Lori Kinnear’s arms are weighed down with a thick binder.
Inside is the city’s 1,000-plus-page comprehensive plan, but it doubles as Kinnear’s campaign platform as she seeks a second term representing the South Hill on the Spokane City Council.
“This is our blueprint,” Kinnear said. “Nobody in this campaign is talking about our comprehensive plan.”
If people read the plan, which was approved in 2017, Kinnear argued, they would understand why the city has prioritized development density in centers and corridors, or why transit is a key part of planning.
“It’s all here, and we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. We’ve already done the work. Now we just have to follow what it says,” Kinnear said.
Her opponent, Tony Kiepe, wonders why the city wouldn’t change course in the face of a housing crisis, increasing rent and miles of unpaved roads.
“We have to have some leeway … we need to make some adjustments,” Kiepe said.
The race has pitted Kinnear, a pensive leader with a long-term outlook, against Kiepe, who presents himself as an outsider who will offer an alternative voice on a mostly liberal Spokane City Council.
In comparison to some of her seatmates on the dais, Kinnear is hesitant to voice a strong opinion and weigh in without researching a topic.
Kiepe embraces being an enigma – a Spokane candidate with a Memphis accent, a climate change denier with solar panels on his roof, and, if he wins in November, a staunch conservative on what has otherwise been a liberal city council.
“With 6-to-1, you can’t have a conversation. It’s not fair for the city,” Kiepe said.
His pitch to voters is simple.
“Are you happy with the direction the city’s going with the homeless? Have you felt the homeless has increased over the last four years? Do you feel safer going downtown in the last four years? If not, you need to vote for Tony Kiepe,” he said.
For Kinnear, homelessness and concerns about public safety are issues that did not appear overnight and won’t be solved overnight. She has sponsored a resolution to call for more proactive community policing downtown and wants the city to explore the feasibility of a new downtown police precinct as more officers are added thanks to a public safety levy she supported earlier this year.
Personally, Kinnear feels safe downtown. She makes a distinction between feeling unsafe and uncomfortable.
“That’s me. I’m not going to put that on anybody else and say ‘you should feel safe too.’ That’s not for me to say,” Kinnear said. “If you really feel unsafe, that’s a bigger issue than (being) uncomfortable. Sometimes you feeling uncomfortable, it’s up to you to get to your comfort level. Feeling unsafe is something that we as a city we should address.”
Kiepe laments that people on the South Hill no longer feel safe walking downtown. He rejects data that shows more people in the Spokane area are homeless because of a family conflict or lack of income and believes that it is a problem directly tied to addiction.
He warned against enabling addicts with programs like needle exchanges or safe injection sites, and advocated the city “go after” drug dealers. He also believes addicts need to be held “accountable.”
“Our homeless situation is not because of high rent. Some people can’t pay their rent, yes, they do move out. But the homeless crisis is because (of) drug addiction, and with drug addiction, you don’t care about paying your rent. That’s not a priority, it’s just that next hit,” Kiepe said.
Kiepe also supports construction of a new jail with larger capacity.
“We’ve got to change that with more presence in our police, walking downtown, and if you’re doing drugs, defecating on the street, you’ve got to enforce that,” Kiepe said.
Police are addressing crime, Kinnear argued. Crime is down more than 15% through Sept. 21 compared to the same point in 2018, according to the city’s most recent crime data.
“The police are on top of that, they’re dealing with it, they’re mitigating it,” Kinnear said.
The city has made a “huge dent” in housing people, but it still has work to do in confronting addiction, Kinnear said.
“You can’t just force people into rehab, it won’t work,” Kinnear said. “There’s piles of data that shows that.”
To address the housing crisis, Kiepe said the city should sit down with developers and learn what’s tying their hands. He criticized the City Council for being hesitant to extend water service outside boundaries approved for urban growth.
“We have a housing crisis right now, and yet they stopped the development of houses being built,” Kiepe said.
Kiepe advocated for more housing inventory, but not necessarily more density – a clear distinction with Kinnear.
“I don’t want to be New York City. I moved to Spokane because it was a little secret – the best secret in the country,” Kiepe said.
Kinnear has advocated for policies that prioritize density along the city’s centers and corridors. She sits on the Spokane Transit Authority board and is an ardent supporter of public transit, which she said is financially efficient. She also supports making Spokane a more bikeable city.
“For people who are comfortable biking, it should be safe,” she said. “We don’t need to put a lot of money into some of these things, we just need to be more thoughtful about how we plan.”
As Spokane continues to grow, Kinnear’s vision for its future looks a lot like its past. Go back a century and buildings on Market Street and East Sprague Avenue were full of tenants living above their storefronts.
Drive down Monroe Street today and where some would see a parking lot, Kinnear sees an opportunity for multiuse development with a mix of retail businesses and residential units.
“We strayed away from it because we moved to the suburbs because we had a car. It’s time to rethink how we want to get back to that model. Not only does it work, it saves money,” Kinnear said.
Kiepe noted the miles of unpaved roads in Spokane.
“We need to emphasize public safety first, after public safety, infrastructure. Everything else is extra,” Kiepe said.
The candidates also sharply diverge on the city’s role in climate change, which Kiepe does not believe in despite overwhelming evidence.
Kinnear is sponsoring an update to the city’s urban forestry ordinance, which seeks to have 30% of Spokane under tree canopy by 2030. She says the proposal is environmentally beneficial and also will save homeowners on heating and cooling costs by reducing the “heat island effect,” which is when urban environments are warmer than surrounding areas.
“Those are the sorts of things we can do as a community. We can set an example. We’re not going to solve all of our issues by ourselves, certainly not. But we can help mitigate, and we can control our little part of the universe,” Kinnear said.
Though he does not believe the city should play a role in combating climate change, Kiepe said its assets should be preserved.
“We need to make sure our river is clean, we need to make sure we’re not emitting pollution in the streets or the air,” Kiepe said.
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