In a letter to Inslee, Lynnwood City Council urges re-opening of some businesses

At the Lynnwood City Council’s remote April 27 business meeting, Councilmember Jim Smith (second row, third column) proposed sending Gov. Jay Inslee a letter asking him to allow some business to reopen.

Updated with final letter.

Multiple Lynnwood City Councilmembers have signed a letter addressed to Gov. Jay Inslee imploring him to allow some businesses deemed non-essential under his stay-at-home order to reopen to the public as soon as possible.

The letter — drafted by Councilmember Jim Smith — includes signatures from six councilmembers, including Council President Christine Frizzell. Councilmember Ruth Ross did not sign it.

The letter is in response to the governor’s “Stay home, Stay Healthy” directive, which ordered the closure of businesses the state classified as non-essential. On Wednesday, Inslee said the order — issued March 23 — would likely be extended past its May 4 expiration. 

In the letter, the council proposes reopening businesses that are able to practice “common sense” safety standards used by essential businesses, like wearing face masks, maintaining social distancing standards and limiting the number of customers allowed in the business at a time. The letter also proposes that vulnerable community members, like senior citizens, be encouraged to follow the governor’s stay-at-home order.

Here’s the full text of the letter:

April 29, 2020 

The Honorable Jay Inslee
Governor of Washington State
416 14th Avenue Southwest
Olympia, WA 98504 

From: Members of the Lynnwood City Council 

Dear Governor Inslee, 

As city leaders, we are on the front line representing our 38,000 Lynnwood residents in addition to our small businesses which provide for our particularly large economic base and for our diverse South Snohomish County community.

These are unusual times and we are all in this pandemic together. Thank you for the extra work you and your team have been doing alongside scientists and doctors. We know these difficult decisions for safety and well being are not made lightly. 

As you are aware, “one size does not fit all” when it comes to solutions for our residents and businesses in our cities, counties and state. Lynnwood, for instance, is drastically different from Seattle. We know that facts and science certainly matter as well as common sense. 

While we want to open responsibly and safely during this upcoming transition time, we do want to make a plea to you to allow businesses to open immediately that are similar to those already deemed as “essential” and those businesses that clearly can be open with strict protocols better and easier than many “essential” businesses currently allowed to be open. The lack of consistency with which businesses are opened vs closed is more than frustrating and inequitable for many of our business owners. 

For example, stand-alone furniture stores can be as safe, if not safer, than a Costco or Fred Meyer that sells furniture, clothing, and other items besides food. A small gift shop or other retail store can conform to health guidelines as easily as the local liquor store, and the list goes on. 

Diversified businesses have already had a huge economic windfall being allowed to sell non-essential items during the shut down. If some businesses are allowed to be open and sell non essentials then protocols need to be put in place so that all businesses can be open. 

Lynnwood’s proposed solutions include: 

  • Open businesses immediately that can be just as safe as others that are open. . Continue to strongly encourage people to follow all safety protocols; social distance and wear masks or face coverings when around others.
  • Strongly encourage the sheltering of the very aged and/or vulnerable. 

We do not want to put anyone into harm’s way, we are simply advocating for our businesses. We would like there to be an updated, more consistent, common sense, equitable list of businesses that can be open as safe, or safer, than the ones already open. We are asking to have a level playing field…in a safe, responsible way before we lose even more businesses that are forced to close their doors permanently. 

Respectfully, 

  • Christine Frizzell, Council President
  • Shannon Sessions, Council Vice President
  • Julieta Altamirano-Crosby, Councilmember
  • Ian Cotton, Councilmember
  • George Hurst, Councilmember 
  • Jim Smith, Councilmember 

Smith first proposed the idea of sending a letter to the governor during the council’s April 27 business meeting. He said some essential businesses, like retail stores, are staying open on a technicality because they sell some food items. Smith said this loophole is what allows retail stores like Big Lots to sell products sold at other local businesses. He said that this is unfair to those establishments that can’t be open to sell to customers.

“Even though it’s the state that makes the decision, I think it’s time for us to perhaps nudge the state to help our citizens and our businesses out a little bit,” Smith said.

For Lynnwood, business closures have meant heavy hits to the city’s economy. More than 45% of the city’s general fund comes from sales tax revenue. City staff estimate the city will lose $3.7 million in sales tax revenue alone due to business closures.

Prior to making his proposal, Smith opened the Monday meeting by reading a letter to city officials from Phong Nguyen, owner of Anna’s Home Furnishings. In the letter, Nguyen asked councilmembers to request that the governor to reverse the decision that labeled his business as nonessential.

Nguyen told councilmembers said he believes his business is essential for customers looking to furnish their homes with necessities like home office equipment, student work spaces for homeschooling and beds for visiting family members who are unable to take care of themselves. Additionally, Nguyen said furniture stores typically have more open space and fewer customers at a time, allowing customers to safely maintain social-distancing standards.

