What some Capitol Hill businesses are saying about the Seattle minimum wage study

Researchers from the University of Washington presented before a full City Council their early analysis of the impact of Seattle’s gradual march to a universal $15 minimum wage. The report — the first in a series of several commissioned by the council in tandem with their passing of the original wage hike ordinance — showed that, aside from a roughly 7% price increase in Seattle’s restaurant industry, there hasn’t been runaway cross-industry price inflation like some critics predicted. So, what do Capitol Hill’s bar, restaurant, and retail business owners have to say about the findings?

The report surveyed 567 Seattle businesses (the majority of whom have less than 500 employees, the city’s definition of ‘small business’) and 55 employees between the months of January 2015 and May 2015. During that period, the ordinance raised hourly wages to eleven dollars for non-tipped workers and ten for those receiving tips or medical benefits. And while the report didn’t find substantial price inflation (a look at grocery store, gasoline, and retail prices showed no noticeable increase), in addition to the recorded uptick in restaurant prices, a majority of employers surveyed said that they have or plan to raise their prices in order to accommodate the new labor costs.

“The bottom line is if there’s any place we can find price impacts, it is in restaurant sector,” research Jake Vigdor from the University of Washington Evans School of Governance and Public Policy told the council.

Capitol Hill business owners say these findings aren’t shocking. “We all knew that prices would go up and we’re seeing that as a result,” said Pike/Pine nightlife entrepreneur David Meinert. “I don’t think anyone should be surprised at that.”

Rich Fox, co-owner of Poquitos restaurant on Pike and the Rhein Haus on 12th, agrees. “What I see [in the report] is pretty consistent with what we’re dealing with at this point,” he said. “We’ve raised prices to account for the increase in labor.”

Both Fox and Meinert say that they haven’t raised prices universally (like bumping everything up 2% or what have you), but have strategically looked at what has been selling and where they think they can push consumer spending limits. “You pick your battles, where there is acceptable room to move and what you’ve sold in the past,” said Fox. Continue reading

Civic duty | Sawant ‘End Mass Incarceration’ forum, EastPAC community crime meeting

Thursday night brings overlapping opportunities to meet and learn more about how we police the streets of the East Precinct. The gatherings also present views of two strikingly different points in the path to crime and justice.

11217973_1158704170841245_4819840984223012997_nCity Council member and District 3 representative Kshama Sawant will present a forum discussion of efforts to expand the city’s Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion program:

Please join me and the Capitol Hill Community Council on Thursday, April 28th at 7 pm at the Miller Community Center (330 19th Ave E, 98112) to discuss how we can implement the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (L.E.A.D.) program in District 3 as a possible alternative to failed “tough on crime” policies.

EastPAC-Logo-2015-Small_3Meanwhile, the SPD-backed East Precinct Advisor Council will hold its monthly meeting with a focus on the latest crime trends and enforcement efforts around Capitol Hill and the Central District:

Please join us for our monthly meeting. We will review: The current SeaStat report for Seattle with a focus on East Precinct. The Micro Community Police Plans Current initiatives

EastPAC April Meeting
April 28th, 6:30 to 8:00 PM in room 142 at Seattle University’s Chardin Hall, 1020 East Jefferson

Ending Mass Incarceration | LEAD: An Alternative to Jail and Prison
April 28th, 7:00 to 9:00 PM at the Miller Community Center, 330 19th Ave E

Expanded list of seismically risky buildings could spur a new development wave on Capitol Hill

(Image: CHS/Data Source: City of Seattle)

(Image: CHS/Data Source: City of Seattle)

The City of Seattle has added some 300 buildings to its list of old brick structures most at risk of damage or collapse in the event of a major earthquake. Among the 1,160 “unreinforced masonry structures” counted in a recent report, Capitol Hill continues to have the most of any neighborhood in the city.

The latest URM survey added 16 Capitol Hill structures to the city’s 2012 list, bringing the neighborhood’s total count to 152 URM buildings — 13% of all URMs in Seattle. 44 were counted on First Hill and 24 were counted in the Central Area/Squire ParkScreen Shot 2016-04-25 at 10.39.07 PM

Property owners with buildings on the list began receiving notifications this month from Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections. No immediate action is required, but it may be in the future.

Finalizing the inventory of URMs is an important step in the city’s goal to one day mandate all URMs undergo seismic retrofitting. Currently, property owners are only required to retrofit URMs when there is a major upgrade or change of use of their building. The city has been working on a mandate for years and the City Council is not expected to consider legislation until 2017.

