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.
- 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