Inside Ada County Spin Machine

In case there is any doubt about Ada County’s position on the Cliffs development near Lucky Peak, we share an e-mail which is purportedly written by the County spinmeister Rich Wright.

If true, this exchange is disturbing in that it portrays opponents of the development as as the enemy. In part because of this e-mail, opponents have filed for judicial review to have a judge decide if the process was handled within the law. Judge for yourself:

After the first hearing on The Cliffs, but before the second hearing, a person employed by Skyline I Development, the developer of The Cliffs, forwarded to Rich Wright, spokesman for the Board of Commissioners, a memo written by, Anthony Jones, summarizing the Board of Commissioner’s November 15, 2006 public hearing on The Cliffs. Mr. Wright then forwarded this email to, among others, each of the three County Commissioners, as well as Messrs. Gerry Armstrong, Mark Pecchenino and Dean Gunderson of Ada County Development Services. Mr. Wright’s email included the following additional statements:

“I thought you all might find the letter below from Tony Jones entertaining.

Perhaps some good clarification from Staff or Legal regarding the ‘incomplete app[lication]’ issue Jones and his followers seem to think they have us nailed on would be appropriate prior to testimony at the 12/6 meeting?

Someone again needs to outline that there is no requirement in the ordinance for F&G to ‘signoff’ on the mitigation plan. An additional explanation of what’s required to deem an application complete might be another clarification we should consider making, especially since we’ll likely hear another volley of testimony from people who think the access road issue is something that should have prevented the application from progressing forward.

Just a suggestion, but it would be time well spent.

Comments & Discussion

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  1. Ada County is learning fast from the Boise Mayor and City Council – just like in Boise if you oppose ANY development, think that skinny row houses are a joke or want to preserve your nieghborhood you are instantly the enemy.

    When developers hire PR and marketing firms to feed half truths (or flat out lie) to the local rag the nieghbors have little recourse. The developers also buy ads and place inserts in the local rag so they get special treatment from the editors and newsroom. The property owners in the neighborhoods simply don”t count.

    The only solution to this problem is to remove those who have this “holier than the public” attitute from office – something we can do in 2007.

  2. Wright’s letter to the commisshes says it all. His words show an arrogant bootlicker who would do anything to please his bosses. He displays a total disregard for the welfare of the citizens as he tells Ada’s politico’s how to cooperate with skyline to get around the law and make millions off of Boise’s remaining rural lands. I’m glad the People have filed for a judicial review but I have a warning for the them. You are dealing with entrenched political corruption that has been growing rich at the taxpayers expense for years whose lawyers are expert at evading the law. I wish you the best.

  3. Clippityclop
    Feb 1, 2007, 7:06 pm

    Devoted members of the public gave up many evenings and countless hours of their time to give testimony about what they felt were serious problems with this planned community development.

    What a slap in the face to their dedication, their right to due process and to all Ada County residents who expect fairness and impartiality from their elected officials, and from those whose employment these officials oversee. These public hearings at Ada County were a sham — and a disgrace to the intent of Idaho Statute. Involved Ada County Development Services staff, Commissioners Tilman, Yzaguirre and former Commissioner Peavy-Derr, you should be ashamed. You have chosen to make an engaged and caring public your enemy, when your job is to listen and weigh wisely. Fellow citizens, we cannot accept this.

  4. Where’s the text from Tony Jones? At first glance, it appears to suggest that Rich thinks Jones is misinformed & that clarification needs to be prepared prior to more hearings. Hard to tell without seeing what the guy (Jones) wrote to instigate the response. This story, as written, doesn’t tell me anything one way or another. It certainly doesn’t sway me toward the Guardian’s opinion of the ‘enemy’ mentality. More facts please….

    EDITOR NOTE– The Rich Wright text was in Jones’ filing for judicial review. Best we can make out Skyline was communicating with Wright–passing along a Jones message. Our concerns are “entertaining” and “nailing us,” we will await the court’s ruling.

  5. The Cliffs is only the most recent example of the corruption involved in the entire planned community process. Now, with the Ada County planner, Pecchenino, leaving government, we learn why developers are lining up to build planned communities in Idaho.

    We learn that “the new improved planned community ordinance” is his and that he brought it from California (he told the Statesman he wished he’d patented it!). Heaven help us! Pecchenino and the County Commissioners rolled out the red carpet for these developers, so of course they had to approve The Cliffs even though it’s clearly nothing but a giant subdivision with a variety of housing types.

    It isn’t a “planned community” at all–look at the paltry “commercial” development it has! Traffic from it relies on the not-as-yet-and-possibly-never-to-be-built Parkcenter Bridge! The whole thing is a sham.

    Too bad the Idaho Statesman doesn’t have an investigative reporter on staff. A good reporter should be able to dig and find out just how deep the dirt of this “planned community” nonsense really goes. Isn’t anyone at the Statesman interested in at least trying to win a Pulitzer?

  6. BrianTheDog
    Feb 2, 2007, 11:54 am

    Here is a thought for you folks. Everyone who reads this must remember to vote out All incumbants in the next election.

