Dave Meinert and other small business owners are backing a plan from Council Member Kshama Sawant.
Dave Meinert and other small business owners are backing a plan from Council Member Kshama Sawant. Courtesy of Clay Showalter

Last spring, in the final stretch of the fight over the $15 minimum wage ordinance, local restaurant owner / provocateur of socialists Dave Meinert declared that he was "feeling pretty done with local politics" and especially with politicians backed by big labor unions that had played a role in the process.

Well, well.

Today, it appears Meinert's wounds have fully healed. This morning, he stood with Council Member Kshama Sawant and several other small business owners at City Hall to voice his support for a new small business policy platform Sawant is putting forward.

Sawant says that "despite the rhetoric" we often hear from City Hall, she has been surprised at "how little our policy making is focused [on small businesses]."

Her seven-point plan leaves some policy details vague, with the idea that a task force will convene to hammer out specifics. But here's a little tour of what she wants.

The headline grabbing idea comes first: "commercial rent stabilization," which Sawant argues is legal because the state law banning rent control only specifically mentions residential properties. For housing, Sawant supports tying rent increases to inflation, but it's not clear if that's what she supports for commercial buildings too. Again, that's what the task force is supposed to figure out.

Developer lobbyist Roger Valdez and a representative from the Rental Housing Association tell me—no surprise here—that they're not supportive of this idea. (Valdez debated Sawant over rent control this summer.)

"It doesn't matter whether it's legal or not," Valdez says. "It's a bad idea."

Other recommendations in the plan:

Create portable pension plans for small business employees. The city would cover the overhead of these plans, so employees could take them from one small business to another. The idea here is that this would make retirement plans available to employees of small businesses that can't usually afford to offer them and would help those businesses compete with larger companies for employees.

Use a business head tax to fund late-night public transit. The plan says "very small businesses" would be exempted from this tax. When I asked Meinert what he thinks should qualify as a "very small business," he told me, "The minimum wage law defines it, paid sick time defines it. I would suggest we not have that fight again. We can use one of those definitions."

Use "progressive taxes" to fund expanded social services. The plan specifically calls out revenue sources Sawant often champions, "such as business taxes, developer impact fees, and a municipal income tax on the wealthy." (More about the legal questions around "taxing the rich" here.) "Small businesses are impacted by [increases in homelessness and a lack of social services] in a variety of ways, including property and street crime," the plan reads.

Create a municipal bank to offer low-interest loans for small businesses. Details like where the start-up money to offer those loans would come from remain unclear.

Commission a study to analyze current zoning, taxes, and regulations to see how those policies "can be leveraged" to give small business priority over chain stores and franchises in getting property leases.

Create a "small business task force" to study these ideas and make recommendations about how to implement them. That group is where we'd see more specifics emerge about how to make these ideas a reality.

Meinert says he's only "on the edge of some of this helping me" because he's already built multiple successful small businesses, but "these policies would have helped me get started."

Along with Meinert, supporters of the plan include K. Wyking Garrett, who runs AfricatownSeattle.com; Molly Moon Nietzel, owner of Molly Moon's Ice Cream; Marcus Charles, owner of Neumos and the Crocodile Cafe; Paula Lucas, owner of Le Frock; and others.

Garrett says he believes the policies in the plan could "help mitigate displacement," particularly in areas like the Central District. (You may remember that story about how the historically black CD could be less than 10 percent black within a decade.)

"Right now, that growth is happening to and not with those communities," Garrett says.

A representative from the Restaurant Opportunities Center United has also signed on in support of the plan, saying that, in addition to the worker protections included, making life more stable for small business owners creates a better work environment for employees too. That's another interesting coalition because ROC has fought against tip credits/penalties, which Meinert argued for during the minimum wage debate.

Announcing the plan a week before the November 3 election seems a deliberate move on Sawant's part. Her opponent, Pamela Banks, announced her own small business plan earlier this month with backing from the owner of Rachel's Ginger Beer/Montana/Nacho Borracho and others. Banks's plan also calls for more access to low-cost loans for small businesses and a “Small Business Advisory Committee” to provide policy recommendations.

But Meinert, who's well aware of how surprising it will be to some people that he's teaming up with Sawant, believes Sawant has more detailed ideas to help small businesses "than any other candidate in this race."

"I've heard politicians for 20 years... talk about small business and talk about their ideas for it and I've never seen a comprehensive plan like this," Meinert says. "So, here we have [Sawant]—who I think a lot of small business people are scared of—actually bringing forward the best plan I've seen. I think that's exciting. If it comes from the left and it also helps workers and it helps culture. It's a win for everyone."

Banks's response to the new plan?

I'm glad that Councilmember Sawant has finally realized the importance of locally owned small business. We need to have these discussions. Small business is the heartbeat of our communities and the engine of job creation. That's why protecting and nourishing the incredible diversity of District 3 small businesses is one of my highest priorities and why I released a plan based on my conversations with small business owners several weeks ago. I will be an advocate for small business from day 1, not 1 week before an election.