Yesterday, we wrote a post about the Spokesman-Review’s “Signs point to dim future for STA Plaza” story, noting that the one person supposedly predicting the Plaza would move says he doesn’t believe the Plaza would move.
In response, the writer of the Spokesman-Review story, David Wasson, wrote a Spin Control blog post embedding a Spokane Valley City Council briefing where Hafner says: “Mark my words … the only resolution to it will be to move the Plaza.”
In context, one could conclude that Hafner was talking about the only resolution that the business groups would be satisfied with — not what he actually expected to be adopted by the STA board. Several of the comments on Wasson's blog came to the same to conclusion.
Still, to double-check, we emailed Hafner last night asking him if the first line in the Spokesman article — "Spokane’s business community likely will succeed in pushing the region’s central bus plaza out of downtown, a former transit board chairman predicts” — was accurate.
Here's Hafner’s response this morning:
I am not sure what the intent of the reporter was when it was stated a "former transit board chairman predicts." Evidently he, for sure, misunderstood. I did not predict that STA would move from its present location. In fact, my conversation centered around making it a friendly business Plaza. Neighboring with the other businesses that are involved. Hope this clarifies my position. Take care.
We forwarded the email to both Wasson and City Editor Addy Hatch, and Hatch sent back a reply, saying that Hafner had originally praised the story.
Well, here’s what he sent Dave after the story ran:
Dave—-Thank you for a very well and accurate written article regarding STA. I am sure that others feel the same way. Again, thank you. Take care.
Nevertheless, the board has repeatedly, in votes and rhetoric, indicated it supports the Plaza staying where it is. And current STA board chair Amber Waldref says no board member has come to her and suggested moving the Plaza.
A Sunday Spokesman-Review story — “Signs point to dim future for STA Plaza: Transit board member predicts hub will be forced to leave downtown” — began by saying that Spokane Valley Councilman Chuck Hafner predicted the Plaza would be forced to move because of downtown business opposition.
That flew in the face of what Hafner, former chair of the Spokane Transit board of directors, and other board members have been saying for years. Reached by phone today, Hafner directly contradicts the Spokesman’s characterization of his views.
“To me, the STA Plaza has a future downtown,” Hafner says. He says he can't understand why the Spokesman headline called the future of the Plaza “dim.”
Instead, Hafner says his point was that opposition to the Plaza's downtown location from groups like Visit Spokane, Downtown Spokane Partnership and Greater Spokane Inc. will continue no matter what the transit agency does.
“This is so ingrained that I don’t know if you’re going to change anybody’s mind,” Hafner says, explaining opposition will “continue and continue and continue… until the STA board says a definite, ‘This is where we’re going to stay.'”
Indeed, some downtown business interests, including the Cowles Company, which owns the Spokesman-Review and River Park Square, have raised concerns about the impact of Plaza patrons. But the STA board, not downtown business groups, controls the Plaza’s future.
While the board voted to delay the renovations in order to answer the questions raised by those groups, it voted last year to keep the Plaza in the same location. A study on the question highlighted major costs and problems with moving or closing the Plaza.
The actual chance of the Plaza being moved is extremely unlikely, Hafner says.
“That’s the last thing in my estimation right now. Why would we move it? Look at the cost,” Hafner says. He also argues that moving the Plaza to a less central location would inconvenience workers who commute to downtown. Unless some uniquely compelling alternative for moving the Plaza were presented, he doesn’t think the board would even consider it.
Spokane City Councilwoman Amber Waldref, the current STA board chair, also doesn’t see any appetite for a Plaza relocation. “No board member has come to me and said, ‘Maybe we should move,'” Waldref says.
In fact, she says, that’s not even what the conversations between STA and business leaders have been about.
"I’ve spent the last three weeks talking with [DSP President] Mark Richard, working to put together these facilitated meetings,” says Waldref. “Mark and I are on the same page: We’re not talking about moving the plaza.”
She says she’s open to discussions about how downtown transit will look like a decade from now, but any of those conversations rely on the STA acquiring more funding.
