By Jack Mayne

The Burien City Council voted on Monday, May 18, 2020 to close and demolish the Burien Community Center Annex, with the demolition to happen after July 31.

The Council decided by a 4 – 3 vote to close and board up the Annex. The four voting to close the Annex were Mayor Jimmy Matta, Deputy Mayor Krystal Marx, Councilmembers Cydney Moore and Sofia Aragon.

Opposed were Councilmembers Pedro Olguin, Nancy Tosta and Kevin Schilling.

The Council was facing a decision on whether to close the Annex building and either demolish it or secure it by July 31, 2020 so that trespassers and homeless do not inhabit the building or the second option, to spend anywhere from $350,000 to demolish it to $500,000 to close it and secure it from use for three years.

Burien City Council decides to close, demolish Annex; considers restaurant delivery fees 1

The Issue
Carolyn Hope, the city Parks and Recreation director, said the issue was to decide how to close the Annex, the schedule for its closure and how much that will actually cost.

She produced a chart showing potential or actual relocations of current users of the Annex (see below), showing most are still seeking a place to move their activities, but two that have found space, Meals on Wheels has found another place, and Para los Niños has leased a building in downtown Burien.

Burien City Council decides to close, demolish Annex; considers restaurant delivery fees 2

The buildings are in critical condition, said Hope. The city gets $85,000 a year for rentals of space, but spends an estimated $68,000 a year for upkeep and maintenance and estimates needing to spend $738,000 to maintain ”Life safety items” from 2019 to 2024.

The options, said Hope, was to demolish the Annex or spend money to board it up and keep it.

Tosta says keep it
Councilmember Nancy Tosta said this is “a crisis situation that isn’t a crisis” and “spending close to a half million dollars when we just looked at cutting staff, laying off staff, furloughing staff. now talking about other projects that have been in the works forever — we will defer them to deal with something I don’t believe is a crisis.” She moved to have the city continue operating the Annex at rates to maintain the Annex “in its approximate current condition.”

Rental agreements would last until there are no “no longer interested tenants, the city has developed a site plan and identified funding for the plan or until significant major repairs are needed.” She said in the case of major repairs, tenants will “have no more than 30 days to vacate and Council will then decide on building disposition.”

She said that from what she has heard she doesn’t feel the building is a public health threat. She said the city has dealt with the major problems of the structures and during the pandemic it will be difficult for tenants who are providing “critical services” to move.

Tosta said the building isn’t going to be upgraded, but “it still has a useful life for tenants who are providing useful services.”

“I know the community wants to continue to see us use this building to support non-profits that are providing valuable services to the community.” She added that “we do not have a half million dollars in a time when we have just made severe budget cuts to put into this building.”

Tosta said she agreed the building is old and repairs may be needed and noted there was not the current level of vandalism in the area when the Annex was more fully used.

Others say don’t keep it
Councilmember Kevin Schilling said he was concerned about the potential repair or demolition during the pandemic when “we shouldn’t be spending money on things like this.” Later in the meeting, Schilling said the city attorney has told Council to vote based on whether they think the building is safe or not. He said he felt safe in a recent visit to the building because of recent repairs.

Deputy Mayor Krystal Marx said she agreed that $350,000 to $500,000 is a lot to spend when the city had to temporarily lay off staff but suggested a million dollar damage claim could “be a lot more.”

“The annex is attracting vandalism right now, which it is, things are starting to be less occupied,” Marx said. “That is all the more reason for me to go with option one – complete demolition of the building.”

Later in the debate on whether to close or not close the Annex, Marx said she would be voting against Tosta’s motion to keep the building in operation.

Councilmember Moore said “every single expert, every single one, has told us to close this building,” adding that “we all understand the value of the tenants, the services they provide and I encourage our staff to continue the incredible work they have done to support all of our tenants in every means possible in easing their transition but continuing to draw this out indefinably until something happens that is so dramatic people have to vacate … that’s negligence.”

A motion to keep the Annex and continue allowing rentals was rejected 5 to 2.

Marx says close it
Then Deputy Mayor Marx moved to close the Annex “after vacation of the tenants by July 31, 2020,” and to authorize $350,000 for closure costs.

“There is no good way this is going to be packaged,” Marx said. “I am looking out for the city as a whole and am confident that if we keep working on this we’ll find solutions that will be stopgaps, not necessarily the ideal solutions. Organizations will have to change their programming — just like every organization in this country is having to change their programming during this time.

“I cannot, in good conscious vote for something that could put us at risk of going bankrupt as a city,” she said.

Demolition is cheaper
Moore said she wanted to address the fiscal responsibilities.

“The option to demolish the Annex is the cheaper option,” she said. “Half a million dollars is what it would cost to keep it open, boarded up. Immediately demolishing it actually is significantly cheaper. This is the responsible option,” said Moore. “We spent money keeping it open, it’s falling apart with people in it. Every week we hear something new going on with this building.”

