Updated Friday with a statement from Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson.
After weeks of discussion about the future of outdoor dining structures known as streateries, the Edmonds City Council voted 5-2 Thursday night to extend permitting for them through April 30, 2022, with a $4,000 one-time fee charged to participating restaurants.
The city council in December 2020 passed an ordinance that allowed the temporary streateries in on-street parking spaces, with the goal of giving the public an outdoor dining option during COVID-19. That ordinance was scheduled to sunset Dec. 31, but city staff had proposed extending it for six months. A total of 17 downtown restaurants have taken advantage of the streateries option during the past year.
Stating the streateries should continue as part of the city’s effort to protect public and economic health, Councilmember Laura Johnson moved to approve the extension as proposed by staff through June 30, 2022. However, Councilmember Will Chen proposed an amendment with an earlier sunset date of April 30, along with the $4,000 lump-sum fee per streatery, due Dec. 31, 2021. The amendment also states that any streatery operator who does not want to pay the permit extension fee must remove their streatery by Jan. 15, 2022.
Under Chen’s amendment, the money generated from the fees will be used to secure additional parking spaces downtown for use by the public. Chen said he heard from businesses, pedestrians and senior citizens who have expressed the desire for more parking.
Chen’s amendment was approved by a 4-3 vote, and he was joined by Councilmembers Diane Buckshnis, Kristiana Johnson and Vivian Olson in voting yes. (Councilmember Kristiana Johnson had also proposed a substitute amendment that would have had the streateries sunset Dec. 31, but that died for a lack of a second.)
The $4,000 fee drew sharp criticism from the council minority of Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, Laura Johnson and Susan Paine, who called it “appalling,” “elitist” and “anti-business.”
“What you are doing theoretically, is standing opposed to other businesses,” Fraley-Monillas said.
“Any fee that we do should be justifiable,” Johnson said. “It shouldn’t be extravagant, punitive or pulled out of the air — it needs to be based on something.” She also noted that, according to data shared by staff, the fee is significantly more than what any other city is doing — with a $400 flat fee the highest of what other cities charge.
“What we are saying is we are not business-friendly,” Paine said. “What we’re saying is the exact opposite.”
Laura Johnson said she supports “a fee that can be justified, but I don’t know what that is.” A group of downtown retailers and streatery operators had issued a statement earlier this week proposing a fee of $500 to $750 a month, and Johnson reluctantly proposed amending Chen’s amendment to charge $500 monthly. She also proposed returning the sunset date to June 30.
Following up on the council’s conversation about how to determine an appropriate fee, Chen asked Development Services Director McLaughlin what city staff believes the fee should be. She replied that since city doesn’t have paid parking, it doesn’t have a methodology to assess what the value of a parking space is. Thus the fee that city charges per streatery currently is $110 to cover staff costs for permitting.
Laura Johnson’s amendment for the $500 fee failed on a 3-4 vote, with Buckshnis, Chen, Kristiana Johnson and Vivian Olson voting no.
Before Chen’s amendment was approved, there were questions regarding whether his intent was to have the fee be a one-time $4,000 fee or a $1,000 monthly fee for four months. Given the confusion, Chen then offered an amendment for a $2,000 one-time fee, but that died for lack of a second.
Chen also pushed back on criticism from the council minority, stating “I don’t appreciate the comment about we don’t care about the businesses. The business downtown is not just restaurant business. It’s our seniors, it’s our retailers, it’s our restaurants, it’s our movie theaters, it’s the whole community — it’s not just 17 restaurants.”
Once Chen’s original amendment with the $4,000 fee was approved, the council voted on the amended streateries ordinance and it passed by a 5-2 vote, with Councilmembers Chen, Fraley-Monillas, Kristiana Johnson, Laura Johnson and Susan Paine in favor.
In addressing support for the streateries, city staff cited a recent survey that was conducted using the Survey Monkey platform and drew responses from more than 4,100 people. The city noted that the majority of respondents would likely patronize downtown restaurants less if the streateries were removed. Staff have also pointed to sales tax data showing that the vast majority of downtown retail businesses have profited since the streateries were allowed.
During a recent public hearing, comments on the streateries extension reflected a range of opinions. Council President Susan Paine said Thursday night that through Tuesday, the council had received 140 emails on the topic, with the majority of them expressing support for continuing the streateries to allow them to dine comfortably outdoors. Paine and Councilmember Laura Johnson also noted the council has received photos of people enjoying the streateries, including families with young children.
Councilmember Vivian Olson said she was concerned about the streateries’ impact on those existing Edmonds restaurants that already offered outdoor dining, many of whom were paying for that privilege with higher rents. She then went on to list 28 restaurants in Edmonds that have outdoor, non-streatery dining already available.
“We are definitely offering more than enough outdoor dining options to meet the COVID safety and flu safety that our citizens are looking for,” Olson said.
Councilmember Adrienne Fraley-Monillas replied that most of the restaurants Olson mentioned did not have roofs, to which Olson responded “quite a few them also do have roofs.”
After the council vote Thursday night, restaurateur Shubert Ho offered his thanks to “the councilmembers who supported the idea of a final extension to the emergency ordinance. At the end of the day, it wasn’t the compromise that streatery participants and merchants agreed on, but something is better than nothing,” said Ho, who as co-owner of the Feedme Hospitality Group operates several Edmonds restaurants with streateries.
“The restaurant industry is not for the faint of heart, and if there’s any indication of how we have survived through this pandemic, today’s decision was just a minor setback,” Ho added. “I have all the faith in the world that our restaurants and merchants will continue to thrive together because of this extension, and that it will set the precedent for the future evolution of our town.”
In a statement issues Friday, Edmonds Mayor Mike Nelson blasted the council’s action, notiong that Edmonds’streateries program “has been a resounding success keeping our community safe and our local economy thriving during the pandemic.”
“Thanks to the actions of select councilmembers last night, our city now has the shameful distinction of charging restaurants the highest permit fee in the nation,” Nelson continued. “Our small businesses that were hurt the most will now need to pay the most. This action will have a crippling impact to our downtown.”
In other business, the council approved the city’s 2022 legislative agenda for the upcoming session of the Washington State Legislature.
During council comments, councilmembers and Mayor Mike Nelson thanked Fraley-Monillas for her years of service, as Thursday was her last council meeting. Fraley-Monillas expressed gratitude to her family for standing behind her while she was on the council, and also to the fellow councilmembers and residents who have shown support over the years. She said she planned to stay involved with the city, and added she may even write a blog that is a “behind-the-scenes” look at the city council.
The council and Mayor Nelson also offered their appreciation to long-time Economic Development and Community Services Director Patrick Doherty, who is retiring at the end of this month.
— By Teresa Wippel