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Mayor Dave Bieter's State of the City Address, 9/15/2005

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Good morning. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the state of our city.

Well, it really is another beautiful day in Boise, and I'd like to thank the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce for the opportunity to talk to you this morning.

Many thanks also to Marie Harding for leading the Pledge of Allegiance; to Rabbi Daniel Fink for the invocation; and the Valley View Elementary School Choir for the wonderful entertainment this morning.

I certainly want to acknowledge my colleagues on the Boise City Council here this morning: Council President Maryanne Jordan, Council Pro Tem Elaine Clegg, Councilman David Eberle, Councilman Jerome Mapp, and Councilman Alan Shealy. Councilman Vern Bisterfeldt wanted to be here today but unfortunately could not.

I was a local government attorney for many years before becoming Mayor and saw many councils in action. And I can say this is the best, smartest, most dedicated group I've ever seen. We don't always agree, but we disagree without rancor. Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for the Boise City Council.

I'd also like to acknowledge all the City department heads and City employees who are here this morning. These people do a great job every day. Please join me in thanking them.

I especially want to thank my wife Julia for enduring her husband for another year.

Finally, I want to make special mention of the family member who has come the farthest -- and not just in miles traveled. My cousin and Boise native Lisa Manthey is here today while she and her four daughters regroup after having fled their home in New Orleans. Lisa, I cannot tell you how great it is to have you safe in Boise.

Over the past few weeks, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, we have heard from many of you asking, "How can we help?" The Red Cross and Salvation Army have advised us that cash donations are absolutely the best way to get help to the people who need it most.

You know, I've learned from being the Mayor that there's no shortage of opportunities for people to let us know what's on their minds. Indeed, I've made it a point to seek out these opportunities.

I am back on the road to meet with all 34 organized neighborhood associations. I'm continuing my "Saturday Office Hours," when anybody can come in and tell me what's on their minds. I've met with close to 170 people during those sessions, and I am happy to say that we have solved many problems.

Here's an excerpt from a letter from a woman who came in with a concern involving her son:

Mayor Bieter, thank you so much for meeting with me on Saturday during your open forum. ... (o)ur problem ... was solved one week after (city staff) contacted me. Thank you for hearing my frustration... (and) showing my boys that government isn't that big, and righting a wrong can happen.

But of all the contacts we have had since last State of the City, I have a personal favorite. You might have seen a public service announcement I taped to promote an exhibit at the Boise Art Museum. Well, a couple of weeks ago, I received the following, and I swear this is the actual e-mail:

Dear Mr. Mayor, Every time I see the ad on television promoting the art display at the Boise Art Museum, I get a slight chill. The television shows a picture of Georgia O'Keefe, not Georgio O'Keefe. The artist, as clearly obvious by the photo, is a woman. You refer to the artist as HE and call the person Georgio. It's Georgia and she's a SHE, not a HE. Please redo the television promo so it's not so embarrassing. I'm sure you wouldn't want to be ... referred to as SHE. Thank you.

Well, I went back and checked. I did not say "Georgio," and I did not refer to the "she" as a "he." But I thanked my correspondent for her comments nonetheless.

By the way, I urge all of you to see the Georgi-AH O'Keeffe exhibit, which runs at Boise Art Museum through this weekend. Just tell them Madame Mayor sent you.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I feel like the past 20 months have been like boot camp of sorts for what we at the City want to accomplish. Few people know it, but Boise's official motto is: "Energy, Peril, Success." No, really, that's it. "Energy, Peril, Success." And I can't think of a more accurate summation of where we've been.

We came in with great energy. We have faced many a great peril. And because we've been willing to face those perils, we have seen great successes. We are poised for even more success, because now we have the foundation and expertise to move the City forward into the future.

Seven of our 11 departments have new department heads. With the help of city employees and a citizen survey, the city council and I have developed a business plan that clearly lays out the core services the City will provide.

We have a new two-year budget that trimmed a dozen full-time positions and millions of dollars in projected deficits -- but also provides more police officers on the streets, more scholarships for youth recreation programs, and doubles the Neighborhood Reinvestment Program to $400,000, to help our neighborhoods get the sidewalks, parks, and other amenities they need to stay livable.