Tosta said she could not, “in good conscience vote for the demolition this building. It is frustrating to hear you dismiss it with the ease with which you are destroying a resource in our community.”

Councilmember Sofia Aragon said the decision on the Annex “is painful” but “we are actually making a vote in the future. Do what we do for the public interest and then move on.”

Councilmember Pedro Olguin said demolishing the Annex “is just not the right way to go” and that the city should be flexible and “expend the time” of it.

Councilmember Schilling said he would vote against the motion to close and demolish the building. “I do think it has the ability to keep the tenants in it until they need to move.” He said he was “definitely voting now for the fiscal reasons of spending this money during the pandemic and taking away from the hilltop master planning.”

Restaurant delivery charges
Burien’s economic development manager Chris Craig told Council the effects of the governor’s carry-out or delivery orders on the city’s restaurants and the impact of the social distancing orders that used to be a “small percentage of overall restaurant sales in the city.”

As a result of these restrictions, Craig said a large percentage of restaurant owners now come to people through a third party delivery platform. The city staff researched the situation.

“Restaurant orders made through these third party platforms, pre-social-distancing orders, made up a small percentage of overall restaurant sales,” Craig said in a Council report. But now they account for “a majority of sales for many restaurants.”

Craig noted that due to the “slim margins in which the restaurant industry operates, these third party platform commissions can result in the restaurant operating at less than half its normal profitability, and at a loss on many orders.”

Craig said third party delivery systems have been studied to determine the impact of these commission fees on their businesses.

Restaurants sign up for the services provided by these third party providers and may opt out of the services.

“Many businesses we talked to report that since they have signed up, they have experienced a ‘lack of transparency’ in how fees are charged,” Craig said.

“Restaurants we talked to were concerned with the profit loss caused by these delivery fees, but are also concerned that they will lose customers if they discontinue the service as the use of online delivery grows due to public health orders.” Seattle

The report he and his staff presented to the Council noted the City of Seattle recently passed a 15 percent cap on delivery fee commissions from these third party delivery platforms. Other cities, including Washington D.C., San Francisco, and Jersey City have enacted similar fee caps.

Delivery cap in Burien?
If the City of Burien government passed a cap on delivery fees, city staff said it is unknown what reaction the “third party delivery platforms would take.”

Controlling the third party delivery is possible, said

In Burien, the city staff said more popular and widely used restaurants are Grubhub, DoorDash, UberEats.

“These are widely used by customers familiar with these services and of which Burien businesses have identified through business visits, calls, and a quick online search of each of how many participating restaurants in Burien. All platforms provide a delivery and a pick up option for the consumer to select.”

As for a cap on fees, the Burien businesses seemed open, but with concerns.

“Yes we would support a temporary cap on delivery fees, as sometimes these fees can double the price of the customer’s transactions,” the Burien city staff reported. “And, while in good times if people want to order food and have it delivered, it can be pricey, but in these times ordering food online is comforting and safer. The only unintended consequence I can see, is if drivers don’t want to deliver, so I think the drivers shouldn’t be penalized, the corporations can stand to make less profit.”

Third party delivery
As a result of these restrictions, Craig said a large percentage of restaurant owners now come through a third party delivery platform. The city staff researched the situation.

“Restaurant orders made through these third party platforms, pre-social-distancing orders, made up a small percentage of overall restaurant sales,” Craig said in a Council report. But now they account for “a majority of sales for many restaurants.”

Craig noted that due to the “slim margins in which the restaurant industry operates, these third party platform commissions can result in the restaurant operating at less than half its normal profitability, and at a loss on many orders.”

Craig said third party delivery systems have been studied to determine the impact of these commission fees on their businesses.

Restaurants sign up for the services provided by these third party providers and may opt out of the services.

“Many businesses we talked to report that since they have signed up, they have experienced a lack of transparency in how fees are charged,” Craig said.

Profit loss
“Restaurants we talked to were concerned with the profit loss caused by these delivery fees, but are also concerned that they will lose customers if they discontinue the service as the use of online delivery grows due to public health orders.” Seattle

The report he and his staff presented to the Council noted the City of Seattle recently passed a 15 percent cap on delivery fee commissions from these third party delivery platforms. Other cities, including Washington D.C., San Francisco, and Jersey City have enacted similar fee caps.

If the City of Burien passed a cap on delivery fees, the staff report said it is unknown what reaction the “third party delivery platforms would take in response.”

In Burien, the city staff said more popular and widely used delivery services by restaurants are Grubhub, DoorDash and UberEats.