The report found the vast majority of Capitol Hill’s URMs had no evidence of retrofitting, although it is possible some work was overlooked. Owners have an opportunity to challenge the URM designation or offer additional information, but they will need to hire an engineer to perform an in-depth analysis of the the building, according to the report.

That could kick off another round of Capitol Hill preservation developments and demolitions. Earthquake prevention work can be an enormously expensive, especially for individual owners who may deicide to sell in the face of such costs. It happened before at the Callahan Auto building and many fear a retrofit mandate would put many businesses and independent property owners in jeopardy. By using preservation incentives, DCI says it wants to save as many buildings as possible.

“The last thing we want to do is to encourage people to demolish these structures,” said DCI spokesperson Bryan Stevens. “Generally speaking, I think people want to see these structures preserved.” Continue reading

City Council Notes | Seattle drinking water update, Business Improvement Area rules, Stonewall

Here are a few items of note from Monday action at City Hall:

  • Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 3.41.07 PMSeattle drinking water warning: The Council heard Monday that the Seattle Public Utilities warning that drinking water in the city’s older homes could be contaminated with lead can be, well, watered down. From SPU:
    Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) said today that two days of extensive testing in five Seattle homes confirms the city’s water continues to be safe to drink. The utility started testing after learning last week that Tacoma Public Utilities had detected high levels of lead in four water samples taken from galvanized steel service lines. In response to that information, SPU asked Seattle residents to run their water before using it if the water had not been run for a while. SPU then initiated its own tests to see if the problems reported in Tacoma exist here. The Seattle test results announced today are well below the action level for lead of 15 parts per billion (ppb). The highest level recorded in Seattle’s tests was 1.95 ppb.

    SPU has also rolled out a new tool to look up information about the water pipes serving residences at www.seattle.gov/util/lead.

  • Switch to districts = more work = more City Hall employees: The City Council voted Monday afternoon to approve a new legislative staffer for each of the body’s nine elected members:
    In 2013, Seattle voters approved an amendment to the City Charter that changed the way that Councilmembers were elected. Beginning in 2015, seven of the nine Councilmembers were elected by district, with the remaining two positions being elected “at large.” The additional staff support provided by the new positions in this ordinance will be used to address the increased workload resulting from this switch to district elections.
    Some questioned why Council members need more support simply because of the switch to districts in Seattle. The Council voted 8-1 Monday to approve the new headcount.
  • Business Improvement Area rules: Monday, the full Council also approved a clean-up of the rules used to govern the city’s Business Improvement Areas — just in time for the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce’s 2016 plans to greatly expand the neighborhood’s BIA.
  • Stonewall: Also passed Monday:
    A RESOLUTION expressing The City of Seattle’s fervent support for the designation of the area around the Stonewall Inn as a National Monument to be administered under the purview of the National Parks Service.

Chamber sets vision for 2016: a greatly expanded Capitol Hill Business Improvement Area

Grim's hosted the chamber's 2016 State of the Hill event Wednesday night (Image: CHS)

Grim’s hosted the chamber’s 2016 State of the Hill event Wednesday night (Image: CHS)

Longtime Capitol Hill lawyer and a godfather of the Pike/Pine entertainment district Jerry Everard was awarded the chamber's 2016 Spirit of the Hill award Wednesday night.

Longtime Capitol Hill lawyer, developer, and a godfather of the Pike/Pine entertainment district Jerry Everard was awarded the chamber’s 2016 Spirit of the Hill award Wednesday night. In his brief acceptance speech, Everard cited respect for past winners, and recalled chamber meeting minutes from 20 years ago where he was meeting with E Precinct representatives about nightlife issues. “It’s all of those people who do all of that work for no recognition -— not looking for recognition —- that really keep making the great neighborhood what it is,” Everard said.The 2016 nominees are listed here.

There was a new Spirit of the Hill announced Wednesday night — and we’re not just talking about attorney and developer Jerry Everard’s award from the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce.

In her first State of the Hill event as the director of the chamber, Sierra Hansen for the first time publicly announced a new Business Improvement Area as the pro-business group’s focus for the year ahead.

“This year the chamber is going to do probably the most important thing we’ve done in this neighborhood. And that is put in place a new Business Improvement Area that’s going to have a longterm, sustainable funding source and that is going to address the challenges and the opportunities that the growth in this neighborhood has seen over the last few decades,” Hansen said Wednesday. She cited BIAs formed in Pioneer Square, downtown, and West Seattle as examples for what the Capitol Hill group will try to achieve by the end of the year. Continue reading

Mayor’s small business affordability committee will consider commercial rent control


Murray was joined by a handful of committee members at Hing Hay Coworks in the ID. (Image: CHS)

Mayor Ed Murray is rolling out his tried-and-true policy strategy in an effort to help small businesses weather Seattle’s affordability crisis: a 15-member committee tasked with addressing the rising cost of commercial space.

