The economic shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has posed an unprecedented challenge to workers and businesses both globally and locally, forcing governments of all sizes to find ways to buoy their economies.
Burien is no exception; The city has taken a host of steps to ease the economic pain of the pandemic – from helping local businesses apply for and receive grants to partnering with Discover Burien to create the Burien Eat Streets virtual shopping directory.
The city council also adopted an 8 percent utility tax increase in order “to fund and sustain important programs and services,” it adopted an ordinance requiring grocery workers be paid an extra $5 an hour in hazard pay, it adopted an ordinance extending the eviction moratorium and providing increased tenant protections, and it delayed the start of the city’s food truck pilot program following pushback from local restaurants plagued by pandemic-related operating restrictions.
Whether these and the city’s other efforts to help workers and businesses weather the downturn have worked or can be considered sufficient is at the heart of the fourth question in our six-part Burien City Council Candidate Q&A series leading up to the Aug. 3 primary election. Each day, we are hearing from the candidates – 11 of whom submitted responses – on one question.
Today’s question is:
The COVID-19 pandemic precipitated an economic shutdown that shuttered, at least temporarily, many local businesses and left many workers either on the sidelines or frontlines. Do you believe the city has done enough to mitigate the negative effects of the pandemic and the resulting shutdown on businesses and workers? If so, how do you believe the city can continue to support businesses and workers as our local economy continues to reopen and recover?
EDITOR’S NOTE: Each candidate’s name links to their website; click on it if you want to learn more about them.
Position No. 1:
Thank you for mentioning the workers. I think they were shown gratitude and support at the beginning of this pandemic but, 16 months later, workers all over our city continue to feel left behind.
Continual support of workers, labor unions and small-business owners through policies that prioritize fair wages and safe working conditions ought to be our focus in the next few years.
The state and federal mandates resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic limited the capacity of our municipality to help ease the impact on our local businesses. Despite the difficulties, our local business community adapted and employed creative solutions to the restrictive mandates. I commend the Burien City Council’s decision to delay the licensing of food trucks to temporarily protect our struggling business community.
With the mandates being lifted, we look forward to Burien becoming the most attractive city to start and operate a small business. With the immigrant in mind, for whom barriers of language and culture create significant hurdles, we should look to simplify and streamline every regulation, fee and tax structure that deters success. By viewing it through the lens of those upon whom the greatest difficulties lie, we will make it better for everybody.
There are times when eliminating or reducing a tax increases the amount of revenue that a government collects. An example might be the business and occupation tax. This tax on revenue rather than profit can be a barrier to a business coming to Burien, as other cities do not require it. If Burien loses a business to another city where their sales tax receipts exceed the B&O tax, then Burien experiences a net loss of potential tax revenue. This kind of analysis can be helpful in both streamlining to help the entrepreneur in addition to raising needed city revenue.
Additionally, a successful business can not operate apart from a stable workforce. An enemy of business stability is a lack of affordable local housing for their employees. Market-based solutions need to be expanded to maximize the percentage of Burien employees who can afford to live, work and play in our city.
Position No. 3:
The pandemic has been unprecedented, in scope and impact. It is overwhelming government budgets of cities, including Burien, and exceeding even the worst-case forecasts that experts could have predicted.
Rather than waste time finding fault, we must understand that the virus is our common foe and forge new public-private partnerships to overcome its damage. These can bring the best talents together to create events, programs and initiatives that stimulate investment and increased customers, benefiting our local businesses.
Economic development is a continuous activity, and we are learning what works as we emerge from this devastating event.
The COVID pandemic has put Burien, like most of our neighboring cities, in a difficult position, and I don’t believe the city has the resources available to adequately address the impacts to our residents and businesses.
I would direct city staff to seek out and apply for grants from state and federal agencies, and ensure that whatever support we are able to provide is focused on the most impacted segments of the community.
The Burien City Council voted 5-2 in favor of an initiative that would bring food trucks to our city and allow them to take revenue away from Burien businesses. If that is not bad enough, they did this during the COVID pandemic, at a time when our businesses are struggling to survive.
How does this benefit Burien businesses? When was the last time you made a special trip to another city just because they had a food truck?
The city can support businesses and workers by creating opportunities that actually benefit our businesses and workers instead of catering to businesses and workers outside of Burien.
