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Does City Council just have it in for restaurants?

First, the council imposes new costs by mandating sick leave. Then it turns around to make itself the landlord for new competitors.

Portland has street food. Seattle wants more.

Portland has street food. Seattle wants more. Stu Spivack/Wikimedia Commons

In two ill-considered measures over the last two weeks, Seattle's City Council has declared war on neighborhood restaurants, a local, neighborhood-friendly constituency it should be courting, not harming.

First, by enacting a proposal introduced recently to mandate paid sick leave for all employees without providing a tax subsidy or similar funding mechanism, the council would reach well beyond the normal arena of local public policy. Is it even the role of a municipality to mandate what amounts to private health insurance for hourly workers? A statewide initiative, appropriately funded, might make sense, but the council's version of this bill adds a significant and specific dollar amount to the cost of doing business in Seattle. Perhaps there will be an offset in the city's iniquitous business and occupation tax? Don't count on it.

And now Seattle is to begin subsidizing dozens of food trucks with below-market "parking" fees, turning the city into a landlord and competitor for restaurant business. Where in the municipal code does it say that a particular category of entrepreneur is entitled to a city subsidy? Particularly if the beneficiary becomes a competitor to similar businesses that must pay full rent, utilities, property tax, and commercial insurance? Any restaurant owner will complain about the high cost of water, sewage, electricity, dishwasher maintenance, walk-in refrigeration, and fire suppression for range hoods, to name just a few of the myriad costs involved.

Please understand that I'm not arguing against street food. But Seattle's getting it exactly wrong, while Portland (with food pods equipped with city-supplied power, water, sewage that, of course, must be paid for by the food trucks) seems to be getting it right. 

My own dog in this fight, to the extent that I have one, would be a neighborhood restaurant, Enza Cucina Siciliana on Queen Anne, where I worked until recently and my friends pay $30 per square foot in rent, plus insurance, gas, electricity, water, sewer, city and state taxes, L & I premiums, linen and laundry rental, dishwasher service, health department licensing, $400 a year in DOT fees for (year-round) sidewalk use, burglar alarm, all aside from printing and phone (landline and internet), and a complete inventory of dishes, glassware, and cutlery.

This story's description of the sick-leave proposal has been modified since it first appeared.

Ronald Holden is a regular Crosscut contributor. His new book, published this month, is titled “HOME GROWN Seattle: 101 True Tales of Local Food & Drink." (Belltown Media. $17.95).


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