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:
— jseattle (@jseattle) October 27, 2015
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.