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.
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.
After Council took a brief break to celebrate the July 4th holiday, we were back on Monday, July 11th for a short legislative agenda. The highlight was the adoption on a 7-0 vote of the Chief Garry Park Neighborhood Action Plan. I want to congratulate Colleen Gardner, the stakeholder chair, and all the business and neighbor leaders who participated over 2 years to produce a a very readable, focused plan which very doable actions to improve the neighborhood. For example, creating a signed walking loop through the neighborhood, supporting growth in the Napa/Mission and Greene/Mission business areas. Well done! Now we have to get to work implementing!
Prior to the Council meeting, we heard a presentation from Parks staff, Board and consultants involved in the Design work for the Pavilion area of the Park. There are many concerns about how this area gets redeveloped as a gathering place and how to create covered events, yet retain views of the River. I look forward to seeing more designs come forward after Council and citizens provide more input!
Council held a July 17th City Council meeting to consider several legislative items, including adopting the City’s 2009 Sustainability Action Plan and goals by City Ordinance. Council voted 6-1 in favor (Fagan opposed).
I was very pleased to support this ordinance because it recommits the City to the Sustainability Action Plan and the goals that the City set back in 2009 to reduce carbon emissions. I believe strongly that we should continue to play a leadership role in the region and in the nation at the City of Spokane in reducing carbon emissions, using alternative energy sources, reducing our energy use (and reducing our costs to the citizens), as well as helping the alternative energy market grow in our area.
Being sustainable financially and environmentally makes sense for our City and ensures we are resilient in the face of climate change and other global and economic impacts to our region.
I look forward to using the framework and goals we adopted to work with our citizens, business and other governments and agencies to identify strategies we can all use in this community to reduce the impacts we our actions have on climate change. I am also committed to working at a State and National level to ensure our strategies support greater national and global efforts.
Council also took a monumental step forward by voting 7-0 to establish a West Plains Public Development Authority with both the County and the Airport. This is the first time in our County we have established a PDA with three partners and I am thrilled that, after 3+ years, we have come to an agreement to share revenue and reinvest it in this area (a large swatch of land next to and adjoining Airport property). The goal will be to establish a Board that will direct the investment of tax funds that are collected already back into the area mostly in infrastructure improvements so we can attract good-paying aerospace and manufacturing jobs to our area. A very exciting step for our community!
How is it that I was the lucky Council President Pro Temp to preside over the longest Council meeting (so far) of the year? It was a marathon night on June 19th. We had a full agenda and a packed house to provide public input into our Six-Year Comp Street Program, adopting our 2017 Comprehensive Plan update (after 3 years of work by the community), and providing emergency dollars to fund our 24/7 homeless shelter, among other topics.
Each year by June 30th, the City is required by State law to adopt a six-year schedule of street construction/maintenance projects. Council voted to adopt the 2018-2023 Street Program on a 5-1 vote (Fagan no, Stuckart absent). I want to thank all the citizen volunteers and staff who work diligently to vet are street needs and ensure we are investing our dollars in high priority projects. You can view the street program and see which streets are planned for work here.
The main act for June 19th was to review a long list of proposed changes and updates to the Comprehensive Plan, which is our City’s guiding document for growth under the State’s Growth Management Act. This is the first time our community has updated our Plan since it was adopted back in 2001. For those of you watching our meeting, it might have seemed confusing due to the many changes and additions that were being considered by motion. The City is very committed to a transparent and open process for updating our Comp Plan and after 3 years of work to rewrite sections and add new sections, we wanted to ensure that all major changes to the draft document were handled in an open session and could be considered by the public before final adoption. Thus, after making a series of endless motions to accept or reject various language changes that had been brought forward by Councilmembers and the public, we voted unanimously to continue the hearing for another week to allow for a once and final review of these changes.
I was out of town on June 26th on a planned vacation, so I cannot speak firsthand about the details of the Council meeting. However, I do know that Council accepted motions to make some small adjustments (taking away language only) and adopted a final Comprehensive Plan Update. (I hear it was a much shorter night than June 19th!). You can find the full, new version of the City’s Comprehensive Plan here. Please take a moment to review it! It is a wonderful vision for our community that will help lead us forward for the next 5-7 years before we do our next update. Congratulations to Jo Anne Wright, Lisa Key and the entire Planning staff team, along with hundreds of community members who put in thousands of hours to update our city’s plan. We may not have gotten everything perfect, but I am confident we deliberated over the most important changes (including a new transportation chapter and new language related to public safety and criminal justice reform). We did vote to retain the “old” Transportation chapter 4 in order to ensure none of the goals would be forgotten as we use this document to make future policy and budget decisions to shape our City for the future.