After reading Nguyen’s letter, Smith added that large retail stores like Costco — which draw large crowds and lines that extend out the door — are potentially more harmful to public health than other businesses.

“We need to level the playing field here,” he said.

Speaking to her decision not to support the proposal, Councilmember Ross said she trusts that Inslee and his staff are already aware of the issues regarding local business.

“I think the governor has much better information about the appropriate steps to take and how to implement a safe return to work for everyone,” she said.

Additionally, Ross said now is not the time for the council to second guess decisions just to make a political point.

“I want to see a plan for our city and for us to be prepared for our reopening,” she said. “The rest is just grandstanding.”

Council Vice President Shannon Session said she favored the council advocating for the business community by working with the city’s legislators to give “a gentle, kind, firm push” toward reopening local businesses.

Smith said that as elected officials, councilmembers have a duty to support the city’s business owners and that he was willing to send a letter to Inslee regardless of whether the council supported it.

“I think that I owe it to our residents here in Lynnwood and to our businesses here in  Lynnwood…to be the person and hopefully the persons that have their best interest in mind, not just taking orders,” he said.

–By Cody Sexton

  1. The initial draft of the letter was inadvertently sent to Lynnwood Today. The final letter that was sent to the Governor has now been sent. This was TOTALLY my mistake and I apologize. -Jim Smith

    1. Good for you and the other council members for taking the initiative to speak up to Gov Inslee. I am writing this while listening to his parental condescending little speech about why he is going to insist that he cannot give up his little dictatorship. Open up anyway.

    2. I can tell you that I agree with the owner of Anna’s Furniture. Any furniture store doesn’t have many shoppers in the store at any one time. They and ANY furniture store would be able to limit the number of people in the store and maintain the 6ft rule. Others that could follow the pandemic rules are Bed Bath and Beyond, Tuesday Morning, Anko, Barnes and Noble, Pier One etc. They could also require that masks be worn while in their stores. Are the essential stores supposed to be limiting the number of customers in the store at any one time? Hmmmm..

  2. Kudos to Councilmember Ross. She has exhibited a side I am pleased to see. To the rest, I understand you must feel pressure from some of your more vocal constituents. I haven’t read or heard what medical authority provided you with data to validate your “…firm, push.” I can’t imagine that it is different or better than what is available to Inslee. I believe your action to be ill-advised and not well thought out at best.

  3. “I think that I owe it to our residents here in Lynnwood and to our businesses here in Lynnwood…to be the person and hopefully the persons that have their best interest in mind, not just taking orders,”
    Sounds like this is only pointed to the best interest of business, not the health of our community. Agree with the statement above, this letter would have gone a lot further if you had the support of the local medical authorities.

  4. Despite the SCOTUS ruling, businesses are not people. If a business goes bankrupt it can come back. If a person dies of the coronavirus, that person is gone forever.

    In the scale of weighing business lost against lives, I think lives have to win.

    1. Really? Stay closed if you wish. Stay home as long as you want. It used to be a free country. I am not stupid. I am not irresponsible. As a matter of fact, I haven’t had a virus since I’ve lived in this house, which over 30 years. I do not need anyone to “keep me safe”. If the economy continues on this spiraling nose dive, the rate of assaults and suicide will be making a dramatic increase.

      1. Wow,
        You don’t need anyone to keep you safe? Have you not read up on the data being provided by the medical community? This is not about keeping you safe. This is about spreading a possibly asymptomatic virus to at least very vulnerable populations. Furthermore, as a Lynnwood resident, I stay home as much as possible. While you may be responsible enough to follow the guidelines of safe travels while out and about, many of your Lynnwood co-habitants don’t appear to care in the slightest bit about the current directives to social distance and wear face coverings. People are running around in this city in grocery stores, completely void of protection. I stand behind Inslee’s decision 100%, and you should too. This is about everyone’s commitment to comply, and I’m definitely not seeing it. Opening even more up? I see that as a step backwards when much of the community is clearly either in denial or just plain oppositional.

  5. Thank you Lynnwood City Council!
    As a lifelong Lynnwood resident, I appreciate the use of common sense in the decision making process. “One size does not fit all”, and the creation of blanket rules that affect us all seem ridiculous at this point, not to mention violate our freedoms – the fact is, the virus is here and (apparently) not going anywhere soon. Lets adjust, live our lives and react cautiously (which you’ve already done) without taking away those aforementioned fundamental freedoms or endangering our neighbors. This is a concept that can be accomplished with fairness to all… zero reason it has to be “all or nothing.”
    As I previously penned in an email to Mayor Smith, your recommendations above can and will create a safer environment than that of Costco or any grocery store. Utilizing both “strict protocols and social distancing”, to possibly include requiring our elderly or vulnerable to use masks, why can’t other businesses open as well?
    The idea of “grandstanding” is not just ridiculous, but a prime example of “following” – this is the definition of leadership, and personally I want and expect Lynnwood to be that leader.

