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Chelan County Commission considers vacation rental task force

WENATCHEE — The Chelan County Commission is looking to extend the short-term rental regulation process and convene a task force with seats representing residents and short-term rental owners.

It has already been more than two years to get to this point and the Chelan County Planning Commission has voted three times on regulation proposals.

Community Development Director Jim Brown told commissioners Monday that he felt there was too much disagreement between residents and short-term rental owners and that current drafts would heavily favor either one group or the other.

The commissioners should convene a task force to look at specific issues, he said.

“My experience has been in very contentious issues that I dealt with in my prior career that frequently you may not come to an absolute consensus, but you can find a path forward,” Brown said.

Brown was the regional director for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife out of Ephrata before he came to Chelan County. He helped mediate several contentious water-right disputes.

The commissioners did not vote on the issue Monday, but were set to meet at 10:30 a.m. today.

Two key questions before commissioners are:

  • Should existing short-term rentals be allowed to remain as non-conforming uses?
  • Should a lottery system be used to get down to 5% short-term rentals in certain zip codes?

Brown recommended the following for the task force:

Keep it to six or seven people, evenly split with maybe a planning commission representative

  • Have them work on specific contentious issues, such as allowing existing short-term rentals to remain as a non-conforming use
  • Give them a tight deadline of about three months

One of the complaints from representatives of both the Short Term Rental Alliance of Chelan County and Residents United for Neighbors is that they haven’t been given a seat at the table.

Brown’s proposal would require the commissioners to extend the moratorium, banning any new or expanded short-term rentals, by six months.

Commissioners Bob Bugert and Kevin Overbay sounded interested in the proposal.

Bugert said the group would have to understand that if they failed to come to an agreement, the commissioners would move forward with the draft codes already in hand.

“I want to be clear in my expectations of a final product that there will be very high standards for operations of the short-term rentals and there will be a cap by zip code,” Bugert said. “That is what I will be looking for in the end product.”

Overbay said he can see the purpose of convening a task force and would like to get to a greater consensus. But that he does believe it is time to finish some regulations.

“The one thing that holds true is that no one agrees with the existing code that we have in draft form,” Overbay said.

Commissioner Doug England, who is retiring and will be replaced by Tiffany Gering next week, said he is not in a rush to resolve this issue, but does want to see it finished. He does not want to kick the issue too far down the road. The task force the commission creates must also work within the existing drafts and not start from scratch, he said.

“I would have to disagree that there is an attainable target where everyone is going to agree with the code,” England said. “It won’t happen.”


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Coronavirus
COVID-19 rate in Chelan and Douglas continues to fall

EAST WENATCHEE — The COVID-19 rate of infection in Chelan and Douglas counties has continued to fall since Thanksgiving.

The Chelan-Douglas Health District reported a COVID-19 infection rate of 662.4 per 100,000 people over a two-week period as of Dec. 23.

That was down from 906.1 on Dec. 16 and from 1,017.2 as of Dec. 9, the highest rate reported since the pandemic started. The state recommends the rate drop to 25 per 100,000 to reduce the chance of transmission within a community, according to the state Department of Health website.

The rate does not reflect what happened over Christmas. Health officials say it takes two weeks to see how many people got infected on a particular date.

People appear to have listened to health officials’ request to stay home during the Thanksgiving holiday, Chelan-Douglas Health Officer Dr. Malcolm Butler said at the Dec. 21 Chelan-Douglas Board of Health meeting. Butler asked during the meeting that people continue to stay home and avoid large gatherings over Christmas.

From Dec. 14 to Dec. 20, 411 people from Chelan and Douglas counties tested positive for COVID-19 out of 3,694, a 11.1% positive testing rate, according to health district data.

It is down from a 17% positive testing rate from Nov. 30 to Dec. 6. The two counties had a pretty steady 2% positive rate for most of the pandemic until October.

The state imposed new restrictions in mid-November on indoor service at restaurants, bars, gyms and other gathering places in an effort to help slow the spread of the virus.

Central Washington Hospital is still quite full, with 40 COVID-19 patients hospitalized, according to health district data. The hospital can make extra beds, but may not have sufficient staff to take care of that many patients, Dr. Jason Lake, Confluence Health chief medical officer, said in previous interviews.

