During individual interviews with the Boise mayoral candidates Monday, the topics of homelessness and transportation initiatives came up early and often.
Though these subjects were first addressed in questions from the 10-member Boise Mayoral Election Panel the Statesman assembled, all three of the candidates listed homelessness and transportation matters among their top three issues.
The answers provided by Mayor Dave Bieter and challengers Judy Peavey-Derr and Seth Holden provide a measure of contrast we hope will be helpful as voters prepare to make their choices in the Nov. 3 election. Our panel’s rating of the candidates will be published Sunday online and in the Depth section in print.
What is the responsibility of the mayor of Boise to the city’s homeless population, which, at the moment, is often camped out in unprotected areas?
Bieter: “Probably the toughest issue any city deals with is how to help those who find themselves in that situation. It’s always a difficult issue — compounded in Idaho cities of limited authority and limited means. We are not a social service form of government. We simply don’t have those resources. Our social services are libraries and parks and public safety — and on top of that, public transportation, which in Idaho has to be paid out of the general fund. But it is all of our responsibility, certainly our city government. Our approach has been and will continue to be, we need a barn raising. We need everybody to help. Our best example is Allumbaugh House, where all the local governments and hospitals, state and federal governments, were able to fashion a good response. We’re taking that model and applying it to the homeless situation, and we’ve got about 40 agencies and individuals working around the table.”
Peavey-Derr: “This is a huge issue not easily solved and one that involves collaboration. We know the county controls the indigent fund. Those expenses come to the county ... and they are at this juncture not very friendly toward the city. There is a butting of heads there. The homeless issue has layers like an onion. It has mental health, it has alcoholism, it has a bunch of pieces. When I was county commissioner we worked on alcohol treatment center and got that facilitated. We’re going to have to find shelter for these folks — assuming they are willing to take it. I understand there are vacancies ... so, if they are not willing to do it, it’s going to be a struggle. But we need to find shelter before the snow flies.”
Holden: “The mayor’s responsibility to the homeless situation is to not only offer them protection during the colder months as winter approaches, but also to help them reintegrate into society. I have a number of ideas about how to do that, and just offering them a place to sleep and a shelter isn’t enough. We need to provide them with ways to get jobs again, reintegrate into society and to become contributing members of society again.”
What transportation initiatives would you address during your administration?
Holden: “Better and more consistent transportation via buses and working with the already-in-place Green Bikes with St. Luke’s in order to make a system that is more connected and more viable for the people who don’t have other modes of transportation. ... I have noticed that the buses come, if you’re lucky, once every hour. I will really focus on that.”
Peavey-Derr: “I am not in favor of doing a lot of transportation issues because that’s an ACHD (Ada County Highway District) situation. I think in cooperation with ACHD any transportation issues can be resolved. I’ll tell you what I am not going to do, I’m not going to close off Idaho and Capital Boulevard intersection to bikes and pedestrians only, which has been suggested by the city to ACHD to do, because 34,500 cars a day go through that intersection and only 530 bikes. Although I am bike-friendly, I think there are better ways to resolve it than shutting down that intersection by moving them over a block and circulating bikes in that way. ”
Bieter: “We have a separate entity that oversees the rights of way of streets in Boise. We’re making some headway there to integrate land use planning and transportation ... The Whitewater Park Boulevard is one of our big successes ... We need a different funding source, and that, to me, is a local option (taxing authority). ” Bieter said the biggest challenge is to secure a comprehensive public transportation system not just in Boise, but in “our Valley ... I think you ought to be able to take a train across the Valley ... our existing rail spur from Caldwell to Boise. It goes right through downtown Meridian, it goes right by the College of Western Idaho, Nampa and Caldwell, past the mall to Downtown Boise and even not far from Micron.”
For more on the issues, listen to the full audio of the panels’ questions and the candidates’ answers here: