2021 Boise City Council candidates partake in forum – boisedev.com

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Ten of the Boise City Council candidates hoping to land a spot on the dais next year made their case to the City Club of Boise and the League of Women Voters Thursday afternoon.
At the forum, candidates shared their views on affordable housing, climate change, and growth in their bids to win over voters. Three of Boise’s six districts are up for election, including District 1 in West Boise, District 5 in the East End and Downtown, and District 3 in Northwest Boise and the North End.
Election Day is November 2, with early voting starting Monday.
Luci Willits and Laura Metzler are both hoping to bring more representation for the unique needs of West Boise to the council, but they diverged on some major issues.
One of the biggest split points between the two candidates is their views on how the city should address climate change. Willits said she believes in climate change and participates in Boise’s recycling and composting programs, but she is wary of large-scale spending on climate initiatives that would cost the taxpayer.
“As a fiscal conservative we need to look at the return on investment,” she said. “It might make us feel better, but how much will it actually help us? We are just one little piece of this and when we’re talking about climate change we’re talking about the whole world…I am going to be looking at these things from the view of the taxpayer. If it’s costing the city more, I think we have to have a conversation about that.”
Metzler said she is in support of the city’s moves to be carbon neutral by 2050. She said addressing the problem will only get more expensive over time and it’s important to act now.
“I do believe the city is on the right course to addressing these and I want to continue to address climate change issues,” Metzler said. “(The need for it) may not so much right now, but we are going to see the need for the future. Any planning we do now has to take the future into consideration.”
On the sewer bond in November, Metzler said she is in support because the cost for infrastructure projects will only increase in the future and there is a need to plan for growth. Willits said she will vote no because the city, especially West Boise with its low turnout rates, needs more time to study the proposal and the need for the project before it goes to the ballot box.
The four candidates vying for the District 3 seat had slightly different approaches to housing affordability and priorities for the future.
City Council President Pro Tem Lisa Sanchez, the only renter on the current Boise City Council, said a major focus of hers would be to represent the needs of those who live in Boise and do not own a home. She said new statistics show nearly half the city rents, a population whose interests have not been adequately represented at city hall.
“What I think we need to do is develop relationships with socially responsible developers,” she said. “We need to be creative about who we invite to build in our community. We need folks entering into this sphere who truly want to provide affordable housing.”
Increasing total housing supply is Greg MacMillan’s major focus to address the ongoing housing crisis. He said the city should work to add staffers at the Planning and Development Services Department to process applications more quickly and create a clear zoning process for them to go through for projects to get the green light.
“Developers can be very efficient, but it is important they have a clear set of rules to play by and let them do their thing,” he said. “If you can do that, it will create more supply and that will provide more product.”
To help handle growth, Nicholas Domeny said the city should focus on building more infrastructure. He said the city should prioritize building a fire station in Northwest Boise, which is something the city has in the works currently. Road projects are also a focus for him, although he did not mention any specifics on how to collaborate with the Ada County Highway District.
“We have a lot of new houses coming in and not enough road work being done,” he said. “A lot is being created, but the infrastructure isn’t there yet. I think we need to focus on getting our roads done and we need to make sure we plan everything out.”
Maria Santa Cruz-Cernik said a major priority for her if she is elected would be opposing Interfaith Sanctuary’s proposal to relocate to State Street. She said Interfaith Sanctuary’s Executive Director Jodi Peterson-Stigers had unresolved issues at the current shelter location on River Street, but Santa Cruz-Cernik did not elaborate on what they were or what her source of this information was.
“The people I spoke to, they felt like they were being undermined and that (Interfaith Sanctuary) went through the back door and (the neighbors) wished they had known about it before they made the decision and had more input on it,” she said. “As far as the (safeness) of the facility and combining the different groups of homelessness, it’s not a very good situation.”
Of the candidates, Sanchez was the only one in support of the sewer bond. MacMillan acknowledged the importance of investment in infrastructure, but he said the $570 million price tag was too high without more public input and consideration. Domeny and Santa Cruz-Cernik said they did not have enough information about it to say one way or the other how they felt.
Different views on housing policy were a major point of contention for the candidates in District 5.
City Council Member Holli Woodings was a supporter of the city’s effort to rewrite the zoning code. She said creating a new code based on the city’s comprehensive plan, Blueprint Boise, would help make the development process easier and automatically allow denser development in places that make sense.
“We don’t have Blueprint Bosie in code and what that does is it stifles new development because it’s expensive to get a rezone and come through some of the city processes we have put in place where otherwise higher density housing around activity centers could be in place by right,” she said. “That is a big piece to our affordable housing puzzle. Building new takes quite a while, but it’s something that will benefit generations to come.”
On the other hand, Katie Fite has been an outspoken critic of the zoning code rewrite in the past several months. She argues that it would reduce public input on projects and worsen the housing crisis because it would incentivize developers to redevelop existing projects with newer, upscale dense housing.
“This will be like pouring gasoline on the housing crisis’ fire,” she said. “We can’t build our way out of this housing crisis. It won’t work and it hasn’t been working. What we’re building is big, unaffordable houses, and what we’re building in the rental market is unaffordable units for people on a Boise wage. We are building for people who are not those most in need of housing.”
Steve Madden said he would be most focused on how to keep as much money in Boiseans’ pockets as possible by cutting taxes, impact fees, and other costs to help people afford their housing. He is skeptical of initiatives like the minimum wage because it requires employers to potentially let employees go if they cannot afford to pay everyone the amount required by the government.
“I am not a fan of rent control. It’s a spiral. It takes the value of someone’s property and puts control in the government which I am not a fan of. The city already has tools like the housing bonus ordinance to attract affordable housing, but those people aren’t showing up here. The people who are showing up here want to build expensive condos and larger homes out in the valley. Those are the most profitable venture.”
Crispin Gravatt said the city needs to focus on long-term solutions for housing by adding inventory, but in the meantime, he wants to find ways to boost workforce development and other initiatives to support small businesses while they pay workers competitive wages.
“As a young professional, I know that wages aren’t keeping up with the cost of living,” he said. “I also note that the cost of living is growing and a lot of that because of the demand we have for housing. We need more collaborative solutions long-term, but we need to make sure no one is left out in the middle while we work on those affordability concerns.”
Both Woodings and Gravatt are wholeheartedly in favor of the sewer bond and took part in developing the plan while serving on Boise’s Public Works Commission. Fite and Madden are voting no, citing concerns about cost to taxpayers and questions about specific projects the bond would pay for.
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