I want Marty Prouty and Susan Hemphill, the two Winstead Park moms you saw in the video, to please stand. These women exemplify the involvement that keeps our neighborhoods livable. Let's all thank Marty and Susan for their great work.

How can I characterize the kind of city we want in the future? I have thought long and hard on this matter, and here goes:

First, Boise is a city, the third largest city in the Northwest, and destined to continue growing. We are not rural, and we are no longer a town. Let's embrace the growth coming our way, or at least make our peace with it. Like many of you, I spent a good part of the 1990s wringing my hands and clenching my fists over all the change Boise was experiencing. All it got me was carpal tunnel.

I am not suggesting that bigger is better -- only that better is better. Bigger has to come on our terms. But as we grow, we have to preserve that neighborhood feeling. We must continue to be a "city of neighborhoods," indeed, "a neighborhood city."

And we can only have a city of neighborhoods by acting quickly, deliberately, and aggressively on many fronts at once. If a quiet, go-along city government constitutes your ideal, then Boise may not be for you. If it hasn't been obvious these last months, this City Council and I will push, pull, entice, cajole, and even litigate, but we prefer to mediate to ensure this City maintains its neighborhood feel. In short, we must design our future, be a "city by design."

So, what we must be is a "Neighborhood City by Design."

And here is how.

Any great city must be prosperous. Our citizens tell us they want their city government fully engaged in creating the prosperity we need for quality lives. In our recent citywide survey, Boise residents identified jobs as one of the top issues facing the City.

Let me give you three examples of how your city government has met the challenge of attracting and retaining those jobs.

First, we recently authorized up to $5.2 million in industrial revenue bonds for Western Trailers Co. These funds will be used to construct a new 20,000-square-foot manufacturing facility and hire 50 additional employees. We want to use this tool even more often. Join me in welcoming one of their managers, Ray Aas, here today from Western Trailers.

I can't resist telling you that I worked a summer at Western Trailers, so I'm glad we made this happen. Recently I made a return visit to their site in Southeast Boise, and what an impressive place it is. Sadly, I learned that my old job has been automated because, and I swear this is the truth, nobody else is willing to do it. Hmm, a job nobody else will do. I'd say that's good training to be the mayor.

The past year has also seen a real maturing of the City's relationship with Meadow Gold Dairy, one of the downtown area's last industrial employers. About a dozen years ago, the City actually tried to get them to leave downtown. Thankfully, they persevered, and not only did we not shut the dairy down, the City and Meadow Gold now cooperate on environmental, planning and building issues that have helped the company complete expansion of its facility and add up to 300 jobs. Here today is Ralph Hallquist, president of Meadow Gold. Welcome, Ralph.

Finally, it's my great pleasure today to introduce Boise's newest business owners, Roger Malinowski and his wife, Linda Perez, co-owners of BOB Trailers Inc.

Over the past 11 years, BOB has become a national leader in premium child strollers and specialty bicycle trailers. BOB is moving its operations from California to Boise because of our attractive lifestyle and our progressive business climate. I want to thank Jeff Jones, our tireless economic development director, for helping BOB decide that Boise is the right fit, and for letting me know when it was time for me to call Roger and Linda to encourage them to relocate.

I promised to be the city's Salesman in Chief, and I will to continue to make good on that promise. In our new budget, we beefed up our economic development efforts -- not to duplicate the Chamber's excellent Boise Valley Economic Partnership effort, but to work in tandem with it.

We've also made it our mission to ensure that our permitting process is efficient and customer-oriented.

Last year, I convened a group of those customers -- architects, developers, builders, and realtors -- to help us streamline our process. We've made great progress. At the grand opening of the new Sterling Savings branch in the Veltex building, their regional facilities manager sought me and said, "Mayor, we have never been treated better by a city than Boise."

We've also worked well with BoDo developer Mark Rivers, who told me just yesterday that BoDo's first tenant, PF Chang's, will welcome customers on October 31, followed by a parade of other BoDo openings, including the multi-screen movie theater a couple of weeks later.

