The city of Enumclaw didn’t mince words in its last letter to Gov. Jay Inslee.
In short, the city would like to see the governor allow small municipalities like itself (15,000 residents or less) to reopen before larger areas of King County, like Kirkland or Bellevue.
“We cannot stand by and watch our town crumble as some of our local businesses struggle on an unequal playing field,” reads the letter, which was approved by the city council during a special May 21 meeting. “Losing our economic base goes beyond losing money, it goes to losing hope… our town must get back to work.”
Since Inslee announced his four-phase plan to re-open the state at the beginning of May, 10 counties were allowed to move into Phase Two, and since Tuesday, May 19, another 12 had the potential to reopen, the Seattle Times reported.
Phase 1, where King County still resides, means residents should not gather in large groups, and the only businesses allowed to open include essential businesses, existing construction projects, landscaping, retail (but curb-side pickup only), car washes, and pet walkers.
Phase Two allows additional businesses to open, like more construction projects, real estate, retail (with restrictions for in-store shopping), restaurants at 50 percent capacity or less, and in-home domestic services. Gatherings of five people or less are allowed.
Things really ramp up in Phase Three, where groups of less than 50 can gather, restaurants move to 75 percent capacity, bars can open to 25 percent capacity, movie theaters can screen at 50 percent capacity, and libraries and museums may open.
Phase Four pretty much means the county is back open, with recommendations that those who are at high-risk maintain social distancing.
But it’s clear that city officials are worried some local businesses won’t make it to the later phases.
“Like the people who’ve built them, these businesses are durable. Unfortunately, they’re not invulnerable. The policies aimed at addressing COVID-19 are taking their toll. At present, many business owners do not have the legal standing to occupy and operate their business property under your current order and phased plan, either by restricted operations on phase one or not being able to open at all until later phases,” the letter continues. “We are approaching a point of no return for some of our local shops and restaurants.”
It seems unlikely Inslee would allow cities to move out of Phase One before the entire county, as the city has received word via the King County Executive’s Office that Inslee’s administration “does not view this as practical.”
“We respectfully disagree,” Enumclaw responded, but added that because the currently-scheduled date of moving King County to Phase Two is June 1, “we do not see the need to pursue this request any further currently.”
After the full letter was read into the record, council members had a chance to comment.
Council member Chance La Fleur, the primary author of the letter, spoke first, saying that he just couldn’t sit idle while local businesses suffered.
But “this is not advocating for a free-for-all, open it back up,” he said. “I view this as advocating to allow our small businesses in our community to be responsible, to be safe, where we can balance the health and safety of our citizens right along [with] the vitality of our businesses.”
Council member Hoke Overland said he agreed with most of the letter, and added some points of his own.
“The governor has seen fit to open stores like Costco, Home Depot, Target, Best Buy, but he’s discriminated against small businesses, and those small businesses typically have far less exposure risk,” Overland said. “In my mind, it’s nothing short of being biased, being unfair, and disparate treatment against our small businesses.”
Council member Anthony Write said he didn’t have much to add, but re-iterated that this is not about opening the downtown corridor all the way, since he’s received some comments from worried residents.
“We need to be responsible for our own community and our own selves,” he said. “Everyone in our community, except for our children, are adults, and they have the ability to make smart decisions and function [on] their own. The can read the guidelines, read the directives, and the mandates, and make choices, because it’s their freedom to do so.”
“I do believe there is a line that can be walked safely,” said Council member Kyle Jacobson, who said he believes fully in the letter and that small communities like Enumclaw will have a longer, harder recovery process than larger metropolises. “This is really to allow them to compete in a world that has really changed the landscape of businesses and give them the right to try to move forward in a safe and respectful manner.”
Council member Kael Johnson said he loves being able to tell the community that their council is a united front on this issue.
“I feel like are rights are being infringed on oh-so greatly right now, and it’s a very difficult time,” he added.”I think our community will continue to thrive and continue to appreciate our united front.”
Council member Beau Chevassus said that it would be good to expect another spike of the coronavirus, but that’s the nature of sicknesses.
“They may come back to us and say, ‘Well, we told you so, you should have stayed locked down more,’ but I would much, much rather put that level of trust back into the community rather than take it away from them,” he continued.
“We came together, we all followed the CDC guidelines, we quarantined — I think did a wonderful job at that,” said Council member Tony Binion. “But now we’re to the point where its beginning to negatively impact our community in ways that may never come back if this continues much longer.”
Mayor Molinaro was the last to speak, saying the letter “really speaks to the heart of what were trying to do — assist the small businesses and the residents in the community.”