Commentary: Edmonds City Council has no appetite for climate action | #citycouncil

With a 5-2 vote on Tuesday (councilmembers Susan Paine and Jenna Nand dissenting), the Edmonds City Council has, once again, decided that a climate crisis will not factor into its budget.

With only a few days’ warning of a public hearing for the 2024 budget taking place on Nov. 6, a significant number of residents spoke in favor of the city hiring a climate action manager (CAM), as well as more than half in the audience raising their hands in agreement. Just eight days later, the council summarily disregarded those voices, a request that mirrored a proposal made in the 2010 Climate Action Plan. We are no closer today to making that hire than we were back in 2010.

When will the council commit to hiring a full time, fully qualified CAM? According to Councilmember Dave Teitzel, “While this is a worthy proposal, the city’s financial position does not support this addition of a new full-time equivalent employee.” When did the city council ever think it was worthy enough?  Even lean budget years include money for a city’s priorities, so funding the CAP appears to be beyond councilmembers who don’t comprehend the relevance of their own climate policy. Both the original 2010 CAP and its update, which the council adopted last March as being “All in on the Call to Action,” required taxpayer money to draft. Was that appropriate use of funds for a policy that has, for all intents and purposes, landed on the proverbial shelf?

As I stated at the public hearing on the budget, “We know that most of you think that Edmonds’ volunteers can work on reducing the community’s 98% share of Edmonds’ GHG emissions.  That thinking is underestimating the specialized work that a CAP requires. City staff members, who have other work they must accomplish, had three action items to achieve in 2023. They’ve completed one. There are 61 action items in all. It doesn’t take much to figure that the CAP is already in serious trouble.”

Councilmember Paine indicated that she had found money in the budget for hiring a CAM.  Councilmember Chen wanted to table a vote on the amendment in order to hear the details of Paine’s idea, but it did not pass. So intent were those who were opposed to hiring a CAM, that they elected not to even hear her idea. No strong community support or a newly revealed funding source was going to keep the group from its short-sighted determination to bury the one action that would elevate the city’s climate policy.

While we know the council wisely puts a high priority on public safety, by not hiring a CAM it has ignored climate adaptation, which goes to the heart of protecting residents’ safety. Climate impacts are being encountered across the state, across the nation and around the world. Edmonds is not likely to escape its share of these risks — such as heat waves, flooding, more intense snow and ice storms, wildfires, drought, and, as a shoreline community, sea level rise. Is this list not daunting enough to any city council whose city has no adaptation plan? The development of such a plan could have been overseen by a qualified CAM and, thus, the city will have done its best to protect its community from being unprepared for extreme climate impacts.

The signs of a revenue shortfall should have been noticed by the council prior to it suddenly becoming an all-out financial crisis, and future climate vulnerabilities on a city’s economy can also be known if an appropriate study is undertaken.  Unfortunately, the city finds itself in the same position in both instances — unprepared. The same need not be the case should an extreme climate event occur when little warning is often par for the course, and the result can be deadly. Right now, the plan to create cooling and warming centers is scheduled for 2025. Apparently, the councilmembers who voted against hiring a CAM figure we can wait that long. Let’s hope so.

By Georgina Armstrong and Gayla Shoemake

Edmonds residents Georgina Armstrong and Gayla Shoemake are affiliated with several groups in Edmonds related to climate action. 

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