In the last few weeks, a lot of attention focused on the ways Dave Bieter and Lauren McLean differ. One thing the two share is their response to the general election. Neither expected the outcome.
“I was somewhat surprised by the extent of the vote we received that night and really humbled by it,” McLean said in an interview Friday.
Now, the two will face off again. This time on December 3rd in a runoff election.
The debate debate
Last Tuesday, Bieter and McLean debated. That afternoon, Bieter said he looked to more debates. Then, McLean said no more debates.
The move raised a few eyebrows. Scott McIntosh, the opinion editor for the Idaho Statesman said McLean’s notion that voters aren’t interested in more debates was cynical.
“Is it cynical or am I cynical,” McLean asked in response to a question about if the decision not to debate any further was cynical. “I’m not a cynical person. These final weeks of the campaign are really and truly about connecting with voters, and I think especially after Tuesday, what I saw was less a conversation about policy and more taking advantage of the opportunity to just perform.”
Last week’s debate heated up at several points. McLean said Bieter’s inclusion of $3 million in the city budget for a stadium was a “legacy project,” which prompted him to say “woah” twice. When McLean finished, Bieter said his daughter is his legacy, not plaques on projects.
McLean said debates like that are not what Boiseans “deserve or want.” When asked what the harm is in one more televised debate on KTVB, McLean said further debates with this tone are not productive.
“My concern with what I’ve seen now with the paper, and interviews (the mayor is) doing on TV, is that in a somewhat desperate move… they are going to a place in Boise where people ought not be pulled,” McLean said. “They are making assertions around my character that are unfounded. They are taking policy positions and creating potential outcomes and breeding fear that don’t even connect to my policy position. Doing more of those isn’t what this city needs right now.”
Homeless camping ordinance
One issue the mayor’s campaign raised repeatedly in the last two weeks, with the Idaho Press, with KBOI2, with Boise State Radio, with BoiseDev, and during the debate, is the issue of the city’s petition to the US Supreme Court over the right to ticket those who camp on public property.
“I think voters across the political spectrum don’t want to be like Portland and Seattle – and she is for that,” Bieter told BoiseDev. “We know that will happen.”
Bieter brought up the situation in 2015 at Cooper Court. A large homeless camp sprung up near the Interstate-184 Connector.
“Our officers thought they could not (issue camping tickets), and that was the basis of Cooper Court,” Bieter said. “Finally I had to give the order to disband the camp.”
But McLean said Cooper Court started not because of the inability to ticket, but because of the Bieter administration’s overall approach to homelessness in Boise at the time. When asked what McLean would do if another camp like Cooper Court formed on her watch, she said the solution isn’t in just the ability to ticket.
“I would like to point out that Cooper Court didn’t just spring up,” McLean said. “It evolved because the administration at the time was not being vigilant about moving people along. And the city didn’t have the services or the relationships with shelters and providers we have now.”
Even if the city moved forward with the petition to the Supreme Court, under McLean or Bieter as the next mayor, McLean said the city has to be prepared to lose the ability to ticket.
“The court might decide not to take the case. The court might rule against us. Then we have to be ready to move forward with solutions. And I really truly believe that first off, we need to do more to prevent homelessness,” she said. “The officers are out there connecting with people who are experiencing homelessness – talking to them about the services they need and connecting them with those services and trying to move them into shelters. I believe that’s what we keep doing.”
How do Bieter & McLean differ?
With Bieter working to define differences between the campaigns, some voters say they candidates are alike.
McLean agrees on some points, but not others.
“We share some political values and have worked together on some issues,” she said.
But what makes the two different?
“I’d say transparency, especially around the Grove and the stadium and those things that have taken place. I’d also say facial recognition – I know that was a problem for the city, it violates civil liberties. Our approach to the F-35s is also a key difference.”
McLean returned to a theme she used through the campaign.
