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Senate Law and Justice Committee meets in Valley

The Senate Law and Justice Committee will meet in Spokane City Council Chambers, 11707 E. Sprague Ave., on Oct. 2 from 1- 3 p.m. Chaired by Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, the committee will hold its regular work session here instead of in Olympia. On the agenda is: Electronic monitoring/home detention; habitual property offenders, subject of legislation introduced by Padden last year; sentencing options related to mental health/illness such as treatment instead of jail; patent trolling; proposed revisions to state law concerning Limited Liability Companies and the constitutional separation of powers between the legislative, judicial and executive branches of state government. 

In the market for a rabbit or two?

SCRAPS is hosting a special adoption event on Oct. 1 from 2-6 p.m. at the Spokane County Fairgrounds, featuring animals from the recent seizure near Deer Park. Up for adoption are: 60 rabbits, 14 roosters and two billy goats. 
A $25 adoption fee is requested for rabbits; $10 for roosters and $50 for the billy goats. The adoption fee helps recover the cost of care and feeding of the animals during their holding period. Call SCRAPS at (509) 477-2532. 

Suspected arson fires continue to flare

Fire investigators believe that the high number of brush fires spotted lately are the work of an arsonist. The fires are within Fire District 8 and there has been more than two dozen of them. Scott Maben wrote today's story on the fires - please keep an eye out for anything suspicious and call Crime Check at (509) 456-2233 with any reports. You can also contact Fire District 8 directly. 

The week to come

Here's your Monday afternoon blog update and a quick look ahead at the week to come. Remember, there's no Spokane Valley City Council meeting tomorrow, Sept. 30.  the council will resume its regular meeting schedule with a study session on Oct. 7. At that meeting, city staff will present two ordinances aimed at regulating semi truck parking on residential streets. Look for a preview story about that issue in The Valley Voice on Oct. 2.  

On Sept. 30, I will have lunch with the Rotary Club of Spokane Valley at noon. The group's fashion show is coming up on Oct. 10, so look for a story about that next week. I'm looking forward to meeting the good folks at Rotary and would be happy to come meet with your Spokane Valley based community group as well. Just shoot me an email at piah@spokesman.com 

On Wednesday, Oct. 1, I will be at Forza Coffee Co. - 325 S. Sullivan Rd. - at around 9 a.m. for another round of Valley morning coffee. Please stop by and say hello and share a Spokane Valley story with me. 

Finally Friday

It's Friday at the end of my first official week on the Spokane Valley beat - what did I do? Well, I put 140 miles on my little car. I'm a spoiled woman, used to a 10 minute commute and the ability to walk to many of my assignments downtown, so that's a lot of miles for me. 
I met the entire Valley City Council at the meeting I covered on Tuesday. I'm happy to say that everyone was really friendly and helpful.

Sullivan Bridge project celebrated

The Spokane Valley City Council and dignitaries from around the area gathered on the shore of the Spokane River to kick off the Sullivan West Bridge Replacement Project, today at 3:30 p.m. The west bridge is the southbound part of the 60-year-old structure which is currently held together with temporary reinforcement. Before the ribbon cutting, Spokane Valley Mayor Dean Grafos told the gathering that bridge safety never was an issue but that replacement was badly needed. “This is one of the most vital pieces of Valley infrastructure,” Grafos said, adding that it’s a major north-south arterial. “More than 4,500 jobs depend on smooth flow of traffic on this bridge.”

 

Friday morning coffee

The Spokane Valley Blog is touring coffee houses in the Valley and surrounding municipalities starting at Galaxy Grind, 12402 E. Saltese Rd., at 9 a.m. on Sept. 26. That's tomorrow. Feel free to stop by and say hello. The morning coffee dates will continue for the next couple of months as I get to know Spokane Valley in more detail. To keep updated, follow me on Twitter or like me on Facebook - and of course, read the blog. It's good for you. 

Don’t park it here

It's not easy driving a big rig: In downtown Spokane they get jammed under railway overpasses and soon they may be restricted from parking on residential streets in Spokane Valley. The City Council has scheduled a study session on Oct. 7 to possibly adopt an ordinance restricting parking - read the story here.

The Valley Precinct wants your drugs

The Spokane Valley Police Precinct is giving everyone a chance to get rid of their old drugs on Sept. 27. Drop off expired, unused and otherwise not needed medication between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the Precinct, 12710 E. Sprague Ave.

