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Credit: Juan Pablo Chiquiza / KUOW

Business owner speaks out about conditions around the CHOP, new lawsuit against Seattle

A group of Capitol Hill residents and business owners worried about the protest zone called the CHOP has filed a lawsuit against the city of Seattle.

They say they've suffered harm and financial losses because of the ongoing demonstration. They also say the city actively endorsed and even enabled the protest zone.

Bill Donner is one of the plaintiffs. His printing and manufacturing company, Richmark Label, has been in the same building at East Pine Street and 11th Avenue for more than 50 years.

He joined KUOW’s Angela King to talk about the lawsuit.

Angela King: Your building is across 11th Avenue from Cal Anderson Park. What are things like for you working in the middle of the CHOP?

Bill Donner: Well, we have been open and functioning. The employees are nervous. A few of us get here as early as 4:30 in the morning. We always have to get out to talk to protesters, ask them to try and move barricades to let the cars come in for the people that work here. We have semi trucks coming in and out all day long. We need to get raw materials in and get our product out.

Drivers periodically will not come in -- they feel threatened. They're fearful. The protesters have allowed them in, but they've intimidated them, and sometimes there have been blockades. We have to get out and try and push them.

The Department of Transportation has tried to be helpful, but they're not going to put their lives in jeopardy for what's been going on. It's been awkward. Of course the exterior of the building has completely been ruined. But at least we're functioning.

You've contacted the mayor's office to share your concerns. What kind of response did you get?

There are two people. One reached out to me -- apparently a business liaison for the mayor -- and then another that I contacted in the last couple of days. They were very sympathetic and very polite. But nothing has been accomplished. It's sort of like asking us all to be patient.

What are you looking to get from this lawsuit?

Everybody participating -- that I'm aware of -- is supportive of what the protesters want. But it should not be on the back of one neighborhood for no reason whatsoever. We want the streets cleared.

I only have 70 employees here, but there are people that live in the area. And from what I hear, they're afraid to go out. They can't use Cal Anderson Park. They can't use the playfield. Some of them want out of their leases. So there's financial costs to everybody -- restaurants can’t open up.

It's a great neighborhood. I've been here for 50 years. Ideally, I'd love to have the city repaint my building. It's kind of an interesting building with the street art. The streets need to be cleared, the people need to feel safe to go out and use it. It's a great section of town with a beautiful park and a playfield -- schools use it, kids use it. People walking their dogs. Nobody's safe.

While you talk about safety, are the concerns heightened because of the recent shootings in that immediate area?

Yeah, I came to work around 4:30 a.m. [Tuesday] morning. And where I normally take a right turn to come south, there were about four police cars there. They just told me to go somewhere else because a few minutes before somebody was shot.

Certainly shootings worry everybody. Closing the police precinct, from talking to a couple of police people, they did not want it. I understand [Chief Carmen Best] said it was not her idea to close the precinct. It made no sense to anybody. They set up bathrooms for people, they've made it into a street fair. They apparently think it's a joke.

Those who were originally behind the demonstrations and the purpose don't really see the underlying issue as a joke, and it sounds like you agree with them. Would you say it's being lost amid what's going on?

Politicians, if they run for office, are supposed to govern. We have more than a couple who love their political positions. But that's not governing.

And there's give and take -- everybody should get something. The protesters have very good reason to protest because they've been ignored. So the politicians should try governing. They can't make up for what's happened in the past, but they can correct it going forward.

If the city listened to and worked with [protesters], maybe we wouldn't be where we are right now. So if the protesters are staying longer than we would like them to, it's because nothing's happened in the past. It's really hard to blame them.