Unsafe: A Pioneer Square Restaurateur’s Plea to City Hall: Help!

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London Plane. (Image: Andrew Yang on Flickr)

Dear Mayor Durkan, Councilmembers, Bruce Harrell, Lorena Gonzalez et al,

I own The London Plane restaurant in Pioneer Square, at the corner of Occidental and Main Street.  We are on the brink of having to lock our doors because our staff can no longer take being on the front lines of mental health and harassment patrol. We have stayed open throughout the pandemic and feel proud of being able to serve the community who supports and loves Pioneer Square. But we are at a complete loss as to how to handle the relentless aggression that plays out at our business.

We are at risk of our staff quitting because they can no longer take having to deal with this. As you may or may not know, there is a crisis in available employees in the restaurant business right now and we absolutely cannot afford to lose any of our staff. We are already understaffed.

There is an incident with a mentally unstable and/or aggressive individual harassing our customers and staff on our patio nearly every day that we are open (Wednesdays – Sundays, 10-4), and often many times a day, be it the same individual or multiple individuals.

This past Sunday, 9/5, went above and beyond. The day started with a a dog attack outside, followed by dog abuse, and shouting and the throwing of chairs. It was followed by the arrival of a man who has regularly tried to steal from us and has been violent when approached. He showed up, unmasked, trying to gain entrance to our space. Our staff had to inform this individual that he is not welcome here, not knowing how violent he will be in his reaction this time. After that another unstable individual spat on one of our servers, and threatened to kill one of our employees, after they approached him about moving on and not harassing customers. 

Our chef called MID. They informed him that they didn’t handle these issues. He then called the police, four different times throughout the day. They did not come until well after the fourth call, at which time they parked and watched from their car as our staff dealt with the harassment of customers on the patio. Eventually, another police car arrived and they pursued the individual around the block. We know the police are understaffed and we know they aren’t necessarily the solution to these problems anyway. 

We have reached out to City Council before. Councilmember Andrew Lewis was kind enough to come talk with us, and has encouraged us to connect with the Just Care team. We’ve been trying to do that but haven’t been able to connect with them so far.

Perhaps a solution would be to close our patio? This would be unfortunate for many reasons, the risk of indoor dining and COVID being one of them. And do we really want a city where it is unsafe to sit outside and enjoy a cup of coffee?

I am ready for some REAL solutions, ones that don’t ask servers, chefs, and small business owners to solve problems we aren’t equipped to deal with. Please let me know if you have any thoughts. 


Sincerely, 
Katherine Anderson, Owner, The London Plane

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Katherine Anderson is a landscape architect, restaurant owner and manager, and purveyor of flowers grown on a nearby farm.

41 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for this. It was simple and almost eloquent. I have never read of difficulties like yours expressed so clearly, succinctly. My best wishes to you and your staff.

  2. DO SOMETHING city government NOW – enough of this compassion overkill .
    it is not helping the mentally ill or the drug addicts, and it is bad for business………..

  3. As a downtown resident, I see sad/pathetic/disturbing incidents described by Katherine Anderson every day. Simply walking the streets requires a significantly level of caution, luck and exercise of judgement on routes to take. Her description of London Plane”s experience is common throughout downtown. The SW corner of 3rd and Pike is nightly open air thieves market with countless down and out people selling goods obviously shoplifted; the Target store at 2nd and Pike is reportedly one of the most “shoplifted” stores in the nation; lower Western Avenue has become a tent city; the entrance to the closed Lusty Lady on 1st is currently barricaded with a picket fence (nice touch) by a tent dweller; and and and . . . . All well known by those familiar with downtown and the most casual local media consumers.

    While I do not doubt the desire of the Mayor, City Council, County Executive and County Council’s to “solve” the deteriorating downtown street life, the results of their combined and individual efforts have been regrettably ineffective. Hopefully the upcoming election will provide us with a change of leadership and direction

  4. I’m so sorry to hear about the troubles at The London Plane-one of my favorite restaurants. We can absolutely do better as a city, county, and state. We need to create a task force of highly trained mental health, chemical dependency, and social professionals to get people suffering from mental health, addiction, and poverty off the streets and into housing with the services they need. We can absolutely do this if we are willing to spend the money, create policies that get people off the streets and into housing with services, and create a social safety net that prevents many problems before they start. It will be expensive, but perhaps we could agree it’s time for a statewide income tax.

