Last week’s June 30th Council meeting was short — the only major business was the Council approving an ordinance to allow school zone cameras to help enforce slower speeds (6-1, Fagan opposed). You can watch my video from last week (June 22nd) on my blog for more information on this. The cameras would be similar to the Photo Red cameras that have been in use in Spokane since 2008 in certain intersections. The purpose of these programs is public safety. One myth I hear a lot is that the City is doing this to “bring in more tax money.” This is false. The dollars have been and will be segregated to traffic and pedestrian safety projects, mostly generated by neighborhood and school organizations. These are a value-add to the community. We do not budget these dollars for street maintenance or other city functions in our annual budget. Also, this is not tax money. These are traffic tickets just like a police officer would write if he/she were to catch someone speeding or running a red light. The three schools Council where plans to pilot these cameras are Longfellow Elementary on N. Nevada, Stevens Elementary on E. Mission and Finch Elementary near Northwest Blvd. These schools were chosen based on speed data and accident data. Look for more info to come. There will be signage and warnings given when the cameras become active, which will most likely occur in September/October this year.
Council continues to do a lot of research and collect data and input on a potential earned safe and sick leave policy that would be applicable city-wide. Please click here to review a draft policy, along with a white paper, new data from the Spokane Regional Health District and other information. There will be an open house on Thursday, July 16th from 5:30-7pm at City Council Chambers to discuss the draft policy and answer questions from the public.
Council is taking tonight, July 6th off to celebrate the Independence Holiday. I’m looking forward to taking some vacation with my family this next week so you won’t hear much from me until July 16th. Hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable 4th!
One note on school zone cameras: Council requested detailed studies of speeding in school zones and the pilot areas proposed showed high speeds, with several student accidents near Stevens Elementary. The idea here is to slow traffic and ensure student safety. Sometimes a penalty can be very motivating to change behavior.
The Council received some very disappointing information recently regarding the actions of some of our Police Ombudsman commissioners. An independent investigation was made into allegations that certain commissioners had created a hostile work environment for an employee of the office of Police Ombudsman. The investigators identified many issues of concern, including evidence that Mr. Berkompas, Ms. Dolezal and Mr. Dominguez conducted Police Ombudsman Commission business outside of open public meetings, asked staff to change meeting minutes, that Ms. Dolezal revealed confidential information, among other issues.
The integrity of the Police Ombudsman Commission is of up most concern to me and the entire Council. We’ve worked too long and too hard to suffer setbacks, but unfortunately, this has been a setback. In a special meeting held on June 18th, Council voted 6-0 (Councilman Snyder absent) to accept the recognition of Kevin Berkompas and to remove Ms. Dolezal from the Commission. We accepted Mr. Dominguez’s resignation today. The Mayor’s office and Council will be opening up an application process soon for individuals to serve on the Commission because no business can be conducted until we have at least three members on the Commission. And we need three members soon in order to appoint a new Police Ombudsman.
I want to note that the removal of Rachel Dolezal had nothing to do with the media attention she has received regarding her racial identity. Ms. Dolezal’s actions on the Commission were clearly in violation of the confidentiality agreements she signed when joining the Commission. I would have liked to have her respond to the investigators’ report, but she did not respond to calls.
I’m hopeful that we can move forward and refocus on the work of the Police Ombudsman and Commission to ensure accountability and best practice in Spokane policing.
Several times over the past three years, Council has approved pilot “overlay” zones for parking in neighborhood retail areas like Browne’s Addition, West Central, and near 5th and Freya. Neighborhood retail areas are usually a collection of 1-5 buildings that have historically provided basic retail services in neighborhoods. (Think The Elk in Browne’s Addition or a corner grocery along N. Nevada St.). Many times, providing off-street parking can be a huge barrier to reuse these historic buildings. In order to provide parking, you’d have to tear down the building….thus, many buildings have remained empty and underutilized in these zones. Council President Stuckart worked with neighborhoods, business and the Plan Commission to come up with changes to the parking standards that would apply to neighborhood retail across the City to allow for more flexibility (and the changes passed unanimously last night, 6-0, Snyder absent). Although this may cause parking “spill-over” onto the street, I think the pros outweigh the cons when reducing the parking requirements in these areas. Instead of an empty, derelict building, relaxing the parking requirements could allow a building to be reused and for more neighborhood gathering places to be created. Already, we’ve seen how Batch Bakery has had this effect on the West Central neighborhood. Council will review how the relaxed standards impact neighborhoods over the next year.
In other news, Council also unanimously adopted a resolution in support of administrative process for Pilot Urban Utility Installation Project (6-0, Snyder absent). This is the development/utility incentive that I helped create last year for the greater Downtown Spokane and East Sprague areas. The idea is for the City to partner with private development to pay the cost of upgrades to utilities when a building is redeveloped in Downtown. Already, this change in policy has allowed for businesses like the Tamarack Restaurant and David’s Pizza to open up. I’m looking forward to more developers taking advantage of this new incentive!!