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Spokane mayoral candidate Kelly Cruz on homelessness, public safety

In an interview with KREM, West Central community leader Kelly Cruz outlined his experience and the policies he would pursue as mayor.

If you live in the West Central neighborhood of Spokane, there's a good chance you know Kelly Cruz. To the rest of the city, he's likely one of the lesser-known names in the 2019 race for mayor of Spokane.

Cruz has been a volunteer and community leader for years, and is now pursuing bigger leadership responsibilities in the city.

On Thursday afternoon, he sat down with KREM political reporter Casey Decker to explain why he's running, how his experience in neighborhood politics can translate to city-wide leadership, and his ideas for addressing the city's biggest challenges.

The stand-out excerpts of the interview are featured in the video above. 

Below is the longer transcript of the full interview, edited lightly for brevity and clarity.

It's the third in a series of interviews KREM will be conducting with the candidates for mayor over the course of the next two weeks.

I'll just start with the most basic question I'm asking everybody: what makes you uniquely qualified to be Spokane’s next mayor?

I would say my 10 years of volunteer leadership and the community. I want to speak to that. I'm current chair Spokane COPS board, and oversee our director and staff and their programs and our budget. I'm also a former four-time chair of my neighborhood council, West Central, and I worked on several projects with the city and the neighbor council on that. And I'm also one of the original stakeholders and a four-time Chair of the West Spokane Wellness Partnership, which is a youth prevention coalition in West Central.

You may have heard that last fall, we received a drug-free community grant for $625,000 to do some messaging, programming. So we're excited about that. But through those activities I've received two citizenship awards from the city of Spokane for my standing volunteer leadership in the community, so I bring those credentials and working with different organizations and city government and even state government to the table.

And I'll speak to one very special issue that seems to be coming back up again, sex offenders in our community that are being placed in our community. I rallied our neighborhood and worked with city officials, DOC officials, state legislators to change some policies. There were some shifting around folks in DOC and a shifting round of policy at City Hall. I will tell you that we're not quite where we need to be. I mean, other communities have somewhat regulated this, and I'm not saying we're getting rid of it, but you know, there's community safety and there are tools available and I think we should take example.

Simple fact is, in this community, it's easier to be a vendor with DOC and house sex offenders and parolees than it is to be a proprietor of an Airbnb. The rules are completely different. And all I say is they're basically the same business models, they should line up.


So I want to ask you about your leadership experience and how your community experience would translate into citywide mayoral experience.

Well, one issue that just came up this last spring was we do traffic on projects through the city as a neighborhood, and one of the projects was a placement of a speed sign, which was to be located at the north end of the Maple Street Bridge. We advocated for that, the city traffic engineer looked at the location and approved it, the City Council signed off on it. But yet when it went to design, somehow it got moved to block and a half north, which was just about half a block south of a light at Boone & Maple, and it made no sense to anybody, especially the engineer, and City Council folks. So I had to fight for about two and a half months, working with City Council and the street engineer to get the city to admit they've made a mistake and to move it back to where it's supposed to be. Today when you drive up off the north end and Maple Street Bridge, you'll see that little flashing light sign that shows your speed and if you're going too fast, you slow down.


But in terms of values, in terms of what kinds of things you bring to the table, what can you offer the voters of Spokane? 

Well as chair of Spokane COPS, I have an extensive knowledge of public safety and work closely with our officers in the community and stuff on particular issues. And right now homeless camps and homelessness seems to be a big issue, and how we deal with those folks, and there's all different aspects to that. So that's just some of the things that I can bring to the table. 


Is chair of Spokane COPS your current occupation?

I’m chair but I’m also volunteer at a COPS shop. So basically I have a day, two days a week, where volunteer at a shop. But also as the chair of the board, I work with our executive director Patrick Striker and his staff and work on our budget and our programs and initiating those. And I'm proud to say that over the last eight or nine months, we've initiated two very popular programs, that's the mounted patrol unit and also the paws and patrol. So that’s folks with the dogs that you see out in the community, so I’m always looking for those opportunities to improve public safety and bring people into the mix, because at the end of the day, the police can't do it all, they have to have some participation.

For those of people, the people who don't know you, what do you do for a career? 

I'm a retired… carpenter. So my basic model is build from the ground up, strong foundation, strong structure, good roof, and you're going to have that last for a long time.


Now obviously, there's some pretty big names in this race. How do you hope to distinguish yourself from the field? 

Well, with my extensive institutional knowledge of city hall, and my background and working with not only city government, but state government and state agencies. I've already done that. I mean, I've worked with like I said, DOC, and different departments, traffic department,water department, so on. So I'm familiar with all those folks in those departments and a lot of people at City Hall, and how the structure City Hall is and how it works. So I wouldn't need a roadmap when I came in. I can hit the ground working on the very first day.


