Spokane Journal of Business

Commentary

‘Curing Spokane’ concerns shouldn’t be dismissed

The “Curing Spokane” video that went viral recently has its flaws, but critics are dismissing the underlying concerns and criticisms in the piece at their own peril – and the peril of the Spokane community as a whole.

The concerns about public safety and crime need to be taken to heart by the city’s elected officials, political candidates, and those who work in public safety and social services. The perception of many in the business community is that the health of the city’s core is headed in the wrong direction, and that’s a worry that needs to be vetted thoroughly.

For those who might not have seen it, Curing Spokane is a 17-minute video, commissioned by Spokane developer Larry Stone, that addresses increased crime in Spokane, compares the city with Boise, and proposes four potential solutions. The video’s makers talked to property owners, businesspeople, and residents in Spokane, as well as some in Boise. The piece’s narrator is quick to point out that it’s about crime, rather than homelessness, though homelessness seems to be an undercurrent that runs through much of it.

Four solutions are mentioned in the piece: build a new, larger county jail; develop an underground transit station; develop urban parking solutions; and enforce misdemeanor crimes.

That’s where many of the aforementioned flaws in the piece come in.

More jail capacity might be necessary. It’s tough, though, to sell voters on putting more taxes toward a jail, even in Spokane, where voters consistently have been generous in voting to pay more taxes for schools, streets, and Riverfront Park. As a business newspaper, we’d have to think long and hard before endorsing the notion of increasing an already heavy tax burden in order to add jail cells, especially when it doesn’t get to the root cause of the problem.

The idea of selling the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza in the city’s core and developing an underground transit station might be worth discussing in the future, but now isn’t the time. The STA Plaza recently underwent renovation and plays a role in the Central City Line rapid-transit system that’s planned. The facility still has a lot of life in it. While the day might come when it’s time to consider another use for that complex, that time hasn’t arrived yet.

Downtown’s parking problems do need to be addressed to make the city’s core more vibrant, but the subject is tangentially related to crime and homelessness.

Perhaps the biggest criticism is that the video all but ignores the need for more, or more effective, mental health counseling and addiction services. Clearly, social services need to be a cornerstone of the solution.

But the fourth point, enforcing misdemeanors, hits home. Laws should be enforced evenly and consistently, and those among us who witness unlawful behavior in the city’s core wonder why more isn’t being done.

The motivation behind the video is to improve conditions in Spokane’s downtown, which all would agree has a lot going for it. This isn’t about rich people being uncomfortable around poor people, as has been suggested. It’s about making sure Spokane’s downtown remains a desirable place to live, work, and play. It’s a valid concern and one that deserves consideration.