New Voice Sounding Like A GROWTHOPHOBE

Here is a nicely written piece BY JEAN McNEIL, a Boise Freelancer, which also appeared in the Daily Paper. It is published with her permission.

When I moved to Boise 30 years ago, I called it a 10-minute town – you could get from almost anywhere to almost anywhere else in 10 minutes or less. Now it’s a half-hour town, and the change has not improved my mood.

The number of cars has risen dramatically, traffic lights are twice as long, and gridlock is a reality.

Traffic isn’t the only downside of rapid growth. New schools are being built left and right, and they are still overcrowded the day they open. There is pressure on our outdoor resources, and solitude is harder and harder to find. We are stretching our water resources to their capacity and losing valuable farmland.

Don’t get me wrong – growth isn’t always bad. When I first moved to Boise, it was clearly in need of a boost. The shopping was awful, sports and cultural events were practically nonexistent, historic buildings were being torn down, and the choice of restaurants ranged from Chinese to Mexican to steak, period.

For those reasons and more, I welcomed the growth of the late ’80s and early ’90s. It took us from a sleepy Western town to a vibrant city. It brought us a revitalized Downtown with unique housing, shopping, eating and entertainment choices; new parks and outdoor recreation; restored historic buildings and neighborhoods; and venues such as Boise Towne Square, the Morrison Center, Hawks Stadium, Taco Bell Arena and the Idaho Center. Shopping improved a thousand percent, as did dining, theater, music and sports. There was more traffic, and we became a 15-minute town – but it was worth it.

Not any more. We’ve reached a growth plateau, where the only things new developments bring are more cars, longer commuting times, worse air, overcrowded schools,
more competition for outdoor recreation, more pressure on our water and farmland and more big box stores. Do we really need another Home Depot or Wal-Mart? I think not.

But doesn’t growth bring new jobs and prosperity? Not necessarily. Boise has traditionally had a lower than average unemployment rate, and many well-paying jobs. True, every new Wal-Mart brings jobs, but who gets them? If it were local people, we wouldn’t be seeing the runaway growth – the jobs would simply be absorbed by people already here. Mostly, the new jobs attract new residents, compounding our growth problems while failing to make us any wealthier or unemployment-proof. In short, we’ve passed the point where new growth brings comparable benefits.

What can be done about it? There’s an urban legend that says government can’t prevent growth, it can only manage it. I don’t buy that. While growth probably can’t be stopped in its tracks, much of the worst of it can certainly be prevented. All we need is a determined government with public opinion on its side.

I believe voters made some bad choices for the Ada County Commission this year, and the only way to reverse out-of-control growth is for the citizenry to bring its will to bear on the commissioners. They need to know we’re tired of one big box store after another; of roads, schools, water and sewer systems that can’t absorb the new development; of overcrowding in our precious outdoors; and of productive farmland being sacrificed to ticky-tacky subdivisions. We need to start by making sure new growth really pays for itself, but we can’t stop there.

I think voters made some good choices for the Ada County Highway District, and I believe we will see progressive change at that agency. But how much difference it will make will depend on the direction taken by the Ada County Commission, the Boise mayor and City Council, and the Boise and Ada County planning and zoning departments. The growth-at-any-price mentality will only change if we let these agencies know – by our phone calls, letters, e-mail and presence at hearings – we want unchecked growth stopped. Period.

I believe a significant portion of the population agrees with me but has been silent out of fear of being labeled “anti-growth.” It’s time to embrace that phrase, because if we don’t, we risk becoming another Phoenix or a mini-Los Angeles. And if that happens, there will be no reason to live here.

Comments & Discussion

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  1. The Boise Picayune
    Jan 2, 2009, 11:16 pm


  2. I’d rather be able to get to the mall quicker too, but it ain’t that bad. Question for the author – what study or evidence supports your view that we are “stretching our water resources to their capacity”? You may be right…but just cuz you say it don’t make it so. Growthpobes you need to start backing up your feelings with facts. The decision makers (County Commissioners, City Councils, ACHD) don’t care about your opinions…and they shouldn’t. They are paid to assess the validity of developments applications as they pertain to law and process. When you stand at that pulpit to oppose them (as Jean is suggesting you should do) be prepared to back up your statements with facts. Jean your water scarcity claim would be a place to start.

