New neighborhoods & a new Sister City; Sept. 19th & Sept. 26th Council Meetings Recap

The Sept. 19th Council Meeting was a “town hall-style” meeting held at the NE Community Center to hear from neighborhoods in my District 1. The Council normally puts aside any business, but we had one item to take care of that was relevant to the residents sitting in front of us. We voted (7-0) to divide the Nevada-Lidgerwood neighborhood into two areas: Shiloh Hills north of Francie Ave. and Nevada Heights to the south. I am very grateful to the neighbors who stepped up to form the new neighborhood and to Alexandra Stoddard, chair of the former Nevada-Lidgerwood area, for her work in assisting the new neighborhood in forming. This will allow both areas to focus more on localized needs, provide additional solid waste clean up dollars to the area, and build upon their neighborhood identities.

Last night, City Council had several resolutions to consider. We voted 6-1 (Fagan against) in favor of a resolution to the Administration, requesting that harassment and sexual harassment policies and procedures be updated and made consistent across the City per the Seabold report that was released last month. Thank you to CM Mumm and CM Stratton for continuing to stand up for employees and ensure that, especially women, are provided a fair and safe workplace and that all employees get a fair hearing if any complaints are brought forward. We will be getting updates from the Administration periodically on how the new policies are being developed and implemented.

We also adopted a resolution (6-1, Fagan opposed) in support of the Central City Line Overlay Plan. This is a plan that, if the Central City Line project is funded through State, Federal grants and local dollars, will help support future land use, housing and transportation changes in support of the bus rapid transit project that connect students, residents and businesses/workers through Downtown Spokane.

Finally, I was honored to have about 20 guests in the room from the Italian-American Club in Spokane. I reached out to them last month after the Council’s vote on indigenous peoples’ day. I wanted to let them know that our decision was one related to the dignity of indigenous people. Some of the local Italian Americans felt slighted by this vote because some have traditionally celebrated Columbus Day as a day for Italian-Americans. After further conversation, they suggested that the Council consider identifying Oct. 1 as Italian American heritage day in the City of Spokane because it has significance for locals — it is the day that their Italian-American Club was formed (celebrating 50 years this Saturday!) and it will be this Saturday that we will sign a sister city agreement with the city of Cagli, Italy. Council voted 7-0 in support of a resolution that locals helped me draft to designate Oct. 1st as a special day for Italian-Americans in Spokane. I’m looking forward to celebrating with our local Italian-Americans on this coming Saturday and every year!

Police Chief search continues; Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution: 8.22.16 & 8.29.16 Council Meetings Recap

Happy 1st Day of School for Spokane Public Schools and many private schools in the City of Spokane. My husband and I dropped off our daughters this morning (Nora is starting Kindergarten and Karolina is in 3rd grade). The excitement was palpable! I love to see kids so excited about learning and engaging with their teachers and other students.

There’s been a lot of activity on the City Council in August. I continue to work on researching housing policy issues with CM Stratton and participating in the Mayor’s Housing Quality/Affordability Task Force, which should wrap up in the next several weeks with a list of recommendations for the Mayor.

As part of my work on housing issues, I continue to engage with city staff and community stakeholders to address abandoned properties and address the very difficult legal issues and community impacts of foreclosure. I’m hoping to bring forward some state legislative changes that will positively impact our community. Stay tuned!

My other priority on the Council has been working to establish our state legislative agenda, hiring a lobbyist to assist the City in meeting our goals, and ensuring continued communication with the Mayor on this topic so we can have a successful session in Olympia.

At last week’s Council meeting (August 22nd), Council deferred a resolution regarding confirmation of Mr. Meidl as the new police chief. As you might have heard, the Mayor has agreed to continue the chief selection process to consider multiple candidates. Meidl can apply and he will be compared to other finalists who were narrowed down in the process that occurred earlier in June/July. Thus, the Council voted to defer any confirmation vote for a future date.

