Category Archives: City Council

Council urges State Legislators to Pass Capital Budget; Accepts Main Ave. Visioning Study: 8.28.17 Meeting Recap

City Council continues to meet in our Briefing Center while our Council Chambers are undergoing renovations. I realize the sound quality is not great for those watching at home. Please be patient with us, as we will be back in Chambers soon (hopefully Sept. 25th)! And at our 6pm Sept. 25th Council meeting, our goal will be to devote our entire session to a town hall discussion on homelessness. The City has been investing in a diversity of efforts to provide 24/7 shelter access, build permanent housing, and to discourage outdoor camping in public access areas. I have received a lot of input on this challenging issue in our community and there are many ideas to share. I invite you to come down to express your desires and hopes for our community as it relates to housing and addressing homelessness.

On Monday, August 28th, Council voted 6-1 (Fagan opposed) in support of a resolution I co-sponsored by Councilmember Beggs and Mumm, requesting the State Legislators adopt a Capital Budget. This is the longest time in the history of the State that we have gone without a capital budget and from what I hear, there is not a lot of disagreement about many of the capital items that would benefit Spokane. I have been working with legislators on both sides of the aisle who have been very helpful in getting projects for Spokane on the list. What there is disagreement about is an unrelated policy issue — the effects of the Hirst court decision that impacts how jurisdictions can issue permits for exempt wells and access to water. While the impacts of Hirst are concerning and the State should create procedures by which property owners in limbo can apply for water rights, it makes no sense to hold up a vote on a capital budget.

Council heard testimony from many people representing numerous organizations who are anxiously awaiting a decision from the State to help fund many worthy projects that will provide access to quality health care, justice, education and public trails and parks. CHAS and Providence sent representatives to speak out for the dental clinics they are working to open in the next year in Spokane (including one at the City-owned East Central Community Center) to serve low-income adults who have no access to care. Also, the YWCA is awaiting funding for its Family Justice Center, which serves victims of domestic violence. EWU is awaiting $30M for a new science building. Public Schools in Spokane and across the state are looking for state bonding dollars to assist them in updating classrooms and increasing space to meet McCleary requirements. And the City is awaiting critical matching dollars for trail and park projects in Peaceful Valley and the Southgate neighborhood. These are just a few of the over $100M in funds that would be invested in long-term outcomes in Spokane. I sincerely hope the Legislators will listen to their constituents and come together for another special session to pass a capital budget as soon as possible.

Council also voted 7-0 to approve the Main Ave. Visioning Study as a component of future downtown Spokane planning efforts. This study can be found on the City’s website (just search for “Main Ave Study”) and was a joint effort between property owners, business owners and the City to identify ways to revitalize Main St. in the future.

Council voted 7-0 in support of establishing a new “Senior or Disabled Residential Customer Credit” for utility services that becomes effective Jan 1, 2018. This is to provide yet another way to manage rising utility rates for those on a fixed income in our community. Those who qualify for the County property tax deduction would also qualify for this $10/month credit toward the utility bill. You can contact 311 for more information.

Supporting new housing and commercial development: 8.14.17 and 8.21.17 Council Meetings Recap

Can it be August 22nd already? This summer has really been flying by. And the Council has been getting some very important work done to support targeted multi-family housing and neighborhood commercial activity in our City.

Last night at our August 21st Council Meeting, Council had three different ordinances to consider related to land use and development. First, we voted 7-0 in favor of updating our Multi-family Tax Exemption (MFTE) areas and making changes to the rules for receiving the 12 year exemption for including some affordable housing (now, you can receive the higher incentive for providing housing to people at 115% of the Area Medium Income). Council added the Division Street and Market St. corridors. This program has worked well in creating market-rate housing in areas where the City supports greater density. I am hopeful it will also now incorporate more affordable housing in these areas through this updated incentive program.

Second, Council voted 7-0 to adopt a threshold docketing process for deciding when comprehensive plan amendment proposals will be added to the City’s annual comp plan amendment work program or periodic update. This is a convoluted way of saying the City will now have an “early review” of proposals to amend our Comp Plan instead of putting every proposal through the year-long process, which is sometimes not the appropriate use of time on the part of developers or the City. Many other cities in WA State that plan under the Growth Management Act have iterations of an early review. I want to thank CM Candace Mumm for her work in bringing this forward for consideration and I look forward to testing out this new process this Fall!

Finally, Council voted 7-0 in favor of allowing existing neighborhood commercial structures to be used for specific commercial purposes even if they are located in a residential zone. Click here for more details and a map of the 90 or so properties that are covered under this ordinance. Years ago, these structures, many of which were corner grocery stores or small operations within residential areas were “downzoned.” Some remain in commercial use today, but many were vacated and then became empty buildings or were turned into residences, sometimes unsuccessfully. CP Stuckart has been working hard with small developers and property owners to allow these buildings to be used again (think Rockwood Bakery or Batch Bakery as examples of neighborhood retail in a residential area). After a lot of study and input from citizens, I think the Council has come to a good decision on this matter, including requiring more public input and a hearing examiner decision for buildings on residential streets that fit this criteria to ensure compatability with the neighborhood. I look forward to seeing how these buildings become reused and activated in our neighborhoods.

