Parking Wars Continue – Jan. 4
by Anita Aurit
First, the city announced the downtown parking lot as free and waited for accolades from the downtown merchants. Funny thing, as soon as the free parking was announced (with no parking time limits), a downtown business (one that has received other city “perks” such as building fee waivers) began using the lot for employee parking.( I just went to a business I frequent located by that lot and once again, made two trips around the block to find parking. I had an hour to spare and ate much of it up looking for parking. The city lot was full of 7B cars from a local business.)
The city was then offered an opportunity to rent some of the downtown parking spots out to Kaniksu Health. The mayor proclaimed on several occasions, that “A full parking lot is a good problem to have.” The mayor also doubled down on his assertion that he had personally visited the downtown business regarding the Kaniksu parking space lease and there was little opposition. As I noted in an earlier blog, I find this interesting as I myself have spoken with numerous business affected and none were visited by the mayor. The mayor also crowed about consulting the BID and the Chamber. (Note to the mayor, the BID does nothing for the businesses it taxes, like contacting them, for instance, and many businesses no longer belong to the chamber)
Hat Tip To Councilwoman Ruehle
Kudos to Councilwoman Ruehle for calling the mayor out on his statements, naming specific businesses and asking him if he had visited them. His response was “no”, proving his narrative about polling all the downtown businesses to be false. Councilwoman Ruehle noted at several meetings that she had been contacted by downtown businesses with concerns about this parking issue and said that she “stood in solidarity with these business owners.” (For once, a voice from the council for small business in the city.) Kudos to Councilwoman Ruehle for her “no” vote and I extend my heartfelt thanks for taking a stand to represent the interest of small business versus the interest of the city.
“It’s Not a Bait and Switch”
At the Jan. 4 council meeting, the builder asked for amendments in the agreement as “they weren’t comfortable getting everything done by June 30, 2018”. In addition, the plan has changed drastically; Kaniksu will now be renovating the Sotheby’s building instead of doing a new build. Remodeling will be done by the end of June. It looks like the new/old building will be approximately 15,500 square feet. There was much back and forth about how many parking spots would be needed which resulted in an agreement that Kaniksu would take 15 downtown lot spots and 15 spots elsewhere.
The Kaniksu COO said he didn’t want the council to view this as a “bait and switch” or manipulation and promoted the old saw we’ve been hearing; more salaries in town, more benefits to downtown merchants, etc., etc. The original agreement was for a new build of 26,000 feet and councilman Snedden noted that the previous agreement had been based on this and stated “now this creates a preference for one business. Gee, many local businesses have been citing this “picking winners and losers attitude of the city” and favoritism of one business over another since this discussion began.
Sandpoint Greenprint – You Will Be Green-Our Way!
This was presented for the first time at the Jan. 4 meeting. Once again, we were told about the “community outreach” that had been involved. . I’d never heard of the Greenprint until I saw the council agenda and it was the same for a large number of people. When questioned, Aaron Qualls explained the definition of the “community outreach”, involved a community survey, with 560 respondents.
I never saw this survey, which raises the question, who was it given to? It also raises the question, how can 560 respondents (or less than 2%) represent Bonner County, which has a population of 40,877? Qualls also noted that information was included during eleven community events, there was a radio interview and a newspaper article, and it was presented during the Economic Summit. (Note, many no longer subscribe to the local paper, the economic summit takes place during a weekday and most small business owners are at their businesses, working during that time and what local radio? What show? What time?)
Qualls stated that he was in favor of the report and that is was “voluntary land conservation”. The last time someone connected with a city program informed me about a “volunteer program” was the time the former manager of the Business Improvement District waved my initial business license application under my nose and said, “Did you sign this?” Of course I responded “yes” and then she informed me that signature on my was my agreement to pay the “voluntary” BID (Business Improvement District) tax. Interesting to note that if a business does not pay this “voluntary” tax, they are fined. Suffice to say when I hear any government employee or official state that something is “voluntary” I have my doubts.
