Spokane Valley voters will have to choose between a moderate and two conservatives for council position No. 7 at the Aug. 3 primary.
Incumbent Spokane Valley City Council Member Linda Thompson describes herself as fiscally conservative and moderate overall. In 2008, she ran as a Democrat against Republican Larry Crouse for a Washington State House of Representatives 4th District seat.
Laura Padden, the wife of 4th District state senator Mike Padden, is challenging Thompson. Padden describes herself as a conservative Republican.
Renault Patrick Evans describes himself as a centrist who leans to the right. On his campaign Facebook page, Evans has said he’s anti-abortion, believes LGBT lifestyles are unnatural and doesn’t think schools should teach sex education.
All three candidates specifically noted that public safety would be one of their primary focuses if elected.
Padden said she’s concerned about an increase in gang violence in Spokane Valley. She said she’d like the city to make a concerted effort to hire more police officers. Evans said the same.
Thompson and Evans both said they’d like Spokane Valley to continue contracting with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement, as opposed to creating its own police force.
Padden said she isn’t sure if the city should have its own police force.
“I need to see the numbers,” she said.
Many say homelessness has been seen as on the rise in Spokane Valley in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic and housing crisis appear to have exacerbated the problem.
Thompson said she’s in favor of how the city has handled homelessness during her four years on council.
For instance, the city hired Arielle Anderson as its housing and homeless coordinator this spring, Thompson noted. She said that was an excellent move.
Anderson’s job, in broad strokes, is to develop plans for addressing housing and homeless issues, and working directly with the homeless.
The fact that Anderson spends time out of the office working directly with people is key, Thompson said.
“I think this is really an outreach issue,” she said. “I felt it was important we took a proactive role.”
Spokane Valley lacks a homeless shelter. Instead, the city sends money to Spokane, via Spokane County, to financially support shelters.
Thompson said she wouldn’t be opposed to Spokane Valley building a shelter, but if there’s going to be a facility, it has to be done right.
A shelter alone isn’t enough, Thompson said. A shelter has to include support services to help people transition out of homelessness.
“There’s got to be more investment in the programs,” Thompson said. “We have to give a hand up to people. It truly does pay off when you give someone a hand up.”
Padden said she’s unsure whether the city made the right move in hiring Anderson.
“I’m not sure what are her marching orders,” Padden said. “I may or may not have issues with that.”
Padden said she isn’t opposed to the city having its own shelter, but she said if the city goes that route it should contract the facility out, not manage it on its own.
She also noted that she’s unsure if the city should be sending money to Spokane via the county.
“I would like to have more control over the money,” Padden said.
The city needs to help homeless people “get back on their feet,” Padden said, but she emphasized if people refuse help, the city should enforce laws against them.
Evans said he has no problem with the government helping the homeless. He said he experienced homelessness as a teenager.
“It wasn’t fun,” he said. “I can relate.”
Evans does not want Spokane Valley to have a shelter.
“I’m not really in favor of it, but then again it may become a necessity,” he said.
He added that he isn’t opposed to the city financially supporting nonprofits that help people experiencing homelessness.
The housing crisis
Spokane and Spokane Valley are experiencing a housing crisis. Thousands are struggling to find a place to live and prices keep rocketing .
Padden said Spokane Valley City Council has a limited ability to address the housing shortage. Changes at the state level could be more powerful, she said.
“What we need to do is lobby like crazy (at the state legislature) to make some changes there,” she said.
At the local level, the city might consider offering more incentives for affordable housing construction, Padden said.
“How about affordable housing zones?” she said, suggesting that the city could provide financial assistance to developers willing to build affordable housing in certain areas.
Evans said he hasn’t thought extensively about what the city can do to address the housing crisis.
“I think if it was an easy answer the City Council would have solved that problem already,” he said.
Urban sprawl might be a “necessary evil,” Evans said, simply because Spokane Valley needs to build more housing, and the construction has to happen somewhere.
“I don’t want to go to a situation where there’s no single family,” Evans said. “The American dream is to own your own place.”
Thompson, like Padden, noted that state-level changes for housing development could be more meaningful than local ones. She said she doesn’t want to see West Side legislators dictating what development looks like in Eastern Washington.
What the city could do is get builders and affordable housing experts in a room and have them brainstorm housing crisis solutions, Thompson said.
“I think we need to have a think tank,” she said. “I don’t have the answers … but I am so open to hearing ideas and suggestions.”
Thoughts on Matt Shea
Some Spokane Valley City councilmembers have defended Matt Shea, Spokane Valley’s former state representative, even as prominent politicians in Washington and throughout the country have harshly criticized him.
Shea was ousted from the state’s 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 Eastern Oregon.
Still, despite his ouster and repeated controversies, the former politician remains popular among many Spokane Valley residents.
None of the candidates in any of the current Spokane Valley City Council primary elections have strongly criticized Shea.
“I barely know of the name,” Evans said. “I just heard the name for the first time last Saturday (July 3).”
Thompson said that she works with all elected officials, regardless of their views.
“That is who the people have chosen,” she said.
“He’s not on the ballot,” Padden said. “I don’t know why you would even ask.”
Should the city expand parks and trails?
Spokane Valley has made several park land purchases in the past 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 bought a $1.6 million, 17.7-acre parcel in the Ponderosa neighborhood.
The Flora Road purchase drew criticism from some who felt the city shouldn’t be spending so much on park land in the middle of the pandemic.
Evans said he’s generally in favor of parks and trails investments.
“I’m a nature boy,” he said. “If we don’t purchase it now then later on we’re going to wish we did.”
Evans added a caveat: The city shouldn’t outbid businesses or developers for land.
Thompson said she’s a strong proponent of parks and trails expansion.
“I have been thrilled to be able to purchase park land and expand our trails,” she said, emphasizing that those investments are good for community health.
The riverside purchase by Flora Road was especially valuable, Thompson said, because it will allow people to enjoy the Spokane River.
“This is what builds communities,” Thompson said.
Padden said having a nice parks and trail system is a “positive for a city,” but she’s unsure if all of the recent land investments were wise.
“I think maybe they should have looked at their priorities,” she said. “Maybe that’s not the proper priority.”
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 .
All three candidates said they don’t want to see new taxes to pay for future road maintenance.
Spokane Valley has plenty of money right now to handle road maintenance, Thompson said. The city has $10 million in excess funds.
“We can use the money we have,” Thompson said.
Padden said she doesn’t think the city will have any trouble paying for future road maintenance.
“I think they already have the funds,” she said. “There’s no way we need a tax increase.”
Evans said he’s unsure how the city should prepare for future road maintenance. If there is a need for new taxes, he said voters should have to approve the tax.
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