Thursday, January 15, 2015

Inslee has new plan to reduce property crime

Posted By on Thu, Jan 15, 2015 at 11:58 AM

Gov. Jay Inslee has unveiled his plan to reduce the state’s sky-high property crime rate (a problem present in Spokane) that’s based on the idea that repeat offenders should receive supervision and treatment.

According to the a press release from the governor’s office, the problem is that Washington sends repeat property offenders to prison for sentences that are two to three times longer on average than other states that have sentencing guidelines. However, when the offenders have done their time, they aren’t supervised, and, according to the governor’s office, there is research that shows that supervision and treatment are the most effective methods to reduce reoffending.

The problem, according to the report, is particularly bad in high-population areas. In fiscal year 2013, King County, which accounts for 29 percent of the state’s population, saw 33 percent of the state’s reported property crime. Spokane County, which accounts for 7 percent of the state’s population, saw 11 percent of its reported property crime.

If enacted, the plan, which has bipartisan support, would require a mandatory period of post-release supervision and treatment for property offenders.

The Washington State Institute for Public Policy, another think tank, found the plan would reduce crime by 1,000 victimizations annually and the number of people reoffending would fall by 13 percent. It would also save the state up to $290 million in corrections spending over a six-year period.

The plan is outlined outlined in a report by the Council of State Governments Justice Center, a think tank with offices in Seattle, Washington D.C. and elsewhere.

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

WW: New Airway Heights pot store; Nancy Grace versus 2 Chainz

Posted By on Wed, Jan 14, 2015 at 11:31 AM

Welcome back to Weed Wednesday, your weekly dose of pot news. Wondering what this is about? Click. Looking for our previous marijuana coverage? Click. Got a question or tip? Email me at: [email protected]

Airway Heights is getting a new member of the “I-502 family” called the Top Shelf.

The proprietor of the recreational marijuana shop is Florence Childs, an 80-year-old who opened it up on Saturday, January 10. Her family always told her that she was the luckiest person they knew. So when the lottery opened up for licenses, she decided to apply, drawing a license.

She doesn’t smoke any pot herself, but, she says, “I believe it’s here to stay, and I believe it does a lot of good.”

The store’s selection of bud is, for the moment, grown entirely in Spokane, Cheney and Liberty Lakes, says Jenn Bordoy, the store’s manager.

“I just think from having gone from a bartender to budtender that the local just does better with people,” she says.

The store sells marijuana-infused cookies for $12, grams ranging from $15 to $25 and half grams of concentrates that go for $20 to $40.

The Top Shelf, located at 1305 S. Hayford Road, is having its grand opening on Saturday, January 24. It’ll feature glass-blowers and local farmers who will be available with “sniffy jars” and answers about their products.

Childs and Bordoy stressed that they they don’t give any advice on medical marijuana or give out any samples. So don’t expect any.

Here’s the news:

Under federal law, marijuana is as bad as heroin or LSD. But a federal judge in California could challenge that.

Rumors are swirling in New York City that Mayor Bill de Blasio and his wife regularly smoke pot. Gawker reports that these rumors are coming from the police, who’ve had a frosty relationship with the mayor.

The Buckeye State might be next to legalize pot. 

Indiana lawmakers pushing for some sort of medical marijuana bill can’t get other legislators on board and it’s all the fault of states with more liberalized pot laws. 

About half of Michigan voters want to legalize pot.

Illinois has a medical marijuana law, but Pat Quinn, who recently left the governor’s office, didn’t allow a single license for growers or sellers despite vowing to do so. His successor, Republican Bruce Rauner, isn’t much groovier.

Lastly, here’s a video of Nancy Grace and 2 Chainz arguing about marijuana:

This post has been updated to reflect a new grand opening date for Top Shelf.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Abortion, prostitution and driveways dominate council meeting

Posted By on Tue, Jan 13, 2015 at 9:22 AM

People turned out to city council Monday night. - JAKE THOMAS
  • Jake Thomas
  • People turned out to city council Monday night.

For the third time in a row Spokane City Council had a long hearing about emotional subjects. People packed council chambers on Monday night overflowing into an adjacent gallery to talk about council ordinances related to prostitution and abortion.

