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County may pull head gear plan

Commissioners discuss proposed helmet, motor track ordinances

County commissioners are tapping the brakes to avoid colliding with constituents who want to ride their motorcycles and bicycles without interference.

Without once using the phrase “back-pedaling,” commissioners managed Tuesday to increase the distance between themselves and controversial legislation they requested.

Commissioner Mark Richard said in April that he was “fully in support” of requiring bike helmets in unincorporated areas.

Commissioner Al French said he considered that “reasonable regulation” of public rights of way – just as he did when he voted for Spokane’s helmet law when he served on the City Council.

On Tuesday, though, French said he wanted to know whether the city ordinance was working as expected. He questioned whether helmet enforcement would be “getting the best value” from sheriff’s deputies.

“I very well might end up saying that education might be the best course for us,” French said. “Why pass an ordinance that you can’t enforce?”

Richard agreed: “Clearly, we’re not in a position where we can force an additional burden on the sheriff.”

He said he presented the issue because he felt a responsibility to listen to Spokane Regional Health District concerns, but wasn’t sure how he would vote.

“I’m not dead set that we have to adopt something, but I’m dead set that we have a conversation about this,” Richard said.

Commissioner Todd Mielke was skeptical all along about passing an ordinance the county couldn’t or wouldn’t enforce. However, he was active in getting the county Planning Commission to consider regulations for private motorcycle and off-road vehicle courses.

A proposed ordinance would limit private “motor tracks” to two acres within 10-acre or larger parcels in certain rural zones. Tracks would have to be at least 250 feet from any neighbor’s house.

“Perhaps the draft ordinance goes further than we need to go,” Mielke said Tuesday.

The proposal was overwhelmingly opposed at a packed Planning Commission hearing last month. The commission is to deliberate next Thursday.

Richard called for planning commissioners to present “a menu of alternatives.” He thought the problem might be resolved with fewer rules.

Still, neither he nor Mielke was ready to drop the issue. Persistent motorcycle noise can infringe people’s constitutional right to “quiet enjoyment” of their property, Richard said.

Mielke saw a “natural conflict” in suburban areas.

He said the problem is, “How do you regulate people being good neighbors?”

French kept his own counsel on the motor track ordinance.

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