Rental Shutdowns on Hold
The "sharing economy" debate has arrived in Spokane. After receiving complaints about and issuing cease-and-desist orders to people renting out their homes on websites like Airbnb and VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner), the City of Spokane announced Friday that it would place a 120-day stay on such complaints.
"We want to look at what other communities have done, look at best practices, evaluate what works best for our community and create positive and effective ways for dispute resolutions," the city's director of business and developer services, Jan Quintrall, says in a statement.
The city currently has strict regulations applying to rentals, including 30-day minimum rentals for many locations and a requirement that bed-and-breakfasts be on the local, state or national historic register. But locally and nationwide, the popularity of sites like Airbnb has grown and homeowners have taken to renting out rooms or entire houses for a few nights at a time. (A search of Airbnb and VRBO yields nearly 100 offerings in the Spokane area.) Recently, other cities have banned similar rentals or required them to pay city lodging taxes.
Spokane's problem-solving group will include citizens and representatives from code enforcement, the planning department and the city council. In the meantime, complaints about short-term rentals will still be accepted but no action will be taken.
— HEIDI GROOVER
Unsheathing the Veto Pen
It's a tool Spokane mayors have rarely used in the nearly 15 years they've had the power. But on Monday, Mayor David Condon officially used his veto for the first time.
The vetoed ordinance was an attempt to close what a majority of the Spokane City Council saw as a loophole in the state's growth management policies.
Spokane County's recent expansion of the Urban Growth area — the borders defining where dense development is allowed — had been ruled invalid by the Growth Management Hearings Board. But because of quirks in state law, some developers will able to build dense developments in the expanded area anyway, because they filled out the correct paperwork before the ruling.
The ordinance was an attempt to stop that practice, by barring the city from committing to extend water and sewer services to properties in the expanded UGA before legal challenges to the expansion had been resolved.
A year ago, Condon joined three councilmembers in asking the county commissioners to refrain from expanding the boundary. But this time, he was critical about how the ordinance was brought forward and passed, and found himself agreeing with some of the commissioners' objections.
He cited "uncertainty" as the primary reason for his veto. "It is legal uncertainty. It is uncertainty from those who do economic development, it's uncertainty, quite frankly, as I talk to those who are concerned about the environment, saying, 'What does this exactly do, Mayor?'" Condon said.
The veto, unsurprisingly, drew objections from the four councilmembers who'd voted for the ordinance. (Overriding it takes five.)
"With his veto, is the mayor representing the county commissioners' interests or the interests of the citizens of Spokane?" councilmember Snyder said in a press release. He says the council plans to start a new process to address growth-management issues.
— DANIEL WALTERS
Armed with a new clean-up proposal, Gov. Jay Inslee challenged federal energy officials Monday to strengthen and accelerate its commitment to containing and treating radioactive waste at the Hanford nuclear reservation, threatening legal ramifications if the Department of Energy could not meet established deadlines. The DOE also released an alternative proposal Monday.
Inslee, with state Attorney General Bob Ferguson alongside, offered a new clean-up timeline that calls for all waste to be treated by 2047 at the latest. Inslee says the "viable, staged approach" provides a clear way forward for the delay-ridden treatment effort. The state and the DOE agreed to certain deadlines in a 2010 court order.
State officials say the Department of Energy has two weeks to reach a new agreement on deadlines. If the impasse persists, Ferguson says the state plans to seek whatever legal options are necessary to ensure Hanford's nuclear waste gets properly contained and treated within "our children's lifetimes."
— JACOB JONES