‘Everyone has something at stake here’: Chen explains request to revisit streateries decision

Will Chen

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.

Diners at the Salt & Iron streatery enjoy the view in April 2021. (Photo by Sam Spencer)

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:
https://zoom.us/j/95798484261
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

 

17 Replies to “‘Everyone has something at stake here’: Chen explains request to revisit streateries decision”

  1. Will has a good point about the amount of effort on this topic. Let’s get our dysfunctional city council focused on issues that really matter like the increasing rate of crime both in and outside of the bowl. Maybe now, with Will and Neil onboard, we can get more important problems solved.

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  2. City of Edmonds Zoning law (ECDC 16.43.040) establishes Operating Restrictions in the BD, Downtown Business Zone. All uses in the BD Zone shall be carried on entirely within a completely enclosed building. Shall means it is mandatory.

    Edmonds City Council has established 9 exceptions to this Zoning law. One exception, for example, is the exception allowing use of public right-of-way (public sidewalks) for Bistro and Outdoor Dining.

    Edmonds City Council has never voted to establish a tenth (10th) exception for Streateries. Streateries have not been allowed under our Zoning laws since the beginning.

    Edmonds City Council once again failed to discuss establishing an exception for Streateries during recent City Council Meetings. The recent City Council Meetings were held in response to a request made by the Washington Hospitality Association (WHA) to continue our Streateries program past the sunset date of December 31, 2021.

    The legislative process in response to WHA’s request overlooked the City’s operating restrictions in the BD, Downtown Business Zone.

    During a Special Meeting held on December 16, 2021, Council voted to adopt Ordinance 4243. That portion of the December 16, 2021 Special Meeting was so poorly presided over by Mayor Nelson that I fear not all Councilmembers understood what they were voting on when the Main Motion was considered.

    Ordinance 4243 is not yet in effect as law in Edmonds. The effective date of Ordinance 4243 shall be five days after the date of publication. I don’t know if Ordinance 4243 has been published yet. I follow Edmonds City government very closely and I don’t know if Ordinance 4243 even exists in its final form yet. All can see that Ordinance 4243 is not included in the Special Meeting Agenda Packet for December 20, 2021.

    I emailed City Council President Susan Paine last evening an email asking: How can Edmonds City Council AMEND an Ordinance that isn’t in effect as law yet?

    I encourage Council President Susan Paine to disclose to the public the State or City law that allows Ordinance 4243 to be amended prior to its effective date.

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    1. Chen should insist this meeting be held on the 21st as that would cure this apparent problem. Also all the council members would be able to attend then, otherwise there will always be a shadow over this meeting and it’s decisions.

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    1. And giving away public land use essentially for free to further private gain or to save private business is a really good thing? Pretty much illegal, but good for all I guess, so what the hell? Let’s just do it. Kind of like we really love Capitalism until it fails and then we immediately go for Socialism for the rich using tax dollars to save our economy. What a farce and it never ends.

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  3. Wow – Will is able to look at the streaterie issue objectively and calmly when there is so much incoming fire from both sides, make a public statement that explains his reasoning in what I would argue is a logical manner, and then also in that same statement point out that in fact some of the real issues we should be talking about are buried by this nonsense. You know what is “appalling?” The fact we have wasted hours and hours on this issue when nobody gave a second thought to the folks that outright lost their businesses on 99 and have to contend with less than ideal public safety issues all day long. That is truly appalling IMHO. All this above is why Will needs to be exactly where he is right now.

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  4. I think Will Chen makes good sense. $4,000 is a lot to pay up front in a lump sum. Heck it seems a lot to pay anyway. I just want ALL the businesses using parking spots – even those who have dedicated take-out spots in front of their businesses – to pay whatever fee is determined. I don’t care if the streateries “look bad”, but whether they save lives. Good luck to Will moving forward in this very contentious community.

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  5. It’s time to give the Edmonds community back our public parking and sidewalks. Kudos to Will Chen, Vivian Olson, Kristina Johnson and Diane Buckshnis for caring about the preservation of the charming Edmonds we know and love, with an equitable solution for all.
    These 17 restaurants were given a generous gift to use the taxpayers property for a limited amount of time due to the onset of the pandemic, they are now abusing that gift and taking advantage of our entire community. It’s a slippery slope, before you know it the restaurant owners will want this temporary gift of using our public property to become permanent. Many leaders have opted to close our downtown streets completely in the summer months providing no available parking, now they are proposing to take away 34 parking spaces though out the year. Is their goal to make downtown Edmonds one big street fair with no parking, ever? The demographics in Edmonds cannot support the removal of convenient parking.
    Edmonds was never designed to shoulder these large structures in our small downtown area. Remove the structures and return our downtown parking and our sidewalks to those who need them and pay for them! As Vivian Olson so clearly pointed in the December 16th meeting, there are many other choices for outdoor dining without allowing these 17 restaurant owners in the bowl to overrun our community and take away valuable parking.

