It’s a runoff! Q&A with Boise Mayoral candidates

Boise Mayoral Election

After a first-round with seven candidates, the Boise Mayor’s race is down to two: incumbent Mayor Dave Bieter and current City Council President Lauren McLean.

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. We have removed all but the final two candidates

The runoff is December 3rd, with early voting starting November 18th.

What do you think of where Boise is headed?

David Bieter: It’s been my honor to serve as the Mayor of my hometown. I certainly can’t all the credit, but I’m proud of the improvements we’ve seen in Boise since I took office. We are safer, cleaner, and more prosperous and caring than we ever have been. We built 15 new parks, 4 new neighborhood libraries, 3 new recreation centers, and a mental health crisis center while protecting more than 11,000 acres of open spaces, committing to using 100% renewable energy by 2035, partnering with the school district to offer free, public pre-K for the first time in Idaho, and expanding fire and rescue stations across every neighborhood. We should be proud of our collective efforts to make this city the most livable in the country. It’s no surprise that people choose Boise to start a business, raise a family, live out their golden years. This is a community that is strong, vibrant, and well-positioned for the future.

Lauren McLean: We can all name the things we love about this singular, special place, but most of us are acutely aware of Boise’s growing pains. And, as we continue to grow, we need leaders who can tackle serious issues with fresh energy, new ideas, and a commitment to cooperation. We’ve also need to get serious about expanding opportunity to all corners of our city and region: livability can’t be a catchword for only some people in some neighborhoods. I think Boise’s best days can still be ahead of us, but we need to make sure those days include everyone.

What is the most pressing issue facing Boise right now?

David Bieter: Though I’m proud of what we have accomplished together, what I am most focused on – what I spend every day thinking about and working towards – is our future. Growth is bringing with it extraordinary challenges, especially when it comes to the cost of housing and the growing amount of traffic. That’s why we launched Grow Our Housing, to build New Path, Idaho’s only Housing First development to bring permanent supportive housing to those that need it most, and broke ground this summer on Valor Pointe, Idaho’s second Housing First development to bring these same services to homeless veterans, while now making the commitment to end family homelessness in our city. To address traffic, we’re expanding our financial support of Valley Regional Transit to increase service along key routes and we launched Keep Boise Moving, to bring new strategies to allow even greater investment in bike, pedestrian, and transit infrastructure to reduce congestion by giving people other options to get around. For all of the changes we have seen, there are some constants we must never lose. My mother loved Boise more than anybody. She cared deeply about this city. What she loved most was that deep Boise value of kindness and of caring for each other. As the daughter of a Basque sheepherder, my mother understood the importance of being welcomed by a community. I’ve worked hard to make sure that continues to be true. In Boise, we open our arms to everyone. The reason people want to be here is because we’ve done everything we can to make Boise the best place to call home. As your mayor, I’ve worked hard to provide the leadership that brought this about – and will continue to preserve the essence of what makes Boise the most livable city in the country.

Lauren McLean: I’ve talked to hundreds of people at over 30 listening sessions and we’ve knocked almost 30,000 doors, so I have no doubt about the top issue for our residents: growth. The most pressing issue facing Boiseans right now is growth and the adverse impacts they’re seeing in daily life, like affordable housing shortages, sprawl into open spaces, traffic, congestion, and degrading air quality.

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

David Bieter: Throughout my next term in office, my top priorities will be to place Boise on track to meet our 2035 goal of being powered by 100% renewable energy, expand public transit to meet the needs of more neighborhoods and people, define future land use patterns as compact and mixed-use, increase the walkability and bikeability of our neighborhoods, protect the future of our foothills with no further land use, and take actionable steps in protecting our water sources and air quality.

Lauren McLean: One of the very first things I’d set to work on: resetting relationships and building new ones across this valley. Boise’s long-term prosperity is tied to our region’s success, and the solutions to our challenges around growth will be regional, too. Boise leadership needs to be part of collaborative solutions with other cities, agencies, stakeholders, and business leaders.

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

A decades old map of the Boise metro area.

