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Spokane City Council clears the way for more drones and more homes 

click to enlarge Kate Burke was the lone vote against an affordable house ordinance on Monday, saying it didn't include enough safeguards. - DANIEL WALTERS PHOTO
  • Daniel Walters photo
  • Kate Burke was the lone vote against an affordable house ordinance on Monday, saying it didn't include enough safeguards.

The City Council passed two long-in-the-works reforms on Monday night. The first handed the Spokane Police Department the ability to use drones in a wide variety of police work, including photographing crime scenes, searching for missing people, tailing fugitives, providing tactical intel and identifying reported illegal encampments. The cops would still have to get warrants when necessary.

The council voted for the drone bill, with two exceptions: It was another example of where the most far-right and the most far-left council members — Mike Fagan and Kate Burke — found themselves united together in opposition, with the unlikely duo raising concerns about citizen input and civil liberties.

"I got no positive comments about this," Fagan says. "I don't believe this is the right time."

But the second reform could have a more lasting long-term impact: The council has given the city the ability to sell at a low cost — or even transfer for free — city-owned properties to developers and nonprofits for affordable housing.

For too long, City Council President Ben Stuckart says, the city has mostly focused on maximizing dollars when selling a piece of property. This would change that, taking into account how the sale of the property would impact the city's housing crisis.

"We have people working 12 hours a day who are still rent-burdened in our city," Stuckart said on the council dais. "There are seniors ... hanging on by a thread."

Critics, including Burke, charged that the ordinance should have followed other Washington state cities in mandating a specific period of time — like 50 years — that the property would continue to be used for affordable housing after being sold by the city.

But Stuckart says that, after talking to nonprofits and experts, he realized that arbitrary limitations could limit important housing projects. Instead, he says, the city would customize a set of affordability rules for individual properties. The city's real estate committee, the city's Community, Housing & Human Services Department and the City Council would have to sign off on each plan.

"The key is to get people into housing, period," Stuckart says. "I trust my local experts more than I trust the other cities."

But Burke continued to object, even proposing an amendment to put in a 50-year minimum affordable housing requirement.

"When you don't have safeguards put in place, things can happen that are not foreseen," Burke said. "We're all going to term out eventually, and now we have to put the trust in the hands of the next people who take our seats that they're just going to do the right thing."

But nobody supported Burke's amendment, and she was the sole vote against the affordable housing ordinance.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Drones and Homes"

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