The way the urban planners describe it, you’d think portions of Boise resemble the tribal enclaves of Afghanistan. You know, dilapidated buildings, barely functional infrastructure, chaos, black cats, broken mirrors and unpermitted, non-conforming uses.
Some of that I made up. But then again, most of the conclusions in a 40-page report to Boise’s urban renewal agency and City Council are also made up.
The report, by Keyser Marston Associates, Inc., is designed to elicit anxiety about the fate of an area known as the 30th Street Urban Renewal Area. City leaders want to turn the area into a new urban renewal zone which siphons taxpayer money into a big slush fund to pay for projects without a vote of the people.
In order to do that, the city must conclude that the area meets the definitions of a deteriorating area under Idaho law.
The proposed urban renewal area runs from just west of the downtown area to west of the Idaho Transportation Department headquarters on State Street. I’ve been writing about public policy for more than 20 years, and I can’t remember ever using an exclamation point in an article or a commentary. But I’m having trouble sufficiently conveying the blight, deterioration and urban horrors found in the 30th street area without them. So here goes:
The area has vacant buildings! Yards are not well-maintained! In 3 1/2 years, there have been 67 code violations! The parcels are not big enough for a big box store! And my favorite: There are 83 homes and two businesses in the 100-year flood plain!
In short, if you apply the Keyser Marston standard of “deteriorating” to almost any town or city in Idaho, the whole state could be declared an urban renewal area.
While there are some exceptions, by and large urban renewal has been used to hoodwink taxpayers into believing they’re getting something for nothing.
In most cases, when a government agency wants to debt finance a project, they’re required to get voters’ permission. Not so with urban renewal. Instead, here’s what happens: Say you have a piece of property valued at $10,000. Put a new building worth $1 million on top of that land. All the taxes from that increased value go to the urban renewal district, not to the city or the county or any other taxing district.
So while the urban renewal district benefits and it can fund its projects, there is no new money to pay for new firefighters or police officers or other government operations. The pressure increases to raise taxes elsewhere to replace the money that was put into urban renewal.
But there’s more to the story. Boise’s plans will impact people who have lived and worked in the area for decades. I had the pleasure of speaking with one shop owner who has been in the same building and the same business for more than 40 years carrying on a family tradition. This hardworking businessman was dismayed to learn that a photo of his company is included in the Keyser Marston report as an exhibit of the “urban blight” and deterioration. It’s a slap in his face and another example of Government Nannyism.
City leaders think they’re curing a problem. All they’re really doing is substituting their judgment for that of the area’s property owners. In that regard, things really aren’t so different from Afghanistan.