Boise Mayor Lauren McLean delivered her first State of the City address on Wednesday. She expressed her deep sympathy for those harmed by government shutdowns, noting, “So many of our businesses needed to close their doors at some point.”
No, Madam Mayor, they didn’t need to close their doors: They were forced to. It was unnecessary. It still is.
Increasingly, courts across the country have proclaimed such action to be unconstitutional overreach.
Yet McLean boasted, “Boise became the first city in Idaho to pass a public health order closing City Hall. We then announced bars and restaurants would close.” As she thanked “essential workers,“ the mayor described the masterful efforts undertaken by city officials to remedy the economic devastation they largely created by stating, “We did what was right.”
McLean also lauded various actions in the local community: “Treefort, showing how much they cared about our community, called off their festival before we required events to cancel.” It takes serious bravado to thank people for shutting down, while at the same time declaring that had they not shut down, she would have forced a shutdown anyway. Perhaps Treefort, and others, merely saw McLean writing the proverbial overreach on the wall.
Among city responses which the mayor praised were the creation of the Economic Recovery Task Force and a $1.5 million grant to assist small businesses, many of which were forced to close their doors in recent months. Such a grant is certainly better than a poke-in-the-eye with a sharp stick. I do wonder, however, how much good those limited funds will do, especially if social distancing and gathering limitations continue to be imposed indefinitely.
McLean was quick to point out, in cooperation with the Ada County Highway District and the downtown Boise Association, the city has expanded patios “to give small businesses space to make a living safely.” If the mayor truly wants small businesses to be able to make a living, especially those in the service industry, perhaps she should stop enthusiastically cheerleading for all the efforts needlessly hurting them. That would seem like a better response.
The mayor’s State of the City address, however, was not all about COVID-19.
McLean also announced city plans to create more affordable housing in Boise. In addition to an upcoming zoning rewrite, she advanced the idea of spending taxpayer money on a housing land trust, which would support the development of various housing for income-restricted families. In other words, because Idaho does not allow cities to mandate that developers create affordable housing, city officials have decided that one way to bypass that restriction is by purchasing land to create its own.
To help make housing more affordable in the future, I encourage the mayor to stop supporting property tax increases as she has frequently done in the past.
McLean also discussed the city’s recent creation of the Climate Action Division, whose mission is to mitigate what the mayor declared is “perhaps the greatest challenge of our lifetime: The climate crisis.” McLean joyously proclaimed the seemingly endless scope of the new division, stating “no [city] division is independent of this endeavor,” and “no department will be exempt.” In other words, as discussed in the September 22, 2020 City Council Meeting, the new Climate Action Division will tie the actions of most every city department to the decisions made by the new division – energy, waste reduction, water, open and green space, food systems, and transportation among them.
In keeping with its broad mandate, the mayor also stated one goal of the Climate Action Division will be to lead to “income equity throughout the city.” To assist in fostering that equity, as also explained at the Boise City Council meeting on September 22, the city will be further working with The Dignitas Agency – the organization the city hired in March 2020 to conduct a series of ongoing training programs on diversity and inclusion for city employees. Addressing climate change is an all-encompassing endeavor indeed.
McLean was also quick to proclaim, “Our state has a troubled record on race. We’ve seen housing discrimination, profiling of communities of color, and an Aryan Nations compound that has existed for far too long.” I’ve always viewed Boiseans, and Idahoans generally, as a very welcoming and gracious people. Apparently, however, this is not so according to Mayor McLean.
In closing, the mayor pointed to the wisdom of our children: “Our children tell us things that we should already know: Kids should feel safe in school, women should be treated the same as men, climate change is an existential threat, teachers are essential, and Black Lives Matter.”
This year has come with many troubles thus far – almost too many to list. Many of those troubles have been needlessly caused by our elected representatives. Sadly, much of this hardship was caused by people not even elected, as they dictated, and continue to dictate arbitrary orders with the force of law. It’s truly unfortunate that such actions are praised by Mayor McLean, who seems as intent as ever to maintain this new norm. From initiatives on affordable housing, climate action, and beyond, I for one do not doubt McLean’s good intentions, but as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.