Spokane Valley City Council meeting tonight

The Spokane Valley City Council his holding its regular meeting tonight at 6 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall, 11707 E. Sprague Ave. On the agenda are items dealing with the comprehensive plan update, the 2015 property tax ordinance and an informational update on the Fife marijuana ban. In July, the City Council adopted some restrictions to where marijuana businesses may be operated. For more details see tonight's agenda - note that this is an informational agenda item only.

Sullivan Bridge project kickoff

The replacement of the Sullivan Bridge begins on Sept. 25 and the public is invited to stop by for a project orientation at 3:30 p.m. Spokane Valley Mayor Dean Grafos will be there together with other city dignitaries and project staff. The $15 million project is expected to be finished in 2016. Read more about it here. 

To sign up for traffic alerts and project updates from Spokane Valley visit the city's website and click on “follow us.” 

Valley Fest took flight

This weekend marked another wonderful Valley Fest celebration - the 25th to be exact. Check out photographer Dan Pelle's slide show from the festive weekend here. And share your favorite Valley Fest memories in the comments below. 

Zombie breakfast not a dead affair

I attended the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber of Commerce “Zombie Breakfast” this morning at Mirabeau Park Hotel and got a chance to say hello to the new president and CEO of the chamber, Katherine Morgan. John Guarisco said that Morgan was selected from a group of 20 highly qualified applicants. 

“It was very difficult,” Guarisco said, “but she was the one person who was just a bundle of passion for Spokane Valley.”

 

Hello Spokane Valley

- I'm your new designated reporter and I am looking to have some fun with this blog, too. I just spent a good hour visiting with Carolbelle Branch at City Hall, and she helped me come up with a list of people and places to visit as I get a sense of my new beat. 

I will be taking the blog on the road in Spokane Valley on a regular basis - hopefully once a week - and I encourage you to come out and meet with me. The easiest way to keep track of me is to friend me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter; I will be posting invites there as I go. Story ideas are always welcome at piah@spokesman.com 

More about those business licenses issued to new pot lounge

Spokane Valley officials are concerned that some readers may have mistakenly inferred the city is sanctioning marijuana use at a new members-only social club because it issued business licenses to the establishment.

The Lounge, located in the former Ringo's casino at Sprague and Bowdish, is getting around state prohibitions on public marijuana use by operating as a private club. Owners acknowledged in a July 26 article that they're operating in a legal gray area but believe they've cobbled together a legally defensible business model.

City spokeswoman Carolbelle Branch says the only business licenses the Valley has issued to the Lounge are for its social club and its consulting service, which is how the company refers to its on-site medical marijuana dispensary. Branch said the licenses in no way reflect the city's sanctioning of marijuana use on the premises, noting that regulatory power rests with other agencies.

The establishment is blending Washington's newfound tolerance for recreational marijuana with the more loosely regulated medical marijuana and the built-in loopholes that private social clubs have long enjoyed in this state. The result is a mix of regulatory jurisdictions, many of which are still trying to sort out the state's largely untested laws and how to enforce them.

Either way, as noted in the original article, law enforcement has pledged to take a zero tolerance approach to impaired driving regardless of whether it's drugs or alcohol

Valley imposes more restrictions on pot retailers

Valley leaders unanimously adopted new restrictions on recreational marijuana retailers tonight despite warnings from pot entrepreneurs that it could doom the fledgling industry's success here.

The local restrictions go beyond the existing state prohibitions on marijuana operations within 1,000 feet of schools, parks and libraries. In the Valley, retail operations also are now prohibited within 1,000 feet of the Centennial Trial and planned Appleway Trail, as well as any land earmarked for future schools, parks or libraries. A late addition to the ordinance also prohibits retail operations near Spokane Valley City Hall or city-owed property that could be used for parks or city operations in the future.

Several people urged the council to reject the additional restrictions, with some prospective retailers warning that they may have to consider a lawsuit against the city if the additional restrictions prevent them from finding suitable locations to open their stores.

Crystal Orcutt called the restrictions hypocritical because no other industry faces the same types of restrictions. Orcutt noted that there's an adult products emporium across the street from city hall and several bars and cocktail lounges nearby, both of which she suggested pose greater threats to the health of the community.

“The zoning restrictions that are being suggested here tonight are too restrictive,” she said.

The proposal was approved unanimously without comment by council members.

 

 

 

Remember this restaurant?