    • I’m sorry, but they already have plenty of money they throw in the garbage every day, trying to “help” these people. We need people in office with real solutions to get them off of drugs and alcohol with treatment, mental health treatment, and out of poverty with work programs to help them all become contributing members of society instead of burdens to our cities and give them some hope and dignity. It is cruel to keep enabling this behavior.

    • Creating a task force isn’t a solution. I’m a blue voter and liberal but just make tents and RVs in the city illegal. Honestly, that’s the place to start.

      • Camping in tents and RVs does not make people violent. Untreated mental health issues and addiction disorders force people out of their homes, and *some* (not all) unsheltered people suffer from mental health and addiction disorders that cause them to act unpredictably and/or aggressively. The “illegal” camping you refer to is not the cause or source of the incidents described in this article; it is a symptom of a failing mental healthcare system. Forcing unsheltered people out of the city will solve nothing. Treating mental health issues and addiction disorders will reduce the numbers of people living on the streets and will reduce the number of incidents like the ones described in this article.

        • No. Camping in the city is illegal for a reason. Waste disposal is an issue. Sanitation, plumbing, facilities, think about it. Camping in the streets and in paris IS ABSOLUTELY part of the issue. There is a way to handle this. Build out a FEMA style area with rehab and job services + sanitation and health facilities. Then offer free transportation to it. The people that will want to get their life together will take this opportunity. The ones that don’t will have to come to terms with the fact that this IS the option. There is no other way. And be forcibly removed from illegal encampments, repeatedly until they get this. We have laws for a reason. Period.

        • If your statement were true, all cities would be like LA, SF, Seattle, and Portland. Fact is, we are treating adults like children by allowing them to do as they’d like.

          Why do you think other cities don’t have this problem?

    • Great idea, but they already have those options which they immediately refuse. The services exist, now the laws need to be enforced!! When 15% of the police force is fired come 10/18, might want to get out of the city.

    • More money from a state income tax in the hands of the current leadership will only increase the size of government staffing and the level of waste. Millions have already been squandered in the hands of consultants, study groups and community non-profits who are well intentioned but ill equip for the task.
      Mayor Durkan recently announced “there is no quick fix” which gave herself permission to kick the accountability can further down the road.

  5. Jenny Durkan, the people on the streets harassing this business and their customers need help! They don’t need to be swept under the rug or away or off to jail, we as a city and community need resources available to help these people. The police have proven not to help, but make matters worse, we need city and state support to create a system where these folks can get some mental health treatment. Another expensive fence and throwing away their belongings hasn’t worked yet!!

  6. As an 82 year old woman I don’t frequent downtown Seattle often. However, Katherine’s London Plane is an oasis where one can enjoy a coffee or delicious meal in a beautiful location. Katherine’s clear description of the daily situation without assistance from the police and government officials is shocking. The London Plane is a Seattle asset and has a right to be protected. Katherine, her employees and customers deserve protection equal to the homeless. She is following the law and improving a beautiful historic Seattle location. I support Katherine’s concerns one hundred percent.

  7. I sometimes suspect that the City’s unstated policy is to force owners of retail business to hire private security, including off-duty police officers. That’s a policy that will favor larger businesses, cause landlords who hire such security to raise rents, and not solve the underlying, upstream problems of the homeless or mentally ill. The other hidden agenda is to force the citizenry to raise taxes to fund these needed services for the homeless — so long as the new taxes are progressive and aimed at business. Add these factors up and you have impasse.

  8. This essay and the comments show why Seattle will never improve. “The police aren’t the solution to these problems anyway.” Please grow up. People doing this in Europe would be arrested. People doing this in Idaho would be arrested. Even people doing this in Bellevue would be arrested. Only in Seattle do the police not do so, because they have been defunded and also told not to.

    Normal, functioning societies arrest people who engage in anti-social behavior. It’s better for the person (who is no longer left to rot on the street) but more importantly, it’s better for everyone else. Nothing will change as long as you all keep saying the same thing. “Do something!” you say. But you don’t want the criminals arrested, and you already spend $100 million a year offering them “services” that they refuse. So what do you want done?

