As the Edmonds City Council prepares to once again discuss the streateries issue during a special meeting Monday night, Edmonds City Councilmember Will Chen said Sunday it was his idea to revisit how much to charge the 17 downtown restaurants using public parking spaces for outdoor dining.
Chen drew both criticism and praise for his original proposal — approved on a 5-2 vote by the council Dec. 16 — to assess restaurants a $4,000 lump-sum fee to continue operating their streateries through April 30, 2022. Permitting for the temporary outdoor structures was scheduled to sunset on Dec. 31. Chen’s proposal was an amendment to one proposed by Councilmember Laura Johnson, which mirrored a city staff recommendation to extend the streateries through June 30, 2022, with no charge other than the $110 initial permitting fee to cover staff costs.
Councilmembers Laura Johnson, Adrienne Fraley-Monillas and Susan Paine called Chen’s proposal — which was supported on a 4-3 vote by Chen and Councilmembers Diane Buckshnis, Kristiana Johnson and Vivian Olson — “appalling,” “elitist” and “anti-business.”
During the discussion Dec. 16, Chen replied that he didn’t appreciate the comments labeling him as anti-business, adding he had heard from retailers and customers who were negatively impacted by the loss of parking. “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,” he said Dec. 16. Chen said the funds raised from the $4,000 assessment would be used to lease additional private parking for public use, to offset the parking spaces used by the streateries.
So what changed?
Chen said Sunday night that he proposed taking another look at the $4,000 fee, for several reasons. He explained that he had originally suggested $4,000 based on the square footage of the parking spaces the streateries were using and how that would compare if the operators had to pay rent for expanding their dining areas by that same amount. But he said that the continued spread of the COVID-19 omicron variant is concerning, and he believes it’s important to give the public as many options as possible right now for outdoor dining. A lower fee — $2,000 is the option listed in the agenda packet — “would ease some of the burdens for restaurants,” he said. The new proposal before the council would also allow the streatery operators to pay the fee in monthly installments, rather than requiring a lump sum.
When looking for a compromise, Chen said he landed on the $2,000 figure because that was the number at the lower end of the $500-$750 a month range proposed in a joint statement prepared by downtown retailers and streatery operators. (In addition, Laura Johnson Dec. 16 had proposed an amendment to Chen’s amendment for a $500-per-month monthly fee, although it failed.)
He stressed however, that the lower fee, is still “a favor to the restaurants, so to speak. Clearly the restaurants benefited from it (the streateries permitting) big time, they need to pick up the cost for those parking spots, those are publicly funded tax dollars those streateries are using.” Chen also reiterated that while he believes the original $4,000 proposed amount “was fair,” he stressed that “we need to compromise — we cannot just go all in or all out, because everyone has something at stake here.”
City staff “are still recommending to extend for free,” Chen said, adding “that is not going to fly.”
The downside of the lower fee, Chen said, is that there will be less money to acquire additional parking spaces. However, he is hopeful that the city can used some of its federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to make up the difference.
The proposed amendments to be considered Monday night also include changing the April 30 permit extension date approved by the council to May 31, 2022, but Chen said he supports keeping the April 30 end date.
The current streateries are meant to be temporary, Chen said, although he supports the idea of looking at ways to develop more permanent outdoor dining options in Edmonds. That’s why, he said, he suggested at the Dec. 16 meeting that the city form a task force to look into those ideas.
But the bigger issue, Chen said, is how much time and energy the city has put into the downtown area when it is one of many Edmonds neighborhoods. In particular, he noted the 14 businesses destroyed at Plum Tree Plaza in Edmonds’ Highway 99 neighborhood in September, and wondered how much attention that destructive fire would have generated if it had occurred in downtown Edmonds.
Many of the Plum Tree Plaza business owners are “first-generation immigrants whose livelihoods depends on these small businesses,” he added.
“We pour so much public attention into these 17 streateries,” Chen said, while there are “all kinds of public safety problems on Highway 99 and elsewhere and our city staff continues to guide attention to downtown area.”
Navigating the streateries issue, Chen said, reinforces his belief that “our community needs to come together to compromise on different issues from streateries to affordable housing, to zoning. We need to look at options that wil benefit everybody and be able to meet in the middle.”
Yet, the newly elected councilmember who took office Nov. 23 said he recognizes that his attempts at compromise will continue to draw fire from those who expect him to take sides.
“I can just do what’s right and can care less about how people label me,” Chen said. “It’s a free country and they have a right to do that.”
Monday night’s meeting will be held virtually using the Zoom meeting platform. To view or listen to the Edmonds City Council meeting, paste the following into a web browser using a computer or smart phone:
Or join by phone: US: +1 253 215 8782 Webinar ID: 957 9848 4261
Those wishing to provide audience comments using a computer or smart phone are instructed to raise a virtual hand to be recognized. Persons who want to provide audience comments by dial-up phone are instructed to press *9 to raise a hand. When prompted, press *6 to unmute.
You can see the complete special meeting agenda here.
— By Teresa Wippel