More than a dozen immigrant business owners in Tukwila sent a letter to Mayor Allan Ekberg saying the city’s tactics to negotiate with businesses that will be displaced by its police station plans will disrupt the local immigrant communities the owners have worked so hard to build.
“We serve our communities of Somalis, East Africans and other immigrants and refugees. We are a gathering place that provides economic and social benefits to workers, elders and all those who seek our goods and services. We are the first to provide support when our community is in need,” the business owners wrote in the April 16 letter. “Your plan to rip out a part of our community represents a step toward destabilizing our community.”
They called for the city to negotiate with all the affected business owners as a group, and to consider what effect the displacement will have on the city’s immigrant communities.
“Any further City action needs to also involve a study that looks at the impacts of its action on our community businesses and our community.”
Tukwila has scheduled two community meetings this week — Wednesday and Thursday — to discuss the potential impact that the displacement will have on the businesses and the city’s immigrant communities. Tawfik Maudah, owner of affected business Bayview Motors, encourages the public to come.
For Maudah, the city’s attempts to negotiate individually with businesses ignores the value of the community built by the businesses in staying together — which has created a convenient and one-stop shopping location for the Somali and East African communities. Maudah said the city must help all the business stay together if it’s acting in good faith.
The group letter was in response to a letter from Ekberg sent in early April, asking the business owners to waive their opposition to the police station construction plans in exchange for short-term lease agreements. The city also demanded not challenging the amount of relocation assistance that Tukwila would offer them.
The original deadline was May 1, but city officials told The Seattle Globalist that the deadline is now late May.
The city of Tukwila last year began to purchase the land at Salama Business Center, where dozens of business — mostly owned by immigrant business owners — are located.
However, only the property owner was protected by eminent domain laws requiring fair compensation. At the time that the Tukwila started its police station project, those protections did not exist for renters, leaving most of the businesses high and dry.
A new state law now creates better terms for renters, but that protection came too late for the Tukwila business owners affected by the police station plans. The law didn’t take effect before the city of Tukwila declared its intention to build a police station and courthouse, a few months after voters approved a levy for a police station, fire station and courthouse.
Business owners at the location said they only got a few weeks of warning that the city was considering their site. They also say the city now is pressuring individual business owners to submit to its demands to drop opposition.
“Just a few weeks ago, one City official approached one of the business owners, and pressed the owner to accept the offer, despite the fact that the document was in English and the owner spoke little English. Cease and desist these individual coercive activities,” the businesses said in their letter.
Tukwila might be most well-known for the sleek Westfield Southcenter mall and its national chain stores, but many local businesses started by immigrants and people of color are located along Tukwila International Boulevard — where the city is planning future development.
The letter also questioned what the city’s plans there will do to its ethnic communities.
“We can only conclude that you mean the same for all of the ethnic businesses in the area, as you plan for redevelopment of the Tukwila International Boulevard area into a larger regional shopping center with new housing unaffordable to our community,” the letter said.
Businesses also said the mayor’s demands were an attempt to silence them.
“These pre-conditions are outrageous and a violation of our right to free speech,” they wrote in the letter.
Sixteen impacted business signed the letter to the mayor. They were joined by organizations Puget Sound Sage, One America and MLK Working Families Party.
Maudah said Tukwila is trying to negotiate compensation and lease terms with each business separately, which doesn’t take into account the value of the businesses in staying together in a convenient and one-stop shopping location for the Somali and East African communities. Maudah said the city must help all the business stay together if it’s acting in good faith.
Maudah said he asking the supporters to join the businesses in a May 2 town hall meeting with the Ekberg at Abubakar Mosque in Tukwila at 2:30 p.m. as well as another town hall meeting the city called for on May 3 from 6-8 p.m. at Thorndyke Elementary School.
In an email, Maudah called upon the community for their support.
“Anyone who reads this article or hears about our ordeal please come support us we need you,” he said.
Maudah what happens in the next few months could spell the fate of the business he’s tended for years.
“My plan is to save my business and stay in the same neighborhood here in Tukwila or else I will go out of business,” he said in an email to The Seattle Globalist.