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Let’s Make Driving Safety a Priority

By Joan and Gary Bloom

You know those beer-drinking helmets that allow hands-free drinking? Now that I know we can drink safely, that is, without taking our hands off the wheel, I think we can do away with DUI laws. No more reaching for the beer should make for safe driving. Of course, while driving, we’ll have to specifIcally prohibit reading the beer-can label. I am so glad I learned that hands-free drinking is just as safe as as hands-free cell phone use.

Sticklers will assert that it’s not hands-free drinking, itself, that’s dangerous (though still illegal), it’s intoxication, because intoxication leads to cognitive impairment — specifically, in situation recognition, and reaction time. Exactly. It turns out that many studies have found nearly identical cognitive impairment in being legally drunk behind the wheel, and talking on a cell phone behind the wheel — hands-on or hands-free. Let me repeat that for dramatic effect: many studies have found nearly identical cognitive impairment in being legally drunk behind the wheel, and talking on a cell phone behind the wheel — hands-on or hands-free.

It’s painful to read the posts to myedmondsnews.com about the recent deaths of Lexie Hess and Ellie Bonano. We all wish there was something that could have been done to prevent those accidents. The writers urge drivers to slow down, pay attention, and urge pedestrians to not assume they’re safe when stepping into a crosswalk. They ask the police to crack down on speeders, to subpoena the driver’s cell phone records, for goodness sake — to do something. They ask their elected officials to make public safety a priority. Challenge accepted, here’s a start.

Years ago, before there were any laws about use of cell phones while driving, while about to stop for a red light, I received a call from a client’s physician. Given how difficult it is to connect with a busy physician, I answered the call. The first thing the doctor said was, “Are you driving?” I answered “Yes, but I’m at a stop light.” He said, “That doesn’t matter. It’s not safe to talk on the phone while driving. Call me back when you’re not.”

I took his message to heart and, from then on, have not answered my phone while driving. Though using cell phones with a hands-free device is legal, I have maintained this restriction.

Shortly thereafter, I made a commitment to do what the physician had done with me, refuse to talk to anyone who answers my call while driving. This has been difficult. I have sensed resentment from those who feel I’m trying to control their behavior. But, if they insist that I talk to them while they’re driving, are they not trying to control mine?

It takes only casual observation to witness carelessness of those driving while phoning (DWP). Once, while walking east on Main Street from the post office, I observed a woman on her cell phone ready to pull out from Washington Federal Bank. She had a young (sevenish) boy in the passenger seat. I had the right-of-way as a pedestrian, but I cautiously walked forward. The woman, chatting all the while, started to pull out directly in front of me. Her young passenger got her attention, by yelling and waving his arms, and she stopped short of pulling into my path. Thank you, young man, for paying attention.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was formed by a mother, following the death of her 13-year old daughter, at the hands of an intoxicated driver. The organization worked, successfully, to get law-makers to increase their recognition of the dangers of driving while cognitively impaired due to heightened alcohol blood-level. Since the formation of MADD, in 1980, the allowed alcohol blood-level while driving has been nearly halved.

At this time, there may not be four votes on the City Council to further restrict cell phone use beyond the (widely ignored) state law that prohibits hand-held use while driving. That’s the history of change — it takes place incrementally — as it has with public-smoking spaces, seat-belt requirements, lowered alcohol-level limits, and even the inadequate cell-phone restrictions.

As it happens, change in law follows change in culture. Over time, more people believed the Surgeon General’s warnings written on cigaret packs. More people quit smoking for their own health, and to set an example for their children. More people became unhappy with second-hand smoke — relating in some manner the old saying that “your freedom stops at the end of my nose.” Legal restrictions followed this change in attitude.

I trust it will be a matter of time before it becomes commonly accepted that driving while using a cell phone, hand-held or not, greatly increases the chances of an accident, of tragic injury or death. I expect that legal restrictions will follow this cultural change. In the meantime, we can take personal responsibility for increasing public safety by making these two commitments: don’t call when driving, and politely refuse to continue a call with someone who’s driving. As another old saying goes: “change begins at home.”

