Racism in SeaTac?

This is a good article about Racism (or the lack of it) in SeaTac!


Does a diverse community need diverse leadership? SeaTac raises the question


One of the places in our region where different languages and cultures mix is SeaTac. Not the airport, the town. The census shows more than 70 languages are spoken there, by immigrants from Somalia, Ethiopia and Mexico — all over. 

And yet the local city council is still dominated by white men and women. A new slate of city council candidates says the city’s leadership needs to reflect that diversity.

One place in SeaTac that’s become a flashpoint for this argument is the Bakaro Mall, which also is known as SeaTac Center. For the past 15 years, this is where Somali Muslims from near and far have come to buy clothes, religious books and specialty foods, such as tilapia samosas and camel’s milk.

The City of SeaTac owns the property. The city is selling it to a developer in for $15 million. The plan is to build hundreds of multi-family housing units with retail space on the first floor. The city says 60 percent of the units will be affordable housing.

In this story, the closer you look, the more complicated the picture gets. Some say the current leadership is bringing Donald Trump-style politics to a city that is majority-minority. Others say local government does indeed have the best interests of its culturally diverse residents in mind, and the color of a person’s skin does not determine good leadership.

…”The city notified the tenants of the Bakaro Mall more than a year in advance that the property was going to be sold.  The city offered to help them find new places nearby.  The Refugee Women’s Alliance, the non-profit which works with immigrant communities, had an office in the mall, and with the city’s help it moved to SeaTac City Hall

SeaTac City Councilman Peter Kwon who is Korean-American is one of the incumbents up for re-election, and is the sole minority on the council.  He says of the people who were on the lease for the Bakaro Mall, members of the Somali community, kept sub-tenants in the dark.  “A lot of the businesses had the belief that they could stay forever, so that was very heartbreaking.”

Back in 2017 Peter said that he found a way to preserve some of the businesses at the Bakaro Mall.  About three blocks away from the Bakaro Mall in the city of Tukwila, SeaTac’s neighbor, a non-profit called Forterra was planning to construct an international marketplace.  “This seems like a really, really win-win solution.”  Peter says that everyone at Bakaro Mall had to be on board with the plan.  “A couple of weeks went by, I didn’t hear from them, so I went back and said hey, what’s going on with this?  And I was told the businesses were not interested.  That was sadly an opportunity lost.”…

…Before Amina Ahmed died, she had a one-on-one meeting with the Mayor, Erin Sitterley.  In an email Erins says that the list of ideas from that meeting between her and Amina, two women from very different backgrounds but who call the same place home, that list still guides the work of the council today.  Erin says that it’s important to note that Amina was in full support of the re-developmente of Bakaro Mall.  She says Amina urged the Somali owned businesses to move out and hoped they would come back once the retail spaces were built”

How Much Does It Cost to Buy a City?

SeaTac is under attack by outside special-interest groups who want to buy and remake the city with their political beliefs. They misrepresent facts to align with their political agenda. They seek to undercut the success of the city and Council so that the challengers will appear more attractive. The challengers talk in generalities about building communities and helping small businesses but present no specific ideas and refuse to discuss what has occurred in the city over the past four years. They are creating a narrative that has no basis in reality!

What is most disturbing about the current election is the fact that all the challengers have virtually no financial support from within the city. These four challengers as of September 6, 2019, have mystically accumulated over $73,000 in donations. The chart below presents data downloaded from the Washington PDC as of September 6, 2019.

This chart shows the four challengers have raised $66,786 of outside money, which represents over 90% of the total. The gross money for the challengers comes from outside special-interests who wish to seize control of SeaTac. This kind of outside meddling demands an answer to the question: How much does it cost to buy a city?

The challengers running against the incumbents, have yet to explain what skills and talents they have that qualify them to run the city with a $40 million budget. None of them has previously worked in Public Service. The fact that none of the four challengers have attended any city advisory committees or otherwise involved with city events indicates they have no understanding nor experience in how the city works, much less how to govern. As with many politicians, they love to talk about change but fail to present a list of actions that would benefit the city and its residents.