What made you decide to run for mayor as opposed to a city council or not running for any hire office than what you currently do?

Really last October, November, the frustration with the homeless and the police being caught in the middle as a as a batting ball. An example was somebody at the city… the camping that was there… asked the police to put up the notice. They put the notice up, and then when it came time to move the people, they were told no don't do that, you can't do that. Well, that was a bad backward step because right then there any other camping anywhere in the city was eliminated from the police doing anything about it. Because of that one incident. I mean, we if we're going to make a decision, we have to think it over and we have to follow it through. And you're going to get some grievance over some of the decisions.


So let's talk about homelessness. As mayor, what would be your first step to tackling the issue?

I would bring all the people, the providers in our community that work with the homeless folks to the table. I would like to see accounting of all their programs, what they do, and I would like to eliminate a lot of the overlap in that because that allows for gaps for people to continuously go from one place to the next place without getting that step up to improve themselves or better themselves. So when you have six or eight people giving out a lot of stuff, or free programming, which basically is about the same from each one, it's not helping the individual. They just learn on Wednesday, I can go here for free meal and some programming, on Tuesday…

I think the city with their EnVision operation, I’m hopeful that it'll be a start of a catalyst to get people moving up to be productive. But as you've heard other people say it's a very complex situation. We have all kinds of people out there that are homeless.

There are people that are working poor, and I've told they're not that many. A large concentration of folks are either mental health or substance abuse or co-existence of that, and then we have a third group that are described as anarchist or just out of control people that just want to live the lifestyle of living in a tent and living out wherever they want to do and not conform to the rules.

So we have to separate those groups… because as I say, in my campaign literature now on the trail, homelessness is not a crime, but neither is it a license to commit criminal acts in our community. And we simply have to say that if you commit a criminal act, you will be held accountable to some degree for that act.

Do you believe that all kinds of homeless people though deserve basic human rights, food, shelter, that sort of thing?

Yes. I think that, when people on your doorstep they need that help. But I will acknowledge that this one city can't do it for the entire region, and we seem to be attracting a lot of folks from outside the borders of the city of Spokane. There's been some anecdotal evidence that they're being shipped across or shown across the line. That’s been the city of Spokane Valley and Central Washington. However they get here, when they get here, they become our responsibility in one shape or another.

And I simply asked that, if when I become mayor, if you're a homeless person, our community, you come to our community, we have some standards, we have some requirements of you. We have programs, and we expect to take advantage of those programs and better your situation, not just sit here. Whether it be a street sign asking for money or just going around to the free charities and getting that every week and not improving your situation. We have to we have to eliminate that, if we want to get people out of poverty and out of homelessness.


So I have two questions about how that would work. My first question is, how do you distinguish which people are the ones you're wanting to continue to help? 

So that's where that's where getting those folks that have the services into the room because they work with these people on a daily basis. They can identify those groups. Also officers are out there on a daily


basis, they've identified a few of the folks that are the real troublemakers in our community, and the people who are truly needy, and the ones that have a severe mental health or drug abuse problem.

So it's a matter of coordinating those services and plugging those people into the spot where they will achieve their prosperity.


My second logistical question is once you've determined that there's a certain group of people that you're classifying as anarchists, what do you do about that?

Well, we have to hold them accountable if they're committing criminal acts. what the law says is what the law says. If it's vandalism, there’s a law against that. If it’s abuse, because a lot of homeless people are abused on the street, and there's a lot of angst about that, and you never hear it because they're not going to report that they were beat up or stolen from. They tell their other folks and if a policeman does engage them, it may become an anecdotal story to the officer but there was never report made out.   

I would just hold them accountable and ask that if they don't want to abide by our rules, maybe they should find a different community to go to.

Is there a situation in which you're proposing that the city would actively turn away certain people experiencing homelessness from services?

No. I would make it clear that if you're homeless here, we have programs and services where we're going to expect that you take advantage of those programs and services to better your situation. Whether it's a better job opportunity or education or just getting back on your feet and to housing or if it's a drug addiction problem. There’s a program for drug addiction, if it's mental health issue, mental health programs.

What's interesting, Providence just opened up a behavioral health building next to the freeway down there and Fifth, and I've been told that since he opened up 100 bed facility, the most beds have ever been used in that facility are 23. I scratch my head and ask why is that. We have such an obvious clear problem with mental health in our community and lack of available services.

Frontier’s the primary care for those folks, but they’re overwhelmed too, and it's hard to get these folks to an appointment. I mean, when police contact them and it hasn't been a criminal issue, they're given a card, the officer usually has a social health worker with them, and they make the appointment for the service. But those people rarely show up at that appointment because they lack the transportation or the wherewithal to find the location.

So do you have any proposals for fixing that particular problem?