  3. So, when Jean moved to town, growth was a good thing (because we needed more retail and some foo-foo eateries), but it’s bad now?

    Perspective is interesting, isn’t it?

    For example, I was an adult when Jean arrived, having been born here and having grown up in the 5-minute (?) “sleepy Western town.” And it may surprise her, but people were concerned about growth even back then.

    The other old-timers may remember when the Statehouse was the tallest building in town (or the state, obviously). And the huge controversy that erupted when Bank of Idaho wanted to build where it would interfere with the picture-postcard view looking north from the Depot. (How quaint, huh?)

    Of course, there are old-timers who’d aready been here for 20 or 30 years when I emerged, and were surely bummed out by the “baby boom” growth.

    Jean – if you’ll leave now, and take everybody who arrived since you got here, I’ll give up the mall, and the Pavilion (er, the Taco Bell Arena), and the megaplex cinema and the restaurants-from-around-the-world. (Manley’s – now THAT was a restaurant!!) Don’t forget to write!


  4. Tom Anderson
    Jan 3, 2009, 11:12 am

    ‘Growth is good’ used to be ‘manufacturing is good’. For the the first part of the industrial revolution, America had wide open spaces, abundant resources of metals, minerals, water, coal, oil and natural gas. After a long run of ‘manufacturing growth’, our country started to become a more expensive place to do business because resource extraction became ever more difficult and expensive, and the people became intolerant of massive pollution levels. In 1970, America experienced ‘Peak Oil Production’ and our oil output has been falling ever since. We now use 25% of the worlds oil, but have only 3% of the worlds oil reserves. America peaked in natural gas production 8 years ago and now imports 50% of Canada’s supply, a situation that won’t last much longer.

    So, as manufacturing waned, we went on to a suburban sprawl and car culture bubble, while ensuring plenty of raw materials and oil by placing over 700 military bases on foreign soil. We are now at the end of the road due to a factor that has afflicted all similar empires; our supply lines are too long and complicated, and we lack the ability to protect them. This is pretty much exactly what happened to the Roman Empire at its point of collapse.

    So, what is next? America will endure an economic collapse that will reorganize our country so that our consumption levels are in line with supply and our real wealth, which is very, very low.

    I believe that we could experience more growth in Boise, but it would only be a function of other people running away from economically devastated parts of the country.

    The ‘GROWTH IS INEVITABLE’ mantra is false. Communities all over the world have said ‘NO MORE GROWTH’ and they enforce it. These places say “Come and play, but you need to leave within X amount of time”.

    I believe we need to stop growth if we are to be a economic refugee camp. If we start seeing a huge influx of refugees, we need to slam the door shut or all of us will be in deep trouble.

  5. Antiphope needs to check the aquifer stats. We are depleting the groundwater at an alarming rate and nobody seems to care. What the heck we can pull more water from the Boise River and try to clean up the gold mining crud as well before we drink it.

    The real problem is elected politicos from the state house to the cities handed over this valley to developers without any thought to infrastructure needs. Now we have a mess to clean up and no money to make it happen.

    Exactments, impact fees and other tools to facilitate the real costs of growth need to be agressively implimented by our taxbase hungry politicos.

    New Urbanist planning and smart growth need to be a part of the deal with every community. We will continue to grow, the only question is have our elected officials figured out they have been screwed and have created a mess for the people of the valley to clean up. (think higher taxes here to get this cleaned up)

    What has happened here is a shameful degree of ineptitude on the part of our elected officials at all levels over the past 30 years.

  6. Seems to me that you are shaking a stick at everyone but yourself. I love Boise. If you don’t there are others that may suit you better – but if you move there you will be contributing to their population problems, too….

