Breaking News
More () »

Boise mayor delivers 2018 State of the City: "I’d like to take us back to Kindness and Wonder"

In his speech, Bieter touched on several topics, including public transportation, affordable housing, funding public schools and the much talked about downtown sports stadium

BOISE — Boise Mayor David Bieter delivered his 2018 State of the City address on Wednesday at the Morrison Center.

In his speech, Bieter touched on several topics, including public transportation, affordable housing, funding public schools and the much talked about downtown sports stadium.

Here's the full text of the mayor's speech:

We have a lot to talk about today, most importantly the future of our city. About how we can be a City of Imagination and reach new heights for challenges like transportation, housing, and our environment. But to start, I want to talk about kindness and wonder.

Kindness is something we talk about more but experience less. And wonder, that joy that comes withtruediscovery, is even more elusive. But if we come together, we can bring more kindness and more wonder into our city.

Let me start with the first time I remember experiencing kindness from someone who wasn’t a member of my family.

This is a picture of me when I was 4-years-old. I was one of five children and we needed ways to stay together. One year at the Western Idaho State Fair I was straggling behind my mother who was holding a very specific balloon as our guide. It was a Mickey Mouse balloon that was inside another clear balloon. She told me to keep my eyes on that balloon so I wouldn’t get lost.

I ran to catch up to my mother, and I grabbed her leg, but it turned out I’d been following the wrong balloon. It was another mother, with an identical Mickey Mouse balloon. As my eyes filled with tears, that woman, a total stranger to me, took my hand and walked me around until we found my family.

It was a simple act of kindness, but I still remember it vividly more than fifty years later.

This is a picture of the kindness note box at the Collister Library. About a year ago that library began a program called “Guerilla Kindness”. They asked patrons to write a nice note to a stranger and put it in that box. And people did. They started getting dozens of anonymous messages. So they chose the best ones and placed them in books all around the library.

For the lucky readers who found one of these notes, I promise you, it was a thing of wonder. Can you imagine opening up a book to find this secret message encouragement from a total stranger through pure serendipity?

That’s what Boise is about. And it happened because the people who wrote these notes decided they wanted to make their world a little more kind. And filled with a little more wonder. But more on that later.

Now I’d like to thank the fabulous Eilen Jewell for her incredible music. Isn’t she fantastic?

And please give it up to our incredible dance company LED. That was a remarkable performance.

And I’d like to thank the Morrison Center for hosting us for the first time. We named the Morrison Center one of our Cultural Ambassadors so let’s recognize Executive Director James Patrick and everyone at this beautiful theater.

After my speech Afrosonics, a group that emerged from our other Cultural Ambassador, Global Lounge, will perform some of their amazing music.

Last year at this address I talked about doing big things. Well, I'm very pleased to say we are. Because of the efforts of so many, our new main library, one of the most important civic efforts ever undertaken in Boise, is becoming a reality. Moshe Safdie, an internationally acclaimed architect, has begun the designs and our discussions with philanthropists show us that our community has embraced the project.

Obviously, we have more work to do. Our open houses were great; we had hundreds of Boiseans provide their thoughts to make the project even better, and in the coming weeks we will re-engage the discussion about the best course for The Cabin. It’s important we get this right because libraries are more important today than ever. Every year our library system serves 1.3 million patrons. More than 4,000 people walk through the front doors of the main library EVERY DAY.

The campus also will be home to the Center for Arts & History and show how much Boise cares about learning and giving everyone a chance to share in the knowledge to enrich their lives and provide the same sense of wonder.

Moshe Safdie will be here Sept 21 at JUMP to discuss his vision...

I also want to talk about the Boise Sports Park. The road has been a windy one, but Chris Schoen, owner of the Boise Hawks and a minor league soccer franchise, is securing property in the West End for the Boise Sports Park. The new site has more developable acreage, is more prominent, has better access, and has more open land available for a mixed-use sports park.

We will soon bring to the public more specific drawings of the Sportspark on the new location. It will be an affordable, accessible, public space for families to enjoy a mix of sports and other events. And the West End will soon be another vibrant part of downtown.

One of our goals has always been greater economic opportunity for all Boiseans, with a diverse economy and opportunity for middle class, professional/technical careers. We’re proud to announce a partnership with the Boyer Company, a world-class firm that is choosing to invest in Boise by helping the city develop the Boise Gateway Industrial Park in south Boise. The project will bring new industries and good jobs to our city, diversify our economy and create opportunities for wage growth to many of our citizens.

An iconic new main library. A new Boise Sports Park. A robust industrial park. These are the most recent examples of giving residents free or low-cost amenities and better economic opportunities. But I’m proud to tell you these aren’t the only ones. Since 2004, we have opened 15 new parks, reserves and golf courses, four new branch libraries, three new community centers, eight new or remodeled fire stations, a new firefighter training facility, the James Castle House, Rhodes Skate Park, the Boise Whitewater Park, Allumbaugh House, City Hall West, and a whole lot more. Many of these projects had been planned for decades and backlogged, waiting for years to be completed.