David Bieter: As mayor, I have been a part of one of the most coordinated efforts on regional collaboration in the Treasure Valley’s history. Through the Treasure Valley Partnership (where we funded a Special US Attorney to combat gang violence), COMPASS, and Valley Regional Transit, we have made real headway on some of the most important issues not only facing Boiseans, but residents across the valley. I personally meet with all of the mayors across the valley one-on-one to discuss how we can build on our regional efforts. My relationships with the mayors of Garden City and Caldwell are some of the strongest in Idaho, but we continue to have deep ties to the Association of Idaho Cities. Driven by my deep passion for early childhood education, I am proud of the collaboration we have developed with the Boise School District to provide the first publicly funded pre-K program in the state of Idaho. We will continue to foster this relationship to ensure every family and neighborhood in Boise has public pre-K options when they otherwise might not. With positive signs coming from the Ada County Commission and a reinvigorated drive on their part to have a blueprint for countywide growth, I am hopeful are regional collaboration table will grow and, together, we’ll continue to build one of the most livable regions in the country.

Lauren McLean: Boise’s future is tied to this entire valley, and this entire valley’s future to ours: our destinies are intertwined and it is impossible to think about solutions on transit and growth without including our entire region. We need a Mayor in Boise who is motivated to collaborate because she understands that our future success depends on it. By the close of my first term, I’ll help deliver an actionable plan for regional transportation. This should include exploring new ways to move people between Boise and Caldwell along the existing rail corridor, trackless trams along State Street connecting us with communities to Middleton, and increasing our bus service. There’s no doubt that a funding source for transit (like a local option tax) is critical to this mission. But, if we were granted that option tomorrow, I doubt we could agree on what to do with it as a region. Let’s build consensus and collective bargaining power first and, only after we’ve done that, we can begin talks with State of Idaho leadership to secure the right tools.

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

David Bieter: The ACHD and the City of Boise’s relationship has definitely improved in recent years. Our staff communicate and coordinate regularly to ensure Boiseans have minimal disruption to their commutes when road enhancements and improvements take place. Together, we have been able to build up Whitewater Park Boulevard, place roundabouts on Hill Road and near St. Luke’s to ease traffic congestion, and expand bike lanes to more neighborhoods. Moving into the future, I hope to build on these successes by guiding more of the strategic plans of our road, bike, and pedestrian infrastructure with ACHD to ensure Boiseasn have ease of access to transportation options. Furthermore, I hope, together, the City of Boise and ACHD can hold developers accountable to decreasing sprawl by building compact, mixed-use housing options.

Lauren McLean: While any city would prefer to control decisions related to their streets, we don’t. ACHD exists and therefore it would be my responsibility as Mayor to work with them. Regardless of whether we agree on all issues related to transportation, it’s the job of Boise’s Mayor to work well with partner agencies. The first thing I’d change is the tone of that relationship and walk away from long-standing grudges. There are great staff at Boise City and ACHD who work very well together, doing their best to tackle big projects with a spirit of cooperation. As Mayor, I’d make every effort to support and increase the efficacy of that work. It’s what people expect of their elected officials.

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

David Bieter: When it comes to the future of our city, increasing affordable housing, improving transportation, and protecting Boise’s backyard are inherently intertwined. Whether we’re building compact and mixed-use housing to decrease sprawl and increase availability, expanding pedestrian and bike infrastructure for folks to get to and from work while increasing public transit systems to decrease single-occupancy car trips, or ensuring Boise is using 100% renewable energy by 2035 and protecting our most vital resource, water, from further degradation, Boise’s growth is dependent on true leadership – doing what’s right for the long-term best interests of our community. I have always wanted to build a Boise my mom would be proud of, one I could leave to my daughter and her children. The sustainability and prosperity of their future is vital to ensuring we remain the most livable city in the country, and I’ve proven time and time again I’m up to that challenge.

Lauren McLean: Dense, well-planned, walkable, connected development is the key to having public transportation options and affordable infrastructure. Sprawl prevents us from being able to develop transit lines, and makes preserving farmland and open spaces even harder. And the only way to prevent sprawl? Dense, livable, people-scaled neighborhoods. When people can live close to the places they work, shop, learn, and play, our neighborhoods are strong and vital. It keeps cars off the road, lessens our traffic, and improves air quality. Given the intensity of our growth cycles, I do think we should consider a new look at our Comprehensive Plan. We need to start talking about how we fit badly needed affordable places to live into our existing neighborhoods, particularly in a way that isn’t disruptive to the character of the place. The unique fabric of our city doesn’t need to be at odds with more homes for people: strong, well-designed neighborhoods have places for people of every income and background to live. And, as we grow, I’ll seek to set aside open space, protect our river access and habitat, preserve farmland (possibly through partnerships with the County because there is so little left in our own city limits) and develop pathways for people connecting us from the farmland to the foothills. This city-wide commitment to greenspaces and low-stress pathways is essential to a Boise way of life, and we need to be setting aside space as quickly as we develop.

