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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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City Council backs Mayor Woodward’s plan to clean up downtown Spokane

UPDATED: Mon., July 12, 2021

A large spray-painted patch of graffiti is seen on the Riverside Avenue underpass of the Maple Street Bridge on May 3 in Spokane. City councilwoman Lori Kinnear is proposing that billboard owners be charged $250 annually with the revenue to be converted into funds for graffiti cleanup efforts.  (Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
A large spray-painted patch of graffiti is seen on the Riverside Avenue underpass of the Maple Street Bridge on May 3 in Spokane. City councilwoman Lori Kinnear is proposing that billboard owners be charged $250 annually with the revenue to be converted into funds for graffiti cleanup efforts. (Libby Kamrowski/ THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Downtown Spokane is reopening, and Mayor Nadine Woodward wants to make sure it’s clean.

The Spokane City Council approved Woodward’s $500,000 request to bolster the city’s cleanup efforts downtown.

The funding, pulled from the city’s unappropriated reserves, will pay for 10 seasonal employees. Their responsibilities will include graffiti abatement, illegal encampment enforcement, and litter removal.

The additional employees will effectively double the city’s existing downtown cleanup crew.

“It will pay for the positions, equipment, materials and the increase in disposal fees,” Kris Becker, the interim director of community and economic development, told the City Council on Monday.

Woodward has faced increasing pressure to mitigate litter, graffiti and homeless encampments downtown. In recent months, a collective of commercial property and business owners in downtown Spokane, named the Commercial Property Council, has formed to call for action.

During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the city lost access to resources like the inmate work teams supplied by Geiger Corrections Center.

The city is now conducting regular cleanings in highly trafficked areas where people experiencing homelessness congregate, including under downtown viaducts. Crews direct people out of the area, collecting trash and belongings in their wake and sanitizing the area.

About a dozen trash cans are being added downtown to help dissuade littering, and public restrooms have once again opened after closure during COVID, according to administration officials.

The city is still not enforcing its sit-lie ordinance, which prohibits people from sitting or lying on downtown sidewalks during the daytime, because it can not demonstrate that it has adequate day shelter capacity for people experiencing homeless.

The city has, however, substantially increased the number of citations it issues for misdemeanors like pedestrian interference, according to Spokane Municipal Court data.

Woodward has touted her downtown cleanup efforts as a key component of her broader strategy to address homelessness.

The plan includes transitioning the city-owned warming center on Cannon Street into a year-round center for homeless services. The center is expected to operate during the daytime during normal weather, but be able to operate overnight as a shelter during extreme weather events and colder winter temperatures.

The cleanup funding was approved by a 6-1 vote Monday. Councilwoman Kate Burke was the only member opposed.

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