Neighborhood Plans & Allocating School Zone Camera Revenue: 12.12.16 Council Meeting Recap

It’s hard to believe that we had our last Council meeting of 2016 last night. The meeting lasted a bit longer than usual because we considered many small agenda items, trying to tie things up before we meet again on Monday, January 9th. I look forward to sending out an e-newsletter soon with my end of the year wrap-up!

On Monday, Dec. 12th, Council voted 7-0 to approve of using a drone for aerial photography of the Normandie Complex, which used to house City Streets and Fleet Operations for over 100 years. The City is putting out an RFP to request proposals to purchase the site and the photography from above will showcase the Complex, located between Washington St. and Division Sts, just south of Mission Ave.

Council also approved 7-0 a West Hills Neighborhood Plan for the Ft. George Wright and SFCC area. This was a collaboration between the neighborhood, developers, SFCC and Spokane Transit. You can see the plans here. I really like the vision for the future of this area — it has a lot of unmet potential!

Other unanimous votes included authorizing the Airport Board to purchase a piece of property adjacent to Felts Field, authorizing a sole source contract with a consulting company to investigate the boiler maintenance accident that occurred at the Waste to Energy Facility which injured two workers. Also, we approved the 2017 Lodging Tax allocations that were recommended by the Advisory Committee and approved the 2017 Downtown BID Management Plan and confirmed the assessments to be paid by property owners and businesses.

Whew. Did I say this was a long one?

Councilmembers also approved on a 6-1 vote (CM Mumm nay) a developer agreement that keeps the Beacon Hill project alive for another 5 years. I’m hoping to see the infrastructure improvements happen so that this workforce housing can be developed in East Hillyard.

Finally, Council had a lengthy discussion on a resolution that outlined how we would spend the dollars generated by traffic tickets in the two pilot school zone camera areas — on NW Blvd by Finch Elementary and on Nevada St by Longfellow Elementary. The revenue raised from these cameras will exceed $1M by the end of this year. Council agreed (6-1, I voted no) to allocate up to $550K of these dollars toward 4 more Neighborhood Resource Officers for the next two years with a commitment to identify other (General Fund) dollars to continue these NROs past 2018. My concern (and the concern of many neighbors whom I have spoken with) has been that this is a pilot program and we don’t know if the revenue will continue over time as people become more familiar with the cameras. Because the revenue may decline over time, the best use of these dollars is to fund capital projects that improve safety in and around schools (crosswalks, sidewalks, other safety measures)…and that is what the remainder of the revenue will be allocated to per the resolution.

Although I am supportive of how we plan to spend the dollars, I voted no on the final version of the resolution after changes were made by CM Beggs in the past week that added a commitment to plan for more cameras in two more school zones by Sept. 1, 2017. I felt that this commitment was premature because we haven’t even reviewed the data from the pilot cameras to see if they are successful in reducing speeds. My position is that we should review the data and make adjustments to the pilot areas before planning for more cameras in other school zones.

Supporting new strategies for infill housing: 11.21.16 Council Meeting Recap

I was honored to preside over the Monday, November 21st City Council meeting in the absence of CP Stuckart. He and CM Mumm were out of town on holiday travels.

The main topic on our agenda was consideration of a resolution recognizing a report of the Infill Development Steering Committee. Council approved this resolution on a 5-0 vote. Over the past six months, this committee met with hundreds of Spokane neighbors, architects, developers, and other stakeholders to gather input into how Spokane can better achieve its infill housing goals. “Infill housing” is a term used to describe building new single-family or multi-family housing within an existing urban framework — building on empty lots or redeveloping underutilized parcels. Trying to build on small lots or within existing neighborhoods has its challenges — matching up with historic architecture, mixing rental and home owner products, and higher and lower density products.

I think this is the third time since 2009, right before I started on Council, that the city has gathered input on how to update our codes to better support a variety of housing options. Quite frankly, right now it is difficult to find options other than larger multi-family buildings or single-family homes. Many people are looking for smaller homes on smaller lots than traditional lots. Many seniors are looking to downsize to townhomes or one level properties.

I’m very happy with the recommendations coming out of the Committee because they are action-oriented. Now, the time is for action to actually update our codes and processes to implement these recommendations in appropriate ways.

