Rent control for small business: Sawant and Capitol Hill owners have a plan

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Dave Meinert says pro-small business rhetoric is rarely followed up by policy. (Image: CHS)

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Sawant had this list from a summer art event of “iconic” closed businesses in hand while pitching a commercial rent control. (Image: Alex Garland)

City Council member Kshama Sawant joined Capitol Hill business owners and advocates Tuesday morning to release a seven-point plan reflecting a rare crossroads in Seattle politics: pro-worker policies and the interests of small business.

At the top of the list, a proposal to enact some form of rent control for small businesses. According to Sawant’s office, the statewide ban on rent control only applies to residential properties, not commercial ones.

City Attorney Pete Holmes told CHS he hasn’t personally reviewed Sawant’s proposal, but his office is working on it.

Other pieces of the plan include creating a City-backed “portable retirement account” system, a new municipal bank, and expanded late night transit to help “swing shift” workers commute.

“There’s a lot of of small business rhetoric from corporate politicians but little actual policymaking that help our city’s small business,” Sawant said.

As budget negotiations continue, Sawant wants to take a page out of Mayor Ed Murray’s playbook by creating a commission to study commercial rent control and eventually draft an ordinance.How the commission defines a small business will be closely scrutinized. Capitol Hill nightlife and restaurant owner Dave Meinert said he favored using an existing scheme, like the 500 employee threshold used in Seattle’s minimum wage law.

Noting the ways in which small businesses are impacted by “street disorder,” the plan also calls for expanding homeless outreach and creating a new Urban Rest Stop on Capitol Hill. An Urban Rest Stop recently opened in Ballard, offering restrooms, shower and laundry facilities.

The issue was particularly important to Le Frock owner Paula Lucas, who said she was once attacked in front of her Capitol Hill store by someone suffering from mental illness. As one of the small businesses displaced by the Melrose and Pine development, Lucas said her vintage clothier needed the City’s help to stay afloat amid so much upheaval in the neighborhood. “We were displaced by construction,” she said.

To sustain the voice of small business at City Hall, Sawant also proposed creating a small business task force. It’s first order of business? To start hammering out the details of Sawant’s plan.

Meinert, who owns Lost Lake, the Comet, and Ernest Loves Agnes, has tussled with Sawant in the past over the $15 minimum wage issue, making the pairing a little unusual. The two apparently started having more productive conversations while pounding out the final minimum wage deal on the mayor’s Income Inequality Advisory Committee last year.

To help small businesses who struggle to offer retirement benefits to workers, Sawant has proposed a City-sponsored portable pension plan. According to a media release, the pension plan would “allow small businesses the choice of easily contributing into a portable pension account. This would increase pension benefits for workers at small companies who change employers or have multiple employers.”

The lack of retirement benefits has been a major barrier to creating a more permanent work force in the restaurant industry, said Mike Rodriguez of Restaurant Opportunities Center United.

After the media conference, developer lobbyist Roger Valdez of Smart Growth Seattle said he was supportive of some of the ideas and was eager to work with Sawant on, among other things, changing the zoning code to encourage smaller commercial spaces in new projects. He was less supportive in a statement sent to media Tuesday morning:

Sawant’s small business announcement comes in the final stretch of her bid to represent District 3 at City Council. While she has criticized large corporations in the past for eroding small business, her fight for $15 had a chilling effect on many local owners. On Tuesday, Sawant said her plan proved she shared plenty of common ground with small, independents.

Other Capitol Hill-area supporters of the plan include Molly Moon Nietzel of Molly Moon’s ice cream, Neumos co-owner Marcus Charles, AfricaTown activist K. Wyking Garrett, and Med Mix owner Ottman Bezzaza.

Ks Small Biz

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10 thoughts on “Rent control for small business: Sawant and Capitol Hill owners have a plan

  1. The city should be incenting builders to build smaller retail spaces, and possibly even incenting them to build them out beyond just concrete floor and studs. Many small businesses can’t spend $300-500k to build out a space. This is one of the reasons why you see so many chains moving into the new buildings.

    But instead of focusing on the logical and practical solution, we get this grandstanding on an illegal and ineffective proposal….conveniently timed just days before the election. A stunt to get Ms. Sawant’s name in the paper one last time should not be confused with good policy.

  2. Because smaller retailers don’t factor in the build cost when they pick a site. More so, they don’t factor in the square footage of the place either.

