When Ada County residents cast their votes this fall, they will choose to either reelect Democratic incumbent Diana Lachiondo or her Republican challenger Ryan Davidson.
Lachiondo, first elected in 2018, hopes to continue her work on the commission of managing the county’s growth, leading the public-private partnership with the City of Boise to address family homelessness and work toward some new public facilities.
On the other hand, Davidson wants to reduce spending at the county, “market-based” solutions for affordable housing, and to reverse any shutdowns of businesses related to the slowing the spread COVID-19.
Both candidates are familiar faces in Treasure Valley local politics. Lachiondo served as former Mayor Dave Bieter’s Director for Community Partnerships. While she worked for Bieter she helped create Valor Pointe and New Path, which provide homes for chronically homeless Boiseans along with social services. She backed Bieter in the hotly contested race for mayor in 2019.
Davidson has been active with the Republican Party in Ada County since 2008. He unsuccessfully ran for Garden City City Council in 2001 and 2003 and has spent the past ten years working in “grassroots political lobbying and campaigning” for the GOP. Until recently he served as Ada County Central Committee Chairman, but declined to run again to focus on the race against Lachiondo.
He has been at the center of a few recent controversies, including the display of a cardboard cutout of President Donald Trump choking former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton at the Western Idaho Fair in 2018. Davidson was also the subject of a lobbying complaint to the Idaho Secretary of State’s Office against him earlier this year alleging he failed to report lobbying expenses. Davidson said he has since filed the proper paperwork and the complaint has been dismissed.
For the Ada County Commission races, all registered voters in the county can vote in all races, but the candidates must live in one of three districts. This race covers an area comprised of large portions of Boise as well as most of Garden City and north Ada Co. The area is highlighted in blue on the map above.
COVID-19 and the Ada Co. race
Lachiondo is also on the board of Central District Health, and voted for restrictive measures to slow the spread of COVID-19. This includes a mask mandate in Ada County, as well as the move to close bars in Ada County after a spike in cases linked to several downtown Boise establishments. Protestors picketed her home earlier this year over her votes.
Lachiondo also voted to allow select bars to reopen once Ada County moved to the “yellow” risk category for COVID-19 infections in September. She said her goal has been to listen to the advice of the healthcare leaders from St. Luke’s Health System and Saint Alphonsus Health System to make the best decision and balance the needs of the economy.
“This is not what any of us expected for 2020, but I hope we can come out of this on the other end knowing we can pull together to do something hard,” Lachiondo said. “How are we going to reflect on this time? Are we going to remember that we complained a lot or are we going to remember ourselves as problem solvers?
Davidson is critical of her role in the shutdowns, dubbing her “Lockdown Lachiondo” and a socialist in one of his campaign videos. Speaking at a potluck on September 16 to People’s Rights, a group associated with Ammon Bundy, he referred to COVID-19 as a “scare tactic” used by the government to control Americans. A graphic in the video of his speech, posted on a Youtube account belonging to Pam Hemphill, described Davidson’s campaign as for “mask freedom” and “vaccine freedom.”
On Oct. 26, Davidson contacted BoiseDev and said he believes the video “does not give an accurate portrayal.” He said COVID-19 is not a scare tactic or a hoax, but the government’s reaction to it is a scare tactic and the pandemic can be controlled without lockdowns. He also said he is not an anti-vaxxer. Davidson also denied being affiliated with Bundy beyond accepting invitations to speak at some of the group’s events.
“While there may have been a case to make for shutdowns at the beginning of the pandemic, we now know how the virus works and after months of observing this I don’t think the shutdowns are warranted,” he said in his interview with BoiseDev earlier this month. “I think we should encourage masks and social distancing to reopen the entire economy.”
The growth question
To address the valley’s booming population, Lachiondo said the county must be proactive in laying the groundwork for infrastructure needs and expanding services to accommodate the growth without overcharging residents.
She pointed to the example of the recently denied Spring Rock subdivision in Kuna, which would have put the residents far away from the town center and access to fire and EMS services. Lachiondo said if Kuna approved the subdivision, the county would have had to raise taxes on existing residents to pay for the new station needed to serve the far flung, planned community.
