In May, ACHD president Rebecca Arnold sent a strongly-worded letter to the Capital City Development Corporation and City of Boise. In it, she questioned a raft of new urban renewal districts in the city.
Arnold made a number of allegations – including that the new districts are gerrymandered, illegal and take funds away from ACHD.
Now, Boise’s mayor and the CCDC president are responding.
Mayor Dave Bieter replied to Arnold’s letter last month. CCDC board president Dana Zuckerman answered questions from BoiseDev late last month.
Friction between missions unneeded
“We are working to build a better Boise, and I assume everyone at ACHD is doing it for the same reason, and it’s frustrating we are always butting heads,” Zuckerman said.
She said CCDC decided not to take any action on the letter, beyond some internal discussion.
“It’s not shocking that that’s how some people from ACHD might feel,” she said of Arnold’s letter. “It just seems like we have some background of contentiousness – I understand it, but I don’t think it needs to continue.”
She thinks one of the central issues is her agency’s work in Downtown Boise – and ACHD’s focus on vehicle travel.
“There doesn’t need to be tension between what is good for cars and what is good for downtown – and that seems to be the tension point,” she said. “Are we in it for the good of downtown or are we in it for the trucks that are starting to get somewhere? It doesn’t have to be in conflict.”
Bieter says letter is ‘inaccurate and misleading’
Urban renewal in Idaho
When a city creates a new urban renewal area, the property tax collections inside its boundaries freeze at the time of creation. Any increase in property values and the extra tax it generates goes to the urban renewal agency instead of taxing agencies like schools, ACHD and police.
For instance: Say a property is worth $100,000 and pays $1,000 per year in property tax at the time of the urban renewal area. Over time, it increases in value to $150,000 and the owner pays $1,500 in property taxes. Of that $1,500, $1,000 would go to the regular taxing agencies and the extra $500 would go to an agency like CCDC.
The agency can spend the dollars on a variety of projects like infrastructure, streetscapes and property acquisition.
Bieter used language that often matched Arnold’s in tone and strength.
“Your assertion that the districts’ boundaries as proposed are “a plain attempt to gerrymander the project area around ACHD’s primary transportation corridors” is inaccurate and misleading,” he wrote in the two-page letter.
He also picked at Arnold’s use of the word gerrymander. He defined the term as “to manipulate the boundaries of an electoral constituency so as to favor one party or class.”
“The study area boundary has absolutely nothing to do with electoral or party politics as implied by your misuse of the term gerrymander,” Bieter wrote. “Instead, the possible boundaries identified in the eligibility study naturally align with the corridors where the city (which has jurisdiction over land use decisions) anticipates commercial redevelopment.”
He said new urban renewal areas would supplement ACHD’s resources.
Bieter defended the Bench study area as supporting the goals of Boise’s land use planning to boost mixed-use projects. The mayor said major roads on the Bench “were developed primarily for automobiles (and) many lack the most basic facilities for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users.”
Bieter also challenges Arnold’s assertion that the new urban renewal areas are not legal.
“We are certain that we are within our statutory authority and that we have complied with the law as required in the formation of the districts and the study area,” he wrote. “Having engaged with ACHD staff and leadership throughout the process for the Shoreline and Gateway districts, it is surprising to hear legal concerns expressed some six months after the formation of the districts.”
‘It doesn’t have to be that way’
Zuckerman said she wishes the agencies could find better ways to work together.
“I think people roll their eyes when they hear ACHD or roll their eyes when they hear CCDC. It doesn’t have to be that way,” she said. “We are in it for the same reasons really. Rebecca Arnold is a public servant as am I. “We’ve had unneccesary conflict with ACHD in the past and I don’t know why that continues.”
She said she is confounded that anyone can be against CCDC’s mission.
Ada County’s unique highway district
In Ada County, most roads are not the responsibility of the cities they run through. Instead, voters approved a county-wide highway district in 1971. That agency, the Ada County Highway District, operates independently of city or county government. It is responsible for the construction and maintenance of all roads in Ada County – except Interstate 84, I-184 and state highways (which include Broadway Ave., Eagle Rd. and others).
ACHD has a board of elected representatives which are elected to districts around the county. The arrangement can cause friction when the policy of the highway district does not align with the policy of the cities. While cities control land use planning, they do not control the roads – which can mean differing priorities and funding allocations.
“We manage (urban renewal areas) the best we can to eliminate blight. I don’t know how anyone can be against that. It baffles me.”
Zuckerman noted one CCDC district just ended, and two more will end in the next few years. “Every tax district is getting so much money than they would have before.”
The City of Boise and Ada County Highway District will hold a joint meeting this month. Bieter suggested discussing the topic when both boards get together.