These challengers are troubling for other reasons. Takele Gobena is a union representative, paid by a union. He has appeared at the Seattle City Council, claiming to be a driver for Uber, who made under three dollars an hour. Of course, there was a political issue at hand, since the unions want to unionize this type of services, so did he do this for the good of the public or the good of the union?

Senyate Negusse claims that the City unfairly sold the SeaTac center and mentions racist motivation to get rid of the minority community members. The truth is that the City is continuing a plan established over 13 years ago in 2006, committed with the State for Transit-Oriented Design (Light Rail).  The city purchased the property in 2009 for $12 million, and litigation by the owners against the prior council started soon after. The incumbent Council settled that litigation in 2017 and put the property out for public sale.

The special-interest groups submitted an offer for only part of the property and offered $4 million. The property was sold to the highest bidder as required by law, at a purchase price of $15 million. The tenants of the property received notification of the closing on March 1, 2018,  18 months before the actual closing. However, the day of the closing, many of the challengers appeared at a conference at the SeaTac Center accusing the city of only giving the tenants two days’ notice to move. That story is not the truth, and that is verifiable by documents available on the city’s website at https://www.seatacwa.gov/home/showdocument?id=25800

The most important truth about the SeaTac Center development is the actual benefit to the city and taxpayers, which none of the challengers has chosen to discuss. The development of this property will bring 683 units of workforce and market-rate housing to the city, providing residence for over 2400 people and also bring more new commercial space for small businesses such as coffee shops and restaurants. This property will now go back on the tax rolls generating revenue that will protect residential property owners from future property tax increases and will support the city’s successful growth plan. The development will create $140 million per year of new disposable income, which will be spent in the city and will support small business. Truthfully, if the outside special-interests party had managed to create and effect, this kind of development, they would have been hailed as heroes. It’s interesting how perspective changes based on partisan politics.

The city of SeaTac has grown its budget from $33 million to $40 million in four years, with no additional taxes. SeaTac now has a sustainable budget, with a fully funded contingency fund, and is putting over $500,000 annually into human services (one of the highest percentages in the County). SeaTac has not increased its city property tax in three years! (No other city in King County can make this statement). SeaTac has the lowest median income in the County and enjoys the lowest cost of living. The current Council has managed the city’s finances better than any prior SeaTac City Council. Today, the city is in its best fiscal position since incorporation!

The outside special-interests would like to gain control of the city of SeaTac because it has a $25 million surplus. This money is planned to fund future city projects. The incumbents have consistently rejected regionalization because the past has shown that King County does not provide human services equitably to benefit our city. These special-interests want all the cities to share and pay for the burdens of Seattle’s political decisions, and the incumbents believe that is not fair to our residents! The incumbents ran for office on the platform of “fiscal responsibility.” They have proven to be responsible, competent, and effective. They have served the city with integrity and in the best interests of all the city residents. None of the four challengers have presented a resume that would lead a voter to believe they have the experience necessary be a member of the City Council. Would the four challengers, supported by the outside special-interests, act in your best interests? Or would their campaign funded by outside money leave them in debt to the whims of outside forces?  The choice is simple, you can vote the results you’ve seen, or you can vote for the empty promises and false claims, from people who have been bought and paid for by special-interests outside the city. You decide,  How much does it cost to buy a city?

Choose wisely!  Vote to retain our incumbents!

Remembering 9/11.

The SeaTac blog posted an abridged version of my 9/11 Anniversary piece presented at the SeaTac City Council meeting on 9/10/19. This is my unabridged version.

Tomorrow is the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the United States. The south tower was hit at 9:03 AM and collapsed at 9:59 AM. The north tower was hit at 8:46 AM and collapsed at 10:28 AM.

I will never forget that day, September 11, 2001. I was working in my office in Connecticut, and one of the staff yelled out, “a plane just hit the World Trade Center.” I was very involved in my job, and I quickly thought, “it’s just the small plane, some new pilot trying to fly between towers.” Twenty minutes or so later, that same employee yelled, “oh my God, another plane just hit the Trade Center.” It was then that I began to fear that this was not an accident!

