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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Cheney City Council candidates take opposite positions on proposed housing plan

Before they were on a ballot facing off for a Cheney City Council seat, the candidates for position 2 already were on opposite sides of a proposed plan for housing north of Cheney.

Rebecca Long, a first-time political candidate, put her hat in the ring to call for increased government transparency, affordable housing and more communication between the city and Eastern Washington University.

“I feel like Cheney deserves to have city leadership that is engaged in our community,” Long said. “That is available and acceptable to residents. A city council that listens to residents’ concerns and takes them seriously. What I’ve seen is, that doesn’t always happen.”

Incumbent Vincent Barthels, an environmental consultant with a civil engineering firm, said he is running for re-election to keep the community safe, maintain good public infrastructure and get the Cheney pool up and running as quickly as possible.

“I want to keep Cheney a great place to live,” Barthels said. “I’ve raised my family here, and I hope my kids decide to raise their kids here. I’ve been serving our community for the last 13 years.”


Long said the city should be doing more to address a housing shortage and rising rents.

“We have a bunch of students who don’t have a lot of money,” she said. “We have a bunch of people who are renters and/or on fixed incomes in this community who don’t have a good advocate on the council right now.”

About four years ago, Long said she went looking for solutions. She helped draft plans for a co-housing community development north of Cheney’s city limits. A state law allows cities to move their limits and swap land with the county if they have a shortage of developable land.

In the case of Cheney, Long and Barthels both said land south of the city has been deemed undevelopable, due to train tracks sequestering some of it and wetlands and other difficult terrain covering other parts.

Barthels was one of three out of seven council members who voted ‘no’ for Long’s land swap proposal that passed 4-3.

Barthels argued the land swap would lead to sprawl and increased utilities costs. Barthels said the city had not adequately prepared to expand the urban growth area – land where cities plan to grow.

“For us to expand our (urban growth area) to the north, we need to look at a grid system to ensure we have traffic mobility and reliable utilities,” Barthels said. “My philosophy on UGA swaps is not to do it piecemeal, but to actually plan for it and do it at a larger scale.”

Barthels said he is not generally opposed to land swaps, but he is opposed to Long’s proposal and claims it will hurt taxpayers.

“My particular opponent has taken it upon herself in her private development,” Barthels said. “To latch onto a traffic study and some work that the city has paid for – exclusively with taxpayer money – to look at utilities, to look at traffic mobility, to look at connectivity, to try to promote her development.”

Long said Barthel’s claims that the co-housing development would raise taxes are false.

“There are traffic improvements that are needed,” Long said. “That is a true fact. But they were identified in 2017, before our project was even an idea.”

The incumbent said he’d rather prioritize in-fill developments in the city, either on vacant lots or places that can be made more dense. He said this could be done by the city making zoning changes.

“For example, our council just passed a rezone near the Bi-Mart,” he said. “It was zoned commercial, and now it’s appropriately zoned in terms of multifamily residential and mixed-use buildings.”


Long and Barthels agree that homelessness is an issue in Cheney and surrounding areas, but the candidates disagree on how to solve it.

The incumbent said he supports a city ordinance that prohibits parking overnight in a vehicle on city rights-of-way. Barthels said he does not believe Cheney offers many services for homeless people, but nearby places do.

“To my knowledge, anybody can jump on a bus,” he said. “I don’t know necessarily that there needs to be more services in Cheney. But on a regional basis, we need to come to a regional understanding of where those services should be located.”

Barthels applauded the Spokane Regional Collaborative in its work to address local housing, health and public safety needs.

Long said she stands in opposition to any city ordinances that prohibit camping or parking.

“They need their voices heard so they’re not priced out of this town,” Long said. “They need to be protected.”

Water quality

Barthels and Long agree that improving city water quality and infrastructure is a high priority.

In a phone interview, Long cited sections of town with brown tap water and low water pressure.

“A number of residents have gone to City Council to express their concerns with the water,” Long said. “The City Council over the years has completely dismissed them and dismissed their concerns.”

One response to those complaints, Long said, was the council telling residents to run the water for 30 minutes until it turned clear.

“Water in Cheney is ridiculously expensive,” Long said, “and that’s not a reasonable solution. If there’s a reason we haven’t prioritized the water issues that have been a well-known thing, then we should make that public information.”

Barthels said fixing the city’s potable water is high on his to-do list if he is re-elected. He said his background in civil engineering would prove useful to fix city infrastructure.

Barthels noted that the city passed a $13 million bond in August to fund an outdoor pool. The city is selecting an architect, and then the project will be out for bid, Barthels said.

The candidate elected for District 2 will serve a four-year term on the Cheney City Council.

For the general election, Oct. 30 is the deadline to register online and via mail. Nov. 7 is the deadline to register at the polls.

Election day is Nov. 7, and ballots are due in drop boxes at 8 p.m. that day.