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Instant analysis: Bieter artfully dances around sensitive topics in State of the City

State of the City addresses are typically rah-rah affairs. Boise Mayor Dave Bieter’s address Wednesday afternoon at the Egyptian Theater was no exception.

Not that that’s a bad thing. These addresses, whether they’re in Boise, Meridian, Kuna, Nampa or Caldwell, are a good opportunity to pause and celebrate the good things going on in your city. In the day-to-day grind, it can be easy to forget to stop and smell the roses.

And Bieter did a good job of highlighting those things that make Boise a great place to live: that we’re a safe community, active, creative and kind.

It’s worth pausing to be grateful for some of the things that make Boise such a great city: the whitewater park, downtown, the Foothills, our neighborhood parks. Boise really is a unique place and the envy of people who live elsewhere.

Bieter also highlighted city function-type amenities that veered dangerously into the snooze zone, such as the recreation center, libraries, a detox center, open space, geothermal energy, water treatment and green energy.

Bieter hinted a few times during his speech that we have challenges in Boise, and I was hopeful that he was going to address them. I appreciate the mayor’s desire to tackle homelessness, a key takeaway of the speech, which he used to enlist the help of the audience to eliminate homelessness for an estimated 166 families in Boise. You could hear his passion, and his voice quavered as he spoke. Heck, if someone had sent around a basket right then, I probably would have thrown in 20 bucks.

He did a moderate job of hitting on the problem of affordable housing, another real key challenge facing Boise. I’m not sure we’re quite at solutions, but he did mention the city’s efforts to make it easier to build accessory dwelling units, urged the use of a housing trust fund to provide land for affordable housing units, and commended City Council member Lisa Sanchez for tackling rental application fees. Bieter made a tacit acknowledgment that we still have a long way to go on that front.

Among the other challenges Bieter articulated were climate change, reliance on single-occupant vehicles, plastic waste, the opioid crisis, even social media-induced loneliness.

It’s good to have a mayor who is visionary, who has goals beyond just keeping the water running.

But I’m not sure these are priorities that everyone in Boise shares.

It’s interesting to note some of the things that weren’t said at Wednesday’s address: rising property taxes, which I think are a sleeping giant for a lot of residents; the downtown library project; the proposed multiuse stadium for the Boise Hawks and a soccer team; or even the downtown streetcar circulator.

He brought up on his own the city’s fire stations and fire training facility, artfully dodging a black mark on the city. It was just about this time last year that Boise had to admit that it miscalculated by millions of dollars costs on several voter-approved Fire Department projects.

Bieter also danced around several other sensitive topics, including the state Legislature’s recalcitrance to allow local-option taxing authority to help fund public transit and the fact that Boise doesn’t control its own roads (without mentioning the city’s long-running feud with ACHD). He thanked City Council members for their hard work, without mentioning by name council member Lauren McLean, who is running against Bieter for mayor.

In the end, having been to several of these addresses, I can say that Bieter’s wasn’t just a re-election campaign speech. It was pretty standard fare. It was a good reminder of the good things happening in the city, and like most State of the City addresses, it didn’t bring up any of the negatives of the past year.

Scott McIntosh is the opinion editor of the Idaho Statesman. You can email him at smcintosh@idahostatesman.com or call him at 208-377-6202. Follow him on Twitter @ScottMcIntosh12.

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This column shares the personal opinions of Idaho Statesman opinion editor Scott McIntosh on current issues in the Treasure Valley, in Idaho and nationally. It represents one person’s opinion and is intended to spur a conversation and solicit others’ opinions. It is intended to be part of an ongoing civil discussion with the ultimate goal of providing solutions to community problems and making this a better place to live, work and play. Readers are encouraged to express their thoughts by submitting a letter to the editor. Click on “Submit a letter or opinion” at idahostatesman.com/opinion.

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Always full of opinions and tolerant of others, Scott McIntosh is the opinions editor for the Idaho Statesman. He has won dozens of state and national awards, including Best Editorial from the Idaho Press Club for 2017.
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