Instead of taking the stage in front of a crowd at Boise State University for her first State of the City speech, Boise Mayor Lauren McLean addressed the community from a public library.
Alongside the books at the Cole and Ustick branch of the Boise Public Library, McLean sought to comfort and encourage Boiseans struggling as Idaho rolls into the six month of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. She touted the city’s swift action on public health orders to close public spaces ahead of the state, grants to aid small businesses and the community’s efforts to come together to aid each other in a time of need.
McLean likened the closed library to the city’s current state, with the books sitting on the shelves awaiting customers to come in and browse once again. But, despite the closures and physical distancing, the library has innovated to get books to residents through curb-side pickup, online programming and computer appointments. She said this type of innovative attitude in Boise is what will help Boise get past the pandemic.
“We might be physically distanced, but this is drawing us closer. We’re hoping harder, and wanting more,” McLean said. “If we can tackle these challenges, which we will, we can do anything and urgent dreams won’t be put on hold forever.”
Optimism and hard work
Throughout her speech, McLean struck a tone of optimism the city could address various challenges and overcome the pandemic. She did not unveil any new initiatives or programs, and instead chose to tout the city’s ongoing efforts to solve issues like climate change, affordable housing and the economic recession caused by the virus.
This is a different approach than former Mayor Dave Bieter took in his State of the City speeches. His address in 2018 was packed with brand new initiatives, including the concept of an affordable housing land trust and halting construction in the foothills. Neither of these projects came to fruition by the time McLean defeated him in November 2019.
Early on in the speech, McLean applauded her administration’s swift action to close city hall and other facilities, as well as drafting a public health order to close bars and restaurants before Governor Little declared the Stay At Home order.
But, she did not let the impact those orders had on small businesses go. She took time to thank both essential workers who kept serving the public throughout the early days of the pandemic, as well as the businesses she shuttered and took hits to their bottom line.
“I know this was so terribly tough on you,” she said, addressing small business owners and laid off workers. “You waited and waited for unemployment benefits, you waited for assistance, some which has yet to come, and we as a country and state can do better.”
McLean praised her Economic Recovery Taskforce, which included twelve business and education leaders, and their recommendations to help Boise recover from the pandemic. This included investing in childcare for workers, workforce development and support for small businesses. This includes the city’s $1.5 million grant program small businesses can apply for to pay for COVID-19 related expenses incurred over the summer and the partnership with ACHD to let businesses have outdoor dining in the right-of-way throughout the city.
McLean on affordable housing, climate change and young leaders
McLean also addressed her ongoing plans to address affordable housing in the city. She plugged the planning for the affordable housing land trust, which would use city real estate to develop housing of various types, and the newly convened zoning rewrite committee to reform the zoning code.
“People are willing to pay top dollar to live in our community, but we must make sure we don’t price out the very people who make this community special,” she said.
Climate change was also a major topic in the speech. McLean promoted the city’s newly formed Climate Action Division to work toward sustainability projects and help move the city toward its goal of having the community 100% powered by renewable energy by 2035. City Council President Elaine Clegg’s push for Boise to join a global initiative to plant 100,000 new trees in Boise over the next decade.
“Our days are getting hotter, our forests are burning and we’re the generation that must solve this for our children and theirs,” she said. “Our health and our economy depends on us doing that now. We are going to blaze a path to carbon neutrality to city operations and apply those lessons learned to set an aggressive community goal.”
She also mentioned several conversations she’s had with elementary school-aged Boiseans who have contacted her to discuss municipal issues since she took office. McLean praised their initiative and interest in local government, and the actions of the hundreds of young activists who have marched on the Idaho State Capitol and in the streets of downtown Boise in recent years for more aggressive action on climate change, systemic racism and other issues.
“Our children tell us things we should already know,” she said. “Kids should feel safe in school, women should be treated the same as men, climate change is an existential threat, teachers are essential and Black Lives Matter.”