One of the things that the county proposed in their original jail concept in 2009 was a three story structure behind the jail to create a better intake area, with medical staff and beds there. So in other words, if we contact people on the street who have a severe drug addiction, or are under the influence, or a clear mental health issue, they can be taken to this facility and evaluated and direct services would happen right there. They would have a bed and an opportunity to get stabilized.

If they're being brought in, and charged with something, it would keep them out of the jail. Because if they're charged, they go through a program and then they end up in jail. And we've seen how that's worked out. Nine people have died in the last 16 months at the jail. We just have to find a better way to work with these people.

We're like every other community across the country. 10 years ago, and federal government gave up the safety net for mental health in this country and then it fell to the states and the states now have fallen on the wayside, it’s come on the community.

I think that's one of the ways we could help those people best.


I'm still curious about how you enforce the idea of making sure that people are using the services to better their lives. 

Well, we could we could have caseworkers managing their cases, and making sure that they're moving up the ladder, that they're progressing.

And if there's an issue, like if they get to a point where they've been stabilized, and it becomes an issue of literacy, because a lot of people on the street, didn't make it through basic grade school even and lack some form of literacy. Maybe it's education.

One of the things that they proposed at the jail expansion at that time was everybody that came in that didn't have a high school diploma would get the opportunity to get a GED, get that basic education, that would be that step up and help them move on.


I'll move down to another top issue, which is public safety. I’m sure that’s one you’re very familiar with. As mayor, what would be your first step to reducing property crime which seems to be one of the most enduring issues in this city?

As I’ve said on my website and out and on the campaign trail, we need to attack what's driving the property crime, a majority of it, and that's the illicit drug trafficking in our community. And we have to double down on our efforts. Recently the police just announced that they're putting together, I think it's six detectives in a squad, to address that issue.

But I say it goes deeper than that. We need to work with our folks at the county and regional partners and create that Drug Task Force and go after these people that are feeding the drugs into our community, that are feeding the addiction in our community.

That’s interesting. So I've heard from a couple other candidates similar positions, in the sense that property crime is mostly driven by drug addiction, although the other candidates were mostly proposing funneling more money into drug treatment to get those who are addicted to drugs off of them.

Drug treatment is great for people who are addicted. But you also want to limit or eliminate the source of the drugs, because people can go through treatment and relapse if they have the opportunity. So if you have a community where drugs are prevalent and easy to get to, those people are most likely going to relapse.

If we go after both sides of the coin and clean up, I think we'll be better off.


So you would propose then more resources for drug enforcement and then also more resources for drug treatment?

Yeah. Because treatment’s the only way you're going to deal with addiction and get people stabilized and moved on. By eliminating the source of the addiction, the illegal drug trade, that also helps you.


I'll move on then to the issue of the economy. Do you have any proposals for bringing more businesses to Spokane, improving the economy here? 

Now, recently, the city re-initiated their economic development. When the current administration came in, they eliminated economic development, that kind of took a backseat. I think we need to double down on that effort, and look at areas in our city, primarily the West Plains that we annexed about eight, nine years ago, sitting there. There's great opportunities out there for small business and residential buildings.

Also, we have the Northeast PDA, that's Public Development Authority, up there. I believe that's right around three or 400 acres that we should be really hammering on because the North-South corridor goes right by that. In addition, that's a still listed as an international trade route. That's our gateway to Canada. So we should be working to attract manufacturers, like-duty manufacturers up there, and build on those businesses.

We got Amazon out on the West Plains now. We show them we can bring those types of business in our community. I think we need to double down, and if it's a matter of working with our regional partners, work with the city of Spokane Valley, work with Airway Heights, Liberty Lake. Because we all prosper at the end of the day, if somebody moves in and builds a facility that takes two or 3000 jobs.   

What about taxes? Do you think that there needs to be any new taxes to fund any of the new programs that you'd like to see? Or do you think there should be tax cuts? 

I think we can find in the budget, in the City Hall, because I've watched that over the last six or eight years. We've gotten very management top heavy at City Hall, I think we can look at paring some of that down, some cost savings. There'll be attrition and retirements, bringing more internships into the city.

And also one of my things that I've talked about that no other candidate’s talked about is really engaging youth and hiring them for summer programs, through parks and city departments. We used to do that 25 years ago. First job in the city for a lot of kids was working with City Hall or working in a city department. That gives them their first job, sets the very first tone for their career, whatever it's going to be, and gives them job skills. So I think that's one of the ways the city can help and engage our youth and make them feel like they're part of the community and participating in it.

But you don't feel particularly strongly that taxes need to be going up or down or a particular direction right now?

No. We talk about affordable housing and people becoming homeless. Well, if taxes go up, fees go up, like for water and sewer, people who are very marginal are getting kicked out of their house. If they're living in a rental, and the numbers don't pencil out, the landlord or whoever owns the building has to raise the money to cover that. We can’tall operate like government, in the hole, and hope all the money's going to come in. We have to have a budget, and we have to stay by that.

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