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News
Wenatchee Valley restaurants reopen to indoor dining — and hope for the best

WENATCHEE — Some restaurant owners in the Wenatchee Valley saw more customers returning as soon as 25% of indoor capacity became available on Feb. 14. But restaurants and their customers remain worried over the uncertainty of Gov. Jay Inslee’s Roadmap to Recovery reopening plan.

No region in the state is guaranteed to remain in Phase 2, according to the governor’s plan. In November when restaurants also opened up to 25% capacity, rising COVID-19 cases shut down restaurants in two weeks.

The next announcement of the region’s status is Friday, and the uncertainty of it all makes the process of reopening difficult and stressful, says restaurant owner Salvador Rubio.

Rubio owns two Mexican restaurants in Wenatchee and Yakima, Ay Caramba Tres Amigos. The restaurants have no outdoor seating, and so relied on takeout orders while under Phase 1. At 25% capacity, Rubio said in Spanish, he brought back around nine employees, all of them part-time, bringing the total close to 20 employees at the Wenatchee restaurant.

While still not profitable with 25% indoor seating, the restaurant makes enough to pay for his employees, he said. But if the region gets shifted back to Phase 1 — losing out on that indoor dining — the restaurant’s revenue will not be enough to pay all his employees, according to Rubio.

To deal with the stress, Rubio said he reminds himself that this pandemic is a temporary thing and that vaccines will eventually improve the situation.

Alma’s Kitchen saw more people coming to the restaurant as soon as it opened indoor seating, immediately reaching that 25% capacity limit, according to Marco Ramirez, son of co-owner Alma Ramirez.

“I think everybody’s ready to get out and enjoy life like we normally did,” Ramirez said. “We take those things for granted.”

Understaffed, inventory depleted, the restaurant’s reopening had its share of challenges, Ramirez said. Among the challenges, Mexican beer was especially difficult to get. Imported from Mexico, the prices have increased and it takes time to arrive, according to Ramirez.

But it remains a good feeling to feel that business is picking up, Ramirez said. With Paycheck Protection Program loans maintaining them for another two to three months, Alma’s Kitchen will continue to roll with punches, according to Ramirez.

Price Gledhill, co-owner of the restaurant South in Wenatchee and Leavenworth, said he felt great reopening. The restaurant in Pybus Public Market opened Feb. 18 to 25% indoor capacity, a good first step for the restaurant to get in the swing of things, according to Gledhill.

The Wenatchee restaurant was closed for a little more than two months, and with new Paycheck Protection Program loans, the restaurant has a security blanket into March, Gledhill said.

Gledhill said he believes that one silver lining marks this whole ordeal. The pandemic forced them to innovate. Whether it be online orders, QR codes for menus, and touchless payments, the restaurant needed to think about business differently, which has proven exciting, Gledhill said.

Gledhill and many other restaurant owners also appreciate the community’s support.

One such customer is Luke Boyce, East Wenatchee resident and performer known as L-Bow the Clown. Boyce is the founder and a moderator of the “Wenatchee Area Curbside, Takeout & Delivery Restaurants” Facebook page.

Inspired by a similar page in Walla Walla made by a friend, Boyce created the page in March to serve as a kind directory to support all restaurants in the area, he said. The group has a little over 7,000 members.

Boyce said he wants to see restaurants and businesses do as well as possible through the shutdown. Boyce said he has continued ordering takeout and dining in whenever he can with his wife and family, citing restaurants like La Tortuga Loca and Wok About Mongolian Grill as favorites.

When he last dined in on Feb. 16, Boyce said he was moved to see how many people were thinking about also dining in, but he is worried about seeing restaurants have to shuffle back to Phase 1.

“I see the restaurants as a whole in this area doing everything they can to adhere to the rules,” Boyce said. “I see them as a whole spending a lot of money and time and care trying to make sure they’re doing things the right way. Whether they believe that the requirements are legit or not, I see them doing it really well, and I think it would be a slap in the face to take that away.”

Angela Richmond, band and choir director at Foothills Middle School in Wenatchee, stumbled on Boyce’s Facebook page in March.

