By Jack Mayne

The Burien City Council study session on Monday night (Feb. 24) saw discussion of the city focusing its downtown redevelopment on a targeted approach citywide, and also considered the possibility of a $15 an hour minimum wage.

Currently only adjacent SeaTac and Seattle have such minimum wages.

Councilmembers told city staff, as well as Councilmembers, to discus the feasibility of such a minimum wage with local businesses.

Redesigning Burien
Economic Development Manager Chris Craig presented the Council the city’s 2019 annual report and 2020 work plan of the Business and Economic Development Partnership (BEDP). Craig said the citizen advisory board was formed to provide “guidance to the City Council.” Primarily, it is to help the city with attracting “targeted” business for the downtown area.

This will help the city identify two or three industries to “target with future business attracting marketing efforts,” especially in the “retail sector and hospitality/lodging” industries “with potential opportunities available in office and the creative economy as well.”

Ambaum corridor
The partnership is targeting ways to assist the Ambaum corridor, along with strategies for the Boulevard Park business district. Other items it will consider are redesigning an “aesthetic design” for 1st Avenue South light poles and “study of potential changes to food truck business regulations,” which now are outlawed in the downtown area. Other considerations include entertainment and “the creative economy,” Craig said.

He said the group would also like to consider a program for dumpster locks in the downtown area, the idea to prevent trash being spilled out to the alleys.

$15 pros and cons
Councilmember Kevin Schilling said he has noticed an increase of trash in the downtown area and favors the plan Craig outlined. Councilmember Cydney Moore moved to direct the city manager “to work with the BEDP” to “try to identify the pros and cons of establishing a $15 minimum wage in the city. The need for a living wage in our city is pretty dire” and the poverty level in the city is “well above the state average.”

The motion to study the potential of a minimum wage was approved unanimously by the Council.

Deputy Mayor Krystal Marx said a study should “include what is the cost of living in Burien generally so we can understand what either a single wage earning household or a small family or a large family, what it takes for them to survive in the city. It would be wonderful if those who live here can work here too.”

Marx supported Moore’s motion. Seattle and SeaTac have laws paying $15 or more, but both cities have numerous and complex provisos that make exceptions to the scale for a variety of reasons. During the Council meeting, someone told Councilmember Nancy Tosta the wage was $16.34 in Seattle. A similar amount is paid to many, but not all, in SeaTac.

Tosta noted that many businesses are going out of business or moving because of costs.

A good strategy?
“Is a minimum wage a good strategy for addressing some of the concerns we about work (in) our community?” Tosta said, adding that $24 an hour was a cost said to allow a person to “not be burdened to pay rent.”

Tosta proposed amending Moore’s proposal by having the city manager and the BEDP “look at what setting a minimum wage would do in terms of helping our working community and our businesses.” After discussion, she withdrew the motion suggesting discussion of the Councilmembers make it unnecessary since the issue will be considered.

“It is the bare minimum of what it is considered a livable wage for a single adult, working full time with no dependents in this area,” said Moore, adding that amount has been “extensively researched by experts in this area.” She added it is a wage used in the area.

Schilling suggested “a larger analysis” of the problem of pay to afford living in Burien “is more impactful” in trying to see if the “pros outweigh the cons in increasing the minimum wage in the city,” and whether businesses can afford to pay the amount.

City Manager Brian Wilson said the staff would research the matter and make recommendations back to the Council. Craig said the scope of Council suggestions may make it too large to accomplish with the city staff and the BEDP but he would return to the Council later if necessary.

Schilling said the matter as a pro and con analysis and is in favor of doing what “we can to work alongside our business community to increase the wages of people who live and work here” and pointed out “we are different than SeaTac and Seattle.”

Ability to stay in business
Mayor Jimmy Matta and Councilmember Cydney Moore both said they appreciated and support the city’s small businesses and their ability to stay in business, make a profit and pay their employees livable wages.

“Let’s work on the pros and the cons and see where we stand,” Moore said. “We should be hearing from our businesses because this obviously affects them greatly and we do need to hear from our workforce as well.

“I think this is a really good place to start,” Moore said of the proposal that the city and the Economic Development Partnership work together and research the potential of a minimum wage. The Council approved the report.

Human Services Fund
Dr. Brendon Scholtz, chairman of the city’s Human Services Fund that provides $390,000 annually to community agencies providing services for Burien residents also spoke. He said awards are made “through a competitive process based on alignment with Burien’s priorities and goals.”

Scholtz’s report said demand for human services in Burien remains high with agencies that “provide a great deal more service” than they were contracted for. The city’s “investment in human services demonstrates the necessity to support a wide range of needs.”

He said the fund will continue to give priority to programs that assist Burien residents to have secure, affordable housing, be safe from violence within their families and communities, be healthy, physically and mentally, have living wage jobs and have early childhood education and youth success.

People have more than just one problem, such as finding enough money for rent, they need to find food and shelter, medical assistance and so forth, Scholtz said.

Olguin excused
The Council, at the beginning of Burien’s regular study session, voted unanimously to excuse, once again, Councilmember Pedro Olguin. Councilmember Nancy Tosta noted that Olguin has “I think, attended only one meeting this year.” Olguin was not excused from the prior Council session because he had presented no reason.

Senior Reporter Jack Mayne passed away in December, 2021. In his honor we have created the Jack Mayne Journalism Scholarship.