Spokane City Council votes to limit ‘mosquito’ alarms

SPOKANE, Wash. — City council members narrowly passed an ordinance limiting the use of “mosquito” alarms.

The devices, which emit a high frequency sound, are used by several businesses in downtown Spokane to deter young people from loitering. The tone, which ranges from 15,000-17,000 Hz, is typically heard by people under 25 years old.

Several city council members feel the devices discriminate against young people. Council member Kate Burke said the tone makes her nauseous.

“I can hear these devices and they actually make me physically sick to my stomach if I stand in an area that has one of these in,” Burke said. She sponsored the ordinance which has been deferred several times since the end of 2019.

Council members Michael Cathcart, Betsy Wilkerson and Karen Stratton all voted against the ordinance, siding with business owners.

“We need to make sure that our businesses downtown have the tools they need just to insure that they can operate unimpeded,” Cathcart said, adding that he can’t hear the tone. “My fiancé who is a little bit younger than I am has heard it and she describes it as kind of mildly irritating.”

Other council members argued the mosquito alarms discriminate against young people.

“I look at the innocent involved here and when we have young children and people who are disabled, people who have hearing issues or maybe some anxieties, they need to be protected,” said council woman Candace Mumm.

She joined council members Kate Burke, Lori Kinnear and Breean Beggs in approving the ordinance.

“You should be able to walk on the public right-of-way without having your hearing hurt or be irritated or feel sick,” Beggs said.

The ordinance doesn’t ban mosquito alarms entirely. Businesses would only be allowed to use the device for 5 minutes over the course of any 1 hour period.

If Mayor Nadine Woodward signs the ordinance, business owners could receive a civil infraction or misdemeanor if they continue to use the device after a warning from police. Woodward could also choose to veto the ordinance.