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Longtime Boise councilwoman sees positives and negatives in city's growth

Elaine Clegg grew up in Boise and has served on the council for nearly 20 years. She'll be leaving City Hall next month.

BOISE, Idaho — Perhaps no one has a better perspective on the growth in Idaho, and especially Boise, over the past 60 years than Elaine Clegg.

Clegg is leaving Boise City Council to become the new CEO of Valley Regional Transit. Feb. 13 will be her first day at the new job. We sat down with Clegg and talked about the growth she's been front row for and what she sees this community growing into.

"Boise is my hometown," Clegg said.

She grew up here, went to West Junior High and Capital High, played basketball at Boise State, and served the community by spending two decades on the Boise City Council and helping lead the nonprofit Idaho Smart Growth for 25 years.

"It's just such a wonderful city,” Clegg said. “It's just such a wonderful place. And the people are so big hearted and caring. So serving, to me, was this chance to give back all the things that I'd gotten in this wonderful childhood."

In that time, Clegg has seen an incredible amount of change to her hometown, especially downtown, where things continue to grow up, literally. She says, it reminds her of her time spent in Colorado.

"Denver 40 years ago was Boise, maybe 10 years from now," she said. "I learned to really, really love urban fabric and understand that the vitality that those kinds of centers bring to a community is something that that you should value. It's not something to shy away from. So as Boise has grown, I've actually valued the fact that we're becoming more vibrant and more people are seeing that kind of vibrancy, which I think creates a heart and a core for the whole region."

But she understands that with that vibrancy, growth has brought a whole mess of problems, including, of course, a lack of affordable housing.

"Boise was always an affordable place to live,” said Clegg. “I always felt like my kids could come back here because they could afford to live here if they decided to do that. And that's not true anymore."

But the criticism is, why hasn't she done more to help build affordable housing in her 20 years on the Council? Clegg says, it's something they've continued to work on, but it's a nut that they haven't cracked, along with every other growing city their size.

"I think the global market really has impacted that. I think the national market has impacted it. I think the investment world and the way it works today has impacted that. And I'd say it's true in the short term, there is no denying that," Clegg said. "And so, what's important is, 'What can we do in the long term to balance it back out?'"

So, what can be done in the long term?

"I don't think we're going to build a wall around Idaho,” answered Clegg. “I don't think we're going to keep Californians out or New Yorkers out or anyone else. And so, as they come, how can we say, 'Okay, you're welcome here. But this is the community that we love. This is the kind of community we want. And we welcome you to join us, not welcome you to come in and try to change us.' So, we have to be strong about that."

When Clegg is talking about the "kind" of community Boiseans want, it's the same thing we hear from leaders in all the communities across the state.

"There's agreement that Boiseans want Boise to stay the same. Not the same, but the same kind of city that it's always been big hearted, kind, caring, looking out for each other, a place where it's still easy enough to get around that they don't have to plan for the next trip they're going to take. All those things," she said. "So, I think based on that commonality, there's lots of ways to work together to make progress and to keep it that way."

Clegg said if she had any regrets in her nearly 20 years on Boise City Council, it’s that she can’t keep working directly on making Boise a place for everyone. She did say, though, that she will continue to work on that, indirectly, at Valley Regional Transit on the issue of public transportation.

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