Except the second issue wasn't really about abortion; it was about not blocking driveways, according to Council President Ben Stuckart. At least that's what he attempted to make the meeting about, with limited success.

On the agenda was an ordinance that would make it illegal to block a driveway in the public right-of-way. The ordinance was specifically crafted to stop protesters who regularly gather at the Planned Parenthood on East Indiana Avenue from blocking the driveway.

Stuckart wanted to talk about driveways, but most of the 80 people who signed up to speak during the public comment period had other plans.

The first person to speak began talking about his pro-life views, but Stuckart cut him off, saying “we are not going to have a full-blown abortion-good-or-bad debate.” The man countered that abortion was on the council's website, but Stuckart told him it was not.

At a few points during the hearing, Stuckart, who said he was trying not to be “grumpy,” warned the audience not to clap or cheer for speakers, which had led to Stuckart gaveling the meeting early at the last meeting.

Little of what was said during the public comment period was about driveways. Several women told stories about their past abortions and how they were still haunted by them. Others complained that the ordinance was abridging free speech and would invite a lawsuit. One man spoke of “premeditated infanticide.” Still, others spoke of the importance of being able to access reproductive services. One volunteer at Planned Parenthood said that protesters dress up like staff to trick clients, many of whom are distraught by the time they enter the clinic.

During one woman's emotional description of her abortion, Stuckart interrupted her and tried to refocus the conversation.

“I do want to keep this to driveways,” he said, referring to the text of the ordinance that added nine words to an existing city law originally intended to stop aggressive panhandling. “We keep veering off.”

“We need to stay here with those words,” he said.

But Councilman Mike Fagan objected. He said that a council white paper related to the ordinance made it clear that the ordinance was aimed at the situation at Planned Parenthood.

“This ordinance is directed to a specific group,” said Fagan.

That specific group is Sidewalk Advocates for Life. John Weingarten, the director of the group's local chapter, told the council that all his group does is smile, wave and make a roll-down-the-window motion to people driving into Planned Parenthood. If the people stop, he said, an advocate will hand them literature on other options, about half of which he said are grateful to have received.

“We have not blocked the driveway or interfered with traffic,” Weingarten told the council, adding that no one from his group has been arrested despite frequent visits from the police during protests.

After about three hours of public testimony it was time for council members to consider and vote on the ordinance.

Fagan brought up how one person during the public comment period spoke admiringly of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. He then compared Sanger to Nazis and eugenicists.

“Please do your history,” he said.

He also said that the ordinance was clearly meant to undermine the free speech rights of protesters at Planned Parenthood.

Taking a confessional tone, Fagan said that he had “been there, done that” with abortion and described it as a scarring experience for both the man and woman involved.

“Here I am some 38 years later, and I'm still wondering about the 'what if,'” he said.

Councilman Mike Allen, the council's other conservative member, said that he crafted the original city law that the new ordinance was amending. While he said he understood why protesters felt targeted, he ended up supporting the ordinance, which passed 6-1.

City Council also passed an ordinance meant to crack down on prostitution along an area on East Sprague Avenue that statistics show attracts an outsized number of calls to the police related to prostitution. The ordinance, which is designed to reduce the demand for prostitution, creates a special zone around the stretch on East Sprague where anyone suspected of soliciting or promoting prostitution would have their vehicle impounded. Half of the money generated from fines from the ordinance would go to programs meant to prevent prostitution.

During public comment, the council heard from business owners and residents who said that the ordinance would help clean up the area. One woman said she was solicited about a dozen times while waiting for the bus in the area and said she didn't feel safe. Other people told council that they worried that the “world's oldest profession” would just be driven elsewhere by the ordinance and there was no way to truly address the issue.

“However, the truth is we don't really know what kind of impact this will have on people working in prostitution,” said Lutheran Community Services Northwest Advocacy and Prevention Director Erin Williams Heuter.

“We have no way of knowing if this ordinance will drive prostitution into more secluded meetings and how this will increase vulnerability in this population,” she said, adding that she hoped city council would keep an eye on the issue.

