Boise voters put great trust in their city in November 2015, when nearly three-quarters of them chose to raise their own taxes to protect water quality, wildlife habitat, open space and native plants.
Mayor Dave Bieter, with the backing of the City Council, has tasked nine people with helping make sure the city spends the $10 million from that two-year tax hike wisely. The group, officially called the Open Space and Clean Water Advisory Committee, vets proposals to buy tracts of land and enhance water quality in and around Boise.
It’s a big responsibility. The council will make final decisions on expenditures, but its members will rely on research and analysis the committee conducts in making recommendations.
“I’m a taxpayer, too, so I recognize the value of being able to put our money toward something that everybody in the community values,” said Brooke Green, the committee’s president. “And so probably first and foremost is just ensuring that we are transparent in our processes, that we’re transparent in our recommendations to the city.”
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Opponents of the levy predicted that if it passed, the money would become a piggy bank for Bieter’s pet projects, which they believed would disproportionately benefit people who live in places like the North End, East End, Harris Ranch and the Foothills.
Those concerns track a persistent criticism of City Hall during Bieter’s tenure — that Boise’s leaders care more about Downtown and the well-heeled neighborhoods near it than the outlying areas such as the Bench and West Boise.
“I recognize that there’s this perception it’s going to be spent just in the North End,” said Green, who lives in Southeast Boise. “And that’s something that we as a committee have to take into account.”
After the levy passed, Boise requested résumés from people interested in serving on the advisory committee.
City law establishing requirements for the committee allows between seven and nine members “with attention given to geographically diverse representation.”
A total of 85 people responded. Why would anyone want to do it? Committee members don’t get paid for their time, and helping spend tax money exposes them to criticism.
The answer from committee members is the same offered by public servants across the spectrum of interests: an urge that has little or nothing to do with a tangible payoff.
Katy Jibben, an attorney by day who serves as the committee’s vice chairwoman, said she lives in the Foothills and spends a lot time running on the trails there and playing in the Boise River. She wants to preserve those opportunities.
“I don’t have a family yet. I’m in my early 30s,” Jibben said. “But when I imagine getting married and settling down and having kids of my own, these are sort of the special places that I want my kids to be a part of.”
The committee will have separate processes for evaluating land acquisitions and proposals for protection of water quality.
In March, its members approved an application process for water projects.
The council is scheduled to vote on that process in April. It includes the criteria the committee will consider, an application form, a sample application and frequently asked questions. Projects might include riverbank restoration or “daylighting” — exposing a creek that runs under a road or through a culvert, Boise Parks and Recreation Director Doug Holloway said.
Hyatt Hidden Lakes Reserve on the corner of Maple Grove Road and Chinden Boulevard is a good example of a water quality project, Holloway said. The reserve collects stormwater from the surrounding area and cleans it through natural processes as it leaches into the river. The fact that it has become a popular place in West Boise to hike, enjoy fresh air and watch birds is a big bonus.
The water application process won’t apply to land acquisitions. The committee will review purchase proposals, whether they come from landowners or the city itself, and make recommendations to the council, which will have final say.
Jibben acknowledged that the responsibility for spending taxpayer money wisely is daunting. But she said it’s nice to know she can lean on the expertise of Holloway and his staff. The Parks and Recreation Department is planning to hold an open house in June to show people how the water project applications will work, Holloway said.
Jibben said she’s looking forward to hearing from the public on what the committee is doing well and what they could do better, though the department has yet to set up a process for public feedback.
“The only way we will learn to serve the community at large and the only way we will learn whether or not what we’re doing is working is through some of that feedback,” she said.
In some ways, the assumption that the city will spend levy money on the Foothills is natural.
Preserving open space in the Foothills was the purpose of a $10 million levy voters passed in 2001, which was used to acquire easements, buy property and match grants to preserve more than $37 million worth of land, according to Parks and Recreation figures. About $643,000 is left from that levy.
It’s inevitable that some of the new levy will go to Foothills purchases, too, because Foothills land is the most likely to meet the criteria the city is looking for, including recreation potential, connections to established trail networks, and opportunities to protect wildlife habitat and native plants.
