When Rachel Briscoe started her campaign for a seat on the Spokane Valley City Council, she thought most voters would be talking about the ongoing regional homelessness crisis or public safety.
Instead, she's heard all about rising housing costs.
Jessica Yaeger, her opponent, says rapid growth in the Valley has strained infrastructure and led to congested commutes, the sky-high price of, well, everything, and an increasing homeless population.
The opponents aren't alone. There are six candidates running for three citywide elected seats on the Spokane Valley City Council. The four who returned our calls or emails all said something similar: There are a lot of issues to deal with, but the rapid growth of the Valley and housing are at or near the top of the list.
From 2010-22, Spokane Valley recorded a population increase of nearly 20%, according to Census data. During that time Spokane's population increased by only 10%.
"All of these apartment buildings cause congestion in the city," Briscoe says. "I'm finding out that some people are spending more money renting a home than they would if they had a mortgage."
With a background in construction, she thinks the city can impact the cost of housing by making it cheaper and simpler for builders.
Yaeger agrees — building multifamily properties in areas zoned for single-family residences is a major issue to voters in Spokane Valley.
In May, Washington legislators passed House Bill 1110 — the so-called Middle Housing Bill — which allows developers to build duplexes, townhouses, courtyard apartments and other low-density multifamily housing units on land that was previously zoned for single-family housing. But it's still too early to see any effects from this particular policy.
"We keep growing, and we need to be making sure our infrastructure is sound for where we're going," Yaeger says.
Al Merkel, who has run for a spot on the Spokane Valley City Council twice before unsuccessfully, agrees that city infrastructure like housing needs to be addressed, but he thinks that now is not the time for an increase in property taxes whatsoever, even if those funds could be used to address these problems.
Merkel's opponent, incumbent Arne Woodard, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. He was first appointed to the council in 2011 and is its longest-serving member ever. From 1994 to 2018, he owned a real estate business, and last year he was the sole council member to vote in favor of a 1% property tax increase, according to the Spokesman-Review.
Incumbent Tim Hattenburg thinks the city is already addressing citizen concerns about infrastructure. Since being elected to the council in 2019, he says the city has doubled the size of its park land, kept roads in good shape, and hired a full-time housing and homeless director along with a dedicated police officer to address concerns stemming from the homelessness crisis.
Hattenburg faces off against Rob Chase, who was once the county's treasurer from 2011 to 2018 as well as a state representative for just one term from 2021 to 2022. Chase did not return our requests for comment.
Hattenburg is endorsed by Sheriff Nowels and is the only City Council candidate with an endorsement from the Spokane County Democrats. Meanwhile, Chase is tapping his connections in the state Legislature: Sen. Mike Padden and former Rep. Bob McCaslin, both Republicans, have endorsed his campaign.
For years, Spokane Valley residents have been conflicted about whether the city should continue to contract its law enforcement through the Spokane County Sheriff's Office or create an entirely new police department.
Spokane Valley is the largest city in the state without its own police department, and according to most of the candidates, that's not going to change anytime soon. Briscoe, Merkel and Hattenburg all support a continuing contract with the sheriff's office.
The current five-year contract was renewed in November 2022, and the city is expected to pay the county $27 million for law enforcement in 2023.
"We have a great working relationship with the sheriff's office, so I don't see the need to explore our own police department," Briscoe says. "The cost that it would bring to the city to fix something that isn't broken. It's just wrong."
"I've gone to thousands of doors and have yet to have someone say they want to spend more money for a new police force," he says.
Merkel says that a contract with the county is a powerful tool for the city to have to leverage control if needed at any time.
Yaeger is undecided on the issue. While her campaign website says the solution to escalating crime rates in Spokane Valley is establishing a new police department, in an interview she says she'd only support the idea if it made sense financially. ♦