Q&A with Meridian Council Seat 5 candidates

Boise Mayoral Election

The race for Meridian City Council seat five includes four candidates, each vying for votes. Denise Hanson LaFever, Jeffrey Miller, Jessica Perrault and Joshua Valk all hope to win the seat. The seat is currently held by Genesis Milam, who chose not to run for reelection.

As the filing deadline for the 2019 municipal races in Boise and Meridian closed, BoiseDev sent each of the candidates a set of 12 questions about the direction of each city.

From the most-pressing issue to their views on growth – to a description of their city in a single emoji, the answers are enlightening and informative.

Answers are not edited, with the exception of some minor capitalization and a few punctuation issues. We did not fix spelling or word use.

Election day is November 5th.

Read candidate Q&As

Boise: Mayor | Council 1 | Council 3 | Council 5
Meridian: Mayor | Council 1 | Council 3 | Council 5

What do you think of where Meridian is headed?

Meridian, Idaho
Fountains at the Village at Meridian. The city is one of the nation’s fastest-growing. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev file

Denise Hanson LaFever: I believe this election is a critical one. We will have a new Mayor for the first time in 16 years, and three new City Council members. We’ve surveyed our stakeholders during the new Comprehensive Plan process and their hopes and values are clear: Balanced, smart growth; distinct neighborhoods, gathering spaces; generous open space and amenities. Let’s respond to the residents’ vision! With such clearly articulated ideas, it’s an exciting opportunity to forge a new path.

Jeffrey Miller: Meridian is one of the fastest growing cities in the country. Due to this expeditious rate many people in Meridian feel our infrastructure is not keeping up. If we maintain status gridlock and lot of slow moving traffic is in our future.

Jessica Perrault: I think that Meridian will continue to grow for at least the next decade and that we need our services, both infrastructure and retail, to catch up with rooftops. Construction will slow some once the real estate market normalizes, however, I don’t anticipate that it will relieve Meridian’s need for affordable housing and various housing options.

Joshua Valk: We are going in the right direction and growing fast. I do not want to put a cap on growth, but work with business leaders to foster responsible growth. I am a full-blooded capitalist.

What is the most-pressing issue facing Meridian right now?

Denise Hanson LaFever: Growth. The pervasive public perception is that developers are driving growth–and it’s easy to see why residents feel that way. Developers are intensifying density and making substantive land use changes, citizens are paying too much of the infrastructure bill, and our City is approving applications that deviate from the spirit of Meridian’s Comprehensive Plan and code.

Jeffrey Miller: Meridian needs a viable solution to accommodating traffic flow while maintaining the charm we all love about living here.

Jessica Perrault: It’s difficult to choose just one. Much of the community believes that traffic is quickly becoming our most pressing issue, but I believe that attracting employment with livable wages is the city’s most pressing need. A large percentage of Meridian’s residents leave the city to work, which is a huge contributor to the traffic issues. I completely understand and empathize with resident’s concerns regarding recent approvals of several large commercial developments. There is a general fear that it will increase traffic, however, I believe that it will help to decrease traffic in many ways by allowing residents access to services near there homes that they now have to drive several miles to reach. Housing Inventory and affordability is coming in at a close second behind employment opportunities. I feel like we are at “critical mass” when it comes to housing affordability. Currently, there is a significant public outcry in Meridian about the recently built or approved multi-family housing developments. There is very little public support for density in many areas of the city and a lot of concern that dense housing will bring “big city” issues of crime and poor building maintenance. This is one of the city’s biggest growing pains. Residents say they approve of dense developments but not in there own neighborhood. I believe that many of these concerns can be addresses just by doing a better job of helping residents understand the role of state law in land-use decisions and the city codes that require the city to provide a variety of housing options to its residents.

Joshua Valk: Well, there are a few. It is difficult to choose one, but traffic is most likely our chief concern.

If elected, what will be your first priorities in the job?

Denise Hanson LaFever: We are approving developments that fall far too short of the city’s Comprehensive Plan goals. In this economy there’s no justification for lowering the bar. My priorities will be: A. Balance in City decisions B. Value property owner’s rights and the integrity of our neighborhoods C. Demand fiscal responsibility in tax and public finance policies D. Streamline regulations and processes E. Adhere to the Comprehensive Plan and UDC

Jeffrey Miller: My main priority is to address our over crowded streets.