What happened? I took your comments and the input of many citizens over the past week. So did other Councilmembers. I was very concerned about voting to confirm/ not confirm a candidate who had not gone through the application process and citizen review process of other candidates. The need for a fair and transparent process was a constant concern I heard from citizens.

I reached out to the Mayor (as did other Councilmembers) and asked him if he would consider continuing the chief selection process and encouraging Meidl to apply so he could be considered against other candidates. I felt this would be very important for the good of the City, the future of the Dept, and for the confidence of citizens in a future chief.

The Mayor agreed to work with the Council to continue the process and last night, on Monday, August 29th, we approved the process jointly between Mayor and Council. The selection committee will have the top 10 applicants, plus Mr. Meidl to consider and narrow down to 3-4 by the middle of September, public forum and panel interviews in late September, with the Mayor making a choice by the end of September.

I am hopeful that this approach will produce a better opportunity for public input into this extremely important position at our City.

At the Monday, August 29th Council Meeting, we had a full house to discuss a proposed resolution establishing the 2nd Monday of October as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” in the City of Spokane, which was approved on a 6-1 vote (Fagan opposed). I appreciate JoAnne Kaufmann for bringing this resolution forward to the Council for consideration and to CP Stuckart for introducing it. The dialogue with the community over the past two weeks on the topic has been challenging and I’ve learned a lot. At the Council meeting I heard some amazing stories shared about the native American experience, as well as stories of Italian American struggles and contributions to Spokane.

Many people have asked, why not keep Columbus Day and choose a different day to celebrate indigenous peoples? Oct. 12, 1492 was an important day not only for Europeans, but for indigenous peoples. It was the day that enslavement and oppression began to change the lives and cultures of native peoples throughout the Americas. In 2011, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (“ATNI”), representing 59 Tribes from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Northern California, Western Montana and some Alaskan Tribes, passed resolution #11-57 to “Support to Change Columbus Day (2nd Monday of October) to Indigenous Peoples’ Day”.

Many NW tribes, including the Spokane Tribe, have come together and have asked us to consider the 2nd Monday of October as a day to honor and remember the stories of indigenous peoples and I voted last night to honor this request. The Mayor was also supportive of this resolution.

While we as a Council aren’t in a position to change the Federal holiday of Columbus Day, we can honor the incredible stories and culture and history of indigenous peoples across the Americas here in the City of Spokane on the 2nd Monday of Oct. As a city with one of the largest populations of native Americans in the United States, it is important for us to listen, learn and be mindful of our past as we build our future together.

I am excited that Spokane will soon have a sister city from Italy. I welcome our new Italian friends and neighbors who will be coming in October (Italian-American Month!) to celebrate the incredible shared history, both painful and joyful, of indigenous peoples and white peoples and all peoples of color and the beautiful natural resources that brought us together in this place. I look forward to celebrating, learning and challenging ourselves to increase our understanding of each other and specifically to value the contributions, history and unique cultures of indigenous peoples not just on the 2nd Monday of Oct. but every day in Spokane.

Council rescinds coal/oil train measure, commits to Regional Rail Safety Task Force: 8.15.16 Council Meeting Recap

On August 15th, City Council had to make a tough decision about whether or not to remove the oil/train ordinance we placed on the ballot three weeks ago. Council voted 5-2 to rescind the ordinance (CM Beggs and Kinnear voted against). This was a tough position for me because I want to change how certain types of oil and coal are transported through Spokane. I don’t believe some of the produce is safely packaged and transported and we deserve better from our railroad industry. I personally haven’t received any promises from BNSF and Union Pacific and I’m doubtful they will make necessary changes without tremendous pressure and regulation from citizens and their local, State and Federal governments. I appreciate the work of CM Beggs, CM Kinnear and CM Stuckart to put forward an ordinance that would try to address this for the voters to consider.

But to get the outcomes we want we need to be strategic.