Hoping to support local restaurants and with an interest in spreadsheets, Richmond made a list of over 130 restaurants in Google Sheets and shared it on the Facebook page. The spreadsheet includes information like delivery service, phone numbers, whether they offer indoor or outdoor seating, and more.

You can find a link to the spreadsheet here: wwrld.us/dining. Richmond said she is open to add more restaurants to the list as people suggest them.

Richmond recalls a person on Facebook telling her that the spreadsheet had become a lifeline after they had just moved here.

It’s not a comprehensive list, but “if the list helps people know who’s open and who’s available, I think it’s useful and can do nothing but help,” she said.

Richmond has not had the opportunity to dine in yet. But she says she is excited at the prospect of getting to dine — without having to wash the dishes or take out the garbage.


News
Biden undoes Trump's designation of Seattle as an 'anarchist jurisdiction'

SEATTLE — First Seattle was an “anarchist jurisdiction.”

Now, it’s not.

All it took was a new president.

Five months after former President Donald Trump’s administration dubbed Seattle, New York and Portland as “anarchist jurisdictions” that permit “violence and destruction of property,” President Joe Biden revoked the label on Wednesday.

Trump’s label, issued last September in the heat of the presidential campaign, carried with it the threat that the administration could use it as part of a push to withhold federal funding. It also came at a time when Trump’s presidential campaign was increasingly focused on protests and riots in liberal cities, like Seattle, Portland and New York.

The three cities quickly filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration, calling the anarchist label “arbitrary and capricious” and arguing it could not be used as a basis for withholding federal funds.

Seattle leaders blasted the designation when it was issued last fall and they did so again on Wednesday.

“Fortunately, Seattle no longer has to face the insanity of a President who governs by Twitter or political threats. President Trump’s baseless lawsuits targeted our city for standing up for immigrants, civil rights, and democracy as he further divided our country with hate,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said Wednesday, in a prepared statement.

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said that “a small part of me” would like to see the city’s lawsuit against the Trump administration head to court.

“But I much prefer seeing President Biden undo his predecessor’s will with a stroke of his pen,” Holmes said in a prepared statement. “I’m glad to have this nonsense cleared from the decks considering my office has no shortage of litigation to manage, from the eviction moratorium to hazard pay for frontline workers. Onward.”

Biden, on Wednesday, revoked the designation with little flourish.

“The following Presidential actions are revoked,” he wrote in an executive order, going on to list the order on anarchist jurisdictions as well as five others Trump had issued.

The Trump administration had cited the Capitol Hill Organized Protest area, a six-block area that police largely abandoned following days of often hostile clashes between police and protesters. At least two people were killed in or near the CHOP. Police cleared the area after about three weeks.

The six-block area was cleared nearly three months before the administration designated the entire city an anarchist jurisdiction. The Trump administration said the city “refused to undertake reasonable measures to counteract criminal activities,” even though the city had cleared the CHOP.

Trump earlier in his administration had tried to block federal funding from going to Seattle and other cities that did not cooperate with federal immigration authorities.

He also said that coronavirus aid should not go to “sanctuary cities.”


News
Police accountability bills push through state Legislature

OLYMPIA — Outrage over deaths of citizens in police custody sparked efforts by lawmakers to address racial equity, hiring and training, and the use of force within law enforcement. Now, nearing the halfway point in the 2021 legislative session, the steps toward major reform of police tactics have gained support from both sides, though not without controversy.

“I wouldn’t argue that we have complete agreement amongst all of them but we’re continuing to work to bring people together and to move the bills,” said House Speaker Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, in a press conference earlier this week.

Community oversight

The Senate will vote on SB 5089, which raises the qualifying age of a law enforcement applicant to 23, and requires them to hold or be on the way to holding a bachelor’s degree.

The Ways & Means Committee members passed SB 5353 Feb. 22, which targets Spokane, Pierce, King, Okanogan, Yakima, Cowlitz, Chelan-Douglas, Walla-Walla, Benton-Franklin, Grant and Snohomish as recipients for a community-law enforcement engagement grant program. The grant would fund these counties’ efforts in neighborhood organizing and youth programs to increase public trust with law enforcement.