Links to research on cell-phone use while driving:

http://mentalhealth.about.com/library/sci/0701/blcellphone701.

http://www.211.idaho.gov/elibrary/DrivingAndCellPhones.html

http://www.cellphonesafety.org/vehicular/

http://www.wisegeek.com/is-it-dangerous-to-use-a-cell-phone-while-driving.htm

http://www.nsc.org/safety_road/Distracted_Driving/Documents/Cognitive%20Distraction%20White%20Paper.pdf

http://www.nydailynews.com/autos/cell-phone-driving-deaths-underreported-study-article-1.1337271

http://www.vt.edu/spotlight/achievement/2013-07-01-distracted/texting.html

http://www.gazettextra.com/article/20140102/BLOGS/140109974

http://www.abrahamwatkins.com/blog/2014/01/yet-another-study-confirms-the-dangers-of-texting-or-dialing-while-driving.shtml

https://www.apa.org/research/action/drive.aspx

http://www.distraction.gov/download/research-pdf/comparison-of-cellphone-driver-drunk-driver.pdf

https://www.aaafoundation.org/sites/default/files/CellPhonesandDrivingReport.pdf

http://mindblog.dericbownds.net/2014/05/the-monkey-business-illusion.html?m=1

Democracy is Messy

John Owen, former noted sports journalist, and current Edmonds resident, used his cooking column in the Beacon to have some fun with the City Council, not a courageous act these days. (Piling on is a personal foul.) No one has ever accused me of being humor challenged, but I’m going to have to give Mr. Owen a “4” for humor. Better luck in the free skate. Mr. Owen equated the Mayor with the head coach of a football team, and suggested that Mr. Earling “kick butt and take names” on the Council. Mr. Owen went on to lament that the Mayor does not have authority over the Council, and wish someone was in charge.

To make it clear, the Mayor is not “in charge” of Edmonds government. He’s not the king, the emperor, the tsar, the CEO, or the head coach. He has no more authority over the Council than the head librarian down the street, or the third-grade classroom president of Ms. Ellison’s elementary class. He’s in charge of city employees. That’s a hard enough job, by the way.

You know who’s at the top of the organizational chart of Edmonds, Mr. Sports Journalist? The citizens who pay the bills, and elect the Mayor and Council — our town’s 12th man. Now and then, Edmonds’s 12th man elects some extra-colorful personalities and, subsequently, some extra-colorful conflicts rear their heads. Democracy is messy. Who knew?

For those who believe that the seven Council Members are more dysfunctional than a different seven elected officials, I suggest a thought experiment. Think how things would work if Mr. Earling had to share his authority with Mike Cooper, Gary Haakenson, Barbara Fahey, Laura Hall, Larry Naughten, and Harve Harrison — the previous six mayors of Edmonds. Now that would be colorful.

For those who find democracy too untidy, after Mr. Putin extinguishes the messiness around his parts, you should invite him to come and run Edmonds. He’s sure to kick butt and take names.

Why I support Steve Bernheim for appointment to Edmonds City Council

Prior to running for Edmonds City Council, I was actively involved in Edmonds politics. I served a two-year term on the Transportation Committee, and participated in numerous city-sponsored and citizen-sponsored meetings. I regularly attended and spoke at Council meetings. And I was a member of the newly-formed Tree Board when I declared my candidacy, in June, 2011.

I decided to run because I was already spending many hours weighing in on decisions facing the Edmonds City Council. Because the Council manual said the position required 12-18 hours per week, I figured that I could balance Council work and my private practice, by dedicating 20 hours a week to each.

When I assumed office, I soon discovered I was spending over 40 hours a week on Council business. As a new Member, I had to get up to speed and, simultaneously, do the work. In contrast to the Council manual, the Council (department) budget (presented to us in the fall of 2012) estimated 25-32 hours a week, nearly double the figure in the manual.

In short, Council business is nearly a full-time job. Council business plus learning-on-the-job is more than a full-time job. Until one assumes office, it is impossible to understand how difficult the job is and how much time and dedication it takes. My concern regarding whether a candidate understands the time commitment to do a thorough job has been a major factor in my review of the candidates.

Along with the above, in reviewing the 14 applicants, here is what I considered:

(1) History of involvement in the public process and demonstrated respect for an Open Government process.

I looked first for a candidate’s experience as an official on City of Edmonds boards, commissions, committees, and work groups. If that was missing, I looked to involvement in citizen groups not sponsored by the City, and other volunteer activities within Edmonds. Years of involvement demonstrates commitment to improving Edmonds, and might indicate that the candidate has a better working knowledge of the challenges they will face.

