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Spokane Valley opines with signs

Battle over city’s existence shows no shortage of strong feelings

“Heart” it or hate it, there’s a yard sign for Spokane Valley residents who want to sound off about their city.

Critics of the 6-year-old city government peppered the landscape with red-and-white “Disincorporate Now” signs, prompting city supporters to respond in kind a few weeks ago.

The Spokane Valley Business Association and the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce are distributing signs that use a red heart symbol to express love for Spokane Valley.

“Support Our City,” the signs urge.

Both sides say their placards are as popular as flapjacks at an IHOP.

“They’ve been going out pretty darn fast,” said Dick Behm, treasurer and sign coordinator for the Spokane Valley Business Association. “I’ve never been in a campaign that had such an enthusiastic response.”

His counterparts, Joe Estinson and Gordon Curry, said demand for the anti-city signs also is strong.

Curry, owner of Gordon Curry Realtors, joined the campaign several weeks ago and paid for 30 more of the larger 4-by-8-foot signs that have been popping up at high-traffic locations. Previously, Citizens for Disincorporation had only 10 of the big signs, which cost about $90 apiece.

“You betcha,” he said, there’s one in front of his business.

Estinson said the smaller yard signs generally are distributed to residents who request them when volunteers canvass neighborhoods for signatures in their effort to put the issue of disincorporation before city residents by ballot.

“I actually had one guy grab one out of my hand and say, ‘It’s about time,’ ” Estinson said.

He said he started out with 800 signs and had fewer than 50 left last week.

Behm said he started with 400 of the $3.85-apiece yard signs and had only a few left last week. He had passed 100 of them to the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber, where office manager Sue Rusnak said fewer than 50 were left this week.

“We’ve had several people comment on what a good idea, they want one for their yard,” Rusnak said. “They’re just tired of seeing those other signs, to disincorporate, and they want to see some positive signs.”

Indeed, Behm said, “People don’t like negativity. A negative image doesn’t do anybody any good.”

According to Estinson and Curry, it’s the city government that does no good.

“I’ve been in neighborhoods where people are really angry,” Estinson said. “You wouldn’t want a woman around when you talk to them, I’ll tell you that.”

The city’s construction permit center figures prominently in the criticism.

Curry, who’s also a home builder, said he’s “had more problems with the city building permit department than I ever, ever had with the county.”

Estinson said he’s heard numerous complaints, including one from a man who insisted on showing him an outdoor electrical outlet the man was forced to install – with a separate building permit – when he wanted to air-condition a structure.

“What the hell am I going to do with that?” Estinson quoted the disgruntled property owner.

Estinson said his primary beef with the city is its handling of a contract for police services by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, but most of the critics he’s met are motivated by the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan.

The far-reaching rezone plan, recently passed by the City Council, isn’t universally popular among business operators but it was endorsed by the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber as well as the Spokane Valley Business Association.

Behm said people who have requested pro-city signs are a cross-section of the community, but include a lot of young adults.

“That surprised me,” he said. “They’re actually proud of their city and they want to show it.”

Both sides are taking donations to replenish their supply of signs.

Behm said donations have ranged from $2 to $200. Estinson said his side has had donations as large as $500, and he has enough money for 100 more signs.