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‘Perpetual block party’ — Real estate companies and businesses sue City of Seattle over Capitol Hill protest zone

The City of Seattle is being threatened with a class action lawsuit brought by a collection of Capitol Hill real estate companies and developers, and a small group of 12th Ave businesses over Mayor Jenny Durkan and the Seattle Police Department’s response to the Capitol Hill protest zone, calling the situation “a perpetual block party.”

“This is not a step our clients have taken lightly,” lawyers at the firm Calfo Eakes write in a press release on the lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal court. “The rights of free speech and assembly are enshrined in our constitutional tradition, and our clients support protesters’ right to bring issues such as systemic racism and police brutality towards African Americans to the forefront of the national consciousness.”

The legal action comes as the size and scale of the protest zone has consolidated around 12th and Pine’s emptied East Precinct building after a weekend of deadly gun violence and a push from Durkan and SPD Chief Carmen Best to bring the occupied protest to an end “peacefully and in the near future” through community outreach and social services, not marching SPD officers into the zone in riot gear.

The firm says its clients “stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter and the thousands upon thousands of people in Seattle who have peacefully protested” but “the City should not allow the right to peacefully protest and demand systemic change to manifest itself in acts of violence, harassment, and property damage, which has caused residents and small businesses to incur tremendous economic loss and instilled in them a fear to live and work in a neighborhood many moved to because of its history of activism, diversity, inclusion, and community-led investment.”

The class action lawsuit includes a complainant list made up of many of the Capitol Hill-focused and local developers and real estate investment companies that hold properties on the edges of the protest zone that has been the center of demonstrations and an occupied protest camp for weeks.


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They include Madrona Real Estate which owns and has developed mixed-use properties in the neighborhood and provides management services for many others, Redside Partners which like Madrona both owns and develops properties in addition to managing buildings like the Odd Fellows hall, real estate investor Stephen Romano who owns the 12th and Pike building home to the Unicorn, the owners association at the Onyx Condominiums just east of Cal Anderson and the Olive Street Apartments, a 12th Ave apartment building owned by Wanagel family.

Not currently represented are the massive national developers who have built or purchased many Pike/Pine properties like Maryland-based ASB Real Estate Investments that purchased the 11th and Pine Sunset Electric building and Madrona Real Estate-developed REO Flats on 14th Ave or Alliance Residential that built the massive Broadstone development at 10th and Union.

Madrona’s Brad Augustine says the point of the lawsuit is “the little guy.”

Augustine says the complainants support the protests but the mayor’s decisions to allow the camp and SPD’s exit from the neighborhood “isn’t good for the little guy on Capitol Hill and the little girl who is trying to run a small business.”

“This is 100% about the little businesses on the Hill. We are seeing tenants not renew leases because they don’t want to be in Pike/Pine,” Augustine said Thursday morning.

“It’s probably not CHOP’s doing. It’s the collateral damage of CHOP.”

Since its formation in the exit of police from the East Precinct building and the barriers at 12th and Pine on June 8th, the camp was celebrated as a center of protest and also for its art and community even as there were reports open-carry enthusiasts joining the crowds and a regular presence of armed sentries posted around the area as part of camp security. The city worked out a new layout plan with protesters to better open the area to traffic and emergency vehicles. Meanwhile, there was growing unease about Seattle Police’s limited presence in the zone around 11th and Pine and Cal Anderson Park and growing criticism that the camp’s purpose of occupying the area and the “Seattle People’s Precinct” was overtaking greater Black Lives Matter goals.

There was also tragedy. Early Saturday, one man was killed in a shooting at 10th and Pine. 19-year-old Renton High student Lorenzo Anderson died in an incident that has become a flashpoint of controversy with police restricting their presence in the area following the emptying of the East Precinct headquarters and Seattle Fire’s limited abilities to respond without police presence.

A larger cluster of tents has risen around the 12th and Pine precinct building that remains covered in plywood and graffiti and surrounded by the large cement barriers placed by the city to help maintain vehicle access through the area. Graffiti, tagging, and art covers everything including the park’s large Water Mountain feature and reservoir pumphouse. Area buildings and businesses will also face massive clean-up jobs ahead. A large group of tents remained in Cal Anderson, meanwhile, where many homeless and unsheltered people have taken up residence. Organizers Wednesday night were encouraging campers to move to join the group at 12th and Pine.

