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Spokane Councilmember Works on Sidewalk Initiative

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

We’ve all run across this situation at least once. You’re walking down a sidewalk in your neighborhood, or someone else’s, and you see the path ahead of you buckled, kind of like a pitched tent, or the concrete is all broken up.

Spokane City Councilman Breean Beggs is considering a citizen initiative to fix situations like that. He’s eyeing the 2018 general election ballot. 

“So everyone uses sidewalks," Beggs said. "They don’t travel as many miles on sidewalks as they do on streets, but they do and if it’s broken, and there are places in my district on the South Hill where you literally cannot get a wheelchair or a baby jogger over it. You can’t. And in the wintertime, the people are literally in the streets. It’s very dangerous.”

Beggs says the city doesn’t have money in its budget to fix and replace sidewalks.

“And so I’ve been talking with neighborhood councils and the Community Assembly and saying, ‘Do you want us to fix it?’ And actually the city polled the citizens a year ago and over 80% of the people want the city of Spokane to make progress on sidewalks and they’re willing to pay $50-70 a year, per house, to do it," he said. "And so I’m trying to figure out what would that look like operationally. Because if we put it on the ballot, people want to know who’s sidewalk is getting fixed, how’s it getting fixed, where, how long is it going to last, how do we know it’s going to be a good job. So those are the details that we’re really trying to get feedback on.

"There’s an interesting thing going on right now with the McCleary decision in the legislature," he said. "In 2019, taxes throughout Spokane are going to go down by about $27 million across the city. So the question is do citizens want to repurpose some of those taxes without them really going up for us. And sidewalks is one, streets, criminal justice and police; those are all things that people care deeply about. This is just one piece of that puzzle and we just want to flush it out and find out what do people want.”

The McCleary decision to which Beggs refers is a change in the state property tax. That tax will increase in 2018 in many parts of the state, with the funds to be directed to public schools. But then the tax will stabilize or even decrease in many areas in 2019.

Beggs proposes to take part of the 2018 increase that’s scheduled to go away in 2019 and reallocate $5-7 million for sidewalk construction and repair.

“It would be divided up into the three council districts plus the downtown. Each district would set their priorities, whether they want new sidewalks, do they want to repair sidewalks, do they want to use matching funds, what kind of things do they want to do?" Beggs said. "The problems with downtown sidewalks, the vaulted underneath, are different than South Hill sidewalks, which are often tree-impacted, to these over here in the northeast, where it’s just bad sidewalks. And so each one would do that. The idea is this would last seven-to-10 years with citizen oversight.”

Beggs has been working on the proposal with city neighborhood leaders such as Kathryn Alexander. Alexander lives in the Bemiss neighborhood, in between Hillyard and Gonzaga University. She invited us to visit to show us the state of sidewalks on her block.

“So here we have all these really large holes. There’s not a lot of lighting here at night, so if you’re out walking your dog or just coming home from work or whatever, especially as it gets darker, this is a potential really big issue, which is one of the reasons why people walk in the street," Alexander said. 

"Then if we come down here on the corner, this is such a perfect spot because we have it all. You can see some of them are cracked. Cracking is not so bad, but then we’ve got lifts like this, so this makes it hard for wheelchairs. The man who lived here was in a wheelchair. He was never in the sidewalk. He was always in the street," she said.

“You live in an area of town that has some of the poorest neighborhoods. Do you have a sense for whether people are willing to shell out extra money for sidewalks?” Nadvornick asked.

“Well that brings up a whole other real interesting issue which we’re not going to go into real deeply because I don’t think you have the time," Alexander said. "But a lot of our people are renters. They won’t be paying that. It will be the homeowners who will be paying that. But they do vote, so they are at the impact of what happens, even if they aren’t paying for it. So their involvement is really critical. Renters really have a big part to play in this if they wish.”

Alexander is organizing a free three-hour public workshop on the proposal at the Northeast Community Center.

“The biggest idea, I think, is so you’re going to fix them, but how," she said. "We’ve got concrete. Concrete and trees don’t do real well, we already know that. This is not new. So what are the options? There’s some concerns about the aquifer and about water runoff. Concrete doesn’t help with either of those either. Some maybe we want to look at some options. Do the voters care? That’s what this is all about.”

The public is invited to attend the free workshop on September 23 from 9 am to noon at Northeast Community Center. You’ll need to register.