Council weighs in on labor negotiations with Police and approves two moratoriums: 4.10.17 Council meeting recap

After a spring break, Council was back in session on April 10th to address several items, some of which were emergency moratoriums.

First, Council voted 6-1 (Fagan opposed) to establish a “decision matrix” for City staff to use during the scoping phase of construction projects specifically for Centers and Corridors and Targeted Investment areas. The matrix will help capital programs staff weigh the input of neighborhoods, businesses, adjoining neighbors and City Planning documents when they are doing initial design of a project in key areas of our City slated for growth. These areas are denser with a mixture of businesses and residents, making the construction projects more complicated and requires more input prior to applying for grants. The need for this has been driven by the concerns over the Monroe St project, which was driven by neighborhood planning, but did not receive specific feedback on design prior to going out for funding. I’m confident this matrix will be a valuable tool for future capital planning and allow all voices to be heard earlier in the process.

Council also enacted a new policy that addresses how asset forfeiture dollars can be spent by the Police Dept., voting 5-2 (Fagan and Stratton against) to requiring approval by the Council for how the dollars are spent. I voted in support of this ordinance, brought forward by CM Beggs, because I believe in transparency and in the Council being able to consider all sources of revenue when establishing our annual budget and strategic priorities.

Council unanimously adopted a letter to Mayor Condon outlining the City Council’s goals and objectives for the upcoming collective bargaining negotiations with the Police Guild. CM Kinnear worked hard to collect the priorities of all the Councilmembers and come up with a list of items, including improvements to police oversight and changes to overtime, that Council could all agree to. The negotiations have been stalled and Council hopes this letter clearly identifies our priorities so the Mayor can begin negotiations in good faith with the Guild.

Finally, there were two emergency moratoriums unanimously adopted by Council. These are items not normally noticed prior to the meeting because they address current planning and permitting and require a public hearing within 60 days. First, CM Kinnear brought forward a moratorium on demolition permits in the Browne’s Addition neighborhood in order to allow the Neighborhood Council and City to complete a historic overlay plan that supports infill growth, yet addresses the need to preserve the historic character of this beautiful neighborhood.

I brought forward a moratorium on issuing permits for off-premise signs (i.e. billboards) in the Center and Corridor zone of Historic Market St. in Hillyard. Normally, there are no new permits for off-premise signs allowed in Spokane in order to retain the character of neighborhoods and reduce sign clutter. However, there is an interesting clause in our sign code that allows billboards that are taken down due to a public works project to be relocated on the similar corridor. I recently became aware of this because of the North South Corridor development. Signs that used to be on Market St near the railroad tracks are potentially moving to the historic Market St. corridor — right on top of historic buildings. Two permits are already in the works. My concern is that this is not consistent with the pedestrian-oriented nature of this beautiful street and this moratorium allows City Planning to review this part of our code with the community. In the meantime, these billboards could still be relocated to the General Commercial areas of Market St north and south of the historic center.

Public Hearings on these two moratoriums will be held on Monday, May 22nd at our 6pm legislative session.

East Central Town Hall & Human Rights Ordinance: March 20 and March 27, 2017 Council Recap

It’s been a quieter Spring Break week at the Council offices. We took Monday, April 3rd off to allow Councilmembers with school-aged children some vacation time (although everyone thought we had canceled the meeting to watch Gonzaga play in the National Championship Game!). What an exciting March for Spokane and Gonzaga University. Congratulations to both the Men and Women for making the tournament and for the men’s incredible run at a championship!

On March 20th, Council held our southside neighborhood Town Hall Meeting at the East Central Community Center. I very much appreciated hearing from all the neighborhoods who are working, each in their own way, to develop new connections, address safety, and improve quality of life. I was particularly impressed by the work of the East Central and Rockwood neighborhoods to prepare welcome packets and update their meetings to better accommodate more participation.

On Monday, March 27th, Council approved Gary Kaesemeyer as the new Director of our Streets Department. I look forward to working with him on addressing potholes, updating our Snow Plan and working to maintain and update our streets over the busy upcoming construction season. The major item on our agenda was an update to our Human Rights ordinances at the City. After over 90 minutes of public testimony, the Council adopted the update on a 6-1 vote (CM Fagan opposed). Many thanks to CM Karen Stratton for her work in creating a new “Title 18” in our municipal code and collecting all the human rights-related protections in one place. This will make it much easier for people to access information and ensure their rights are protected.

One new protection that I worked on with CM Stratton was housing non-discrimination based on source of income; that is, you cannot discriminate against renting to a tenant solely based on how they pay (cash, housing voucher, etc.).