    1. No, this is just business over people. Don’t dilute it Nolan. I’m very disappointed in the council… and as I’ve said before, Lynnwood as a whole. All these big $ projects bring big “voices”. Thank you Ross!

  6. I’m thinking about how our county sheriff’s smiling face has been plastered over headlines stating, “Local sheriff defies governor’s stay at home order”. That should probably encourage Inslee to be overjoyed at wanting to listen to Snohomish County officials who want to open commerce.

  7. Lynnwood’s mayor and city council chose to say and do nothing when Edmond’s mayor and city council issued a stay-at-home order for its residents about a month ago, despite Lynnwood having a HIGHER Covid infection rate at that time!
    Yes, Washington’s premier traffic-light camera surveillance city, always claiming SAFETY to be their primary focus, not money, chose to issue no safety order at that time like their neighboring city.
    They showed their hand then, and they’re showing it now. Revenue is #1, however they can get it. Were their souls already corrupted prior to getting on the council, or does it happen afterwards?
    Follow the advice of the health experts!

    1. OH Please, the people of this county, state and city have sacrificed considerably in the best interest of all to ensure we could get on the top side of this virus. During what will end up being about two months of total putting our lives on hold making great progress from when this all began. If you don’t own a business or depend on working outside of the home you certainly will have a different perspective than those who depend on it. That dependence dictates whether people can sustain without going bankrupt. The point that many businesses are operating quite effectively exercising safe distancing and cleanliness practices is and outstanding option for most businesses. Lets use the close contact salon as an example. If a salon wishes to open and a patron wishes to use the service then it should be their choice. If these salons put into play by appointment only with limited number of patrons at one time, masked options, hand cleansing and each station is thoroughly cleaned between each customer that is much more than Fred Meyer, Target, Walmart, Home Depot 7-11 etc etc are doing. I used the extreme case example because if a salon has options to be safe than certainly restaurants, furniture stores, gyms, and most other businesses. This country, state, and city can not sustain the impact of this shutdown and it is time for us to slowly step towards normal. I don’t expect you or everybody will agree with me, but if not STAY HOME. All people have done an excellent job in VOLUNTARILY staying home for the most part. Now is the time to not continue to jeopardize the livelihoods of the majority when in reality the minority has the choice to STAY HOME.

      1. FOLLOW-UP

        Now since the infamous governor has finally felt compelled to come up with a plan he has shown his true colors. Inslee is willing the sacrifice the lives of the majority who have no options to support their livelihoods unless they return to work. He is willing to make these sacrifices, destroy the economy to protect the vulnerable minority when they have an option to, STAY HOME.
        Inslee didn’t just come up with a plan he came up with a sure bet to collapse the economy and destroy 10’s of thousands of lives. Inslee’s plan if goes how he broadcasted will not remove the stay at home order until the first week of AUGUST. Let that sink in. Businesses all over the state are screaming that this 8 weeks is killing them, what will 3 more months do. I suspect the people will make their own decision when to lift the restrictions. If Inslee destroys the states economy which is an easy forecast he is sure to revert to his old tricks and beg for a state income tax to fix the mess he allowed to happen.

    2. Thank you A Levine. I wouldn’t have stated it quite the way you did, but I mirror your sentiments. I see this letter from certain council as deeply lacking in substance in support of their proposal. If the intent was to advocate for business and (let’s be real here) “projects” over people and lives, point was well made. People in the vulnerable category and the more elder in our communities also have rights as citizens. Those of you that state we should either stay home or mask-up, doesn’t feel very community based to me. Why can’t you at least be honest about your priorities. Health for our community is clearly not at the top. Sad.

  8. While I appreciate that there will be “strong encouragement” for both businesses and customers to follow health guidelines, unless there is also consequences to not following, I cannot fully agree with opening more businesses. I don’t care who comes up or enforces with the penalties, but there need to be some. And, you can’t tell me it won’t happen, because I already see it when grocery shopping from both customers and employees. We really do not need more enclosed spaces of people spreading this virus.

  9. Two points to be made it seems to me. The idea of fairness between which businesses are safe and which are not. Small business furniture store owners and shoppers are just as safe, if not more so than the hoards of shoppers buying furniture at Fred Meyer or Costco. The second point, we need to avoid is the resultant devastating consequences for the families that put their heart and life’s work into the business. The despair for them and their employees cannot be overstated. If a drive through coffee stand is safe, then wearing a mask while in a furniture store is safe.

    1. Kudos to Mr Nguyen for writing to the city council members. He is right. Small business like his furniture store should be able to open for business now. Furniture stores are never pack like Costco. There is never a line to go into a furniture store. It’s definitely a lot safer to shop at a furniture store then Costco as an example. As long as everyone continues to practice social distancing then it is safe for all small businesses to open. I hope the governor will consider allowing small businesses to open soon. We all got to remember that hey small business closure not just affect the business owner but all the people they employ.

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