Councilman Camp asked some very pointed questions about this report, such as;
- Since about 60% of Bonner County is already owned by the state and federal government isn’t this plans redundant?
- Why did the report include 95,000 acres which obviously are outside the city limits?
Qualls’ response was that “It’s only an action plan” and then later contradicted himself by stating, “Just for the record, this isn’t a plan.” So, is it a plan or not?
He said that the Greenprint document would assist the city in obtaining grants and serves as a resource for the city as they’re spending their resources.” What resources would they be spending in 95,000 acres outside the city limits? Qualls’ response to the question about the inclusion of 95,000 acres was, “Yes, it’s a broader outlook.”
Despite the fact that the council had kept the Greenprint under the radar, there were a number of people who spoke against it, including Glen Bailey, County Commissioner. The Commissioner said the plan was news to the county and that he would be very interested in following the money involved under the Greenprint agenda, and he was interested in learning about who was funding the easements, particularly in light of the recent Clagstone decision.
Another citizen, Taylor Bradich studied the plan in detail, he noted there was no new information contained in it, that much of what was included was cut and pasted from other sources and pointed out the The Trust For Public Lands works with an annual budget of over $100 million and 17% of that budget is paid in compensation. The CEO made $589,000.00 in 2015 and those monies came from grants and Federal funds. He noted that according to an audit on the Trust, when they receive land that has no value to them, they sell it on the open market or give it to the government while taking a percentage for themselves for administrative fees. He urged the council not to table the issue but to start the process over with more current information and more thought and time and public input.
After the public comment, Councilman Snedden appeared to be greatly miffed by those who spoke against the Greenprint and noted how surprised he was at the opposition as he didn’t “see anything wrong with it.”
Finally, the council voted to postpone the vote and move it to the February 2 meeting agenda.
My Two Cents
Actually I have more questions than comments. I find it interesting that when you read the participant lists in the report you are given the distinct impression that there was an intention to include only a certain segment of the population and to exclude others.
The Greenprint Interviewees list was interesting and, after some research, a bit concerning.
Further perusal of the technical advisory team and steering committee seems to follow the same theme. A little research on some of these folks has revealed some interesting information. Two members of the steering committee are from the same organization that describes itself in part as, “a learning community on the land, serving a diverse cross-section of young adults with council, rites of passage, sustainable living and permaculture, cross-generational mentoring and critical inquiry at its core. “ And finally the list includes a writer for the Sandpoint Reader.
I have some concerns about the issue of ethics when Shannon Williamson, City Councilwoman and Executive Director of Waterkeepers is listed as a Steering Committee participant and an interviewee.
I also wonder if Councilman Snedden, a recognized volunteer for the Idaho Conservation League, who negotiated for the land purchase for the Pen d’Oreille Bay Trail and who, as a city councilman negotiated a plan for Ponderay and Sandpoint to spend $1.2 million of taxpayer funds for purchase of 3 of 4 of the plots for the trail might have a bit of a conflict of interest in the Greenprint.
The mayor’s rudeness and hubris toward a citizen speaker at the February 2nd meeting as well as the smirking and laughter from the Greenprint supporters (more on that in part 2) is a clear indication that the city government and their minions have no interest in hearing any comment that is not in lock step with their plans.
I heard Greenprint proponents painting those of us who spoke against it as people who don’t care about the environment, water, etc. This is an old worn-out tactic; vilify anyone who doesn’t agree with you. Remember the mayor’s ill-fated refugee kerfuffle? He referred to those who didn’t agree with him as intolerant, Nazis, etc. and then doubled down on his Facebook page (I managed to get a screen capture before he deleted it). This type of labeling is juvenile and does nothing to further conversation or create good will in the community and it’s time it stopped.
If you’ve not had a chance to read the document or look over the participants of the Greenprint, here’s the link.
As a refresher regarding last year’s refugee declaration by the mayor here is the original document and the screen shot of the mayor’s Facebook comments.