In an email sent out to other STA board members this afternoon, Waldref calls the Spokesman headline inaccurate:
I woke up on Sunday morning to a Spokesman Review headline that I believe inaccurately represented the views of this Board and the direction we have been taking in working with stakeholders regarding the STA Plaza. I hope the other Board members feel, like I did, that the headline was not reflective of the information shared to the reporter. http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2014/aug/17/signs-point-to-dim-future-for-sta-plaza/
I know we are all frustrated by the amount of time we have spent on the “Plaza” topic over the last 2 years, which has taken away from our ability to make innovative changes to our system to improve and strengthen transit access in Spokane County. However, the Board voted last year to remain committed to using the STA Plaza as our major operations hub. We as the Board agreed to pause the Plaza renovations to receive more input from Downtown stakeholders and I have been working diligently on your behalf to make that process one that brings value to all involved in the conversation.
Here is my update to you. Please feel free to contact me at any time on my cell phone if you have any questions or concerns about the process.
I have been in almost daily conversation with Mark Richard of the DSP for three weeks. I had several requests for Mark and he has been very accommodating. I asked that the STA Board Operations Committee (me, Al French, Mike Allen, Tom Trulove) be the representatives of STA at any meetings. I also requested a neutral, outside facilitator to help identify mutual goals and structure the meetings to get to outcomes. I am meeting this week with Mark, the facilitator and other DSP leadership to help put together the agenda for the first meeting, which should be scheduled soon for next week. The two areas of facilitated conversation will be: 1. input into (re)design of building; 2. Input into long-term vision for Plaza and downtown transit (any change from use of Plaza in the 10 year+ future will take a planning process that includes many other stakeholders, as well).
I am very hopeful that this process will bring out all concerns and issues and give STA staff and Board a chance to listen, learn and also for downtown stakeholders to listen and learn and that all input will be given by mid-November so this Board can “move forward” with decisions regarding redesign of the Plaza AND that this Board can receive input on our 10-year Moving Forward program and make a decision by end of the year regarding a ballot measure.
If you have concerns or input, please let me know. Enjoy the rest of your summer!
There was a moment during a usually diplomatic Spokane City Council meeting in June when Council President Ben Stuckart was especially blunt.
"If we want to repeal this law, we've got to have more than anecdotes," Stuckart told Joan Medina, who does street outreach to homeless people and had come to council chambers to speak against the city's sit-lie law, saying it was targeting people who work downtown, along with the homeless. "We've got to have statistics and we've got to have the person and show that they got a ticket and that they are being wrongfully singled out. Because just saying that there's a list of people that have been targeted by this isn't enough at this point. ... We've got to have more to go on. Somebody's got to go and get a ticket and they've got to go to [Police Ombudsman Tim Burns] and make a complaint that they're an employee of somewhere downtown or they're from out of town shopping or something like that because right now I just don't have enough to go on."
The council's expansion of the ban on sitting and lying on downtown sidewalks — from the previous 7 am-9 pm to 6 am-midnight — has been controversial since its passage in December. Along with some homeless advocates, Stuckart and other liberals on the council were outspoken about their concerns that it would unfairly target people with nowhere else to go, effectively "criminalizing homelessness." In the months since, opponents of the rules have testified to council often and protests have sprung up, including a group that's organizing frequent "sit downs" via Facebook. This spring, the United Nations Human Rights Committee identified sit-lie laws in a review of civil rights in the U.S., writing that, "the Committee is concerned about reports of criminalization of people living on the street for everyday activities such as eating, sleeping, sitting in particular areas, etc. The Committee notes that such criminalization raises concerns of discrimination and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment."
Meanwhile, since January, when Councilwoman Candace Mumm replaced Nancy McLaughlin on the council, the new left-leaning majority has been flexing its muscles. They've legalized backyard farming in the city, passed a series of environmentally friendly ordinances and continued to fight the Republican Spokane County Commission on growth issues. They even rescinded the previous council's opposition to the Spokane Tribe's casino project. In the next two weeks, they'll add another councilmember, one of five finalists all favored by the council's liberals. So, should we expect to see the new "supermajority" take on sit-lie?
In short, probably not.
In a council committee meeting last month, Stuckart and Police Chief Frank Straub discussed the issue. A police department report to the council showed that most of the sit-lie tickets given from March to July were written in the afternoon and all of them were before 11 pm. Considering that, Stuckart asked Straub if he would support ending sit-lie enforcement at 11 pm instead of midnight to "alleviate that concern" about the law unfairly targeting homeless people looking for a place to rest. Straub emphasized that he doesn't think the law is meant to target homeless people, but "problem" groups in downtown. He still advised against a change.