Council did hear some concerns last night from 5 Mile Prairie and Indian Trail Neighborhoods. Some neighbors there are concerned about infill and the negative impacts it can have if it is placed in the wrong areas or does not blend well into the rest of the neighborhood. These are valid concerns and our Comp Plan does encourage cottage housing and other types of smaller infill projects to be near Centers and Corridors and the urban center — closer to transit, goods and services. When we look at updating our cottage housing ordinance, we should take these concerns into consideration. Not every housing product fits in every neighborhood. There is not a one size fits all and I look forward to seeing us balance the feel of historic neighborhoods with the need to fill in new types of housing products that attract investment and activity in our City.

You can visit the City’s website for a full description of the Infill Housing Report and all the Committee meeting minutes.

My comments at the Standing United Against Hate event on Nov. 22, 2016

I’m City Councilmember Amber Waldref, here on behalf of the Spokane City Council. Many thanks to Dean Lynch and the members of the Spokane County Human Rights Taskforce for inviting elected and public safety leaders to be here. I appreciate their leadership in organizing this effort to speak out against hate.

This last year has been tough. We watched a national presidential campaign become very divisive. We have heard awful things said from all sides about people who may look, act, or believe differently. And now we’ve had several incidents of hate and bigotry blatantly, boldly directed at children and families in our own neighborhoods.

What can we do? Here are three things we can all do.

First, we can support action now and plan for the future
I’m proud that, already, our community has come together in vigils at the grassroots level, community conversations, standing up against hate and addressing it head on. As community leaders, we can support these efforts and implement longer term strategies to promote respect & address bias before other hate crimes or discrimination can occur. And as elected officials we can look at adopting policies in our jurisdictions that prevent discrimination and support basic human rights.

Secondly, we can teach and model respect and acceptance to our children…and learn from them.

Children know and see all. I’ve experienced this fully with my 8 year old and 5 year old girls. My experience is that the basic instinct of a child is to be tolerant and open to all people… it’s my job as a mother to encourage their minds and hearts to stay open, compassionate and accepting of differences. Let’s not leave our children out of the community conversation. They can teach us a lot.

Finally, as leaders, we can look inside and address our own biases
It all begins with me – with what is inside my own heart and how willing I am to address my own biases. Do I take the time to listen and learn from other people’s experiences, especially people with whom I might initially disagree? How many times am I in the minority? I encourage other leaders to reflect with me on these and other questions so we can be more effective in supporting a culture of unity and acceptance.

Hate exists “because the ground in the area is receptive for it,” says Steven Johns Boehme, leader of the Michigan Ecumenical Forum. “If you drop the seeds of prejudice in soil that is not receptive, they won’t take root.”

We’ve got great soil here in Spokane County. I look forward to working with all local leaders and our community to using our soil to grow the seeds of compassion, acceptance and respect for all.

Library levy lid placed on ballot; sick leave ordinance amended: 11.14.16 Council Meeting Recap

Council had a busy Monday evening this week of November 14th, 2016. First, Council approved placing a renewal of the library levy lid lift on the ballot in April 2017 (6-1, Fagan no). Voters will have an opportunity to vote to renew this small levy lid lift at the same rate as today for another 7 years. This keeps the libraries operating at the current level of service. I’m very pleased at how the dollars generated by the previous library levy have been spent to increase hours at smaller library branches at 40 hours/week, plus opening Shadle on Sunday afternoons.

Council also continued our hearing on the proposed 2017 City Budget. We discussed and voted 7-0 to increase the property tax by 1% in 2017 with the dollars continuing to be dedicated to capital needs for public safety (fire trucks, safety equipment). We are using these dollars to pay back a low-interest loan from our Spokane Investment Pool to purchase equipment. We plan on voting on the operating and capital budgets next week.

Finally, we held a hearing on changes to the Sick & Safe leave ordinance that passed in January 2016 and becomes effective Jan. 1, 2017. A group of business leaders, city staff, Council and labor and community stakeholders had been meeting for the past 6 months to clarify parts of the law, which allows workers in the city to earn sick/safe time based on the number of hours worked, up to 24 hours for very small businesses, and up to 40 hours for businesses with more than 10 employees. Council voted 6-1 (Fagan no) to adopt some changes that clarified several parts of the ordinance, as well as created enforcement mechanisms. Due to the State law that was recently adopted by voters that allows workers to earn up to 7 days, Council included a sunset clause that sunset’s the City’s rules when the State rules become effective — which will most likely happen sometime in 2018. Council also clarified that the goal will not be to penalize businesses in 2017, but educate and provide all opportunities needed for businesses to comply in good faith. Please visit the City’s website for updated info.