“These are widely used by customers familiar with these services and of which Burien businesses have identified through business visits, calls, and a quick online search of each of how many participating restaurants in Burien. All platforms provide a delivery and a pick up option for the consumer to select.”

Cap on service fees?
As for a cap on fees, the Burien businesses seemed open, but with concerns.

“Yes we would support a temporary cap on delivery fees, as sometimes these fees can double the price of the customer’s transactions,” the Burien city staff reported. “And, while in good times if people want to order food and have it delivered, it can be pricey, but in these times ordering food online is comforting and safer.

“The only unintended consequence I can see, is if drivers don’t want to deliver, so I think the drivers shouldn’t be penalized, the corporations can stand to make less profit.”

In a recent report issued by the state, the leisure and hospitality sector lost $177,700, a much larger share than other economic sectors.

‘Not a single order’
Economics development staffer Lorraine Chachere told Council one restaurant experienced “not a single order” for either lunch or dinner service in a couple of days. They learned it “was better to have some sales than no sales.”

Some restaurants would support “a temporary cap on delivery fees,” said Chachere, because using delivery is safer and “comforting,” but to have a cap on service and delivery fees.

Councilmember Kevin Schilling asked City Attorney Garmon Newsom if the city can regulate delivery fees.

“It is possible,” said Newsom, but “I am a little worried about it” because it could be about “almost anything if you say it is for the public benefit.” But “balancing the risks and advantages, taking action in this emergency situation … if we are careful on how we tailor this … it really sort of works.”

The city manager said the city could create a system of controls based on what the Council wanted for action at a future meeting.

Councilmember Pedro Olguin suggested checking on how the City of Seattle was handling food delivery, but Councilmember Nancy Tosta said Burien is different from Seattle and should check with a wider number of local restaurants before developing a Burien ordinance.

Align with others
Councilmember Sofia Aragon said she would like to see how Burien is “seeing where we align with other jurisdictions because the reality is our borders can be really artificial. We never know how we impacted if we take one action” and Seattle takes another.

Discussions on potential regulation of restaurants and delivery systems may be worth considering, said Councilmember Cydney Moore.

“We don’t know how long this crisis is going to continue,” said Moore. “But we do know that the impacts are being felt very heavily at this time, have already deeply damaged our small business community. So I would really like to urge all of my fellow Council members to consider that and note that any delay in actions should we pursue any actions is only going to continue to hurt those businesses.”

Moore said she thinks Burien should “lead by example and Burien has done a really great job at doing that … by putting the needs of our people first ….”

Burien should not stop doing whatever it thinks is right, she said, and could affect what happens at the county or state level, said Moore, adding that businesses in the city “are already telling us this is hurting them.”

Staff to do more research
City Manager Brian Wilson suggested the Council let city staff do more work on a proposal. He noted the reopening of the governor’s shutdown is beginning and will continue, permitting restaurants to be opening “so that may change the dynamic.

Wilson wondered if the Council were supportive for city staff to continue to explore and to present some options that might be feasible.

Mayor Matta said that was the way to go and Moore agreed.

Coronavirus Aid
Wilson said the city has had some additional financial opportunity and one of those is by way of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act which is being implemented by the state.

“We’ve been advised that we have … approximately $1.5 million that can be utilized by the City of Burien …. We have some preliminary ideas as to where those fund can be allocated. We are still in the planning exploratory stage.”

City Finance Director Eric Christensen said the money can only be used to cover costs related to and during the length of it and recovery from the pandemic. He said the city should receive an agreement with the state by the May 22, and he and city staff are working eligible projects or city costs. The deadline to use the funds is through October of this year and the city has listed additional potential costs amounting of $1 million, with an unallocated $500,000.

City Hall will be closed on Friday, May 22 as one of the money saving furlough days.

Burien Police have a new captain, said Wilson. He is Troy Smithmeyer and “he is known for fighting crime, for building trust and supporting relationships.” Chief Ted Boe said Smith is a “great fit for the city.”

Homelessness plans
Angela San Filippo, Executive Manager of the South King Housing and Homelessness Partners was introduced to Council by City Manager Brian Wilson. The Partnership included 10 jurisdictions to “enable South King County to work together and share resources in order to effectively address affordable housing and homelessness. Besides Burien, the partners include Normandy Park, Des Moines, Kent, King County and other South King County communities.

The group, formed in 2019, works to “increase available options for South King County residents to access affordable housing and to preserve the existing affordable housing stock.” San Filippo said this was a “difficult and unprecedented time to work on the problems of homelessness.”

San Filippo said the Homeless Partners provides a “unified voice for South King County” while providing “shared solutions for regional housing needs and keeping “our neighbors in the region and in their homes” while serving “our most vulnerable residents.”

She concluded by telling the Councilmember that the pandemic virus epidemic makes “the need for housing for all families is more critical than ever to address affordable housing in our region.”