Respect for an Open Government process is difficult to measure, so one of the questions I asked in the interviews was specific to the public process.

(2) Understanding of Council’s legislative role, and budget oversight responsibilities.

Council is charged with developing legislation and approving funding that allows implementation of the citizens’ vision as reflected in the Comprehensive Plan. Although I have my own vision for the future of Edmonds, it is relevant only as it is consistent with the guidelines set forth by our Comprehensive Plan.

With the above in mind, I reviewed candidates’ answers to determine how well they understood the respective roles and responsibilities of the Council, Mayor, and City staff.

(3) Understanding of Council’s “homework” and “research” responsibilities.

If you have been following this appointment process, you have heard the term “homework” used frequently. This refers to the packet that Council must review prior to each meeting. The packet can be up to 400 pages for committee meetings, over 1000 for a quasi-judicial hearing, and commonly over 600 pages for a Council meeting. A Council Member’s “homework” is to review these agenda packets.

What has not been emphasized is Council’s “research” responsibilities. If we have questions about information in our packet, or we think that more documentation should be provided to enable Council to make informed decisions on an issue, it is on us to ask the questions of staff, and to do the necessary research to bring forward additional information.

A second question that I asked of the candidates was related to these “research” responsibilities of Council members.

(4) Understanding of the environmental challenges facing the city of Edmonds.

In my review, I looked for indication that the candidate understood the challenges of balancing protection of critical areas with development of a city which is mostly “built out.”

Edmonds is home to many critical areas: wetlands, streams and creeks, steep slopes, wildlife preserves, earthquake liquefaction zones, flood plains, the shoreline and tidelands. (Have I missed any? Add your favorite critical area.) The State requires that our storm water be cleaned before reaching Puget Sound. Cleaning the storm water is dependent upon enforcement of our Critical Areas Ordinance, and upon development regulations, both of which are under the legislative authority of Council.

Edmonds faces serious challenges related to development we have allowed, and continue to allow, in critical areas. To paraphrase our City Attorney, there is no end to the changes that need to be made to our City code. We are currently working on the Shoreline Master Plan, which will implement environmental protections of our shoreline.

(5) Understanding of the role of Council, and of the importance of working cooperatively with fellow Council members.

I gave a wide berth to any candidate who criticized seated Council members (and, ironically, in the same breath claimed to be a consensus builder). I was puzzled by those who suggested they had the skills to bring consensus (wave a magic wand?) to Council. Nothing remotely close to consensus exists in any democratic governing body. In contrast to opinions of many, it is not a Council Member’s job to build consensus among its members. It is our job to ensure information is available, and that the public process is open and inclusive. In this way, we can best represent the interests of the citizens.

(6) Time requirements to be effective.

This is not a typical job application process, in which a candidate’s current job is assumed to be replaced by, or can easily fit in with, the job applied for. We have no job description, or even accurate time estimates, for the position.

So, in looking at those candidates who have full or even half-time jobs, I have to consider my own experience and ask how in the world would they do it? There are both financial and time management reasons that current Council members are retired or semi-retired (Buckshnis, Johnson, Fraley-Monillas), or have their own business (Petso, Peterson, Bloom).

(7) Voters right to choose

I was encouraged to throw my hat in the ring for Council appointment on two occasions. One was when Council President Buckshnis was appointed. The second was when former Council President Petso was appointed. I did not apply either time, and supported the appointment of each of those candidates. Each had proven their dedication to Edmonds through years of active service. Each went on to win election to their positions on Council.

I am certain that most of our City’s residents would prefer to elect Council members themselves. For this appointment, the above review has led me to support former Council Member Steve Bernheim as the best choice for this Council, at this time. Mr. Bernheim accomplished the difficult task of winning election against an incumbent. To defeat an incumbent, one must have an established record of citizen activism, and a clear and compelling platform.

In reply to the question on the application “If selected, would you campaign for election to retain your seat?” Mr. Bernheim answered “no.” If he is appointed, his seat will be open in 2015 for anyone who wishes to run, thus allowing the citizens to decide who will best represent their interests for that four-year term.

Public Safety, First

Do we think up projects primarily to give our Public Works Director and City Engineer something to sink their spreadsheets into, because I don’t know another reason why the City should consider yet another mega-project, when a modest one can solve a crucial problem — getting emergency vehicles to the waterfront.

