The City's Pulse Newsletter

People are Smart


Some new TV commercials state very prominently, "People are smart".  It's an interesting marketing technique. I wonder if it helps to sell their products? Our local officials certainly aren't treating the public like we're smart.  There have been several mistakes and miscues by our city government lately, but they aren't coming clean with us. They don't seem to think we notice or understand what's happening, so they just smooth it over and act as if nothing happened.

The first "oops" is the new stop light on Ramsey Road for the Kroc Center.  The total cost will be $350,000, according to an article in the Press last week. The city was hoping for a state grant to cover a big portion of the cost, but they didn't get it.  Then they went to LCDC, the urban renewal agency, asking for help but were turned down. Mind you, LCDC's money also comes from taxpayers.  It seems the Salvation Army, owner of the Kroc Center, plans to cover only $100,000 of the traffic light's price tag. The city is responsible for the rest.  But they never mentioned any of these extra costs in the midst of smoothing over the "opportunity" to give $4.5 million of our tax dollars to the 100% privately owned, privately controlled Kroc Center. Please understand that I am not against the lovely community center.  I just question the use of public money for an asset that is wholly owned by a private church business.  And the fact that we were never asked to vote on it. 

Typically, the developer of a new project has to pay for needed street improvements and the cost of the stop lights, if their development causes the need.  For example, Costco paid for the stop light at 4th street & Neider. Now it looks like CdA taxpayers will be on the hook for $250,000 of the Kroc Center signal light.  And the side street next to the center will need to be widened and improved too, but the city hasn't even mentioned that cost to us yet. 

On a related subject, the city will not be putting in a stop light on Kathleen avenue near the Charter School.  Remember the fatal accident back in October of 2006, when two teenagers were racing and hit a car, killing a younger boy?  There were many upset parents at a city meeting after that tragedy, testifying that the 500 students at the Charter School  and the 450 students at nearby Ramsey Elementary are in danger everyday because of that intersection. There have been many accidents at that location, several of them with injuries.  And the one fatality. The meeting minutes show that parent Thom George even contacted the Idaho State Patrol who told him that a traffic signal, without a doubt, would have prevented the fatal accident.

The city staff and city council decided there wasn't enough money to put in a traffic light.  The light would only cost $125,000 because the wiring is already in place under the street, but the city opted for a less costly, small, school zone sign with a flasher for an hour when school begins and ends. Their solution does not help safety for turning lanes or crossing the intersection, it only slows traffic for a time during each school day.
  
Why can the city come up with big money for their favorite projects that are not on the budget, but deny some very basic ongoing needs of the protesting public? Some city hall insiders have told me, in the past, that if the city council really wants something they'll have staff find the money. 

Another little "oops" the city has is the Meadow Ranch housing development under construction near Fred Meyer, where the old barn is located.  It will contain 200 housing units when completed.  They are building "green", as in environmentally friendly, and will cater to the needs of senior citizens. They're even going to keep the barn as a central feature. It's a great development but seems to be in the wrong spot.  At least that's what we decided when we turned it down on P&Z.  We heard from business owners down below in Commerce Park, which is zoned for commercial and manufacturing uses.  Businesses in this area can be loud.  Think fork lifts beeping as they back up, trucks coming in and out, early morning deliveries and basic manufacturing noises all day and perhaps all night long.

In addition, the Kootenai County Transfer Station (the dump) is down below too.  Not only does it include the transfer area, but there's a composting operation right there too.  Can you imagine the smell on a ripe summer day?  It will waft on up to those mature citizens sitting on their new decks, barbecuing their dinners. Not a compatible image, is it?  Well the Director of the County Waste Department, Roger Saterfiel, was a great source of information at our P&Z meeting last winter.  We asked him many questions and came to the conclusion that the businesses in Commerce Park and the taxpayers of Kootenai County would be at risk if the housing development went in above.  The unhappy home owners could complain relentlessly and try to get businesses closed or the Transfer Station relocated, which would be an enormous expense for the taxpayers.  It could happen.

For all you property rights advocates, the Meadow Ranch land was originally zoned manufacturing, so the developers did not have a right to build houses.  They had to petition for a zone change.  That's why P&Z denied it.

When the P&Z denial of Meadow Ranch was appealed to city council, the council members decided to approve the zone change. Yes, they were aware of the reasons  P&Z turned it down. The city council allowed County Waste Dept. Director Roger Saterfiel only 5 minutes to present his information.  Only 5 minutes, just like anyone off the street but he was there to represent the taxpayers of Kootenai County.  And the city council did not ask Roger even one question.

Now, about a year later, with construction well underway, realtor and part-owner of Commerce Park, Pat Acuff has come before a city committee to complain that his business park is at risk from the Meadow Ranch housing project on the hill above.  I'm not sure why Pat didn't come forward at the hearings last year, but now city council members Deanna Goodlander and Ron Edinger are paying attention; now they are concerned.  Deanna is quoted in the Press saying, "In the future, we need to look at the overall picture."  I certainly hope so!  And I hope it's not because Pat Acuff is the Mayor's step-brother.  Businesses that locate in a properly zoned area of town should be protected from the intrusion of incompatible uses putting their livelihood at risk. The city council did not honor that principle, and now they are backpeddling to find bandaid solutions for their decision.

The 200 homes in Meadow Ranch are going to feed more traffic down the hill to the dangerous intersection at the Charter School, making that bad situation even worse.  Maybe we need Pat Acuff to request a traffic light at the intersection.  He seems to get the city's attention.  

No one is perfect; we all make mistakes.  But when our city leaders make mistakes they should explain what happened and how it will be resolved.  People are smart. We, the public, are an important part of the governmental process and we expect to be treated as such.  This community belongs to us all and it will take all of us to safeguard it's values.

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So here's how the newsletter network is going to work:  I'm sending this newsletter to those who have requested it directly and those that have contacted The City's Pulse column by email.  

I am asking you to send a copy on to friends that might be interested in getting the newsletter on a regular basis.  They can sign up (it's free) by simply emailing me at: thecityspulse@gmail.com  Just write, "please add me to the newsletter list".  

Your help is very important in circulating this newsletter.  Please send it on to people in the whole Kootenai County area--they don't have to live inside the city, all of our communities are undergoing rapid change and share similar concerns.

On the other hand, if anyone gets the newsletter each week and wants it to stop, an email to the above address will get you off the list.  

And, as always, a free archive of my columns is available at www.thecityspulse.com  

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