You could say we've tuned up our 4-cylinder engine. But we need 8 cylinders -- a way to make the whole system more efficient by putting all of the relevant City departments around the same table with the customer.

Since June, our Planning and Development staff has been creating a new system that puts the focus on the project, not the permit. If you're a customer in our development services department, you will be assigned a project manager who will ensure you get prompt, effective service. And we will constantly review our effectiveness. If you are one of our customers, expect a call asking how we did. If you've had problems, we will fix them.

If we want a neighborhood city, we must have 21st century neighborhoods. And that means bringing information to those neighborhoods. So, five months from now, we will ask Boise voters to improve and modernize the Boise Public Library by expanding the library system into our neighborhoods. We will build three neighborhood libraries in the southeast, the west, and the northwest.

Our main library opened 32 years ago in a renovated warehouse designed to serve a city less than one-third our size. The average collection for cities our size is more than 840,000; our collection totals about 350,000, and we can't even put all of those books on the shelves because we have no space.

Our neighborhood libraries will offer even more. The cornerstones of a healthy community are neighborhood libraries where people can gather for classes, reading and research. Our neighborhood libraries will include adjacent community centers with meeting and activity rooms with programs for teens, seniors, and community groups.

Boise has always recognized those moments when the future demanded action -- the Greenbelt, our park system, and most recently the Foothills levy. We need to add neighborhood libraries to this illustrious list.

A commitment to the well-being of our City's children is my debt to Boise for giving me the kind of childhood that every young person should have. Our young people need more insurance against the dangers and excesses that bigger cities might bring.

In the summer of 2004, we kicked off the Youth Partnership between the City, the Chamber, United Way, the Boise Schools and Boise State. These efforts produced a dedicated United Way fund for children and youth programs that last year raised an estimated $450,000.

But we must do more. It is my pleasure to announce this morning that, out of nearly 50 applicants nationwide, Boise has been selected as one of just 12 cities to participate in Phase One of the CLEAR project -- City Leaders Engaged in Afterschool Reform -- sponsored by the National League of Cities.

This is a big deal. It will provide hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of expertise in developing after-school programs.

We will take this expertise and leverage every resource we have in this community with a permanent Mayor's Council on Children and Youth. They will develop the partnerships we need for preschool and after-school programs that directly benefit children. The City cannot directly provide all those programs, but we will provide the leadership to make sure our resources get to those who need it most.

But the biggest challenge we face is finding the courage to avoid the mistakes so many other cities have made. Designing a neighborhood city means protecting existing neighborhoods as they grow and ensuring that new development brings new neighborhoods, not just new subdivisions.

If we see a flight to bedroom communities, it will mean the decay of our older neighborhoods, increased traffic congestion and deteriorating air quality.

Our citizens urge us to follow a different course. Boise residents overwhelmingly prefer compact development within the city over new residential development on large-scale lots outside city limits. In our recent citywide survey, 76 percent chose close-in redevelopment, conserving open space and keeping service costs low.

We know that over the past 10 years, we've had too much low-quality infill development. The developers of these projects have caused real harm by chilling quality redevelopment efforts. And that is why "infill" has become a dirty word.

But poor infill is not the same as good neighborhood redevelopment. Our citizens intuitively know that good neighborhood redevelopment not only saves tax dollars; it actually enhances our quality of life.

Consider an existing neighborhood with 10 homes. Let's say that, through good planning and neighborhood participation, those 10 homes become 15. What does that mean?

It means about 10 more students in our local schools. It means about 20 more patrons for local businesses. If each of those five new homes is worth $200,000, it means another $5,000 to green up and maintain the local park. And it doesn't mean paving over farmland with miles of new roads that we cannot afford to maintain. It doesn't mean extending sewer lines in every direction. It doesn't mean closing existing schools and having to build new ones out in the suburbs.

Now, extend that idea across the City. In downtown Boise alone, where there is broad consensus for redevelopment, we already have 1,500 homes in the pipeline. We already have the services we need for those homes. Those 1,500 homes will bring more than a million more dollars we can use to keep up with needs across the city.