Jessica Perrault: 1 – My first priority is to pursue improvements in the public hearing process for land use applications and create more transparency in the decision-making process. I have heard numerous in direction communication with the public that residents do not feel they are being heard by the city council and some have gone so far as to file lawsuits against the city. I have already been in discussions with the city planners and city attorneys about ways to create public records of the neighborhood meetings for council members to review prior to public testimony and the time frames given to the public to respond to open applications. I also have concerns that current council members aren’t thoroughly explaining how and why they are making specific decision on each application at the public hearings. In my personal opinion, I believe we need a “PR” campaign of sorts to address these issues and let the public know they ARE being heard. In my experience as a commissioner, the city has done a great job internally, always encouraging elected officials, staff, and volunteers to be transparent. So why does the public still have concerns? The city holds a lot of public meetings, town halls, and events in an effort to communicate directly with residents, however, I feel the Mayor’s office and Community Development department could make some improvements in directly addressing specific concerns heard frequently through the use of video and press releases. 2 – My second priority is in line with the next question regarding collaboration with other jurisdictions, which I will answer in the next section. 3- My third priority is to meet with the Meridian Development Corp and learn all that I can about efforts being made to grow the downtown corridor.

Joshua Valk: Support first responders before anything else. With growth comes crime and emergencies. We cannot hide our heads in the sand and say “but we do not have crime.” I have lived in growing cities. Let’s make sure we grow safely so that we can continue to grow at an amazing rate.

Increasingly, Meridian is part of the fabric of a larger metro area. As a city council member, what will you do to foster collaboration with other jurisdictions?

A decades old map of the Boise metro area.

Denise Hanson LaFever: I will reach out to other agency officials to define our common goals and how we can better serve our residents and business owners through a collaborative approach.

Jeffrey Miller: Meridian used to be a small town that you passed through going to Nampa or Boise. Now many people commute to other cities and the same concern is being voiced in those cities: traffic. I want to meet with other jurisdictions to see how best this problem can be resolved. Due to its livability, this area will always grow. I want to advocate for smart growth.

Jessica Perrault: Meridian and the surrounding cities are doing an increasingly better job of communicating, but I’m not sure how much it is leading to actual problem-solving. I haven’t heard many examples of collaborations where one jurisdiction has a resource that the other is lacking in which a cooperation was developed. It is possible that these cooperations are happening but, if so, is the public aware? Individual elected officials and Meridian city staff frequently meet with ACHD, West Ada SD, and the fire and police departments, but it is also unclear how many of these communications are resulting in actual changes or improvements. All of the Treasure Valley jurisdictions would do well to regularly keep in touch with the Boise Valley Economic Partnership, Compass, and Housing organizations like CATCH. These groups are often on the front lines of exploring creative solutions to economic growth, transportation, and affordable housing. I would like to see the city learn from and collaborate more with the private sector. If elected, I will commit to meet with at least one official in another jurisdiction on a weekly basis in an effort to learn more about the creative ideas they might be using to solve their city or organization’s challenges.

Joshua Valk: Communication is key. If we combat each other as we grow then we end up with chaos. I would IMMEDIATELY schedule a meeting with council members in every applicable jurisdiction.

What do you think of Meridian’s relationship with the Ada County Highway District? What would you like to see change, if anything?

Denise Hanson LaFever: It’s frustrating for all parties involved—but the residents I meet are weary of hearing our City Council say they have no control over our roads. Our residents don’t care who’s in control—they want a solution. Roads are critical to our city’s livability and the safety of our motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, Transit corridors are vital to our state’s economy. I’d like to see Meridian have the final say about prioritizing its road projects and their assets, such as berms, pathways, bike lanes, etc.

Jeffrey Miller: My attendance at City Council meetings as an interested observer has lended me to understand the complexity behind the relationship. I aspire to foster understanding from both parties perspectives, and collaborate where we can reach the common goal of improved infrastructure to meet the demands of growth.