Do you know how important these things are to our civic life? Consider a family living near an undeveloped park site when their children were young. In the past those children might be grown before the park was developed. That will no longer be the case. It goes to the fundamental relationship between the city and our citizens. What we have said we will do, we have done. Because how can we plan for new things if we haven’t completed those things we have said we will do.

Of course, new needs will arise, but this moment is an inflection point, a chance to look ahead and chart our future together.

Boise’s future is ours to plan and to be honest, unlike years past, we are on our own. Here’s what I mean. National experts, foremost among them, Bruce Katz, in his book The New Localism, argue that since federal and regional governments have shrunk, local efforts must fill the breach. Mr. Katz argues that it isn’ta western US, or even an American dynamic, it is an international trend. But, he is optimistic as am I because the future belongs to problem solvers and local efforts solve problems best.

Throughout history, local action has nearly always been the answer. We will welcome and advocate for more federal, state and regional help, but the cavalry is unlikely to show up any time soon. So what does that mean for Boise?

It means we must be a city of imagination - a city with the creativity to envision what we want to be and then become it. A City that brings private and public innovation together to identify and solve our most difficult issues. A City of Imagination that can provide equality of opportunity so that everyone has an equal shot at success.

Today I’m calling on our entire community to embrace this spirit of imagination and help us to chart our city’s future.

Let’s start with Transportation. Because a City of Imagination is one with multiple options for mobility.

In the transportation future we imagine, what do we see? You know I see trains. But don’t we all see clean, convenient transit? We certainly see bicyclists and walkers. And maybe autonomous vehicles.

But if vehicles control our future, gridlock will, too. It is mobility we need, and the more modes the better. Currently 80% of all commuter trips are by a single person in a car. The remaining 20% are alternative modes like walking, biking, bus or carpools. We can change that ratio so more people can choose alternative methods. Over the next year we will reach out to you to explore how we can improve mobility, our air, our health, and at the same time spend less on expensive road projects.

But to create real transit choices we need funding. For over 40 years Idaho cities, counties, and the business community have asked the legislature for local option taxing authority. And for all those years the legislature has refused. Well, this year we have two initiatives on the ballot, the Medicaidexpansionand horse racing. Should one or both of these initiatives pass, we will have a roadmap for passing local option.

I have endorsed them both, but there is no more important vote this November than Medicaid expansion. Many of the tens of thousands who fall within the coverage gap are Boiseans, but whether they live here or elsewhere, they all deserve coverage.

Using the lessons learned from this year, we should band together statewide and get the signatures for a local option in 2020. We need to start this November. Transit needs funding.Andlocal option is the way.

And housing is a major challenge. Consider this: In 1975 when Boise was around 75,000 people the federal government gave Boise $5M in community block grant funding. Last year we got $1.2M. Even just allowing for inflation and not growth that would be $23M today. And unlike many states, Idaho gives cities no direct funds for affordable housing. Actually, Idaho DOES have a housing trust fund, but has placed no funds in it. It’s like my millionaire fund-- still a million short of my goal!

This is what I mean when I say we’re on our own. And yet, we have already had important success. Just in the last several months, the City has invested over $5 million and built or are under construction of nearly 250 affordable units. One great example is Adare Manor that’s under construction oncity owned property on Fairview and 25th. Adare has low income, workforce and market units all in the same place.

But we have to do more. That is why we are launching Grow Our Housing. Grow Our Housing is a comprehensive framework to help us meet our future housing needs with an approach that is Balanced, Compact, Possible. Balanced, because we must provide housing opportunities across all income levels, especially our neighbors in need. Compact, to employ a dense building pattern to preserve open space and prevent sprawl. And finally, Possible, because we must set a course that is real and achievable.

I have to be clear, Idaho cities have not been given the resources to provide a range of social services. But I believe that a society, and indeed a city, should be judged by how well we treat our most vulnerable, and we simply must meet the challenge.

When we imagine our city in the future, don’t we imagine a city without homelessness? Homelessness is the toughest issue we face, but in Boise the problem is still manageable. There are around 120 chronically homeless individuals. Of course, even one is too many, but if we take steps now, with all of your help, we can get ahead of this problem in a way few others cities have.

To that end, we will soon dedicate the first permanent supportive housing development in Idaho, the New Path development.

And we’re also planning to provide housing to our veterans. Idaho Housing and Finance Association will soon award a project to help chronically homeless veterans. Only one bidder met the deadline, Valor Pointe, a 27-unit development for homeless veterans in Boise. No one should be homeless, but veterans have given so much, we simply must see that they have a home.

This summer we launched a series of Community Conversations on Growth, and they’ve been enormously helpful in listening to your concerns about our future and how we maintain Boise’s livability as we grow. And in all those conversations, affordable housing came to the forefront. If we are to be a community with equality of opportunity, then what is more fundamental to opportunity than a place to live that you can afford?

