Annual council summit: Lynnwood councilmembers reviews crime prevention, returning to in-person meetings, other 2022 priorities

The Lynnwood City Council met in person at the Rosehill Community Center in Mukilteo on Jan. 29 for its annual summit meeting.

From crime prevention to returning to meeting in person, the Lynnwood City Council last week identified the top priorities for the city at its annual summit meeting.

Every year, the council holds an extended work session to discuss issues and priorities it plans to address throughout the year. On Jan. 29, the council met in person at the Rosehill Community Center in Mukilteo, where the members reviewed several topics including tax relief, housing and how to promote local businesses. The seven-hour meeting was the first time the council had convened in person since July 2021. 

Once selected, the discussion topics are arranged quarterly by priority to be brought back at future council meetings. According to the council, the most pressing matter to be addressed during the first quarter of the year is crime prevention, with much of the conversation focusing on graffiti. Council Vice President Jim Smith said an increase in graffitied buildings, front-porch package thefts and abandoned shopping carts around the city were just a few signs that crime was rising in the city.

“If we can see that, (then) there’s a lot of crime we’re not seeing,” he said.

Councilmember Patrick Decker echoed Smith’s concerns about graffiti and said that business owners should be responsible for cleaning it up. He also said that he will not shop at businesses that have graffiti on them.

Decker proposed enlisting volunteers to help clean up graffiti around Lynnwood but added that in the past he had been discouraged by city staff from removing graffiti himself. Councilmember Shannon Sessions clarified that volunteers can clean up graffiti but said it should be done correctly so cleaning materials do not harm signs or buildings that were tagged.

Regarding crime overall, Decker said the city needed to do more to prevent it.

“We need to be empathetic, sympathetic but we need to be tough on crime and make sure people know Lynnwood’s not a place for crime,” he said.

Next, the council also agreed that it should continue to support Lynnwood’s business community and proposed holding a business fair event this summer. Councilmember Julieta Altamirano-Crosby said the event could be used to showcase the city’s diverse businesses, particularly local restaurants that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another priority the council identified was creating opportunities for bringing more diverse housing into Lynnwood. Councilmember Shirley Sutton said the council needed to become more involved getting homeless people off the streets.

“Everybody has to have a home, even if it’s a tent,” she said.

When discussing housing, Smith said the council needed to be mindful because the government is often the reason for the rising cost of housing. During the discussion, Smith said there were concerns from residents that they would lose their single-family homes to make way for multifamily housing complexes.

Council President George Hurst (standing) reviews proposed priority topics from each councilmember for 2022. Also pictured is Council Vice President Jim Smith (left) and Councilmember Shirley Sutton (right).

Additionally, several council members agreed that while planning for more housing, it’s important to make sure that longtime residents are not impacted. 

“The current residents should not be sacrificed for the rush to plan for the future residents,” Sutton said.

Council President George Hurst said he would like the city to ensure that residents who live in multifamily housing complexes like Whispering Pines have a new home lined up before they are evicted. A 50-year-old building that provided low-income housing, Whispering Pines was demolished last September and will be rebuilt to include needed improvements to the fire and sewer systems. As the demolition date approached, many tenants struggled to find new homes.

Hurst called the situation a “disaster” and said he would like to have property owners like the Housing Authority of Snohomish County (HASCO) – which owned Whispering Pines and several other housing complexes in Lynnwood – ensure their tenants have housing before demolition begins.

“HASCO has properties here in Lynnwood, still, and they’re old,” he said. “They’re going to be demolished too.”

Hurst then suggested the city waive impact fees for non-profits looking to build in Lynnwood. This includes the Lynnwood Neighborhood Center being constructed near Trinity Lutheran Church, which will provide low-income residents with needed resources and programs, he said.

Councilmember Josh Binda said the council needed to realize that more people will be coming to Lynnwood in the next few years and that the city needs to be proactive in creating more housing. With Sound Transit’s Lynnwood Link light rail opening in 2024, Binda said the city would be in trouble if they weren’t prepared to handle the influx of residents.

In response, Smith pointed out that the city is not responsible for creating more housing density and added that the city already has capacity to develop dense housing in areas like Lynnwood’s City Center district and Alderwood Mall. 

The council also agreed to consider providing tax relief to residents by eliminating some city-imposed fees like the $40 car tab fee and utility fees. 

Last year, the council spent weeks weighing the pros and cons of eliminating the car tab fee, which provides funding for the city’s road maintenance programs. After voting twice – once against the measure and a second time two weeks later in favor – the ruling was ultimately struck down by former Mayor Nicola Smith. In vetoing the council’s action, Smith said that the decision to abolish the tax without offering any alternative funding sources for road maintenance was rushed and went against the council’s budgeting practices.

In addition, the council voted last year to eliminate a city-imposed 6% tax on water and sewer services that also provides funding for maintaining the city’s streets. However, Mayor Smith also vetoed that measure because city staff said eliminating the revenue stream during a pandemic would be “financially devastating” to the city’s general fund.

During the Jan. 29 summit, Councilmember Jim Smith – who proposed eliminating the 6% utility tax – said that the fees might seem small to some people but removing them would help a lot of people impacted during the pandemic. 

“They need it more than we do,” he said.

Several councilmembers also agreed that returning to holding in-person council meetings was something they needed to do as soon as possible. During the summit, Sessions repeatedly said that the council needed to stop using the pandemic as an excuse for things like not meeting in person.

