Spokane business community considers recalling mayoral election over homelessness

The new ruling will allow law enforcement to enforce the camping ban with civil and criminal penalties.

Published: June 28, 2024 11:02pm

(The Center Square) -

A group of Spokane business owners are considering a petition to oust the mayor and recall the election that put her into power if she fails to enforce an ordinance that effectively bans homelessness.

Proposition 1 is Spokane’s voter-approved ordinance that prohibits camping within 1,000-feet of a park, daycare or school, whether private or public; however, the ban was never fully enforced due to concerns from law enforcement about the fallout from Martin v. Boise, a 2018 federal court ruling that held that cities cannot enforce anti-camping ordinances if they do not have enough homeless shelter beds available for their homeless population.

However, on Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in the case of City of Grants Pass, Oregon v. Johnson that banning homeless encampments on public property does not constitute “cruel and unusual” punishment.

The new ruling will allow law enforcement to enforce the camping ban with civil and criminal penalties. Still, some Spokane business owners are looking into taking matters into their own hands.

Sheldon Jackson, founder and chief executive officer of Selkirk Development, runs an informal newsletter sent to roughly 200 local representatives, including some members of the City Council and Mayor Lisa Brown. He uses the platform to highlight public safety, homelessness and rampant drug use downtown.

In the “SPOTLIGHT” email thread obtained by The Center Square, one businessman called for a petition to recall the November 2023 election that ousted former Mayor Nadine Woodward.

“If a recall petition can be started for the mayor of Oakland, CA, for failure to provide adequate public safety,” wrote Rod Bacon, president of Pass Word Inc., in the thread on Thursday, “there certainly can be a recall petition in Spokane for Lisa Brown if she willfully refuses to enforce Prop 1 and the prohibition against public drug use.”

In a phone call with The Center Square, Bacon confirmed he supports discussing the possibility of a recall petition if Brown fails to enforce Prop 1; however, he thinks it’s inappropriate to entertain the idea any further until a discussion occurs between the mayor and her constituents.

Jackson also confirmed in a phone call with The Center Square that he runs the newsletter. Friday morning he sent out a message to group about the call, noting he's not a fan of recalls and offered his own suggestion for Spokane's shortfalls.

He said there are two reasons for a recall.

"The voters believed what they wanted to hear, instead of the truth," Jackson said.

"The elected official said one thing to get voted in," he continued. "Misrepresentation, sleight of hand, lied…Then did the opposite."

Instead, Jackson suggested something similar to Bacon's idea of enforcing Prop 1 and the prohibition against public drug use and illegal camping, which is the aim of Prop 1.

Councilmember Jonathan Bingle took to the thread Friday morning after the Supreme Court announced its decision reinstating a ban on public camping in Grants Pass, Oreg.

"NO MORE EXCUSES," Bingle wrote in the thread. "Let's clean this place up!"

Christopher Bell, a managing broker for NAI Black, a commercial real estate agency, also replied to the thread on Friday morning.

"This is a great opportunity for a joint press conference with the Mayor, City Council, SPD, and SFD announcing their full support and enforcement of Prop 1," Bell wrote on Friday morning.

Brown released a statement about the Supreme Court ruling later Friday morning.

“The City of Spokane has been and will continue to respond to unlawful camping and code violations through police enforcement, Spokane Fire’s behavioral health response, and our Homeless Outreach Team. We are also working closely with non-profit and community organizations that engage in outreach and provide paths to stability," she said. "I remain committed to community safety and the well-being of all our citizens, which requires a more robust approach than enforcement alone. We are committed to getting to the root causes of the unhoused crisis by making investments in mental and behavioral health care, expanding access to substance use treatment, and creating more transitional and permanent housing.”

Earlier in the email thread, Bell wrote about how he now feels the same relief when crossing into Idaho that he once felt when crossing into eastern Washington. Bell claimed an “infection” is spreading further east.

“Ask any first responder who has any hope remaining, and they will tell you we are losing the war as drugs continue to flood into our community,” Bell wrote in the thread, “and all we are doing is catering to addicts.”

“Make no mistake,” his email continued, “we are at war for our community and way of life, and we are losing.”

Jackson responded to Bell and Bingle on Friday, agreeing with both and called for dialogue between the community and Brown.

"We should expect an announcement immediately enforcing Prop 1, without the requirement to call 311," Jackson replied to the thread. "If we don’t hear this announcement immediately, then we can discuss consequences for inaction."

Jackson previously called on the group to “stand up against the tyranny," and compared Spokane to cities in Idaho. He asked what the business owners would choose if they were faced with either opening up shop there or in their own community.

“Why am I doing this email instead of moving to our place at Sandpoint,” Jackson wrote to the others in the thread. “I am fighting for my home and refuse to let elected officials push me out of a State [that] my wife, son, and I have lived in our whole life.”

Earlier this month, the Washington Supreme Court announced it would review Prop 1 after two other courts had already ruled it valid. Meanwhile, a draft amending the ban is slowly gaining traction but could run into issues due to a lack of consensus among the city council.

If passed, the updated ordinance could potentially impact Brown’s state of emergency, which she declared earlier this month over Spokane’s opioid crisis. The initiative allows her to streamline funding while bypassing the City Council’s Request for Proposal process.

However, the proposed changes to Prop 1 could ban camping within 1,000-feet of comprehensive support services as Brown attempts to prop up small shelters around town.

“What happened to the Mayor’s promise of Downtown cleaned up by EXPO,” Jackson wrote in the thread on Sunday. “What happened to the Emergency Declaration for this area.”

“Division Street has 30 transients, and Browne [has] 10,” he continued. “Guess where the concentration [is]? CAT and House of Charity.”

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