The Spokesman-Review asked the candidates for Spokane City Council president a series of questions about city policy and priorities in an attempt to glean further insight into their priorities and positions. The following answers were edited and paraphrased for brevity and clarity.
Councilman Breean Beggs, who has represented the South Hill on the Spokane City Council for more than three years, is seeking the council’s top position against political newcomer Cindy Wendle, a co-owner of the Northtown Square shopping plaza.
Do you believe the rules should change regarding public comment during City Council meetings? Are the current rules working?
Beggs said he would propose that a person should be allowed to speak more than once a month at the open public forum, as the rules currently stipulate, but only after the council’s legislative session. The first open forum should be “reserved for people who haven’t spoken much at City Council,” Beggs said, but “people who want to speak all the time can wait.”
Wendle has not made a decision yet, but said the council needs to make sure that everybody is heard and that “there are people that seem really frustrated that they haven’t been able to have their voices heard.”
Did you support a voter-rejected proposal to fine certain coal and oil trains traveling through downtown in 2017?
Beggs voted to put it on the ballot. He argued that the fines would only be imposed on trains operating in an unsafe manner, and noted that voters who live near the tracks supported the proposal.
Wendle did not support the proposal, saying it was outside the city’s purview: “It put us at a huge liability for a lawsuit and even the city attorney recommended we not do it.”
Do you believe the Spokane Transit Authority plaza should be underground, as proposed in the “Curing Spokane” video?
Beggs said it “would be so expensive and ineffective and possibly even more dangerous.” He has proposed relocating a downtown police precinct to the second floor of the building.
Wendle said solutions for the city’s problems are “going to come from all over the board” but that she would be very “hesitant to say yes or no on something that expensive.” It would likely have to go to a public vote, she added.
The city has asked for a variance from federal restrictions on the amount of PCBs it can discharge into the Spokane River. Do you agree with that approach?
Beggs does not agree with the city’s variance request because it was “an unlimited request.” He supports working with federal and state regulators to meet a standard that is “actually scientifically possible.”
Wendle said she does not know the full details of the city’s request, but said generally “the city is doing an amazing job of cleaning up our rivers.”
Do you support the construction of a new county jail?
Beggs does not support construction of a “fortress-type jail” replacing the current facility, estimating it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and not make the community any safer. He supports construction of new facilities like a sobering center and a crisis triage center.
Wendle supports working with the county to build what could be a municipal facility to address overcrowding at the jail, particularly a facility that could “address needs of mental illness and drug addiction” in the community.
Spokane has a 20 percent tax on sewer, water and trash service. Should the city restructure its tax system to lower what some have called a regressive tax?
Beggs does not believe the utility tax should be lowered unless the city identifies an alternative source of revenue. He does support an analysis of the city’s tax system to ensure its effectiveness.
Wendle said she would have to further analyze the details before committing to a position.
Do you support Spokane’s red light camera and speed camera program and would you support expanding it to other locations?
Beggs supports the program and expects the city to add additional cameras “if the traffic evidence supports it.” The cameras in school zones are only triggered if a motorist is traveling 8 miles per hour or more over the speed limit during school hours. “It’s pretty forgiving unless you’re really going over the speed limit,” Beggs said.
Wendle supports expanding the program “as long as it’s effective and it helps with public safety. Anything we can do to increase safety in our neighborhoods is a good idea.”
Do you support City Charter provisions giving the Spokane Park Board control of Spokane’s park system?
Beggs supports the Park Board’s independence, but wishes its members were elected to increase accountability. But “largely, it’s a good thing to have that separation of powers,” Beggs said.
Wendle said “our charter supports a strong park system and it’s benefited our community.”
Did you support the city’s tax approved by voters earlier this year that increased the number of police downtown and prevented some cuts to firefighting staffing?
Beggs strongly supported putting the public safety levy on the ballot. He mentioned that, in addition to police and firefighting staffing, the funds can be used “to improve the overall justice system.” He will propose, in the city budget, using extra funds to fund pretrial supervision and electronic monitoring for those accused of low-level crimes.
Wendle didn’t say whether she supported the tax but criticized the levy for not fully funding equipment for new officers. If that equipment is not funded, it will reduce the number of new officers funded through the levy, Wendle said.
Councilwoman Kate Burke’s child care proposal has yet to take form, but do you support the city playing a role in doing more to fund child care?
Beggs supports looking into the issue. “I do agree the ever-rising cost of child care is a major impediment to the health of our community and our economy. Whether that’s a federal, state or local solution I’m really not sure.”
Wendle commended Burke for starting the conversation and said she is excited to take part in it, saying the city must ensure it is fiscally responsible and that programs have a high impact.
How do you feel about the outcome of the redesign of North Monroe Street and East Sprague, which shrunk the roadways to three lanes?
Beggs said both redesigns seem “fabulous” and that the vast majority of feedback he’s received has been positive. “They look good, business investment is up and I haven’t had any problems with traffic delays when I’ve been there.”
Wendle said the city may not know the redesigns’ full impact yet, and is looking forward to see what long-term data comes from the redesigns’ transformation. Moving forward, when the city considers such projects it should ensure “we’re looking at traffic impact on surrounding neighborhoods and work with them more.”
Do you support the City Council’s actions to attempt to limit the Border Patrol’s ability to operate within the Spokane Intermodal Center?
Beggs supported the city law “to make sure the Constitution was being followed,” and said that it aligned with guidance from the state Attorney General. It was not intended to make it any harder or easier for Border Patrol to do their jobs within the confines of the Constitution. Beggs added that he is “not a sanctuary city person” and does not believe the city should never work with Border Patrol.