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Friday, January 9, 2015

Another feisty Spokane City Council meeting expected

Posted By on Fri, Jan 9, 2015 at 11:35 AM

The odds are high that Monday’s Spokane City Council meeting will be another long, heated one, as the city’s legislative body takes up another hot-button issue. Earlier this week, the council considered a controversial initiative related to immigration. This time it’s related to one of the most emotionally charged and divisive issues in the country: abortion.

Currently, in Spokane it’s illegal to block the sidewalk, and it’s illegal to obstruct vehicular traffic. But it’s legal to block driveways. This aspect of the city’s legal code, says Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart, is being used by Planned Parenthood protesters to prevent people from entering the clinic.

“People have the right to protest, but they do not have the right to block a private driveway,” says Stuckart.

The only reason that the proposed ordinance is at all controversial, says Stuckart, is because it involves abortion provider Planned Parenthood.

“Think about if protesters were doing this to Avista or Sacred Heart,” he adds.

The proposed ordinance adds any driveway in the public right-of-way to the city’s existing ordinance that prohibits interfering with vehicular traffic. “Interfering,” under the law, includes activities designed to “intimidate” or “aggressively solicit” passersby.
Council President Ben Stuckart
  • Council President Ben Stuckart

Councilwoman Candace Mumm says there has been lots of disinformation regarding the ordinance and that it applies to driveways for all businesses and homeowners, not just Planned Parenthood. She also says that Planned Parenthood isn't the only place to have problems with blocked driveways. 

Protests outside of abortion clinics can become heated and confrontational. Some jurisdictions have passed laws restricting protests. Over the summer, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that these restrictions are unconstitutional.

Stuckart says that this ordinance has been thoroughly vetted and shouldn’t run into any legal challenges.

John Weingarten, the director of the local chapter of Sidewalk Advocates for Life, says that he doesn’t even consider his group’s activities outside of Planned Parenthood as amounting to protesting. He says that people involved with the group hand out literature to people entering the clinic letting them know that there are other organizations that provide women’s health services.

“We are not protesters,” he says. “We are just offering loving alternatives.”

“Nobody that I’m aware of has blocked anyone from Planned Parenthood,” he says. “No one has even caused them to be delayed.”

Weingarten says that people from his group have at times engaged with people in cars in Planned Parenthood’s driveway, but they’ve taken care not to block it. He also says that he’s never seen anyone arrested at a gathering outside Planned Parenthood.

“I think what it is is that Planned Parenthood is finding that our literature is being accepted,” he says.

Councilman Mike Fagan, a conservative members of the council, says that he expects opponents of the ordinance to show up.

At the last council meeting, Stuckart gaveled the meeting to a close early after supporters of an immigration-related ordinance continued to clap and cheer during the public comment period in violation of council rules. Many of those in attendance bristled at Stuckart’s actions, and he says that the reaction has continued online in social media.

“Someone calling me a fascist for running a meeting with rules is quite astonishing,” says Stuckart of some things he’s seen online.

He says that he should have just ended the public comment period instead of ending the meeting. He also says he will insist that council rules be followed in the upcoming meeting. 
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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

WW: Potential changes to Washington's pot laws and how other states laws are working

Posted By on Wed, Jan 7, 2015 at 3:39 PM


Welcome back to Weed Wednesday, your weekly dose of pot news. Wondering what this is about? Click. Looking for our previous marijuana coverage? Click. Got a question or tip? Email me at [email protected]

In Washington state, the big news this week was proposed changes to the state’s medical marijuana system, which has been kept separate from the recreational system in order to ensure that patients have access to the drug. Lawmakers are set to gather in Olympia next week, and changes could be on the horizon for how pot is regulated in the state.

One bill proposed by Sen. Ann Rivers, R- La Center, would create new licenses for medical marijuana dispensaries who would be required to test the strength of their product in much the same way recreational pot is, reports The Associated Press. The bill would also only allow these stores to sell edibles and no smokable dried pot, pointing out that smoking is considered unhealthy. It would also place new restrictions on collective gardens used to grow medical pot.

A competing bill from state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, would effectively merge the state’s medical and recreational systems together, an idea that was recently endorsed by Seattle’s city attorney and opposed by Seattle’s mayor.

