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Sawant brings her City Council committee to CD for meeting on embattled 12th Ave restaurant, gentrification

Council member Kshama Sawant was in the Central District on Monday as the city council committee she chairs discussed gentrification in her district while a local business sits on the frontlines of displacement.

At the center of the fight recently has been Saba, an Ethiopian restaurant on 12th Ave that has served the neighborhood for nearly 20 years. Saba is emblematic of broader change many longtime residents in the Central District see in which small businesses have increasingly been displaced. Organizer KL Shannon, who says she grew up in the area, said that she can’t think of one black-owned business anymore in the Central District due to rapid development.

“We want the kind of development that would allow small businesses of every origin to thrive here and for working families, regardless of income, to find affordable housing in our city because we go to work everyday and we make our cities run,” Sawant said. “We have the right to our city.”

As CHS has previously reported, developer Alchemy Real Estate and Isola Homes are lined up to demolish the property and create a six-story, 289-unit apartment building with commercial space and 11 “Live-Work Units,” plus underground parking for up to 230 vehicles after Saba was evicted in early July.

Teklegiorgis likened the notice to redevelop the property last year to a “death sentence.”

Many of the speakers at Monday’s meeting made clear the fight isn’t about staying at the restaurant’s longtime location or being able to find a new space but about giving the owner relocation assistance to cover the costs to reopen.

“We shouldn’t beg for anything, we should get paid,” Lawrence Pitre, president of the Central Area Chamber of Commerce, said to applause.

In a late June meeting with two representatives from Alchemy, Workie Wubushet, who owns the restaurant and said she was told to come to the gathering alone, says she was intimidated and berated with “abusive behavior,” as a letter from Sawant’s office put it.

An online petition to save the restaurant led by Saba Teklegiorgis, Wubushet’s daughter, has over 2,400 signatures, as of Monday afternoon. She once again pleaded for support on Monday as a letter was passed around and signed by some attendees that is expected to be delivered to the company that evicted Saba. The letter calls for a sincere apology and full relocation assistance.

“This isn’t the Seattle I know; the Seattle I know, we stand up for what’s right,” Teklegiorgis said. “The Seattle I know, we care about people… we know we can make a difference.” Solidarity was a common theme throughout the meeting.

Sawant proposed a citywide policy for relocation assistance for families and small businesses displaced by developers.

“Let’s not wait until it’s at your door, until your children are also being devoured by this system [that] has not been set up and operated for the benefit of any of us,” said Wyking Garrett, president of Africatown Community Land Trust.

CHS first reported on the battle around the restaurant last fall as Sawant took up the cause to “save Saba.”

“We want to make sure we’re not just talking here, we want to make sure real justice is delivered to Saba,” Sawant said Monday. She was the only city council member in attendance, but both Metropolitan King County Council member Larry Gossett and his challenger Girmay Zahilay did show up.

Alchemy Real Estate did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In terms of housing, New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, which hosted Monday’s committee meeting, could build 100 units of affordable housing on its property, according to Sharon Lee, executive director of the Low Income Housing Institute. She also cited Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Tabernacle Baptist Church, and Goodwill Missionary Baptist Church as having land that could potentially be used for housing.

“Right now, it’s not enough to say ‘Oh, we’ll do one project in the Central Area every five years,’ that is not going to get us there,” Lee said, adding that the goal should be five or six projects per year.

Just over a week ago, Sawant’s office also hosted an event to stir support for her rent control proposal that would implement the practice in the city if the statewide ban is lifted in Olympia. Sawant bowed out of the event due to ethics concerns over her council office hosting what could have been perceived as an election rally with ballots already mailed out.

Ballots are due August 6 for that top-two primary.

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31 thoughts on “Sawant brings her City Council committee to CD for meeting on embattled 12th Ave restaurant, gentrification

  1. I don’t understand if my neighbors would prefer concessions to be paid for tenants that have no legal entitlement to the space that they use or if this money could be better spent on expanding public housing? (This is very similar to how Sawant thinks stopping the Showbox from being turned into an apartment building will “increase affordability”)

    • hey, a fight is a fight. A windmill to tilt at is a windmill. It doesn’t have to make sense as long as it channels anger, resentment, and indignation sufficiently.

      Did anyone ask Sawant how many times she’s eaten at that restaurant? That would be interesting to know.

      • It’s really a mediocre Ethiopian restaurant. Kshama’s used to finer dining.

  2. So Sawant wants rent control, which will obliterate future development due to lack of profitability.

    At the same time, this is now the second time she’s thrown her “movement” in the way of current developments.

    She’s basically doing everything she can to stop new units from being built. This while simultaneously raising a racket about our affordability crisis and rejecting all attempts to mitigate homelessness other than “build more affordable housing.”

    The funny thing is that Sawant is starting this “save Saba” movement when it seems like the actual owners don’t want to save the restaurant, they are ok with moving somewhere else and just want more compensation. Which is a fight they’re fully entitled to have. But Sawant is being super disingenuous by trying to turn this into Save The Showbox Part II.

    As for KL Shannon’s silly quote about not knowing any black-owned businesses in the Central District, I can name at least 10 other Ethiopian restaurants in the CD off the top of my head. Get outta here with that nonsense.

    • “She’s basically doing everything she can to stop new units from being built.”

      Except voting yes on every upzone that’s come up in council during her term.

      • She might vote for the proper policies, but she doesn’t FIGHT for them unless they meet her standard of social housing/rent control (see her reluctance to support MHA and Fort Lawton).

        I want more from my representative than a reluctant vote but otherwise acting adverse to more housing.

