Council comfirms diversity commission candidate Arra Rael, allocates some of city’s ARPA funds

DEIC member Arra Rael thanks councilmembers for approving her to the commission.

Multiple community members came forward during the Lynnwood City Council’s Monday business meeting regarding the circumstances involving Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commission candidate Arra Rael.

Rael’s confirmation to the DEIC was postponed after it was discovered that she lived outside the city limits in unincorporated Lynnwood, otherwise known as the municipal urban growth area, or MUGA.

While some boards and commissions allow up to two members who live outside the city limits, it was unclear whether the DEIC was one of them. At its April 25 meeting, some councilmembers said all boards should be allowed to have two members who live in the MUGA, while some felt they shouldn’t allow anyone who resided outside of the city limits.

On Monday, members of the DEIC, as well as Rael herself, came forward during the public comments section of the meeting to voice their concerns with the council’s delay.

“I am not blocks away. I am not streets away. I am not five minutes away,” Rael said. “I am 1,200 feet away from the City of Lynnwood borders. While this distance might seem inconsequential to some, it has become the center of an incredibly contentious debate amongst the city council and has become the primary reason as to why I should not be appointed as a commission member.”

Members of the DEIC said the council has shown “patterns of exclusion and discrimination” toward the commission, quoting from a written statement they released before the council’s May 16 meeting. According to Rael, other city boards and commissions ignore the city limit restriction and do not get penalized for doing so. Because of this, Rael said she felt the council was denying her confirmation because she is Asian, queer and a woman.

“The actions the city council has taken in the past few weeks has sent a message to the community that they are, unfortunately, much more invested in exclusion rather than inclusion,” Rael said. “The reason I applied to the DEIC is because I wholeheartedly believe in the message our city stands behind: All Are Welcome,” she said. “I have seen that poster and that message all over our city. And please correct me if I’m wrong, but I didn’t see a disclaimer in the bottom saying ‘Unless you don’t meet certain criteria.’”

Councilmember Shannon Sessions said the confirmation delay had nothing to do with Rael personally, as many members pointed out she is overqualified for the position. Instead, the council had delayed the confirmation process to ensure they were legally allowed to approve her, as well as work together to make sure similar issues don’t arise in the future.

Rael was confirmed to the DEIC on a 4-2 vote, with Councilmembers Jim Smith and Patrick Decker voting no, and Shirley Sutton absent.

In other business, councilmembers decided to postpone the vehicle license fee and utility tax relief discussion until its Oct. 10 meeting. Council President George Hurst moved to postpone both motions until the council has a clearer view of what the economy will look like toward the end of the year. Both motions passed unanimously.

A public hearing was also held regarding the 64th Avenue West street vacation and ordinance.

The vacation planning comes after councilmembers approved the Harris Ford expansion project. The project, which will extend the dealership’s showroom, requires the purchase of a section of 64th Avenue West, which needs to be vacated for construction to begin.

Economic Development Manager Ben Wolters joined the meeting to briefly update the council on final costs for the vacation. 

The street is appraised at approximately $1.4 million, but the dealership will be able to purchase it for half the price due to existing city codes. In addition, the dealership will retain half the cost of land appraisal for the right-turn lane. Wolters said the appraisal estimated the land at $122,000, which knocks $61,000 off Harris Ford’s purchase price. Therefore, the dealership will retain the section of street for approximately $576,000.

Wolters said the cost updates stem from three reasons: an easement is no longer needed for the street’s existing sewer lines, and there will be a 1,400-square-foot reduction in the street vacation as well as a 1,900-square-foot increase for the dedicated turn lane.

No community members spoke during the public hearing and councilmembers did not ask any clarifying questions.

Economic Development Manager Ben Wolters (upper right) shares with the Lynnwood City Council a map of the street that Harris Ford will purchase, as well as a visual of where the right-turn lane will be constructed.

The council voted on the matter directly after the public hearing, passing it 5-1, with Councilmember Smith abstaining.

In addition, the council continued its discussion on how it will spend its $10.9 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money. The council has been given multiple spending options, and has until Dec. 31, 2024, to reach a final decision.

On Monday night, the council moved to allocate $400,000 in ARPA money to the Lynnwood Food Bank. These funds, according to Councilmember Julieta Altamirano-Crosby, will supply the food bank for the next three years.

The motion passed unanimously.

The council also discussed approving $1 million to the Volunteers of America Western Washington’s (VOAWW) proposed Lynnwood Neighborhood Center.

While some councilmembers thought the council should limit the amount to $500,000, the motion passed 4-2, with Decker and Smith voting no.

Councilmember Josh Binda also made a motion to allocate $2 million in ARPA funds to the Scriber Lake Boardwalk project.

The motion was immediately met with pushback from Smith.

“This is worse than my wife at Nordstrom’s,” Smith said. “Just spend money, spend money, spend money. Spending $2 million on something that the city should be doing on their own anyway, this is ridiculous. Let’s slow down. We’re almost out of money here. Let’s just slow down.”

Other councilmembers, however, were eager to approve the motion. Councilmember Sessions said the biggest lesson COVID should have taught the council is that the city needs more gathering spaces that are safe for families to frequent.

“We’re not running out of money,” Sessions said. “I mean, I don’t do math that great, but I still have a plan here, and [the council] still has more [money].”

Council President Hurst moved to amend Binda’s motion, stating the council would allocate no more than $2 million in ARPA funds to the boardwalk, subject to any grant approvals of equal or greater value that the project receives in 2022.

Both the amendment and the original motion passed 5-1, with Smith voting no both times.

The council approved a $65,000 ARPA fund allocation to reimburse Silver Creek Family Church for the improvements to the facility’s parking lot. Since the Lynnwood Food Bank and the church share a parking lot, the pavement receives heavy use, and is in need of repair. On top of that, the lighting in the parking lot is poor, making many feel unsafe during the evening.

The council will reimburse the church for $15,000 to improve the lighting and $50,000 to repave the parking lot.

In other business, the council unanimously approved the 2021 Lynnwood Municipal Code amendments and the acquisition of Sprague Pond Park. Lynnwood’s Human Resources Department was also recognized for the work it has been doing in the city.

Councilmember Patrick Decker also read a proclamation recognizing Monday, May 30, as Memorial Day in Lynnwood. Veterans and Gold Star parents were invited to stand with Decker as he read, and they thanked the council for all it does to ensure Lynnwood is a veteran-friendly city.

— By Lauren Reichenbach

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