However, medical marijuana advocates are reluctant to put both the two systems under one regulatory umbrella. Recreational marijuana is heavily taxed and patient advocates worry if the two systems are combined sick people who rely on the drug will have a harder time getting it. There are also concerns that patients won’t be able to get advice on the therapeutic effects of various strains at a recreational dispensary.

"Instead of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole by forcing medical marijuana into the adult-use program, policymakers should be adopting a regulatory framework that fully implements the state's 16-year-old medical use law, thereby better protecting and preserving the needs of patients," said Kari Boiter, Washington state coordinator for Americans for Safe Access, an organization that advocates on behalf of medical marijuana patients, in a prepared statement.

In other news:

Last month, the attorneys general of Oklahoma and Nebraska brought a lawsuit against Colorado asking the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the state’s marijuana legalization law, arguing that weed was spilling across its borders. It turns out that some groovy Oklahoma lawmakers are telling their state’s AG to mellow out on the lawsuit - for state’s rights, of course.

Colorado has launched its “Good to Know” campaign that’s intended to educate people about the ins-and-outs of its marijuana law, reports USA Today. For instance, it’s good to know that you’re not supposed to give weed to kids or take it to states where it’s not legal.

Illinois’ medical marijuana program has been in effect for over a year, but only one person to date has used it.

States that have legalized marijuana, recreationally and medicinally, have created booms among certain industries. In New York state, it’s expected to give a boost to an unexpected industry: lobbyists.

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Someone has a new nickname for Ben Stuckart

Posted By on Wed, Jan 7, 2015 at 1:22 PM

There is a group of people in Spokane, and elsewhere, who are not happy with City Council President Ben Stuckart, who on Monday gaveled to a close an unusually quarrelsome hearing on a controversial initiative that could change how city employees, including police officers, deal with undocumented immigrants. Here’s our coverage of the meeting.

Someone called up Stuckart and left a very salty voicemail that includes a new nickname for the council president. Adam McDaniel, Stuckart’s aide, appears to have posted it to YouTube.

Warning: some of the language in the recording is not G-rated.

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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Raúl Labrador: "My vote for Mr. Boehner is not an endorsement of his past leadership."

Posted By on Tue, Jan 6, 2015 at 5:26 PM

From the very start, U.S. Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho),  has had a tense relationship with John Boehner. He came to Washington saying, essentially, that he wasn't there to make friends. He accused Boehner of "abandoning conservatives with debt-ceiling" plans. And two years ago, when Boehner was up for reelection as Speaker of the House, Labrador stood there, silent as his name was called, refusing to vote for Boehner or anyone else.
Still not totally sold on Boehner
  • Still not totally sold on Boehner

“I decided to speak with my silence,” Labrador told the Inlander then. “There was nobody at that moment I thought would be a good speaker.” (Libertarian Republican Justin Amash voted for Labrador as speaker.)

He had tried, futilely, to organize opposition to Boehner's leadership. 

He's said he believes Boehner is a good man, but sometimes too naive, too unwilling to take a strong stand. He's bristled at Boehner's negotiating tactics. Yet during the government shutdown at the end of 2013, Labrador praised Boehner's initial resolve and unwillingness to back down. "I think he's done a very good job with this," Labrador told the Inlander.

Labrador's remained ambitious and willing to challenge party leadership. He had a brief, relatively futile campaign for House Majority Leader last year.  

But this year, there were even more even opposing Boehner's re-election. Twenty-five representatives chose to vote instead for representatives like Rand Paul, Jeff Sessions, Louie Gohmert and Daniel Webster (not the one you're thinking of).

But Labrador wasn't among them. He voted for Boehner. 

In a statement Tuesday afternoon, Labrador explains how he was convinced: 
Before I cast my vote for Mr. Boehner, I spoke with him multiple times. He assured me that he wants to change the way the House is run. He cited my successful efforts last August in bringing conservatives together to pass two bills that would have secured the border and prevented Obama’s illegal executive actions. He asked for my help moving the House in a more conservative direction and promised that this would be a model for how he’ll conduct himself as Speaker in the 114th Congress.
But lest Boehner think Labrador is sending mixed signals, his statement makes his feelings clear,  explaining that his "vote for Mr. Boehner is not an endorsement of his past leadership" and that "every time over the past four years that the Speaker ignored the views of the Republican majority and the voice of the American people, I opposed him."