Several years ago, through the work I had been doing with community partners to address homeless families in our school system through Priority Spokane and homeless families in NE Spokane through the Zone Project, I became painfully aware that individuals and families who receive housing assistance have a lot of barriers to being able to access safe and affordable housing in our community, especially with the low vacancy rates right now.

I interviewed a local resident, Melissa, for my Council Connection show, which is now airing. She and her partner and son have been searching for housing with their voucher and they are almost up against the 4 month mark. She has a good credit history, she has a good tenant history. She has researched apartments all over the city and county that are in the price range allowed by her voucher.

If a tenant is able to pay the full rent with a voucher and other sources of income, has good credit and no poor tenant history, is it right to reject her outright before she has had a chance to present herself and sources of income? That is, solely on her income status? I don’t believe that is who we want to be in Spokane. I know we believe in choice and opportunity for all and in breaking down barriers to even low-income members of our community to access quality, affordable housing, which is why I strongly supported this addition to our municipal code. I did make a motion to hold off on making this particular section enforceable until July 1st, which will allow a few more details to be worked through with tenants, landlords, the Housing Authority and the City to ensure the new rules are easy to understand and enforce.

Improving our Snow Plan, Pothole fixes, & Reducing vehicle theft: March 13, 2017 Council Meeting Recap

I was on deck to preside over another Council Meeting on March 13th. We had some healthy discussions regarding several public safety laws and adopted a resolution that I introduced to support updating the City’s Snow Plan.

Council voted 5-1 (Fagan opposed) to move money from the Rental Rehabilitation Fund to the City’s reserves in anticipation of making a $1.75M loan for the rehabilitation of the old Ridpath Hotel in Downtown Spokane. The Council will be spending the next month reviewing the loan proposal and all the requirements before making a decision to invest these Federal dollars in this project. I personally support the direction of the project — to provide more affordable housing units in Downtown Spokane for individuals, students, working people. It’s important to fill up some of our empty buildings downtown, but not everyone can afford market rate apartments.

I brought forward a joint resolution with the Administration that was adopted 6-0 in support of the City updating our snow plan and ensuring better mobility for our citizens during winter weather events. It has been a long, tough winter. I personally believe the City Plows need to be more nimble and we need to consider purchasing or borrowing more equipment to clear streets in a more timely manner. As Chair of the Council Public Works Committee, I’ve been working with our interim Streets Director and Public Works Director to put together ideas from citizens and the Council to improve both our Snow Plan and our pothole fixes. The goal will be to discuss these ideas and the finances necessary over the next two months through our Public Works Committee so we can be ready to make changes this year.

CM Lori Kinnear brought forward several minor code changes related to public safety that were adopted 6-0. She also brought forward a new crime of “vehicle trespass”, which was adopted 6-0. This creates a new misdemeanor crime that can be enforced by our Police Dept. When someone is in a car that does not belong to them and without permission, the Police can arrest this individual. The goal here is to prevent vehicle theft and to be able to get folks who are perpetuating these crimes to engage in our criminal justice system in a positive way. That is, through our community court or other alternative courts with the goal of reducing their likelihood of committing another crime. The City has been working diligently during this legislative session to get State funding for supervision of property crime offenders in Spokane County, specifically vehicle crime offenders. We won’t know if the State allocates funding until later in the Spring, but this would pair well with this vehicle trespass ordinance.

Next week City Council holds a town hall meeting at the East Central Community Center to hear from Southside neighborhoods.

East Sprague BID and St. Paddy’s Day Merriment: Feb. 27th and March 6th City Council Recap

City Council held a fairly short meeting on Monday, February 27th. We had a long list of administrative items to approve at our 3:30pm session due to the President’s Day holiday the previous week. At our 6pm Legislative session we approved a few minor items, including the appointment of Crystal Marchand as the City’s new Budget Director. Crystal has worked hard to integrate the city’s capital and operational budgets over the past year and I look forward to working with her in this new role.

The other legislative item of note was approving the new role assessment for the East Sprague Business Improvement District (BID). The businesses last year voted to tax themselves a small amount to be used for promotions of the District (the area centered around Napa and East Sprague), clean up, safety and security. I am very impressed by how well the East Sprague Business Association (ESBA) is starting to manage the dollars and invest in the District, which will soon be undergoing a complete street rehabilitation in April of this year.

On March 6th, I was pleased to chair the City Council meeting while Council President Stuckart was on a vacation out of the country. We welcomed our Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and the Haran Irish Dancers to kick off St. Paddy’s week (month?) in Spokane. Our legislative agenda was very lite. One item of note was (re)creating the position of Bridge Inspector at the City. Former Streets Director, Mark Serbousek, will be filling this role and I look forward to working with him in this new capacity. Mark served previously as the Bridge inspector and brings a lot of experience to the table as we look to replace and redeck many bridges over the next 5 years.