“We have gotten past it now, (COVID) is in our regular lives for everybody, move on,” she said.

Last year, council briefly returned to holding meetings in the council chambers at Lynnwood City Hall but returned to remote meetings after a group of protestors appeared at the council’s July 26 business meeting while demanding answers for the death of a woman – Tirhas Tesfatsion – who died in the Lynnwood Jail. The death was ruled a suicide by the Snohomish County Medical Examiner’s Office.

Following the July 26 meeting, the council said that there were issues with the audio/visual equipment used to record meetings. The city also reported that someone at the meeting had tested positive for COVID-19, raising concerns about the safety of meeting in person.

Now, the council wants to return to meeting in person and is considering having a uniformed police officer attending the meetings for security. Altamirano-Crosby said she was in favor of having security at the meetings because she received threats after the July 26 meeting.

“For that reason…I don’t want to come back until I feel safe,” she said.

However, Binda said that having a uniformed officer at the meetings would send the wrong message to residents and discourage them from attending meetings. In response to a comment from Binda that having police at the council meetings would appear threatening, Smith interjected that the council was repeatedly threatened by the demonstrators.

“People were threatening us, they were yelling and screaming at us,” he said.

According to Sessions, it’s common in other cities for police to attend meetings and added that Lynnwood had done so in the past. Additionally, Sessions said that the security would not be just for people of color who were upset with the council but for other threats.

“This isn’t necessarily about how people feel comfortable,” she said. “We’re not talking about just people of color coming in and yelling at us.”

Decker said community members breached the trust between them and the council after the demonstrators overtook the meeting and that bringing in security would be the appropriate response.

“This isn’t just out of the blue…this is a reaction to something that happened with the community,” he said.

Since the council plans to continue to stream meetings live online, Decker added that those who are intimidated by police could always attend remotely.

While meeting in person, councilmembers said that they would not require attendees to wear masks in the council chambers. Signs would be posted with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Sessions said the council would “lead by example” by wearing a mask on the dais, but they would not tell unmasked people to leave or tell them to wear one.

“I hate the masks, but I do think we need to be a good example as much as we can,” she said. 

Councilmember Julieta Altamirano-Crosby (center) briefs the council on her proposal to create a youth council. Also pictured (left to right) Council Vice President Jim Smith, Councilmember Shirley Sutton and council Executive Assistant Lisa Harrison.

Next, the council highlighted priorities for the second quarter of the year including ongoing support for the city’s business community by reconsidering the city’s per-employee fee, which is roughly $100 per employee working more than 15 hours each week. For employees working 14 hours or less, the fee is nearly $50. 

Additionally, the council proposed creating a promotion encouraging people to buy from local business owners. Altamirano-Crosby also said that the city needed to enforce municipal codes regarding business’ frontage. For example, she said businesses located along Highway 99 have overgrown grass and other things she said do not comply with city codes.

On another topic, the council is also looking to finalize how it will spend the city’s $10.9 million in federal pandemic relief funds. So far, the council has voted to spend $882,000 to fill city staff vacancies, fund technology upgrades to stream public meetings online and purchase police-worn body cameras. Recently, Altamirano-Crosby proposed using some of the funds to improve the city’s streets.

The council also decided it will discuss during the second quarter of the year a proposal from Altamirano-Crosby to create a youth council. According to Altamirano-Crosby, a youth council would provide an opportunity for teens to get volunteer experience for college applications while connecting to their city.

The youth council would also incorporate a proposal from Binda to create a program helping young people transitioning from juvenile detention centers. Through the program, Binda said at-risk youth could be able to learn how to become productive members of society.

“A lot of these kids come from troubled backgrounds, troubled homes and all they need is that mentorship and that leadership to help them,” he said.

The council decided during the retreat it will discuss plans for a youth summit later this year.

Other topics the council prioritized for the second quarter included reviewing its parliamentary procedures, conducting a salary study and showing more support for first responders.

Issues identified for consideration during the third quarter include reviewing a proposal from Hurst regarding how misdemeanor crimes are handled by Lynnwood police, which Hurst said was in response to Tesfatsion’s death in the Lynnwood Jail last summer. Tesfatsion was taken into custody for a DUI and booked in the jail because it was her second DUI in a seven-month period, according to police records. 

The plans to redevelop the police department and construct the controversial Community Justice Center includes redeveloping the police department, jails and municipal courts, and adding a newly appointed judge. With these changes on the horizon, Hurst said the council should learn more about Lynnwood’s judicial procedures.

“I would like to be educated on just what our system is in Lynnwood,” he said.

Hurst proposed inviting a professor from the University of Washington to learn more about fines and legal fees that arrestees are responsible for.

Near the end of the third quarter, the council plans to discuss a proposal from Decker to annex surrounding areas of Lynnwood. By incorporating other parts of the city Decker said annexation could help the city reduce crime in the area. 

“Bringing those (areas) under Lynnwood’s governance might be a way to reduce crime in Lynnwood,” he said.                  

Other future council priorities include discussing whether the city should continue to contract a city attorney or hire one to work directly for the city. The council will also consider a proposal from Sutton to trade all city-owned gas vehicles for electric ones. According to Sessions, the police department is already in the process of switching to electric vehicles.

–Story and photos by Cody Sexton

  1. Those councilmembers who feel unsafe from the public can stay virtual, there is no need for police to intimidate the public.

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