In fact, the committee already recommended a purchase in the Foothills. The City Council agreed and made the offer, but the land owner didn’t accept. The parties could revive the deal some day, Holloway said.
But the 2015 ballot didn’t specify the Foothills. Instead, it identified “critical open space” as one of the ways Boise could spend the levy money. Jibben said it’s worth looking around the city — including West Boise and the Bench — for areas the city can enhance through open space preservation.
She pointed to Spaulding Ranch, located in the West Bench neighborhood south of Capital High School, as an example. The city acquired the historic ranch near the north end of Cole Road in a land swap last year and is contemplating a variety of ways to preserve it and keep it open to the public.
“I don’t think ‘open space’ only means open space in the Foothills,” Jibben said. “I think it’s open space anywhere. And it’s how we can work as a committee together to define what ‘critical’ means and where we see its application.”
The 2015 levy’s water quality component gives the committee flexibility to spend money in a wider variety of locations than the 2001 levy allowed. But that doesn’t mean the committee will try to steer the money to one place or another, Green said.
“We do have subjectivity we go through with everything, but it’s certainly going to be case-by-case as it pertains to whatever we’re trying to achieve with that project,” she said. “First and foremost, we’re accountable to our taxpayers. And so we always have to go back and say, ‘Is this in the best interests of our taxpayers?’ ”
Boise’s Open Space and Clean Water Advisory Committee
Brooke Green, chairwoman
Job: Senior transportation planner, Ada County Highway District
Hobbies: Golf, bicycle riding, snowboarding
Background: 19-year Boise resident; board member, Land Trust of the Treasure Valley; started BSU’s Delta Theta Nu sorority, which lasted from 1999-2009
Katy Jibben, vice chairwoman
Job: Attorney, Ludwig Shoufler Miller Johnson
Hobbies: Hiking, running, riding bikes, teaching group exercise classes
Background: 23-year Boise resident; bachelor’s degree from BSU; worked for Boise School District and at Bishop Kelly High School before attending law school at University of Idaho
Job: Broker, Century 65 Magellan Realty
Hobbies: Running and hiking the Foothills and along the Boise River
Background: 27-year Boise resident; worked on campaigns for the 2001 Foothills levy and 2015 Open Space levy; believes in a “balancing act” between developers and concerned residents
Job: Utility analyst, Idaho Public Utilities Commission
Hobbies: Hiking, mountain biking in the Foothills with her border collie; tubing, surfing and swimming in the Boise River and Quinn’s Pond
Background: 8-year Boise resident; master’s degree from Boise State University; examines long-term value of energy efficiency investments
Kathryn Dallas Elliot
Job: Water protection coordinator, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality
Hobbies: Running and hiking the Foothills and the Greenbelt
Background: 30-year Boise resident; University of Idaho graduate in environmental science and hydrology
Job: Executive director, Life’s Kitchen; adjunct faculty, BSU
Hobbies: Cycling, kayaking, Netflix
Background: 18-year Boise resident; 20 years of community involvement in issues including recreation, forest restoration, renewable energy and transportation
Job: Retired pharmacist
Hobbies: Backpacking, hiking, bicycling and skiing
Background: 10-year Boise resident; volunteer for Ballet Idaho and Idaho Department of Fish and Game; habitat restoration projects in the Foothills and Southwest Idaho’s rivers
Job: Customer research and analysis leader, Idaho Power
Hobbies: Cycling, skiing, former runner and triathlete
Background: Boise resident most of his life; 22 years of experience in research, analysis and statistics for Idaho Power and Idaho Department of Labor; manager of Pengilly’s Saloon 1976-1994
Job: Real estate broker and developer, Colliers International
Hobbies: Traveling, coaching soccer and basketball, skiing, biking, fishing, hunting, golf
Background: Born in Atlanta, 12-year Boise resident; MBA from BSU; member of Boise Parks and Recreation Commission
Source: Boise Parks and Recreation