The recent call for twin referendums on the proposed new baseball stadium and new library makes lots of sense. Citizens organized as Boise Working Together, under the leadership of Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, have prepared an initiative petition that gives Boise voters the opportunity to weigh in on these two priorities of the city.
The petition “respectfully demands” that the Boise City Council pass an ordinance “to require a vote by the people of Boise to approve any plan, design or construction of a new sports stadium in Boise.” A similar proposal for a referendum on the new library has also been prepared for the signatures of voters.
Given the enormity of these two projects in terms of cost and space in a city facing serious congestion issues, city residents deserve the same consideration that taxpayers of school districts have when districts go to the voters for bond issues, often for amounts less costly than these two projects total.
Ranked as one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation, there is no question that Boise stands at the crossroads of fast-paced, haphazard development and sustainable growth based on careful planning and input from its citizens.
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These two projects combined will not only result in the encumbrance of high financial consequences for the city, but will also have significant impact on parking, traffic and congestion in the central city. Giving voters the opportunity to address each one separately is an excellent forum to determine the best way to achieve Boise’s objectives.
If the city will someday come to the voters for bonding approval for the library, which seems likely given the cost of the project, it makes more sense to test the will of its citizens now rather than wait for a time when even more funds will have been wasted on planning and design. To date, the city has already approved architectural fees of $11 million for a building that will cost $80 million.
Nor should the city ignore, as it has to this point, the concerns expressed by many Boise citizens about the new library forcing The Cabin, a historical and cultural point of pride of many citizens, to move from its current site. A referendum on the library would give the mayor and council the opportunity to gauge the will of all voters on this and related issues surrounding the library.
A new baseball stadium brings similar concerns when it comes to traffic flows in and around the area. There should be a site in Boise or even in the outlying area where a stadium will work, but it’s not clear the city has found such site at this time. With growth in the Treasure Valley moving westward, perhaps the developer should be encouraged to move the stadium site to a location more central to Valley residents.
Some might point out that we have mayoral and City Council elections for the purpose of entrusting these office-holders with the responsibility to make these kinds of decisions. So why do we need referendums on specific measures before the council? For the day-to-day business of the city, there is no such need. Yet, with the scale and consequences of these two projects, no one can argue that the city wouldn’t benefit from citizen input by referendum that would be hard to ignore.
What lies at the heart of the concerns expressed by taxpayers over these two decisions are concerns that there has not been enough input, or perhaps more accurately stated, that the input to date has not been taken seriously. Does Boise have a City Council with members independent enough to raise questions about the planning and growth of the city as presented to them by the mayor’s office and staff? Are all points of view allowed to speak at council meetings?
The issue that Boise Working Together raises with its proposal for an initiative on these two issues is not really about baseball or libraries. Those just happen to be the two issues currently before the council that could have the greatest impact on Boise’s future. No, the issue that Boise Working Together raises is really about the extent to which Boise citizens and taxpayers have a say in decisions that affect the city’s quality of life and the tax burden of its citizens.
A new baseball stadium and a new library as currently planned and designed may be just what Boiseans desire for its expansion of sports venues and improvements in our cultural life. However, as the city engages in discussions leading up to the referendums vote, it may hear of alternative approaches that might work better than current planning to date. Let’s hear from those who will live with such improvements long after the current mayor and council members have retired from public life.
Bob Kustra is the retired president of Boise State University and a regular columnist for the Statesman.