The group of business owners, developers, and property owners has been directed to “emphasize incentive-based solutions,” but Murray said he was not ruling out commercial rent control.

“Everything can be on the table,” Murray said during the Thursday announcement at Hing Hay Coworks in the International District. “I don’t believe there will be one answer.”

District 3 City Council member Kshama Sawant has been calling for regulating commercial rents since she announced her small business plan in October alongside Capitol Hill owners. City officials believe the state ban on rent control may only apply to residential properties.

Recommendations from the committee are to focus on keeping existing small businesses open and paving the way for new ones:

The group will consider a broad range of solutions to commercial affordability, including incentivizing the construction of smaller commercial spaces, further activation of public spaces to the benefit of food trucks and other small businesses, and inclusion of affordable commercial storefronts in more affordable housing projects.

The Commercial Affordability Advisory Committee includes Melrose Market and Chophouse Row developer Liz Dunn. The Capitol Hill developer has been praised for her buildings that include small spaces for small businesses — an issue Murray said the affordability committee will need to address.

“Often the spaces that are being developed are bigger than what small businesses need,” he said. Continue reading

City Hall cuts first checks for businesses hit by 23rd Ave construction


23rdprojectareaapril2015The first checks totaling $150,000 have been delivered in the mitigation process to help Central District businesses around 23rd Ave survive months of construction to overhaul the street, the Seattle Times reports:

The owners of six businesses received $25,000 mitigation checks last week: Flowers Just 4 U, Magic Dragon, 701 Coffee, Earl’s Cuts and Styles, 99 Cent Plus and Midtown Coin Laundry, said Brian Surratt, Seattle Office of Economic Development director. Seven more businesses have completed intake forms and are planning to apply, Surratt said. Eight other owners have met with members of Surratt’s team, he said.

CHS reported in February on the $650,000 funding package assembled by the Mayor’s office and the Office of Economic Development to quell growing frustrations over the project to transform the street into a new configuration with a center left-turn lane and improve the pedestrian and sidewalk experience along 23rd Ave spanning Montlake, Capitol Hill, and the Central District.

The money was added to an earlier response involving marketing funding and better coordination with the city.

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 2.55.44 PMThe $25,000 payouts are anything but a handout. CHS looked at the requirements on the stabilization program shaped by federal constraints that limited the types of business allowed to part of the financial mitigation. To be eligible, businesses must be located within a zone around 23rd Ave between E John and S King and 21st and 25th Ave, and must have been established before the start of the construction project. They also much be small businesses with five or fewer employees — including the owner. The federal grants behind a portion of the payouts added further limits requiring a majority of customers in a “service area where the total resident population is predominantly low and moderate income,” or owners with household incomes below 80% of the area median income. Finally, the business owner must show revenues have decreased since the start of construction.

We asked frequent critic of the Murray administration’s response — and recipient of one of the $25,000 stabilization fund checks — Sara Mae of 701 Coffee for her thoughts on the first wave of payouts:

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 3.44.37 PMMeanwhile, more construction work is being planned to join the 23rd Ave upgrades. SDOT is planning to electrify a missing two-mile chunk along 23rd Ave to power Metro’s trolley fleet.

You can find out if your business is eligible for the 23rd Ave Stabilization Fund here.

18 things CHS heard at Sawant small business summit

“The reality is corporate politicians talk a lot about small businesses but do very little for them”

Earlier this week at the Eritrean Community Center just south of the I-90 on Rainier, socialist City Council member and District 3 rep Kshama Sawant held a “progressive small business summit” to raise support for her plans to assist Seattle’s small businesses with a focus on her call for commercial rent control.

The Council member stood by the likes of local bar and restaurant owner David Meinert, AfricaTown founder Wyking Garrett, Sara Mae, owner of 701 Coffee in the Central District—and vocal advocate for businesses along 23rd avenue impacted by construction who eventually got the city to fork over $650,000 in mitigation payments—and a representative from the Central Co-Op on Madison, Susanna Schult, all of whom addressed the crowd in support of Sawant, her proposals, and small business organizing. Sawant rolled out her small business plan along with her unholy alliance with Meinert—a former adversary during the fight for $15—last fall before the November election.

