Spokane Valley residents will have three very different options to choose from when they vote for Council position No. 5 in the Aug. 3 primary.
Voters could fill in the bubble for incumbent Pam Haley, who is running to retain the Spokane Valley City Council seat she’s held for six years. Haley is a conservative who has spent much of her adult life running day cares.
Voters could opt for Wayne Fenton, a political rookie who has taken several more right-leaning stances than his opponents.
Fenton, a bar owner who worked in the aluminum industry for more than 40 years, has courted controversy in his professional life .
His bar, The Black Diamond, made headlines last year for ignoring the state’s COVID-19 orders.
Fenton says he’d like Spokane Valley to incentivize gun ownership as a means of discouraging crime. He’d also like Spokane Valley to become a sanctuary city for firearm owners and be more vocal in its defense of Second Amendment rights.
“It’s time to stand up,” Fenton said.
Mary Butler-Stonewall, another political rookie, doesn’t consider herself liberal or conservative. She calls herself a constitutionalist.
Butler-Stonewall has some views that would generally be thought of as liberal. She said she believes strongly in cleaning up the Spokane River and wants Spokane Valley to consider planting trees and other species along the riverbank to naturally filter out contaminants.
A fourth name will appear next to Haley, Fenton and Butler-Stonewall on the ballot, but it’s a three-person race.
Avid outdoorsman Pat Stretch, 64, died on May 30 after falling 500 feet while descending Mt. Hood in Oregon with his son. Stretch will appear on the ballot because he filed before his death.
How to handle homelessness?
Homelessness has been seen as on the rise in Spokane Valley in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem, experts say.
Fenton said he believes Spokane Valley shouldn’t be spending so much money on addressing homelessness.
“I would prefer that homelessness be addressed by private properties and charities,” he said, making clear that he does not want the city to give taxpayer dollars to charities that work with the homeless.
People experiencing homelessness should be “uncomfortable in their poverty,” Fenton said, referring to Ben Franklin’s quote: “The best way to help the poor is to make them uncomfortable in their own poverty.”
At the same time, Spokane Valley should be compassionate and give people a hand up, Fenton said.
“But you don’t make them better off than people that are working,” he added. “We just need to make Spokane Valley less attractive to the homeless.”
If the city wants to spend more money addressing homelessness, the money should go toward law enforcement, Fenton said.
Spokane Valley lacks a dedicated homeless shelter. Instead, the city provides financial assistance to service providers in Spokane – that money is funneled through the county. People experiencing homelessness in Spokane Valley have to go to Spokane to access services.
Haley said the city sends $1.5 million every two years to Spokane through the county for homeless services.
“I think that’s maybe a mistake,” she said.
Instead, Spokane Valley should look into doing more to address homelessness within its borders, Haley said.
She said she’d like the city to consider creating a low-barrier shelter. It should be a place where drugs and alcohol are kept out, Haley emphasized. But she said the city needs its own shelter space.
“There’s never room at the shelters (in Spokane),” Haley said. “We’re not guaranteed any beds.”
Butler-Stonewall said she thinks the city needs to reinvent its response to homelessness.
“First of all, get rid of the stigma of homelessness,” Butler-Stonewall said. “The system lets them down.”
Instead of simply sending money to Spokane for services there, Spokane Valley should provide those services, she said.
Start a shelter, and make it a one-stop shop for people experiencing homelessness, Butler-Stonewall said.
The “one-stop shop” should also include drug and alcohol counselors and support services. Plus, it should include resources to set up people experiencing homelessness with jobs and long-term housing.
On top of that, Spokane Valley should create housing for children experiencing homelessness, Butler-Stonewall said. And she said the city should create a place where veterans can live in close proximity to each other, because they fare better when they’re not living in isolation.
“Those three things and we wouldn’t have homeless in our town,” Butler-Stonewall said.
At the same time, Butler-Stonewall said she doesn’t want Spokane Valley to become a destination for the homeless. If people experiencing homelessness from the Tri-Cities come to Spokane Valley, for instance, the city should charge the Tri-Cities for any financial burden that person creates, she said.