You probably can't take your eyes off those cars.

http://panoramio.com

Loud music leads to arrest

A man who refused to turn his music down after repeated visits from the Spokane Valley Police Department found himself temporarily housed in the Spokane County Jail.

An officer was called to the 1100 block of North University Road around 7:45 p.m. Monday on a noise complaint. The officer reported hearing the music well down the street and feeling the bass in his body, said police spokesman Deputy Craig Chamberlin. The resident, identified as 27-year-old Zachary Villareal, was less than cooperative and reportedly told the officer “This is the third time you guys have been here. Why don’t you just give me a ticket so I can go back to my music.”

Once Villareal made it clear he had no intention of lowering the volume he was arrested for a violation of the city’s noise ordinance, said Chamberlin.

City eases its own pot restrictions

Spokane Valley eased restrictions tonight on where recreational marijuana can be grown and packaged.

The move is designed to open industrial sites north of the Spokane River along the city’s eastern edge that were excluded when Spokane Valley imposed a 1,000-foot buffer around the Centennial Trail. Retail marijuana stores are still prohibited within the buffers.

Commercial real estate agents, industrial property owners and would-be marijuana producers told council members the river is a better buffer than an arbitrary 1,000 feet, and that opening up the industrial sites even to limited production and processing will bring new companies and jobs to the city.

The council unanimously approved the change.

More than 30 companies have applied to the state for production and processing licenses in Spokane Valley, while 43 more have applied for retail licenses. The state will allow just three retail operations in the city, but there’s no geographical limit on the number of licensed producers and processors.

Moody’s upgrades Spokane Valley bond rating

Moody’s Investor Services has upgraded the city of Spokane Valley’s bond rating to Aa3.

“The upgrade … reflects the city's low debt burden, sizeable tax base which is expected to expand into the medium-term, and healthy financial performance, which is maintained through strong management practices,” Moody’s said in announcing the April 9 upgrade while also praising the Valley’s healthy financial reserves.

The Aa3 category is used by the rating company to reflect general obligation bonds it considers “high quality” with “very low credit risk.”

Moody’s noted that the city’s rating could continue to climb if its tax base keeps growing and if its structurally balanced operations are maintained. Conversely, the rating could slip if the tax base deteriorates or if the city’s financial reserves significantly shrink.

The upgraded rating affects about $7.4 million in existing debt from the city's last bond issue, which was in 2003.

As a newer city, the Valley’s previous bond rating was A1, which Moody’s uses to reflect “upper-medium grade” investments. The company rates risk based on a scale ranging from its top rating of Aaa to C at the lowest level.

Spokane Valley adds more cops

At a time when many cities are still scrambling to find ways to add police or fill positions left vacant to help balance budgets, Spokane Valley has green-lighted a plan that puts more deputies on the streets when they're needed most.

City Council members agreed last night to add two additional deputies as part of a reorganization of the patrol division that includes creation of a fifth platoon to augment day and night shift staffing. The goal is to have more patrol deputies on the street when demand for police services tends to be highest.

The city pays the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office about $17 million a year to provide law enforcement coverage under a contract that dedicates about 100 deputies to Spokane Valley, with nearly half of them assigned to patrol duties. The others include administrators, supervisors, detectives and school resource officers. The city also provides a police station, equipment and vehicles.

Cost of the plan is about $423,000, which includes equipment upgrades, though city officials believe it could be less because it will take some time before the sheriff’s office is able to get the additional deputies on board. Recurring annual costs to the city of the two additional deputies is about $350,000, which includes benefits and the city’s share of the county’s costs for employee administrative services.

Under the proposed reorganization, the rank of corporal would be eliminated and the positions redistributed. Three would be upgraded to sergeants, two would be turned into detectives and one position converted to patrol deputy in the new platoon.

The two new deputies plus one deputy from each of the existing four platoons would be transferred to the new “power shift” platoon. The deputies would augment staffing by working from 3 p.m. to 1 a.m., which overlaps the day and night shifts and is when Spokane Valley sees its greatest demand for police services.

Spokane Valley might be lightening up (just a bit) on pot

Just a month after banning marijuana operations within 1,000 feet of recreational trails, Spokane Valley appears to be reconsidering the move after commercial real estate brokers, landlords and pot entrepreneurs warned it's driving away potential new jobs.

Industrial property north of the Spokane River, where several potential pot processing operations are hoping to locate, was rendered off limits by the city's interim zoning restrictions adopted in February because the southern property line is barely within 1,000 feet of the Centennial Trail on the other side of the Spokane River. Landowners suggested the river is its own natural buffer zone between the trail and the potential marijuana operations.