Complaints about disorder and chaos around the zone continue. Wednesday night, a long and tense episode involving a man reportedly suffering a mental crisis and being pursued by CHOP security was finally brought to a safe conclusion on a roof above 12th and Pine.

Leading the local developers, Capitol Hill-based Hunters Capital owns the office-filled Ballou Wright Building that neighbors the East Precinct building on 12th Ave.

“When you cannot get basic services to business owners and employees such as 911 response or garbage or deliveries, along with the barricades blocking the streets, the noise through the nights and crime ramping up in the area and all this on the heels of COVID – it’s been really tough for those living and operating in the area,” Michael Oaksmith, head of development at the company, said.

“We – the local small business community in and around the CHOP sincerely believe that peaceful protest and the message of those protests should continue, but in a way that does not attract violence and hurt our core neighborhood or small business owners livelihoods,” he said.

A collection of 12th Ave businesses is also included in the list of complainants including 12th and Pine’s NW Liquor store, the colorfully muraled Richmark Label that has provided a backdrop for much of the activity on the northeast corner of 11th and Pine, Sage Physical Therapy, and a 12th Ave tattoo artist at Tattoos and Fortune.

Oaksmith said he believes the group will grow. “I know of at least a dozen more street retailers that wanted to be involved, but are choosing not to yet for fear of retribution or their stores being vandalized,” Oaksmith said. “People are very scared after four shootings in one week and the stories of 911 calls being ignored unless your life is being threatened is a reality most small business employees don’t want to live in anymore.”

As a class action lawsuit, the action could end up representing “thousands,” lawyers at Calfo Eakes write in the complaint:

All persons or entities who own property in, have a business in, or reside in the area in the City of Seattle bounded by the following streets: Denny Way, Union Street, Thirteenth Avenue, and East Broadway. This definition excludes the City of Seattle and any departments or agencies of the City of Seattle, including the Seattle Police Department.

Also included in the named plaintiffs are Car Tender and Bergman’s Lock and Key, two businesses set to be demolished in the next year as this development to create a five-story, 61-unit, mixed-use apartment building with “sun screens,” a streetfront restaurant, and “a generously planted” courtyard moves forward. Car Tender owners Russell Kimble and John McDermott agreed to sell their property in a 2017 deal for $7.6 million.

The lawsuit includes details of damage and financial impacts from the protest zone. The liquor store says sales are down 70% while Richmark Label provides a lengthy account of challenges for its delivery drivers, damage to its building, and harassment from CHOP participants. Car Tender, meanwhile, reports a 40% drop in revenue over recent month when the COVID-19 crisis was already draining business.

The Car Tender has already played a major role in the CHOP story in an incident involving the garage ownership holding off a hostile crowd of protesters at gunpoint over an arson and burglary suspect caught in the act inside the 12th Ave auto garage and storage lot as Seattle Police refused to enter the protest area.

Madrona Real Estate, meanwhile, makes the case that its small business tenants cannot reopen while the CHOP exists:

The firm also says issues like delivery drivers refusing to make Amazon deliveries are contributing to hardships in the neighborhood.

“Our clients had no option but to file a lawsuit because their repeated complaints to the City have fallen on deaf ears,” the law firm’s press release states —

For more than two weeks, and with the full knowledge and participation of the City, our clients’ neighborhood and properties have been blocked, barricaded, occupied, and vandalized. Ever since the City abruptly abandoned the East Precinct on June 8, 2020, our clients have had to deal with constant harassment, loss of income, property damage, and an inability to safely enter or exit their homes and businesses. Our clients’ lawsuit seeks to end the City’s unprecedented decision to allow and endorse a private occupation of an entire neighborhood and leave it unchecked by the police.

The City of Seattle has not yet responded to the lawsuit.

A letter from Calfo Eakes gives Durkan and the city until Friday to answer a set of questions about the situation or face a threatened injunction to “compel the city to disband CHOP and staff the East Precinct” or “otherwise discontinue the constitutional and statutory violations engaged in by the city.”

