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Woodward reflects on pandemic, calls for collaboration in State of the City address

March 17, 2021 Updated Wed., March 17, 2021 at 7 p.m.

Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward gives her State of the City address Wednesday at the Podium in Spokane.  (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward gives her State of the City address Wednesday at the Podium in Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Mayor Nadine Woodward delivered a State of the City address on Wednesday that highlighted the city’s pandemic response and laid out an optimistic vision for its recovery.

The mayor described the last year as bringing “unceasing adversity.”

“It was undeniably difficult, challenging, relentless, and so many other things,” Woodward said.

She called for continued collaboration and compromise between her administration and partners that include the Spokane City Council, governments in the Spokane region, and others.

“My job is to bring people together,” Woodward said.

Spokane City Council President Breean Beggs credited her with doing just that.

“She herself walks that talk and it is a huge improvement over the relationship between council and the past administration. There is a lot more room to grow in that area and we have started charting out a strategic planning process to do exactly that,” said Beggs, who described the speech as presenting “the Nadine Woodward we all know.”

Woodward eschewed the opportunity to elucidate policy specifics for the next year. Instead, she largely focused on the progress made toward accomplishing her first-year goals despite the pandemic, and deft pivots made by her administration amid it in 2020.

Due to the pandemic, Woodward’s speech – hosted by Greater Spokane, Inc. – was broadcast live on Facebook.

As if to provide a backdrop of a bright future ahead, Woodward delivered the address from inside The Podium, the indoor track and field complex set to open on the Spokane River’s north bank later this year.

The mayor, who retired from a decades-long career as a television news anchor before winning a first term in office in 2019, appeared comfortable in front of the camera. Her address was spliced with inspirational footage taken throughout the pandemic.

It was an unusual state of the city address in unusual times. It ended with the mayor fielding questions from the virtual audience, which focused on the COVID-19 recovery.

Last year, shortly before the pandemic became the focus of Spokane and the world, Woodward gave a State of the City address that focused on her plans to address housing, homelessness, economic development and public safety.

“Those priorities haven’t changed even if how we deliver on them looks a whole lot different,” Woodward said on Wednesday.

Public Safety

With collaboration from the Spokane City Council, Woodward made good on her campaign promise to establish a new police precinct downtown on Riverside Avenue. The precinct hosts more than a dozen officers, who are expected to be on bicycle and foot patrols as much as possible. It’s also the home base for the city’s behavioral health unit, which pairs mental health specialists with officers.

It “enhanced engagement between officers and our community,” Woodward said.

The downtown precinct has since expanded its jurisdictional boundary eastward and is adding staff to the behavioral health unit.

Woodward also touted an accomplishment that had long eluded her predecessor. Earlier this year, the city signed its first agreement with the Spokane Police Guild since the previous version expired at the end of 2016. That win came after the sharp and unanimous rejection of a previous agreement proposed by Woodward’s administration last year.

The mayor did not, however, address police reform.

Police conduct and oversight came under renewed scrutiny amid protests over racial injustice after the death of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor last year. The city has yet to embark on police reform discussions promised in 2020, with officials citing restrictions on in-person events during the pandemic.

Homelessness

Homelessness was a front-and-center campaign issue when Woodward won office in 2019, pledging to demand accountability from people receiving services.

The pandemic nearly upended the entire homeless services system.

Woodward found a silver lining in the pandemic response, however, saying it forced regional governments to collaborate. The city has continued to lean heavily on the use of low-barrier shelters, which have been forced to expand their footprint to allow for social distancing.

“It was out of that necessity that opportunity really began to show itself,” Woodward said.

Spokane County used federal COVID-19 aid to purchase a “bridge housing” shelter for people believed to be ready to obtain permanent housing, which will be operated by The Salvation Army on West Mission Avenue when the pandemic recedes.

Beggs credited the county for using COVID-19 relief money to purchase the shelter, but said regional governments still need to hash out an agreement on long-term funding for homeless services.

“I feel like we’ve really just scratched the surface on that, compared to what we need to do,” Beggs said.

The partners – including Spokane Valley and Spokane County – also won a grant to fund a young adult shelter. Woodward initially refused to allow it to be located within city borders, but ultimately relented. Still, she renewed her call for a regional response to homelessness on Wednesday.

“Large concentrations of resources, and the accompanying populations of those seeking them has placed a heavy, disproportionate burden on our downtown,” Woodward said.

Housing and Economic Development

The housing crisis has not abated during the pandemic and continues to be a prominent issue in the city, with home prices reaching record highs.

Woodward enumerated the many challenges facing the housing market, including supply that hasn’t kept up with demand, as well as the substantial number of renters who have fallen behind during the pandemic.

The city is in the process of developing a Housing Action Plan.

“Studies show that we must create more entry level housing and strategies to invite new opportunities for people to move up,” Woodward said.

The city was riding a wave of economic development and good fortune when Woodward took office, and she looked to build off of it. But now, amid a pandemic, the focus has shifted to facilitating the area’s economic recovery.

Woodward and the Spokane City Council will soon begin to discuss how to distribute the more than $80 million the city will receive from the American Rescue Plan recently adopted by Congress.

She said the city’s secure financial footing will allow it to direct resources into the community, rather than shoring up its own budget.

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