“The balance I want to strike there is we need some level of physical growth because people are moving here and they’re not going to stop, but it’s how we grow to make sure it’s not straining our services,” Lachiondo said.
She also said the county should get involved in addressing social issues early, like opioid addiction and homelessness, before Ada County has grown rapidly and starts to develop more “big city problems” the county is unable to tackle.
Davidson said the rapidly rising housing prices due to the housing shortage in Ada County concerns him. In order to help the issue, he supports an approach similar to what Bieter proposed in the city of Boise last year of increasing density in certain zones to allow developers to build more homes and keep up with supply. He also pointed to Garden City’s Live Work Create District, a mixed-use project.
He called zoning changes market-based solutions, instead of paying incentives to developers to build affordable homes.
“It harkens back to earlier times where people could live and work out of their same building instead of living and working in different zoning designations,” he said. “If people don’t have to travel as much, and if you have the buildings stacked on top of each other it can bring costs down.”
Differing views on how to address property taxes
Both Lachiondo and Davidson are looking to the Idaho State Legislature to enact property tax reform, but they have different outcomes in mind.
Lachiondo said she wants to see the legislature address the shift in property values from commercial to residential properties powering the rapid increase in tax bills on homeowners. She supports indexing the homeowner’s exemption and increasing funding for the circuit breaker, which provides property tax relief for low-income seniors who own their own homes.
In the meantime, Lachiondo said the county took a zero percent increase in property tax collections in 2020 due to the economic constraints of the pandemic. The county did increase taxes between 4 and 5% due to new construction, she said.
She also said the county should be studying its land use decisions and trying to create less sprawl so services are less expensive to fund.
“We continue to try and be scrappy and resourceful,” she said. “We are taking a zero percent increase over base this year, but we are also trying to get at some root causes. How we grow collectively, how the cities choose to grow can have a dramatic impact on our need to deliver services.”
On the other hand, Davidson said he supported House Majority Leader Mike Moyle’s proposal in the last legislative session to freeze property tax increases to force local governments to negotiate on property tax reform instead of funding more assistance. He also said his goal would be to cut the Ada County budget, but he did not give specifics.
“I’m not going to know until I take a look at the budgets and see what the needs are,” he said. “I’m going in there with an eye towards cutting, not an eye towards growth. It’s easy to say I want to cut this and that, but until you’ve gotten in there and taken a look at the programs you can’t say.”
Are more courtrooms necessary?
Davidson and Lachiondo agree Ada County needs a new jail to address overcrowding, but they have different ideas on the necessity of a new courthouse.
With the explosion in population, cases have increased along with it. Cases are frequently moved due to tight courtroom space, and Lachiondo said there have been reports of families having to wait to complete adoptions due to the overload in family court.
Instead of building a new courthouse or expanding the current space, Davidson suggested the county move to a “night court” model. His idea would keep the courthouse open past 5pm, with a second shift of judges and staff working into the evening so the courtrooms get more use.
“The court system wants more courtrooms while they’re not utilizing the ones they have,” he said.
Davidson also suggested more usage of virtual services for court, which can cut down on the need for courtrooms and other space. Lachiondo agreed the county should be looking at how to utilize remote work and virtual meetings to cut down on the need for physical rooms to hold proceedings in. But she said many activities at the courthouse require the county give residents the option to appear in person, except in an extreme circumstance like COVID-19.
“There’s a right to justice,” Lachiondo said. “There’s a constitutional right to a fair trial and post COVID it’s not fair for people to be doing things by a video. There will always be a need for in person activities, but we are taking a hard look at what level of things can be maintained in a more virtual environment.”
Other infrastructure improvements were a priority for Lachiondo as well. While on the commission, she and Commissioner Kendra Kenyon voted to claw back $4.5 million in foregone taxes to help pay for a new coroner’s office, an additional jail pod for the Ada County jail, purchasing land for a new jail and a second driver’s license office location.
“Kenyon and I walked into a situation where we walked into a situation where we have a lot of capital needs to address,” she said.