Position No. 5:
I supported our current council when they listened to our community and advocated for hazard pay for grocery store workers, and would like to see our city follow up with a raise in minimum wage, which I believe the Burien Economic Development Partnership is already working on.
I am also very proud of the work done by our community to reduce the impacts of COVID-19, from teachers arranging student lunch pickups to community members organizing vaccination events, to Alimentando el Pueblo preparing culturally relevant food delivered on a drive-by basis, to the many restaurants creating wonderful to-go menus.
We need to keep these support systems in place as the economy and our personal lives recover from the impact of the pandemic. Students need to rebuild their skills not only academically but social-emotionally after a year of online classes. Businesses need the city to take advantage of any state or national recovery grants to help them not only rebuild but build stronger. We now know how critical it is for every home to have internet services, and we must ensure that this becomes the norm. We should use this opportunity to ensure equitable access to the many resources our city has to offer and to strengthen our safety net for businesses and individuals alike.
The federal and state governments had much more control over the reaction and regulations regarding the pandemic than the local city governments. A large part of this is due to the massive amount of resources at higher levels of government.
The city of Burien didn’t necessarily have a lot to work with as far as giving out relief money and, as a result of that, I think that the best thing that Burien could have done is take a “no harm” approach to local businesses and residents. Unfortunately, I don’t think that the city did a good job of that.
Adding an 8 percent utility tax and potentially harming struggling restaurants with the proposal of food trucks within the city only put a greater burden on those already struggling. Moving forward, we need to carefully consider the very real hardships that resulted from the pandemic and let the residents and businesses of Burien heal.
I don’t think anyone was prepared for COVID-19, and the answer to what any city anywhere can do about the pandemic is always “more.”
I believe that the city can help businesses, renters and homeowners alike by providing low-interest loans to help businesses get back on their feet and to help folks pay for their rent and mortgages to avoid evictions and foreclosures.
I worked at Lumen Field vaccination site in accessible services. I would have liked to see Burien do some vaccine outreach. Low-income families are more likely to continue working despite the dangers of the pandemic because they have no other option. Prioritizing these often multi-generational families for the vaccine could have helped businesses reopen in a safe way.
Position No. 7:
I believe the city has worked hard to support small businesses and workers during the pandemic – whether through assisting with Small Business Administrationloans, providing grants, hosting webinars, delaying business-and-occupation taxes and the plastic-bag ban, partnering with the Small Business Development Center at Highline College (SBDC) to provide free business advising to Burien businesses or passing the $5-per-hour grocery-workers hazard pay ordinance.
We can do more by increasing our marketing efforts, resuming our summertime programming and continuing to fight for funds from the state and federal government.
I do not think our council currently listens carefully to our business community. They pay a large sum for Discover Burien to take on this role.
The membership of Discover Burien is very low given the amount of businesses we have. We need a review process for Discover Burien. The South Side Chamber of Commerce also plays a role.
We need to make a stakeholder’s wheel for those two groups and identify the key decision-makers and develop short- and long-term goals and share them with the businesses so they can join rather than refuse to join due to a lack of benefits in relationship to dues. Start with a poll. You would be surprised how many businesses refuse to join because they feel the dues are collected but the services are lacking.
Strengthening Burien’s neighborhoods should be an additional goal of Discover Burien. The current director actually sees no sense in this. Why? Look at other cities. Look at Siena, Italy; they are the same size as Burien and have almost the same number of neighborhoods. Each neighborhood has its own crest and they have been building their neighborhoods for 1500 years.
Currently no one reading this can name all 18. Strengthening our neighborhoods is the root to building our community and can be fun. I encourage everyone to learn the names of all 18 of our neighborhoods. Watch this training video here: https://youtu.be/wlzXrWvHCj8
No, I don’t think the city has done enough, and the attitude on the council toward small businesses needs to change.
If you take the time to actually speak to the small-business owners in Burien, they’ll tell you there is an almost adversarial view among some council members toward their business. There are current council members who have told the businesses that if they don’t like it, they can leave our city, or that their concerns aren’t valid. This attitude has to change as small businesses are the backbone of our community.
We need to provide a clean and safe neighborhood for businesses to operate where their customers and employees feel safe. We need to use common sense and stop doing things like adding an 8 percent utility tax increase in the middle of the pandemic when businesses were already suffering.