Spokane Mayor Lisa Brown’s first 100 days: How is she doing?

Community members say they value Brown’s openness to feedback, but are still waiting to see how she executes on drug usage, homelessness and budgeting.

Lisa Brown talking to City Council member

Lisa Brown chats with new Spokane City Council member Barbara Liliana Navarrete Lorenzo at Spokane’s City Hall, April 2, 2024. (Rajah Bose for Cascade PBS)

Today — April 9, 2024 — marks Lisa Brown’s 100th calendar day as mayor of Spokane. 

The experienced legislator who’d spent three decades in the state Senate defeated former Mayor Nadine Woodward last fall after a contentious campaign that generated nearly $2 million in contributions, the most for any local race statewide. 

This is part one of a two-part series looking at Lisa Brown's first 100 days in office. Click here for part two, a Q&A with Lisa Brown. 

Brown, a Democrat, leads alongside a progressive majority in the Spokane City Council, which may make it easier to make progress on her key policies and proposals. In contrast, Woodward butted heads with that same progressive majority. 

But the city’s myriad issues will make Brown’s term far from easy, including insufficient affordable housing that’s led to growing homelessness; an opioid crisis that has claimed the lives of many residents; and a $50 million budget deficit. 

Cascade PBS contacted community members to ask how they feel Brown is faring so far. The general sentiment is that 100 days is too soon to make conclusions. They like that she is making an effort to hear from various stakeholders, but plan to wait and see how Brown tackles these big issues over the course of her four-year term. 

They are encouraged, however, that the new mayor has already kept one of her campaign promises: She’s sought community member feedback and has encouraged collaboration among city agencies and nonprofits. 

“I’ve been impressed with her team and how engaged they are,” said Detective Dave Dunkin, president of the Spokane Police Guild, which represents officers and sergeants. He noted that he’s in regular communication with deputy city administrator Maggie Yates, part of Brown’s leadership team. 

Dunkin noted that Woodward and her administration engaged mainly with former Police Chief Craig Meidl and other management rather than talking to rank-and-file employees. Dunkin acknowledged that mostly reflects a different management style, noting that Woodward had a good relationship with the police department and that the city and the Guild successfully negotiated a new contract during her time as mayor. 

The Spokane Police Guild endorsed Woodward in last fall’s mayoral race. Dunkin noted that Guild members had some qualms about Brown being a Democrat and her ties to the state, both as a legislator and later as director of the Department of Commerce. Many Guild members believe Democrats in Olympia villainized law enforcement in crafting policies. 

“That’s [Brown’s] party, and she got associated with that,” he said. 

One key mayoral decision that will impact Dunkin and his colleagues is the selection of a new police chief. Meidl left at the end of last year and will soon start as interim chief in Richland, part of the Tri-Cities area. Interim police chief Justin Lundgren, who was Meidl’s assistant chief, is currently running the Spokane department. 

Dunkin said he likes that Brown has reached out to community residents and police department personnel to get feedback on what they’re looking for in a police chief. 


Mayor Lisa Brown, center, speaks at an event at Eastern Washington University’s Spokane campus. (Rajah Bose for Cascade PBS)

Addressing housing affordability

While Brown has brought in new leadership to work alongside her, she did retain one key person from the Woodward administration: City Planning Director Spencer Gardner, who was appointed in 2022 after working in the private sector managing two different planning and design firms. 

Elizabeth Beatty, managing broker at Coldwell Banker Tomlinson and president of Spokane Realtors, appreciates Brown’s retention of Gardner. Beatty noted that Gardner made strides to increase home construction, a key component to addressing housing affordability. That included revising zoning laws to allow various housing types within city lots. 

“We cannot build fast enough to supply the [housing] need that we have here in Spokane,” Beatty said. 

Beatty said she has not had an opportunity to meet with Brown, but is eager to share her thoughts on how the city can address its housing affordability issues. She will urge caution on some policies, such as rent stabilization, which has been proposed both in Spokane. 

Beatty said she’s not entirely against the practice, but she believes that if rent stabilization is used to address home affordability, it has to be done in a way that doesn’t hurt small mom-and-pop landlords. She notes that pushing those landlords out may create more housing affordability issues as those landlords were less likely to raise rates for loyal tenants. 

She is also concerned about the possibility of another moratorium on building in the Latah Valley, a neighborhood located in the southwest part of the city. The city council placed a six-month moratorium in 2022, citing a lack of emergency services in the region. The moratorium ended in March 2023, but there were new calls to pause construction activity last summer after a wildfire in nearby Medical Lake damaged numerous homes. Brown, who was campaigning for mayor, expressed support for a pause in construction until there were sufficient public safety facilities. Citizen Action for Latah Valley, a community group pushing for a new moratorium, endorsed Brown for mayor.   

Beatty said she understands others’ concerns. Still, given the city’s ongoing affordability issue and shortage of available housing, she believes the city needs to be careful not to overly limit an entire region that would be ripe for new housing if it wants to address its housing stock issues.

