After rejecting incorporation at least three times, Spokane Valley residents voted eight years ago to form their own city. It was a decisive turning point, a political affirmation of a geopolitical reality. The Valley had gone urban.
Immediately upon incorporation, Spokane Valley was Washington’s seventh largest city with a population of more than 80,000 – not only the largest incorporation in state history, but the second largest in the nation.
Giving form to the new municipality didn’t happen automatically, though. Building a governance structure from the ground up took work and dedication by the local officials who assumed responsibility for the transition.
One of them was City Councilman Richard Munson, whom council colleagues have picked as their current mayor. Munson, seeking re-election, faces a challenge by longtime state Sen. Bob McCaslin, who was an earnest backer of incorporation but now thinks the City Council has gone too far.
McCaslin acknowledges that he tried to recruit others to run against Munson, but couldn’t. So he filed to run himself, convinced he can be a councilman and a senator at the same time. Legally he could, but dividing his time between two demanding jobs, at times 300 miles apart, would be unfair to both.
Munson knows from experience that the Spokane Valley job is a full-time position, no matter what the salary implies. He has invested time and energy in making Spokane Valley a city in fact as well as name.
Most conspicuously, he has worked on creation of the Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan, often called SARP, a planning effort aimed at keeping land use and development from running amok. In time, he envisions an identifiable city center that the young municipality now lacks. He’s eager to engage residents in the government’s activities by getting council meetings on cable television and the Internet.
McCaslin wants to throw out SARP and supplant responsible planning with free rein for property developers.
Munson’s view of the future is more responsible and more realistic. SARP may have some flaws, but perfecting it would be better for the city than abandoning it to unrestrained sprawl.
Many Spokane Valley residents recall a slower-paced, agrarian community where governance could be safely entrusted to Spokane County commissioners and a handful of townships. Those days are over, not because of SARP but because of urban density that happened on its own as the Spokane region grew.
Disincorporating Spokane Valley, which McCaslin says he would like to put to a vote, would not return the community to its idyllic past, it would just make it harder for the city to manage its potentially bustling future.
McCaslin promises that if a council vote comes up in Spokane Valley while he is in Olympia, he will vote by phone or drive home.
Munson, on the other hand, has demonstrated that an effective councilman’s duty involves more than just casting an occasional vote. He has served the city well and has earned the chance to continue.