On a minor note, I have been working with Council and Administration on a joint Strategic Plan for the City. Out of this process, we have decided to update our Council Committee structure to be more aligned with the Strategic Plan. We voted 7-0 to create 4 new committees with new chairs and vice chairs that will lead discussions in the 4 strategic areas. We will kick off the new committee structure in October.

Monday, August 14th we held a fairly short Council meeting, but had a lot of folks show up for open forum on a variety of topics, including concerns about homelessness as well as issues with cleanliness and safety under I-90. Blessings Under the Bridge and the City continue to discuss options for their food and clothing distribution and where these activities might be most appropriate for the community. I’m happy to report that after last week’s meeting, the City, Lewis and Clark HS principal and board members and executive leadership of Blessings Under the Bridge have met and progress is being made on ways to assist those in need and keep the area clean and safe under I-90. More to come soon!

Council did approve appointing pro and con committees and the preparation of fiscal impact statements concerning the two citizens initiatives that are on the ballot this November (6-0) and approved the authorization of a grant contract between the Spokane Airport and the U.S. Dept of Transportation Federal Aviation Administration for airport improvements and a Master Plan for Felts Field. I’m excited about the opportunity this Master Plan brings to future development in the Chief Garry Neighborhood around Felts Field!

New 3-year utility rate schedule adopted: 7.24.17 and 7.31.17 Council Meetings recap

On July 24th, I presided over the Council meeting in CP Stuckart’s absence. Council took action on a variety of issues, including adopting a new Uber/Lyft MOU on a 5-1 vote (Fagan against, Stuckart absent). For the past several years, Council has taken an approach of creating an MOU with these transportation network companies to come to agreement on how they operate in Spokane rather than developing regulations similar to taxis. There are several reasons for this, but mainly because the State Legislature should but has not yet adopted state-wide regulations. Council has heard a lot of frustration from taxi drivers in Spokane about Uber and Lyft not honoring the terms of the MOU. After three years of waiting for the State to enact law around TNCs, Councilmembers Fagan and Stratton have said they are willing to work on moving forward regulations by the end of this calendar year. Because of this, Mr. Fagan made a successful motion to have this MOU be effective only until Dec. 31, 2017.

The other topic of interest on our agenda was the decision by Council whether to place a citizens’ initiative on the ballot that would aim to regulate certain types of coal/oil shipments through Spokane. Our citizens’ initiative process is pretty clear — if an initiative has enough signatures (independently verified by the County auditor), then Council can either pass the initiative directly into law or place it on the ballot for the voters to decide. Council voted 5-1 (Fagan opposed, Stuckart absent) to place this initiative on the ballot, as it had received the necessary minimum number of voter signatures.

The focus of our July 31st Council meeting was a hearing on a three-year rate structure for water, sewer and garbage utility services. The proposal was to increase each of these rates by 2.9% for the next three years. As Chair of the Public Works Committee, I can verify that Council spent the last 3 months discussing these rates and suggesting changes to the Administration. It was a very collaborative process that resulted in several adjustments and changes. Council voted 7-0 to approve the rates. We continue to look for ways to ensure equity and affordability in our rates. Council will vote in several weeks to establish a Senior/Disabled credit for those who qualify under the County reduced tax program in order to ensure greater equity for those on a fixed income in our community.

Council approves hire of new Fire Chief; requests State funding for Police Academy: 6.5.17 Council Meeting Recap

The City Council Chambers were full on Monday, June 5th, to celebrate the beginning of Pride Week with a proclamation from the Mayor and the Pride Flag raised over City Hall. Also, we had guests coming to testify on behalf of Brian Schaeffer, the Mayor’s nominee for Fire Chief.

We presented several of the Mayor’s proclamations, including one to Refugee Connections in honor of World Refugee Day, coming up on June 20th.

The Council agenda was fairly light, but we did vote 7-0 to authorize the use of reserve funds from our Comcast account to be used for renovations of City Council Chambers, specifically the installation of new technology equipment. This was our last meeting in our Chambers until after Labor Day. New paint, wall coverings, window shades and technology will be installed over the next 12 weeks and we will hold our meetings in the City Council Briefing Center, just down the hall. I am looking forward to brightening up the space. I don’t think many things have been replaced or cleaned for almost 30 years!

I was very happy to support Brian Schaeffer, our assistant fire chief since 2005, in moving up to the role of Fire Chief. Council heard some great testimony from other local Chiefs and citizens in favor of approving the mayor’s nomination of Mr. Schaeffer. I have enjoyed working with Brian over the past 7.5 years and I know he is well-prepared to take over in this new capacity. It was clear that he was shoulders above the other applicants the city received for the position. Congrats to Brian — the Council gave him a 7-0 vote of approval.

Finally, I brought forward a letter urging State Senators to approve supplemental budget funding for the Police Academy classes throughout Washington State, but especially here at our Spokane Academy. The letter was approved 7-0 and will be sent today. Spokane is counting on having an Academy class here this summer to train new police officers and get them out on the street as soon as possible. Cities and Counties are desperately trying to fill our retired and open positions. We need officers now. It is critical that the State fund an additional $2.4M to hold 18 classes over the remainder of this 2017 calendar year in WA state to certify officers. The cost is small compared to the investment in public safety that is matched by local communities. I will be following up with our local state senators to encourage them to fund this item and to also continue to fund the Basic Law Enforcement Academy trainings in the next biennium.