Boise & Garden City

State of the City: Bieter touts plans to combat climate change, homelessness in Boise

Earlier this year, Boise became the first city in Idaho to commit to 100% clean electricity use by 2035. At his State of the City address Wednesday, Mayor David Bieter announced that the city wanted to go even further with a program called Boise Climate Now.

The program sets lofty environmental goals, including reducing waste, maximizing water renewal and preserving open space.

As part of Boise Climate Now, the city wants to reduce single-user car trips by 10% by 2029, a goal officials have discussed for a while. Part of that mission will include new electric buses.

Other elements include eight electric trash trucks in the city and an expansion of Boise WaterShed, an environmental education center, which Bieter proposed renaming the Boise Climate and Water Science Center. A page on the city’s website explaining Boise Climate Now does not give specific goals for most tenets of the program, but it notes that it will expand “in the coming months.”

Bieter talked about the program in the context of the city’s commitment to future generations, including his daughter.

“It will be a way that we know that we’re doing all we can to set up the future to succeed,” he said.

The mayor also touched on the city’s Housing First initiatives, and cited the opening of New Path Community Housing at the end of 2018 and the July groundbreaking for Valor Pointe, which will offer homes and services for 27 homeless veterans.

Bieter, who is seeking a fifth term in this November’s election and faces six challengers, said the city especially needs to focus on eliminating family homelessness.

“People say to be careful of saying that, and I understand we can’t snap our fingers and end family homelessness, but we can work toward a goal of eliminating it,” Bieter said.

He said that there are roughly 166 families experiencing homelessness in Boise and that on average, it costs $6,000 per family to end that cycle. Bieter then announced Our Path Home, a public-private partnership in which Boise would team with Ada County to provide a rapid response for families in need.

Homelessness is a touchy subject for the city, which is asking the Supreme Court to hear its appeal in Martin v. Boise, a case that arose from enforcement of an ordinance that bans sleeping in public places. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in September that cities cannot prosecute people for sleeping on the streets if they have nowhere else to go, saying it amounts to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.

Cities across the 9th Circuit, including many in California, have been signing briefs in support of Boise, but advocates for those who are homeless say the matter should be considered settled.

Bieter also hit a familiar refrain on livability, saying that Boise’s investments on that front have improved the city over his almost 16 years as mayor. He talked about recent developments, such as Dog Island at Ann Morrison Park, as well as past accomplishments, such as neighborhood libraries and the preservation of open space.

He did not touch on the new proposed main library or multiuse sports stadium, downtown projects that dominated last year’s speech and have been controversial from the beginning. Bieter announced last month that the library project was on pause after cost estimates came in at $104 million, well above the city’s budget of $85 million. News on the stadium has been quiet as the city awaits plans from a developer, but the Greater Boise Auditorium District might be part of the project.

Avoiding contentious subjects, the mayor started and ended his speech by sharing a conversation he had with a man who compared Boise to paradise and said he’d choose Boise over heaven if given the chance.

“If we do really well, you might not know the difference,” Bieter said.

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Hayley covers local government for the Idaho Statesman with a primary focus on Boise. Previously, she worked for the Salisbury Daily Times, the Hartford Courant, the Denver Post and McClatchy’s D.C. bureau. Hayley graduated from Ohio University with degrees in journalism and political science.If you like seeing stories like this, please consider supporting our work with a digital subscription to the Idaho Statesman.
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