The City's Pulse Newsletter
Aloha, North Idaho, Protect Our Gem
When we visit Hawaii it's a different kind of vacation.  That's because my husband's ancestors have lived there since the mid-1800s when many Portuguese came to help manage the plantations.  Our visits are filled with family events, giving us a different perspective than most tourists.

The extended family includes a great mix of ethnic backgrounds, in addition to the Portuguese, including Hawaiian, German, Chinese, Irish, Japanese and more.  It also incorporates a wide variety of professions.  From teachers to firefighters, nurses to clerical support, the relatives work hard to get by but most do not feel secure.  

Hawaii is absolutely gorgeous. It's a fabulous place to visit but a more challenging place to live these days.  The cost of living is high, traffic is out of control and wages have not kept pace with the cost of growth. Rental apartments have changed to condos and housing is so expensive that many  adult children can't afford to move from home, so they don't.  There's a nice word in Hawaiian for this type of living. It's called 'ohana, meaning family style; generations living together.  

I love the concept of 'ohana living but we saw the reality up close and it's not always pretty.  Lovely established neighborhoods are now crammed with cars everywhere, filling the streets, driveways and yards with parking.  Two, three and four families are living together in one home.  Garages are remodeled to add rooms, so sheds and storage units are everywhere. And these are not the unemployed.  These are people with full-time jobs, often married with children, still living with their parents.

The working poor without family support have a bigger problem.  There's now a tent city in the middle of Kapiolani Park, just two blocks from Waikiki.  As we took our early morning walks along the beautiful beach, we also passed a surprising number of homeless sleeping on the sand.  The disparate contrast between their struggle and the nearby luxury hotels was disheartening.  It made me worry about our own North Idaho gem.

In many ways Hawaii reminds me of Coeur d'Alene, or what we might become if we don't heed the warning signs: Growth that outpaces wages and does not pay for itself, piling greater tax burdens on existing folks.  Development aimed at high-end tourism, creating a large number of low-paying service jobs for people who can't afford local housing. City officials using tax money for expensive public projects without asking the voters.  These are all steps along the way to serious public problems that threaten our quality of life, the very reason we live here.

A recent headline in the Press was a big warning sign of problems. Our local Food Bank is facing the worst shortage in their history.  They are not only experiencing a 50% drop in donations, which indicates that average folks are less able to give, but they are also seeing an increase in need.  Requests for food assistance are up 25% over this time last year.  Lower donations and higher need for help, that's a troubling combination. 

There are no quick and easy answers to these complex community issues, but we need to be aware and take action.  Let's start by using our urban renewal dollars to attract sustainable, career-level jobs.  Let's offer more professional technical education for our students and give them the option of learning specialized trades.  And let's care more about servicing the needs of our existing citizens than building extravagant monuments for high-end tourists.  We have a jewel here in North Idaho and we must work to protect it.
Follow-up Notes to recent letters to the editor:

1. John Martin, VP of Community Relations at NIC wrote that I misstated the NIC Board policy two weeks ago.  I did not.  I specifically wrote that the policy was for "continuing professional services" but the board chose not to follow the policy.  I did not say they violated it.  The integrity of the NIC Board would have been better preserved if this policy had been followed, and Mr. Martin is not off to a good start as their new spokesperson by twisting my words.
2. Terry Lee wrote there had been a Request for Proposals published before his project was considered by LCDC in 2004.  I went farther back in the meeting minutes to find he was correct.  I apologize for the error.  The column I wrote was not about Terry's project, per se, but about the growing property tax increment acquired by LCDC and their need for public relations help.
Dear Newsletter Readers, 
Above was my column in last Sunday's Press.  It's been a very busy week for local events, so this newsletter is late again--my apologies.  On Tuesday I attended the Ed. Corridor forum.  Some of you were there as well and I enjoyed meeting & talking with you.  Below is my review of that forum, it's long but gives you an idea of what went on.  Watch your newspaper for more news in the next few days. 
Have a great weekend. --Mary


Again the power players at NIC and the City held a public forum for the "for sure" Ed Corridor and again the public was treated like an irritant to be endured.  