    By the way, China does regulate growth. Do we really prefer to be a culture who murders and abandons babies because they are not the right gender, or they are not perfectly healthy? We live in a big world that is full of people. Innovate and adapt, but don’t complain.

  7. Not sure I buy this:

    “What can be done about it? There’s an urban legend that says government can’t prevent growth, it can only manage it. I don’t buy that. While growth probably can’t be stopped in its tracks, much of the worst of it can certainly be prevented. All we need is a determined government with public opinion on its side.”

    In my experience a town either grows or dies. By die, I mean existing folk continue to demand ever greater government spending, existing educators and government bureaucrats also want more money and better benefits. The only way to make that happen without growth is to raise taxes, and raise taxes, and raise taxes. As growth slows and taxes rise fewer businesses come to the area, the local price of housing goes up and…surprise, property taxes go up with them. Salaries (except government) become stagnant but the cost of living rises…soon the middle class moves out leaving the rich and the relatively poor and government employees….

    The only way to insure prosperity is to direct growth where one wants it, not try to stop it completely.

  8. The problem,Paul, is ours! Over the past 30 years, we (not you and me specifically), but we as the citizenry of the valley, elected these “Jamokes”!

  9. Have any of you watched the CNBC special on “Saving GM.” It shows the far reach of the auto industry and the trickle down effect of its demise. But its funny there is no effect on the state of Idaho. Why? We have no manufacturing in this state. We basically have govt jobs and farming. (Micron being the one exception, for how long is the question?). I realize that most of those that frequent this site despise growth but that is the only industry in this region that has made money. If I am an out of work construction worker what should I do?

    EDITOR NOTE– Micron has been a non profit company for so long, they will never pay state income tax even if they make hundreds of millions a year in the future. Now, those of us who run good companies have to nearly double our unemployment rate to pay for Micron employees.

  10. The Boise Picayune
    Jan 4, 2009, 10:34 am

    Right On Cyclops!

    “We” keep electing the same mooks and are then stunned that we continue to see the same predictably incompetent results.

    Too bad no candidate has come along willing to eschew the dominant paradigm and a near pathological need to reinvent the wheel, and co-opt proven strategies utilized elsewhere.

    ; )

  11. Cyclops, we call our government a democracy and “MAJORITY RULE” is how things get done. Problem is the majority have acquiesed in their particpation and handed over decision making to the minority who actually turn out for elections and cast their vote. The “Jamokes” are counting on this for all the bad governance and mismanagement of the public trust.

    Most of the people we have in elected office would not make it to the interview step if elections were a standard hiring for an actual job. All they have to be is an elector in good standing to run for office.

    “Jamokes”, I like this name as it is a lot more civil than most of the names I have called some of our elected officials.

    One solution is to make it easier to cast a vote. There is no reason to have elections where we have to travel miles and miles and then wait in line vote. Motor voter and the US Mail are two solutions. There are more voting solutions but the “Jamokes” really like the status quo.

  12. Jean said: “When I first moved to Boise, it was clearly in need of a boost. The shopping was awful, sports and cultural events were practically nonexistent, historic buildings were being torn down, and the choice of restaurants ranged from Chinese to Mexican to steak, period.”

    Gee, why did you move to such a terrible place?

    I moved here about 10 years before you did. By the time you got here, growth was already moving too fast. Meanwhile, a quasi-government group called B.R.A. was busily demolishing as much of downtown as could.

    Anyway, did you really think growth was good then, without realizing what it eventually would do?

    Well, now you know.

  13. C’mon Paul! I doubt anyone would have to travel more than two miles to vote anywhere in the valley! I know that I have never spent more than 10 minutes voting!
    The idea of “motor voter” and all those schemes to increase voter turn out scare the bejeebers out of me. I seriously doubt if 25% of the citizens of Boise could identify a photograph of Dave Bieter, or anyone on the city council!(Have you ever seen Jay Leno’s Jaywalking?)
    Our efforts would be better spent trying to inform more people in the valley and doing whatever we can to encourage “involvement” in the process.