More important, people will live where they work and shop, and put less stress on our roads and our air. That's the kind of infill we need.

But we need to make sure this redevelopment is right for existing neighborhoods. Two weeks ago, the City Council and several hundred Crescent Rim residents spent two very long nights grappling over a condominium project, after many months of review, negotiation and debate. We need a better process, in fairness to everyone. And we will have one.

We've begun an effort called the Crossroads Initiative that will bring together neighborhoods and developers with the goal of getting the kind of redevelopment we can all accept. And we will keep the hearing process for those occasions when we really need it -- when a project departs from the consensus that we've developed. And until we get these protections in place, we will temporarily suspend any additional increases in density.

But we recognize that not all growth can be accommodated within existing neighborhoods; we must also build new neighborhoods. Last year at this event, I compared good City government to a great restaurant, and declared myself your head waiter. Well, allow me to strain that metaphor further: You cannot expect service if you're sitting at a table two blocks away. You have to meet us where we provide the service. You cannot come to this valley, buy a thousand acres of farmland miles away from anything, and demand that urban densities and services come to you -- especially at taxpayer expense.

These leapfrog developments might be well-designed and of high quality. But it still comes down to the old real estate maxim: Location, location, location. We see an example of good location at Harris Ranch.

Two years ago, the Harris Ranch project was stalled and headed for court. I urged the Ada County Highway District to hold off on a lawsuit over the East Park Center Bridge, and instead we all sat down and started talking about how to get the project moving again. Today we're a good stretch of the way there, with a new agreement on the bridge and changes to the development moving through our Planning & Zoning Commission.

Harris Ranch fits our efforts to address sprawl and transportation problems. By next spring, we will complete the Blueprint for Good Growth and Communities in Motion projects, and provide the Treasure Valley with a road map toward more sustainable, affordable growth. My peers elected me president of the Blueprint effort, and I will use all my former skills as a fullback to remove as many obstacles as possible.

I am also delighted that our congressional delegation just delivered funding for a multi-modal center downtown, the first step toward a valley-wide transit system that will help get people out of their cars.

You may not be aware that Boise is headquarters for MotivePower, one of the leading manufacturers of locomotives in North America. This week I met with the Mayor of Santa Fe, who was here for the launch of MotivePower's manufacturing contract to connect Santa Fe to Albuquerque by rail.

Santa Fe faces many of the same challenges we do: growth, traffic congestion, and threats to their air quality. So New Mexico's governor declared that the city needs a new commuter rail system. It's going to use existing track. It's going to be funded separately from highways. And it has to be up and running within 18 months. And MotivePower of Boise, Idaho, is the only one that can deliver the hardware on that timetable.

Ladies and gentlemen, aren't we good enough for our own products? All those trains being shipped out of state is like having all of our great Idaho potatoes exported to New Jersey. I want those locomotives to be running on our tracks, solving our traffic congestion, and keeping our air cleaner.

You saw video of me wearing the train conductor's hat. Our transportation problems cannot be solved only by building more roads. Rail must be part of any comprehensive transit solution. So today I am issuing a challenge. The people in this room have the power to get the trains running in the Treasure Valley -- maybe not in the next 18 months, but certainly within the next five to 10 years. I will commit to help provide the leadership to make it happen, and I invite you to come aboard.

Being a neighborhood city by design also means refusing to allow the deterioration of civility. This summer, we took aim at the hooliganism and illegal activity on the Boise River. Our river patrol officers emphasized education first, and sometimes even second or third, resorting to enforcement of existing open-container laws only when the behavior was clearly illegal and posed a danger to others.

This approach has been a great success. Families and people of all ages are now able to float the river with far less worry than the past few years. I know, because dozens of people told me so, and I saw firsthand how much more enjoyable the float is.

Our approach -- education, then enforcement -- is also how we're addressing unruly behavior downtown, not with an alcohol ban, but with the other tools we have. With our partners at the Downtown Boise Association, we are enlisting the help of bar owners, bartenders, and bouncers, educating them about how to help keep control. We'll keep the fun of downtown, but we will not let up until our already safe downtown becomes even more so.