Sweeping reform to the Criminal Justice Training Commission will also have a chance to make it through the Senate, with lawmakers putting SB 5051 forward to expand the powers of the CJTC. Currently, the commission establishes standards and provides training to police and local corrections officers. It has the power to certify, and when necessary, to de-certify, officers. The law would also mandate that the commission must include more members from underrepresented communities.

“The public has the right to know if their tax dollars are paying for officers who have a known history of excessive use of force,” said Devon Connor-Green, who testified in support of the bill on behalf of the Washington Black Lives Matter Alliance during its hearing Feb. 1.

A similar bill to adjust training and hiring rules in the CJTC, sponsored by Sen. Jesse Salomon, D-Shoreline, will not move forward in the Legislature. Salomon told The Seattle Times he would try again next year, but said he was satisfied with the other training reform bills getting support.

Use-of-force

Lawmakers voted 28-21 to pass SB 5066 Feb. 23, a bill requiring officers to intervene if they see a colleague using excessive force. While it had Democratic support, some Republican lawmakers said it would deter recruitment into law enforcement.

“This bill will help keep communities safe and will provide the tools and support to reinforce a healthy culture in law enforcement,” said Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, the sponsor of the bill, in a statement.

House Bill 1054, a highly-watched ban on several use of force tactics, is scheduled for a floor vote. The law would ban an officer from using chokeholds, most forms of tear gas and unleashing K-9 dogs on suspects. The bill remained largely unchanged from its original form.

“We are at a reckoning with police in this country, so I can’t see myself negotiating on those tactics,” said one of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Debra Entenman, D-Kent, in an interview.

HB 1310, which narrows an officer’s ability to use deadly or other physical force against a suspect, is waiting to be scheduled for a floor vote, where it is expected to have a high chance of winning approval.

Investigating law enforcement

The establishment of an independent office of investigations within the governor’s office also has a high chance of making it to the House floor for a vote. Lawmakers voted in favor of HB 1267 in the House Committee on Appropriations Feb. 19.

Another bill poised to make it out of the House is HB 1202, which would automatically grant a cause of action for someone who was injured by forceful police tactics, meaning they would be able to seek civil action against the officer and any present officer who did not intervene. The court would have to pay for the court and attorney costs for the person, and the Attorney General could investigate officers if they suspect the incident represents a pattern of misconduct.

Other reform bills already passed out of the Senate include SB 5055, passed Feb. 10 in a 41-8 vote. If it moves on, it will establish an 18-member rotating panel of arbitrators who would hear and decide on officer disciplinary appeals, and ban officers from collective bargaining on these appeals.

The Washington State Journal is a non-profit news website managed by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation. Learn more at wastatejournal.org.


Business
Washington farmers expected to see lower revenue, flat wheat prices in 2021

SPOKANE — Farmers in Washington and across the U.S. likely will see their overall revenue drop this year after a strong 2020, which set a non-adjusted record for farm income, according to a Washington State University economist.

Randy Fortenbery, an agriculture economist at WSU, gave his annual forecast Wednesday for the Spokane Age Expo and Farm Forum, which for the first time in history went virtual in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

While higher-than-expected exports recently have boosted wheat prices, the overall outlook for area farmers doesn’t look great, Fortenbery said. Futures markets predict flat wheat prices for several years.

“Right now, 2021 looks positive,” Fortenbery said. “Maybe not quite as attractive as 2020, mostly because of a decline in government payments.”

Corn and soybean prices recently have spiked and that has boosted wheat prices as some cattle feeders consider using wheat as a cheaper alternative. However, world wheat supplies are expected to expand, an overall supply which usually drives wheat prices down, he said.

“So, it’s going to be challenging to get a significant rally in the futures market for wheat unless we have some sort of serious production shortfall somewhere in the world,” he said.

