By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
The owners of Kau Kau Barbeque Restaurant are fighting back against the City of Seattle.
The restaurant was assessed a Notice of Violation by Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) for alleged illegal dumping of materials in an alley adjacent to their restaurant this past July.
Richard Chang, who owns the restaurant along with his wife, Lynn Eng-Chang, claims that the violation was due to inaction by the city and their need to remediate a situation. They both expressed frustration with the city and the Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Association (CIDBIA) when talking about their $2,000 fine for alleged dumping.
Earlier this summer, Chang, along with customers, noticed a horrible smell emanating from the alleyway. “It was a combination of fish sauce and something that had died,” said Eng-Chang of the smell. The Changs contacted the CIDBIA, which is in charge of addressing these types of situations. But they did not come soon enough, as the restaurant continued to receive complaints.
“We felt compelled to diffuse the smell,” stated Eng-Chang. Chang had the offending odor from the garbage can rinsed out with hot water to remediate the situation.
However, their attempts to deal with the odor was the incorrect protocol, according to SPU. According to Kau Kau’s “Notice of Violation,” an “unknown community member stated that there was a sewer overflow in the alley near Maynard Avenue South and South King Street.” An inspector from the city received an email from a Seattle Clean Streets coordinator who witnessed Kau Kau employees cleaning a food waste container into a storm drain. Photos taken by the coordinator attest, “a person cleaning sludge from a food recycling bin by placing it into the storm drain inlet located in the alley.”
Chang claims that the pictures tell only one side of the story. He explained that the storm drain inlet in the alley runs underneath the sidewalk through a pipe that empties out into the side street and runs down the street to a sewer at the corner, which empties out into the sewage system. Chang stated that he had his employees clean the debris before it got to the sewer on the street, which emptied out into the sewage system. But the SPU photos depict only the cleaning in the alley and not on the street.
The Notice of Violation states that it was enforcing the “side sewer and stormwater codes and the discharge of the food waste was not permitted, the inlet and that the drain is to be used to convey stormwater from the alley, not wastewater or stormwater.”
But Chang states that he believes that the offending odors emanating from his garbage may be a result of illegal dumping. Although the garbage cans are maintained via chain locks, he says that the locks still allow for someone to easily pry them open. Chang also believes the change from metal cans to the plastic material may be a reason for the emanating odors, since they are not sealed.
Inspectors from SPU met with Chang and explained the Notice of Violation process. As noted by the Changs, the report states the concern with the city for not maintaining the cleanliness of the alley and not addressing the problem quick enough.
“Because of the nature of this district, there are always ongoing issues with alley, street, and sidewalk cleanliness in the Chinatown-International District. It is why we contract out cleaning services with Seattle Surface Cleaners to provide sidewalk litter pick up four days a week in Chinatown and Japantown and two days a week in Little Saigon,” stated Executive Director Jessa Timmer of the CIDBIA in an email. “We also have a working relationship with SPU, who manage waste issues, and Waste Management, who are responsible for picking up scatter in the alleyways. Scatter in the alleyways is picked up 2-3 times per day by Waste Management’s contractors, CanDo.”
“Kau Kau believed there was a foul odor coming from one of its garbage cans and stated they reported it to CIDBIA. Typically, when there is an issue, we contact the appropriate company, organization, or service provider to resolve the issue (SPU, Waste Management, General Biodiesel, etc),” explained Timmer. “We get a lot of calls about missed solid waste pick ups by Waste Management, calls from businesses about illegal dumping in their alleys, reports of grease and oil spills, and general district cleanliness.” Timmer stated that the CIDBIA works closely with the City of Seattle to ensure service providers “are providing the services they promised to the neighborhood.”
The Seattle Clean Streets coordinator who reported the Kau Kau violation is no longer with CIDBIA, according to Timmer, as she had left the position to study abroad.
A spokesperson for SPU indicated that the response time on reports of illegal dumping on public property averages four days. Ellen Pepin-Cato stated, “SPU does not have jurisdiction over issues of odor, though we do work with businesses from time to time to try and assist them in mitigating the impacts of consistently bad odor on the public.”
Although there is a process explained by CIDBIA and SPU on addressing complaints, there are still concerned neighbors in the International District.
“SPU really needs to do something about these alleys,” stated ID resident Nora Chen. “It smells so bad that they (SPU and CIDBIA) really need to do a better job.” She added, “They (the Changs) cleaned their garbage can and got into trouble.”
At this point, Chang has retained an attorney to appeal the $2,000 fine. According to Chang, a letter was sent to SPU and it is being reviewed by the deputy director.
Jason can be reached at email@example.com.