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Councilman proposes Monroe Street project alternative that he says would end lawsuit against city

Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan speaks during a Spokane NAACP Panel Discussion on Rhetoric and Responsibility held, Tues., April 18, 2017 at the Community Building. Fagan has said he will file a resolution to block the street renovation of North Monroe this week. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan speaks during a Spokane NAACP Panel Discussion on Rhetoric and Responsibility held, Tues., April 18, 2017 at the Community Building. Fagan has said he will file a resolution to block the street renovation of North Monroe this week. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

A resolution to block the street renovation of North Monroe could be filed as early as this week by Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan, who warned that the future of potential litigation against the city regarding the street work is contingent on how the council votes on the matter.

Fagan’s 12-pointed resolution seeks to stop the reduction in the number of lanes planned for the north Spokane road, but supports other improvements, including beautification, pedestrian safety measures and lower speed limits.

In an email sent Monday to other council members, Fagan said the “passing of this resolution would result in the suspension of the $15 million lawsuit and more.”

A $15 million tort claim was filed earlier this month by the recently-incorporated Monroe Street Business Association, which cited the potential for “significant revenue losses” during the city’s planned renovation of the street.

Council President Ben Stuckart said Fagan’s resolution won’t go far.

“I hope he’s not talking to the lawyers that are litigating against the city, because that would violate the bar,” he said. “I find it very weird. It’s a losing lawsuit, so there’s not much leverage there.”

Stuckart said Fagan’s resolution, if passed, would kill the entire project, despite its stated attempts to keep aspects of the plan.

“A lot of the money comes from pollution mitigation. You can’t get pollution mitigation unless you decrease the lanes,” he said. “I’ve heard from no staff members that what council member Fagan is suggesting is actual reality.”

Fagan said Wednesday that he understands he may face a 6-to-1 vote on the issue, but felt compelled to push the resolution forward regardless. “The vast majority of the businesses feel as though they have not been heard by the city, period,” he said.

He said he had been told by city officials that his proposed design change could occur without using all currently-available grant money, but that he would revisit the issue if it appeared more funds would be needed.

Fagan also recently solicited a letter from Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich against the project. In a letter dated Sept. 14, Knezovich said the redesign will “decrease the public safety for the entire region.”

Stuckart pushed back against Knezovich as well, noting that the sheriff did not make comments against the recent East Sprague Avenue renovation and lane reduction, despite it too being a major road.

“I was looking at the 402-page plan for the county today. I couldn’t find anywhere where Monroe has been designated” an evacuation route, Stuckart said. “Maybe the sheriff should update his plan before complaining about construction projects.”

Stuckart noted that the city’s police and fire departments have reviewed the Monroe plan and had no safety concerns with the project. He suggested that Knezovich was acting politically in his stance, noting that Harlan Douglass, a political donor to Knezovich, owns multiple properties on Monroe.

“There are no campaign donors that own land out on Sprague. Maybe that’s a coincidence,” he said.

The Monroe Street Business Association, which was registered with the state in June to fight the road work, is led by Gary Jarvis, the owner of the Skipper’s restaurant on Monroe. The association wrote a letter signed by 24 people condemning the project to Mayor David Condon last week, demanding a stop to the “ill-conceived, waste of taxpayer money.”

“The dishonesty, falsehoods, and patently disingenuous misrepresentations which have been espoused need to cease,” the letter said. It also suggested the city had not provided basic information about the project to business owners, something city officials say is false.

Among the members of the association are businesses largely reliant on motorists, including auto repair shops and drive-through eateries. They are Custom Body Co., Tune Tech, Spokane Graphics and Glass, Spokane Vacuum Center, Moezy Inn Tavern, Bill’s Import Auto Repair, Azar’s Restaurant, Fred’s Appliance, Hi Neighbor Tavern, Prohibition Gastropub, Sure Save Grocery, Martin’s Auto Services, Jacob’s Java and All American Tattoo.

Jarvis said this week he believes a vast majority of business owners on Monroe are against the project, but are afraid to speak against it due to “fear of city retaliation.”

“It’s really sad,” said Jarvis, who has owned the Skippers for six years. “They flat out said it. We just don’t trust the city. Ben Stuckart has targeted me. He has made comments about me and going after me.”

Stuckart said he has never met Jarvis, but said he’s noticed the billboard advertisements the association has taken out against council members Breean Beggs and Candace Mumm, who support the project and are running for re-election.

By law, all political campaigns, including those that oppose particular candidates, must be registered with the Public Disclosure Commission. However, a complaint sent to the PDC on Sept. 25 states that neither Jarvis nor the Monroe Street Business Association were registered.

“A citizen filed a PDC complaint against the association and shared it with me,” Stuckart said. “It is a blatant violation of the law. I said, ‘The last time somebody ran a campaign and didn’t file with the AG, they were fined $300,000.’ I said, ‘Wow.’ But no, there’s no city retaliation.”

Stuckart said he’s heard overwhelming support for the project “from more people that own businesses there and live in the area that want this project to move forward.”

“There isn’t some silent majority that opposes this project,” Stuckart said. “There is a very loud minority.”

Megan Kennedy owns Rogue Heart Media on Monroe and chairs the North Monroe Business District, which was formed in 2006 and represents 20 businesses on the mile-long section of Monroe that will see construction. She said her group has voted in favor of the project.

“We worked our hardest to remain an impartial group,” she said. “But there’s quite a bit of animosity on the other side and we decided we finally had to stand with the neighborhood.”

Kennedy sat on the city’s nine-member advisory board for the project and said it was “frustrating” that business owners who didn’t take part in the “collaborative” planning process are now pushing so hard against the project.

“Here we have this incredible example of government at work,” she said. “The fact that it’s being met with this type of anger, it’s embarrassing. And it’s a conversation that we’re hoping to put to rest.”

Fagan said Wednesday that he had a resolution calling for a four-lane street with intermittent left-turn lanes.

Reporter Kip Hill contributed to this story.

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