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Truth-testing Spokane City Council candidates

The ballots are out, and candidates want your vote. But getting your vote can be a tricky proposition, so they try all kinds of methods. Pictures of them and their smiling spouse and kids. Dramatic commercials. A little bit of mud thrown at their opponent.

Like most things in politics, what you hear isn’t always true. Here is our first installment examining various things candidates are saying.

Claim: LaVerne Biel, a candidate in Spokane City Council District 2, has “a special interest, partisan agenda.”

Source: TV ad in support of Lori Kinnear, Biel’s opponent, produced by Spokane for Honest Government, a group financed largely by the Spokane Firefighters Union, Local 29. Other contributors include the Washington State Council of City and County Employees, which represents the majority of city workers, and the liberal Inland Northwest Leadership political action committee.

Truthfulness: If a politician’s agenda is based on who finances a campaign, then true. But if that’s the case, the statement also is true of Kinnear.

Analysis: Biel is financially supported by the Associated Builders and Contractors, the Build East political action committee, the Inland Northwest Association of General Contractors and other “special interests.” Her endorsements include many local Republicans, including Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, state Rep. Kevin Parker, former County Commissioner Kate McCaslin, Spokane GOP vice chair Stephanie Cates and others. So, yes, Biel has support from the GOP and the construction industry.

Kinnear, on the other hand, has received contributions from many different unions. Kinnear has been endorsed by Spokane County Democrats and many local Democrats, including state Sen. Andy Billig, state Reps. Timm Ormsby and Marcus Riccelli and others. So, yes, Kinnear has support from Democrats and labor.

Claim: LaVerne Biel “publically (sic) opposes all aspects of Prop 1.” Her opponent, Lori Kinnear, does not.

Source: LaVerne Biel mailer.

Truthfulness: Misleading, if not false.

Analysis: Kinnear has been pretty straightforward on this issue. She told The Spokesman-Review that she “would not vote for” the Worker Bill of Rights appearing on the general election ballots.

“I respect the initiative process, and believe that the hoped-for outcomes are well-intentioned. However, I question whether this initiative is well-thought out or accountable to the citizens,” she said. “My concerns are that some of the ‘rights’ it speaks of may violate state law, while others are not clearly defined or researched.”

Claim: “We are laying down a mile of bike lane ($63,350.00 per mile) to accommodate a very small part of the population (in Spokane 1-2 percent).”

Source: A response from incumbent Councilman Mike Fagan discussing the city’s Complete Streets policy, which states that street planning must consider all users of the road and include amenities for different modes of travel, if appropriate.

Truthfulness: Largely untrue, but based in fact.

Analysis: It’s nearly impossible to calculate how much it costs to install a mile of bike lane, and Fagan’s figure is deduced from the entire cost of a road-striping project.

The city rarely, if ever, puts down just a bike lane. Because of the city’s Complete Streets policy, new bike lanes are only installed when a road is slated for a re-build or maintenance. Put differently, a bike lane never initiates road construction. Rather, road construction is designed to include bike amenities, either when it makes sense for a bike lane to be on the road, or if the road is on the city’s Master Bike Plan.

And installing a bike lane requires nothing more than putting paint on the road. The striping, as putting paint on a street is called, is done as part of an entire project. For instance, the recent work done on the Downtown Bike Network cost about $107,000. That included design, engineering, construction management, traffic control and a little bit extra the city requires called the administrative reserve equaling 10 percent of the project’s cost. The price tag also included removing old striping, as well as striping all lanes on the road. Main Avenue got a new buffered bike lane, but it also got new striping for three lanes of vehicle traffic. The project cost about $96,000 per mile. Using Fagan’s math, finishing the Downtown Bike Network cost $96,000 per mile of bike lane. Using Fagan’s logic, the same could be said of vehicle lanes: A traffic lane costs $96,000 per mile (only in relation to the Downtown Bike Network project).

In short, Fagan’s cost per mile of bike lane is largely inaccurate as it also includes cost per mile of traffic lanes, as well as all other related costs in road-striping projects.

As for the bicycling population statistic, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates for bike commuters line up with Fagan’s figure. In 2013, the League of American Bicyclists estimated that 1.2 percent of workers commuted by bike in Spokane.

Claim: Noam Chomsky, an MIT linguist and leftist political commentator, and Chris Hedges, a liberal journalist and activist, endorsed Envision Spokane’s Worker Bill of Rights.

Source: Envision Spokane mailer.

Truthfulness: True.

Analysis: While it may not surprise people that Chomsky and Hedges would support the ballot measure in principle, actually getting the endorsements from such notable people who have no Spokane connections was questionable. Reached by email, Chomsky confirmed his endorsement of the measure. Envision provided proof of Hedges’ endorsement.


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