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All outdoor burning is banned

This follows a Spokane County-wide burn ban issued on June 17. The 145-acre Fish Lake Fire grew very quickly last week, and was an early reminder of how dry vegetation already is. 

Visit the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency for an update on burn bans, or check DNR's burn ban site for information on other Washington Counties. 

Home owners are encouraged to retrofit their properties to make them easier to protect from fire danger, and local animal shelters remind pet owners to include not just indoor pets, but also larger animals like horses, goats and llamas in evacuation plans. 

U-City Mall nearly gone

When demolition began back in April, James Magnuson, president of University City Inc., which owns the mall and the old J.C. Penney building, said it was the only option for the structure. He declined to share any future plans for the site. The open lot will soon neighbor the new city hall. 


Tie one on with Arne Woodard

Spokane Valley Deputy Mayor Arne Woodard doesn't really like to wear a tie, but he feels Valley residents deserve the respect a tie brings to the city council dais so he puts one on for the council meetings. Over the years, he has collected hundreds of ties and on Wednesday, at the Mayor's state of the city address at Spokane Valley Mall he was sporting 1950s TV star Lucille Ball and her fictitious elixir Vitameatavegamin.

"The ties sometimes reflect how I feel," Woodard said. "If I think I'm going to have a dog kind'a day, then I may wear a Snoopy tie." His colorful neck wear is often an icebreaker with constituents and he's determined to grow the collection.

"I'd love to add some Jerry Garcia ties," Woodard said, "I don't have any of those."

Where do you get stuck in traffic in Spokane Valley?

Interestingly, a study found that building an  overpass at University Road, bridging I-90 and the railroad tracks, wouldn't help congestion on Argonne and Pines Roads. So I'm wondering: where do you get stuck in traffic in Spokane Valley and when? The full story about the University Overpass Study will be in the Valley Voice on Thursday.

Mining moratorium hearing tonight

Spokane County says the moratorium will seriously impact its use of a county-owned site near Tschirley, east of the Spokane Business and Industrial Park, which the county was planning on turning into a gravel pit. Get background on the moratorium here


Valley asks for rules against marijuana “lounges”

OLYMPIA – As legislators worked this week to blend the state’s recreational and medical marijuana laws, Spokane Valley officials asked them to consider one more wrinkle in the rapidly changing marketplace: pot lounges.

The Members Lounge, which is connected to a medical marijuana dispensary and allows consumption of some vapor and edible marijuana products on its premises, is an example of where the state’s two very different systems don’t mesh well. Using recreational marijuana in public is not legal, but the law is silent on public consumption of medical marijuana and the lounge contends its patrons aren’t in public but become members of a private club by paying a fee.

“I don’t want to insinuate they are doing anything illegal,” Valley City Attorney Eric Lamb said Thursday. “But bars have to get liquor licenses, why not marijuana lounges?”

Wednesday evening, a lobbyist for the Valley asked the House Finance Committee to add restrictions on marijuana lounges to the wide array of changes it is considering for medical and recreational pot. There’s nothing in the current proposals to address them, and there should be, Brianna Taylor said.

It was the first of night and morning hearings on a series of marijuana-related proposals on which the Legislature seems to be focusing after considering a wide array of ideas in the first eight weeks of the session.

“I think we all know that the people of Washington have embarked on a very important experiment that has social and economic and criminal justice implications,” Finance Committee Chairman Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said. “We are all doing our best to embrace the will of the people and have a well-regulated and appropriately taxed marijuana market.”

That committee is considering changes to the tax system the voters slapped on recreational marijuana, which currently charges a 25 percent excise tax each time the drug moves from a grower to a separate processor and then to a retailer. If the grower also has a license to process what he or she grows, it’s only taxed twice. Members of the Washington Cannabusiness Association – which represent recreational marijuana operations –said they are struggling under the weight of taxes and regulation. They’d support the proposed change for the state to levy a single 30 percent sales at the retail level. It would lower the expected revenue to the state, but also drop the price of pot in the stores, making it closer to the cost of the illegal market.

Store owners could deduct sales tax paid to the state under federal tax rules, something they can’t do with the excise tax. Medical marijuana patients who are on a registry could be exempted from the sales tax when shopping at a recreational store.

