Council balks at barista cover-up
Proposal loses 4-2 after split testimony
Spokane City Council members Monday night rejected a proposal aimed at scantily clad baristas.
The 4-2 vote against modifying unlawful public exposure laws brings an end to a passionate public debate that blurred political parties, gender and business.
Council President Ben Stuckart joined council members Mike Allen, Steve Salvatori and Jon Snyder in voting no. Councilwoman Amber Waldref was absent.
Council members Mike Fagan and Nancy McLaughlin sought to force female baristas to wear more clothing, at least as much as you would see in a newspaper advertisement for lingerie, as Fagan described the proposal.
“Is decency in our community an ongoing issue that needs to be considered?” Fagan asked.
Councilman Mike Allen cautioned baristas not to flaunt their attire outdoors where unsuspecting people might see them or he might reconsider his stance on the issue.
Councilman Steve Salvatori said he couldn’t support a law that was not likely to be enforced.
In public testimony that drew dozens of people, those in favor said the law was needed to protect children and keep the city a place to raise families. They called the stands with barely dressed baristas another form of “adult entertainment.”
“We are a family city,” said Debra Long, a resident of Spokane Valley and member of the Central Valley School District board.
School buses on Sprague Avenue are being rerouted away from one espresso stand so kids won’t see the baristas with little clothing, she said.
“This is not Vegas,” Long said. “This is Spokane, Washington. We are conservative.”
Those against the proposal said it was an example of outdated sexist thinking and a misguided attempt to impose Puritan censorship.
Sarah Birnel, owner of XXXtreme Espresso, 1228 W. Northwest Blvd., and a second shop at Pacific Avenue and Division Street, said there are many more pressing public safety issues. She also owns the shop on Sprague that was identified by Long in her comments.
Birnel said it did not make sense to pass a new law that police won’t have time to enforce.
Natalie Ward said, “I don’t take my children to nude coffee stands” and proponents of the law could simply do the same.
Suzanne Halberstadt said she objects to criminalization of women’s bodies at a time when city leaders should be working on more serious problems such as property crime.
“Instead we are talking about how much anal cleft a person is allowed to expose,” she said.
But Amy Parks said sexual stimulation of children can cause emotional injury.
Penny Lancaster, a longtime activist on social issues, including pornography, said “public nudity used for commercial purposes is a serious matter.” America’s sexually saturated culture is sending unhealthy and disturbing messages to children, she said.
The proposal created exceptions for art performances; science and education; children under 10; and nursing women.
• In other business, the council renewed a contract with a private vendor to continue operating photo red-light cameras at busy intersections across the city. The contract will continue for at least five years with an option to renew for another five years in 2018, council members said.
American Traffic Solutions Inc. will get $625,000 a year out of more than $1 million raised through red-light fines.
Neighborhoods across the city will share in $300,000 a year for traffic-calming measures such as curb extensions at intersections and improved crosswalks.
In addition, next year’s budget will include $100,000 for a traffic patrol officer and $50,000 for community-oriented policing, also known as COPS.
Fagan said he had been an opponent of photo red enforcement years ago because it seemed like a money grab.
But the first three intersections equipped with cameras saw a reduction from 51 accidents in 2006 to 19 accidents in 2011 after the red-light cameras were installed. Similar reductions occurred at other intersections added to the system in later years.
“I’ve come all the way around on this one,” Fagan said.
• The council also approved a series of five ordinances to give police more authority to maintain order in the downtown area, at the emergency dispatch center and at health care facilities.
The measures outlaw interference with health care providers; making calls to 911 with nonemergency matters; disruptive and potentially dangerous conduct on transit buses and facilities; riding a skateboard on downtown sidewalks; and failure to remove graffiti in a timely manner.
The graffiti measure decriminalizes failure to remove graffiti and sets up a civil fine to encourage graffiti removal and pay for removal for property owners who cannot afford to do it themselves.
The council postponed for one week a measure making it a misdemeanor to possess tools for car prowling.