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

David Bieter: When I first took office, there was a backlog of park sites that should have been funded and built but were left to the wayside. I’m proud that we’ve now moved past that backlog with the 15 new parks we’ve been able to build, and we’re looking for new opportunities to expand open spaces across more neighborhoods. We also need to look at leveraging money from past levies to go further in ensuring more open space and land is used for the dual purposes of recreation and preservation. We should expand on the success of the Watershed Education Center, the Foothills Education Center, the Boise Urban Garden, and Spalding Ranch to create even more opportunities for residents across the valley to learn how conservation of air, water, and land not only benefits our natural resources but the people within urban centers as well. New housing is a must for our growing population, but we have to develop responsibly. Compact and mixed-use developments that prioritize walkability and bikeability while increasing density and decreasing sprawl must be the model we use for all new developments. Not only does this help people stay connected to their neighborhoods and the services they need, but it preserves open space, protects natural resources, and decreases single-occupancy car trips and our overall carbon footprint.

Lauren McLean: There’s no aspect to growth that’s not a challenge, and our next mayor will be facing some serious challenges. Growth is top of mind for everyone, we’re falling further behind on some key metrics every month. We’re at least 10,000 homes short of current needs and 20 years behind on a regional transportation system. I’ve heard story after story from concerned people, unable to find affordable places to live for themselves, their adult children, and their aging parents. And I’ve heard from so many people that they can’t access jobs available to them because there isn’t affordable, reliable transportation to get them there. As outlined above in my thoughts on growth, I plan to tackle both our housing and transit challenges with a regional lens and new urgency. When we plan for development that is dense, walkable, and connected to key services, we save infrastructure dollars, improve public health, and create sustainable models for growth. I’m a realist: I know these rebuilt relationships and regional alliances are not easy tasks. But I am heartened by the next generation of leaders that are increasingly and courageously standing up. With their leadership, and a new openness and humbled tone from the office of Boise’s mayor, we can get there. I do think growth presents some truly exciting opportunities, particularly as we seek ways to increase stagnant wages for our people. A recent Brookings Report on Boise pointed out that most of our job growth has been around low-wage jobs in the service and health care sectors: neither are strategic and neither will foster the kind of long-term vitality we crave as a city. In order to keep, cultivate, and attract higher-paying jobs we will need to foster innovation. A transition to a clean energy economy – when coupled with strategic focus on creating clean energy jobs – will pave the way for opportunity. We’ve got to foster innovation and entrepreneurship so that our home-grown companies can succeed and the power of our wages increases. We can’t race to the bottom with tax cuts and incentives for corporations: we need partners in our shared prosperity.

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

David Bieter: As a city we have to recruit companies that live our values and pay good wages for the working people of Boise, as well as hire quality contractors for city projects that do the same. We’re leading by example at city hall by having competitive wages and providing benefits like paid parental leave to our employees. Companies across the city are beginning to adopt some of these same policies because they see the City of Boise doing it. Idaho’s minimum wage is decades behind what it should be and we see the detrimental effects this has on working people across Boise. Unfortunately, Boise can’t raise the minimum wage on our own thanks to yet another preemption set as a roadblock, but that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to fight for a fair and living wage. I support the current citizen initiative to raise the minimum wage and believe it has a real chance to make its way onto the ballot in 2020. Whether it does or not, I will continue to use my influence at the Capitol to push the legislature to take action on the issue on their own accord and to protect the rights of citizens to organize ballot initiatives. In the meantime, we’re doing everything we can here in Boise to ensure Boise remains the most livable city in the country by making sure folks have affordable housing options by approving residential developments and encouraging developers to build mixed-income housing. We will work with industry leaders to increase access to high-paying jobs and provide quality education opportunities by investing in a robust public library system and working with the Boise School District to expand the Boise Pre-K Project across the city to more and more schools. We know early childhood education and continued learning opportunities through secondary education and apprenticeships allows folks to secure high-paying jobs and a higher quality of life, something every Boisean wants not only for themselves but for their children as well.