I'm committed to safety not only downtown, but in our neighborhoods as well. At my direction, and with the cooperation of our police union, Chief Mike Masterson has increased the number of patrol officers by hiring civilians to perform administrative functions. This freed up more officers for patrol. I pledge to increase those numbers in the future. And we will dedicate all the resources necessary to prevent gangs from coming here. We will never accept as inevitable a lower level of safety.

Economic development, libraries, parks and recreation, and public safety -- these are our core services. The city has a different role to play in providing other services.

During the past 18 months, the City of Boise has temporarily operated Community House to ensure that 200 men, women and children were not turned out on the streets. We spent hundreds of hours of staff time and more than a million taxpayer dollars on this effort. And of all our successes this last year, I am happiest with this one. We stepped in to provide what I believe the city must provide, the "safety net for the safety net."

But ladies and gentlemen, with our limited resources, the city cannot be the safety net itself. We will continue to work with our local professionals and non-profit organizations, which have both the expertise and the funding to provide emergency shelter. Corpus Christi, the Rescue Mission, United Way, the Salvation Army, the WCA and the VA -- all these organizations have a proven track record of lending a hand to those in crisis. But their success depends on your help. While we at the city are here to serve you, you cannot only be served, you must also serve.

We must avoid what has been called the "tragedy of the commons." In the 19th century, all the farmers in a village would use a shared pasture, or commons, to graze their animals. If farmers added more and more animals to their respective herds, trying to use as much of the commons as they could for themselves, the overgrazing would mean the loss of the commons for everyone.

Boise and this valley could face a different sort of tragedy of the commons.

The Foothills and the Boise River are our commons. Blanket the Foothills with subdivisions, and we're all denied the stunning environmental and scenic asset that defines our city's skyline. Let the water quality of the river degrade, and we're all deprived of its beauty, its fish and wildlife, its recreational uses, and even its ability to provide us with drinking water.

Our economy is our commons. Let good jobs pass us by, and our prosperity goes away, followed closely by our livability.

Our neighborhoods are our commons. We cannot have a healthy city without healthy neighborhoods. Allow them to deteriorate, and we've lost something precious and irreplaceable. And that truly would be a tragedy.

Take it from this sheepherder's grandson: We cannot, we must not, wait for the overgrazing to occur. We must declare now, today, as a community, that we have a shared interest in preserving all those things that make Boise and this valley special.

And then we must act as if we truly believe it. We must, all of us -- neighborhoods, businesses, developers -- see to the whole, not just our own private interests. As your mayor and city council, our job is to oversee the commons, but we all must lend a hand in preserving it. And we must expend a lot of energy, and maybe face a little peril, if we're going to achieve success.

Here's a fine place to begin. Last year, I announced a grand welcome-home event for the Idaho National Guard and others serving in Iraq. We're calling this effort "Boise's Best: A Celebration of Thanks." And last May, I announced a steering committee, co-chaired by former Govs. Phil Batt and Cecil Andrus. I am enlisting everyone in this room to help make it happen.

Today I'm pleased to report that plans for the event are in full swing, with a tentative date set for the end of this year or January 2006, whenever the troops come home.

Welcoming these men and women is a way to remind us of something bigger than ourselves. It's an experience we can build upon. Can the generosity we show to these soldiers, that we have already shown to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, carry over to other aspects of our community?

It can, if we see we are all in this together -- in this city, in this life. It is the commons we all inhabit. It's the commons of compassion for our neighbors, especially those who may be homeless or victims of unfortunate circumstances. It's the commons of appreciating what we have that's good, and fighting to preserve and protect it. It's the commons where we don't give in to the coarseness and criminality that leads to a life of fear and cynicism. It's the commons where we don't just raise our children -- we create a community where, whatever their circumstances, our children take flight and exceed our wildest expectations.

In short, Boise is our commons, the city where I grew up, where I felt safe and happy, and your children do too; a city of neighborhoods that I adore now more than ever.

It's the greatest privilege of my life to serve as your Mayor. And together, we can meet the challenges that await us.

Thank you.

From the City of Boise's Website, www.cityofboise.org.

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