Esperance: the “Gondor” of Snohomish County

When JRR Tolkien wrote the Lord of the Rings, he was doing so for two main reasons: entertaining his children and commenting on the rapid spread of the industrialized cities of England into its’ rural countryside.

Esperance is currently facing the same type of challenge that Tolkien saw happening in the ‘shires of England. It is surrounded by industrialized areas (the car dealerships on 99) and high density housing plans being drawn up for its’ leafy, tree-lined streets. Not only that, but Esperance is ear-marked for a major street widening project on 228th ST SW so that tourists and island dwellers can line up for the Edmonds to Kingston ferry.

In the not-so-long ago past, Edmonds City leadership wanted to annex (engulf) Esperance and use it for various purposes. There were plans to build an industrial storage park (primarily for gravel) at Chase Lake, and developers longingly looked at pieces of prime real estate, such as Chase Lake and Esperance Park. Esperance is keenly located close enough to Highway 99 to make it attractive to “big box businesses”, but far enough away from “the Bowl” to not impact Edmonds “proper” residents.

In 2005, then Mayor Gary Haakensen pushed hard for Edmonds to annex this leafy part of Washington State. Battle lines were drawn, and the voters of Esperance took to the ballot boxes to determine their future. The vote was decisive and annexation was rejected. 

Not to be deterred, the Mayor pushed again for annexation in 2008. Again, the vote was strongly against annexation and Mayor Haakensen is quoted as saying “never again” to a drive for annexation.

None of this is new to the residents of Esperance. There have been repeated attempts throughout the years by Edmonds (and even one by Esperance itself) to annex this enclave, and it’s been happening a street at a time. Esperance is much smaller than it used to be, with the current area making up approximately 1 square mile of Washington State.

Fast forward, ten years..

Just as the “men of the west” slept and Saurons’ armies grew in the East, the same could be said of the activities of Mayor Dave Earling. Rumors have circulated for over a year in Esperance of an effort by the Mayor of Edmonds to annex Esperance without a vote. Multiple members of the ACE team have reached out to both City and County officials, only to receive strong silence from Stephanie Wright (Snohomish County) or varying degrees of either confirmation and hostility (Diane Buckshnish) or amiable communication (Mike Nelson) until the Mayor himself was copied on the interaction. Communication abruptly stopped.

To the credit of two members of the Edmonds City Council (Mike Nelson and Adrienne Fraley-Monillas), the Mayor has been asked time and time again to not exclude people from the democratic process. It seems the Mayor has been advocating for annexation, using one of two possible ways via the Washington State “island annexation” law (see: http://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=35.13.182 ). Essentially, the Mayor could begin the process, in conjunction with Snohomish County, and residents have 45 days to begin gathering signatures to petition local government for a vote.

As incredulous as this sounds, this seems to have been the intention of the Mayor until as recently as May, 2018. During the inaugural meeting of the ACE group and community, Council member Fraley-Monillas stated that the plan to annex was “now off the table” due to an apparent issue with financing. Throughout the first meeting, mention was made of several issues that needed to be addressed:

  1. Funding an additional four full time police officers for Edmonds PD
  2. The cost to maintain Esperance Park
  3. The burden Esperance (and other unincorporated areas) place upon Snohomish County
  4. A fee of $1m to be paid yearly for three years

Of course, there is no written record of these “arrangements” but according to Council member Fraley-Morillas, the Mayor dictated that Edmonds was now “out” of the deal, since no funds were going to be provided by Snohomish County. When asked to clarify what or where this request for $1m came from, Council member Fraley-Morillas couldn’t say, since she “was not in the room at the time”. Attempts to reach the Snohomish Country representative for Esperance, Stephanie Wright, have failed. Despite accepting an invitation to attend the second meeting of the ACE group, Council member Wright chose not to join us at the meeting as planned.

What is clear is that the Mayor was attempting to circumvent the people of Esperance and push annexation through without any democratic process. It’s appropriate that we’re seeing this now, as we approach the Fourth of July, when our Founding Fathers first stood up against taxation without representation.