In an effort to lasso what he calls “reckless government,” attorney Steve Eugster on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the city of Spokane that aims to block a downtown improvement district.
“The issue is this - the city is out of control. End of story,” Eugster said. “I’m not going to say anymore.”
Eugster’s suit charges that a taxing district unanimously passed by the City Council earlier this week violates the state’s constitution.
“They’re are attempting to advance a proposal that is illegal and unfair,” Eugster said.
Stan Schwartz, a city attorney, hadn’t seen Eugster’s suit but said the taxing district is nearly identical to those used in Seattle and Tacoma.
The district, proposed by the Downtown Spokane Partnership, “follows the letter and spirit of the (state) law” that allows improvement districts, said Schwartz, who drafted the ordinance.
Karen Valvano, the improvement district’s consultant, called Eug ster’s lawsuit “unfortunate.”
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, and this doesn’t help us go forward,” she said, adding that she hadn’t seen the suit and couldn’t comment further.
Similar to taxing districts used to build sewers or pave roads, the Parking and Business Improvement Area would raise about $675,000 by taxing downtown businesses, organizations, buildings and properties.
The money is slated for improvements to make downtown safer, more convenient, attractive and accessible.
Assessments within the district would be no less than $120 a year and no more than $38,000, depending on a number of factors, including business size.
Schwartz, borrowing from comments made Monday by Councilman Orville Barnes, said the PBIA was no different from a maintenance fee paid by shopping mall tenants.
“Property owners are taxing themselves to promote downtown,” Schwartz said.
Eugster challenges the ordinance in at least 20 different areas, according to court documents. Several areas relate to the way the assessments would be levied and what they would be used to do.
This isn’t the only court battle Eugster is waging with the city.
He currently is in the middle of two lawsuits over the proposed Lincoln Street Bridge and one suit regarding access to downtown skywalks.
“I find myself with a great deal of knowledge about what is happening…” Eugster said. “I ask myself whether it’s right or wrong and when it becomes obvious it’s wrong, I feel duty bound to say it’s wrong.”
Councilman Chris Anderson holds a different view of Eugster’s actions.
“If we’re going to debate every legislative issue in the courts, the city will never have any project of any kind to serve anybody,” Anderson said.
Eugster’s lawsuit could delay putting the ordinance in place, depending on how busy the courts are this summer, Schwartz said.