The writing’s off the wall

THURSDAY, NOV. 20, 2008

Council moves toward cleanup of graffiti

Getting rid of graffiti may soon become a duty in Spokane Valley.

And the cost of various city-issued permits is likely to go up.

The City Council voted unanimously to proceed with a code overhaul that would add graffiti to the list of nuisances property owners are required to correct.

Another vote will be required on Dec. 9 for final approval, but council members liked what they heard Tuesday.

In particular, they were pleased that city staff members had lined up volunteer agencies to help people for whom painting over graffiti is a hardship.

“I think it’s a good system, and it’s going to be a big help to our city,” Councilman Bill Gothmann said.

Councilman Steve Taylor said some people have been afraid to obliterate graffiti for fear of retaliation if the vandalism is gang-related. The new ordinance shifts the blame to the city.

Taylor liked the idea of keeping the city looking “well rounded” by taking care of little problems before they become big.

The ordinance revision allows city code enforcement officers to order property owners to get rid of graffiti, subject to appeal to the city hearing examiner.

Failure to comply could result in penalties starting at $500, but the council also supported a proposal to reimburse appeal fees if an appeal is successful.

Also, the council endorsed an amendment allowing penalties to be withdrawn if reluctant property owners decide to cooperate.

“This city is not attempting to litigate, but to mitigate,” Mayor Rich Munson said.

The revisions were to have included a ban on obnoxiously bright residential lighting, but Community Development Director Kathy McClung pulled the proposal back for more work. She said the proposed language would have prohibited almost all exterior lighting, including street lights.

The City Council was less enthusiastic about staff proposals to increase the price of numerous fees and to add a few new fees.

“I just think it’s not the right time to be raising fees,” Munson said.

He called for the autonomous Spokane Valley Fire Department to justify the 10 percent increase it requested for fire code enforcement on behalf of the city.

“We don’t want to really be a profit center for the fire department,” Munson said.

But he acquiesced when Fire Marshal Kevin Miller said the fees hadn’t been increased since 2003 and “this is strictly what it costs us today.”

Taylor especially didn’t like a new $250 fee for newly required “pre-application” conferences to go over construction and development rules before plans are submitted.

That might be taking a policy of recovering the city’s development regulatory costs too far, Taylor thought. But Councilman Dick Denenny said failure to recover costs from developers would shift the burden to taxpayers in general.

Businessman Dick Behm objected that the fee would be the same regardless of the size of a project. Also, he said it “hardly seems fair” to charge people for “telling them what you want them to do.”

McClung said the fee would encourage developers and city employees to take the conferences more seriously and prevent the submission of “plans on a paper napkin.”

Council members liked her suggestion to deduct the fee from subsequent charges if developers go ahead and submit plans. The fee would stand for those who abandon their projects.

Taylor also objected to an across-the-board 5 percent increase for many fees.

Still, he joined other council members in support of Gothmann’s proposal to increase only those fees that haven’t been increased since 2003.

The council directed the city staff to revamp the fee schedule and bring it back for final action.

That won’t happen next week because the council decided, over Taylor’s objection, to stick with its plan not to meet in the week of Thanksgiving.

John Craig may be contacted at johnc@spokesman.com.


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