  14. Frankly, I am not sure that we should “do all we can to encourage involvement in the process.” If people don’t care enough to find out what’s going on and vote on their own, I am not wild about their judgment and would just as soon they stay home.

  15. I think it is pretty obvious that if Micron tanks and HP outsources everything to Asia, Boise will loose population much like it did in the 80-82 recession. And yes, it will be service, ag, small manufacturing and government, supplying jobs for the locals.
    Remember when Boise was a hot call center business town? That went away. When gas gets back to $4.00 a gallon and no jobs, we will have no growth. If we want a sustainable mfg. base, the clowns at the Boise Chamber better be looking for companies that are involved with new transportation, energy, and energy conservation. Interesting that Motive Power is quite busy these days. Sustainable manufacturing will promote sustainable growth.

  16. Gordon wrote: “Meanwhile, a quasi-government group called B.R.A. was busily demolishing as much of downtown as could.”

    So that’s a bad thing? Hindsight must be blindsight. All of what was torn down was blight. Please explain why those dilapidated old warehouses should have been saved.

    We have some surviving examples if your nostalgic memory needs to be jolted back to reality. The Goodman Oil property and the Boise Junk House at 25th and Fairview are 2 fine examples of what BRA “tore” down.

    If anything, we should be thanking the civic leaders of the 60s for their foresight. They were the same people who gave us the Greenbelt.

  17. Rod in SE Boise
    Jan 6, 2009, 2:44 pm

    Look, I’m as anti-growth as anyone, and stopping growth in its tracks is a great idea. But, how?

    You can’t require mandatory sterilization for practically everyone, and you can’t close the borders and build a wall around Ada County or Idaho and give the Idaho National Guard shoot-to-kill orders.

    And you also have to understand that we growthophobes are a small minority.

    She is right in one thing – we probably can force growth to pay for itself. We may have to settle for that.

  18. Boisecynic said: “So that’s a bad thing? Hindsight must be blindsight. All of what was torn down was blight. Please explain why those dilapidated old warehouses should have been saved.
    We have some surviving examples if your nostalgic memory needs to be jolted back to reality. The Goodman Oil property and the Boise Junk House at 25th and Fairview are 2 fine examples of what BRA “tore” down.”

    Sorry, Cynic, but you’ve got it backwards. The Goodman Oil property and the Boise Junk House at 25th and Fairview are ones they did NOT tear down.
    They did demolish the Pinney Threater (which was so well-built that the big smasher ball beat on it for hours before even cracking the wall), and one of the historic Chinese buildings, which was structurally sound and could have been converted into something nice — just two examples. “They” also wanted to demolish the Egyptian Theatre, and were stopped only by a major battle from people who love the place. It’s still in business and doing fine, despite competition from the megaplexes etc.

    The B.R.A. was basically a bulldozer, not caring what it smashes as long as it keeps smashing. Downtown had been fairly vibrant until that outfit turned it into something that looked like the remains of a war zone. So now the historic buildings, some of which were really architectural beauties, have been replaced by more styleless boxes. Whoopee!
    As for the old warehouses — a few of those fell, some of the others have been converted into some rather nice business locations.

    But, then, you are the cynic, so I guess you’re not supposed to like any of that.

    So, nevermind, and Welcome to L.A. East.

  19. Boisecynic said “all of which was blight”. Although there certainly were examples of the blight you mentioned, BRA’s “scorched earth” policy cost us that beautiful old Basque boarding house/hotel. BRA said it couldn’t possibly be saved, yet it took them a month of beating it with a wrecking ball before it finally gave up. That was a shame!

  20. Boisecyinic, the buildings on 8th Street must be a blight by your logic. I suppose the Hampton Inn and the Boise Grove Hotel are shining examples of your “new is better” asthetic. Explain why the “old town” areas of major metropolitan cities are the most visited and vibrant areas people want to visit, live and work?

  21. Tom Anderson
    Jan 7, 2009, 12:49 pm

    What is so hard to understand about stopping growth?