This week’s COVID-19 rate, expected to be announced Wednesday, will be affected by the health district not conducting testing from Dec. 23 to Dec. 27, according to a health district news release. Medical centers, such as Confluence Health and Columbia Valley Community Health, continued to conduct testing during that time.

People will be able to get tested at these places this week:

  • Cashmere High School
  • Peshastin-Dryden Elementary School
  • Market Place in Orondo
  • Community for the Advancement of Family Education in Wenatchee
  • Town Toyota Center
  • Costco in East Wenatchee, which has a walk-up testing site

To find dates and times go to wwrld.us/3pyIByL.


Coronavirus
Trump blasts ‘weak’ Republican leaders over $2,000 checks, defense bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. — President Donald Trump assailed leaders of his own Republican Party in the U.S. Congress on Tuesday to try to get the Senate to accept his demands for $2,000 COVID-19 aid checks for Americans and his veto of a $740 billion defense policy bill.

In a tweet storm about his election loss to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden and an expected vote to override his veto, the president attacked “weak and tired” Republican leaders.

“WE NEED NEW & ENERGETIC REPUBLICAN LEADERSHIP,” Trump wrote in a tweet falsely claiming that voter fraud caused his defeat in the Nov. 3 election.

“Republican leadership only wants the path of least resistance. Our leaders (not me, of course!) are pathetic. They only know how to lose!” he wrote without mentioning any party leader by name.

Republicans in Congress have largely stuck with Trump through four turbulent years during which he was impeached, became the focus of an inquiry into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and oversaw the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic which has killed 333,000 Americans.

But Trump is angry at his party’s lawmakers for not fully backing his claims of election fraud, trying to override a presidential veto for the first time in his tenure and opposing his efforts to give people pandemic aid checks of $2,000.

The Senate convened today for a rare year-end session in which Democrats are pushing for a vote to increase direct payments for Americans reeling from the pandemic from $600 to $2,000. The Senate will also weigh whether to override Trump’s veto of the defense policy bill.

Democrats believe the stimulus check issue could give them an advantage in two critical Georgia runoff elections next week that will determine which party controls the U.S. Senate and thus the fate of Biden’s agenda when he takes office on Jan. 20.

Kelly Loeffler, one of two Republican candidates in the runoffs, expressed support for the increase on Tuesday. “I’ve stood by the president 100% of the time. I’m proud to do that and I’ve said absolutely we need to get relief to Americans now and I will support that,” she told Fox News.

However, the bill faces a tough path in the Republican-led Senate, with many Republicans noting that it would cost hundreds of billions of dollars extra.

Trump’s tweets put pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow the chamber to vote on the measure, hours before the top Republican was expected to speak on the Senate floor at Noon EST.

“$2000 for our great people, not $600! They have suffered enough from the China Virus!!!” the president tweeted.

A combined $892 billion bipartisan coronavirus relief package and $1.4 trillion spending bill that Trump signed into law on Sunday contains $600 checks for people hit hard financially by the coronavirus.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives on Monday approved the increase in direct payments to $2,000. The payments are earmarked for individuals earning up to $75,000 and couples earning up to $150,000.

Separately, the House on Monday voted to override the president’s veto of the defense policy bill. If the Senate seconds the House action, the bill becomes law. It would be the first veto override of Trump’s presidency, which ends on Jan. 20 when Biden takes office.

A Senate vote on the defense bill veto had been expected on Wednesday but could be delayed until the weekend by political wrangling over the stimulus money.

Trump said he blocked the defense legislation because he opposed a provision to rename military bases named after generals who fought for the pro-slavery Confederacy during the Civil War, and because he wanted it to overturn liability protections for social media companies, an issue unrelated to national security.

With the New Year’s Day holiday on Friday and a new Congress due to be sworn into office on Sunday, lawmakers have only a short time to act.

Senate resistance

Final passage of the COVID aid increase in the Senate would require 60 votes and the backing of a dozen Republicans.

The Joint Tax Committee, a congressional panel that tracks federal spending, estimated on Monday that Trump’s $2,000 checks would cost $463.8 billion.

Three Republicans so far have voiced support for the higher payments: Senators Marco Rubio, Josh Hawley and Loeffler.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said he would press for a vote on the checks later on Tuesday.

“The House just took a strong, bipartisan vote to pass $2,000 checks,” Schumer said in a tweet on Monday evening.