I put on the news and learned that the two planes that hit the Trade Center were commercial passenger planes and that the damage was catastrophic. I immediately tried to call my wife asked her job in New York, and the circuits were busy. Being a technician, I was aware that it was probably that the local circuits were overwhelmed and could not handle the number of incoming calls, so I called my daughter in San Francisco and asked her to call her mother, who worked a couple of blocks from the World Trade Center.

I learned from my daughter; my wife was going into motion. Her office had closed and sent the employees home. My wife was heading to our normal pickup point in the city, the George Washington bridge. I left my office in Connecticut and flew my car to New York to get my wife. As I arrived at the entrance to the George Washington Bridge, the police were in the process of closing the bridge to all traffic both in and out of the city. They advised that the FBI ordered the closing.

The view from the bridge was surreal. Both towers were visible, and miles of smoke went past the bridge north towards Westchester and beyond. Without warning, minutes later, both towers collapsed. I will never forget that unforgettable sight.My wife ended up walking to Midtown through crowds of people in shock and crying. She stayed with one of our daughters in her apartment in till the next day when the city reopened.This incident has become a bookmark in our life forever. Also, it started a process in wife and me that we did not realize was happening, we distanced ourselves from the city. My wife soon quit her job, and we stopped going into the city for entertainment and restaurants, over the next few years.

New York changed tremendously after the attack. Security appeared everywhere. The many carefree and wonderful events that happened in the city; the Macy’s fireworks, New Year’s Eve watching the crystal ball drop and the village Halloween parade, were now flooded by police and security personnel imposing rules meant to protect, in case of another attack. New York was no longer the carefree playground for people to come and visit. New York had become a target!

During the September 11 attacks of 2001, 2,977 people were killed (excluding the 19 hijackers) and more than 6,000 others injured. Of the 2,977 victims killed in the September 11 attacks, 412 were emergency workers in New York City who responded to the World Trade Center, which included: 343 firefighters of the New York City Fire Department.

As of August 2013, medical authorities concluded that 1,140 people who worked, lived, or studied in Lower Manhattan at the time of the attack developed cancer as a result of “exposure to toxins at Ground Zero.
And sadly, the police, firefighters and emergency workers who responded 18 years ago are now developing cancers from the toxins of the buildings and jet fuel at a rate 30% higher than the rest of the population.

This incident in American history is undoubtedly one of the greatest tragedies to befall this great country. Tomorrow, sometime during the day, look at one of the flags flying at half-mast and remember the first responders, the innocent victims and the people still suffering because of hatred for these United States. Do not let this memory die or have no meaning; the lesson it teaches is very important; Our way of life is fragile, and we must protect it.

God bless the United States of America!

Joel Wachtel 9/10/2019

The truth about the SeaTac Center and the actions of the City!

I am writing this because I am tired of the misrepresentation for political gain by a political group who seek only to undermine the current city council and to swing the election in their party of choices favor!

These posts will contain copies of actual City Documents and will present the truth of how the whole SeaTac Center situation arrived at its’ current state. This will require, you the reader, to examine these documents and use the information they present to explain what really happened and why!

The first document is the original order, dated December 29, 2009, when the council voted to purchase the property known as the Seatac Center. The document recites the following:

  1. (Paraphrased) The City Council finds that it is in the best interest of the City of SeaTac to purchase the SeaTac Center for $12.7 million.
  2. (Paraphrased) The budget will be amended to increase revenue in the Light Rail Station Areas CIP Fund by $12.7 Million.
  3. Section 5. a. “the property is a key parcel to implement the adopted 154th Street Station Area Plan;”
  4. Section 5.f. “the City’s Aquisition of the property will improve the quality of life of the citizens of the City of SeaTac.”
  5. The order was signed December 29, 2009, by Mayor Ralph Shape.

So, as the reader can see, the purchase of the SeaTac Center was made by a city council ten years prior, based on the nearby Light Rail Station and the vision that council had created based on the projected impact of the Tukwilla Light Rail Station.