In the lawsuit, Calfo Eakes says the city has not followed due process, created a legal nuisance, made an “unlawful gift” of city property to the demonstrators, and violated rights with the “taking” of private property.

“The property owners, businesses, and residents in the area suffer ever-increasing property damage and economic loss every day that CHOP exists in their neighborhood, all because of the City’s active support, encouragement, and endorsement of the occupation,” the legal complaint reads:

In particular, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan has provided the CHOP participants with not just tangible resources but also a de facto stamp of approval. Her tweets, interviews, and other statements have made it clear that the City is fully aware of what is happening, has no plan or timeline for remedying the ongoing harm, and in fact views the occupation of Capitol Hill as something akin to a perpetual block party.

As for potential monetary damages should the class action move forward, the firm has not yet replied to CHS’s questions about the lawsuit.

UPDATE 4:40 PM: A resident in a Hunters Capital building sent CHS this message from the developer that was sent to tenants Thursday. The message also contained a copy of the letter sent to the mayor’s office reported on by CHS:

Hunters Capital along with several other neighborhood business owners and property owners in the CHOP zone of Capitol Hill filed a Class Action Lawsuit against the City of Seattle yesterday evening.  This is not a step we have taken lightly and only pursued after weeks of emails to the City expressing serious safety and wellness issues brought to us by many tenants and residents were met with silence.

The City should not allow the right to peacefully protest and demand systemic change to manifest itself in acts of violence, harassment, excessive noise and property damage.

The Mayor and CHOP organizers have publicly stated that it is time to take this protest on-line and to other areas, but a large group remains as do street barricades. We want to ensure the mayor follows through on her statements.

Attached is a letter to the Mayor we would like to share with you, outlining the deliverables the suit seeks.

 

It is important for us that you know Hunters Capital fully supports the Black Lives Matter movement and the aggressive reform of the police.  We have and continue to support organizations whose missions align with anti-racism, equity, and work to elevate marginalized communities, especially people of color. These organizations include: Capitol Hill Housing (now Community Roots Housing), Seattle Central College, Northwest African American Museum and University Beyond Bars. This alone is not enough, and we are working on ways we can support the Black Lives Matter Movement directly and in an on-going fashion.

If you have questions or would like to discuss, I am available for you anytime.

UPDATE 6/27/20 3:10 PM: The mayor’s efforts to clear portions of the CHOP camp by Sunday morning appears to have satisfied the legal team behind the lawsuit — for now. In a letter sent Saturday to the City Attorney’s office, the firm writes that it is holding off on further legal action pending the mayor’s Sunday morning deadline to clean up CHOP but allow campers to remain at the East Precinct:

Given Mayor Durkan’s representations to the protestors that the City will make substantial progress toward removing barricades on Sunday morning, we will certainly wait to apply for injunctive relief unless it becomes clear that the City is unwilling to follow through with its plans. Our clients were disappointed in the City’s token effort to remove barriers and take other actions on Friday morning. We hope the City acts with greater resolution on Sunday morning and thereafter.

As for the demands for more information and plans from the city, according to the letter, the City Attorney’s office didn’t provide much information:

In our call yesterday, we asked you for the City’s response to our letter to the Mayor. You stated that you were not in a position to state whether the City had a specific plan relative to CHOP, and, even assuming the City did have such a plan, you said that you would not disclose any details because doing so could endanger City employees by giving notice to the protestors, who might then obstruct the City’s effort. Considering your representation, we offered to enter into a confidentiality agreement under which we would be prohibited from disclosing to the public or any third party the City’s plan or its timeline. You stated that you would consider our request but that it was highly unlikely that the City would agree to make disclosures even pursuant to a confidentiality agreement.


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43 thoughts on “‘Perpetual block party’ — Real estate companies and businesses sue City of Seattle over Capitol Hill protest zone” -- All CHS Comments are held for moderation before publishing

  1. Not so awesome since the money for any settlement will come from the mysterious pile known as your property tax $$. It was inevitable that business and homeowners would do this, but the city is too busy signaling its virtue to care.

    • Agree on that note — sadly I know that’s true. Just glad to see *something* that may make city government actually respond to the situation. This suit is not about a payout so much as trying to accelerate some real response/action/accountability.

