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.

Council votes to confirm Mike Ormsby as City Attorney; Adopts Budget Priorities: 5.16.17 and 5.22.17 Council meetings recap

On Monday, May 15th, Council considered the appointment of Mike Ormsby, our previous U.S. Attorney for Eastern WA, as our new City Attorney. Unfortunately, I caught a very nasty bug and was home sick. I did manage to call in for about an hour of the City Council meeting and did vote to confirm Mr. Ormsby (4-3 – Fagan, Mumm and Beggs opposed). We heard testimony from a variety of perspectives, pro and con. Mr. Ormsby is born and raised here in Spokane, was the youngest person ever elected to the Spokane School Board, and has had a long, successful career in private practice and as the U.S. Attorney. Some concerns were shared about his role as an attorney in the River Park Square loan arrangement with the City. Also, an attorney who sued his office related to discrimination. Others who have worked with him praised his leadership and mentorship.

I spoke with Mr. Ormsby previous to the vote about these concerns and he addressed them thoroughly with me. I am confident he can lead our office of attorneys very effectively and ensure Council and Mayor communicate frequently about potential litigation so we can avoid conflicts. I welcome Mr. Ormsby to City Hall!

On May 22nd, Council adopted its 2018 Budget Priorities (6-1, Fagan opposed), which can be found here. I worked hard with the Councilmembers over the past two months to sponsor a prioritized list of priorities to kick off conversations with the Mayor. This has been an effective tool the past two years in finding alignment and making the budget process fairly smooth for citizens, Council and staff.

This year, we prioritized investments that align with the City’s draft strategic plan, which focuses on three areas: Safe, Healthy and Compassionate City, developing our Urban Advantage, and creating Sustainable Public Infrastructure. Highlights include hiring additional police personnel; ensuring 24/7 homeless shelter funding with community partners; developing revitalization plans to spur private development in key business centers and corridors; and increasing funds for improved snow removal and street repair.

Our water system plan calls for us to do an annual review of applications for water service outside our retail water service area. We had eight applications for service. After holding a public hearing and hearing from property owners and staff, we approved two based on our water system and Comp Plan policies.

Finally, we held public hearings on two moratoriums that were put into place in March 2017: one on demolition permits in Browne’s Addition and one on relocating billboards to Centers and Corridor/Historic Zones. Both these moratoriums were approved by Council (6-0, Mumm absent) and will be in place for 6 month while the community and staff can study the code and bring forth changes as needed.

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.