The next document was presented to the current Council for the August 18, 2018, regular council meeting. This document clearly shows that the City had been steadily moving forward with its plans to redevelop The SeaTac Center and identifies that as the city councils changed during the years, every council was involved in some aspect of getting the property ready for redevelopment. For any party to try to distance themselves from what is currently happening is patently dishonest. Every council was aware of the age and poor condition of the building and it was common knowledge that the building was going to be knocked down for replacement eventually!

Please note the participants listed on the right side of the page so you can see all the politicians that had a hand in making this all happen! For any party to deny involvement in the planned movement of the tenants is laughable and dishonest!


The final documents for submission start with a copy of a letter sent to the tenants on March 12, 2018, advising them that the city was preparing to move forward on the plans conceived under the “154th Street Station Area Plan” (See the original order dated December 29, 2009). The current council wanted to ensure that the tenants had the longest possible notice of the pending redevelopment so as to mitigate the downside effect on the tenant and increase their possibility to find a new location for their business.


A second notice was sent on February 1, 2019. So, it is clear that the tenants were given 18 months advance notice of the approaching requirement to relocate and a second notice 7 months prior to the deadline.


There were only 11 tenants with leases given by the city. They were each well aware of the fact the property had been purchased by the city and that eventually, the building would be demolished and the tenants would be required to leave the building when that happened. The rest of the people claiming to be tenants are technically subtenants and do not have a lease with the city. Many of them claim they have lost their investments, but that is because their landlords (not the city) have never advised them that the property was slated for redevelopment. The city has been fully transparent to each of their tenants as you can see by the notices. The city had no knowledge of who the subtenants were until last year. But the fact of the issue is simple, the city had no business agreement them with and they must look to the people they paid their rent to for any reparations.

So when you see the articles accusing the city of not treating the tenants of the SeaTac Center fairly, nothing could further from the truth and these articles are intentionally misleading you, because this is a campaign year and they have their own agenda.

My last personal point is this; if you are a resident of SeaTac, come back soon and I will reveal to you how much good this council has done for the city and all the people in it. That’s something else that they don’t want you to know!

If you have a comment, email me at Joelwachtel.com.

These are my own opinions and do not represent the City of SeaTac or the opinion of the SeaTac City Council. I take responsibility for the content of this website. Joel Wachtel

My position on the SeaTac Center Development.

This speech was read at the Regular Council Meeting on September 25, 2018 by Council Member Joel Wachtel.

There is no question that this issue is highly emotional and will significantly impact the tenants and sub-tenants of the SeaTac Center. What has not been said and is often misunderstood is that this situation is part of a plan that began in 2006 and was moved forward by many different councils and that plan has been moved forward, at expense to the city, in the form of planning, purchase and roadwork over the years. This situation did not “just” happen!

The Background.

In December of 2006, the South 154th St. Station Area Action Plan was published.  This document sets forth SeaTac’s commitment to developing the Tukwila light rail station area as the best use function of the property. The city is obligated to act on this plan.

The City purchased the property under ordinance number 09 – 1043 on December 29, 2009. The property cost the city approximately $12 million. That ordinance indicates the purpose of the purchase is to redevelop the property.

Sometime after the sale property owner, sued the city for an illegal taking. As you may know, that litigation lasted until 2017.

In 2017, the city settled with K & S for a total of $12 million, of which the city paid $4 million, and the insurance companies made up the difference. Conservatively speaking, the city has the original $12 million in the purchase price and $4 million paid in settlement invested in this property for a total of $16 million. The city also received approximately $600,000 positive cash flow per year from property rental.

The SeaTac Center is an old building, built in 1954 and now more than 60 years old. The city has been forced to make repairs to the structures which have escalated over the past couple of years. Prior councils authorized lessee’s to utilize the property under the belief that obtaining some rental income was better than no rental income.  In 2013, while Mia Gregersen was mayor of the city. Paragraph 9, was added to the lease indicating that the city would be seeking to sell the property for redevelopment and that the tenants would be provided a minimum of nine months’ notice to leave the building.

