Boise & Garden City

Boise council may try to change stadium, library laws that petitioners got on ballot

Signatures delivered to city clerk: Two issues for November

Boise Working Together, a citizen group, collected more than 14,000 signatures to put the city’s stadium and library on the ballot in November. Ada County officials have 60 days to verify the signatures.
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Boise Working Together, a citizen group, collected more than 14,000 signatures to put the city’s stadium and library on the ballot in November. Ada County officials have 60 days to verify the signatures.

For months, Boise activists worked to gather enough signatures to propose two city laws on the November ballot. If enacted by voters, the ordinances would require voter consent before the city could spend its funds on a proposed new main library and a proposed stadium.

But the Boise City Council might just get there first.

Mayor David Bieter wants the City Council to pass the ordinances itself, making the Boise Working Together ballot initiatives moot. But he and council members are also weighing the possibility of changing the ordinances first.

The two ordinances separately address elections for the stadium and the library. The City Council on Tuesday scheduled a public hearing on them at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 25.

State law allows the City Council to approve the ordinances and remove them from the November ballot. If the council does not, city voters in November would not be voting on whether to fund the stadium and library. Rather, they would vote to vote: The two ordinances, if passed, would require the city to hold a vote on the stadium and the library no sooner than the following May, a little less than a year from now.

That is, a second vote.

“It’s a matter of whether they want to take their medicine now or later,” said David Klinger, spokesman for Boise Working Together.

stadium 1.jpg
Atlanta developer Greenstone Properties wants to build a stadium for soccer and minor-league baseball that the city of Boise would own. This artist’s rendering shows how it might have looked at its original proposed location on Americana Boulevard just southwest of Downtown. The current proposed site is a half-mile northwest of this. Statesman file

Bieter says a vote to vote is just confusing.

“An advantage to passing the ordinance would be the simplicity of it,” he said. “Rather than a vote to vote, which would be rather complicated … an advantage is that it would be an up or down vote on that project.”

Proponents of the library say growth and age have overtaken Boise’s main library on Capitol Boulevard. Proponents of the baseball and soccer stadium on the West End say it would bring welcome development and tax money to the area.

Critics of the new library balk at its $85 million price tag and the estimated $52 million the city would bring to the table. Some critics of the stadium dislike the location, while others say the city shouldn’t fund it, even in part.

Pro-con library vote signs side by side 4-17-19.jpg
Campaign-style lawn signs reflect the emergence of groups to drum up public support for Boise’s proposed $85 million new main library, countering the 6-month-old Boise Working Together group’s effort to put the library spending question on the November ballot. David Staats dstaats@idahostatesman.com

The proposed baseball and soccer stadium would be built for the city by Atlanta-based Greenstone Properties between Main Street and Fairview Avenue, and between Whitewater Park Boulevard and 27th Street. The stadium is expected to cost about $50 million, but it is unclear how much of that would come from the city, the Statesman previously reported.

An Atlanta developer, Chris Schoen of Greenstone Properties, is negotiating to buy this vacant site on Main Street west of Whitewater Boulevard so he can build a stadium there.

If the council passes the ordinances, the timeline for a vote on the projects themselves could be moved up to November — and that could work in the library and stadium’s favor. (A formal proposal for city funding of the stadium would have to be made first. Greenstone has yet to submit its plans.)

November elections tend to see a higher turnout than elections held in May. And special elections can sometimes mobilize opponents more than supporters. Just this May, voters in Canyon County overwhelmingly rejected a bond to build a new jail following weeks of vocal opposition, with just 34% of the vote in support.

The November election is set to be a contentious one, too — four people have already announced their candidacies for mayor, including incumbent Bieter.

Bieter said timing of the stadium and library votes was not a factor in his support of the ordinances.

“I don’t think that’s really a consideration,” he said in an interview with The Statesman. “There’s a long ways to go here.”

In an interview with the Idaho Statesman, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter considers how to pay for the library and the legislative restrictions.

Might council try to change the ordinances?

What’s trickier is the possibility that the language that Boise drafts might differ subtly from that of Boise Working Together’s.

The citizens group’s ordinances call for elections if a library project requires more than $25 million in city funds or if a stadium project requires more than $5 million in city funds, including the value of in-kind assistance, staff time and land.

If passed into city law, those ordinances could affect library and stadium projects for years into the city’s future.

Mike Journee, Bieter’s spokesman, told the Statesman that the city has not yet determined if the council ordinances’ language would look exactly like the language in the ballot initiatives.

Boise Public Library Director Kevin Booe uses a model of architect Moshe Safdie's proposed Downtown Boise library to explore the building's viewscapes and features.

The way Klinger sees it, state law gives the city two options: adopt the ordinance as the petitioners defined it, or don’t adopt it at all.

“Deviation from that would be something our attorneys and their attorneys would have to address,” he said. “What is on the table is the language that over 7,000 people signed in those two petitions. That’s what has been verified and certified as ready for the ballot ... the language in the ballot initiatives must be respected.”

City Councilwoman Elaine Clegg said she worries the language drafted by the citizens group may not hold up to further legal scrutiny.

“State law is fuzzy and very confusing,” she said. “The city offered them advice. Most of it wasn’t taken.”

Library River Street entry plaza PRESS-BRIEFING-LIBCAMP_Page_07.jpg
A funnel-shaped outdoor plaza along River Street forms the entrance to the main building in Safdie Architects’ design for Boise’s new main library. Provided by city of Boise

City Councilwoman Holli Woodings hasn’t yet decided whether she would support an ordinance that brings the stadium and library issue before voters.

“There are a lot of legal questions we still need answers to,” Woodings said.

One of them: Will this ordinance tie the hands of future councils when it comes to funding?

Boise Working Together’s proposed ordinances are unrelated to separate potential votes on the library and stadium that a newly enacted state law would require if the projects use property tax revenue raised by urban renewal districts.

Both projects are inside urban-renewal districts. Exemptions in the law may allow the library to escape an urban-renewal election, the Statesman previously reported.

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Kate reports on West Ada and Canyon County for the Idaho Statesman. She previously worked for the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Center for Investigative Reporting and the Providence Business News. She has been published in The Atlantic and BuzzFeed News. Kate graduated from Brown University with a degree in urban studies.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.

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