Proposed regulations would bar commercial, political and religious events at Spokane Valley’s new City Hall and grounds.
Since the city opened its City Hall in 2017, groups and organizations have approached the city seeking permission to use the grounds outside the building for events. But the city hasn’t granted any requests, suggesting that the City Hall isn’t intended for use by “third parties.”
The proposal would put those rules in writing.
“Typically, those events are commercial in nature, but not all of them. Some of them can be political or religious,” said Cary Driskell, city attorney, at a Feb. 5 council meeting. “So, from our point of view, this facility is administrative in primary nature, and I think it ought to be reserved for that.”
Spokane Valley Councilman Ben Wick asked if rallies or protests would be considered a political event.
Driskell said he will consider clarifying language in the proposed ordinance to reflect campaign-related events could be prohibited, rather than protests.
“We have to be careful that we aren’t infringing on people’s First Amendment rights because I think there’s some limited things, at the very least, that people can do on a City Hall site that we have to be careful about, and I know the council has obviously been very concerned about people’s First Amendment rights and protecting those,” he said.
Spokane Valley Councilman Arne Woodard asked Driskell if there’s an option that would limit protests to occur before or during council meetings.
“They certainly can’t come in and disrupt all our business we have to do, but they would have the right, I would think, to protest out of the doors, out in the parking lot, on the sidewalk,” he said. “But, it would seem to me there ought to be, or could be, potentially, some time limit we can put on the protests, so we have the opportunity to maintain the grounds.”
Valley resident Leilani Delong organized two rallies last year outside City Hall with the Valley Indivisible Progressives, protesting Wick’s removal from the Spokane Regional Transportation Council and encouraging council members to denounce racism.
She questioned the proposed ordinance, stating it defeats the purpose of building the new City Hall, which, she thought, was to be more accessible to constituents.
Delong said placing a time limit on rallies isn’t warranted, noting the two rallies were 25 minutes each and held before City Council meetings.
“I think that’s something to consider, too, and our right to free speech and assembly,” she said. “It was their electorate speaking to them. Don’t they want to hear from all their constituents?
“Our rallies are for them to listen to us so that they know we have an opinion, certainly not to get someone elected,” she added.
Annie Gannon, Spokane Valley city spokeswoman, later said a revised version of the ordinance is not expected to include time limits on rallies.
Spokane Valley Councilwoman Brandi Peetz said she would like to look at options to accommodate groups at Balfour Park across the street from City Hall.
Balfour Park hosts events such as the El Katif Shrine Circus.
“We have a lot of amazing events that want to come to Spokane Valley and I understand the need (for the ordinance), but also at the same time, we want to accommodate people,” Peetz said. “So, I just want to say that if we do pass this ordinance, I would like us to focus a little more on Balfour Park, just because we want those types of events to come here.”
Events closely related to city functions, like the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony outside City Hall, or those that aren’t classified as political, religious or commercial, could be allowed on a case-by-case basis, upon approval by the city manager.
Spokane Valley City Manager Mark Calhoun said the city intends to update the Balfour Park master plan this year – which was created in 2013 – so it can be eligible for park improvement grants.
Woodard added that residents use Balfour Park differently than municipal grounds, so protests, rallies and some commercial events should be “within the spectrum of what’s allowed there.”
“We really have to maintain the seat of government for the Valley, no matter who is sitting up here, exclusive from all the other activities that we allow all through the city,” he said. “We are creating more venues, so I think this (ordinance) is entirely appropriate with some clarification.”
Delong said the rallies would be less meaningful if held at Balfour Park.
“If it’s not in front of our City Hall, would (City Council) be willing to come across the street and listen to us? If they are willing to come across the street and listen to us that would be meaningful,” she said. “The whole purpose of the rallies is to catch the ear of City Council when they won’t listen, and we’ve addressed them in many ways, through email, telephone calls and testifying at meetings.”
Spokane Valley City Councilwoman Linda Thompson said City Hall belongs to the people.
“I want to see more people here and feel like it’s their place,” she said. “I think it’s important to embrace our citizens and the ability to come and be here.”
Spokane Valley Parks Director Mike Stone said the proposed ordinance is geared toward larger, special events such as car shows.
“We are most definitely encouraging and trying to facilitate folks to go to Balfour Park because of the fact that it’s undeveloped at this point in time, and they want to do things that currently, you can’t do in our parks,” he said. “But, the fact that there won’t be any damage across the street, I think that’s where we are going to look.”
Stone said the city is reaching a point where park regulations – created more than 10 years ago – need to be updated.
“We are being hit up very hard by a wide variety of groups and we are trying to accommodate as many as we can and yet be good stewards to the resources we’re supposed to manage,” he said.
The Spokane Valley City Council is expected to discuss the proposed ordinance again at a Feb. 26 meeting.
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