Continue reading »

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Immigration initiative draws jeers and cheers to City Council

Posted By on Tue, Jan 6, 2015 at 11:46 AM

Supporters pack council chambers in support of a ballot initiative. - JAKE THOMAS
  • Jake Thomas
  • Supporters pack council chambers in support of a ballot initiative.
The first City Council meeting of the year was uncharacteristically unruly and dramatic, with an exasperated Council President Ben Stuckart gaveling the meeting to a close early and storming out during the public comment period for a controversial initiative related to how Spokane police handle undocumented immigrants.

At issue was a proposed ballot initiative from Spokane resident Jackie Murray that would reverse a city policy that prohibits city employees, including police, from inquiring about someone’s immigration status.

The measure drew over 30 people to City Council chambers to testify. Many of them were older. Most of them were white. A few didn’t even live in Spokane.

Some spoke about how this was an issue of equality before the law. Some speakers invoked concerns that the policy would make Spokane a magnet for “terrorists,” “criminals” and “illegals” who would be a drain on resources. Some cited things they had heard on Patriot Radio and other conservative media.

A handful of people defended the city’s policy and pushed back against those who supported the effort to strike it down.

“I am disgusted so far with the testimony from the public,” said Alfredo Llamedo, a social work student at Eastern Washington University, who told his story of immigrating from Cuba as a child.

“This is the land of opportunity, not of hate, and all I've heard tonight is hate,” Llamedo told the council.

Stuckart, whose father passed away last week, warned the audience that he was “short-fused” that evening and that he would gavel the meeting to a close if people broke council decorum by applauding and cheering during the public comment period. After the crowd continued to ignore Stuckart’s warnings he testily said “that’s it” and gaveled the meeting, sparking an uproar from people in attendance. 
George McGrath shortly before being evicted. - JAKE THOMAS
  • Jake Thomas
  • George McGrath shortly before being evicted.

George McGrath, who regularly speak at city council meetings, stepped up to the microphone and began berating the decision, calling it “iron-fisted.” After he refused to step down, he was escorted out by a police officer.

Councilman Jon Snyder, who serves as president pro tem, told the crowd that the council meeting would continue if people agreed to respect the rules.

“This has never happened ever in the five years I've been on council because people respect the rules that we have here,” he said.

After public comment resumed, Murray, the sponsor of the initiative, addressed the council. Earlier in the night, she had a terse exchange with Stuckart when the council passed an ordinance that required political committees active in Spokane to have at least one officer who is a registered voter in the city. The ordinance was crafted to prevent political groups from outside Spokane from trying to influence local elections. Murray, whose initiative is sponsored by the group Respect Washington, expressed concerns that it was targeting her, which Stuckart denied.

Murray told the council that her initiative was about fairness.

“My father is a legal immigrant from Jamaica. I'm black,” said Murray.

“All I'm asking is for everyone to do the same thing my dad did,” she continued. “There's nothing wrong with that; it's not racist.”

Under city law, when a citizen initiative is sponsored, the council has the option of voting it into law or sending it to voters, neither of which city lawmakers have done in living memory. If they do neither, the initiative is vetted by the city and supporters can begin collecting signatures.

Councilman Mike Fagan introduced a motion to make the initiative law, which failed. He introduced another to send it directly to voters, which also failed.

The initiative now goes to city hearing examiner to look into its legal validity. After passing that hurdle and going through the City Clerk’s Office, supporters can begin gathering signatures. It could be on the November ballot. 
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Friday, January 2, 2015

John Waite launches campaign for City Council

Posted By on Fri, Jan 2, 2015 at 1:57 PM

Downtown business owner John Waite has announced that he will be making another bid for Spokane City Council, challenging incumbent Michael Allen who currently holds the District 2 seat.

Waite, the owner of geek haven Merlyn’s comic books and games store, has made three unsuccessful runs for the city’s legislative body. His most recent attempt was in District 1, and he’s also run in District 3. Following redistricting in 2013, his residence now falls in District 2.

Waite has served on the Downtown Business Improvement District board, the Spokane Regional Cable Advisory Board and is the current Democratic precinct committee officer for the party’s downtown precinct.