  7. Like most things politic, there’s spin on both sides. I happen to like the plan and look forward to the model homes. Sign me modern day cliff dweller.

  8. Dr Spielvogel
    Feb 4, 2007, 10:33 pm

    One view of the Kabuki dance which turned into a circus –the hearings which were well attended:

    The Cast: The Ada County Commisioners or BOCC (Board of County Commissioners) as they prefer. Commissioner Rick Yzaguirre(chairman), Judy Deavey-Derr (being replaced by Paul Woods) and Fred Tilman. Actually, behind the masks, a rubber stamp for developments and the organization most responsible for the mess in the Eagle/Meridian. If only we could check who contributes the most to their election campaigns.

    Ada County Development Services – Actually a lobbying group for developers, led by Mr Mark Pecchinno.

    Skyline Development and its subsidiaries which wish to plant 1,350 homes (3,700+ people) on about 350 developable acres on 706 acres on Hammer Flat in the East Foothills.
    Actually while claiming envirnmental sensitivity, diversity, access, and Norman Rockwell like settings, the development would generate over $650,000,000 in home sales while draining treated seweage water into the Boise River, significantly degrade big game winter range, and scar the foothills.

    Hammer Flat is a key winter range for Area 39’s 14,000 mule deer heard, currently zoned as Rural Preservation. Skyline claims it is opening access to the foothills by selling homes with an average price of over $350,000. It counts land in traffic circles as “open space”. and claims it will make trails open to the public (although the future homeowner haven’t approved)

    Idaho Fish and Game: Has not approved Skyline’s wildlife mitiagtion plan. Not called to testify.

    Idaho Department of Transportation: Has not approved Sklyine’s access plan. Not called to testify.

    Mr Tony Jones. Founder and President of Save the Plateau, a grass roots group fighting against large scale development on Hammer Flat. Granted 20 minutes to “testify”, the odd name BOCC uses for making a unsworn statement.

    The Public. Overwhelmingly against further trashing of the Foothills. Over 3,000 comments opposing the development. Actually, at the hearing reduced to 5 minute statements while the developer and Developer Services have unlimited time, and in fact, are allowed to rebut statements from the public and interferring letters from IFG and IDT.

    What was learned at the hearings at the Nov 15 and Dec 6th BOCC public hearings:

    The developer and it’s surrogates who testified in favor were mostly from the realtor, builder, developer community, thus having a direct economic benefit at hand.

    A favored tactic was to demonize Mr Jones. Commissioner Tilman asked Mr Jones if he trespassed to take wildlife photos. Another pro develop speaker accused Mr Jones of trespassing and not really being concerned with wildlife.

    Another developer tactic: Name calling. Those against are NIMBYs.

    Another target: The public. Several pro development “witnesses” accused the entire Valley of living on land of that wildlife once freely roamed on. What this has to do with one of the last winter ranges in the Boise Foothills was not addressed. The argument seems to be that since in the past, the herds were ravaged, then it’s not fair to stop this development from continuing the destruction.
    The circus atmosphere prevailed when a builder declared that, in any case, there is no wildlife left in Idaho. Rude laughter from the rear erupted. Chairman Yziqurre called for order. The argument was that since IFG manages the herds, they are therefore not truly wild.

    According to the developer, the Cliffs will be self sustaining, with a vibrant retail and commerical activity. With 26 retail storesl within a 5 minute drive and another 60 with 5 to 10 minutes, not much retail beyond a coffee shop will be sustainable.

    Development Services has decided that the County does not need to heed IFG. In other words, the supposed benefit to the County outweighs the damage that will be done the State’s Area 39 hunting economy of $14 million per year.

    The on-site sewage plant cannot fail according to the developer althought the sewage engineer who has never built a MBR plant did admit anything made by man can fail. Actually MBR plants while proven technology, do have fouling problems and cost more to operate. The City has recommended that the development be hooked into the City sewage system which would minimize threats from flood, wildfire, mudslides, and lightning. The developer prefers another profit center.

    An analysis by a PhD in Economic which pointed out major flaws in the developer’s Fiscal Impact analysis was summarily dismissed because the developer’s and Development Services economist has concurred with the developer’s analysis. The issues were not addressed. The PhD conclusions included that the developement will become a taxpayer liability because of faulty assumptions concerning retail development, self sustainabilty, and lack of a quality of life analysis.

    “Testimony” also revealed that considering all the planned communities being proposed in the area, there would be a 25 to 27 year inventory of homes to sell at a rate of 4,500 new home sales per year. You might argue that the developer is willing to take the market risk of entering such keen competition, but then if this development and developer fails, the county tax payers will pick up the tab for the sewage plant, loss tax revenues, and unkept promises.

    Commissioner Tilman is openly hostile towards those against.

    During the Nov 15th meeting Chairman Yzaguirre admitted in response to a question from the public that the developer’s application was not complete, thus raising the question of the validity of having a hearing at all until the wildlife and access issues are resolved, if ever.

    During the Dec 6th, the Chairman stopped answering questions from the unwashed public by summarily announcing that this was “Not a question and answer” session.