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    1. Perfectly said, Nancy! It’s sad to see people willingly turn over our public property to private business and allow our charming town to become a shantytown. If this continues, this may indeed become permanent and what a loss it will be. If people care about preserving the beautiful downtown we once had and access to our streets and sidewalks, please speak up now to have these structures removed or our downtown may become an on-going Taste of Edmonds forever.

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  6. Thank you Will Chen! We didn’t vote for you but based on what we have seen so far we are glad you are there and you will have our votes going forward based on your ability to be objective, moderate, and trying to get our council to work respectfully and productively together. We love the streateries and understand that there are many different and valid opinions. Thanks again for representing “ALL OF US” versus just taking sides.

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  7. “WASH. STATE CONSTITUTION: ARTICLE 8, SECTION 7 CREDIT NOT TO BE LOANED. No county, city, town or other municipal corporation shall hereafter give any money, or property, or loan its money, or credit to or in aid of any individual, association, company or corporation, except for the necessary support of the poor and infirm…”

    This means Edmonds must charge a fair market rental fee for the private use of City rights of way. This is not a permit fee, it is rent. So far all just free. Why does our City Council continue to ignore this elephant in the room?

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  8. Councilmember Chen is the newest City Councilmember and doesn’t know the law. Unfortunately, the Council is being poorly advised by our City Attorney.

    Just emailed the City Council the following:

    The Open Public Meeting Act (“OPMA”) enacted in 1971 by the legislature and declared the purpose of law in the most forceful of terms. The Court has recognized the strong language used in the statue and for requirements of the law to be liberally construed. The OPMA specifically states “a special meeting maybe called at any time by the presiding officer of the governing body of a public agency or by a majority of the members of the governing body….” Not three council members as stated in the Edmonds City Council Special Meeting Agenda, December 20th, 2021.

    The OPMA provides failure to comply subject a member of the governing body to personal liability in the form of a civil penalty of $500.00 for the first violation and $1,000.00 for the any subsequent violation.

    While the RCWs conflict. The Optional Municipal Code – Mayor-Council plan of government statue that states three members of the governing body may call for Special Meeting. This legislation was enacted prior to the OPMA. The Courts are available for statutory interpretation in the event of ambiguity. If the language of the statue is plain, free for ambiguity and devoid of uncertainty, there is no room for construction because the legislative intention in 1971 derives solely from plain meaning of the word “majority” not three councilmembers.

    Should you proceed with this Special Meeting your personal action will be done and adjudged with knowledge of the violation of OMPA.

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    1. Finis, some years ago the City Council held a hearing to establish the BID (Ed!) following a filed petition to establish one. The hearing was held when people were on holiday, and everyone thought it was called off due to not getting enough endorsements. Notices were not sent in time, and not published in the paper in time, and the petition failed. The city attorney also said that was legal when asked by Lora Petso.

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    2. Thank you for speaking up Finis. I remember you doing the same when a friend and I sued the city 20 years ago for an improper land development decision – that we won in superior court. Thank you.

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  9. Does the $4,000 tax on restaurants allowing them to keep their dining shacks open prevent COVID from entering the outdoor dining space? Obviously the answer to that is a big NO, so why are we all of a sudden charging them $4,000?

    The Streateries were created to keep restaurants open during the height of the pandemic. Most of us have been vaccinated, natural immunity is proven to work and we all just want to get back to normal. So the question should be do we still want the Streateries or should we get rid of them to open up parking for retail customers and retailers? I think the answer to that is a no brainer. The $4,000 one time tax is a business killer and I cannot believe more people cant see this. Restaurants and retailers alike have had it hard enough!!!

    This in my humble opinion is a major gaff by Mr. Chen, which is now 2 in 3 weeks. Hold on to your wallets small businesses, looks like there is more to come on the tax and spend front!!!

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  10. Mr. Chen’s amendment was somewhat based on the very proposal the restaurants had just made as their own compromise for being basically given the free use of city owned public property (public parking space) for private gain, which in itself is something of very questionable legality. It was obviously done on the pretext of a State Emergency related to Covid 19. Mr. Chen’s amendment ups the amount the R.s have to pay, how it’s paid (lump sum) and how long the structures can stay up (Jan. 15th) if the fee is not paid. Sort of the Restaurant’s own proposal on steroids for lack of a better description.

    Mr. Chen apparently wanted to get his amendment changed back more toward the R.s proposal but his attempt failed due to the questionable competence of the Council President, Ms. Paine. If she were more of a stateswoman and less of a politician (dancing to the tune of the Mayor and his Staff on almost all occasions) this thing would have probably gotten resolved in a much more desirable and equitable manner. Ms. Paine is the fly in the governmental management ointment here, not Mr. Chen. We have a weak City Council being run by biased politicians with the aid of very questionable legal advice. Sorry for what will be perceived as incivility here, but the truth is the truth, and the sooner we all face it the better off we will be in terms of a good city to live in and be part of. Right now we are the laughing stock of the whole PNW and we need to do something about that.

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  11. “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.” -Chen_ IMO It should be based on city revenue lost from these spaces due to the inconvenience of customers not being able to park in these spaces. This is simply a money grab. I would like to introduce the phrase “price gouging”.

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