After nearly sixteen years, Tammy de Weerd will wrap up her time in the mayor’s office in Meridian. But the work is far from finished ahead of the transition to new mayor Robert Simison in January.
De Weerd spoke to BoiseDev just before the election. Last night, the city council looked at the comprehensive plan document – the next step in eighteen months of work. The city laid out a full website on the guiding document for development in the City of Meridian in years to come – replacing a 2011 plan. It comes after months of public input, outreach, thinking and tinkering.
“It is really going to set a foundation to build upon,” de Weerd said of the plan.
An online map outlines future land use patterns around the city. It defines what types of development can happen where, and how developers can build across the growing city.
But the process continues.
“The next step will be a working group that will talk about housing densities and open space,” de Weerd said. “And decide, do we want to look at districts? That could bring character to the different geographical areas in our community and how to build upon the unique characteristics of those districts. That is exciting to me. We are taking the comp plan to the next level. And that’s really exciting for our community.”
Meridian in the middle
The conversations familiar to residents of many other cities in the valley are in some ways magnified in Meridian. De Weerd points out that Meridian sits right in the center of the valley, and serves as a connector between Nampa, Boise, Eagle and more. When a company like Intuit decides to add 500 jobs at its location in Eagle, or Amazon adds 1,000 folks in Nampa – many of those commuter trips flow through Meridian.
“It is frightening to a lot of people. They see apartments going up and more congestion, but what they don’t really connect is those trips on the roads are not our cars.“
She said if Meridian sat on the outskirts of the valley instead of the center – its current infrastructure would work just fine.
“The problem is, we are the center of the valley and there are no options,” she said. “The state hasn’t done anything to help with creating a loop around this valley so that even traffic that wants to go through the valley can go through it without being part of the problem.”
Beyond the ‘State of Ada’
De Weerd repeatedly criticized the state for its approach to growth. While she said she is “encouraged and hopeful” about still-new Gov. Brad Little, she makes no bones about the need for the whole state to come together.
“We’ve tried to do work with the governor’s office and the Association of Idaho Cities to really show it is not the ‘Great State of Ada.’ The prosperity in Ada and Canyon Counties is something that benefits the entire state.”
De Weerd calls the Boise Valley a ‘donor region’ – in that it contributes more in tax revenue than it gets back from the state.
“When we prosper, the state prospers. It shouldn’t be an ‘us versus them.'”
Transit woes a threat to prosperity
But to keep the prosperity of the area going strong, de Weerd said everyone will need to get serious about transportation. The frustration in the valley isn’t new. A 1993 story with then-Boise mayor Brent Coles said traffic was his number one concern.
Twenty-six years later, de Weerd said the logjam has to break.
“The rail corridor that that was first contemplated with the (RegioSprinter) exercise two decades ago, has gone nowhere,” de Weerd said of a two-week pilot of a commuter rail train that ran in 1997.
“(The rail line) is going to be a critical corridor through this valley,” she said – even if it isn’t for high-speed rail. “It could be for a multi-use pathway or HOV Lane that would go east in the morning and west in the evening.”
Like many local leaders, de Weerd wants to see funding options for transit go beyond just property tax authority.
“We have to do something different and without tools for funding choices. The only tool we get from the legislature is on our property taxes.”
The culture of cars
While a lot of the oxygen in the transit conversation in Meridian centers on vehicles, de Weerd said it has to go beyond that.
“We would like to be more bike-focused over here,” she said. “But I’ll tell you what, as long as your bike lanes are on the roads, you’re not going to change a culture. The change starts with our kids. If you don’t give them safe routes to school so they get used to walking and riding their bikes. I know plenty of people who would ride their bike, but they don’t want to ride next to a car.”
De Weerd advocates for more bike- and pedestrian-only paths. She is a signatory to a 2009 plan to boost trails and pathways in the Boise River corridor. She also pushed for funding for a “rail with trail” pathway.
“My husband is from the Netherlands. Every time we go back there, we don’t drive a car. We grab bikes, and that is our mode of transportation almost the entire time we’re over there. You never see a car on your bike, because the bike paths are connected. They get you where you want to go and in a safe fashion and very efficient at that.“
But, she said, the discussion can’t just happen at the local, or even regional level. She returns to the role of the state.
“I think that the state, from the governor on down to our local governments, has got to have a discussion about multi-modal transportation,” she said. “We’ve been talking about it for a long time and don’t seem to get very far because we don’t have the support at the state level, but local areas need greater support.”
She takes issue with concerns about ‘subsidizing’ mass transit.
“We have to start expanding the conversation that mass transit or public transportation doesn’t pay for itself, so we shouldn’t consider it. Well, show me a road that pays for itself!”
On the January 13th, de Weerd will leave office, handing off her role to the person she endorsed in the race to replace her, Robert Simison.
But as Mayor Tammy becomes Citizen Tammy, it doesn’t mean her love for Meridian ends. Or that her engagement in the city will either.
“I have told the council that I might join the Southern Rim Coalition and I’m going to be sitting there watching them,” she said with a glint in her eye. “And I can be less filtered – in what I say. It will be different from saying it from the bench.”
She talked about all that has changed in Meridian over the years she served at city hall.
“It’s not a suburb. It’s self-supporting. People don’t have to leave the city of Meridian any longer to recreate, to shop, to dine and to work.”
She talked about some of the things she’s proudest of, including her anti-drug coalition, the youth councils, zero-based budgeting and transparency.
But what is truly next for Citizen Tammy? She says that’s to be decided.
“I love Meridian,” she said with her voice cracking. “But it is time for my family. Right now, it’s still too noisy. And I need time to turn off the noise. To listen to God, to reconnect with my family and decide what is next. I know there is something next, and maybe I’m kind of having those arguments with God right now. But, I told my husband I would have give it three to six months and see what is next.”
“I can’t think of a better dream job. But it’s been such a privilege. It’s going to be hard to let go.”