A quick glance at the candidates and their platforms suggests Spokane Valley City Councilwoman Diana Wilhite and her challenger, Brenda Grassel, might be interchangeable.
Both of them are bright, business-friendly and fiscally conservative. They are businesswomen and can speak knowledgeably to the ways municipal decisions affect commercial enterprises. They’re even both former teachers.
The differences emerge when their visions of the future are compared – and the future is what elections are about.
Wilhite, who has been a council member since Spokane Valley was incorporated, is part of a team that is attempting to transform what was a sprawling suburb of Spokane into a cohesive metropolitan city with appropriate planning and a sense of identity.
Grassel sees that direction as creating an unnecessary new layer of government that threatens the quiet, rural lifestyle Valley residents claim as their heritage.
Central to the comparison is the overarching Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan, which addresses the future of one-way traffic on the heavily traveled east-west corridor, critical zoning considerations there and the notion of a city center that would identify Spokane Valley’s civic core.
Wilhite supports it, has worked on it, believes it is necessary for Spokane Valley to prosper. Grassel is against it, would repeal it, prefers to honor the city’s historical roots in agriculture.
While Grassel contends the so-called SARP was rushed through by a City Council that turned a deaf ear to the community, Wilhite notes that dozens of public meetings were held on the subject and more than 70 changes were approved in response to public concerns.
Grassel claims endorsements from Realtors and homebuilders, reflecting development support for her candidacy. She also has backing from the 4th Legislative District’s all-Republican delegation as well as the Spokane County Republican Central Committee.
While not endorsing specific candidates, the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce and the board of the Spokane Valley Business Association both have backed the controversial SARP, which Wilhite supports and Grassel opposes.
A point to remember: Spokane Valley voters decided in 2001 that they wanted to become a city.
They wanted more direct accountability from local government leaders than they were getting from Spokane County commissioners, only one of whom was beholden to their region.
Once that decision was made, there was no choice about becoming a large city. Spokane Valley was already there – in terms of population, anyway.
Now Spokane Valley has to configure itself as an effective, independent municipality that can attract and manage the commercial growth needed to support an adequate tax base. That responsibility is best placed in the hands of a City Council member who subscribes to it.
In this race, that candidate is Diana Wilhite.