Wendle said that the city should “make sure that everyone feels safe and welcome” in public spaces, but “as a city, we do have to operate and respect federal guidelines.”
Do you support the Police Ombudsman’s call for more authority in publishing closing reports?
Beggs strongly supports the ombudsman’s request, and drafted the charter amendment that requires it. He awaits to see when that amendment will actually be implemented.
Wendle did not specifically take a stance on the ombudsman’s call for publishing closing reports, but said generally that “transparency is the top goal.” Spokane residents deserve to know that their officers are doing a good job, and officers need to know that they have the full trust of the community. “We have to make sure that whatever solution comes to the table is building trust on both sides,” Wendle said.
Do you support the Central City Line?
Beggs support the project and works part time in a building on Riverside Avenue that will be served by the Central City Line. “I think it’d be great to have a stop right there,” Beggs said.
Wendle said the project maximizes federal and state dollars, and that while “we don’t know the final impact” the line will have on the city, she is looking forward to “what comes down the pipeline.”
Should more one-way downtown streets be converted to two ways?
Beggs said it depends on the street. Specifically, he supports the stretch of Main from east of Washington to Division being a two-way street. Generally, “the studies I’ve seen show that two-way is better for businesses, better for walkability and bikeability,” Beggs said of two-way streets.
Wendle said it depends on the street. She based her response partly on her experience in retail, adding that “in my world, it has to be really specific.” The answer should reflect long-term planning for the street and block.
Planned Parenthood protests – protected by free speech or a safety hazard that violates city noise ordinance?
Beggs said protesting and picketing is protected as free speech. But the amplification of those protests next to health clinics violates city and state law. Beggs said he has been in Planned Parenthood when the protests are occurring, “and you can hear it throughout the buildings. … There’s a way to let people express their opinions that don’t interfere with the rights of others.”
Wendle said the law needs to be equally enforced. “If somebody is violating the law, you need to enforce it,” she said.
Should homeless shelters be allowed to discriminate based on gender identity?
Beggs said there is nuance here and that it depends on the shelter. Under state law, a church is allowed to discriminate based on gender identity. “If they’re not a church, they shouldn’t be able to,” Beggs said.
Wendle said “if they’re publicly funded, no.”
Do you believe the city should participate in litigation against opioid manufacturers?
Beggs backed it more than a year ago and wishes the city had engaged in legal action earlier. “We’re a little bit late to the table now, so that might be a challenge,” he said, but the city’s action is “holding the pharmaceuticals accountable for the illegal actions they committed that really hurt our community.”
Wendle said, “Yes. I’m glad the city has entered into litigation for that.”
Do you believe fluoride should be added to the city’s drinking water supply?
Beggs said the water should be fluoridated because “there’s a lot of low-income children that literally have teeth rotting out of their mouths.” People who don’t want to drink fluoride can find an alternative water source more easily than “it will be to get those kids the fluoride they need” in a water supply without it.
Wendle supported fluoride in the drinking water, saying it “has a proven health benefit.”
Do you believe human activity impacts climate change, and do you believe the city should make investments to lower Spokane’s carbon footprint?
Beggs agrees with the science, and said the city’s approach should be two-pronged. First, it has to plan to be resilient in the face of climate change’s impacts, including drought, wildfires, smoke and storms. Second, it has to focus on its own impact on the climate and work along other cities, states and countries in doing so.
Wendle said that human activity does have an effect on the climate and that she supports efforts to support the environment “and protect our natural resources.”
Do you believe the city’s sit-lie ordinance should be enforced even when there is inadequate shelter space?
Beggs said the rule should not be enforced when shelter space isn’t available because a federal court ruling makes it “illegal to do that and it doesn’t make sense to put someone in jail for something they can’t control.”
Wendle said “there needs to be shelter space before we enforce” sit-lie laws. But the city also has to address what should be done about “the people who don’t want to go to shelters even when there is space” available. “That’s a major issue,” she added.
Should the city join the Spokane Regional Emergency Communications system?
Beggs agrees that the area should have a single communications network, but believes it should be led by the city because “we have the most expertise and the most people, and it’s our building and it’s our equipment.”
Wendle said the city needs to make sure it is being a good regional partner. “It really concerns me that just right out of the gate that this is going to cost the city $600,000 to not be a part of SREC.”
Do you agree with the city’s decision to support Boise’s effort to overturn a ruling restricting its laws against public homelessness
Beggs said the council wasn’t notified about the brief, and that he wrote a letter to the attorney who drafted it. The brief alleged that the Martin v. Boise decision had limited Spokane’s ability to enforce its laws, but “that’s totally false because we already had that language in our ordinances.”
Wendle said that the “9th circuit (Court of Appeals) overstepped in that one and I think the city needs to ability to create and enforce our local ordinances.”
Would you support safe injection sites in Spokane?
Beggs is not ready to support safe injection sites at this point, but would be open to looking at the data. “What gets the best outcomes? Some people have proposed (safe injection sites) will do that. I haven’t seen the evidence or data yet.”
Wendle does not “support heroin injection sites at all. There’s nothing safe about injecting heroin in your body.”
Do you support the current design to complete the North Spokane Corridor?
Beggs generally supports the design. The council doesn’t have a say.
Wendle supports the corridor, and said “it should really help with our efforts to make sure we’re doing everything we can in northeast Spokane to spur economic development,” which she described as a top priority.
Are tax incentives, such as the multifamily tax exemption program, a good way to spur housing development in Spokane?
Beggs said people are taking the city up on the program and launching development in the downtown and in centers and corridors. “It doesn’t solve the problem, but it’s a good tool.”
Wendle said the city is in need of housing supply, and needs to look at every tool available in its toolbox. “I’m in favor of looking at every option,” she said.
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