Lauren McLean: We are at an absolutely critical crossroads for housing affordability in our city and region. By many estimates, we are at least 10,000 units short of our needs in the short-term. It is essential that we add more places for people to live in every single neighborhood in this city, at all price points and at all sizes – from microunits to accessory dwelling units, from apartments to condos, duplexes to single family homes. Our people need affordable places to call home. We’re in need of bolder solutions to address our housing crisis if we want to get ahead of it, and avoid the mistakes of other cities. My philosophy is optimistic and curious. When it comes to tools that have been used in other places, I’ll ask ask “why not?” rather than immediately settling on “we can’t.” To address these issues, I’ll immediately form a Housing Task Force to determine all the tools at our disposal to encourage increased affordability and access to housing. I’ll expand on the City’s current Grow Our Housing Initiative: it’s a good start, but we’re in need of a greater multitude of tactics and ideas in the middle of crisis. It isn’t just about adding more places to live: we’ve also got to address some systemic issues that are pricing our people out. I will continue to lead on the Community Housing Land Trust idea, but take it to its fullest potential as a public/private partnership that makes possible the opportunity for rental and purchase homes. I’ve supported impact fee reforms in the past and push for that again, and I’ll work with stakeholders seeking to reform the homeowner’s exemption so that our residents aren’t disproportionately carrying the cost of growth. I’ll incentivize ADUs when constructed or renovated, when owners commit to locking in rentals at affordable rates. I’ll protect existing affordable housing from demolition with a revised demolition ordinance (which we’ve already begun work on.) I’d like to establish a Renters’ Bill of Rights to help our friends and neighbors enjoy some baseline protections and stability. And, perhaps most importantly, I want to make space for creative solutions for those innovating in the affordable housing sector. We have homegrown innovators and designers who can and should be empowered to help us achieve our goals of more places to live – in every neighborhood – for more Boiseans. That’s got to be a shared community value in the same way we value parks, our open spaces, and other amenities.

What do you think of Boise’s goal to use 100% sustainable energy by 2035?

David Bieter: We must transition to 100% renewable energy to ensure we’re doing everything we can to combat climate change locally. Boise has already committed itself to reaching that goal by 2035. At City Hall, we’re leading this charge by expanding geothermal energy to more building across the city and committing our facilities and operations to be 100% renewable by 2030. By educating the community on the benefits of renewable energy and investing in renewable energy at the local level, we will be able to meet these goals together.

Lauren McLean: I sponsored funding for the Climate Adaptation Plan for the City and for the City’s Clean Energy Plan. Then, working together with Conservation Voters of Idaho, I led the effort to advance our timeline to 2035 and include equity provisions in the language. And, as Mayor, I will beat this goal and set an additional one: a carbon-neutral municipal government by 2035. It’s affordable and any explanation against that is, frankly, a cop-out. Budgets are an expression of priorities, and this effort would be among my central budgeting priorities as Mayor. There are so many steps I’d take as Mayor to ensure all our residents thrive in a climate-constrained world, and I know that our future prosperity is tied to investment in clean energy and emerging technologies.

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

David Bieter: Municipalities across the state of Idaho are often preempted from doing what’s in the long term best interest of their residents. Setting our own minimum wage and deciding what mechanisms we can use to hold developers accountable to the types of housing they build are just some of the many things cities like Boise simply have no power to control. General-purpose government, like the systems of city councils and mayors, should be given more local control to tackle these issues. This type of government is more efficient and provides better services for the people closest to the ground.

Lauren McLean: I’d like to see a new generation of leaders willing to set aside the politics and bickering of the past, willing to roll up our sleeves for a shared vision of prosperity in this valley. I know that when leaders are accessible and transparent, engaging the public in meaningful ways to chart our future, that we can save what we love about Boise and grow with care. Is that a tall order? Absolutely! It will be difficult, it will be hard work, but I’m not afraid. I’ve always believed in the power of Boise’s community and people, and we’ve done hard things before: we can do this.

Describe Boise in one emoji.

David Bieter: 🏡

Lauren McLean: 🦄

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