    • Agree as well. The city really left them no choice but to take this action. It’s such a sad commentary on our current leadership that citizens are forced to sue them to get any type of response/support.

    • https://www.widewalls.ch/magazine/5pointz-graffiti-artists-win-verdict

      I can point to the above case (where one of my friends was a downtrodden disbeliever in “the system” and didn’t get his when he could have) and several others areas of several Seattle Municipal codes that could be used for some form of restitution. I’ve always had success in my years applying these laws to right wrongs and protect futures when need be whether here or elsewheres. I just would want to know who I am helping and to what means. Just because we can does not always mean we should.

    • I doubt any settlement money would be paid by property tax payers. Doesn’t the City have insurance protection from this type of lawsuit?

  2. Can you do a follow up to find out how much rent in this building are being hiked? I think that might be why tenants are not renewing rents in these luxury buildings.

    • I live at 12th and Howell and I’m leaving Capitol Hill at the end of the month because I don’t think our mayor is capable of governing the police and once they get back into the East Precinct I fear there will be escalations of violence and we will end up exactly where we were last summer, when Mayor Durkan said to me personally that there would be more community focused policing a year ago. That never materialized and we got gassed instead. So yeah, I’m leaving because the East Precinct is ruining the neighborhood and it needs to move off the Pike and Pine corridor and be replaced with some actual community services that can make a real difference here. Police aren’t getting it done, they are making the neighborhood worse and I have absolutely lost faith in Durkan and Best to understand what Capitol Hill actually needs.

      • I’m sorry that you are inconvenienced. Just know that the people that they are protesting for have been inconvenienced their whole lives.

        Can’t ignore the message and a people run over by our society when protesters are doing this.

      • I’m happy to hear you’re leaving. I lived on Capitol hill for 4 years. Always had positive encounters with police. I’m guessing the problem is with you and no one else.

    • I totally agree there. And then the “excuse” of not coming into CHOP vs actually making amends for the originating problem choices by SPD/Durkan so we could both move towards real change in policing and still have a functioning neighborhood…I blame SPD/Durkan; but also feel the mess of the unorganized/block party-style occupation needs to be cleaned up and transit restored. Sadly, I have no faith in Durkan/Best acting meaningfully on anything, CHOP or Black Lives Matter issues.

      • No doubt Durkan/Best should take some blame for this but I’m not sure why the council isn’t taking some heat. They could have acted as intermediaries and worked on solutions to resolve this peacefully but instead they chose to pour gasoline and push the false narrative that everyone involved in the CHOP was there peacefully and with good intention. Instead of doing the right thing they used the protest as cover to advance unpopular legislation and further their own political ambitions. Speaking of which where are Sawant’s impeachment articles?

    • Naive to think that the protestors were being genuine when they said they just wanted to walk up the street. Well, now the street is open – so…?

  3. lol, it’s the rent – lower the rent then. I don’t give a fuck about real estate companies qq’ing over lost leases. TBH its about time – this is the closest the hill has looked like itself for a long time

    • They are agnsting about the inconvenience they are experiencing.

      It would be nice if companies would embrace change that the people that want that change rather than fighting it tooth and nail.

      • I agree with you wholeheartedly, the development and gentrification happening on the hill is propped up by the city leadership and the SPD and needs to be STOPPED. The GSBA and other small businesses in the area need to look past the pike and pine corridor being a drinking and clubbing zone and be part of Black-led political organization that is capable of envisioning a more affordable and diverse area through reparations to Black communities for the loss of intergenerational wealth caused by redlining and repairing the loss of the community due to white gay gentrification. We need rent controls, affordable housing, and more community support. We sure as hell don’t need the SPD back in their current form.

    • Not all the property impacted this are “real estate companies.” Some spaces and units are owned by individuals. Their small “business” happens to be renting to small businesses—the small businesses that will now go out of business. By the way, how long have you lived on the hill? Your statement that you kind of like the way it looks now, because it’s getting back to the way it used to look, is different than my memory. I’ve lived here since 1979.

  4. Good! Hopefully the plaintiffs win a large settlement and the City of Seattle will think twice before tolerating this sort of lawlessness and chaos again.

