Here’s our recap of the Burien City Council meeting held on Monday night, Oct. 23, 2023:
Urban Forest Program Update
Josh Petter, Burien’s Urban Forest Planner, presented his work over the past year to council. Petter has inventoried the city’s trees using GIS. The city’s trees remove 494 lbs of pollution and 304 tons of carbon dioxide from the air each year. He said most of the trees in Burien are less than 6” in diameter, and these require more resources. The best course of action is to encourage them to grow larger, when they will become more self-sustaining. Most of the trees in the downtown area are on public property.
Unfortunately, there is little diversity among the city trees, with the majority along 152nd being ash. These are vulnerable to the emerald ash borer, a beetle that kills 100% of trees it infects. The ash borer is currently active in Oregon, and it would be too easy for the pest to spread across the border and eventually leave 152nd a treeless wasteland. Petter said state legislation is needed to protect our trees from contamination. In addition, encouraging more diversity in the trees that are planted would ensure a healthy tree canopy. He also mentioned that Boulevard Park needs more trees to help with air pollutants from Seatac airport.
The new tree code was passed one year ago and began with outreach to the community. Since the new permit system has been in effect, 18 minor tree removal permits have been issued to property owners. Fifteen major tree removal permits have been issued to developers, with many more expected this year since much of the construction in 2023 was approved before the permits were required.
Minimum Wage Discussion
Council heard a presentation on the research staff has done looking into minimum wage increases in surrounding municipalities Their research includes data from a UW study on the effects of raising the minimum wage, and interviews with some businesses and cities. Each city is doing things a bit differently. Seatac passed a minimum wage by ballot, and Seattle passed its minimum wage by council decision. 1% of all businesses in Seattle shut down after the wage increase. In Tukwila, small businesses with fewer than 15 employees are exempt from paying the new minimum wage. Tukwila has an additional two wage tiers depending on if a business is midsize or a larger employer of more than 500 people, with the largest companies paying the highest minimum wage level.
Back in 2021, Burien decided to stick with the Washington State minimum wage. Nearly 76% of workers in Burien are employed by large companies, but the majority of Burien businesses are small, with very few workers. A tiered minimum wage, then, would increase wages for the majority of workers while having less of an impact on our many small business owners. In order to hire a consultant to perform outreach and engage with business owners and workers in Burien, it is expected to require 6 months and $40-50 thousand.
Councilmember Cydney Moore made a proposal at the end of the presentation, to direct the city manager to bring back a draft ordinance, based on county legislation, to raise the minimum wage. City Manager Adolfo Bailon stated that it was inappropriate to make a motion during the presentation portion of the meeting, before the public had a chance to comment. They disagreed, and the meeting recessed for nearly 15 minutes to figure out what was allowable. When the meeting resumed, the motion was made. After further discussion among the council, mostly about when it would be appropriate to vote on this motion, it was finally moved to the evening’s business agenda.
25 people were signed up to speak, including business owners, workers, and advocates on both sides of the wage debate. One speaker said that making the public wait two hours before being able to comment is rude. Another said that trying to make a motion on this before hearing comments was disrespectful to the public.
It was said by one business owner that Councilmember Cydney Moore’s plan of “right of private action,” which would allow employees to sue business owners for non-compliance with the wage increase, is bad policy. Outreach to business owners has been tiny, and most other business owners seem to have heard nothing of it.
One business owner said that tips should be factored into any minimum wage discussion, since his bartenders and wait staff can easily make an additional $40-$60/hour in tips. Another person said she had worked at a restaurant with a lunch buffet, and tipping was rare and meager, and the tips had to be split with other restaurant staff. It hardly made for a robust living wage. One speaker said that tipping culture is unpatriotic. It came to us from the European aristocracy and is unamerican. He said we should abolish it, rather than relying on it and basing our laws on it.
Another commenter urged council to raise the minimum wage without doing any further study. They said families need financial stability, regardless of the size of business they work for. Someone else said a wage increase would negatively impact the vibrancy of our business community, who are contributing to our tax revenue as well as driving tourism to the city. One said that this was a particularly bad time to raise wages, as there is an imminent economic downturn.
On another topic, one person said that downtown businesses have seen a decrease in crime since moving the homeless encampment further away, and thanked council for their action on that.
No Action Taken on Minimum Wage
Finally, after a few public hearings and other business items, council returned to the minimum wage discussion. This time, Councilmember Jimmy Matta amended Councilmember Cydney Moore’s earlier motion, including language that takes into account the recommendations of the Burien Economic Development partnership (BEDP) rather than just relying on the county’s legislation. Matta said a wage increase without thorough small business outreach would unfairly impact business owners who don’t speak English as their first language, most of whom are unaware that a minimum wage is being considered.
Councilmember Moore was incensed that her original motion was changed so much by the amendment, and argued that it wasn’t allowed. This was thoroughly discussed, and finally a majority vote decided to move the motion forward as amended. Moore spoke a further 5 minutes on the newly amended motion, expressing her deep disappointment that this does not take any substantial action.
At last, a vote on the main motion was taken, and votes against Jimmy Matta’s proposal for minimum wage came from Cydney Moore, Sarah Moore, Hugo Garcia and Stephanie Mora.
However, the motion to direct the city manager to bring back a draft ordinance will likely be discussed again at an upcoming meeting.
As the meeting ran for around four hours, the final agenda items were tabled for a future meeting. Mayor Sofia Aragon nearly adjourned the meeting without council voting on the items that had public hearings earlier in the night. After a reminder by Deputy Mayor Kevin Schilling that the vote was required, council voted and each item was approved.
View full video of the council meeting here.