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Sawant and Capitol Hill nightlife owner team up for small business rent control plan — UPDATE

You read that right. Capitol Hill restaurant and nightlife owner Dave Meinert and socialist City Council member Kshama Sawant are teaming up to unveil a “rent stabilization” plan Tuesday for Seattle small businesses.

According to a short announcement sent out Monday evening, the plan will skirt the statewide ban on rent control which the Sawant office says does not apply to commercial properties. You can read the RCW section here. “Business owners can have few options when faced with drastic rent increases, as relocation costs can be prohibitive,” reads the announcement.

UPDATE: Details of the plan — including proposals for rent stabilization, a “portable retirement account” system, and expanded late night transit to help “swing shift” workers commute — are below.

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.

“Kshama and I have been talking/meeting since (then),” Meinert said in an email to CHS. “Lately we started discussing the displacement of small business and how it is similar to the displacement of residents.”

Meinet’s Comet also played host to an appearance by Socialist Alternative-championed Bernie Sanders this summer.

There are few examples of true commercial rent control efforts to point at in major cities — or minor ones, for that matter. In New York, the movement has ebbed and flowed for decades, peaking again this year. Here’s how a proposed bill would work in NYC:

The tale of the Small Business Jobs Survival Act (better known as the SBJSA) in the City Council is a long yet uneventful one. Basically, the bill — which, in structure, is very similar to its upstate counterpart — has been floating around the chambers of City Hall since 2008. (Last year, Gotham Gazette dove into its reintroduction.) It would let commercial tenants have the right to lease renewal ten years or more. If a landlord wants to raise rent, mediation with the tenant would be mandated, and, if the parties don’t come to an agreement, an arbitrator would make the final decision.

While the teaming of Meinert and Sawant might be a bit of a surprise, the two have collaborated before. Meeting records show Meinert met with Sawant in May 2014 shortly after the mayor announced his minimum wage task force.

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. According to the Monday media release, Sawant will unveil additional proposals aimed at helping small businesses on Tuesday.

Earlier this month, Sawant challenger Pamela Banks unveiled her small business plan and a group of Capitol Hill business owners supporting her run. The Banks plan would create a city lending program and a “Small Business Advisory Committee.” The two candidates also discussed their small business proposals at a Greater Seattle Business Association forum in September.

The small business “rent stabilization” plan will be unveiled Tuesday morning at City Hall.

SEATTLE – Councilmember Kshama Sawant will join with Seattle nightlife industry leader David Meinert and other small business owners tomorrow to unveil a plan to pursue rent stabilization for Seattle’s small businesses.  Business owners can have few options when faced with drastic rent increases, as relocation costs can be prohibitive. While the state statute prohibits rent control for residences, there is no such law for commercial properties.

Councilmember Sawant will also unveil additional proposals intended to support small businesses, and their workers, tomorrow. The small business initiatives tie directly to the City’s proposed 2016 budget, which is currently undergoing Council review.


Announcement of plan for rent stabilization for small businesses, other small business initiatives


Seattle City Hall

Lobby, First Floor

600 4th Ave., Seattle 98104


Tuesday, October 27

9:00 a.m.


Councilmember Kshama Sawant

David Meinert

Small Business Owners

UPDATE 10/27/2015 10:20 AM: Here’s the official announcement of the new plan. We’ve embedded the full details of the proposals, below.

Councilmember Sawant Unveils Commercial Rent Stabilization and Other Proposals to Support Seattle’s Small Businesses

SEATTLE – Accompanied by many small business owners and worker representatives, Councilmember Kshama Sawant today unveiled a series of initiatives intended to support Seattle’s small businesses and workers. The proposals, which range from stabilizing commercial rents to improved late night transit service to providing retirement account options for workers, are part of a comprehensive package to help small businesses and their workers thrive.

“There’s a lot of small business rhetoric from corporate politicians, but little actual policymaking that helps our city’s small businesses. Commercial rent control, for example, is a policy that will directly benefit small businesses,” said Councilmember Kshama Sawant. “City Hall needs to stop conferring sweetheart deals on big developers and corporations, and begin serving the interests of small businesses and working people.”

The announcement today coincides with the Council’s review of the proposed 2016 operating budget. Among other proposals for budget amendments, Councilmember Sawant is urging a study of commercial rent control in preparation for an ordinance next year.

“We all love Seattle’s quirky unique culture, but we need to support our small businesses if we’re serious about preserving the character and soul of our city,” said David Meinert, owner of The Comet and other businesses. “We especially need to move on these policy ideas to support women and minority-owned businesses,” he added.

Mike Rodriguez of Restaurant Opportunities Center United added that “Policies such as commercial rent control and a city-sponsored portable retirement system benefit both small businesses and their workers. We cannot lift living standards of restaurant workers by focusing on labor policy alone. When small businesses have a steady predictable profit and easier paths to provide benefits to their workers, both parties win.”

For a more detailed explanation of Councilmember Sawant’s “Progressive Plan for Seattle Small Businesses and Their Workers,” click here.

Press Conference Speakers:

David Meinert, Owner, The Five Point Café, Comet Tavern, others

Sonja Ponath, Small Landlord, Former Small Business Owner

K. Wyking Garrett,

Mike Rodriguez, Restaurant Opportunities Center United

Paula Lucas, Le Frock

Nate Omdal, Fair Trade Music Seattle

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5 years ago

The big question with this, as with any rent control plan, is: who gets to rent? If you have limited supply, and you are saying that supply is not dictated by market forces, it must (by definition) allocated by another force. I guess applications to property owners become much more competitive? Are there certain types of businesses this would help or hurt in that competition to get rent-controlled space?

Hopefully we’ll find out soon!

5 years ago

Will result in landlords never leasing to small businesses.

5 years ago

It is great to see these two collaborating! Nice effort by both.

5 years ago

So, I own a small business. I rent my residential and commercial properties to people who make their homes and businesses in them. Why should my business be subject to artificially imposed revenue restraints to ensure lower costs for other small businesses? This is especially inappropriate in a commercial setting, where the parties should be sophisticated enough to negotiate in a manner which best suits their business needs. Is it really the place of the government to intervene?

This is especially ironic since Meinert “displaced” Kingfish by moving into their space after they decided to close their restaurant. And anyone who knows anything about Kingfish knows it was ripe to close, that the owners were ready to move on, and that they were not displaced because of a rent increase. So ironic that it’s demise is being held up as an example requiring commercial rent control.

Michael F
Michael F
5 years ago
Reply to  glenn

I was going to say. Wasn’t there a feature article on Kingfish where the owners simply felt they wanted to pursuit other ventures? I don’t recall wage increases or business competition being cited when they closed up shop…