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.
After a long meeting on January 30th, City Council settled in for a few shorter meetings on Feb. 6th and Feb. 13th.
On February 6th, Council voted 7-0 to approve several traffic calming projects to be built in 2017. These projects range from adding new sidewalks near schools, to traffic speed feedback signs near parks. Council also approved a resolution (7-0) in favor of recognizing the Lincoln Heights District Center Master Plan. This has been a plan two years in the making, with the input of many property owners, neighbors and stakeholders aiming to create a more connected and safe district where people and businesses can thrive. Read more about the Master Plan here.
On February 13th, Council was visited by Mayor Condon for his annual State of the City Address. The Mayor presented accomplishments from 2016 and presented some of the draft strategic planning ideas that Council and Mayor have been working on jointly over the past 5 months. I’m looking forward to getting your input on these draft strategies to support economic growth and increased quality of life in Spokane…stay tuned for ways you can get involved in March! You can read more about Mayor’s State of the City and the strategic planning for the future here.
On January 23rd, I was pleased to run the City Council meeting in the absence of Council President Stuckart, who was visiting several cities with Mayor Condon to learn more about their homeless programs.
The main focus of our meeting was to hear from neighborhood leaders in the southwest portion of our City and to find out about their successes and challenges in the past year. I was very impressed by many of the presentations and planning efforts — especially the work by Browne’s Addition to improve Cd’A Park and the plan to develop a new mixed-use center near SCC by West Hills Neighborhood in partnership with STA.
We did have one action item that was moved to the 6pm session — a six-month contract with East Central Community Organization (ECCO) to continue managing services at the East Central Community Center. The Council, after hearing testimony from members of the ECCO Board, had a split 3-3 vote, which meant we turned down the contract. Personally, I was concerned about having a contract in place so I voted to approve the contract. Other Councilmembers were worried about a six month contract and wanted a longer version. Council will need to do further homework in the next week to come to a decision on a contract to ensure vital services at the Community Center continue.
Yesterday, I got to attend a very interesting court hearing regarding the city’s lawsuit against Monsanto at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Santa Barbara, CA. Why Santa Barbara? Every year, a group of Federal judges are chosen to sit on a multi-jurisdictional court that decides whether a group of cases should be consolidated before one Federal judge. They take this “mobile” court around the country to different courthouses and Santa Barbara happened to be the location this month. It is very rare for a case to go before a multi-jurisdictional court. City Attorney Nancy Isserlis has practiced law for many years and this was the first proceeding she had attended, along with other attorneys who joined us from the Cities of San Diego, Portland, and Seattle.
I especially enjoyed meeting Pete Holmes, the City Attorney of Seattle (see photo). He and I got a chance to discuss other topics like body cameras and police accountability work happening in Seattle.
What is the City’s case against Monsanto and why were we asking to consolidate with other cities? We are claiming that Monsanto knowingly produced & sold chemicals called PCBs (poly-chlorinated biphenyls) that were damaging to human health and the environment and that they should have responsibility for the costs associated with cleaning up these chemicals from the Spokane River. Two law firms are representing the six cities who have filed lawsuits (San Jose, Berkeley, Spokane, Seattle, Oakland and San Diego) and three more are considering filing (Portland, Los Angeles County and Long Beach). All these cities have bodies of water with PCBs that have migrated there through stormwater runoff.
We argued today that the cases should be consolidated, but the judges did not seem partial to this in their questioning. We will get a ruling in a few weeks. If the cases are not consolidated, the law firms will work each case separately in various Federal courts before different judges at different times. In Spokane it would be before Federal Judge Moreno.
How much is this costing us in Spokane? There is no direct cost to the City of Spokane. If we ultimately prevail in court, the law firms representing us will get a portion of any damages awarded. The only indirect cost is staff time and resources responding to public records requests from Monsanto or producing discovery documents.
I am very excited about this case. I think it is extremely important that companies be held accountable for the products they produce. The responsibility should not fall on consumers and citizens to pay to clean up chemicals in our watershed that were known to be cancer-causing and impossible to contain. The law firms we are working with have had other successful cases against Monsanto regarding PCBs in paint and window products in schools and I’m hopeful we can all be successful in these cases.