Spokane Updates its Comprehensive Plan; 6.19.17 and 6.26.17 Council Meetings Recap

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.

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.

Approving land purchase and Plan Commission work program: 5.1.2017 and 5.8.2017 Council meetings recap

I was pleased to chair the May 1st Council meeting, where we celebrated the kick-off to Spokane’s Lilac Festival with a visit from our Lilac Queen and Court, as well as the co-presidents of the Lilac Association. Congrats to all those who put in hundreds of volunteer hours to make the parades, luncheons and the Royalty a success. The work helps bring together our community to honor those in the military and public service and also showcases Spokane to other communities.

We had a very short legislation agenda. One item of note was the City approving the purchase of two parcels on the east end of Felts Field near the Spokane River. The Spokane Airport is always looking to purchase properties for future expansion or to protect airspace. These were vacant parcels — a good opportunity to land bank for the future (approved 5-0, CP Stuckart and CM Mumm absent).

On May 8th, the full complement of Council was back for another short agenda. We were able to approve the Plan Commission 2017 work program (6-1, Fagan opposed). This is a collaborative effort between Council, City Planning staff, and our volunteer Plan Commissioners. We appreciate their volunteer time and it is always a struggle to get everything the City leadership and citizens want accomplished with the time and resources we have allocated…but we do our best. Many exciting projects ahead of us this year after the adopt the Comprehensive Plan update at the end of June.

Council approves loan for Ridpath Affordable Housing & Central City Line Application: 4.17.17 and 4.24.17 Meetings Recap

Council had a fairly short legislative agenda on Monday, April 17th. We did vote to approve the Spokane Human Rights Commission’s 2017 Work Program on a 7-0 vote. Congrats to the members of that group for their detailed plan and for the strong participation of its members. Some of the areas they are addressing in 2017: human trafficking, educating regarding LGBTQ rights, housing policies.

On Monday, April 24th, Council addressed several exciting proposals and voted to approve them. First, Council considered a resolution in support of an application for Federal Transit Administration Small Starts Funding for the Central City Line project.

After several years of work preparing the application and many community conversations, STA is finally ready to send in a full application for the bus rapid transit project to the Federal government to be rated against other projects across the country. Council voted 5-1 (Beggs absent, Fagan opposed) in support of sending in the $50M+ application to match state and local operating dollars. I’ve been the chair of the Central City Line Steering Committee over the past 18 months and I can tell you that STA and its contractors have done a great job making the case for funding for this project, which will run from Spokane Community College, through the U District and Downtown to Browne’s Addition and will feature all-day, frequent service with comfortable stations and quiet electric buses.

Council also voted to approve a loan for the development of affordable housing in the old Ridpath Hotel. After 8 years of closure and at least 5 years of blight and ownership problems with this building, there is a proposal by Ron Wells, a local housing developer to develop 179 units of affordable housing with a mixture of financing, including private loans, state affordable housing loans and tax credits. The city’s financial investment would be a long-term, low-interest loan of $1.75M in federal housing dollars that were used to fund redevelopment of affordable units and were paid back to the City over the past 25 years (some of those were paid back by Mr. Wells for previous housing efforts). These are Federal dollars designated for affordable housing redevelopment and cannot be used for other city services.

Council spent many weeks reviewing the information regarding this loan and having conversations with staff and community members. I received comments from constituents in favor of providing the loan because of a desire to have more affordable housing options in the price range that will be offered at the Ridpath (for example: 1 bdrm max rent of $705 including internet and utilities). Also, the Ridpath has been a blight on an entire Downtown City block, which has prevented adjoining properties from being redeveloped. Positive activity and long-term residents would bring a new energy to this corner of Downtown. I also received comments from constituents who were concerned about making the loan for a variety of reasons. There was fear that the loan would not be paid back to the City if the project went under. Also, if the money wouldn’t be better spent in other parts of the City.

In the end, I voted to approve the loan (5-1, Fagan opposed, Beggs absent). I was convinced that this was the best chance the City has had to redevelop the building and ensure 20+ years of affordable housing for working people, students and single young professionals in Downtown. It is truly a historic building and and opportunity property. I believe directing the Federal dollars that were paid back to the City towards this project is an appropriate and strategic approach to growing additional investment and increasing safety and housing for a key demographic in Downtown Spokane.