The race for Spokane City Council in Northwest features two newcomers to city politics.
Mike Lish is trumpeting his experience as a small businessman, while Zack Zappone is an educator and nonprofit worker who believes he’s the better choice to represent District 3.
The two men are vying to replace outgoing Councilwoman Candace Mumm, who hit the term limit after eight years on the council.
“People are concerned about their public health and safety, housing and homelessness, infrastructure … people are really wanting to see real action taken now, not just statements and plans but actual implementation,” said Zappone, a substitute teacher and program manager for Better Health Together who ran unsuccessfully for the state House of Representatives last year.
Lish, president of D.Lish’s Hamburgers, said he’s spent the weeks since the primary election ringing doorbells, connecting with voters and small businesses.
“Things have been going really well. It’s been an amazing experience and it’s going to be a very competitive race,” Lish said. “It’s really connecting with the voters, I’m getting, ‘Yes, this is what we’re worried about – homelessness, public safety, small business.’ ”
Here’s how the candidates compare on key issues.
Homelessness and housing
Zappone said he wants the city to base its homeless services on models that have worked elsewhere. He supports low-barrier shelters, those that don’t put requirements like sobriety on their guests.
“Low-barrier shelter is necessary for our shelter system to be effective,” Zappone said. “If you create a lot of barriers to shelters, that doesn’t help people get the resources they need.”
The alternative, he argued, is worse, and “keeps them out in our streets,” leading to issues when “they go to our parks, they go to our alleyways, they go to our streets.”
Lish said the city’s current approach to homelessness clearly is not working.
“It’s time to pivot and re-evaluate and try to come up with different creative solutions to help solve this problem and give people the resources they need,” Lish said, although he declined to cite a specific policy or decision with which he disagrees.
To address its housing problems, the city needs to concentrate on changing some of its zoning laws, Lish said. That doesn’t mean an apartment complex on every block, but the city should find ways to allow for creative housing options like allowing for more smaller residences to be constructed on lots with existing residences and condominiums, Lish said.
“Not everybody needs a home with a front and a backyard,” Lish said.
Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, Zappone said the city needs to ensure that it has protections for renters as the state transitions out of the eviction moratorium, and to distribute the millions of dollars of rental assistance available locally.
“We need to make sure we give people enough time to get rental assistance so they don’t get evicted,” Zappone said.
Zappone embraces the city’s growth, but wants it to be done thoughtfully.
“On the supply side, we’ve definitely seen a lack of inventory in Spokane and we need to be promoting smart growth and infill and making sure that our region stays competitive,” Zappone said.
Economy, infrastructure and growth
Zappone would like to see the city embrace the sectors in which it already excels, including health care and education, and build an economic development plan around them.
The city needs to invest in its existing infrastructure – “that’s investing in the regular problems in our streets and potholes,” Zappone said – but also in the future. For example, the city should ensure everyone within its borders has access to broadband internet.
“Remote jobs are here to stay, so how can we create the infrastructure we need to promote those kinds of jobs?” Zappone asked.
Having taken the helm of his family restaurant, Lish knows firsthand the challenges of operating a small business.
Lish said he’s concerned with the amount of red tape, fees and inspections required of a small business.
“A lot of people assume that if you own a business you’re making these grand profits; that’s not always the case, and a lot of times those fees come out of their pocket,” Lish said.
Businesses are struggling to find employees, so much so that many are closed on Sundays, Lish added. He’d like to see the city prioritize business sectors impacted by COVID-19, such as entertainment and food, for American Rescue Plan funds.
The city received an unprecedented boon of about $81 million thanks to the federal pandemic relief approved by Congress in March.
Lish said he’d also like to see it spent on infrastructure projects.
“We need to make sure we have a robust public input period, we need to make sure that the voters have an opportunity, or the residents of the city have an opportunity to say how they want it spent,” Lish said.
Zappone agreed that hearing from residents will be important, and said the city should look to spend the money in ways that improve infrastructure and lead to economic growth.
“It is important to get community feedback and input about how that money should be spent. I think that is an important process, but I don’t think we should be sitting on it for months and months and years to come,” Zappone said.
Many people are not bothering to report smaller crimes because they know they’re unlikely to get a response from police, Lish said.
“One of the most basic functions of local government is to keep us safe,” Lish said.
Lish would like to see an increase in neighborhood policing efforts and have officers build relationships with residents, which he said “would go a long way in helping protect our city.”
“I think we’re going to have to increase our police budget to be able to attract good candidates,” Lish said.
Zappone is a supporter of the region’s new mental health crisis stabilization facility, which is aimed at diverting people from jail, and believes it will save taxpayers money in the long run.
While Zappone said he wants to continue to strengthen oversight of the police department, he also advocated for “supporting police to do what they do best, and that’s enforcing laws and deterring crime.”
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