Medical marijuana dispensaries would either have to be licensed by the state or close under that proposal and a separate one that has passed the Senate and received a hearing in the House Health Care and Wellness Committee Thursday morning. Cannabusiness members welcome that change because they contend the unregulated medical sellers are undercutting their prices while inventory of recreational pot piles up.

The medical marijuana businesses and users are split on the efforts to blend them into the more heavily regulated recreational system operated by the state Liquor Control Board.

Rick Rosio, a Spokane resident and member of Veterans for Compassionate Care, which advocates using the drug to treat some cases of post-traumatic stress disorder, told the Health Care Committee it was “important that structure be brought to the medical marijuana community.” Americans for Safe Access, an organization that represents some patients and dispensaries, support the changes the Finance Committee is considering.

But Steve Sarich of Cannabis Action Coalition, a separate group of medical marijuana businesses and patients, denounced the efforts to bring that system under the Liquor Board and require patients to register as an effort to disband the medical market. “This looks like a declaration of war to me,” he told the Finance Committee, which could vote on the bill as early as Friday.

Both proposals would require medical marijuana patients to register in some form with the state to shop at licensed dispensaries or to get a tax break at recreational stores that receive an expanded license to carry medicinal strains. Every other state that has legalized medical marijuana has some sort of database, Vicki Christopherson, of the Washington Cannabusiness Association, said.

It also would provide valuable demographic data on patients and prescribers, Kristy Weeks, of the state Department of Health, said. “When people ask how many patients do you have in the state of Washington, I don’t know.”

There’s also no accurate count of the number of medical marijuana dispensaries in the state, although David Mendoza, of the Seattle mayor’s staff, said a recent check in that city showed 103 within its borders. Half have opened since November 2012, when voters approved recreational marijuana, so it’s doubtful they are all just filling the need of medical marijuana patients, Mendoza said.

Some patients and co-op operators told legislators they are worried about any kind of registry.

“It gives the feds everything they need to come after patients and providers,” said Toni Mills of The Human Solutions International, a pro-marijuana network. She cited the recent case in U.S. District Court in Spokane of the Kettle Falls 5, in which a group of medical marijuana patients were tried on federal drug charges and couldn’t tell the jury they were patients or cite state laws.

But Jeff Gilmore, a licensed recreational marijuana grower, cited the same case as an example of growing public acceptance of the drug. Jurors acquitted the three defendants who eventually came to trial on four of five counts, he said. “The public is not going to tolerate a witch hunt.” 

Comprehensive plan update tonight

Expect a big turnout by neighbors to the proposed Painted Hills Planned Residential Development, near Chester Elementary School. At an obligatory traffic meeting scheduled simultaneously as the City Council meeting Tuesday evening, neighbors to the 578-unit development shared their concerns about traffic coming into their neighborhood with the new development. 

They were told to show up at the comprehensive plan meeting tonight.

This evening's meeting is meant to summarize input that's been collected from Spokane Valley residents at two earlier planning meetings. 

Valley developers prep for relaunch of ‘Blast Trivia’

Making video games is the culmination of a decades-long dream for Spokane Valley resident Jason Stock.

“There was this new mobile thing, that you could do it yourself,” Stock, 36, said last week from the offices of Firecracker Software, which he founded with friend Ben Ritter and others in 2011. “I’m like, maybe I could do this again. You know? Live that old college dream, now that I’m a little bit older.”

Firecracker has made its name in the mobile market selling applications that assist players with word and puzzle games. Their so-called “cheat app” for the wildly popular “Words with Friends” game, Word Breaker, has been rated more than 30,000 times on the Google Play store. Later this month, Stock and Ritter will unleash the full version of “Blast Trivia,” a completely original work that seeks to blend the best of the popular quiz game show Jeopardy! with the trivia app du jour, Trivia Crack. A bare bones version was released in the early days of the company in summer 2011.

Screenshot of Blast Trivia
Blast Trivia is a mix between Jeopardy! and Moon Zero Two.

“The cheat apps, they’re fun computer-science type projects,” said Ritter, who designed the game’s retro space-age look and sound. He said the experience of creating a whole new game is different, but not necessarily more rewarding than the praise they’ve received for their other apps.

