The City's Pulse Newsletter

When Good Ideas Go Bad

Sometimes good ideas get twisted. They fall in with a bad crowd, take a wrong turn and end up in big trouble.  Nice ideas gone wild.  Sounds like a raucous Spring Break movie. But here in CdA, while reality is far less titillating than such a movie, it can seem every bit as disruptive.

Take, for example, the attempt by our local officials to help renovate Sorenson and Winton Elementary Schools.  Good idea.  Getting the schools in compliance with the
Americans with Disabilities Act, (ADA) is important.  So what's the normal, direct method for funding these kinds of upgrades?  It's through the school district.  The district administration proposes a building levy or bond issue for a variety of needs in the district.  Voters consider the list of improvements and choose whether to tax themselves for the additional costs.  It's clear, direct and responsible. 

Now let's look at the wayward method unfolding in CdA right now.  Sorenson and Winton are old schools.  They've needed upgrades for years that were never included in school improvement levies. Did the district administration neglect these schools because they're not in the newest neighborhoods?  I don't know but just a few years ago the school district vigorously tried to close Sorenson.  Now, however, things have changed. High-end luxury housing has blossomed in our downtown, bolstered by large injections of public tax money from the urban renewal agency, LCDC.  So now LCDC slides in to embrace Sorenson and Winton, and most probably the school district administration building too. 

Good thing, you say?  I don't agree.  In order to include the schools, LCDC has to extend its borders by using a "shoestringing" method.  The precedent set by this action is definitely not a good thing.  It's a very dangerous thing.

Cities are forbidden, by law, from using the shoestringing method in their annexations.  They cannot just draw a line out from their existing boundaries to annex an outlying area, it has to be contiguous to city land.  Shoestringing is thought to allow far too many opportunities for corruption and abuse.  If our elected officials are prohibited from shoestringing, why can the unelected LCDC board that controls millions of dollars in taxpayer money with very little oversight, why can they use this highly suspect method of increasing their borders?  Here's the answer: Because the law doesn't say they can't.  It also doesn't say they can.  It just doesn't say.  

The Idaho Urban Renewal law was written way back in the 1960s, and its authors could never have imagined the massive use of this tool today. The old law is full of loopholes which big developers and urban renewal boards are quite savvy about using to their advantage.  Representative Phil Hart of Athol has written a bill to correct the shoestringing problem in the urban renewal law. But CdA Mayor Bloem sent a letter against the change and advised our legislators to ignore the "vocal few" trying to update the law. In an added twist to the good ideas gone bizarre theme, LCDC uses public tax money to pay a lobbyist in Boise to work against any changes the public tries to make to the urban renewal law.  Let's hope our lawmakers in Boise understand the danger of the shoestringing precedent and do the right thing, in spite of pressure coming from sophisticated, big money sources.

Another good idea gone awry is the sidewalk repair being pushed by the City of CdA.   Certainly safe sidewalks are in everyone's best interest.  After much checking, I can report that the city owns all the improvements within the right of way.  That means the sidewalks and any trees as well. Nearly all the sidewalk alignment problems are caused by adjacent trees, but the city will not fix the sidewalk.  They demand the homeowners pay for the repairs. General estimates are $2000 for the average repair, a price tag that will burden most local citizens.  For those who can't fund the repairs, there's a tiny amount of grant money available, but only $1000 each for 20 properties. There are hundreds of sidewalks that need repair. 

The indignance brought on by the sidewalk spree is because we all see many millions of dollars in tax revenues going to high-rise luxury condominium projects, parks with no-swimming-allowed ponds to beautify upscale commercial developments, and huge money injections for the pay-to-enter private community center.  Yet the stalwart citizens who comprise the backbone of the community all year long, not just a few weeks each summer, get nothing but a reminder letter from their city: Your sidewalks must be in compliance by June.

And, to crank the commotion even higher, the city is charging a $50 fee for each repair permit. Even City Councilman Mike Kennedy realized that was a bad idea.  He wrote last July, "I don't believe there is a permit fee for the sidewalk repair...because I don't think that would make sense."  Me either, Mike, but it's true.  

Good ideas gone bad.  It's not the original intent that's the problem, it's the process used to achieve the goals.  Help the schools, but let's do it the right way, which is with voter approval through the school district.  Fix the sidewalks, but show some the homeowners some r-e-s-p-e-c-t and make an effort to help. Where's that rainy day fund?--oh, it's down the hole. Well for goodness sakes, at least comp them the permit fee, please.