Judge Dismisses Lawsuit by SeaTac Business Owners Seeking Displacement Benefits

by Aaron Burkhalter

A King County judge has dismissed a lawsuit by business owners from SeaTac Center, a commercial complex in in the city of SeaTac that is set to be sold and redeveloped, displacing a business community made up of Muslim immigrant populations, predominately people of color.

The city of SeaTac owns the property and is selling it to The Inland Real Estate Group. This redevelopment coincides with another redevelopment just across the street that also could disrupt and scatter another hub of businesses serving Muslim and migrant populations: The city of Tukwila is taking over a commercial property to build a new justice center.

The SeaTac Center Community Coalition, a group of business owners at SeaTac Center, filed a lawsuit in March arguing that the city of SeaTac has refused to acknowledge that the business owners are entitled to benefits under the Washington Relocation Assistance Act and asked the court to order the city comply with the act. The lawsuit states that business owners are being evicted prior to the city entering a purchase and sale agreement on the property.

The city of SeaTac disagreed that it has refused to acknowledge the Relocation Assistance Act and argued that business owners needed to first file for benefits under the act, be rejected by the city, and lose an appear before placing the case before a judge.

In short, as business owners could soon be displaced, they must first go through a lengthy administrative process before they can be heard in court to receive relocation benefits that would help them find new, nearby locations to move their operations.

King County Superior Court Judge Michael Scott agreed with the city of SeaTac and dismissed the case at a hearing March 22. He argued that the business owners filed their suit too soon, and that they needed to first seek the benefits before arguing that the city denied them.

A coalition of business owners is regrouping after the loss to determine their next steps. They could either file for benefits with the city, or appeal Judge Scott’s decision, which would place the case before a panel of three judges.

But they continue to work to preserve a neighborhood that they’ve built into a tight community of Muslim and East African people, many of them immigrants. Coalition members own and run different businesses, but their close proximity benefits all of them, they say. Their customer base is the same; someone coming to the center for a cup of coffee may stop into another store for clothing or household supplies.

The center is in a cluster of businesses where Military Road intersects with International Boulevard, across the street from the Tukwila International Boulevard Station.

“We started business together,” said Jamila Farole, whose mother owns Takbir Fashion, which sells clothing and other items. “We want to maintain because all our clients are the same.”

Coalition members outside the courtroom on March 22 described themselves as people pursuing the American dream.

“We’re small businesses,” said Anab Abdi. “All of us are living the American Dream. All we want to do is provide for our families; all we want to do is be part of the city.”

Farah Abdi, an owner of Bakaro Mall, said he was disappointed by the judge’s decision.

“He already made up his decision, and he used the most narrow way to get his point of view,” he said.

An attorney representing the coalition, Bryan Telegin, described the ruling as “a narrow, and in my view an unnecessarily narrow reading” of the law and is working with the Coalition as it decides its next course of action.

Featured Image: SeaTac Center sits across the street from the Tukwila International Boulevard Station. The city of SeaTac owns the property and is selling it, displacing a community of business owners who are predominately Muslim. (Photo: Irene Jagla)

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