A raucous race for the 5th District, major infrastructure projects around the city and the fate of a stadium combined with day-to-day sirens, triumphs and tribulations to keep The Spokesman-Review News Desk on its toes in 2018. Here are five stories that made a splash – in some cases immediately, in others over weeks and months – this past year.
The race for the 5th
Lisa Brown announced her intention to run against Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers in late summer 2017, but it wasn’t until April and the results of a poll commissioned by the Spokesman-Review and others that it became clear the contest for Eastern Washington’s seat in Congress would be the closest its been in decades.
McMorris Rodgers and Brown quickly began trading blows in campaign ads, even before the August primary showed what was a foregone conclusion: The Republican congressional leader would be facing the longtime Democratic state lawmaker and educator at the ballot box in November. A strong primary night showing by Brown that put her within a point of McMorris Rodgers began to fizzle as later returns came in, but the performance was enough of a wake-up call for the congresswoman to invite several high-profile Republicans and President Donald Trump surrogates to town in the fall, among them Kellyanne Conway and Vice President Mike Pence.
The two candidates held more public debates than had been staged in the district in recent memory, including two in Spokane within 24 hours of each other. Meanwhile, their campaign coffers swelled to record-setting numbers, ultimately breaking the $10 million mark amid claims from each candidate that their opponent was benefiting from special interest money.
McMorris Rodgers won a decisive victory on election night, a result Republicans argued was inevitable given the district’s lean to the right politically and the conservative voter mobilization following the Supreme Court nomination hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh. McMorris Rodgers earned back her seat, but Republicans lost control of the House of Representatives, and the longtime congresswoman announced after the election that she’d be stepping away from a role in party leadership when the House reconvenes next month.
Schools, libraries and a stadium
Voters once again invested in the city’s brightest asset – its children.
The overwhelming approval of a $495 million bond to build or renovate six middle schools and make improvements to a handful of others represented an endorsement of future planning by Spokane Public Schools.
The city boasts of its schools to people and businesses pondering relocation to Spokane for good reason: teachers, staff and a commitment to modern facilities with strong voter support continue the promise of excellent public education.
Voters also said yes to $77 million to build new public libraries.
The most controversial aspect of November’s local ballot may have been where to build a $31 million replacement of the aging Joe Albi Stadium. Despite efforts to build a centrally located downtown stadium, voters said they’d rather attend football games at a new, much smaller stadium at the Albi site in northwest Spokane.
Several big-ticket infrastructural projects were completed in Spokane over the course of the past 12 months, while others made significant progress or marked major milestones.
The opening of the University District Bridge in December and completion of North Monroe’s “road diet” in September put two extensive and expensive projects to rest. Spokanites got their first glimpse of several features of the new Riverfront Park – including the newly renovated Looff Carrousel, returned Garbage Goat and rebuilt Rotary Fountain – in May, just in time for Bloomsday. Work on the third and final phase of Martin Luther King Jr. Way and a new system of stormwater retention tanks made significant headway over the course of the year.
Of course, as with any project carrying a long price tag, each project has been trailed by its share of controversy. The narrowing of North Monroe drew early and vocal pushback from area businesses and local commuters. Questions remain about delays in the completion of the U-District bridge, and cyclists have concerns about a lack of bike lanes in the bridge’s south landing.
The completion of MLK Way, originally scheduled for completion this year, hit its own road bump when a local business owner complained that its bisection of his lot would put him out of business. And with the new stormwater system slated for fall of 2019, traffic continues to be hampered downtown, with a section of Spokane Falls Boulevard between Lincoln and Monroe closed off to cars.
Most tragic, and far harder to foresee, was the death of 63-year-old Lorrie Sims, who suffered a fatal fall on the newly opened Skate Ribbon in January. The rink closed after just two weeks due to an ammonia leak. Its second season opened in November, and the ribbon drew an estimated 13,750 attendees in its first four weeks.
Shelter through the winter
“Camp Hope,” the makeshift tent city that sprang up on the doorstep of City Hall this winter, may have been the most visible reminder of Spokane’s ongoing struggle with homelessness, but it was hardly the first to face the city in 2018.
In May, citing the significant cost of cleaning up trash left over from homeless encampments, the parks department put forward what it described as a “cleanup” of laws regulating activities in city parks, including a measure that would see individuals camped in parks redirected to shelter services. On May 7, the City Council voted 6 to 1 to pass the ordinance, along with other laws regulating drones and marijuana use. It was the first major update to park rules since 2007.
Those new rules, along with the city’s existing “sit-lie” ordinance, came into the spotlight in September as one of Spokane’s major shelters, House of Charity, lost 150 of its 400 beds. In November, local activist Alfredo LLamedo began a hunger strike outside City Hall to protest sit-lie, and his one-man demonstration quickly grew. A week later, the council suspended the ordinance.
The demonstrations continued, however, and by December dozens of tents lined Post Street and crowded City Hall’s entrance.
In early December, two new shelters – Salem Lutheran Church and 527 S. Cannon St. – opened, adding roughly 100 additional warming beds. Determining that adequate overnight shelter space now existed, the city notified the protesters that they had 24 hours to remove their belongings.
Despite a protest the day before that saw Councilwoman Kate Burke and other protestors chain themselves together in front of City Hall, the encampment was broken up Dec. 9.
The issue is far from resolved, however. Some shelters are already reporting that they are at or close to capacity for certain demographics – namely, single men.
Remember those green scooters whizzing around downtown?
For two and a half months this year, Spokane got a fresh taste of electric transportation as 300 motor-powered bikes and scooters supplied by San Francisco-based Lime landed on the streets. Originally billed as a bikeshare program, it quickly became clear that the smaller two-wheeler was what really struck a chord with the average Spokanite. It didn’t take long, as summer turned toward autumn, for the sight of a family of four gliding down Main Avenue to seem totally commonplace.
Sure, there are still some issues to iron out – use of sidewalks and helmet use – but the overall success of the 73-day experiment with makes it eminently likely that 2019 will again see green.