by Ira Sacharoff
Suppose you are an elected official, representing a large area, and part of the area you represent is a retail district that has been in decline for a number of years. Twenty three years ago, before you represented this district, it had three supermarkets, a hardware store, a drug store, an auto parts store, a couple of taverns, a veterinarian, an auto parts store, a couple of barber shops, a Mexican restaurant, a Thai restaurant, a burger joint, a couple of coffee shops, and more.
Now, twenty three years later, many of the storefronts are empty. There is one supermarket, but where once stood a vibrant neighborhood now is mostly churches and casinos.
Suppose further that a resident and business owner in this area contacts you and asks for your help. This person owns a drive thru coffee stand, and twenty three years ago received a waiver from the local government that you represent, allowing him to open his coffee stand in the parking lot of a supermarket.
He needed the waiver because the zoning of the neighborhood was for pedestrian uses, even though it was in a parking lot, and even though there were no sidewalks to access it. At that time, your predecessor happily helped him out, and he received the waiver. Twenty three years later, unlike most of the other businesses in the area that stood at the time, the coffee stand still exists.
Fast forward twenty three years, and this business owner has purchased a vacant building directly across the street from his existing coffee stand. He wants to open a sit down coffee shop, serve food there, and relocate his drive thru coffee stand across the street, so he doesn’t have to continue to pay rent for the coffee stand in addition to his new mortgage. But the same zoning applies.
He needs a waiver once again because it is zoned for pedestrian uses, and once again, there are no sidewalks ,just mostly vacant buildings, and the local government which you represent has no intention of paying for sidewalks. He wants you to do what your predecessor did, and introduce legislation which would allow him to move his coffee stand across the street. Would you do it?
Of course you would. And a petition of local residents garnered over 1100 signatures suggesting that you help, because they want a sit down coffee shop, and value the contributions the business owner has made to the community. As an elected official, you should want to see the communities you serve do well. So, what’s this all about?
The neighborhood in question is Skyway, twenty minutes southeast of downtown Seattle. The local government is King County, and the elected official is Larry Gossett, who was first elected to the King County Council in 1993, and whose district enlarged in 1997 to include Skyway.
Larry Gossett is a legendary civil rights activist, and deserves much respect. So, naturally, he’s helped out this hard working Middle Eastern immigrant who owns the coffee stand, right?
Nope. He’s told him there’s nothing he can do, the law is the law (Even though in his younger days Councilmember Gossett participated in a number of civil disobedience actions.)
To make a short story long, King County will be holding an open house/Town Hall at the Secondary Learning Center, 7800 S. 132nd St, Seattle, WA 98178, June 15th, 7 PM . Mark your calendars and show up! Councilmember Gossett will be there.
Prior to his serving on the council, he participated in numerous actions demanding action from elected officials. Whether from incompetence, or laziness, or discrimination against Middle Eastern immigrants, Councilmember Gossett has refused to help.
I’m showing up, and it would just warm the cockles of my heart if all of you showed up too. Just because a politician did good things years ago doesn’t mean they get to rest on their laurels. I think an injustice is being done here, and a guy famous for fighting injustice should not be sitting on his hands.
Featured image belongs to the public domain