The housing shortage
Housing prices in Spokane Valley keep rocketing upward. The few homes that hit the market are rarely available for long, and finding an affordable rental can be virtually impossible at times.
Butler-Stonewall said she’d like to see more town homes built in Spokane Valley to address the housing crisis. She said she’d also like to see eased zoning restrictions.
Fenton also said he wants Spokane Valley to make it easier for builders to develop property.
“Get the government out of the way,” he said.
Haley said she’s hopeful the state’s recent rule changes for condominiums – which reduce developer liabilities – could lead to more condo construction. Maybe the city could incentivize construction of condos or lower-priced homes, she said, or perhaps the city could use some American Rescue Plan money to help developers.
But she said she doesn’t see Spokane Valley’s zoning laws as the cause of the housing crisis.
“We actually are zoned pretty well I think,” she said.
What do they say about Shea?
Some Spokane Valley City councilmembers have defended Matt Shea, Spokane Valley’s former state representative.
Shea was ousted from the House Republican Caucus in 2019 after an independent investigation found he committed “an act of domestic terrorism against the United States” for his role in the 2016 standoff at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Southern Oregon.
The former politician remains popular among some Spokane Valley residents, but none of the three candidates said they support or vehemently denounce Shea.
“It’s not my place to judge anybody,” Butler-Stonewall said. “I’m not a character basher, there’s enough of that going on.”
“I know him; I’ve heard him,” Fenton said. “I really don’t know that much about him. He’s not in jail. He hasn’t done anything illegal.”
“I’m not a Matt Shea supporter,” Haley said.
Shea endorsed Haley’s candidacy in 2017, but the councilwoman said he is not supporting her now.
Pro or con on park and trail expansions?
Spokane Valley has made several park land purchases in the last few years. In 2020, the city bought a $2.1 million, 45-acre parcel near the intersection of Flora Road and Euclid Avenue.
This year the city has made several purchases with future park and trail expansions in mind, including a $1.6 million, 17.7-acre purchase of land at 44th Avenue and Bates Road, in the Ponderosa neighborhood.
Haley said she’s generally in favor of what the city has done with parks and trails purchases, although she didn’t want to buy the 45-acre parcel near Flora Road and Euclid Avenue.
The city could have waited on that property, Haley said. There wasn’t a need to buy it in the middle of the pandemic.
Finishing up Appleway Trail is important too, Haley said.
“We started it, I think we need to finish it,” she said, adding that the city needs to better maintain the trail.
Butler-Stonewall said the city needs to dream bigger with its parks and trails.
Tourism should be part of the overall parks vision, she said. The city needs to compete with Spokane and start using the parks to host major events that draw people in.
“We need to make a name for ourselves,” Butler-Stonewall said. “We have so much to offer and we’re not doing anything with it.”
Fenton said he has a different idea for expanding the city’s park system.
Instead of buying land and using that land to create new parks – Fenton is opposed to those purchases – the city should partner with public schools.
Fenton said the city could expand school playgrounds and open spaces and make them available to the public.
Spokane Valley leaders say their roads are in relatively good shape. But the way the city funds road maintenance will have to change.
That’s because the city has been using a landline tax to fund road maintenance. As more people have cut the cord in favor of cellphones, revenues from that tax have decreased exponentially. That means the city has to come up with new ways to pay for road repairs.
Haley said the city’s in good shape right now with road maintenance, and there isn’t a pressing need to come up with an alternative to the landline tax.
She said she doesn’t want the city imposing any new taxes to pay for road maintenance. Instead, the city should use surplus funds.
“We have a fairly decent surplus,” she said.
Still, it’s critical to maintain roads rather than letting them fall into disrepair, she said, because it’s far cheaper.
Fenton said he thinks the city needs to be more conservative with road maintenance.
“We’re doing repairs on things that really don’t need to be done,” he said.
The city should also be less eager to use grant funds for road maintenance, Fenton said. He said that’s because grant money still comes from taxpayers somewhere, so the money shouldn’t be thought of as “free.”
Butler-Stonewall said that if the city is successful in boosting tourism, more money will roll into the city coffers and that money can be used for future road maintenance.
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