Here’s our recap of the Burien City Council meeting held on Monday night, Feb. 26, 2024:

City Manager’s Report

According to City Manager Adolfo Bailon, Amazon is giving $6 million to Mary’s Place and Mercy Housing (read our previous coverage here). He said the Council’s recent fast-tracking of the approval for permitting is what allowed this project to go forward in time to receive the funds. The money will allow Mary’s Place to add 200 new shelter beds. At nearby Mercy Housing, a brand new building will provide 89 units of affordable multi-family housing.

Bailon also said that thanks to these recent projects and others that have been in the works over the last several years, the city will have a total of 657 new affordable housing units. These projects include retirement communities, DESC, Habitat for Humanity, and the newly funded housing at Mary’s Place and Mercy Housing.

Public Comments

Multiple speakers asked Council to create a task force to address homelessness. They said that we as a community need to find a solution, and that the rampant open drug use so common now is setting a terrible example for children. One mentioned that she had just called three different shelters, and all had beds currently available, meaning that the homeless should not be on the streets. Better organization provided by a task force could get these people to the available beds. Another speaker said a homeless person had left blood all over the sink in the city hall bathroom. 

Others spoke about instituting a citywide minimum wage above the state’s minimum. One person said that Renton and Tukwila now have the highest minimum wages in the country, and Burien should not fall behind. Another person said that complex laws are hard to comply with, so Burien’s minimum wage ordinance should be as straightforward as possible, without as many exemptions as are currently planned.

One speaker said that allowing total compensation to be considered in wage analysis would exclude tipped workers from a base wage increase. She said that patrons are increasingly getting tip fatigue, making tips an unreliable income source. She felt that the proposed ordinance seems to exempt 90% of Burien businesses from paying the wage increase, which she thought was highly unusual. She said the ordinance would unfairly discriminate against large employers, and the council should find a way to support small businesses without stifling growth.

Another woman who has worked as a server in Burien for decades spoke against the minimum wage increase. She said that she has seen the state increase minimum wage several times over the years, and each time it does not actually increase her take home pay. Employers have to compensate for the higher wages by either limiting hours or raising prices, she said, both of which reduce tips for wait staff. 

A few business owners spoke on the topic. They described the challenges they have faced ever since the Covid epidemic, and are now facing as crime and homelessness have increased. Raising the minimum wage would impact their ability to stay in business. One said that Washington State already has the highest minimum wage in the country. A local restaurant owner said that his establishments have not made a dollar in years, and that they would not survive a forced wage increase. Other store owners said they would have to raise the price on everything they sell in order to pay for the new wages, effectively raising the cost of living.

Later, Burien’s Economic Development Manager Chris Craig confirmed that after looking at cities that have raised the minimum wage, they found that the cost of living has increased to match the higher wages.

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Minimum Wage Discussion

Council then had a roundtable discussion about the details of the proposed minimum wage ordinance. Staff will bring back a finalized ordinance to vote on at a future meeting. The proposed wage increase will be $2, $3, or $4 above the state minimum wage, with the exact amount to be determined at the coming meeting. 

They also discussed the different sized companies that would be impacted, whether a business is a level one, two, or three employer, based on the number of “full-time equivalents” (FTEs) in their employ. In using FTEs, the council also hopes to encourage employers to hire full-time rather than keeping everyone part-time in order to avoid providing benefits. Mayor Kevin Schilling said that including “total compensation” which would count both benefits and tips, is meant to encourage businesses to offer benefits, creating better careers for employees.

The ordinance also includes repercussions for cases of “wage theft” where employers are not paying what they are obligated to. The grievance process is likely to include taking it up with L&I as well as “private right of action” or a lawsuit. 

Mellow DeTray is a Seattle native who has spent the last 16 years raising her family in Burien. She has volunteered at many local establishments over the years, including the Burien Library, Burien Actors...