City Council preps for pot changes, tackles gender inequity and Hookerville returns

by


Here's what happened at Spokane City Council last night:

People who show up to speak at city council's open forum can and will continue to use a derogatory name for a part of town long plagued by prostitution.

The council passed an ordinance that prepares the city for a statewide phaseout of medical marijuana dispensaries.

A new task force will look into why the city employs fewer women and pays them less and what can be done about it.

Hookerville returns

Two weeks ago, civic gadfly George McGrath was rebuked by Council President Ben Stuckart for referring to a pedestrian bridge connecting the University District to East Sprague as the “bridge to Hookerville” during the council’s public comment period. McGrath refrained from using the offending phrase last week. But last night, he twice uttered “bridge to Hookerville” during the public comment period, drawing no response from Stuckart.

As the public comment period continued, one man complained to the council about management at the East Central Community Center before continuously repeating “bridge to Hookerville” 31 times before being cut off by Stuckart after Councilman Mike Allen called a point of order. Allen said that while he had defended people's right to use the phrase, the man had probably taken it too far.

“I respect your right to do that, but at the same time you could express your position without having to do it that way,” said Allen, who then requested clarification from Stuckart on if the phrase could be used.

Stuckart clarified that he requested, not instructed, speakers to stop using the phrase. He also noted that he had been reading 9th Circuit Court opinions and had consulted three legal entities before concluding that banning the word or denying people their chance to speak would be “overstepping my bounds.”

Jennifer Hansen, who works with the Neighborhoods Matter program at the Spokane Regional Health District, told the council that she works in that part of East Sprague and she has become accustomed to people making comments about prostitution when they hear about her work.

“Normally, the comments aren't malicious in nature,” she said. “It's just, you know, someone is going for an easy joke. It's an easy way to get a laugh because anyone who has lived in Spokane for a while knows that East Sprague is [a place where people] used to be able to purchase sex. And there's a piece of this puzzle that they are not thinking of and that is the people that are living there.”

She noted that the area was on the upswing with the city investing in its infrastructure, and the police cracking down on johns. Just recently, she said, three tons of trash were removed from the area's alleys.

Council prepares for the end of medical marijuana as we know it

City council also passed an ordinance that changes the city code in anticipation of a new state law that brings new regulations to the medical marijuana market. Last month, Gov. Jay Inslee signed SB 5052 that will phase out many medical marijuana dispensaries (“collective gardens”), which critics say had been operating with virtually no regulation.

The city of Spokane had passed local regulations of dispensaries requiring them to undergo inspections, pay taxes and get licensed. The new ordinance will wind down the local regulations, which are no longer permitted under state law in July of next year.

SB 5052 does allow dispensaries that had paid taxes and had acquired business licenses to apply to stay open. Paul Lugo, the director of the Herbal Connection, a local dispensary, thanked council for crafting the regulations, saying that they would likely put many local dispensaries in a good position to stay open under the new state law.

A new task force

City council voted to create a new task force that will examine why the city of Spokane hires fewer women and pays them less and what can be done about it.

“When we look at the numbers at look at the trends here in Spokane, we have a long way to go,” said Councilwoman Candace Mumm. According to Mumm, women make up only 15 percent of the city's work force, which she said was problematic when considering it is one of the region's largest employers.

However, Mike Fagan spoke out against creating the task force. He expressed concerns that it would create new mandates for private employers or create “quotas” for city hiring. He also worried that standards would be lowered for more physically strenuous jobs to accommodate female applicants.

“I'm all about equal pay for equal work,” said Fagan, who cast the only vote against it. “But there are a couple things that are troublesome, and I don't know how this particular task force is going to get around it.”