If successful in ousting the conservative-leaning Allen, Waite would bolster the council’s liberal majority to 6-1 (although Waite has stressed non-partisanship in previous campaigns.)

According to a statement, Waite will prioritize enhancing job opportunities in Spokane, strengthening public safety and improving mental health services. In the past he has sought to reform the city’s finances. Coverage of an event during his last campaign went viral when Waite dawned a 100-pound costume of a character from the StarCraft video game.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A marathon city council meeting takes on unskilled labor

Posted By on Tue, Dec 16, 2014 at 1:21 PM

Spokane City Council’s last meeting of the year was a marathon session that lasted over four hours and brought out the largest group of people the city’s legislative body had seen all year.

The council's agenda touched on a beautification project, a pilot program meant to deter speeders in school zones and an ordinance intended to use the city’s economic clout to boost the number of skilled workers in the area.

It was this ordinance, accompanied by two others meant to steer city procurements and contracts to local businesses, that filled council chambers with people who largely urged its passage.

The ordinance mandated that 15 percent of all labor hours on city public work projects be done by apprentice labor. Spearheaded by City Council President Ben Stuckart, the ordinance is meant to address the shortage of skilled labor contractors are facing in the Spokane area and across the state. Speaking before the crowded council chambers, Stuckart said that the shortage will worsen as construction projects pick up significantly in coming years. 
The council passed an ordinance requiring apprentice labor in public works projects, despite concerns from Mayor David Condon.
  • The council passed an ordinance requiring apprentice labor in public works projects, despite concerns from Mayor David Condon.

“We, as a participant in the market, have to do something,” said Stuckart, who pointed to about a dozen other schools or government entities in Washington that have similar requirements. He also mentioned a slew of multi-million dollar projects the city had planned in coming years, which, under the ordinance, could be used as an incubator for new skilled workers.

The ordinance, starting July of next year, will require 5 percent of all labor hours on all city projects to be done by apprentices, who will get on-the-job training for in-demand professions. That requirement would steadily rise to 15 percent by 2017. The ordinance allows these requirements to be waived under some circumstances, but contractors who don’t meet it could face fines.

The ordinance was amended by Councilwoman Amber Waldref with provisions meant to encourage contractors to hire local labor (particularly minorities, women and people from economically distressed areas).

Stuckart said that in drafting the ordinance he made multiple modifications to address the concerns of contractors, to no avail. Several contractors showed up to testify that the measure was too punitive and imposed unrealistic requirements on an industry still struggling to recover from the Great Recession.

“For our organization, it will not work,” an owner of a small construction company solemnly told the council.

But the majority of the nearly 40 people who testified were in support of the ordinance and included many individuals from the Spokane Alliance, a coalition of religious and labor groups focused on economic issues. A parade of current and past apprentices came before the council to tell stories of how apprenticeship programs gave them second opportunities after plans of college didn't work out.

Councilman Mike Allen noted that his father probably would have fit in with the apprentices testifying in support of the ordinance, but he still couldn’t support placing a new requirement on businesses. Councilman Mike Fagan expressed concerns that the ordinance would “steamroll” local businesses.

“Again, I ask, why is OK to make this mandatory?” he asked. “Why is this OK to attach a penalty?”

Although the ordinance passed 5-2, Spokane Mayor David Condon has concerns about it as well. In a letter to Stuckart, he wrote that the ordinance should be reworked to better take into account the concerns of all stakeholders and to broaden its focus to creating more family-wage jobs in the area.

In addition to passing the apprenticeship ordinance, the council also voted to shuffle money from existing funds and direct them toward the $800,000 revitalization of the Division Street Gateway, a heavily used entry point to the city that sees 28,000 pass through it each day. Although Fagan questioned if it was a good use of funds and George McGrath, who spoke against nearly everything the council did during each public comment period, called it a “hair-brained scheme to make Spokane's entry way beautiful on Division Street,” the measure passed.

Additionally, the council voted to set up a pilot program meant to deter speeding at Finch and Longfellow elementary schools. Sponsored by Councilman Jon Snyder, the measure, beginning next year, will set up speed zone cameras that will take a picture of speeding drivers and send them a ticket in the mail.

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