Trade war impact

Overall, U.S. farmers recorded a net income of about $140 billion in 2020. However, a good portion of that income came through federal COIVD-19 relief programs and payments to farmers for trade disruptions initiated by President Donald Trump’s administration, Fortenbery said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is now predicting the net farm income for 2021, which is receipts for crops and livestock minus the cost of production, to be about $128 billion.

“Really, the big decline in income from $140 billion in 2020 to the $128 billion forecast for 2021 comes from a decline in government payments, not from a collapse in commodity prices for our primary commodities,” Fortenbery said.

He noted that in 2018, Trump launched an across-the-board trade war on a scale not seen for 100 years. However, the U.S. was able to secure new trading deals with Canada, Mexico, Japan and China that already have begun to return markets to normalcy.

“China has become a much larger buyer through the Phase 1” agreement, he said. “Even without Phase 1, their purchases of feed grains, including wheat as a feed grain, have exceeded earlier expectations as they attempt to rebuild their livestock herds.”

Fortenbery said Trump initiated the trade wars to reverse a trade deficit, under which U.S. consumers import more goods than they export. When Trump began tearing up trade agreements, the U.S. had a trade deficit of about $40 trillion.

“Just as we started implementing tariff programs to bring our trading partners to the negotiation table ... it got even worse,” Fortenbery said.

Even though the U.S. has negotiated new trade agreements, “the trade balance (for all sectors of the economy) has gotten even more negative,” he said. “Right now, we are sitting at sort of a record-negative trade balance” of about $68 trillion.

However, agriculture exports have expanded, he said.

“The good news for agriculture is that has not been our experience the past couple of years,” Fortenbery said. “In fact, by October 2020, our monthly agricultural surplus in trade has gotten back to the levels we had in 2015 and 2016 before we went through the trade realignment.”

The biggest difference for ag exports has been China, he said.

“Right now, the USDA is anticipating for the 2021 fiscal year China could represent a total of 25% of total U.S. agricultural export volume,” Fortenbery said. “It won’t be nearly that big for wheat, but it will be big overall, and that’s very positive.”

The state picture

According to figures from 2019, which were the most recent available, Fortenbery said the state of Washington ranked 12th in the nation with about $9.3 billion in agriculture sales, and it ranked fifth overall with just less than $3 billion in net-farm income.

Apples continue to be the state’s No. 1 crop, with about $2 billion in revenue, followed by dairy products, cattle, potatoes and wheat.

Fortenbery said wheat can come in as high as third or as low as fifth on the list, depending on production and annual prices.

Apple exports expanded in 2020 after the U.S. ratified the new trade agreement with Canada and Mexico in a deal that replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement.

“Like almost all Washington crops, the apple crop in Washington is very dependent to access to international markets,” Fortenbery said. “Trade is very critical. In 2019, 46% of our apple crop went to Canada and Mexico combined.”

As for wheat, Fortenbery said about 45% of the U.S. crop and 90% of the Washington crop are exported. While the U.S. remains a major player on the world stage, it’s overall market share continues to decline compared with the European Union and Russia.

Local wheat prices “will be constrained by what happens in the national market,” he said. “The futures market is not telling us that wheat prices will be higher next year than they are right now ... unless somebody has a production problem and the world stocks respond to it.”


Gusts up to 50 mph coming to Wenatchee

WENATCHEE — Strap your hat on and lock your windows down because blustery gusts of up to 50 mph are headed to the Wenatchee Valley starting today through most of Friday.

Thursday’s windy weather front may bring with it a mix of rain and snow while keeping on through late Friday, said Ken Daniel, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Spokane. It is pretty common to have this sort of weather system roll through from time to time, he said.

A wind advisory is in effect from 9 a.m. Thursday until 4 p.m. Friday in the Wenatchee and Waterville areas. Gusts could blow down tree limbs and make travel difficult, said Daniel.

Friday’s winds are looking like they will be a little stronger than Thursday’s gusts, but people should be prepared for high winds on both days, he said. Winds will stay between 20-25 mph, with only the gusts reaching up to 50 mph.

The breezy weather could also bring down power lines and cause outages, the National Weather Service warned in its advisory.


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