Last month, Burien Toyota owners Dean and Mona Anderson donated $2,400–the maximum allowed amount for an individual and spouse–to deputy mayor Kevin Schilling, who is currently up for reelection.

Business owners make donations to local politicians all the time, but this contribution comes in the middle of Burien's widely reported homeless encampment crisis, during which a group of approximately 40 unhoused people have been continuously swept from location to location with few––and insufficient––options for housing. The conservative majority on the Burien City Council is refusing to accept a large grant from King County to address this very crisis, and this refusal apparently benefits–guess who?–Burien Toyota. 

The encampment in question. Sam MĂ©ndez

For over six weeks, King County has offered $1 million and 35 small shelters valued at another $350,000, with no strings attached. The County says it’s ready to act at a moment's notice; all the City needs to do is move forward with a property for the shelters. If that property happens to be a parking lot, then, crucially, the County is also offering the lot-owner use of Metro property one block away, accommodating up to 100 parking spaces.

Why is that important? Because there is a City-owned parking lot currently available for the encampment, but that lot happens to be under a month-to-month lease agreement with––you guessed it––Burien Toyota.

Gotta say, this lot really is ideal. No foot traffic, no businesses in immediate vicinity, city-owned, and still downtown, so it’s close to services. Sam Méndez

Earlier this month the dealership, whose inventory currently lists 96 vehicles, wrote a letter of its own, in which they threaten Burien with the loss of $3 million in taxes and 20 to 30 layoffs if the town puts the camp on the lot. The letter makes no mention that King County has offered to directly offset any impact by providing––for free––a substitute lot of 100 spaces.

While King County waited for the City to take it up on the offer, the Burien City Council held a special meeting on May 30 and voted down a motion to accept the funds and locate a camp on the lot while also giving Burien Toyota proper notice under the existing lease. The vote failed 3-4, with Deputy Mayor Schilling voting against. 

Local outlet B-Town Blog recently conducted an informal survey of four locations the city council was considering, and the Burien Toyota lot received 68% of the votes, with more than 1,800 votes cast.

Nevertheless, on Monday July 17, a motion was again made to accept the funds and locate a camp on the Burien Toyota lot, and it was again voted down 3-4. This time, the conservative majority directed the city manager to draft a camping ban for consideration at an upcoming meeting, and they elected to explore more potential locations, with special consideration to a site that at least one council member flagged as a location where housing is not allowed under Federal Aviation Administration regulations due to unsafe noise conditions from planes flying overhead.

As a local community leader, I recognize that the Democratic Party is a big tent, and that we have to make space for multiple perspectives. But accepting unconditional resources from the County and putting the needs of the entire city above a single business should be a straightforward call for any elected official, regardless of political persuasion. I asked Schilling if he wanted to comment about the Burien Toyota owners’ maximum contributions—he didn’t respond. Given these contributions and their timing, I am not alone in my deep concern that our deputy mayor is bought and paid for.

Sam MĂ©ndez is a government attorney and resident of Burien. He is the vice-chair of the 33rd District Democrats.