    • Exactly, creating a task force or saying your exploring options isn’t a solution. I’m a blue voter and liberal but just make tents and RVs in the city illegal. Honestly, that’s the starting point. Go from there after.

    • $100 million a year…? You need to multiply that # by 4! SHA and DESC’s budget was $200 million 12 years ago! You are right, people need to wake up, help police enforce the laws.

  9. Hi Katherine, what I’m about to suggest is a bandaid but can help enhance safety for both your staff and customers when situations like this arise. Have you considered having your staff trained in Mental Health First Aid? I’m a certified trainer for this program and early evidence shows that it can make a significant difference as it prepares people to deal with mental health crisis and de escalation skills, among others. Also, my fellow trainers have compiled a comprehensive list of alternatives to calling the police in King County you might find useful. We offer this completely online certification program through Valley Cities Behavioral Health at no cost for residents of King County. To find out more about the program you can contact our regional coordinator Sue Wyder at swyder@valleycities.org.

    • If I was an employee there I would take forcing me to participate in a mental health first aid class as a sign that the owners have given up.

      • I’m not talking about forcing anyone into taking the class, LaRoque. Maybe it should be offered to the staff as an option. I understand why you’d feel defensive about it, but think about it from this statistic: as a member of the general public in the US you are 4 times more likely to encounter someone out in the street with a mental health crisis than with any physical health problem. When the situation arises wouldn’t you rather be prepared?

  10. The business community could band together and hire a team of de-escallation folks who could be employed to guard, like Belltown, but with the training available through “our regional coordinator Sue Wyder at swyder@valleycities.org.”….if the above comment is correct… How fine would that be? I hope a happy day to you.

    • It would be totally fine. Mental Health First Aid is a public health education program which focuses on recognizing early signs and symptoms and connecting people with mental health challenges to available resources to get them on the road to recovery. It is designed as an early intervention. As such, your “de escalation folks” would be acting as community health workers which would make them very effective. I didn’t seek Sue’s permission to make the comment but I mean it sincerely, I’m sure she’d welcome your inquiries and do whatever we can to help.

  11. González’s last name is misspelled at the beginning of the open letter. I am not supporting her candidacy, but I am befuddled by how consistently people misspell Lorena González as “Gonzales.”

  12. I am heartsick hearing what the London Plane employees and customers are being subjected to. But I agree with other commenters here who object to the owner’s dismissal of police as “not the solution anyway.” Again and again we hear those in favor of decriminalization and closing the prisons say that “putting these people in jail doesn’t solve the problem.” It certainly may not solve all the addiction and mental health problems, or character failures of the 200-500 repeat offenders terrorizing downtown and other neighborhoods. That is not the job of public safety officers or prisons, and it never has been.

    But taking these people off the streets and letting them know that their behavior has consequences makes the streets safer for those trying to carry out the normal activities of a productive city and live their lives in peace. Why is all the sympathy and funding going to the people tearing down the city instead of to those working to build businesses, provide jobs, and contribute in productive ways? What happened to the idea of majority rule, or fairness or democracy–not to be all third grade idealist, but wasn’t that supposed to be part of the liberal dream?

    Instead, rather than supporting Seattle’s businesses and hard working law-abiding citizens, the political culture here has made a virtue of cowing to bullies. A minority of crazed, deranged and violent people has been given free reign to create whatever mayhem they want. I was just in Portland, our Sister Dystopia, and spoke with a restaurateur who was practically in tears as she talked about the constant stress of trying to run a restaurant in a city stripped of public safety. That morning, as I was sitting in the corner window, one of her employees was violently attacked by an intoxicated street person while serving a customer on the sidewalk. For the first time in her life the restaurant owner has purchased a gun. She knows police won’t help her, and she is on her own. Is this the evolution the “Left” is looking for? Vigilantism? Or, as happened in the CHOP, “paying the fee” to freelance thugs for protection? It really seems like our city council has embraced Blade Runner as the inspiration for our future, but they have disguised this as some kind of “compassion games” in which the person who can mouth the most social worker platitudes wins. It’s madness.

