Rita Zawaideh is one of my dearest friends and has been recognized locally and nationally as an activist, humanitarian, and businessperson.
There is almost no one in Washington politics, from the Governor, our two Senators, and our congresspeople who does not know her on a first name basis. And she’s been harassed by the city of Seattle this year in a very un-American way.
She gives tirelessly of herself to aid immigrants by holding fundraisers, including garage sales. If she can be targeted in this way, so can any of us.
Please distribute this widely, and follow-up with two actions:
1. Call and email Seattle DPD Director Diane Sugimura: 206-233-3882, email@example.com
2. Call and email Mayor McGinn: 206-684-4000, http://www.seattle.gov/mayor/citizen_response.htm
(For more info see Real Change News article )
Laws of Invention: Seattle DPD and Creative Enforcement
by Howard J. Gale
The City of Seattle Department of Planing and Development (DPD), welcomes people to its website with a message from Director Diane Sugimura stating the DPD’s “commitment to making our services accessible and understandable. Our primary goal is to provide you with quality service as we carry out our mission–managing growth and development within Seattle in a way that enhances quality of life.”
Rita Zawaideh’s recent experience with the DPD trying to quash her now famous charity garage sales in Wallingford (at Bridge Way N & N 38th St), looks at first glance like a case of one individual who ran afoul of city red tape. Further investigation into the DPD’s actions has revealed some serious issues of accountability lurking behind the DPD’s citizen friendly facade. I reviewed dozens of records from the DPD, obtained under Washington State’s Public Disclosure Act, to investigate what was behind DPD’s zealous prosecution of Zawaideh.
A review of what I’ve learned over the last three months reveals impropriety and bias. While the source and nature of the bias remains unclear (dislike of Arabs, immigrants, activists, or just people who have garage sales?), the information at a minimum documents DPD favoritism, selective enforcement, defensiveness bordering on the paranoid, and an undue fascination with the background of people who might complain about DPD actions. The information I’ve seen indicates an irrational unwillingness on the part of Sugimura, as director of the DPD, to respond to citizen complaints in a constructive fashion.
Unusual speed of response: Less than 24 hours after a single complaint was filed concerning Zawaideh’s garage sale, the DPD telephoned the person who complained and then promptly issued a “Service Request” (the first step in investigating a suspected violation). A site “inspection” followed in four business days — an unusually speedy response from the DPD for a potential violation that does not involve any conceivable risks to health or safety.
My investigation of DPD records revealed that the person who complained about Zawaideh’s garage sale had help from a friend who knew a person who worked at the DPD. This connection almost certainly expedited the DPD’s response to the complaint and appears to have lowered their standard for evidence (see next item).
Lack of evidence: When the DPD inspector, Tom Bradrick, went to Zawaideh’s home on June 1st to investigate the complaint there was no garage sale in progress, nor were there signs indicating any sales. There were no people anywhere to be seen buying or selling anything. There were only shut and locked garage doors, as is evident in the photos Bradrick took that day (kept in the DPD’s case file).
While Zawaideh was at home that day (this is where she lives and works) Bradrick made no attempt to talk with Zawaideh, either in person or by phone. Nor did Bradrick talk with any of Zawaideh’s neighbors. The only “evidence” the inspector had to go on was a single complaint consisting of outrageous claims — “semi-permanent” sales “4-5 days every week” for “several years” — and two undated pictures of furniture being moved into a garage, with no evidence suggestive of any kind of buying or selling activity.
Going beyond a “complaint based” process: Sugimura has repeatedly stated that the DPD relies on a “complaint based” process where citizens report violations. Yet, without any citizen complaint, Bradrick issued a violation notice for Zawaideh’s business sign for her legally licensed travel business. It is understandable that inspectors might cite a property owner with additional violations that are in view at the time they investigate a property. However, the fact that hundreds of sign violations occur on properties in the immediate area raises questions of selective enforcement.
Inventing laws and regulations: DPD officials made numerous claims over a two-month period regarding what laws were violated by the undocumented garage sales: a violation of laws regulating garage sales, an illegal “Home Occupation,” a violation of something to be revealed at a latter date, an illegal “Accessory Use,” a violation of Seattle Commercial Codes, etc. In every case, further investigation revealed that the laws cited by DPD officials were either improperly interpreted or simply invented. Here are two of many examples:
On June 3, Bradrick entered the violation “HOMEOCC” into the “Case Information Report” for Zawaideh’s garage sales, meaning a violation of the “Home Occupation” codes. DPD’s internal memos and rulings indicate clearly that this was an inappropriate application of the code. DPD later denied they were citing Zawaideh for a “Home Occupation” violation, though it remains on the record.