One of the major issues is the fact that the city has only 11 actual tenants and the rest of the small businesses which are owned by members of the Somali community are subtenants, which have no contract or business relationship with the city. Part of the reason this matter has become volatile is it is alleged that the tenants who rent from the city never advised the subtenants that the city would be selling the property in the future for redevelopment (even though paragraph 9 states this fact).

The city has tried to find a path to work with the subtenants. However, they have decided to handle this in a politically charged manner claiming that “they are being targeted and ignored”.  Nothing could be farther than the truth. A City moves very slowly, especially on project like this. As you can see, by both the 2006 Station Area Plan and the December 29, 2009 ordinance, the property was purchased with the concept to redevelop the building and the area. Also, the lease the signed with the 11 true tenants indicates that the city intended to sell and redevelop the property. The subtenants continue to assert that they have earned the right to stay in the building even though they have no lease with the city!

The subtenants have submitted a proposal offering $1 million and $3 million in yet unidentified financing, for a part of the entire property. This plan would not work because it would undermine the market value of the property, potentially costing the taxpayers millions of dollars in unrecovered costs. Also, the subtenants demand that upon the selling of the building, they must not be forced to leave the property and that a developer must be required to building phases so that they can be moved from one phase to another and remain in business during the construction. Such a  plan would not be acceptable to any developer because the increased cost of the project in that manner could make the project unprofitable. Also, under the subtenants offer, they indicate that they would like to set the price for their part of the building in the area of $4 million, but (1) have no promise of credit and (2) haven’t set forth a fixed price. Their submission of the RFP is unprofessional, incomplete and did not conform to the conditions of the RFP. They believe that their value alone to the SeaTac community makes up for the enormous discount, and considerations, they are seeking, but offer no proof.

As a Councilman, I take very seriously the fact that I represent all the 29,000 residents of the city. I consider that, due to the extreme lack of developable land in the city that this is unquestionably one of the most important available tracts of land in SeaTac and it will play an important part in changing the cities development. The RFP submission from Inland proposes a mixed-use residential project of 600 units (40% market and 60% workforce). Consider that if the average annual income for each apartment were estimated to be $45,000 the total annual income of the buildings would be $27 million.  This additional local income would benefit the businesses in SeaTac and all surrounding cities.  Finally, this project would put that property back on the tax rolls which is a huge win for the residents.

This is a very difficult decision to be involved in because I do understand that members of our community face displacement and my heart goes out to them. However, they are making impossible demands and asking for consideration that in my opinion, the City legally is not able to offer.

However, authorizing the City Manager to enter negotiation does not effectively close the door on the desposition of the property. Rather,  it is a first step that must eventually be taken. In my opinion,because  a plan has been in operation for 9 years and we need to consider the prior investment in the plan and its goals.

Therefore, my assessment of this matter is simple;

  • The SeaTac Center Coalition has submitted a non-conforming RFP; they did not set a firm price: Only want a piece of the property and do not have commitments for financing. This is not reasonable.
  • Only one other RFP was received, from Inland, a construction company with a successful history of building mixed-use housing, and with the finances and credit to purchase and build this project, and with an organization to properly manage and deliver the proposed construction.
  • The city is in great need of housing near the light rail station to infuse new residents into the community to balance our median income and to drive further local business development within the city. The city also has an obligation under the 2006 Station Area Action Plan to develop this property.
  • The city has a responsibility to recover as much of the purchase cost, attorney’s fees and settlement costs as it can from the sale of this By doing so, those recovered resources become available for the betterment of the lives of all the 29,000 city residents.

In closing, I can see no other path but then vote my conscience. I see no reason not to initiate negotions with Inland for development of this property.  The size of the numbers demands that the council have the strength and fortitude to make the right choice. The recovery of $15 million spent on a project that started nine years ago. The creation of 600 apartments to bring new residents into the city. The redevelopment of a building that is 64 years old and is prime for redevelopment. And the honoring of the commitment to develop the 154th St. Station area. This project will create a whole new neighborhood within the city. It will be a start of the future of mixed-use development to enhance the lives of our residents. It is the future, and the City needs to embrace it.