    We the people of Boise can, other than tax ourselves for alternative transportation, do pretty much anything we want.

    We could set a population limit, and then outline acceptable ways to stay within that limit.

    White folk, which is the primary inhabitant of Boise, has been in population decline, so the one baby rule probably wouldn’t even need to be considered.

    Thousands of examples of no-immigration societies exist. Look at New Zealand, or island nations like most of the nations in the Bahamas. You need to have a round trip plane ticket to visit. For places you can drive to, your car cannot be sold there or remain there for more than a certain amount of time. You are not allowed to initiate city services or get a job there.

    This is not rocket science, we could pick and choose from numerous models.

  22. Rod, I agree. Make those seeking to “grow” here in our great city, pay for it. It is near impossible to make or legislate a no-growth market. Always seek consessions and compromise rather than denial of a project. This creates a positive relationships for all those involved.

  23. Gordon wrote: “Sorry, Cynic, but you’ve got it backwards. The Goodman Oil property and the Boise Junk House at 25th and Fairview are ones they did NOT tear down.”

    Yes, exactly, isn’t that what I wrote, although admittedly somewhat awkwardly, I did not have it backwards. My point is, both the Boise Junk House and Goodman Oil, which are vacant eyesores, would have many more properties like them if not for BRA in the 60s. VACANT EYESORES that ARE NOT paying their fair share of property taxes, and isn’t that this forums preeminent foucs? Fair taxes?

    Not only are they not paying their fair share, they are peventing surrounding properties from being developed into higher and better uses. That is to say, most developers know better than to try to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear of a neighborhood.

    This ought to get me flamed, but Eminent Domain should be used to take the Goodman Oil property. Yes, Eminent Domain may have been abused in the past, but now its become taboo. Too bad.

  24. Regarding the rest of the comments directed at me:

    I’m glad The Egyptian was spared. However, doesn’t it survive in part on charitable contributions?

    Yes, The Grove Hotel is hideous and its setback on Front and Capital is criminal. It is still better than the dirt lot that used to be there.

    The Hampton Inn is not nearly as hideous as The Grove, and it is still better than a dirt lot or a dilapidated warehouse, i.e., the area across 9th from Bodo.

    Dog, I agree, “old town areas” are very popular and maintaining them is a legitimate concern for a city. The keyword is “area.” One stand alone building such as the Foster’s Building does not make an Old Town District.

  25. BC, So who do you want to pay for the mitigation of the likely mini superfund site under the Goodman Oil property. The City? The tax payers? Do you think a developer is going to pay for it? That’s what will happen if the city takes it unless they decide to ignore it or look the other way.

    EDITOR NOTE–…like they did when Van Waters and Rogers dumped all the chemicals under what is now the Town Square Mall.

  26. Just to let everyone know I work for one of the largest commercial developers in town. (You can all crucify me now) I truly don’t understand why large portions of you all despise growth so much. Boise is relatively a very small town. A “half hour” to drive no way!! Sustainable growth brings not only economic growth for all but also better education, food, fun, activities, and different cultures and races. I think Boise’s growth has turned our potato farm town into a small metropolis for the good.

  27. progrowth,
    Are you talking about “sustainable growth” like out at Avimore and Drycreek developments?
    Unless you live on another planet, the curent economy is not a result of sustainable growth. What part of sustainable growth around here am I missing? Perhaps you refer to “sustainable development growth in Boise” like the growth of cash in my wallet when I play cards in Vegas. ProGro, the fun, food and activities your sustainable growth has brought to Boise are closing everyday.

  28. Dog,

    Obviously I am not talking about Avimor or Drycreek. I agree with you that they are not sustainable but I am talking about the last two decade’s growth in the Eagle, Kuna, and Meridian area that has “sustained” itself very nicely. They have their own schools, hospitals, and shopping districts. They are not exactly the leeches on “Old Boise” that you make them out to be. And have you ever heard of the “tech” industry maybe? Although the industry is cyclical and not doing to well how much money has it pored into our economy and schools? Maybe you should move back to Mayberry.

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