The Mayor and staff are promoting a plan that includes changing the very nature of the waterfront, a plan that could include building an expensive tunnel under the tracks, moving the ferry dock, and possibly even moving the Senior Center. We're talking tens of millions of dollars in State funds, with a solution that will arrive five to ten years from now. It will be fun living in a construction site for years.

The first step will be explained as asking the State for (merely) two million dollars to study the options. Remember how this goes: Today: “It's just a study.” Tomorrow: “We spent all this staff time and money on the plan, and can't throw that away.” Sound familiar? Keep that in mind when you hear the mantra — “It's just a study.” This is the same song as the Port proposal — getting us used to the idea of building on the waterfront — the band is just taking a break between sets.

There's an alternative that doesn't move the Senior Center, doesn't move or expand the ferry dock, doesn't dig an expensive tunnel under the tracks, and doesn't obstruct the business and recreational interests on the waterfront for years — a simple emergency vehicle and pedestrian overpass. At a fraction of the cost.

If the Council and Mayor can unite on a plan, our state legislators are ready to support our decision. But we do not have the luxury of time to come up with a plan that solves ferry and train access, as well as emergency access. Voice your opinion at the November 4th public hearing, or by email to Counciladmin@ci.edmondswa.us.

Elect Randy Hayden for Edmonds City Council

I do not support Randy Hayden for the U.S. Congress. I need to make that statement, because some citizens of Edmonds, including some of my recent supporters, are confusing the Edmonds City Council with federal and state offices. Randy Hayden, as luck will have it, is not running for any office other than for the Edmonds City Council. His views on guns, the Affordable Care Act, or the President will have precisely the same effect on the future of Edmonds as his choice for the best Spielberg movie — none.

I do support Randy Hayden for the Edmonds City Council. He desires to conserve the best aspects of Edmonds: current building heights; conserving trees in critical areas; preserving and enhancing the waterfront marsh, for enjoyment by residents and visitors; support for small businesses; and holding small and large developers to our code restrictions. He also supports low-impact development techniques, such as rain gardens and green roofs. And, Mr. Hayden matches my goal of increasing transparency in Edmonds government practices.

Mr. Hayden has been a resident of Edmonds for 25 years, and wishes to preserve the beauty and ambience of our city for future generations. That’s what matters. Randy Hayden for Edmonds City Council.

Re-elect Adrienne Fraley-Monillas

The saying, “it takes all kinds,” is usually accompanied by a roll of the eyes, but for incumbent Council Member, Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, I mean it in the best possible light. While some of us are more outspoken during Council Sessions, Ms. Fraley-Monillas is adept at collaboration, while still taking a clear stance in negotiations. For example, One of the most difficult issues that faces cities, in these times, is balancing fair pay and benefits for union workers, with the limited revenue available. In her negotiations with unions — rugged work done outside the public’s eye — I believe that all interests would regard Ms. Fraley-Monillas as tough but fair.

In general, my respect for Council Members is based on several criteria: (1) They come prepared. Council Members must sift through a tremendous number of reports, e-mails, oral communications, as well as do our own research. Ms. Fraley-Monillas comes to meetings with a full understanding of the issues. (2) They respect all citizens’ interests. Ms. Fraley-Monillas understands that, while comments during Council Sessions reflect important points of view, thousands of citizens have backed candidates and their stated viewpoints during the election period. (3) They understand that sometimes the best interests of business owners and of the pro-development advocates are aligned with the best interests of Edmonds’ citizens, and sometimes they are not; Ms. Fraley-Monillas takes pains to understand the difference. Despite tremendous pressure to favor development to the detriment of the ambiance of our city, Ms. Fraley-Monillas consistently casts her votes on behalf of the citizens. (4) They know when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em. Not every issue needs to be debated forever. Sometimes, the citizens have clearly spoken (in elections, comments, e-mails, and other forms of communication), and we should move on. I could learn something from Ms. Fraley-Monillas is that regard. (5) They understand that Edmonds is a gift of nature, and of previous generations of stewards. Ms. Fraley-Monillas’s votes balance the immediate needs of our city with stewardship for future generations.

