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What’s with Boise’s process on St. Luke’s expansion?

I’ve heard a lot of complaints from people who feel like the city of Boise is excluding East End residents from weighing in on the proposed expansion of St. Luke’s Boise Medical Center’s Downtown campus.

They point to the fact that the City Council and Mayor David Bieter didn’t allow public comment at Tuesday night’s workshop on the expansion. I guess I’d be pretty upset, too, if I regularly used the section of Jefferson Street that St. Luke’s wants to close and watched a team of hospital officials pitch their plan for several hours without hearing a detailed presentation opposing it.

I doubt the city is trying to silence critics of the St. Luke’s plan. For one thing, Deanna Smith, a member of the East End Neighborhood association’s board, was at the table for Tuesday’s meeting. The meeting was set up to allow anyone at the table to comment, ask questions, etc. Smith didn’t say much.

For another, the public has had plenty of chances to sound off on the St. Luke’s plan. Boise’s Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing in February. Ada County Highway District heard a presentation in January. The hospital has held a number of meetings and other outreach events, some of which involved the city, on its proposal.

Finally, the City Council has to hold a public hearing on this expansion sooner or later – unless St. Luke’s unexpectedly withdraws its application. When the public hearing happens, everyone who cares enough to show up at City Hall can have a say. The neighborhood association will be allowed to make a presentation on the project. That’s no different than any other public hearing on a proposed housing development, zoning change, annexation or something else.

Still, I get how anxious and powerless people must feel when they watch an issue that matters deeply to them play out without having a chance to tell the deciders what they think.

My guess is we’ll see more of this approach to big, complex problems that come before the City Council in the future.

Council members have told me they’re frustrated sometimes when they receive a proposal and they don’t have a chance to ask questions about it until a public hearing. Then they’re expected to ask all the right questions, digest hours of public testimony and make the best decision on the same night. As a reporter, I understand that frustration. How good would I be at my job if I didn’t ask follow-up questions?

With the St. Luke’s discussion, the council is giving itself time to chew on the topic, which is pretty complicated, especially when you get into the details of why the hospital picked the option of closing Jefferson over three alternatives. They took a similar approach with their proposed regulations for Uber. The Uber law didn’t go anywhere because the state Legislature preempted the city, but the council basically used a couple workshops to talk through details of what should be included in it.

Bieter shut down Tuesday’s meeting at 10 p.m. A second workshop is scheduled for May 19. There’s no guarantee it’ll be the last one before scheduling a public hearing and subsequent vote.

Whatever happens, someone is sure to be angry.

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