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Spokane Valley council candidates air views

Sprague-Appleway plan is dividing issue in race

Nothing separated Spokane Valley’s 10 City Council candidates at a forum Tuesday quite like the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan.

Candidates at the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce event tended to see the plan either as a blueprint for prosperity or a costly abuse of power.

Not surprisingly, incumbents generally liked the plan, challengers mostly didn’t.

About 80 people turned out for the candidate forum at the CenterPlace Regional Event Center. Judging by a brief round of applause, many of them were fans of state Sen. Bob McCaslin, who is running for Mayor Rich Munson’s council seat.

McCaslin saw no problem with the fact that he would keep his Senate seat if elected to the council. State law allows legislators to hold local office simultaneously, and several have done so, McCaslin said.

As to whether he really could do both jobs, McCaslin said weather has stopped him from crossing the state only twice in 29 years.

Munson said the City Council job requires someone who can “be here all the time,” and he has been. He has served on the council since the city was formed in 2003.

One of the accomplishments he cited is this year’s adoption of the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan.

“Conditions on Sprague Avenue are abysmal,” Munson said.

He thought the plan could bring “career-building jobs” that would allow young people to remain in the city.

McCaslin not only wanted to rescind the plan but to return to the zoning categories Spokane Valley had when it was governed by Spokane County.

Challenger Dean Grafos said the plan would transfer wealth from some Sprague Avenue property owners to “a select few at University City,” a comatose shopping center that would be redeveloped as the heart of a city center district.

Grafos is running against incumbent Ian Robertson, who endorsed the revitalization plan. Robertson wasn’t on the City Council when the plan was adopted in June, but he helped craft it as chairman of the Planning Commission.

Although Grafos has been a leading opponent of the Sprague-Appleway plan, he said the city’s decision to pay for an environmental impact study in the city center district is a good way to encourage development.

Challenger Brenda Grassel called the plan “new urbanism” that has failed in other cities. She thought it would hurt Spokane Valley’s “small-town feel.”

Residents’ criticism of the plan “fell on deaf ears,” Grassel said.

Her opponent, incumbent Diana Wilhite, thought the council was responsive. Wilhite noted the council removed one of Grafos’ properties from the plan area after she conferred with him.

“I heartily endorse a plan that doesn’t look for a hopeless past,” Wilhite said.

Incumbent Gary Schimmels said the plan is good, but no longer economically viable.

McCaslin, Grafos and Grassel are running together on the “Positive Change” ticket, along with Schimmels and Tom Towey, who is running unopposed for the seat Dick Denenny is vacating.

He and Towey used the forum as an opportunity to endorse McCaslin, Grassel and Grafos.

Unaffiliated candidates Ed Pace and Ed Foote also are running for the position to which Robertson was appointed in August.

Pace would rescind the Sprague-Appleway plan as quickly as any of the other challengers, but Foote said he “loves the idea of this plan” except that it doesn’t call for a light rail line.

Foote worked his support of light rail into four of his answers on various topics.

He also distinguished himself as the only candidate who doesn’t think it’s a good idea to contract with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office for police service. It’s “embarrassing” as well as costly to rely on the county for so many services, Foote said.

Pace and Robertson are retired ministers who touted their ability to bring people together. In addition, Pace billed himself as an artillery officer in the Vietnam war who could remain cool and “get steel on the target.”

As the two-hour forum was ending, McCaslin proved he can lob a one-liner on target.

Munson told the crowd he had a bunch of campaign signs at the back of the room, and invited people to take them.

“I’ve only got one, so leave it alone,” McCaslin fired back.

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