Ref­er­enda will let Boise res­i­dents weigh in on new li­brary, sta­dium

The Idaho Statesman (Sunday) - - OPINION - BY BOB KUSTRA

The re­cent call for twin ref­er­enda 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, Dboise, 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.

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 in ref­er­enda 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 ref­er­enda 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 ref­er­enda 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.

City of Boise

Plans for a new Down­town Boise li­brary call for a south-fac­ing wall of glass over­look­ing the Boise River and Green­belt. It an­tic­i­pates the re­moval of The Cabin.

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