Morning Fizz

Murray Reaches Out to Hookah Lounge Owners, Sound Transit Board to Decide on ST3 Options

Caffeinated news featuring a change of strategy on hookah lounges, recommended changes to the future light rail line, and abandoning city hall.

By Josh Feit August 27, 2015

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1. The Sound Transit Board is meeting today to approve the project list that will eventually define what next year’s ST3 ballot measure looks like; the list identifies a series of potential options for Sound Transit staff to study (including different lines connecting Downtown to Ballard and Downtown to West Seattle; there’s also a Ballard to U District option). You can read SDOT’s letter of priorities here.

There are a bunch of requests from different cities and stakeholders to add study options—SDOT is asking for a an extension to Crown Hill, for example, and the activists at Seattle Subway are requesting a downtown tunnel that would be convertible from bus to light rail.

Seattle Transit Blog has an in-depth primer and a guest op-ed from Kirkland city council member Jay Arnold demanding BRT.

2. In an apparent about face, mayor Ed Murray has placed a moratorium on his hardline hookah lounge crackdown contingent on the outcome of a meeting—that will likely occur later today or tomorrow—between his policy staff, staffers of the Office of Economic Development, and all 11 of Seattle’s hookah lounge owners where they will discuss ways that the businesses can come into compliance with the state indoor smoking ban, according to Murray spokesperson Viet Shelton.

“We've been trying to do a sit down because it seems like that it would be helpful for everybody one way or the other, to sit down and chat face to face,” Shelton told PubliCola.

He confirmed that the previous set-in-stone crackdown date of August 31 rests on the outcome of the upcoming meeting. “I think that's [the blanket closures] entirely dependent on how these conversations go,” he said.  

The move comes after several weeks of anti–hookah lounge crackdown protests at city hall and criticism of the across-the-board enforcement from at-large community members and council member Nick Licata.

Shelton says the mayor’s office wasn’t initially aware of a “willingness” among hookah lounge owners to come into compliance with the law when Murray first announced the crackdown in early August. “We were starting to hear from the community that there was a willingness from lounge owners to have a conversation about what compliance looks like.”

Shelton said the mayor’s office is open to exploring whatever options are available for hookah lounge owners within the confines of the law, including private smoking clubs or moving to smoke stone hookahs (a shisha smoking apparatus that produces vapor rather than smoke). “We're still needing to work through what is a formally acceptable private club within the confines of existing law,” Shelton said.

Representatives of the Office of Economic Development will be on hand as well to first get feedback from business owners, educate them on current indoor smoking laws, and assist them with the tools and assets the department has available. “No one wants these businesses closed arbitrarily,” head of the Office of Economic Development Brian Surratt told PubliCola.

“Depending on what they [hookah lounge owners] want to do, and how they’re willing to come under compliance and where they want to go, we’re going to be there with them to figure it out,” said Surratt (the department provides services to local businesses such as connecting owners with local capital lenders and cost free business advice). Surratt added that the Mayor reached out to him about the sit-down meeting the day before Murray sent his letter to Licata at the end of last week.  

In addition, as outlined in a August 14 letter Murray sent Licata in response to Licata’s call to pause and formally study the public safety concerns Murray originally hyped, the mayor has instructed Patricia Lally (director of the Office of Civil Rights) to conduct a racial equity analysis of the crackdown.

The analysis sounds comprehensive: The team will gather input from hookah lounge owners and patrons,Somali community leaders, businesses and residents adjacent to hookah lounges, SPD, and King County Public Health Officials. “We all know there are laws about where you can smoke. But if you are a person of color, an immigrant, facing barriers to equity that others don't face and this a place where you can go to find some friendship, some solace, some community connection, I think we have to understand what those less scientific benefits might be,” Lally says.

Originally scheduled for last Friday, the meeting will likely occur later today or tomorrow.

3. Dying for some city council election news in this lull between the primary and the unofficial start of round two after Labor Day? Well, we did give you the tidbit about Sandy Brown’s $10,000 contribution to his own campaign earlier this week. Here’s the only other riveting scoop we’ve got: The fifth place finisher in the five-way District Four primary, Abel Pacheco, is supposedly going to endorse the first-place finisher, Rob Johnson today; Johnson and Michael Maddux topped incumbent Jean Godden and are facing off in November in the U District to Wedgwood turf.

Pacheco only got 1,400 votes (and those votes aren’t necessarily going to be a straight transfer…it never works that way) and just 8.43 percent. But with just 54,000 voters in District Four…

4. Finally, remember our brain drain article about staffers fleeing the city council’s policy shop. We’re hearing another farewell email is coming today.

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