Here's the setup:  The forum was last Tuesday from noon to 2pm at the School District 271 Midtown Center.  The room was nicely set, with tables formed into a big circle.  No microphones.  Everyone just sat around the circle, with lots of chairs crammed behind and into all the corners because the room was full and a few people had to stand in the foyer.

There was no moderator and basic good manners were the rule of the day:  no interrupting, let people speak, be respectful, etc.

I had hope.  This could really be good.  Positive memories of the great School District meetings that Hazel Bauman held in that very room last summer were giving me optimism.  Maybe they do want to hear from us; maybe we can have a real voice in this decision.

The college and city officials that were present were—this is from memory, so I could be missing a few:

From NIC:  Pres. Priscilla Bell, Trustee Mic Armon and Jay Baldwin
From other colleges: Cyndie Hammond, LCSC and Larry Brennen, U of I
From the City of CdA:  Mayor Sandi Bloem, City Admin. Wendy Gabriel, City councilmen  Mike Kennedy, Ron Edinger and John Bruning
From LCDC: Tony Berns and PR Rep. Stefany Bales
Other elected people sitting in:  State Rep. Frank Henderson of PF and State Sen. Jim Hammond of PF
From the Press:  Reporter Maureen Dolan and Editor Mike Patrick
There were about 30 - 40 citizens packed into the room as well.

The meeting started out stiffly, with formal-sounding questions and answers.  Then it slowly worked into a back and forth dialog with people following up, asking for additional clarifications and bringing in related topics.  Everyone was behaving well.

About halfway through the meeting, Dan Gookin spoke up for the first time.  Dan was calm, polite and respectful.  His question was about the appraisal on the DeArmond Mill site and that the wastewater treatment plant was not factored into the price.  Dan had a copy of the appraisal and said the treatment plant was noted in the appraisal's description of the land but was never included in any other part of the appraisal; it was never considered as influencing the price of the land.

Dan read part of an EPA report about CdA, stating that a large amount of toxic chemicals are stored at the wastewater plant and that the EPA's required emergency "worst case" scenario shows an accident would seriously affect everyone for 1.3 miles around.

Dan's point was that the appraisal price should have been lower due to this potential risk and the presence of the treatment plant.

The meeting was almost run off the tracks by city councilman Mike Kennedy's response to Dan's information.  Mike stood up and yelled out his sarcastic comments about how it's good to hear from the public (you could tell he did not mean it) and that these forums are nice to have (again, not) but that the citizens at this meeting were just negative and he wanted everyone to know that a lot of people in this town are behind this project 100%!

Mike was rude, sarcastic and arrogant. And councilman Ron Edinger, who was sitting across the room yelled out "Go Mike go!"  They were entirely unprofessional.  The Mayor should have been embarrassed.

Citizen James Rebal then stood up and gave a wonderful, impassioned plea to the elected officials involved, asking for an Advisory vote on this decision…applause broke out in support.  But his idea was ignored.

The meeting quieted and more questions were answered.

The "Aha" moment of the whole meeting was when Trustee Mic Armon admitted directly that the purchase of the mill site is a sure thing.  He said directly these words:  IT'S A DONE DEAL.

So why were we there?  It was obvious that the officials did not want to hear our questions or ideas.  Their responses, while polite, were defending the actions they've already taken.  They were not really listening like Hazel Bauman did when the local school district held their meetings last summer.  They were not writing down issues or suggestions like Hazel's group did or honestly considering the value of people's comments like Hazel.  No, this was a forum for show.  See, we met with the public.  We let them ask their questions.  Now we'll go do what we want…again.


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Mary Souza has been a concerned citizen of CdA for over 20 years. She's a local small business owner, former P&Z Commissioner and wrote an opinion column in the CdA Press on local issues.  Her opinions are her own.

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