We estimate that over the next 20 years, 50,000 new residents will live in Boise. Those residents will require 20,000 newlivingunits, or 1,000 new units per year. To meet this need we have developed five strategies to grow our housing.

First, I am proposing that we establish an Housing Land Trust to preserve and protect housing affordability. Using a combination of philanthropic and city funding, we would create a $20 million trust, providing an ongoing, dedicated funding source for home ownership for generations to come.

Second, the city’s successful Downtown Housing Incentive Program should be expanded to the entire city for the creation of rental housing that is affordable to 80%-or-below median household income and provide an incentive for developers to build more affordable housing.

Third, we will leverage public and private land as a catalyst to create and attract new housing investments. The city will continue to leverage our own properties as we have done with Adare Manor and other properties, and we would combine that with a community wide program to donate key private properties to produce mixed-use, mixed-income projects that offer long-term affordability.

Fourth, we will maximize our rules for land-use and zoning so that we are better incentivizing housing in all parts of the city.

Fifth, we will collaborate with our urban renewal agency, CCDC, and other public partners, and seek to find new ways to apply their tools to advance housing projects within urban renewal districts.

And the housing we build with these new tools must be built according to Blueprint Boise, the city’s comprehensive plan. It must not be built in areas of open space and other treasured areas that must be preserved.

Which brings me to my final area. Our city must continue to be one that respects our environment.

We have one of the great urban rivers in America with 26 miles of greenbelt. And when we imagine Boise decades from now, don't we always view the foothills as they are? You have shown by your votes in 2001 and 2015 that our foothills are priceless.

We understand that. Several years ago, after years of negotiations, Boise enacted the Foothills Plan to control where development should and should not go. We are facing the conclusion of the many trade-offs in the plan, which means the areas slated for development are or will soon be fully developed.

Today I am proposing that we should not annex or rezone property to allow new development in the Foothills. While we do not know the exact number of units still allowed under existing zoning, our best estimate is around 400 lots. I say, after those 400, we say “no more.” Instead, new development should go to those areas called for under Blueprint Boise, along transit corridors and through infill throughout the city, so new development doesn’t jeopardize our most precious assets.

The same truth applies to how we approach energy. Like most cities, Boise’s energy comes largely from electricity and natural gas.

But it isn’t only HAVING, but also where our energy comes from. A growing number of businesses want renewable energy. Consumers demand it and costs are coming down. To separate ourselves and attract the types of businesses we want, we need clean energy. Clean energy provides security, resilience, and less reliance on distant fuel sources.

Boise has to lead and take an important first step. That's why today, I’m pleased to announce that the City of Boise’s own facilities and operations will be 100% powered by renewable electricity by the year 2030.

It’s not a slogan. It’s our commitment to set the stage for what’s next. And we’ll be working toward an even more ambitious goal. We’ve been meeting with a team of energy experts, including our local utilities, to set renewable energy goals for the entire community, not just our municipal operations. Can you imagine the impact of our entire community saying this is who we want to be as a city? We’ll host public open houses this fall so we can better understand what sort of energy goals you’d like our entire community to adopt.

Transportation, Housing, the Environment. These are the elements we must focus on if we are to successfully chart our future and become that City of Imagination.

I’d like to take us back to Kindness and Wonder. Our policy choices are important, but the most important decisions we make are how we treat each other and come together as a community.

Remember those notes of kindness hidden in those library books? Imagine you are the reader who discovers one of those notes. That book is a metaphor for our city. Boise is that book. And we are the notes inside it. We are the agents of kindness and wonder.

This year Boise endured one of the toughest events in our history, the horrific stabbings a few months ago. The depths of that tragedy touched us all. And today, again, I want all of us to hold a place in our hearts for those children and parents who suffered so much. In the face of this tragedy we must recommit to and restate the values of our community as an open and welcoming community.

As awful as that was, I've never been prouder of our city than in witnessing the outpouring of assistance and love for those affected. It overwhelmed me to see thousands of people come to City Hall Plaza and overflow Capital Boulevard. It was proof to me that Boise’s fundamental decency is as strong as ever.

It is the greatest honor of my life to be the mayor of my hometown. And I see how much you love Boise. Several people have approached me recently about convening a group of engaged citizens to help define the values that make Boise such a great place to live - those vital community values that will nourish us in the future.

How do we keep the kindness and love we see in response to tragedy? How do we maintain the bonds that join us together? Over the course of the next several months I will convene those that brought the idea together with those of you interested in being a part.

We need to call out those values that make us Boiseans. Like saying hello to people you don’t know. Like letting people into traffic and giving and getting that wave. Like knowing and looking out for your neighbor.

Boise Kind. It needs to be concise. To the point. Call it our Kindness Manifesto.

The late Fred Rogers, surely the patron saint of neighborhoods, said it best:

“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.”

Then there are those who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.

I ask all of you to be those heroes. To be that woman with a balloon at Fair. To place those notes in library books. To spread that spirit across our city. Because we need your help.

And if you do, Boise will be a place of kindness and wonder, truly the most livable city in the country.

Before You Leave, Check This Out