The Spokane City Council once again balked Monday on a proposal to ban devices that emit high-pitched noises to disperse young and homeless people from areas near downtown businesses.
On Monday, the council tweaked the bill’s language to limit its scope and delayed its consideration for another six weeks to solicit further input from the businesses it would affect.
The proposal has undergone several revisions since it was introduced by Councilwoman Kate Burke last year, with council members attempting to regulate the use of shrill “Mosquito” devices without rankling the downtown businesses that use them.
On Monday, Councilwoman Lori Kinnear amended the bill’s language to allow the use of Mosquito devices on a low frequency that targets people of all ages. It would, however, still ban the use of the Mosquito at its high-frequency setting that specifically targets young people – but only if that sound reaches the public right of way.
Although they have quibbled over the details, the bill’s supporters have argued that it is unfair to shroud every passerby – regardless of whether they are committing a crime – with a potentially harsh and unnerving noise, particularly one that singles out a certain age group.
But council members have heard stiff opposition from the business community, members of which have said the devices help mitigate behavior ranging from harassment to drug use.
The new version of the bill would also allow the ban to expire on Dec. 31, 2021, unless extended by the council.
There are several versions of the Mosquito device, which is manufactured by Moving Sound Technologies. While the flagship product emits a high-pitched frequency specifically targeted at young people, a newer version allows the owner to target people of all ages.
The company also manufactures a device that plays royalty-free classical music, still in the hopes that it deters loitering.
At the high-pitched frequency aimed at youths between 13 and 25 years old, the sound can reach as far as 80 to 130 feet, according to the manufacturer.
Although the law only mentions the Mosquito brand by name, the ban would apply to any device that emits a similar noise at a frequency above 15 kHz.
The ban was set to go to a vote in December, but was delayed by the council after some members voiced concern about the harshness of punishment, which has since been reduced. The latest draft of the bill would see the first two violations of the ordinance cited as a civil infraction, while a third would be a misdemeanor charge.
The Downtown Spokane Partnership has argued that the use of devices is not only harmless, but necessary to ensure public safety and alleviate behaviors like loitering, drug use and sleeping in alcoves. Its president and CEO, Mark Richard, has also been critical of the council’s process, asking why it is in a rush to pass the ban and arguing that it has not conducted enough outreach to the business community.
The council voted narrowly, 4 to 3, to delay a vote on the bill until March 16.
Councilwoman Karen Stratton moved the vote be delayed, noting that members of the business community would “like to see more data on how many people are affected” by the Mosquito device.
Council President Breean Beggs joined Burke and Kinnear in opposing the delay. Beggs argued the latest version of the bill addressed the business community’s concerns, while Burke expressed frustration the bill she sponsored continues to be delayed.
Mayor Nadine Woodward has not publicly commented on the legislation.
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