Framing the rising rents, gentrification, and the displacement of commercial and residential tenants as a result of a city government that “mainly promotes the interests of big business” and allows “big developers and big business” to cash in on a hot real estate market, Sawant asked attendees to sign letters addressed to the city council calling on them to act on a statement of legislative intent (SLI) passed last budget cycle to direct the city to convene a small business task force to make proposals for commercial rent control, as well as support Sawant’s efforts in commissioning a study of the feasibility of commercial rent control.

To support her claim that the city government is in the pocket of Vulcan real estate and friends, Sawant distributed and highlighted a memo responding to the SLI sent this week from the director of the Office of Economic Development, Brian Surratt, saying that an advisory committee should be convened but that the city shouldn’t “prescribe any particular actions in advance” and engage the advisory committee in their recommended “range of solutions” to issues facing Seattle’s small businesses.

“They aren’t even considering rent control,” Sawant told the crowd indignantly.

Here are a few things CHS heard Wednesday night.

  1. “The reality is corporate politicians talk a lot about small businesses but do very little for them,” Sawant said. “It [getting commercial rent control] will involve a political fight against the establishment. This is an organizing meeting as far as I’m concerned.”
  2. In reference to Vulcan’s recent purchase of six acres at 23rd and Jackson in the Central District, Sawant said: “The writing’s on the wall. This city is getting gentrified unless we do something about it. We need to get organized to demand a say in what happens in these public spaces.”
  3. “Another challenge we feel as the neighborhood [Capitol Hill] is changing is a influx of venture capital funded retailers and national chains that have little stake in the community but have moved in to take advantage of the busy neighborhood and the attractive consumer market that small, locally owned businesses built,” said Susanna Schultz of the Central Co-Op grocery store. “We support the formation of a small business task force.” Continue reading

Mayor announces cash to support Capitol Hill, CD business groups


Taste of the Caribbean’s Carlene Comrie (Image: CHS)

Capitol Hill will once again get a major $137,000 chunk of the city’s Only in Seattle marketing and neighborhood business improvement funding, Mayor Ed Murray announced Thursday night. In addition, the neighborhood will get money to help address the impact from construction in the area and a check will also be cut to help the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce plan for the creation of a larger Business Improvement Area. Meanwhile, the Central District is also in line for a financial boost to help merchants overcome construction woes and a $102,000 Only in Seattle infusion — the latter now enjoying its second major press release from the mayor’s office.

“We just want to create a business that provides some economic support to the community as well as give a taste of our culture,” owner Carlene Comrie said in welcoming the mayor, an assemblage of City Hall staffers, media, and small business owners to her E Jefferson restaurant for Thursday’s announcement. “We’re mostly all Jamaican here and we’re very, very proud of that.” Comrie and business partner Dwayne Blake opened Taste of the Caribbean in 2013.

“This city is changing. But one thing not changing is its neighborhoods’ small businesses,” the mayor said Thursday night.

“You supply jobs. Give us our goods. And create community and culture in our neighborhoods.”

Capitol Hill’s portion of the Only In Seattle pie was part of $1.6 million in funding awarded. Here are the Only in Seattle components: Continue reading

Plans for safer 10th/John crossing to Capitol Hill Station, Melrose enhancements make street fund cut

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 3.03.46 PM

Some of the crosswalk design concepts being kicked around by the Melrose Promenade group

Two important pedestrian areas of Capitol Hill should be on a faster track to safer streets after proposals for Neighborhood Park and Street Fund projects to build a raised intersection at 10th and John and new curb bulbs and colorful crosswalks on Melrose between Pike and Pine came out on top of a 2016 community ranking process, it was announced this week.

The East District Council in a meeting Monday ranked the proposals as the top choices for funding in the area. The $90,000 continuation of improvements from the group organizing the Melrose Promenade project and the Central Greenways-championed 10th and John project must be approved by the Seattle Department of Transportation before implementation. SDOT will also provide a more complete estimate on what the department expects the cost of implementation will be.

10th and John has long been a challenging crossing for pedestrians and drivers and the situation is even more critical with the increased activity in the area with the opening of Capitol Hill Station. The raised intersection could help make it easier to cross and help make the intersection safer for travelers of all types. Another project to create a safer approach to the station from the streets around 12th and Denny is also in the works. The group working on the 10th/John crossing say raised intersections in other cities “have costs ranging from $12,500 to $114,150″ — expectations are this one would come in on the higher end of that range.

10th and John as it appears today (Image: Central Area Greenways)

10th and John as it appears today (Image: Central Area Greenways)

Continue reading