Grassroots politics is generally a nonpartisan activity.
“You go out in the parking lot and you’ll see the Trump bumper stickers, the Bernie bumper stickers and the Hillary bumper stickers,” said former Emerson-Garfield Neighborhood Council chair E.J. Iannelli. “Yet you’ll come in, and all that’s put aside.”
“We all have different ideas about politics,” said E-G council co-chair Tim Musser. “But we all come together on wanting to make this neighborhood better.”
The Emerson-Garfield council takes grassroots politics literally; it signed an agreement with the city to pull weeds from its Montgomery Avenue roundabouts.
“We didn’t want just ugly concrete ones,” Iannelli said. “We signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the city so that they would be maintained. The residents still go out and maintain them.”
The Emerson-Garfield Neighborhood runs from Division Street to T.J. Meenach Drive, between Indiana Avenue and the north side foothills. The southern border extends to Boone Avenue between Division and Monroe streets, and the northwest corner ends at Drumheller Springs Park.
The council, already busy with a bevy of established, ongoing activities and events, recently saw the first shovelful of dirt turned in a cooperative effort that will change the face of the neighborhood: the North Monroe Corridor project.
The council’s action plan, completed in 2014, heavily influenced the project. “North Monroe didn’t start out as a fixture of the plan,” said Iannelli. “That became part of the plan organically. All of the issues that kept coming up …we found that they all intersected at Monroe.”
The plan had its share of detractors; the loudest resistance was over the lane reduction, from five traffic lanes to three. The council did not make the recommendation casually; according to a 2003 Iowa State University study, most similar conversions led to a significant decrease in accidents, with no notable decrease in travel speed.
“We were all surprised by the statistics; the conventional wisdom runs … that more lanes equals more throughput. And on Monroe, where you’re dealing with 100 feet of infrastructure in a 77-foot space, (the reduction) makes a lot of sense,” Iannelli said.
The city planning committee asked for and received heavy input from the neighborhood before making the recommendation. “The city was kind of stunned by how much attendance we had,” Iannelli said. “We felt we had a good representative sampling.”
The council will stay busy during the ongoing project; Iannelli runs the Emerson-Garfield Farmers Market. “It’s all volunteer,” he said. “(We have) 20-odd vendors, and it’s all put together … on zero budget.”
The market grew out of a lunch meeting between Iannelli and Dave Musser, Tim’s son. “It was in May that we said, ‘Let’s have a farmer’s market,’” Iannelli said. “By mid-July, we had put together 15 vendors and we were having it in the parking lot of Knox (Presbyterian Church).”
Going into its sixth year, the weekly market – now held in the IEL Adult Education Center parking lot – is a social event, with live music, crafts booths, cooking demonstrations and the Kids Eating Right Nutrition and Exercise for Life program.
“Spokane Public Library partners with us to run the KERNAL booth,” said council co-chair Taylor Phillips. Phillips said children who take part in the program earn $2 to spend in the market.
Past demonstrations included hula hooping, yoga, leaf rubbing and worm growing. According to Phillips, shoppers often ask for applications to set up booths “They (come in and say), ‘I’m here every week anyway; let me try it out,’” she said.
The council hosts concerts every summer and potlucks during its August and December meetings. It alternates the summer potluck and concert between the neighborhood’s two largest parks. “This year our potluck is in Emerson and our concert is in Corbin,” said Phillips.
Council co-vice chair Karl Boldt has handled neighborhood cleanup for the past 15 years. For the past 10 years, Faith Bible Church has hosted the E-G Neighborhood’s spring roll-off and rented dumpsters for leaf cleanup in the fall.
“Each year, on the third Saturday in May … from 9 a.m. to, say, 1 o’clock, we will fill 10 of those 30-yard dumpsters, two 20-yarders with recyclable material, and one full of clean green,” Boldt said.
The annual roll-offs have averaged 29 tons apiece, all of it loaded into dumpsters by hand. Neighborhood volunteers do much of the work, but other work forces have helped ease the load, including community-service work crews from the Department of Corrections.
“We’ve got to take this stuff out of people’s pickups and throw it up over an 8-foot wall into these containers,” Boldt said. “Us 68-year-olds, we wouldn’t be able to pull that off without the Department of Corrections.”
Corbin Park, the grassy oval tucked into the northeast corner of the neighborhood, was originally a racetrack. Part of the Washington-Idaho Fair Association, the track operated from 1887 to 1899, when D.C. Corbin deeded the land to the city of Spokane.
“You can still see the remnants,” said Phillips. “People use it to walk their dogs, walk and jog; it’s a natural track.
“We love having so many parks nearby; it makes having a dog so nice and easy; we can go anywhere, do anything.
“As long as we have a poop bag,” she said, laughing.
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