City Council members agreed.

“I think we need to use some common sense,” said Councilman Bill Bates.

The required buffer around recreational trails in Spokane Valley is in addition to the state-mandated buffer zones around parks and schools.

Mayor Dean Grafos wants a proposed amendment drafted that would impose the local buffer restrictions on retail operations only, which effectively would clear the way for the industrial property north of the river.

The proposal likely will be considered next month.

But some council members don't want people getting the wrong idea.

“I still don't like marijuana (and) … wish we could just ban it,” said Deputy Mayor Arne Woodard. “But I think the intent of what we were trying to do was prevent families from being accosted by it, and I think the river becomes a pretty good barrier.”

A time for mourning

Spokane Valley is mourning the loss of two icons.

Former Spokane Valley Deputy Mayor Gary Schimmels died unexpectedly this morning at his home. Schimmels, 75, had served on the city council since Spokane Valley's inception but lost his re-election bid in November to Ed Pace, who now holds the seat.

Last week, the Valley lost one of its most noted historians, author Florence Boutwell, who died Thursday at 94. Boutwell wrote a series of historical books chronicling the Spokane Valley's early days and growth into an agricultural hub. Her research laid much of the groundwork for development of the Spokane Valley museum.

A breaking news story about Schimmels' death can be found here, and look for full articles about the former deputy mayor and about Boutwell in Thursday's print edition of The Spokesman-Review.

Changes are coming

Some changes are coming to this blog. I am going to be temporarily taking over the night police beat here at The Spokesman-Review, so I'll be stepping away from the blog and my coverage of the City of Spokane Valley. Editor Dave Wasson will be covering the city in my absence, so expect to see him post occasionally here. I'll still be tweeting at www.twitter.com/ninaculver, but the content will be breaking news related. I may pop up in the Valley from time to time, so you'll just have to keep an eye on the blog to see what is happening. The plan is for the switch to last until April, so everyone keep out of trouble while I'm gone.  

Saturday’s highlights

Spokane Valley City Councilman/Deputy Mayor Gary Schimmels is greeted by Latisha Hill, regional business manager for Avista, during a farewell gathering at Spokane Valley City Hall on Tuesday. SR photo/Kathy Plonka

Welcome to Monday, which this week is also known as Christmas Eve Eve. Not that we're counting the days until Christmas or anything. There are, of course, some highlights from Saturday's Valley Voice. A housing development is being discussed for the former Painted Hills Golf Course. The new owner may lease out the short par-3 course and the driving range, but it looks like various types of housing is the plan for the rest of the site.

Gary Schimmels is leaving the Spokane Valley City Council after serving ever since the city incorporated 10 years ago. He lost his re-election bid in November and now will be focusing on restoring his vintage cars and volunteering at local social service agencies.

Reporter Lisa Leinberger has a story on a group of Central Valley School District bus drivers who teamed up to collect enough money to send one of their coworkers on an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii. Bus driver Teri Perry has been receiving treatment for ovarian cancer and her coworkers wanted to give her a special gift. They surprised Perry with the gift last week.

Today’s highlights

After they had their picture taken, twins, Maddie and Erik Cathcart, 2, tell Santa what they want for Christmas at River Park Square on Saturday. SR photo/Colin Mulvany

Happy Thursday, everyone. It's almost Christmas, which means we have a couple Christmas-themed stories for you in today's Valley Voice. Correspondent Cindy Hval interviewed Santa, AKA Jim Burney, who has been donning his red, fur-trimmed suit for 39 years. These days he can be found at River Park Square in downtown Spokane. I hear he's even a Seahawks fan. He even dishes about his favorite reindeer in a quick Q&A.

Correspondent Jill Barville was at the Spokane International Airport for a Fantasy Flight to the North Pole for local children. The 63 children on the flight were nominated by local social service agencies. Reporter Lisa Leinberger has a story on autistic Barker High School student Jonathan Finck, who has his colorful art on display in the school's hallway. His fellow students enjoy watching him work.

The city of Spokane Valley is looking at an annual funding shortfall of $3 million for street preservation projects. The city has been spending about $4 million a year but should be spending $7 million, a recent study of street conditions showed.