Jessica Perrault: Meridian is the city through which most Treasure valley residents must pass. I would argue that we have more wear and tear on our roads than any of the other cities, yet I don’t believe that ACHD recognizes nor prioritizes the budget, maintenance or new projects above some of the surrounding municipalities. As mentioned above, I think that city council and the ACHD commissioners should have public hearings on a quarterly basis. Last week the two held a special meeting discussing ACHD’s role in Meridian’s new comprehensive plan. If was clear that the city and ACHD understand the transportation challenges but it seemed that there wasn’t much discussion of solutions.

Joshua Valk: We need to collaborate better. Chip sealing is tearing up cars. Road expansions finish before the next one can start. We need to think 5-10 years in the future.

When it comes to transportation and urban planning, what is your philosophy?

Denise Hanson LaFever: I’m a business owner and a CPA, so my philosophy is: Know your market and available resources. Have a business plan. Define your goals–then continually exceed them. Find common ground to achieve viable solutions!

Jeffrey Miller: My main philosophy on transportation is to accommodate our road size as needed, per growth.

Jessica Perrault: My philosophy, and one that Meridian has begun to promote (but still has a way to go) is that we need to be attracting and retaining employment opportunities for our residents. Meridian has some of the lowest property taxes and utility service costs in the valley but one of the highest levels of household income. It a fantastic place to own and operate commercial real estate. The city is currently in the process of organizing it’s property and provided services data in a new way that will allow it to confidently reach out to specific industries that could thrive here. I’d also like to see to the Community Development department have the authority to give incentives to new business and bring residential development into our downtown core. Several surrounding cities are heavily investing and encouraging private investment in their downtown cores and it feels like Meridian is a bit behind. Meridian has made significant improvements in creating it’s own identity (outside of being a Boise suburb) and is laying the groundwork downtown development through place-making efforts, new restaurants, and beautiful landscaping, now we need the downtown rooftops and businesses will follow.

Joshua Valk: Although many push for increased public transportation, it has its drawbacks. In bigger cities that I have lived in the bus line bred crime. My philosophy is that we need to bring awareness and partner with companies such as Uber. As far as urban planning goes, we need to listen to planning committees AND developers.

What opportunities and challenges are most pressing when it comes to growth?

Topgolf Meridian
Photo-realistic rendering of the Eagle View Landing site, before the applicants asked to move the Topgolf-style venue to the north. Courtesy BVA.

Denise Hanson LaFever: Meridian is at a critical crossroads: Who are we? Who do we want to be? A bedroom community to Boise? Or a thriving city of 114,000+ with a viable downtown and superlative neighborhoods and commercial centers? I regularly attend City Council meetings, and I’ve been honored to sit on the steering committee for Meridian’s newly drafted Comprehensive Plan. During the last few years, I’ve heard hundreds of residents describe their hopes and frustrations and believe they’ve clearly defined our opportunities and challenges: We want to be a thriving city, and we want sustainable growth that creates timeless neighborhoods and welcoming gathering spaces. That means our most pressing task is to articulate that vision, identify the assets required to achieve it—generous open spaces, pathways, etc., and revise our Comprehensive Plan, Future Land Use Map, UDC, and policies to ensure we create that thriving, welcoming city. Working with other agencies to develop solutions to solve our transportation and school issues are a must!

Jeffrey Miller: Opportunities: job growth, business and economic growth and prosperity Challenges: infrastructure demands, costs of living and housing increases, school overcrowding, increased demands on police, fire and governmental departments.

Jessica Perrault: Meridian has a lot of available space. It’s not yet struggling with finding property for infill projects. In the last few years the city has approved several multi-family developments that, once completed, will significantly help with the pressing residential demand and, hopefully, will give us the opportunity to slow down a little bit and do a better job of master planning some specific areas. The city has been working on identifying “districts” in Meridian in a future effort to understand those district’s unique needs and resources. I believe this is critical as we struggle with how to temper the pace of growth.

Joshua Valk: As an educator I can say that our class sizes are way too large. Education gets more difficult as cities grow. We need to make sure our schools are supported.

What concrete steps can the city council take to help address the cost of living and housing?