A full version of Blast Trivia, with more 1,500 new questions, will release on the Google store Feb. 25. The game is free to download, with in-game currency used to unlock new modes and features available to buy with real-world dollars.

In the game’s original mode, the player is given a choice of categories similar to Jeopardy! with increasing levels of difficulty and point rewards. A question appears, with four possible choices available. The player has a limited amount of time, which can be increased with power-ups that match the game’s interstellar feel, to answer that question before “taking damage” to their spacecraft – which means losing points.

Unlike Trivia Crack, Blast Trivia has a single player mode with leaderboards to add to the multiplayer experience. After playing long enough, a user can also unlock “marathon mode” in which they must answer questions of increasing difficulty with a decreasing timer. Three wrong answers and it’s game over.

Game modes available in 'Blast Trivia'
There are three options available for gameplay. Stock said Classic will take you about 5 minutes to complete.

Ritter and Stock said during in-house beta tests at their offices near the Mirabeau Park Hotel and Convention Center that the marathon mode, new to the re-release of the game, had the best reception.

“One lady loved the marathon mode. She would not leave,” Stock said, laughing. “She was here for two-and-a-half hours. It was awesome.”

Rigorous testing has led to constant changes in the game, including switching its soundtrack, improving the display and offering more ways to play. The game was running smoothly last week on a Google-connected high definition television, played with a remote. It will also be available on smartphones and tablets.

Most of the changes were made during back-and-forth between Ritter, Stock and other members of Firecracker’s small crew. Ritter said one of the major draws of developing for mobile platforms, as opposed to the blockbuster consoles put out by Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony, is that small, independent teams can strike gold with an innovative idea.

Blast Triva ranking system screenshot
Like almost every mobile game nowadays, Blast Trivia comes with a leveling mechanic.

“The best thing phones have done, is they’ve made garage projects a thing again,” said Ritter.

But Stock worries that small market vibe may not be sticking around long, with mobile developers like Machine Zone paying $40 million for advertising, including a Super Bowl spot, pitching its free-to-play title, Game of War, starring supermodel Kate Upton.

“Now we’ve got to compete with those guys,” Stock said. “I hope the app dream isn’t going to slip away from small companies.”

Stock, who left a job at a software company to start his own gaming outfit on the second floor of a business park, said he enjoys the creative process of the small team, and hearing his six-year-old daughter boast about what her daddy does for a living. The namesake of Firecracker Software (“She’s my little firecracker,” Stock said, laughing) recently rode past her dad’s office on her way home from a birthday party.

“The parents were like, ‘What’s your daddy do?’” Stock said. “She said, ‘Oh, he plays games all day.’”


For Ritter and Stock, two gamers from the days of modems and DOS commands, they wouldn’t have it any other way. Ritter said the plans for the company are modest, but that’s how you’re successful in the cutthroat mobile game market with ties way beyond the small outfit in Spokane Valley.

A sample question from Blast Trivia
Prepare to be questioned about a wide variety of topics, including Theodore Geisel.

“Do something within your scope, make sure that it’s good, and hopefully people like it,” he said.

What are they playing? The Tech Deck asked Firecracker's Jason Stock and Ben Ritter what games they're playing right now. Here are their answers.

Ritter: Believe it or not, we're working on League of Legends stuff right now.

Stock: I'm borderline addicted to League of Legends (laughs) … I really enjoy it. I've got to uninstall it so I can get some work done.

Ritter: I'm all about that Halo (pointing to the Master Chief Collection sitting next to an Xbox One in the offices). But I'm still waiting for them to make it playable.


Haskell addresses decision in deputy-involved death of cyclist

Spokane County Prosecutor Larry Haskell said Monday he weighed "all factors" in determining not to file criminal charges against Joe Bodman, the Spokane County Sheriff's deputy involved in a bicycle crash that killed 15-year-old Ryan Holyk last May.

"No one factor was determinate," said Haskell, who issued a news release Friday after contacting Holyk's mother of his intention not to file criminal charges. "It was the totality of the evidence."

County spokeswoman Martha Lou Wheatley-Billeter said Friday she was asked to hold the news release until Haskell had a chance to speak with Holyk's mother and father. The newly elected prosecutor said he wanted to deliver the news to the family personally, rather than having them hear it from "someone else."

