Boise City Councilor TJ Thomson wants to make his town the most livable in America and he’s using government restrictions and bans to get there.
Thomson, a two-term councilor for Boise, unveiled last week his Healthy Initiative 2.0, a plan he believes will make the town healthier in the long run.
The package is complex and expands government’s role in the community by policing advertising and business building.
To Thomson, this is his duty.
“I have always believed that the most important role of a public official is to assure the safety of the citizens we serve – in that, most would immediately think of a strong police and fire department,” Thomson told IdahoReporter.com Monday.
“But it also relates to creating an environment that is safe and healthy for the citizens living within it.”
To safeguard kids, Thomson declares war on fast food and advertising. His plan would ban new fast food joints within 1,000 feet of any high school, but would allow existing establishments to remain.
Food trucks selling fresh produce would still be able to sell within that radius.
Additionally, his plan outlaws any billboard or park bench fast food advertisements within 1,000 feet of any school in Boise city boundaries. Any benches in the regulated area would need to have city-approved children’s or family ads, or be left entirely blank.
The package would also require certain health standards for food items sold at city venues, including parks, the zoo and stadiums. Thomson’s plan would mandate that vending machines on city property boast sugar warning labels and art on the devices would need to promote healthful eating.
Food stamp recipients would also see a boost under Thomson’s plan, which would begin a pilot project to offer up to an additional $10 per purchase of healthy food items. That could cost as much a $20,000 a year in the beginning.
It’s an aggressive plan, to be sure. The councilor told the Idaho Statesman he chose these proposals from more than 50 ideas for increasing healthy living in the city. He told IdahoReporter.com the community must combat obesity through communal action.
“I believe it is my responsibility to do all I can at the local level to reverse those trends and place future generations on a pathway to a healthy life,” Thomson said. “I believe that education initiatives alone will not solve this crisis. I’m not chasing fluff. I am looking for real answers to real problems.”
Even if residents believe in the fight, who’s to say the plan will work? Will restricting billboards and bench advertising sway behaviors of the digital generation, constantly blitzed with ads on smartphones, tablets, laptops and music players? Thomson hopes so.
“Local government can play a small role in the constant bombardment of messaging attempting to influence our kids,” he said.
Critics are already lining up against the proposals.
Chad Inman, a Boise realtor and activist leader within the limited-government movement, told IdahoReporter.com Monday he strongly objects to Thomson’s ideas.
“This is code writing to control the choice of the child,” Inman wrote. “That control should be placed in the hands of the parents. Restricting where a restaurant builds and bus stop advertising does not make much sense.”
Thomson doesn’t necessarily disagree with Inman’s initial objection.
“For every proposal I bring forward, I am focused on kids – not adults,” Thomson wrote. “I would never regulate the choices of adults. It is the parent’s responsibility to determine what their kids will eat, not the government’s.”
He added: “From my perspective, I want to assure that a child is in a safe environment whenever they are outside the loving arms of their parents.”
Inman objected further.
“A child falling prey to those nasty businesses who choose to advertise on them is not something I see as something that actually happens,” Inman said. “If parents give the child money for a snack after school, those dollars should come with instructions as to what to buy and what not to buy. The business is not forcing anyone to do anything.”
Thomson and his fellow councilors will discuss the package Tuesday night at Boise City Hall.