by Cara Gardner and Pia K. Hansen

Growing Generosity -- SPOKANE - Employees at Avista Utilities have transformed a one-acre plot of the company's land into a community garden for people in need.

Twelve Avista employees, known as the Green Thumbs, came up with the initial idea and plan for the 50-bed garden. The resulting four tons of produce will be donated to the Second Harvest Food Bank.

"Employees can go out on their lunch break and garden," says Catherine Markson, communications manager for Avista. "It's a great outlet, and we have some employees with real expertise in gardening."

The garden isn't quite ready for its first harvest, but Second Harvest Food Bank expects the produce will yield about 6,000 meals.

"Fresh produce is something we don't get a lot of, except on a seasonal basis," says Anne Price, director of development for Second Harvest. "Avista is making good use of a piece of property. It's wonderful to have a group of employees that will take the time and step outside their workday to help the community."

About 50 employees are currently involved in the gardening project.

"[Second Harvest Food Bank] has helped us in the design of the garden beds and advised us on what to plant," says Debbie Simock, community investment manager at Avista.

Suing STA -- SPOKANE - At first glance, one might assume a fundamentalist Christian minister and the Peace and Action Justice League of Spokane (PJALS) would have little in common. Yet they have come together to fight for their constitutionally protected freedom of speech.

Both PJALS and Donald Ausderau, the founder of a religious group called New Israel Assembly of Yeshua and Revival Crusades International, claim that the Spokane Transit Authority (STA) has violated their First Amendment rights by prohibiting them from distributing literature and speaking to the public at the downtown bus plaza without a permit.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Justice (CFJ) have filed a lawsuit against STA on behalf of PJALS and Ausderau.

"Basically, the complaint is not seeking money damages for any particular instance or threat or harassment," explains David Blair-Loy, staff attorney for the CFJ.

But PJALS does claim STA threatened members with arrest if they passed out literature without first seeking a permit.

"We are trying to bring STA and the Plaza into compliance with the First Amendment," Blair-Loy says.

The STA Plaza is public property, owned by Spokane taxpayers. Last July the STA's board of directors instituted the "Rules of Conduct for Transit Vehicles, Facilities and Properties," which states that people and organizations need a permit before talking to people at the Plaza. These rules also limit where people can stand when they are handing out information or talking to the public. "Sidewalks and plazas are a classic arena for protected speech," says Blair-Loy.

Teresa Stueckle, public relations manager for STA, says the transit authority won't comment on the suit.

Blair-Loy says he's hopeful the claim can be solved out of court.

One Spokane -- SPOKANE -- On the sidewalk outside Grant Elementary School on Tuesday, Mayor John Powers announced that Ray Lancaster has been hired as the new One Spokane Coordinator.

"Ray Lancaster was a lead player in the One Spokane initiative right from the beginning," said Powers. "He has brought energy and determination to the Spokane Neighborhood Action Programs where he used to work, and more recently to his work at Northeast Community Center."

Lancaster was selected among more than 150 candidates by a committee that included the mayor; the city's new economic development advisor, Tom Reese; United Way president Vic Forni; and Cathy McGinty, the director of VOICES. The job pays in the range of $32,000-$38,000.

"I'm truly honored," said Lancaster. "It's very humbling to be the first One Spokane Coordinator. This community has demonstrated through its actions that it's ready for this program. The last couple of years, I have been steeped in the issues that people in the low-income group face every day."

He says his priorities will be set by the One Spokane Joint Committee.

"We'll see where they see a need for action and go that way," said Lancaster.

Publication date: 06/12/03

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