"My counsel would be not to do that because probably what'll happen is it'll move back and the activity will start and we'll be in a position where we have to push it back again," Straub said. "People tend to adjust themselves to policing action, so my concern is if we dial it back, they'll adjust themselves."
The council has also received a letter from Downtown Spokane Partnership President Mark Richard warning against changing course on sit-lie. While pledging support for "providing services to those who are willing to accept them," Richard wrote that an effort to change sit-lie would be "counter to the pledge I received from Council this winter; that you would not seek to repeal these changes with the new make up on the council."
"Is this ordinance perfect; no, and it never will be," Richard wrote. "We remain as committed as the day it was passed, however, to reviewing it and ensuring it is used as a positive tool; replacing fear with a feeling that every human being of all walks are welcome in downtown. ... If it is revoked, we have every reason to believe you will embolden the group that continually violates the law like never before and we will be hard pressed to gain back a mutually respectful sidewalk experience. My point is this; we can ill-afford to go backward."
Late last month, Stuckart told the Inlander he's not planning to push for a reversal of the law or a reduction in the hours it's enforced.
"They're not out there ousting homeless people at 11:30, which was my concern," he says. "I haven’t seen specifics that that’s happening. I can’t reverse the law on a couple stories."
Stuckart also said he expects some sort of lawsuit over the ban in coming months: "We'll let the courts rule on whether it's unconstitutional or not."
Law enforcement officers, judges, jail administrators and elected officials gathered Thursday evening to reconvene a long-abandoned county Law and Justice Council dedicated to introducing reforms and best practices across the regional criminal justice system.
A yearlong Spokane County Regional Criminal Justice Commission issued more than 40 recommendations in January for reshaping and enhancing the local justice system. Renewing the council was a top priority.
The 18-member panel of local leaders filled a large conference table while community members packed the surrounding room, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder against the walls.
"We're very happy with the turnout," says retired Judge Jim Murphy, who helped author the commission's recommendations. "I think there's a well-laid out road that's been suggested."
The renewed council will take on the logistics of implementing aspects of the commission's 61-page "Blueprint for Reform," which offers suggestions for adapting to new programs and highlights "pockets of excellence" in the current system that should expand to other departments.
County Commissioner Todd Mielke, who chairs the new council, says much of the work will focus on transitioning Spokane's system from offense-based programs to offender-based programs, which take the entire individual's risks and needs into consideration for rehabilitation.
"It is a very complex system," he says, adding, "Recidivism is a big issue. … [It may be] a central theme that ties us all together."
Mielke says the county's research, in partnership with WSU's Criminal Justice department, has found many communities engaging in a similar conversation, but none on the comprehensive scale Spokane plans to attempt over the next five years.
Jacqueline van Wormer, an assistant professor with WSU, will serve as a temporary coordinator to help organize and monitor countywide reform efforts. She noted the council has no established protocols, so the members must first decide how they want the council to operate.
"This is your process," she says. "This is your group."
Members voted to establish five initial subcommittees to start identifying priorities and gathering research. The council expects subcommittees to have eight to 12 members.
Those subcommittees include: Goals and Objectives (which will also address process and organization), Data (for identifying problems through statistics and measuring successes), Technology (for targeting obsolete equipment or implementing new systems), Facilities (for evaluating and prioritizing infrastructure needs), and Risk-Needs (for addressing the offender assessment programs).
Mielke and others emphasized they would like to see local citizens and advocates seated on those subcommittees, not just council members. For information on joining a subcommittee contact Karen Westberg at: email@example.com.
Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart, who sits on the new justice council, argued citizens should be involved at every level of the process, including having sitting members on the council. Spokane Valley also asked for an additional council seat for a representative from their city.
Van Wormer says she will start organizing the structures and members for the subcommittees. She also plans to send out information on what other law and justice councils have done in other parts of the country.
The council plans to meet again in mid-September, and van Wormer noted they would probably need a bigger room.
Wish I knew this was coming
Well if it was me i would shut the spoka e plaze down so there…
All the commentary about the plaza may be having an affect. In the last two…
The Spokesman has posted a rebuttal to this blog on its "Spin Control" blog which…
Verbose sciolism and nescient opinion that really amounts to nothing but fluff.