Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Spokane City Council builds sick-leave task force, says goodbye to "Hookerville"

Posted By on Tue, May 5, 2015 at 3:43 PM

Here’s what happened at the May 4 Spokane City Council meeting:

People will no longer be allowed to utter the word “Hookerville” at Spokane City Council meetings.

The city’s legislative body appointed members of task force that will help craft an upcoming earned-sick-safe-leave ordinance, which will include an opponent of the entire idea.

And a regulatory framework for short-term rentals, such as Airbnb, was approved.

Don’t say “Hookerville”
click to enlarge Spokane City Council builds sick-leave task force, says goodbye to "Hookerville"
George McGrath, civic gadfly, said "Hookerville" for the last time in front of City Council on Monday.

During city council’s open forum period, when anyone gets three minutes to tell Spokane’s lawmakers almost anything they want, George McGrath, who regularly shows up to berate the council, was ordered to stop using the word “Hookerville” to refer to East Sprague Avenue, a part of town that has struggled with prostitution. 

In the past, McGrath has referred to a pedestrian bridge that will link Washington State University Spokane to East Sprague Avenue as the “bridge to Hookerville.” But last night, two members of city council weren’t having it.

“That is just offensive, and I think we are all getting a little tired of hearing the term 'bridge to Hookerville,’” said Councilwoman Karen Stratton, interrupting McGrath, who was in the middle of an anti-City Council tirade when he used the offending word. “So I respectfully request that Mr. McGrath not use that term anymore.”

McGrath pushed back, but Council President Ben Stuckart cut him off. “I'm asking that you not to use that word any more in City Council Chambers,” said Stuckart. “It's offensive and many people have complained about it.”

“So my First Amendment rights are gone because I'm at the meeting of the Spokane City Council and some people don't like the terms I use?” said McGrath.

“Your three minutes are up,” replied Stuckart.

“Yes they are,” scoffed McGrath.

Task force assembled

Spokane City Council voted to appoint 12 members to a task force charged with providing input on an upcoming ordinance that will mandate employers provide their workers paid time off to deal with illness or domestic violence. The task force is comprised of representatives from the Spokane Regional Health District, the Human Rights Commission, as well as representatives from business and labor groups. But by May 4, the task force still had one empty position, and the council voted to appoint Michael Cathcart, government affairs director for the Spokane Home Builders Association.

An outspoken foe of the sick-leave ordinance, he’s clashed with Councilman Jon Snyder, who, along with Councilwoman Amber Waldref, has spearheaded efforts to create the policy.

“The makeup of the [task force] seems very slanted through one [perspective],” said Councilman Mike Allen, who has opposed the policy. “I think adding [Cathcart] to that board will help legitimize that board more and having another voice or opinion will offer something constructive.”

However, Snyder pushed back, rejecting the idea that the task force was slanted and pointing out that Cathcart’s appointment would put two representatives from the building industry on it. But in the end, Cathcart was appointed on a 4-3 vote.

Short term rentals

After a year-long process, a regulatory framework has been created in Spokane for short-term rentals, most notably Airbnb. 

Airbnb, which connects people willing to rent out part or all of their homes to travelers looking for a place to stay, has brushed up against zoning regulations in other cities, some of which have responded with lawsuits. Last spring, the council assembled a stakeholders group that included representatives from Visit Spokane, bed and breakfasts, short-term rental hosts and others to craft a way forward.

The new ordinance, which was passed unanimously, allows short-term rentals in residential areas. Hosts, under the ordinance, must acquire a business license and pay taxes and can rent out their entire home.

However, one issue was left unresolved. Under state law, short-term rentals are still required have fire-suppresant sprinklers, which are often prohibitively costly for most Airbnb hosts. Councilman Mike Allen lobbied lawmakers to change the requirement, to no avail.

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