    Oh, and surely developers will know exactly what the retailers want before they move in, so they can have that prebuilt for them, and they of course won’t just pass that cost on to the tenants.

    And as the article says, the current ban on rent control only covers residential controls, not businesses.

    Seriously, did you even read anything about the article, or did you just see Sawant’s name and turn on your mental blinders to anything logical, factual, or remotely correct.

  3. Mea culpa on missing the part about the ban not applying to businesses. However just because it’s legal in this particular case still makes it no better of a policy. Articifical price floors and ceilings don’t work.

  4. This is this biggest bunch of BS. The list of RIP is complete crap. Piecora’s? Didn’t Danny Piecora the small business owner sell out for over 10 Million dollars? And the King Fish? I find it amusing that Dave Meinert took over their old space after they closed, and somehow he is the new champion of preserving small business. This is all becoming so transparent. Kshama Sawant doesn’t give a crap about any business owners. Remember…. she’s a Socialist and all business owners who work for profit are supposedly pariah’s. Wake up people.

  5. Gee, I hope that we also cap the level of profits that a small business can make while we are at it. If this can be done to the landlords, many of whom are small businesses in the business of owning and managing property, it stands to reason that their tenants should enjoy the same limits. Imagine that. This is beyond stupid. And Molly, you might just be the first one to be curbed. I can’t believe that those lines out your doors that I see on Pike street by eater ice cream eaters, paying several dollars a scoop, are lining your pockets. We should limit the multiple of your ice cream cost that you can charge, ensure that every one of your young scooper staff have a living wage, 401K, and full health care on your dime, and that your profits are not on the backs of the community who may be stretched in their ability to pay for their ice cream cravings.

  6. Ha. This list is a joke! Half Price Books is a chain based in Texas with 120 locations. Travellers moved to Beacon Hill. Piecoras sold out to developers. And on and on.

  7. This is the last straw as to why I will not vote for Sawant again. For someone with a PhD she certainly did not perform any diligence into the efficacy of the businesses listed as being ‘mourned due to high rents’. The following is why her presented evidence is a non-sequitur in regards to rent-related issues:

    Rosebud: Went under because the two idiot owners didn’t have a clue as to what they were doing and ran the business into the ground – in spite of having a wonderful staff with faithful followings. Mark, the landlord, and Johnny Chicago did everything they could to help save Rosebud but Sondheim and Bussey are such dumbshits nothing could have saved that business.

    Charlie’s: WTF? Does Sawant not read? It is re-opening soon under new ownership. Ken Bauer, the previous owner, is in his 70’s, his business partner had died and he just wanted to retire and spend time with the grandkids. Can’t blame him.

    Bill’s Off Broadway: Again, WTF? It has already re-opened and is doing quite nicely.

    B & O: The owners had an offer to return to the new location but decided they had enough and it was time to retire.

    Septieme: Yeah, we all loved Septieme and hated to see it go. But Victor, the final owner, laughed when I showed him this list – he might be contacting Sawant to set her straight. Septieme need about $500K in kitchen improvements and he didn’t have the cash. Besides, the property owner wanted to redevelop the property, which he did.

    The BWay Grill: This place was done in by inept management and a credit card scandal that trashed alot of people – myself included. This plus the fact that it needed very expensive leasehold improvements meant it simply was no longer viable. The property is worth more than the building. Many fun times there but it needs to meet the bulldozer.

    Piecora’s: See comments above! Can’t blame the Piecora family – I would have done the same thing.

    Harvard Exit: Here is the real crime on this list – a valued and beloved neighborhood cultural and arts mecca taken away by a back-door deal with zero public comment. Where was Sawant when many of us wanted to preserve The Exit? Neither she nor CHCC nor the CH Chamber stepped up to prevent this travesty even though the word was out. Quite honestly I don’t see where she has done anything to help preserve the Capitol Hill arts community.

    I take issue with Banks on some of her statements and comments and am not completely satisfied with her. However she does have an overall good track record and will be getting my vote, at least this time.

  8. Carla and others nailed it. Seriously Kshama, you think this pandering to small business is going to change things? This is a completely transparent list of weak arguments meant to cover for her previously divisive tone towards business of all kinds, regardless of corporate status. I’ll be voting for anything but Kshama, because the straw hath broken the camel’s back.

  9. Don’t forget the video rental stores on the list. Because everybody is running out to video stores to get their movie rentals…..but for less expensive rents.