      • Seattle citizens are paying for the CHOP in the form of lost sales tax revenue and the cleanup costs. I’d rather send a message to the city that this situation can never be allowed to happen again.

      • can’t agree more with caphiller. #CHOP, while the intention in the hearts of its “organizers”, was doomed from the start because of their lack of experience in how to meaningfully execute on those intentions. city leadership, mayor and city council both, completely failed along with the CHOP organizers to proactively take the intentions in the right direction. just a bunch of clueless reactionary moves one after another.

  5. Good luck with that. I’m certain that businesses didn’t like the inconvenience of the 50’s/60’s race riots. The 70’s womens movement and other revolutionary times. It’s not meant to be convenient. Sue away. I guess that’s one way to get out your angst.

    • That assumes that the current occupation is actually BLM or helping the cause in any way. It’s not. It’s a convenient cover for white Marxist-wannabes and is just basically a magnet for every unstable person in the area.

      Get over your romanticizing destruction of communities. I grew up near Detroit in 70s/80s/90s. That city never recovered from the 60s riots and left the largely Black-populated area a bombed-out ghetto since then.

      • It is convenient for you to blame the riots for the decline of Detroit when the actions and failures of its car companies played a bigger role.

      • @Tom, not really. In the late 60’s, the auto industry was doing pretty well. Detroit became Detroit because people moved to the suburbs. The auto industry started abandoning Michigan in the late 70s, early 80s.

    • It’s inconvenient to not be able to run a business so a person can pay their rent/mortgage/employees, buy food for themselves, provide for heath care and other basic needs? Wow, good to know that the only thing that matters is a bunch of kids playing revolutionary, with no ties to BLM, that can’t even decide on leadership to work with our existing elected officials.

      You make a false comparison with wanting to make a living meaning someone doesn’t care about black lives. A person can do both. It doesn’t require sitting on one’s ass in a tent outside a police precinct to bring about change.

      But I guess it’s a convenient narrative for you while you sit back in your isolated neighborhood in Magnolia or West Seattle or wherever, playing armchair activist in the comments section of a blog. All the while never having to experience “inconvenience” yourself.

      • I could be wrong but the virus has already done harm, and much more so to the businesses in the area than the people camping around there. They can’t sue the Trump administration for incompetence.

        A few dozen people sitting on their asses outside a police precinct won’t bring about change. Revolution requires millions of people to participate, sacrifice, keep at it until change happens. But too few people, me included, has been hurt enough or cares enough to do that.

  6. Lol this blog, the stranger, city council, 12th ave arts and a ton of other residents all welcomed the chop/chaz and talked about how peaceful the neighborhood was without SPD. Now its the mayor and chiefs fault? hilarious and sad what you all invited in… now you want others to clean up the mess

  7. How did the city and PD not see this consequence coming? You can’t abandon your citizens and city just to appease a few that were not elected to speak for the majority. The actions of the mayor, Seattle PD leaving, etc… the governor endorsing this chaos. It’s insanity. They deserve to be sued. It was criminal. What do our tax dollars pay for?

    • She did avoid 1) a large number of people getting seriously hurt or killed in police in clashes, 2) the BLM people saying the city itself is racist and losing support from the black community (so better than Trader Joe’s), 3) a repeat of cars on fire like downtown 4) the police station getting burned down, 5) Trump “fixing” things, 6) mass resignations from the police, 7) more tear gas complaints.

      So instead, there were some random murders which are hard to predict, but graffiti, disruption to sane businesses and residents, and a law suits are manageable compared to the wing nuts and more people getting hurt.

  8. This lawsuit is richly deserved. The City and Mayor Durkan have stood by as a large part of our neighborhood was trashed.
    A case can be made that they actually enabled the devastation. Case in point: Durkan calling the disaster the “summer of love.”

  9. Another death and another critically wounded – I thought Black Lives Matter.. guess this just proves that any means to an end is OK when no one has to be accountable. I am so sickened and sad for this senseless loss of these young kids. Embolded bullies running over the rights and very lives of everyone else. The BLM message has been lost. Prayers for the families who have lost their sons. Shame on Seattle for allowing this to get so out of hand.

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