about it.”
By taking a “customer-centric approach,” the city is improving its processes to facilitate easier plan submittal and review, as well as inspections, Smith said.
“We are giving employees the tools, the guidance, and the permission to provide solutions-based customer service,” the mayor added.
Smith then turned to priority 4, ensuring that Lynnwood is a “safe, welcoming and livable city.” This also includes increasing equity and removing barriers when people access city services and participate as a community member. The city recently became a member ofGARE — the Government Alliance on Race and Equity — which is a national network of government agencies working to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for all.
Lynnwood also has a team of 12 employees – all from diverse backgrounds and work groups – who are participating in-depth training aimed at learning how to “institutionalize and operationalize racial and social equity into our government practices,” Smith added. And there is a Lynnwood Employees Embracing Diversity (LEED) employee group formed toto cultivate and promote a welcoming, safe, equitable and inclusive workplace for all employees.
In addition, the mayor pointed to the city’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commission, which has just launched the “All Are Welcome” initiative with a window decal available for display in gathering places, businesses and homes.
Under the strategic priority related to financial stability and economic success, Smith said that both she and the Lynnwood City Council are committed to fiscal stewardship.
The city’s finance team has been working to improve its accounting and financial reporting practices and ensure greater transparency, through efforts such as an online budget transparency tool, monthly and quarterly financial reports, the city’s biennial budget book, and Lynnwood’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report – the CAFR.
At the end of 2018, the mayor said, the city had general fund financial reserves of $11.5 million. “We are exceeding best practices for a city of our size by setting aside the equivalent of two-and-a-half months of operating expenses in our reserve account,” Smith noted. In 2018, Lynnwood transferred over $5 million of sales tax revenue and permit fees into a reserve account for strategic infrastructure investment. The city also earned over $1 million in investment interest in 2018, she added.
As part of her address, the mayor addressed a range of public safety initiatives, including Lynnwood Police Department efforts — through a team of police officers and a social worker — to proactively reaching out to those members of our community that are homeless, living with addiction and with mental health challenges.
“As you all know, Lynnwood is not the only community struggling with these issues, it is a national epidemic,” the mayor said. “We care about the people of this community too much to allow them to live in crisis; that’s why our emphasis now is Compassion With Boundaries.”
Smith also pointed to the partnership between Lynnwood police and the Community Health Center of Snohomish County to plan a new Community Justice Center, which she called “an innovative approach to criminal justice.” The idea is to provide services such as drug and mental health counseling to those who are concurrently serving a jail sentence, thus reducing an individual’s chance of relapsing.
As Lynnwood grows and development increases, the mayor said, it’s important that the city’s residents work with the city to build “a model for community resiliency.”
There is no easy answer, nor is there a formula, for how the community can build and strengthen community connections and “make Lynnwood a more lovable city,” Smith said.
“But I will tell you that we are committed to you and we’re committed to creating a community that we can all be proud of,” she said.
That theme was also touched on by City Council President Benjamin Goodwin, who took to the podium just prior to the mayor’s address. Noting that he had made the difficult decision to not run again after serving two terms on the council, Goodwin talked about the challenges and rewards of his public service and concluded by saying, “I love you all.”
Also prior to the mayor’s address, Lynnwood Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Linda Smith presented the city’s 2018 Honoring Excellence Awards, given annually to a city employee, a citizen and a business. The winners were:
City Employee Award — Terence Calhoun: A computer systems engineer in the city’s Information Technology Department, Calhoun is “known to consistently provide excellent customer service and always goes above and beyond to assist city employees with their IT needs.”
Citizen Award — Monica Thompson. A Lynnwood resident and member of the Lynnwood Parks & Recreation Board, Thompson — along with her employer HBB Landscape Architects — “has provided valuable professional services to the city free of charge, engaging the community and creating a conceptual master plan for the Interurban Trail.” Thompson was unable to accept her award in person.
Business Award — Chick-fil-A. Owner and operator Paul Rosser opened Lynnwood’s first Chick-fil-A restaurant nearly four years ago. The restaurant donates money to local non-profit organizations and towards student scholarships, and they also provide food items free of charge to community events and to those in need. Rosser was unable to attend but two restaurant employees were in the audience to be recognized.
— Story and photos by Teresa Wippel