"I think it's a question of respect," Haskell said.

Three separate reconstructions of the crash scene all showed Holyk was not struck by Bodman's patrol car, which was speeding at 70 miles per hour in a 35 zone without its lights flashing as Bodman drove to backup a colleague on a traffic stop. The Spokane County Sheriff's Office is conducting an internal review to determine if Bodman violated department policies in the near-crash.

Haskell said looking at all the evidence, including the actions of Holyk, Bodman's driving did not appear to be criminally negligent.

"It was night, (Holyk) was riding a bicycle without lights, and without a helmet, and he'd started to cross Sprague against the light," Haskell said.

‘Elf-Man’ defendant wins attorney fees in ‘trolling’ case

A Spokane Valley man was awarded more than $100,000 in attorney fees by a federal judge earlier this month against the production company that sued him for copyright infringement of a Christmas film that was leaked online before its release.

Ryan Lamberson was one of 29 Spokane area residents sued by Elf-Man LLC, the Maryland production company behind the direct-to-video "Elf-Man" movie starring "Jackass" star Jason "Wee Man" Acuna. The movie, which holds a woeful 3.8/10 stars user review on IMDB, leaked to torrent sites before its home video release in December 2012, prompting the company to target downloaders in Ohio, Illinois and elsewhere with lawsuits.

Lamberson, who says he never downloaded the movie, hired an attorney and countersued Elf-Man in December 2013. Elf-Man dropped its lawsuit in August, saying it had achieved its goal of curbing copyright infringement. But Lamberson fought for up to $208,000 in legal fees as well as sanctions against the company for bringing what it called "a legal run-around of epic proportions" against him.

The practice, called "copyright trolling" by a vocal online community, involves allegations of suing a person to obtain a settlement, rather than because an actual crime was committed. Such cases have prompted sanctions in courtrooms nationwide. Acuna took to Twitter to distance himself from the production company's legal actions.

"I'm not backing it at all," Acuna said in a Tweet around the time the Spokane lawsuit was filed.

In his order granting $101,187.44 to Lamberson on Jan. 9, U.S. District Judge Thomas O. Rice said the request for fees should be "significantly reduced" from what was originally requested, because Lamberson's attorneys sought payment for time spent on state counterclaims that didn't factor into the federal court's decision. Rice had also previously thrown out the request for sanctions against Elf-Man, concluding the company had not acted in bad faith when it sued the Spokane residents.

Nearly all of the 29 Spokane defendants have resolved their cases to date, with six of the alleged downloaders paying judgment amounts of around $3,000 to Elf-Man LLC. Others had their cases dismissed, as Lamberson did, without any finding of wrongdoing.

Next IT moving from downtown Spokane to Spokane Valley

Next IT will move from the Paulsen Center in downtown Spokane to the Pinecroft Business Park in Spokane Valley later this year.

The technology company was founded in 2002 and employs 160 people.

Its new headquarters in Spokane Valley will be a single-tenant building at 12809 E. Mirabeau Parkway. The company will move in the fall, according to a news release. Its new space will be designed to encourage formal and informal employee collaboration, including huddle spaces, conference rooms and an open center space with bleacher seating.

“We see this move as a credit to Spokane’s tech industry growth,” founder and CEO Fred Brown said in the release.

Next IT specializes in virtual assistant technology. The company developed the “Ask Jenn” function of the Alaska Airlines website, as well as the “Ask Sgt. Star” virtual guide for the U.S. Army. The company launched a virtual assistant for health care applications in 2013.




Spokane Valley continues crackdown on marijuana

As it aims to create a drug free city, the Spokane Valley city council is tonight discussing an ordinance intended to curb marijuana use by teenagers.

Let’s light up the Spokane Valley map!

Every year we generate a map of holiday light displays here at the paper. People register their own lights on a public map and those of us who like driving around looking at the lights have an easy way to find them. How about this: let this holiday season be the Spokane Valley season - let's fill that map with more holiday light displays in the Valley than anywhere else! Click here and let's get started.

A new place for city hall?

The Spokane Valley city council is considering a purchase of land for a new city hall. The 3.3 acre lot in question is located at Sprague Avenue and Dartmouth Road at the west end of U City Mall and for sale for slightly less than $1.2 million. See details in tonight's agenda or even better: come to the meeting. 