    The Chairman also ruled Mr Jones out of order when Mr Jones protested granting unlimited rebuttal time to Develper Services and the Skyline.

    Commissioner Tilman used a 16″ softball to lob a question to the developers regarding the sewage plant. By chance Developer Lobbying Services had a PowerPoint cued up to help the developer answer the question. The answer: Trust us. Actually the treated water will be discharged into the Boise river. If the plant fails or goes down, then untreated water will go to the river when the plants storage is overwhelmed. It’s about two miles upstream from Barber Park. Storm water runoff was not addressed.

    Cliff’s home purchasers with six figure incomes will come from out of state according to one realtor. He implied he has sold three families sight unseen.

    One plus for the developer: The Cliff’s Insitute to provide trails and education to the public. Will the six figure income homeowners really support this? Will the Cliff’s actually become a gated community?

    Additional costs to The Cliffs buyers: 1% on both sales and purchase to fund the Institute, expensive to operate sewage plant, owned by a subsiduary of the developer, United Water for lawn irrigation.

    IFG would approve the developers wildlife plan if 1,000 acres were purchased nearby to mitigate damage to the herds. The developer has offered to purchase 300 acres.

    There is still no approved access. The access proposed by the developer would take land from IDT purhased for future SH 21 growth at the intersection of Warm Springs and SH 21. Some of this land was obtained by eminent domain with federal funds. It is doubtful that federal funds will be used to enhance Skyline’s bottom line without a court making the final decision.

    IDT does not have funding to build a interchange, nor is there traffic count to justify one.

    Backing up traffic on the SH 21 bridge over the Boise river is a hazard for any type of access due to the bridge not being built to take the stress of backed-up vehicles and likely wind forces.

  9. We must be careful with this new age of information. The rule is:Do not email sensitive information without knowing your intended target. The scrutiny of the public is greater than ever.

    The unintended target with County communications is every single taxpayer. STP should obviously evaluate their email list too.

    If your information is available to the public, then it will be used. Take note STP and Ada County.

  10. Inside City Hall
    Feb 5, 2007, 9:18 am

    There are those in City Hall that are very aware that documents can be public and take great pains to NOT create documents that could be used against them. Transcripts are not being typed anyomre (great way to hide council comments), application information is cut back, work session notes are never included in Public Records Requests, etc….

  11. Clippityclop
    Feb 5, 2007, 3:31 pm

    Transparency to public scrutiny is the hallmark of good government and the right of every citizen who funds that government. We obviously have a problem here, and it’s serious.

  12. Hypothetically if Tony’s newsletter was forwarded to Rich Wright by an Ada County employee and the email from Mr. Wright to the commishes and development services was still written the same way, would this still be a problem?

  13. Clippityclop
    Feb 7, 2007, 12:21 pm


  14. Clancy,

    The manner by which Mr. Wright came into possession of my memo is important, but it is not the only issue.

    The commissioners, their staff, and development services, are supposed to be unbiased in their judgicial and administrative capacities.

    By sending his unsolicited comments related to an open application to the commissioners, with or without my attached memo, via a process outside the public record, Mr. Wright exposed the commissioners to charges of ex parte communications. Attaching my memo, with a note suggesting it would provide “entertaining” reading, compounds the issue in a variety ways and hints at a general disregard on the part of the commissioner’s office for the views of persons opposing the application.

    The fact that he, as a member of the commissioner’s staff, suggested courses of actions to development services to rebut or undermine comments from persons opposing the application– suggestions development services implemented– exposes development services and the commissioners office to charges of prejudice.

    The fact that the memo of mine that Mr. Wright forwarded to the commissioners and development services originated in an email from the developer opens other lines of attack on the county’s willingness to apply and administer the law in a prejudicial manner.

    There are plenty of other issues related to Mr. Wright’s memo, but that should suffice to indicate that there were problems, serious problems, with the manner in which Ada County processed The Cliffs.

    Tony Jones

  15. Without a reply email from either development services, P&Z or the commishes, there is no evidence that any laws or impartiality have been broken. The other point to consider is: Which parties read this email and which ones did not. Therefore it is hard to prove the effect this email had upon any decisions.


    Most people would have a hard time not having a moment of frustration and remain impartial with all the banter against them. STP mission statement states: “Also, and of equal importance, Save the Plateau is dedicated to achieving this objective in such a manner that no stake holder is harmed.” This statement is so positive but I have yet to see it followed.

  16. Clippityclop
    Feb 9, 2007, 11:52 am

    You may wish to recall that at the beginning of the final public hearing on The Cliffs, the Commissioners asked Mark Pecchenino, (the planner who recently announced his resignation from Ada County Development Services to pursue his own consulting business), to make a statement regarding why The Cliffs application is complete despite the issues of access, etc.

    Interestingly, this was exactly the advice given in the e-mail from Rich Wright to avoid “a volley of testimony from people who think the access road issue is something that should have prevented the application from moving forward.” Thank you for tying up this loose end and making this connection so evident.

    It’s better than a reply e-mail, particularly as Chairman Rick Yzaguirre had stated at the previous public hearing, in response to a direct question form the public, that without the road access issue resolved, the application was “incomplete.”

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