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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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How do you get an unshoveled sidewalk addressed in Spokane? Complain – a lot, if necessary

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 10, 2020

Gregg Storey clears his sidewalk of wet snow in front of his houses at 23rd Avenue and Bernard Street on Tuesday. Amid community confusion, city officials clarified the rules regarding sidewalk clearing after a snowstorm on Monday.  (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Gregg Storey clears his sidewalk of wet snow in front of his houses at 23rd Avenue and Bernard Street on Tuesday. Amid community confusion, city officials clarified the rules regarding sidewalk clearing after a snowstorm on Monday. (Colin Mulvany/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

When the snow starts flying, so do the complaints.

In response to community concerns regarding snow-covered sidewalks, city officials clarified the rules – and how they’re enforced – on Monday.

The lesson: complain early, complain often.

The Spokane City Council’s Urban Experience Committee discussed the issue Monday, after council members received emails from residents concerned about snow clearing in recent weeks.

Under city law, it’s the responsibility of every property owner to clear the adjacent sidewalk by 9 a.m. after a snowfall, and it’s the responsibility of city code enforcement officials to make sure it happens.

Property owners can be ticketed for failing to shovel or plow the sidewalk, but the city’s approach has been to politely request a fix, not drop the hammer.

Enforcement officers are not prowling the streets looking for snow-blanketed sidewalks. Instead, the city automatically mails a postcard notifying the property owner of a complaint made through the city’s 311 system.

Last year, it sent out 41 notifications. It has not issued any citations for failing to clear snow in several years, according to Kristen Becker, director of the city’s Development Services Center, Parking, & Code Enforcement.

“We’re always trying to get voluntary compliance,” Becker said.

Of course, it takes time for the postcard to arrive.

“That’s always been the challenge with snow, is that it’s a time-sensitive complaint, but it’s also not a swift resolution,” said Luis Garcia, the city’s code enforcement supervisor.

Code enforcement officers will not follow up to ensure the sidewalk was actually cleared “unless we’re really hearing a lot about it,” Becker acknowledged.

Garcia said it’s helpful for people to continue to complain “in a reasonable interval” that allows the notification “to have time to work its magic.” But, he said, if “we see another complaint, we’re going to show attention to it.”

Uncleared sidewalks don’t always rise to the top of code enforcement’s hierarchy of complaints.

“It certainly all kind of goes back to a resourcing issue,” Garcia said.

Councilwoman Candace Mumm asked officials to be more pressing on businesses, which are the source of most complaints she’s heard.

Councilwoman Kate Burke echoed that sentiment, but also stressed the need to clear snow in front of Spokane Transit Authority bus stops. She expressed particular concern for people who use wheelchairs and are “stuck taking paratransit because they can not ride fixed route buses” due to snow accumulating on sidewalks.

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