The City's Pulse Newsletter

Day and Night

The contrast between the Post Falls URD and the LCDC, Coeur d'Alene's urban renewal agency could not be more dramatic.  It's like day and night.  One city uses urban renewal specifically and judiciously to achieve their clearly planned goals. The other uses urban renewal broadly with an undefined vision and a flexible plan.  The first city has a positive public relationship, the second city cannot seem to establish trust with their citizens.

There was a forum today about urban renewal, presented by Concerned Businesses of Northern Idaho.  It was interesting and well moderated with good questions and enlightening answers.  The panel consisted of representatives from urban renewal in Post Falls, CdA and Hayden, as well as from Jobs Plus.  Hayden is new to the urban renewal game and Jobs Plus plays an important role in our whole area.  But for today's newsletter I will contrast the use of urban renewal in Post Falls and Coeur d'Alene.

Let me interject that, just yesterday, LCDC approved a budget of $35,000 to hire a Public Relations firm to improve their relationship with the citizens.  This was on my mind as I sat down to listen at the forum today.  By the end of the question and answer period, it was apparent why LCDC needs a PR firm and why Post Falls does not.

The moderator, Freeman Duncan, started by explaining the But For test, which he said is very important in urban renewal:  Money should only be used for projects that, but for urban renewal, would not be developed.  He asked each panel member to describe their view of the but for test, as well as describe their districts.

Luke Malek from the Post Falls URD stated they take the but for test very seriously and consider it in their decision making.  He described their districts as small, specific and with clear goals.  They closed the Harper's/Flexcell district 5 years early, returning the taxes back to the city, county and schools.  And they have brought in 3300 jobs. Luke was open, direct, straight forward and understandable.

Tony Berns, from LCDC, described the Lake district as huge.  He used words like "grab" and "sneak" when he told of how the large district was created.  He said that a big district helps to "redeploy value from one part to another".  And the but for test? He said, "that's a tough one" and went on to not answer the question.  Tony is a pleasant person but he speaks a language all his own.  He can take a simple idea and use 44 complex words to cloud the issue. It feels like the wool's being pulled over the top. 

Moderator Duncan asked about the use of urban renewal funds for residential projects and if the boards believe in acquiring land to hold in their agency.  Post Falls stays away from funding residential, except the infrastructure they are providing for workforce housing.  They focus on bringing in businesses and jobs. PF does not own land in their agency, they facilitate the development by businesses.  Tony Berns said, "LCDC has a strategic intent to buy property".  They own 21 properties right now.  They believe in funding residential and have subsidized many large scale luxury condominium projects in CdA.  Recently Tony reported that LCDC brought in 1200 jobs last year but has retained only 266.

Conflict of interest was also a topic at the forum.  Post Falls requires board members to submit an annual disclosure report including their residency status and any connections within the district related to property or business ownership, work associations, partnerships, proponents, contractors, subcontractors or any other relationship of a business nature.  Post Falls often spoke of the close oversight by their city council and mayor, and their high level of accountability.  

Tony Berns stated that LCDC requires annual disclosures, sent to the mayor and made public.  This was wonderful to hear, since for the first 10 years of its existence LCDC did not have any disclosure statements for almost all of its members. The law states they must be filed "immediately". Only one current member filed a disclosure statement prior to 2006.  And in 2006 the board only filed disclosures because a citizen sent a public records request for them. 

After the forum was over, a diverse group of about 15 people chose to stay and ask further questions of Tony and Luke. Ron Nilson asked about accountability for the $100 million in tax increment that LCDC will get just from Riverstone alone. Tony gave a roundabout answer about value-added opportunities, public projects and the Education Corridor. He admitted there is no clear plan because they want to remain flexible. 

I asked Tony Berns and Deanna Goodlander if LCDC would redraw the boundaries, make Riverstone, Mill River and such, their own separate districts, create a clear plan for each one and then close them down when they are paid off.  More attention could go to bringing in businesses with career level jobs and new districts could be created to foster that effort.  I asked if McEuen Tower, which is now paid off, could be brought out of the district so the taxes would revert to the city and county.  Tony and Deanna were clear that, while my suggestions are possible, the city council has a "vision", Deanna said, and they will need all the money for the projects they want. Tony asked, "How else would we fund public improvements and projects?"  I responded that if my suggestions were used, the money would go back to the city and the elected officials could work with the voters to decide what public projects to fund.  Isn't that the proper way? 

It comes down to this, folks: The Mayors and City Councils choose and allow the type of urban renewal in their communities.  Post Falls chooses careful, specific use of tax payer urban renewal dollars to bring in jobs and commerce.  They have a high level of oversight, accountability, and a strong relationship with their citizens.  Coeur d'Alene takes the largest districts and the longest time frame allowed by law.  The oversight is difficult to detect and any questions are met with defensiveness. Today was the first time people from opposite viewpoints sat down to openly discuss the issues. This  happened only because dynamic and well-liked Ron Nilson requested the spontaneous session after the forum.

It's the difference between day and night.  And when you put them next to each other, you can really see the contrast.  So, LCDC will use $35,000 of our tax money to learn how to be liked by us. And they'll need it