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Spokane's To-Do List 

by ROBERT HEROLD & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & O & lt;/span & ur campaigns, all of them, have been low on octane, which may not be a good thing. It does seem that the deep and wide political fault lines which opened across our city landscape eight years ago may be just as deep today, but they're nowhere near as wide. The depth of the faults not so obvious, Spokane has returned to its pre-River Park Square position: political apathy. Thus the mayor and his challenger are left to hurl charges and counter charges over something so silly as the tribal casino non-issue: who muttered something at one time, in passing, maybe, or likely not.





Nonetheless, here we are a week away and left with the forlorn hope that the incoming winners will elevate their sights. For example: How about improving cooperation between our branches of government? Also, if for no other reason than putting a stop to the astonishing and embarrassing display of administrative and political ineptitude emanating from the fifth floor of City Hall, might we hope that the Matrix Study will be shoved into so many round files? And, please, might we redefine the term "economic development" so that it means something more than numbers of building permits issued and sales tax receipts?





& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & s for other initiatives, here's my to-do list; these four aren't likely on all our candidates' lists:





1. Campaign finance reform. Seattle has it. Portland has it. The idea of raising upwards of $40,000 for a Council race, as has Brad Stark, is revealing of an electoral illness that needs healing. The same thing might be said for four-figure contributions to both mayoral candidates. Money, especially when it comes from single-interest groups, spells "preferred access." And "preferred access" spells trouble.





2. The Comprehensive Plan needs, finally, to be taken seriously. Already we see the plan being overtaken by the moving stream of politics as usual. The latest example: Up on 29th and Grand, we see about to open a Walgreen's that can charitably be called a "semi-big box" store -- classic suburban design in an urban setting. Now, folks, the upfront tradeoff in the Comprehensive Plan was made clear: The city would trade off low-density zoning for urban design. With apologies to developers who are trying to do the right thing (architectural facades, cars in back, building to the sidewalk), might I note the obvious: Eight years ago, neighborhoods didn't agree to upzoning just so the suburbs could be expanded inward.





3. Booster enthusiasm notwithstanding, truth is that the much ballyhooed University District remains mostly bricks and mortar -- that and a bunch of relocated academic programs. Move in a few programs from Cheney, add a couple of hybrids from Pullman, move the nurses down and, hey, I'll bring the costumes and you bring the lemonade. The truth is we are no closer to serious research programs than we were when the WSU-Spokane branch campus opened in 1989. The odds are against ever having the kind of branch campus that, say, the University of Missouri has in Kansas City, with real research and actual doctorate programs. But, for certain, nothing is going to happen unless the city's elected leadership weighs in. To date, the city leadership has sat back and played its assigned role of official booster. The push has come from the business community. No offense, but, as someone who knows a thing or two about how the higher education sausage is made, let me suggest that the business community isn't up to the job by itself.





What we need are more WSU doctoral programs. It is just that simple. Get this and Spokane finally has access to a bigger world -- grants, contracts, graduate students, maybe even a residential life. To succeed we need the involvement of governments and academic institutions -- it's the roving business leaders who seek more largess from Olympia who should do the boostering work, and only on cue. So the city must play a much bigger role, but, at present we have no one in City Hall who even understands the problem let alone has clue as to how to address it.





4. In successful cities, urban aesthetics are synonymous with economic development: U.C. Berkeley architect, Dan Solomon, when here for a symposium, observed that the most highly valued and sought after real estate is found not in the laissez faire cities but in the most tightly regulated cities: the San Franciscos, Manhattans, Portlands, Charlestons. But here in good old private marketplace Spokane, we have sat idly as speculators turn the downtown into a sea of ugly surface parking lots. Our incoming elected leaders should address this problem. And while they are at it, they might also take the action necessary to get rid of all the mini-billboards that litter the city; I refer to bus benches with advertising. These things aren't needed (we need shelters in Spokane, not benches) and are illegal -- have been for a decade or more. But enforcement? In Spokane? Friends and neighbors city? The town of preferred access?





Which brings us back full circle to the need for campaign finance reform, the absence of which, would say the cynic, almost guarantees that no progress will be made on any of the above fronts.





Status quo? Let's hope that this week's winners can do better.

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