Thursday, April 10, 2014

County files 36-part public record request over Spokane City Council’s Urban Growth Area statements

Posted By on Thu, Apr 10, 2014 at 11:17 AM

Mayor David Condon’s veto — and agreement with the county to delay additional Urban Growth Area expansions and city annexations — doesn’t seemed to have calmed things between the county commissioners and the Spokane City Council. Yesterday, Spokane County Attorney James Emacio sent a sprawling public records request to the City of Spokane.

The request, outlined in 36 bullet points, seems to veer into cross-examination, hammering the four council members who supported denying certain utility services to properties in a newly expanded Urban Growth Area until the legal status of the expansion had been cleared up. (Confused about Urban Growth Areas? Watch our Monopoly piece primer here for background.)

The request asks for responses before April 30, in anticipation of an upcoming meeting.

It begins with some relatively basic requests:

2. City of Spokane’s adopted policy regarding the extension of sewer and water line mains to service new developments in the City of Spokane.

But soon, some become rather rhetorical in nature:

9. Please provide copies of list(s) of neighborhoods that have identified through their neighborhood planning process their desire to have parts of their neighborhoods demolished to accommodate the construction of apartment buildings, condo’s or townhouses and the re-gentrification of their neighborhood as anticipated in the Comprehensive Land Use Plan to achieve the City’s desired density.

And it begins to rebut certain council members' statements:

19. Councilwoman [Amber] Waldref stated, “I don’t believe that we need to be developing any piece of property in the county”.

Please provide copies of any legal opinion(s) of why this statement does not violate the intent of the City’s utility service agreement to provide service to the unincorporated area.

Please provide copies of any documents substantiating that Ms. Waldref support reducing the size of the City’s service area boundaries and allow other purveyors to provide that service.

It asks for legal backing for characterizations that have been made for years by land-use activists and investigative journalists:

23. Mr. [Jon] Snyder in his closing comments on March 17, 2014 stated, “we are simply trying to close a loop hole”.

Please provide copies of any legal authority or any court ruling or statute upon which the concept of “vesting” is defined as a loop hole.

Snyder, in particular, receives a lot of questions:

27. Mr. Snyder states, “This loop hole we are trying to close is dealing with a situation where we may have a broken water main, we may be out of compliance with state law with the amount of water loss that we have in the utility system”.

A properly managed utility has the cost of line maintenance built into the rate structure and that cost is borne by all of the rate payers both inside and outside of the City’s corporate boundaries. The inability of the City to maintain its infrastructure is not unique to the expansion of the UGA if properly managed.

Is Mr. Snyder’s point that the City’s utilities are not properly managed?

Please provide copies of any state law is the City violating with its water utility?

One bullet point seems to imply Snyder may be breaking his oath to uphold the laws of Washington:

30. Mr. Snyder states, “All it does is it allows the state law take its course and if folks don’t like that they should go to the legislature and ask the GMA to be changed because that is what we are dealing with here.”

The state laws regarding vesting are the law of the land. When there was an attempt this last session to change the vesting laws it never got out of the Rules Committee and to the floor for a vote.

Please provide a copy of the Oath of Office wherein Mr. Snyder swore to uphold the laws of the State of Washington.

Please provide a copy of the Spokane City’s Charter regarding Code of Ethics as well as the City’s Ethics Ordinance.

Of course, on the other side of the vesting issue, groups like Center for Justice have routinely filed public records requests to find the source of specific figures. They did so last year after Planning Director John Pederson repeatedly claimed in a hearing that the cost difference between the largest proposed expansion and not expanding the growth area at all would only be $2.5 million.

In a phone call to the Inlander back then, Pederson admitted the figures were wrong and said that he didn’t know how he made the error. He also said that he informed the commissioners of his error, but did not provide them with corrected figures.

Read the full records request below the update. 

Update:

When reached, County Commissioner Al French confirms he was the one that wrote the records request, though Emacio helped put it into the correct legal language.  French says it’s in anticipation for a public forum in May.

“The justification for taking the action that the city wanted to take, was, in my opinion, driven more by politics and not by facts,” French says. He says a public records request, instead of a press release or press conference, was a way to force the council to stick to the evidence. “You need a good foundation of facts and not a bunch of rumor and accusations and innuendo. I wanted to start out with the conversation with factual information.”

In particular, he objects to characterizations of the UGA expansion will be a burden to the city taxpayers, and of sprawl has been a prime factor in recent utility-rate increases.

City Council President Ben Stuckart, however, sees a theme in French’s record request. “To me, the way those questions are worded, they seem to want to argue whether sprawl is good or bad,” Stuckart says. “It’s like they’re trying to disprove the known facts about sprawl.”

French notes that Spokane County scores comparatively well on land use in objective reports, but he sees problems with the city’s current Comprehensive Plan. He says neighborhoods haven’t been willing to make the choices that would allow more density.

“From my standpoint, I don’t believe the Comprehensive Plan the city has is supported by the neighborhoods [where the growth must happen],” French says. “It should be what the citizens want for their community. That’s what I support.”

Stuckart believes the commissioners are posturing before the public forums start in May.

“It concerns me that this is what’s happening the month we’re starting a cooperative dialogue,” Stuckart says. “It seems personal. The questions were very snarky. A very interesting way to start a cooperative dialogue.”

But French reiterates that it’s just about the facts.

“So he doesn’t want the dialogue to be based on the facts, he wants them to be based on political rhetoric?” French says. “If there’s actually documentation to support it, then what’s the issue? If there’s not factual documentation why did you say there was?”


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