As I said several weeks ago when the Council (including me) voted on placing this ordinance on the ballot, I had concerns about this local ordinance being preempted by Federal law. I also had concerns about how much time the Council and community had to review the measure – we made a decision in a short period of time due to the County Election’s office deadline for ballot measures. But, I was willing to give the ordinance a chance.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve spoken to a lot of people from all perspectives. The majority feedback to me was that while most citizens of Spokane support the goal of achieving coal trains that are covered and safer oil trains that reduce the risk of explosion, there is a belief that the Council could be much more strategic and that the ordinance in its current form would have too many challenges.

When Council President came to me and told me he was reconsidering the measure and asked me to support him, I engaged with citizens and other Council members and did further research on State/Federal laws that have attempted to regulate these trains. In the end, I did vote to rescind the ordinance, take a step back, and work to make the ordinance legally stronger or to find alternative strategies. I also think our efforts will be stronger if we work with other local jurisdictions like the cities of Spokane Valley, Sandpoint, Cheney, Pasco to develop joint strategies and responses, so I support the idea of forming a Regional Rail Safety Task Force.

I’m encouraged to hear from the residents who are interested in achieving greater safety and interested in working to roll up their sleeves and educate their neighbors. However, I’m interested in more strategic ways to get us where we want to go. Together, as a community, if we take the time to build relationships with our railroad partners, environmental partners, emergency responders, and other regional cities, we can deliver change more quickly and effectively. I’m open to alternatives that have a greater chance of achieving success and that have more community feedback and buy-in.

Council votes to place Coal & Oil Train Safety Ordinance on Ballot: 7.25.16 Council Meeting Recap

I don’t think anyone would argue that cleaning up the Spokane River and protecting our sole source aquifer is critical to the economic health and future our City and our region. Protecting our aquifer and human health and safety is a shared value of our community. How we best go about doing this is, of course, the challenge. We don’t have a lot of power at the local level to control sources of pollution unless they are directly flowing out of one of our pipes in the River.

On Monday, July 25th, City Council voted 6-0 to place an ordinance that was brought forward by CM Breean Beggs on the Nov. 2016 ballot that would make it illegal to bring uncovered coal trains or certain types of flammable crude oil through Downtown Spokane.

Why did I vote to place this ordinance on the ballot? The City is making massive improvements to our Wastewater Treatment Facility to treat our water and building sewer overflow tanks to reduce pollutants from entering our River – we are investing over $300M of our ratepayer dollars to accomplish a cleaner river…and we still have a ways to go to clean up cancer-causing PCBs. The Mosier, Oregon train derailment showed us that we are not immune here in the Northwest to oil spills and impacts to surface water and groundwater. A train derailment like the one in Mosier over our River/aquifer could reverse all the efforts and financial investments we have made to clean up our River and hurt business and potentially devastate our local economy.

I am not naïve to the fact that oil trains have been coming through Spokane for decades and that rail is a viable form of transportation for products that you and I use every day. My concern is that the game has changed – the volatility of the products like Bakken crude has changed the game and so far, technology has not caught up to reduce the risk to human health. That is why I suggested changes to the ordinance that specifically defines crude oil with a specific vapor pressure and flash point and allows for the ordinance to be reviewed in the context of new technology and best practices that can be implemented for safety.

I’ve done a lot of reflection about this proposed ordinance and whether or not I would support placing it on the ballot. I support protecting human health and safety and I have also been a strong advocate for higher safety standards for oil and coal trains. However, local governments have little power to regulate what comes through on rail. If this ordinance is approved by voters, it will most likely be legally challenged and we may lose.
Is this an action worth taking? Are there alternative approaches that can achieve the health/safety goals we all share?

I’m open to all ideas about ways we can work with the oil/train industry to make oil and coal products safer and preventing train accidents/reducing risk in the near future. Almost every month, crude oil train derailments are causing damage to human health and the environment. Railcar improvements are moving at a snail’s pace. I voted to place this ordinance on the ballot in order for voters to have a chance to review and weigh in in this important conversation. I look forward to hearing more from our citizens in the coming weeks.