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Tuesday, November 12, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane Valley candidates hope for regional approach to homelessness, clash over direction of council

Arne Woodard, left, is running for re-election to the Spokane Valley City Council against challenger Lance Gurel. (SR)
Arne Woodard, left, is running for re-election to the Spokane Valley City Council against challenger Lance Gurel. (SR)

If voters choose challenger Lance Gurel, he hopes to shift the make up of council to more moderate and more open to new ideas. Incumbent Arne Woodard said Gurel and other more moderate candidates’ proposals go outside of the few essential duties Spokane Valley was founded to accomplish.

Gurel, an accountant, said he’d like to be part of a council that is open to suggestions and new ways of looking at things and said the current majority sometimes overrules the ideas of the three council members with whom he has more in common.

“We shouldn’t come to council with our minds made up before we hear what citizens want,” Gurel said. “Having a more moderate group on the City Council will lead to that.”

An idea Gurel would explore was a proposal to study inclusion and diversity at the city from current Councilwoman Linda Thompson. Several other council members, including Woodard, said the city had already approved a resolution declaring Spokane Valley inclusive. He said council members should consider taking the proposal to constituents to see if they are concerned about discrimination and inclusiveness.

“We should be willing to look at ourselves as a city and it should never be the answer that we’ve already looked at that in the past, we don’t need to look at it again,” he said.

Woodard, a Realtor who has owned several Spokane Valley businesses in the past, said the city only has two functions, infrastructure and public safety, and considering “social policies” are outside of the city’s mandate.

“I’m not into exploring things outside of what the city was founded on,” he said.

Spokane Valley is a contract city and is expected to spend almost $90 million next year, about 30% of which will be on public safety and 35% will be spent on capitol projects. Woodard, the longest serving member on the council, said those issues are what he is focused on and the city already created a resolution saying Spokane Valley is an inclusive city.

“Tell me how you’re going to improve the Declaration of Independence,” Woodard said, “How are you going to improve wording? You disagree with discrimination or you don’t. I don’t agree with discrimination, and that’s what that resolution (says).”

He said candidates who are interested in spending more time studying social policies should move to Spokane and run for its City Council.

Both candidates said they would like to see development, and more housing on Spokane Valley’s main corridors. Gurel said the city needs to do whatever it can to look ahead and ensure any new developments that impact the surrounding communities have enough infrastructure to support them.

“It can’t grow to be the city that we want if we continue to have urban sprawl.” Gurel said. “The City Council needs to take a proactive approach to getting high density housing in our urban corridors as is part of their plan and not let development just happen wherever somebody finds cheap land.”

Gurel was endorsed by one of his former opponents Al Merkel, who did not move on after the primary election. Merkel said he supported Gurel because he committed to protecting the character of neighborhoods in Spokane Valley. Merkel ran on ensuring developers pay for the impacts they create in residential neighborhoods and hoped to primarily represent single-family occupied homes.

Adam “Smash” Smith, a professional mixed martial arts fighter and owner of a martial arts academy who also ran against Gurel and Woodard in the primary, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Woodard said he and the council have worked to limit unplanned development, some of which happened before Spokane Valley was incorporated as a city. He said he also hopes to grow the number of pocket parks in the city so people living in denser developments will have a place to build community.

City Council has also worked hard on an innovative comprehensive plan he said, which includes different ways to encourage infill and that plan includes multifamily housing on transportation corridors.

“We’re trying to stop that willy-nilly development,” he said.

Woodard said the city also needs to look at long-term planned approaches to homelessness. Gurel is a member of several boards that review funding applications and address homelessness and affordable housing in the region. He said homelessness is an issue that doesn’t have city limits or borders and the only way to solve the issue long term is to work with the other governments in the area.

“It has to be regional,” Woodard said. “There’s no other answer that will get to the long term solution.”

Woodard said he would like to have a shelter close to Spokane Valley’s border, but cities need to be realistic about what types of buildings are available for them to turn into homeless shelters, and he’s also open to other locations as well.

Gurel said Spokane Valley either needs to help Spokane expand its shelter, or find a way to contract those services itself.

“While people are quibbling over how much access, low access or no low access, they need to realize that sheltering people costs less that having them on the streets, having them in our jails and having them in our hospitals,” Gurel said.

While the city of Spokane has selected the Salvation Army to run a shelter, it has not settled on a location. Earlier discussions on homelessness have included Spokane County and Spokane Valley and the shelter was planned for the border with Spokane Valley on Havana Street and Sprague Avenue. Both those governments asked for a security plan and the cost of operating the shelter, before they would make a decision. Those governments have not yet approved funding for a new shelter.

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