Beatty hopes the mayor’s desire to seek community feedback extends to issues on which there are a variety of perspectives or downright deep disagreement, Beatty said. “I hope she’ll work in a direction to bring peace and hear all sides of something before making a decision.” 


Mayor Lisa Brown, second from left, leads her cabinet meeting at City Hall, April 2, 2024. (Rajah Bose for Cascade PBS)

Seeking innovative ideas to tackle homelessness

Lisa Brown is the third mayor Julie Garcia, of homeless outreach nonprofit Jewels Helping Hands, has worked under. 

Garcia says she’s been optimistic about Brown’s approach to homelessness so far, and believes Brown is making an effort to listen to homeless providers directly. 

But she has concerns as well. In particular, Garcia notes that for now, the city remains with an insufficient number of shelter beds. That problem was especially acute in early March when temperatures dropped below freezing. 

A lack of shelter beds led to a protest encampment at Spokane City Hall in December 2021 that became Camp Hope. The encampment on state-owned property in the East Central neighborhood attracted hundreds of unhoused residents and was the largest in the state. Garcia’s group was tasked with running the encampment and helping residents find new places to stay. The camp closed last June.

Garcia is now running two warming centers — places for unhoused people to spend daylight hours and get access to other services — but she’s still having to turn people away. While she supports Brown’s plans to create a system of community-based warming centers and shelters, she’s concerned about losing too many shelter beds at once while developing the concept. 

Garcia refers to Brown’s plan to close the Trent Resource and Assistance Center, which opened in 2022. Brown was critical of the shelter during her mayoral campaign. Garcia said that while she is not a fan of the shelter, closing it will mean figuring out where upward of 250 to 300 unhoused people will go. 

Other issues, such as the opioid crisis, compound the growing homelessness issue. Garcia is losing clients to addiction, a problem beyond the scope of Jewels Helping Hands or other homeless service providers. 

Garcia notes that smaller encampments are starting to pop up around Spokane. “We’re not in a better place right now in homeless services than we were last year,” she said. “The only thing that is different is that the administration is taking the time to listen.” 

She hopes the dialogue between Brown’s administration and homeless service providers continues. She believes that solutions will be found by having them at the table. It’s also important to facilitate a way for service providers to do their best work and work together to avoid infighting over available funds.  

Garcia also believes the mayor needs to use the feedback to devise innovative solutions that address the root issues of unhoused residents, rather than merely moving them around in a shelter-based system. And given the ongoing budget challenges, these solutions  will have to make efficient use of available funds, Garcia added: “We have to come up with new plans that are cost-effective to the taxpayers and beneficial to the community.” 


Mayor Lisa Brown catches up with the Spokane Lands Council executive director Amanda Parrish, right, and Climate Justice program director Naghmana Sherazi at the Saranac Commons in Spokane. (Rajah Bose for Cascade PBS)

Restoring community fractures

Many cities throughout Washington and the U.S. are facing three big issues simultaneously: housing affordability, homelessness and drug addiction. However, those problems feel especially acute in Spokane because they have festered for years without much progress, said Kevin Pirch, a political science professor at Eastern Washington University.

“There’s not an easy solution to homelessness, an easy solution to the [rising] cost of living,” he said. “I don’t think there has been the political will to have tough conversations with various stakeholders. Now we’re realizing that the problems aren’t going to sort out themselves and go away.” 

To move forward, Brown will need to address fractures among community groups, businesses, unions and nonprofits. While Spokane’s residents pride themselves on coming together to organize huge events like Hoopfest and Bloomsday, that unity isn’t always present when it comes to tougher, politically charged issues like homelessness, Pirch said. 

“Spokane is a small town relative to Seattle, Portland, or bigger cities,” he said. “I think there is a healthy amount of people in this town [who] are all vying for that same thing. They want to be the leader and one to solve the problem. … There’s not room for everyone to be the leader.” 

Pirch believes that Brown’s efforts to listen and take in feedback now will pay off in developing relationships and addressing community division. “She’s going to be good at getting more collaboration; she’ll be good at getting more groups on the same page and talking to each other,” he said. 

During her campaign, Brown faced strong opposition from conservatives in the region who painted her as a far-left politician influenced by statewide politics. However, that opposition hasn’t made much noise in the first few months of Brown’s tenure. 

Brown’s alignment with the progressive majority in the Spokane City Council may be a factor. “I think the opposition may be trying to figure out what they’re opposing and how best to fight that fight,” Pirch said. “I haven’t heard anything from the right or the business community. I think it’s more of a wait-and-see.”

This story has been updated. The Spokane City Council is not working on rent stabilization but has made other proposals related to housing affordability. 

Mayor Lisa Brown speaks at an event on Eastern Washington University’s Spokane campus in the Catalyst Building. (Rajah Bose for Cascade PBS)

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