Refugee business owners deliver grievance letter to City of Tukwila | KUOW News and Information

Refugee business owners deliver grievance letter to City of Tukwila

Apr 25, 2018

Business owners and community members marched to Tukwila City Hall last Thursday to deliver a letter protesting a proposed police station and courthouse that would displace two dozen small businesses, most owned by East African refugees.

Tawfik Maudah owns the Bayview Auto Club, a used car dealership. He read the letter out loud in front of city hall.

"This area where our business is located, 10 or 20 years ago was a dead place," Maudah said. "There was nobody there. Full of crime. Vacant lots. Vacant buildings. And we made it alive again."

The mayor wasn't there to receive the letter, but city administrator David Cline invited the group into a small conference room to hear their concerns.

The business owners told him they don't want to leave. They were originally offered one year and $5,000 to move, but the owners said that wasn't enough time or compensation. They argued this would rip the heart out of the Somali community and that if a Somali had been on the committee that selected the site, this crisis never would have happened.

The city said the site was selected after a lengthy public process, and it's too late to change it. The meeting concluded with the business owners shaking their heads and hoping to continue the conversation later. 

KUOW will look deeper into growth and development in Tukwila - and the concerns about displacement that come along with that - as our  Along The Mother Road series heads south on State Route 99 to Tukwila this spring.

You can read the business owners' letter, and the city's response, below. 

Letter to Tukwila mayor from immigrant business owners: 

Dear Mayor Ekberg:

We are calling on the City of Tukwila to stop progress on the Public Safety Project.    If the City fails to act on our five (5) requests below, we and our community allies will have no choice but to continue to take repeated collective action for the City’s unjust decision including collective action within the next week.  Our community members and allies are becoming increasingly concerned that the City is not moving on any of the five (5) items listed below as our position.  

Our position is as follows, as earlier stated in our February 20, 2018 letter:

  1. Stop the progress on the Public Safety Project at this location; 
  2. As community businesses, we want to stay in the current location as a group;  
  3. Impacted communities need to be at the decision-making table for economic development and public safety projects;
  4. Connect with our community and understand what it means to destroy this retail center:  Study the social and economic value of Tukwila International Boulevard small businesses to the East African and other immigrant and refugee communities;  
  5. Conduct a market analysis that either supports – or refutes – our claim that our customer base is too spread out for us to realistically relocate in another city.  
  6. Added:  Extend the leases for all impacted Tukwila businesses with no pre-conditions that tenants give up contesting relocation assistance or condemnation litigation.  

We are also requesting that the City extend all leases until December 31, 2018 without any pre-conditions for all the impacted City owned properties, i.e.  Bayview Motor Club, the Hair Salon and other businesses.  These pre-conditions are outrageous and a violation of our right to free speech.  We understand that the City has just now requested leases from some of the impacted businesses.  We want to extensions for action on such leases.    

We are also requesting copies of all proposed leases for the impacted businesses and the proposed leases by no later than noon on Friday, April 20.   Failure to provide the requested documents will result in another collective action within the next week.    

City representatives have offered us only individual negotiations for small amounts of relocation assistance, and/or changing verbal proposals for purchase of properties.   Just a few weeks ago, one City official approached one of the business owners, and pressed the owner to accept an offer, despite the fact that the document was in English and the owner spoke little English.   Cease and desist these individual coercive activities.  

We reiterate to you that our businesses helped revitalize and continue to nourish and support the current community.  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. 

Your plan to rip out a part of our community represents a step toward destabilizing our community.  If the City of Tukwila wants to ensure economic development and public safety, ripping apart a key and stable part of our community is not the way to do that.  As we indicated to the City in our earlier letter, relocating us, one by one, to be spread well beyond Tukwila will destroy what we have built, and put many of us out of business.   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.  

Again, we urge you to stop the purchase of property, cease progress on the project and ensure that we stay together.    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.  

Respectfully,

  • Tawfik Maudah, Bayview Motor Club
  • Mohamed Sharif & Suad Mohamed, Tawakal Mini Mart
  • Abdi Adan, Fresh & Green Produce Market
  • Laura Cruz, Color y Estilo “Hair Salon”
  • Fowzi Mohamud, Marwa Restaurant
  • Abdirizaq Sheikomar, Wireless City LLC
  • Adam Ashoor, Taaj USA
  • Omar Mohamed
  • Xalwo Kismaayo                                                              
  • Nasir Tura, Nasir Tura Restaurant & MoneyGram
  • Osman Ali, Dahabshil Inc
  • Hassan Nur, Amal USA
  • Abdidahir Sugulle, Have a Nice Day Jewelry 
  • Foos Barquadle, Foos Beauty Salon
  • Mohammed Ashour
  • Salama for Haj & Omrah
  • Muna Abdi, Mona Restaurant
  • Sook Choi, Riverton Height Grocery 

Community Allies

  • Puget Sound Sage
  • One America
  • MLK Working Families Party

City response:

The City of Tukwila is committed to working with all businesses affected by the voter-approved Public Safety Plan.  We value all of our businesses, including those owned and operated by our vibrant immigrant and refugee community and we have a long history of supporting all sizes and types of businesses.  The City has been working for six months to meet with affected businesses and discuss how we can support them, so they can continue to operate in a different location.  We are offering financial assistance, favorable lease terms, assistance in finding new locations and more.  We very much want these businesses continue to be a part of our community.

Since the City’s Public Safety bond was passed by the voters in November of 2016, we have had multiple open houses in the community, with invitations sent to every address in Tukwila.  There have been numerous public meetings discussing the Public Safety Plan, including those of the Siting Advisory Committee.  These meetings allowed many different community members the opportunity to provide comment and feedback on various aspects of the Public Safety Plan, including siting criteria and potential areas for siting the various Public Safety Plan facilities. 

The Justice Center is a much-needed community facility.  The Tukwila Police Department has more than three times the number of officers in service today as it did when the current police department was constructed in 1977.  Current facilities are inefficient, seismically unsafe and do not allow for the level of service our community deserves.