        I want a representative that will actually FIGHT FOR more housing and better density throughout the city, and not just high-visibility “Save the ____” and long-shot (currently illegal) policies.

        “Voting yes” on good policies is the MINIMUM we should expect from our representative. But we should be aiming for better than that.

  3. She should look those people in the eye and say, “The gentrification you’re experiencing is due to my failure to upzone significant portions of this city.”

    I’m tired of Sawant playing both sides. We need to get rid of Single Family Zoning if we want to solve these issue. For all you folks up in the Fancy Pants part of the district with your “We believe black lives matter, blah blah blah” signs in your yard you should be fighting for upzoning your neighborhood if you really care about those folks.

    We all know a developer would jump at the chance to put an apartment building in Montlake/Union Bay/Volunteer park over 23rd and Cherry. But with the zoning the way it is, it goes down to the CD. If Sawant were to say the truth, she’d lose. So we all need to change our perspective and elect someone that speaks that truth and doesn’t pander to renters with “Rent Control.”

    Exclusionary Zoning is the New Redline. You want to stop displacement….upzone.

    • Agreed. Sawant doesn’t support policies if there is any benefit to “for-profit developers.” It’s a problem, because she won’t fight for the most effective policies.

      Allowing reasonably-priced multi-family development in affluent neighborhoods is the quickest, least-expensive, and most politically practical policy change to increase the housing supply and halt rapid home price increases.

      Sawant has an unholy alliance with wealthy NIMBYs to keep density and new development restricted to certain areas – and preserve single-family privilege in affluent neighborhoods .

  4. Just another person / entity looking for a hand out from the government – your money

    If your lease is up …your lease is up and you got to go

    Also how is building all these new buildings helping “affordability?” $3000 for a one bedroom in the newer buildings? …oh so very affordable! This past week, new figures came out and rent is still on the rise in Seattle.

    Good job with the rent control Sawant

    Cant wait until shes gone

    • The rental market responds to supply and demand….Building new buildings eases demands on existing ones. Increasing housing stock decreases demand. Rent is still on the rise because we’re not building enough.

      • Glenn, suddenly you have a problem with capitalism.

        Let them build taller residential buildings and increase the supply.

      • A doctor’s job is dependent on people getting sick, too. I’m not pro development because of my own job, I’m pro development because it’s the only actual solution to more and more people moving to this city. This is nothing new, people just don’t like the answer.

        Other cities have made more progressive moves on this. Look at Minneapolis!

      • I am a landlord and a residential developer but I do not think we need to rezone all SF neighborhoods to meet housing demands. Streamlining city permit processes would çertainly help, as would allowing the HALA rezone changes to take hold. Why not give that a chance before we blow up all cirrent zoning ?

      • One bedrooms in new buildings in CD are $2k. About the same price as a deteriorating one bedroom in a “historical” building.

    • Funny Now days, if you disagree with a policy its “Racist” with nothing to back it up.

      If I’m not mistaken, the majority of public / low income housing units in Seattle are rented to minorities.

      So how is not up zoning single hosing neighborhoods racist? Just because someone cant afford a house doesn’t mean the policy is racist That is such an easy/lazy excuse to use

      I cant afford to buy a condo in NY city is that racist?? They seem to have plenty of housing and its expensive.

      Its not always supply and demand. There are PLENTY of vacant apartments and condos in NY City shortages of housing stock everyone looking could have a place tomorrow. but Prices are exceeding high because people want to live there (Demand) but there is not a issue with stock (Supply)

      Just wait until the next Recession / Depression hits (its coming). People will be leaving Seattle in hoards. Then rents will come down and you will be able to afford a nice place, if you still have a job!

      • Why did we bother with HALA if we are just going to do away with single family zoning, as you espouse? I am in favor of innovative policies that encourage the creation of more housing. I am also in favor of allowing those recently passed policies to play out for more than four months (the time since HALA went into effect citywide) before abandning them in favor of the latest offering from “Anonymous Architect.” Enact the policy, gather data on it’s effectiveness, tailor and assess based on data. The demise of single family zoning can wait until we see what current zoning changes accomplish in terms of affordability and supply.

      • I mean, we COULD sit around and wait to see how these things play out, or we COULD make bold action and actually do something. Most of the HALA folks are also on the Seattle Planning Commission. It’s their recommendation to get rid of the SFO zoning as well, not just mine. If we sit around and don’t upzone things will get worse. That’s my prediction of the future…but it’s also my observation of the recent past.

  5. “Organizer KL Shannon, who says she grew up in the area, said that she can’t think of one black-owned business anymore in the Central District due to rapid development.” Um, I can think of about a dozen in my part of the CD right off the top of my head. These sorts of blatantly hyperbolic statements do nothing to help one’s cause.

  6. I’m sure it’s part of Sawant’s campaign strategy to hold events like this just prior to the primary, because it gets her name in the news as a “champion of the little guy.” But that of course is hogwash….she is only interested in herself and her socialist agenda.

    Giving taxpayer money to a business which is losing its lease is a very bad precedent. What’s next? Giving cash to anyone who is moving for any reason?

  7. Remember when Kshama was on TV at the DNC telling everyone to vote for Jill Stein, and that Trump and Clinton were essentially equal? That poor judgement will forever be etched in my mind – it would be interesting to hear if she stands by that sentiment.

    • Of course she’d stand by that assessment. Can you even picture her saying something like, “on further consideration and observation of how Trump has behaved, I see that what I said before was wrong”? Hahahahahaha. Yeah, right. Like she’d ever say she made any mistake. Even less likely than hearing your standard Trump voter saying, “I f**ked up”.