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Boise Mayor Lauren McLean highlights community heroes, outlines new projects

McLean honored many people in the community throughout her hourlong speech, calling them heroes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Credit: KTVB
Boise Mayor Lauren McLean delivers her 2021 State of the City address.

BOISE, Idaho — Boise Mayor Lauren McLean told Boiseans to look to the past as the city continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, growth issues like affordable housing, clean water and clean energy, preserving open space and building more parks that every child in the city can walk to.

McLean gave her State of the City address on Thursday to a small gathering of people at Boise City Hall. The mayor said she hoped to deliver her speech in-person at the Gene Harris Bandshell, but due to COVID-19 concerns, it had to be scaled-down and held virtually.

Throughout her 70-minute address, McLean paused to reflect and thank a number of what she called community heroes working on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, like City of Good, an organization that put meal kits together to support at-risk and food-insecure children. (Click on the link to see a profile of each hero.)

The mayor started her speech with some harsh words about the COVID-10 pandemic, which shows no sign of letting up. Thursday morning, the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare announced it is implementing crisis standards of care at hospitals across the Gem State. 

"Our hospitals and medical centers are full. They're being flooded with people across Idaho as our entire state has entered crisis standards of care. And let me be clear, it did not need to be this way," McLean said. "When COVID-19 started, Boise led, we stayed home. We wore masks, we physically distanced, we sacrificed. And when the vaccine became available Boiseans lined up for it. Two-thirds of Boiseans are vaccinated." (Read the mayor's full statement about crisis standards of care below.)

She said during this difficult time our healthcare workers continue to need our support. Idaho hospitals are overflowing with the unvaccinated. McLean said this is not just a Boise problem, it's a state problem and called on leaders to create a statewide approach to solving it for the sake of those doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers who continue to put their own health on the line to care for the rest of us. 

On Tuesday, the mayor announced that all events permitted by the City of Boise or held in city-owned buildings must adhere to a new set of COVID-19 protocols. However, she stopped short of implementing another mask order for the entire city.

The new policy will not apply to Boise State football games, private events, or those events that do not require a city permit or are not held on City of Boise property.

Throughout her State of the City address, McLean reflected back on Boise's history over the past 100 years. 

She said residents suffered setbacks but were resilient during some tough times like the Spanish flu pandemic, a time when people wore gauze over their faces, closed shops and canceled classes. 

Boise has also experienced several periods of rapid growth over the years, McLean said. Such as in the decade after World War II, during the 1970s and again in the 1990s. These are just a few of some common threads through Boise's history. 

"It is so important that as we face these challenging times that we remind ourselves that we've done this before," McLean said.

The mayor also announced several new initiatives and some affordable housing projects that are in the works to help Boiseans. Here are few of those:

1) The Pathways Plan envisions more than 200 miles of pathways across the city. McLean says the goal is to put 84% of Boise residents within a short walk of a pathway. The first project will be the Tuttle lateral, which is located behind Milwaukee Park. It will connect people living between Milwaukee Street and Cole Road. McLean said she wants to connect every child in the city to a nearby park or green space, and it shouldn't take more than 10 minutes to walk there.

2) The city is working with Idaho Power to meet its 100% clean electricity goals. McLean said they are well on the way. As it stands now, the city is on track to reach its goal by 2023, seven years ahead of its 2030 target date.

3) McLean said the most basic and pressing need for our community is housing. She praised the work that Jesse Tree, the Boise City/Ada County Housing Authorities and the Idaho Housing and Finance Association are doing to keep Boiseans housed. The BCACHA was able to provide $7.8 million in emergency rental assistance, a direct result of the American Rescue Plan, helping 1,352 households pay their bills. The mayor added that a second round of government funding is expected to be available this fall.

4) Even with the funding, McLean said there are too many people in the community struggling to find affordable housing. She called on business leaders, developers, philanthropists and the community to match the city's investment in new housing. The goal is to build 1,250 affordable units over the next five years.

5) In addition, the city has partnered with Pacific Companies to expand services at New Path Community Housing by building more housing next door. There will be 100 new homes built to house up to 250 people. The mayor is also proposing that the city dedicate land next to Boise Fire Station #5 in downtown for housing. This would create 52 homes for people without children who are experiencing homelessness.

6) The mayor is urging Boise voters to go to the polls this fall and support a $570 million bond to modernize the city's water renewal system. McLean said this will help expand the system to keep up with growth and prepare for water constraints in the future. She says this will keep rates lower and more predictable.

Lastly, she talked about public safety. In order to keep a growing city safe, she said Boise needs to grow its police force.

"We will continue our commitment to making sure everyone, everyone in our community feels safe and to maintaining that trust and accountability to make that possible," McLean said. 

A year ago, protesters gathered outside city hall and burned masks. They came to the mayor's home with pitchforks and weapons, showing up every Sunday during the summer.  But there was another group of people who showed kindness and placed hundreds of hearts on the mayor's porch. McLean said that bolstered her family and lifted their hearts. Those hearts are now on display in her home and at city hall to serve as a reminder that even in our lowest moments, Boise's sense of community and compassion for others lifted them up.

Watch McLean's full State of the City address below on KTVB's YouTube channel.

Mayor McLean sent out this statement Thursday afternoon in response to the crisis standards of care declaration:

Boiseans, from the beginning, have risen to the challenge of confronting COVID-19 head on. Our hospitals, urgent care facilities and medical centers are overwhelmed. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare has expanded crisis standards of care for the entire State of Idaho. This is a statewide crisis, and I’m calling on the state to act.

Since March of 2020, Boise has taken action to protect the health of our residents. There are now unprecedented numbers of unvaccinated Idahoans in our Boise hospitals. Despite all of the sacrifices Boiseans have made to protect our kids, our parents, our community, we find ourselves now having to sacrifice our healthcare.

It did not have to be this way. We did everything we could to prevent this situation. Boiseans did what we needed to do. This is a state problem, a state crisis. We made tough calls, our schools made tough choices, events were cancelled. Boiseans have sacrificed for our neighbors, our children and our parents. We have led. Two-thirds of our residents are vaccinated. We wear masks. We support recommendations that limit exposure to this deadly virus. I am in almost daily conversations with leaders in our healthcare system, I am monitoring this situation and I stand ready to help our healthcare system and the staff we rely on.

Our hospitals have asked for regional and state action, without response. Our healthcare workers are exhausted caring for the unvaccinated inundating our facilities from throughout this region and state. And now they’ll be asked to do more, and to make unprecedented, heart-wrenching decisions. Boiseans will no longer receive usual standards of care because our hospitals and urgent care facilities are overrun. We as Boiseans are asking the state to step in because this virus knows no city borders and we are seeing the devastating impacts of this surge in our local medical centers.

For those who are hesitant to get a vaccine, the community is here to help. Please get your questions answered, your concerns addressed and take the much needed step to protect yourselves and our city. We have additional COVID-19 information and resources listed on the City of Boise website.

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