Today’s highlights

Al Palm works on his balance and strength, with the help of occupational therapist Emily Querna, left, and his daughter Joelle, on Dec. 2 at his home in northwest Spokane. SR photo/Dan Pelle

I have to start my apologizing for my general inactivity on the blog and Twitter lately. Last week I was waylaid by a lovely flu virus and didn't leave my house for four days. I'm not quite back up to full speed yet, but I'm here. With that said, here are some highlights from today's Valley Voice.

Reporter Mike Prager has a story on Al Palm, who used to run the City Perk coffee shop in the STA Plaza. He is battling a rare diseases that paralyzed him almost overnight and his friends are organizing a benefit auction to raise money for medical equipment and renovations to his house to make it wheelchair accessible.

Reporter Lisa Leinberger has some details on the water damage from a frozen pipe that shut down Adams Elementary for two days. She also attended this week's East Valley School Board meeting, where board chair Mike Novakovich had to step in and ask people to be civil to each other. At least one speaker called for the board not to renew the contract of superintendent John Glenewinkel.

The Spokane Valley City Council voted this week to award lodging tax revenue to local agencies that promote tourism. The process has been controversial in recent years, but this year everything went fairly smoothly. The council also approved a new towing ordinance that requires tow truck operators to check if an abandoned car has been reported stolen before towing it.

String of laundry machine robberies ends for Spokane Valley man

Authorities hope a recent arrest will convince a suspected frequent laundry room burglar to change his ways.

Jason Amyot, 32, is being held at the Geiger Corrections Facility near Spokane International Airport, facing 17 counts of second-degree burglary. Police say Amyot went on a “crime spree” in Spokane Valley from September through October, breaking into laundry facilities at apartment complexes and busting open the machines to steal the coins within.

The thefts ranged in value from $12 at a complex on South Whipple Road late in September to a relative heist at a commercial laundry facility on East Sprague Avenue on two days earlier in the month, in which Amyot is thought to have stolen more than $2,000. Surveillance footage from that scene led officers to suspect Amyot, who has a long criminal history during which he's established a pattern of stealing from laundry machines, according to investigators.

Amyot said he was responsible for all but one of the 18 incidents police have linked to him. On some occasions, Amyot broke locks to get into the private laundry facilities; in others, he pried open windows from the outside or used keys that were hidden nearby. In at least one of the incidents, Amyot stole from facilities where friends were living, according to court documents.

One attempt, at a complex on Argonne Road, proved unsuccessful because the landlord had removed the change the day before the break-in, according to investigators.

Amyot has been in police custody since mid-October. He is being held on multiple warrants.

Saturday’s highlights

East Valley School District Superintendent John Glenewinkel, right, helps Summer Romney and Liam Nowles unload 400 pounds of flour at the district’s warehouse on Tuesday. Wheat from the East Valley Community Garden was ground into flour for use in school lunches. SR photo/Colin Mulvany

Happy Monday! I hope everyone had a nice, restful holiday weekend. We're back at it again to day, so let's go over some highlights from Saturday's Valley Voice. The city of Spokane Valley approved new rules regulating the attire of baristas. The rules are aimed at a coffee shop near City Hall that advertised topless Tuesdays and Thursdays, when baristas wore no more than G-strings and pasties. The crowd attending last week's council meeting was largely pleased by the decision, though a couple of people did testify against the new rules.

Reporter Lisa Leinberger has a story following up on the wheat harvest from the East Valley Farm and Community Garden earlier this year. The farm, which supplies fresh produce to East Valley School District kitchens, had a good year for wheat. The district recently took delivery of 400 pounds of low-gluten flour. Also in East Valley, three new school board members were sworn in during the most recent school board meeting. A crowd turned out for the event. New board member Mike Novakovich was elected board president.

Lisa also has a story on Central Valley High School teacher Carolyn Schafer, who headed up an effort to ship 140 quilts to send t0 a co-worker's Army unit stationed in Afghanistan. Members of the community rallied to make enough quilts, which were shipped last week.

Happy Thanksgiving

I'd like to wish all my readers a Happy Thanksgiving. I'll be out of the office Thursday and Friday, so you'll be on your own in terms of Thursday's Valley Voice. You can still check it out here, though. There will be a story on outgoing Spokane Valley Mayor Tom Towey and a story on Central Valley High School's drama department. Early deadlines, however, forced us to push off the story on the city council's vote to enact a barista nudity ordinance to Saturday's Valley Voice. In the meantime, may your turkey be juicy and your pumpkin pie have lots of whipped cream.