On August 1, Sugimura, responding to Seattle area residents protesting the DPD’s treatment of Zawaideh, stated “the City’s business licensing division views yard sales as ‘sales of used goods’ potentially subject to regulation. There is an exemption in the code for such sales if they occur fewer than 4 times a year.” Checking with the City’s business licensing division reveals that no such laws or regulations exist.
Spending taxpayer money to defend arbitrary actions: Over the course of three months inordinate City of Seattle resources have been spent defending dysfunctional and biased DPD actions. The DPD has remained unyielding despite Zawaideh being so well respected, because of her community and charity work, that US Senators, US Congressmen, a wide variety of local politicians, columnists, and notable citizens have risen to her defense. If the DPD is impervious to such broad based negative community feedback, what chance does the average citizen have in seeking recourse from arbitrary or improper decisions from the DPD?
Spending taxpayer money to investigate those who complain about DPD actions: In contrast to spending no time or resources on investigating the original complaint, or the person who made the complaint, the DPD found it necessary to investigate me once I took up Zawaideh’s cause! I was shocked to discover DPD’s inappropriate and somewhat paranoid response.
Clay Thompson, Code Compliance Inspection Supervisor for DPD, is the immediate boss of Bradrick, the inspector who “investigated” the original garage sale complaint and then met with me and Zawaideh on June 24. Records I obtained from DPD revealed that Thompson wrote an internal DPD email on July 6 with the subject line “Howard Gale.” In the last sentence of the first paragraph of that email it says (verbatim and in it’s entirety) “As it turns out Howard is a research psychologist an activist that blogs. He is a Jew that takes exception to the Israeli position on the Palestinians and was part of the controversy with Metro over the bus advertisement that Metro refuse to display.”
This raises three questions:
- how is this relevant to DPD code enforcement?
- were City of Seattle resources (staff time, internet access, computer resources, etc.) used in pursuing an investigation of me?
- and, what other information was gathered on Zawaideh, me, or others who came to her defense?
Shifting blame to the victim: From the beginning (late June) of Zawaideh’s interactions with the DPD — via email, telephone, and in person with DPD inspector Bradrick — she has stated clearly both her attempts to find alternative locations for garage sales and for the DPD to grant a 90 day extension for compliance.
Sugimura has emailed responses to dozens of Seattle area residents who contacted her protesting the DPD’s abusive behavior toward Zawaideh. Sugimura’s August 1st and 5themails responding to these complaints are revealing.
In an August 1st email Sugimura states: “In terms of compliance, we have extended her [Zawaideh’s] compliance period once. We would be willing to work with her if, for example, she could show an effort to find an alternative location.”
Then, in an August 5th email, Sugimura states “We are currently working with the Office of Economic Development and with Ms. Zawaideh to help her find another location for the sales … If she is making an effort to resolve the situation, we are willing to discuss extensions to her compliance period, as we do with others in similar situations.”
In both of these emails Sugimura repeatedly feigns ignorance of Zawaideh’s repeated attempts to resolve the issue by finding alternative locations and having requested from Sugimura a 90 day extension for compliance on June 24 (six weeks before Sugimura’s response)!
A 90 day extension for compliance is provided for in the code and is not that unusual to grant. Additionally, the code (SMC 23.42.040 (A)) provides for a one year “intermittent, temporary and interim uses” at the discretion of the DPD director (Sugimura).
Indeed, Sugimura recognizes the validity of these options. In another August 5th email to someone upset with the DPD’s actions, Sugimura states: “I had forgotten to comment on intermittent, temporary uses. You are correct, Ms. Zawaideh could apply for such a permit.”
Given the above, how can the DPD explain the June 30 draft of a letter to Zawaideh, responding to her June 24threquest for an extension, where DPD inspector Bradrick states “Code Compliance, as a group, discussed your garage sales at a meeting this morning… Code Compliance does not have the authority to extend the compliance date for the 90 days that you have asked for.”
Among the many questions that linger from this sordid affair, foremost would be: Why does Sugimura continue to ignore longstanding past requests and then pretend that the problem is due to Zawaideh’s failure to “make an effort to resolve the situation” or to make the proper requests? So much for Sugimura’s “commitment to making our services accessible and understandable.”
Howard J. Gale, Ph.D.
702 2nd AVE W, #304
Seattle, WA 98119