    • That’s how they do it in Iraq and Somalia. Can’t count on the police to keep you safe? Start a militia. Downtown businesses are already paying extra for sanitation and security services that the City refuses to provide.

    • Take a look at streets occupied by Amazonland in the Denny Regrade. Security guards posted everywhere. The streets are mostly clean of encampments and people sleeping on sidewalks.

    • I’d love to see you offer a similarly cavalier reaction when your child, parent, sibling gets attacked or your ability to make a living is taken away from you.

  13. I.Johnson,
    So perfectly stated. There is a major mental health crises inside City Hall. Running a major city requires practical business solutions, applied by leaders with management and problem solving experience. None of those skills currently reside with either the Mayor or any of our council members. Social justice cannot be the priority when most civic functions are failing.

  14. I believe Cc has the best suggestion. You staff is no mental health servers, they are professional meal servers. Hire a professional security force to keep the unwanted individuals out. When there is an incident and you call 911, ask for an ambulance vs the police. It should also cut down on recidivisms. Rc

  15. So sorry for all your “troubles”. Here’s my “take” on this and Seattle as a failing city. We moved here from Los Angeles almost 50 years ago to raise a family and get away from the smog, over crowding, sky high real estate etc. etc. Loved Seattle for everything it was then, that L.A. was not. After all these years of watching Seattle deteriorate over 5 decades we have taken the “easy” way out. I recommend at this point that you do too. We can only take Seattle for what it is now, another big city with too many troubles. We have given up with the ideas that if we tried hard enough things would change, but the only change we have seen is more of the same chaos you experience. We moved out of Seattle to a small suburb to the south, and we are happier for it. Interestingly, we’re seeing many families and businesses from Seattle have moved here as well. The last 10 to 20 years in Seattle were very sad to see all the changes made only made things worse. Do yourselves a favor and move out. Find a better place nearby and support its growth. Give yourself a break from all the issues that it takes to run a big city with too many people. Perhaps if you and others make the move out it could become a wakeup to Seattle. A sad but true wakeup. I have loved Seattle for a half century and now its just time to say goodbye.

  16. I am so sad to read this comment and add it to the pile of pleas I’ve seen from business owners for help in the downtown area, especially Pioneer Square.

    During the pandemic, my event planning business had to retreat from our Pioneer Square offices. And sadly, post-pandemic, I’m not planning to return. The area is too problematic for my staff, our clients and my business.

    Downtown Seattle is not conducive for my business now, and especially Pioneer Square. For all the reasons described by The London Plane; and I would lose my team if I tried to moved back.

    It’s a shame and saddens me, because I used to love the Pioneer Square business environment. But with the way our City is currently making decisions, it’s hard to imagine how downtown recovers, or how my business will ever be able to return.

  17. I also truly hope some real solutions are found and implemented. You’ve shown amazing courage and fortitude staying open throughout the pandemic and now dealing with these challenges.

  18. I’ve watched Pioneer Sq. flounder for 40 yrs. because the city refuses to uphold laws on the books. Hundreds of businesses have come and gone, entrepreneurs bankrupted, hundreds of millions of dollars of lost revenue to the city. It’s time to move all the services south of Dearborn so Pioneer Square can normalize. The city council and the city attorney should be sued for refusing to uphold the laws. There’s a difference between being a liberal and being an enabling fool. After 12 yrs of living in Pioneer Sq, we’ve given up, the city council is obviously more concerned about enabling transient addicts than the safety of it’s working class. Good luck.

  19. I have personally witnessed a situation where you had a couple.in your patio and I saw how an individual was attacking them while eating. It was scary to watch. And I’m sorry you are dealing with this. It’s so sad because your restaurant always have me memories of Europe and I had hopes that eventually that area would be safe to go to again. Hope the city does something soon.

    • I was attached in Pioneer Sq a few weeks ago (the ward as we now refer to it), I was able to keep the attacker at bay until the police arrived, the officer got between us and allowed the attacker to casually walk away. I said, so you’re not going to get his information? The officer said, well, if I try to detain him then I look like the bad guy. Good luck Seattle.

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