Tuesday morning roundup

It's been some time since I've looked at how this Spokane Valley beat of mine is developing, so here's a little roundup for you: This blog has grown from 99 to 130 followers (not explosive growth, but pretty darn good). I love hearing from you all, you really can't send me too many emails (Piah@spokesman.com) and the Valley Blog is a great spot for community news announcements. We are also gaining traction on Facebook where The Voices page is up from 790 to 830 followers - I like that! Keep the "likes" coming. If you want to connect with me on Facebook you can find me here.

Spokane Valley designates #GivingTuesday

At the last Spokane Valley City Council meeting, Mayor Dean Grafos designated Tuesday Dec. 2 as Giving Tuesday. Grafos said the globally celebrated day is a great opportunity for people to give back to the community. "This is a way for all citizens to join together and give in any way that's reasonable,"  Grafos said. 


Light the Christmas tree in Spokane Valley

The Rotary Club of Spokane Valley is getting the Christmas tree in the University City parking lot ready for the annual lighting ceremony on Dec. 4 from 5:30-6:30 p.m. Santa is stopping by and the choir Solar Energy from the Sunrise Elementary School will be singing. 

Then, on Dec. 6, Rotary Club of Spokane Valley is co-hosting breakfast with Santa together with Spokane Valley, at CenterPlace event center. Last year, more than 600 people showed up for pictures with Santa, crafts, games and of course the pancake breakfast. Tickets: $5. Register by calling (509) 688-0300 or register online here by clicking the breakfast with Santa link. 

Advent celebration on Sunday

Millwood Community Presbyterian Church is hosting an Advent party on Nov. 30 from 4-7 p.m. There will be crafts for children and adults, singing of Christmas carols and lots of snacks. The church is located at 3223 N. Marguerite Rd. Call: (509) 924-2350.

Facebook page tracks Spokane Valley History

David Sean Brown was born and raised in Spokane Valley. Back in 2010, he joined Facebook and quickly made contact with people he'd gone to school with or shared interests with. 

"I've always been interested in the history of Spokane and Spokane Valley," said Brown over coffee at The Rocket Bakery on Argonne. And that's how he got the idea for the Facebook group: The History of Spokane Valley - 1960 to Present. 

Brown, who's close to 50, said most of the history books he came across were written about long ago history. 
"That's great - I admire the work people like Florence Boutwell did here in the Valley," Brown said. "But I wasn't finding any recollection of history after, say, the 1950s." Boutwell was well-known for her research and writing about Spokane Valley; she passed away at the beginning of 2014.
Brown quickly attracted an audience: almost 900 people have joined Brown's Facebook group where they share pictures and memories of Spokane Valley. When Brown started the group, he went around and took pictures of old buildings - or places he remembered from growing up - then relied on the archives at The Spokane Valley Herald for old newspaper stories and photos.

"I did a bunch of then and now posts," Brown said. "And people started showing up on the page."
Since January, when the page really took off, some days have brought between 10 and 15 requests to join. Brown checks everyone out before he allows them into the group. 
"I want to make sure they have a real connection to the Valley and that they aren't out to sell cheap sun glasses," Brown said.
Facebook groups can be difficult to moderate, but Brown said he very rarely has to intervene.
"Everyone seems to be getting along just fine," Brown said. "Maybe it's because they are all interested in Valley history?"

Done with topless baristas, coalition moves on to weed

The Spokane Valley-based Coalition for Community Values has formed a task force that aims to limit access to all types of marijuana in Spokane Valley. City Council member Ed Pace asked city staff to look into regulations in Washington towns Wenatchee and Fife, which both have banned marijuana. 

Thursday morning coffee is on -

- at the Rocket Bakery on Argonne Road. I will be there around 9 a.m. and stick around until 10:30 a.m. Rumor has it we may get a visit from David Sean Brown who started and runs The History of Spokane Valley Facebook page. Stop by and say hello. 

List of rock homes is growing fast

Since the story on Spokane Valley river rock homes ran on Sunday, we've had more than ten people register their rock home on the online map we provided. Don't be left out - submit your home today. In a week or so we will share the map with The Spokane Valley Heritage Museum. Photos can be uploaded with your entry, or you can send a photo with the home's address to piah@spokesman.com 

Spokane Valley City Council meeting tonight

Just as I was hitting my stride with the Tuesday meetings, we're having one on a Monday. Tonight's agenda includes a noxious weed board update and a public hearing on the shoreline master plan, as well as an executive session about a real estate purchase. 