While I don’t always vote with Council Member Fraley-Monillas, I have always found her open to discuss differences and her reasoning behind her votes. She is a model of courtesy, collaboration, and balance. I believe that her role on the Council is essential, and I back her 100 percent for re-election.

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Let’s Not Play On Their Turf

Progress, sustainability experts say, is not growth or change, progress is improvement, and improvement comes in flavors: economic, social, and environmental. The Harbor Square Master Plan, as currently being pushed, equates progress with just one kind of improvement – economic – while the social and environmental effects aren’t merely being ignored, they’re being victimized. If that’s not bad enough, the Port, and the proposal advocates, are using unsubstantiated points to back their concept of economic progress. As follows:

(1) We need residential units to increase our tax base.

So 350 units, 15 to 20 years from now, is our best solution to current economic woes — not to mention how the construction will make economic matters worse in the meantime?

(2) Young professionals will flock to these condos so they can take Sounder to work in the morning.

Perhaps, in 15 to 20 years, young people will find Edmonds more attractive than they do now. No one can predict either way. What we do know is that in 15 to 20 years, light rail will have come to Lynnwood and a modest urban village isn’t going to save Sounder as a commuter passenger service.

(3) Housing over retail is an economic sure thing.

No, it isn’t. How will buying a dress in an urban village rather than in downtown help Edmonds? It’s not as if we’re hurting for retail space. Will we need more retail space in 15 to 20 years? There’s a problem we hope to have, and one we should deal with if and when it happens.

(4) The Harbor Square Master Plan has been an open process.

No, it hasn’t. I was a member of the original citizen group. Our choices were limited to variations on a theme of increasing the height-limit and changing the zoning to allow residential. Opinions that diverge from those of the Port have been ignored.

(5) The people want it.

No, they don’t. Edmonds citizens have voted against candidates who advocate relaxing height limits, time and time again. In his campaign literature, Mayor Earling stated that the height-limit debate was settled long ago. What happened to that assurance?

Advocates of the Port proposal have proceeded with blinders, a total unwillingness to consider options, to look in any direction but up, at taller buildings. A total unwillingness to stray from a mega-project that entails tons of concrete and threatens our environment. A total unwillingness to assist the entrepreneurial spirit that exists with thriving businesses such as the micro-breweries, athletic clubs, the summer market, our arts community, the spread of happy hours. In sum: a total unwillingness to respect market forces over central government planning.

Anyone can criticize, I get that, so what do I believe the people of Edmonds want? That’s not a hard question. What do people like about Edmonds? What are we already supporting? How can we expand on that? What do we want more of? Is there something you see in other cities and environments that you want for Edmonds?

The easiest way to predict what people will support is to create more of what they already support. Look, for example, at the many happy hours in Edmonds. Did someone from Edmonds government say what we need are happy hours? Nope, some restaurant owner thought they’d bring in more customers during these hard times, by charging less during their less-crowded hours. Better to have lower margins for a couple of hours than an empty restaurant. Nearly every restaurant/bar in town followed suit and, suddenly, Edmonds is a destination, including for the seldom seen, around here, young adults.

Here’s what I don’t get: Officials from Edmonds have touted the ideas of Roger Brooks — there’s a link to his presentation for Edmonds on EdmondsWA.gov — but the Port plan is the antithesis of what he advocates. Brooks states that thriving cities don’t thrive because of top-down planning, but from bottom-up entrepreneurialism; that cities don’t thrive from mega-projects, they thrive from community gathering spots such as plazas and public markets.

Here’s why I won’t lend credibility to the Port’s approach. By focusing on building heights, zoning, and liquefaction zones, our minds are still occupied by the details of a project to nowhere. Our thoughts are being colonized by a plan conceived and promoted by a handful of advocates who have pretended to listen to the community, and have pretended to listen to an expert, Roger Brooks, on what makes downtowns work. As long as we talk about modifying this plan, rather than looking at entrepreneurial and bottom-up community ventures, we will be playing on their turf.

Let’s abandon this waste of time and money; let’s abandon what people have said, over and over, they don’t want, and return to the ideas that even city officials say we should be promoting.

It’s worth stating, again: it’s not about building heights, not about zoning, not about liquefaction, it’s about creating a place for community, for participation by the people of Edmonds, and a destination for those who will be attracted to our public spaces and creative business community. Edmonds is a gift — let’s show our appreciation.

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