“More than anything we know what hasn’t been able to be done or accomplished over the last sixteen years is going to take a different approach and a different style of leadership
The use of urban renewal
Over the past several years, urban renewal in Boise evolved. From three districts in Downtown Boise to a new district in the desert south of I-84 and proposals for two more.
McLean called urban renewal an important tool – she used to serve on the Capital City Development Corp. board. But as CCDC evaluates districts along major corridors on State St. and the Boise Bench, she supports a change in approach.
“We have to ask the question does the process we’ve always used where nobody lived work – or should we change it around a little bit,” McLean said. “While I do believe that the two districts proposed are important areas for this city, had I been there earlier, I think it’s important that we go first to the neighborhoods and the communities and have broad conversations about the area and have that inform the drawing of the lines, but also informs the longer public process.”
McLean voted to approve acceptance of the Boise Bench urban renewal study area, one step in the process to form a new district. Though McLean would like to see changes in process, she wants it to be forward-looking.
“This isn’t about unwinding a lot of things, it’s about how we improve things in the future.”
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.
Property taxes and affordability
Property taxes continue to rise in Boise, and around the area.
In Idaho, cities can raise property taxes up to three percent each year. The City of Boise repeatedly elected to take the fully allowed increase in recent years. Last year, the council approved the increase despite public testimony against it.
McLean wouldn’t say up front that she would agree to limit property tax increases.
“I think it’s super easy politics to say ‘I promise I wouldn’t freeze, or I won’t do it’,
she said. “That’s not what people want in elected officials. We need to have a more nuanced recognition that these are hard decisions that have to be made. I’m hearing around the city that residents want us to look at it.”
McLean echoed Maryann Jordan’s push to undo a 2016 change in the state legislature that shifted more of the tax burden on to homeowners and off of commercial property owners. She also said that the city needs to reexamine the way it charges impact fees on new development.
“I want to look at impact fees and that (they) are actually paying for the cost of growth, she said. “I also want to look at whether or not there are creative ways that we can provide additional relief to seniors or those on fixed incomes. I’m not sure that we can, but we have to look at that piece.”
“People are concerned that they are being priced out in part because of property taxes. But I’m hearing loud and clear that they want us to look at what we can do to provide relief.”
Cities charge impact fees on new development to help offset some or all of the dollars the project would cost the city. Different types of developments pay different fees. In Boise, for example, residential projects are assesed impact fees on police, fire and parks. But commercial projects only pay fees for policce and fire. Cities can charge for the full impact of a development, partial impact – or provide exemptions for certain activities the city wants to encouarge (for instance, affordable housing). The system can ensure new development pays for the impact of its own growth, depending on how and when they are charged.
McLean’s past employment
Another issue Bieter raised, is what McLean historically did for work. She founded the Confluence Group, which she described as a philanthropic consulting business.
“I represent individuals who want guidance on how they best make donations. Organizations would present to our donors different grant proposals,” she said.
Bieter, in the interview with BoiseDev, said he doesn’t know what she does.
“I’ve worked with a lot of council members over the years. I’ve always known what they did. I never knew what she did,” Bieter said.
“I had this job when the mayor appointed me,” McLean said. “We talked about the work that I do before he appointed me. We’ve talked about it over the years. I’ve always done the same work.”
A December 2010 Internet Archive copy of McLean’s LinkedIn profile shows the listing for the Confluence Group. Bieter appointed McLean to the council the same month. The Idaho Secretary of State shows McLean’s name on documents for the Idaho Progressive Investors Network in February of 2010.
McLean said the Investors Network purposely avoided Boise municipal politics due to her position on city council.
“I took on this notion that we could build a giving circle, an alliance of philanthropists who share values,” she said. “To help a couple of founders to convene others who share their values in impacting civic engagement and democracy in this state to support them. We helped connect them to organizations who are proposing projects and seeking grants to do work that these individuals want to help fund and donate to.”
McLean said money did not pass through the Investors Network but instead went directly to grantees.
“Somebody called me a matchmaker, or a connector. We represented individuals who wanted to make the best decisions on where to invest their money.”