(To get email updates about meetings and other news from Spokane Valley go to the city's website and click on "follow us" at the bottom of the green menu on your left - pick which email lists you'd like to be included in.)

Speaking of executive session: I am overdue for a coffee date in the Valley - how about the Rocket on Argonne Road, Thursday morning? I will be there around 9 a.m. - I'm easy to spot with my newspaper dog tag and laptop computer. Stop by and say hello and tell me a Valley story or two. 

First dance with Mary Jane

You may remember Shelly Clark as one of the organizers behind the protest that lead to Spokane Valley outlawing topless barristas about a year ago. Thursday night, Clark and the Coalition for Community Values called a meeting at CenterPlace to discuss the impact the legalization of marijuana may have on Valley children. 

About 30 people showed up, including some marijuana growers and sellers, Mayor Dean Grafos and other city council members. Linda Thompson, CEO of the Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council, presented drug statistics showing that many high school students believe it's much less dangerous to smoke pot than it is to smoke tobacco. 

Spokane Valley Police Chief Rick VanLeuven said marijuana related DUIs are up and tried his best to explain the difference between medical marijuana outlets and retail marijuana stores.

Clark said after the meeting that she expects the task force that formed Thursday evening to bring proposed regulation of marijuana to the Spokane Valley City Council soon. 

Watch for a full story in Spokane Valley Voice on Nov. 20 

Is this Spokane Valley as you know it?

Just in time for the election, my colleague Jim Camden wrote a piece about how Spokane Valley has been rated the most centrist town in the United States by USA Today and the website Liveability.com 

Do you recognize Spokane Valley in the description? 

Sunday Spin: Centrist Spokane Valley?

CBS's Sunday Morning show repeated the rather questionable claim that the city of Spokane Valley is the most centrist city in the country, a ranking Spin Control first questioned last week and revisited in this morning's paper.

For our look at this spurious ranking, click here. 


Spokane Valley No. 1 “centrist” city? USA Today says so

Local readers of USA Today might have been pleased recently when the city of Spokane Valley was mentioned in one of those trendy "list" stories as No. 1. But they may have been incredulous that it topped the list it was on.

Spokane Valley was listed as the nation's best city for political "centrists".

That's right, the Spokane Valley, which currently has no Democrats running in its legislative races, where candidates for nonpartisan municipal offices proudly mention their Republican affiliation — and sometimes vie for being a better Republican than the opponent — and have so few Democrats that some D precinct caucuses could be held in a phone booth, if one could find a phone booth. Yes, that Spokane Valley.

USA Today got the Centrist List, as well as the most conservative and the most liberal list, from the Livability Website, which seems to have compiled its rankings with some bad information. . .

River rock homes in Spokane Valley

Together with staff at The Spokane Valley Heritage Museum we are looking for homes in Spokane Valley constructed with river rock. The homes we are looking for don't have to be as elaborate as the original Vera Water Pump House above, but the front or another significant part of the house should be built using river rock (a river rock foundation is not going to make it). However, if you have a stretch of river rock wall or entrance pillars, we'd be curious about those too. Please email your name, address, year the home was built and a snapshot (if you have one) to piah@spokesman.com 

STA open house and forum Thursday

Spokane Transit Authority is hosting a series of open houses asking the public for input on its long-range transit plan, Moving Forward. The first open house is Oct. 9 from 4:30-6:30 p.m. at Center Place, 2426 North Discovery Place. Valley residents are encouraged to show up and share their input on transit service today and in the future. Public input may be emailed to stamovingforward@spokanetransit.com or by calling the STA Moving Forward Hotline at (509) 343-1659.

Spokane Valley City Council meeting tonight

This evening's City Council meeting is a study session during which city staff will present research on current topics and issues facing the council. Tonight, we will hear about possible restrictions on truck parking in neighborhoods and get a briefing on proposed amendments to the Spokane Valley municipal code. The meeting begins at 6 p.m. at City Hall - here's the agenda.