“I’ll move to pass the bill in the Senate. Workers, families and people are crying out for help. Every Senate Democrat is for this relief. Senate Republicans should not stand in the way.”

Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders, who has championed higher direct payments to Americans, has threatened to block the Senate from moving quickly to override Trump’s veto of defense bill until McConnell agrees to allow a vote on the $2,000 checks. Democrats including Senator Ed Markey are expected to join him.


News
McConnell: Senate to address defense veto, stimulus checks

McConnell: Senate to address defense veto, stimulus checks

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday the chamber would vote this week on whether to override President Donald Trump’s veto of a defense policy bill and also address the president’s call for an increase in COVID-19 aid checks from $600 to $2,000.

The Senate convened on Tuesday for a rare year-end session after Democrats pushed for a vote to back Trump’s call for an increase in direct payments for Americans reeling from the pandemic and to weigh whether to override his veto of a $740 billion defense policy bill.

McConnell said senators will vote on the defense bill on Wednesday and would begin this week to address Trump’s request for $2,000 direct payments, as well as liability protections for social media companies and his allegations of election fraud.

Addressing the Republican-dominated chamber, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said it should not adjourn until it addresses COVID-19 stimulus checks and the defense policy bill.

Trump earlier assailed leaders of his own Republican Party to try to get the Senate to accept his demands for bigger aid checks and his defense bill veto.

In a tweet storm about his election loss to Democratic President-elect Joe Biden and the expected vote to override his veto, the president attacked “weak and tired” Republican leaders.

By Jason Lange

Reuters


Local
Two arrested in shooting death on Idaho Street

WENATCHEE — Two men have been arrested in connection to the shooting death of a 36-year-old Yakima man.

Wenatchee police detectives believe Shane Earl Hagen, 47, of Wenatchee and Brendyn Cain Ripper, 25, of East Wenatchee killed Jesus Manuel Garcia Wednesday on the 600 block of Idaho Street, the department said Monday in a news release.

Hagen and Ripper were booked into the Chelan County Regional Justice Center over the weekend on suspicion of second-degree murder.

Police responded at 3:20 p.m. to the scene after reports of shots fired and found Garcia wounded at the apartment, the release said. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Hagen was apparently shot during a gunfight, police said. While still at the scene, police learned that Hagen went to Central Washington Hospital about 3:45 p.m., claiming he’d accidentally shot himself in the leg, and underwent surgery, the release said.

Officers suspected Hagen’s wound was related to the Idaho Street shooting. Hospital video showed Hagen being dropped off at the hospital by a car, the release said. Video showed Ripper in the vehicle, as well, police said.

Hagen declined to speak with police at the hospital. He was jailed Saturday after he was cleared to leave the hospital.

Security video from the scene of the shooting showed Hagen was at the apartment with Ripper. He turned himself in to the police Sunday.

Hagen and Ripper made their preliminary appearances Monday afternoon in Chelan County Superior Court. Bail was set at $1 million for both and the Chelan County Prosecutor’s Office has until 5 p.m. Dec. 30 to file charges.

The shooting remains under investigation. Capt. Edgar Reinfeld declined Monday to say who detectives suspect fired the shots that killed Garcia.

As for what prompted the shooting, he said, “I think we have a pretty good idea at this point, but it’s not completely clear.”

This is the second time Ripper has been implicated in a violent crime in the last 16 months. In August 2019, he and his brother Cameron Ripper, 24, were charged in Chelan County Superior Court with first-degree assault and first-degree robbery after they allegedly used a tire iron to beat a 29-year-old man and steal his backpack. Brendyn Cain Ripper was released from custody in September 2019 after posting a $15,000 bond. The case is ongoing.

Hagen lost his right to possess firearms after a 1994 conviction in Snohomish County Superior Court for trafficking stolen property, but regained the right in 2019 after five consecutive years without felony or misdemeanor convictions, according to Snohomish County Superior Court records.

A man with the same name as Garcia and apparently the same age was sentenced to about five years in prison after he pleaded guilty in 2012 to his part in an armed home invasion in Toppenish, according to a 2013 Yakima Herald-Tribune report.

Anyone with information related to the incident is asked to contact Det. Donny Graves at 888-4256 or dgraves@wenatcheewa.gov in reference to case number 20W17625.


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