Stakeholder engagement is critical in decision making at any level of government. This was made clear last month after a new State Department of Health code change would have forced hundreds of coffee stands across the state to install costly plumbing at their locations. Thanks to the voices of local business owners and concerned citizens, the state code change was walked back.  

The concern began when staff at the Snohomish Health District sent an email to coffee stand owners in Snohomish County informing them that the State Department of Health had changed the rules governing coffee stands. The rule would have required that coffee stands connect to indoor plumbing for disposal of wastewater.  

This came as a shock to many of these business owners as they have been operating for years under the current rules. They have been allowed to transport clean water into their stands and store dirty water for disposal off-site. These rules have allowed coffee stands to be flexible in where they locate and reduces the barriers to open a stand. Connecting to municipal water and sewer utilities can cost tens of thousands of dollars, according to one of the local business owners I spoke with.  

After my office received multiple emails and phone calls from concerned business owners and citizens, I convened a meeting with local coffee stand owners to discuss the implications of the new state rule. Almost two dozen coffee stand owners and suppliers joined the meeting to share their thoughts and concerns.  

Primarily, the concern of these stand owners was the initial cost of installing indoor plumbing to their stands. As mentioned, these improvements can be very expensive and for many, is not feasible. This would also have devalued the businesses of those looking to sell, as prospective new owners would need to burden the additional cost.  

Another concern from business owners was the process that the rule went through. Without much stakeholder involvement, a new rule was sent down from the state to local health districts to implement and enforce. This caused confusion, concern, and frustration among many business owners considering the significant impact these changes would have had.  

Fortunately, due to these business owners across the state making their voices heard, the State Department of Health had subsequent communication with local health agencies stating that existing and new coffee stands can continue to operate as is so long as they can provide a plan for healthy food prep and sanitation in their businesses.  

This is a win for these small businesses, and it also demonstrates the importance of stakeholder outreach and civic engagement. Had the State reached out to these business owners sooner, they likely would have been able to identify these concerns and avoid the issue altogether. Thankfully, business owners and citizens spoke up and were heard by the State in the end. This is a good example of how grassroots efforts can make positive changes when citizens become civically engaged. 

Nate Nehring is a member of the Snohomish County Council and represents District 1 which includes Arlington, Darrington, Granite Falls, Marysville, Stanwood, and unincorporated north county. He can be reached by email at or by phone at (425) 512-4810.


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