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Friday, August 7, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Mayor Woodward vetoes Mosquito ban; businesses may keep using high-pitch noise machines

UPDATED: Mon., July 6, 2020

A Mosquito sound-emitting device is seen near the corner of Howard Street and Sprague Avenue in Spokane in 2013.  (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
A Mosquito sound-emitting device is seen near the corner of Howard Street and Sprague Avenue in Spokane in 2013. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward has vetoed a new ban on high-pitched noise machines used to deter loitering near downtown businesses.

The veto will stand unless one of three Spokane City Council members who opposed the controversial bill reverses their position. The council narrowly passed the law last month after months of rewrites, pushback from business groups and a protracted delay in legislative action due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Woodward’s veto of the Mosquito ordinance, which refers to a brand name of the devices that emit a sharp noise, is her first since taking office in January.

“It is clear that our downtown core business owners need every available tool accessible to protect their property,” Woodward wrote in a veto message to the City Council on July 3.

To override Woodward’s veto, five of the council’s seven members must vote in support of the law.

When reached by The Spokesman-Review on Monday, all three of the City Council members who voted against the ban – Michael Cathchart, Karen Stratton and Betsy Wilkerson – said they would maintain their position if presented with the same bill.

But Wilkerson said Monday she could support a ban on the devices if it is not implemented until after the city opens a new downtown police precinct at the corner of Wall Street and Riverside Avenue, which will replace the precinct at the Intermodal Center on the eastern edge of downtown and be staffed with additional officers.

“I felt that we didn’t give businesses another tool during the transition phase,” Wilkerson said.

A compromise could come in the form of a resolution that would delay enforcement of the new law until 60 days after the police precinct opens or Dec. 1, whichever comes first. The resolution would get a vote at the same meeting the council votes to override Woodward’s veto.

The bill was drafted by Spokane City Councilwoman Kate Burke, who decried the use of the noise devices as damaging to the well-being of passersby and unwelcoming to downtown visitors – not just those committing crimes or being a nuisance.

“I can hear these devices, and they actually physically make me sick to my stomach,” Burke said last month.

Her proposal met resistance from downtown property owners and business representatives, including the Downtown Spokane Partnership, which argued the machines are a way for businesses to prevent unruly behavior and loitering at their doorsteps.

The law bans the use of any device “intended to emit into public spaces painful or annoying high-frequency sound intended to be audible only to children and young adults” in a public right of way.

It refers to the device as a Mosquito, which is a brand manufactured by Moving Sound Technologies, but would apply to any machine with the same function.

A business caught violating the law would first be warned by a police or code enforcement officer. Then, a formal first offense would be cited as a civil infraction. A second and third offense would both be charged as a misdemeanor carrying fines of at least $500 and $700, respectively.

The council has 30 days to reconsider the bill and attempt to override Woodward’s veto. Council members Stratton and Cathcart hesitated to impose limits on downtown businesses.

Cathcart noted Monday that the city’s planned downtown police precinct has yet to open and there remain “many concerned business owners.” He does not intend to change his vote.

Stratton also said she would stand by her original vote and felt that there was insufficient collaboration with the business community prior to the council’s vote.

“I know it’s a problem, and I know a lot of small business owners and I know it’s hard on them when they have people hanging out around their businesses that shouldn’t be there,” Stratton said.

Brian Coddington, a city spokesman, said Woodward would be interested in reassessing a ban on the devices after the new precinct opens later this month.

“You’ve got to give the precinct time to work and to take hold before you can evaluate it,” Coddington said.

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