Denise Hanson LaFever: In the short term, we should prioritize this issue—wages are not keeping up with market rates for housing, and there’s a new housing paradigm in the U.S. with the advent of short-term rentals and an increasing number of investors buying single family properties as investments. We should create a task force of our planners and community experts to advise us, study other U.S. cities to see how they are successfully addressing this issue, identify effective policies and practices, ensure we are tracking data for trends—and implement a plan of action. In the long term, Meridian must support and prioritize economic development: Recruit businesses that offer good wages, support STEM and vocational education that leads to higher paying jobs, and ask our business stakeholders to help us create a climate that stimulates good jobs.

Jeffrey Miller: The catch 22 question. If you don’t jam apartments in then your cost of living goes up. But if you jam apartments in then you will have traffic jams. How I see it you make it easy to commute and places will grow out. I’ve never heard anyone say oh I wish I could spend more time in my car it’s I wish I had more time at home.

Jessica Perrault: Other than adding more new housing units and new housing types, I don’t know of any specific plan to address this issue. It’s not just a housing issue. Again, this goes back to the ability of the city to incentivize employers providing higher paying jobs comparable to the cost of living and increase in rents and real estate prices.

Joshua Valk: Support responsible growth. We cannot stop growth, and we cannot allow housing costs to continue to spike. The city and developers need to work TOGETHER.

What do you think of Meridian’s plans to redevelop the downtown area?

Denise Hanson LaFever: In my opinion, one of Meridian’s most urgent needs is a viable downtown that includes housing, services and jobs. I strongly believe we should respect our historical district and structures—but with a projected population of 200,000 someday, Meridian should encourage multi-story buildings and a true central business district.

Jeffrey Miller: I’m all for healthy redevelopment that benefits all.

Jessica Perrault: Other than adding more new housing units and new housing types, I don’t know of any specific plan to address this issue. It’s not just a housing issue. Again, this goes back to the ability of the city to incentivize employers providing higher paying jobs comparable to the cost of living and increase in rents and real estate prices.

Joshua Valk: The downtown area needs significant reconstruction. Based on current size, I do not see how we can expand too much. I would consult with the experts (developers) to help accomplish the revitalization of downtown.

What do you think of the state of local politics? What, if anything, would you like to see change?

Denise Hanson LaFever: Treasure Valley is a remote urban center in the U.S., so it seems logical that the cities in Ada and Canyon Counties have plenty of incentive to collaborate to synergize economic development and address common challenges like transit and jobs. We can certainly maintain friendly rivalries—but we’ve procrastinated far too long, despite warnings a decade ago, to address our shared future. We have a responsibility to build communities that won’t devolve into gridlock and crime for the next generation. There’s room enough on the playing field for all of us—but we will have a much better game plan if we work together.

Jeffrey Miller: I’ve been to several city council meetings and compared to other cities everyone seems pleasant and nice. 3 of 6 seats plus mayor are up for election with no incumbents so that could change, but I hope that won’t be the case.

Jessica Perrault: This election season, I am excited to see the variety of strong candidates who are challenging to status quo and asking the tough questions. As mentioned above, I would most definitely support regular meetings between elected officials in each municipality. As for the public’s opinion of local politics, we are hearing more and more outcry for solution-oriented elected officials. The challenge is that those elected officials represent the public but much of the public is not actively participating in the governing process. In a different vein, I think cities in the valley are getting big that it is difficult to attract knowledgeable, reasonable, and willing candidates to run for office because the time commitment is high and the pay is low. I was approached by our current Mayor and Councilwoman Genesis Milam last year about running for City council but it took me several months to determine if it would negatively affect my occupation, income, and the business my husband and I have worked so hard to build. I wanted to know for sure that I could do both well. There are many willing individuals who like to make a difference in our cities struggling with the same questions.

Joshua Valk: I have only been in Idaho three years. I moved here because the state and city of Meridian seemed to align with my views. Political correctness and pandering are terrible for any developing city. We need to speak factually and remove ambiguity.

Describe Meridian in one emoji.

Denise Hanson LaFever: It would be hopeful! (Hopeful for a bright future in which our residents and businesses flourish!)

Jeffrey Miller: . :-), or:

Jessica Perrault: 🔥

Joshua Valk: 😟

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