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Car Trouble 

Problems on the highway and raceway — and at the border

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Borderline Disorder

Ten members of Congress — including Washington Reps. Adam Smith and Jim McDermott — have signed a letter calling for the General Accounting Office to audit the United States Customs and Border Protection.

The Congressmen, along with several immigrant advocacy groups, are calling on the CBP to stop its alleged racial profiling of Hispanics on the northern border and conducting operations outside schools, churches and human service agencies frequented by immigrants.

“These concerns that we’ve been raising have not been new to the [CBP] leadership, both at the local level and the national level,” says Jorge Baron, executive director of the Washington-based Northwest Immigrants Rights Project.

Border Patrol officers have been monitoring and responding to Spokane police calls without being asked for help by police. They have also been serving as translators to save time and money, a Spokane Police officer told the City Council earlier this year.

A federal civil rights office in May called that practice discriminatory in a case where Border Patrol showed up for “translation assistance” at a police stop involving a Western Washington Hispanic couple.

— Joe O’Sullivan

Raceway Crash

When local one-time dragster Craig Smith took over the Spokane County Raceway this February, he promised he would rebrand the track’s “tarnished reputation.” The raceway, purchased by county commissioners for $4.5 million in 2008, has often become a target of the commissioners’ critics.

Now, as he readily admits, the raceway has a whole new controversy to overcome. On Monday, Smith, along with County Commissioner Todd Mielke, announced he was chucking Full Blown Promotions, the firm that operated the oval track via a contract with Smith. As a result, the raceway has been suspended for the rest of the season.

“We are out of money, out of options and out of energy,” Full Blown Promotions announced in a press release.

They were also, Smith says, $27,000 behind on rent.

In the release, Full Blown Promotions stated it had planned on selling beer when the group originally negotiated its lease. But state law, Smith says, doesn’t allow subcontractors to sell beer; Smith says he was clear about that with Full Blown Promotions.

Without alcohol concessions, Smith says Full Blown Promotions attempted to use free tickets to continue to draw a crowd, but that strategy ultimately failed. The fan base dropped off dramatically he says. When Full Blown Promotions offered to let Smith sell beer trackside in exchange for elimination of its weekend rent, Smith says he wasn’t interested.

“The bottom line is their business plan failed,” Smith says. “They shot themselves in the foot.”

He also complains about the condition of the grounds, stands and bathrooms near the oval track.

Smith promises oval track racing will return next season, though he’s done using a subcontractor. For now, some members of the racing community have been heavily critical of Smith’s decision.

“It’s negative publicity that shouldn’t be happening,” he says.

— Daniel Walters

Stuck In Traffic

The economy may be getting better, but your commute is getting worse, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation.

A report released this week by the department shows that drivers across the state spent 16 percent more time stuck in traffic in 2011 than they did in 2009.

In Spokane, the department found that average daily commutes haven’t changed much in recent years, but the “days where everything goes wrong” have gotten worse, says WSDOT Eastern Region spokesman Al Gilson.

The most time-consuming trips from Argonne to Division on I-90 during morning rush hour (starting at 7:50 am) took nine minutes longer in 2011. The DOT credits a rebounding economy for more cars on the road.

Gilson says it’s on drivers, not the DOT, to improve the future.

“Are they using alternative transportation?” he says. “Are they taking the bus?”

— Heidi Groover

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