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Interfaith Sanctuary, budget and drought on Boise Mayor's mind moving into the summer

Katherine Jones
Idaho Statesman

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean and the Boise City Council have had a busy week, with five days of live testimony about Interfaith Sanctuary's possible move to a building on State Street.

A vote will be taken that will decide the shelter's future either at the end of this week or next Monday.

"Tonight [Thursday], if the testimony wraps up, we could move into deliberations. The council has a lot to discuss and decide upon, or that will be Monday. We announced early on that we would also reserve Monday evening in the event we needed another day to hear from the public and then to ask questions of staff and the applicant and then to have the council make a decision."

McLean visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the Interfaith Sanctuary hearings, the city budget and drought.

Read the full transcript below.

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning, I'm George Prentice. The mayor is here. Boise Mayor Lauren McClean joins us. It's an opportunity for us to talk about some of the topics that many of us are thinking about. So let's put them on the table and say good morning to Mayor McClean.

LAUREN MCLEAN: Good morning, George. It's great to be back with you today.

GEORGE PRENTICE: Interfaith Sanctuary all this week thus far, the city council and you have been hearing from all parties concerning Interfaith and their desire to expand their operations and move to to a State Street location. But first up, just for the record, can you bring us up to date on the process and a possible decision?

LAUREN MCLEAN: Of course, we've had hearings, as you mentioned, this week and decided with the city council hearing that we wanted to have it all take place within a week or in a series of days close together. And to be really clear with the public about the hours that we'd be having hearings, what to expect on any given day, and how they come in and sign up to testify, and how we determine if their parties of record that clarity was important for us. And so we've had hearings now Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and we'll move into an additional hearing time this evening. Tonight, if the testimony wraps up, we could move into deliberations. The council has a lot to discuss and decide upon, or that will be Monday. We announced to early on that we would also reserve Monday evening in the event we needed another day to hear from the public and then to ask questions of staff and the applicant and then to have the council make a decision.

GEORGE PRENTICE: The question I have this morning is this: is this only a matter of determining if a conditional use permit with a list of exceptions, is appropriate? Or is this some bigger conversation of whether an expanded homeless shelter can fit into any neighborhood?

LAUREN MCLEAN: Well, George, I'd say in some ways it's a little bit of both. But technically, the matter before council is whether or not the decision was correct and whether or not a conditional use permit should be offered to the shelter. But we've been having this conversation around services to support those experiencing homelessness for several years in this community. And in the last year in particular, as it relates to emergency shelter and Interfaith's application. And what we've heard this week from the public, from the applicant in the questions of council, is a recognition that emergency shelter is necessary in any given community and that it's got to be done in a way that allows for the impacts of that use to be mitigated by a city and in services and by the operator itself. And in these conversations that we have in the operation of a shelter must acknowledge the true humanity of individuals that are experiencing homelessness and the need to provide services in the appropriate way, but also as a community to make sure that we honor and respect each other and that we create space for those that are more vulnerable and need services from our community.

GEORGE PRENTICE: We've got work to do, right? I mean, no matter what this decision is, we've got a lot of work to do, whether we're happy or not with the decision.

LAUREN MCLEAN: We have a lot of work to do and the city itself is, you know, involved in that work and ready to do additional work. We've said all along that we believe that it is possible for Boise to be a model when it comes to addressing affordable housing, when it comes to bringing permanent supportive housing, to keep those who are currently experiencing homelessness housed with the services they need to be successful to be a model in that by bringing those solutions to scale. But of course, recognizing that even with all the solutions on the table and working in our community, there's a need for emergency services and a city, and a community also has to have the conversation about that need and then how best to meet that need.

GEORGE PRENTICE: Let's turn to the business page here. No one under the age of 40, we're told, has seen inflation at this level nationwide that we're at now. We're all looking at our respective home budgets, at our kitchen tables. But how does inflation, a significant inflation, factor into the upcoming budget process at the city?

LAUREN MCLEAN: And I'd venture to say that nobody under 50 actually can remember. I remember I remember as a kid hearing my parents talk about some of these issues in the late seventies and early eighties. But it wasn't real for me then, as it is for me and for all of us today. This is this is a real issue. And we kind of forgot about the fact that it was likely that we'd see economic changes, market changes, etc. after we've as a as a whole world, stop the economy for 30 days to three months in response to a pandemic and then restarted it again so quickly. And while we've seen remarkable recovery, the impacts of the stoppage and the start include inflation. And that has made it harder for all of our residents to recover and feel economically stable in the same way. We recognize that. And there are two things that we we have to acknowledge when it comes to inflation, and that is that as a city, we need to do everything we can to lighten the financial impact on our residents and when it comes to the services that we provide. So we're looking at as we build our budget, how we can have as minimal impact as possible on rising costs for residents. But then also we have to recognize that with those rising costs means it's more expensive to provide services to our residents. And so as we grow, we need more police officers. Those police officers cost more than they did three years ago. So our budget that we're working on and will release soon seeks to balance both of those issues. The the real need to provide services to the community at the same time, the real need to reduce the financial impact on our residents.

GEORGE PRENTICE: I know you have to agree to a budget by late August, I'm assuming.


GEORGE PRENTICE: But do you think your economists might have an A, B or C scenario? Because inflation seems to be it's an open book right now and it could go in either direction very quickly.

LAUREN MCLEAN: Our budget team, I have to say, I'm so impressed with in the early days of my administration, they helped me find efficiencies so that we could reduce our budget and not increase our revenues that full 3%. They have helped model throughout COVID and the potential impacts of economic slowdown, economic recovery, the need to provide additional services to our residents in the toughest of times. And now with this budget, I'm incredibly impressed with how they're able to work with me in the city council to understand different scenarios that could crop up the impacts of the financial decisions we make today on our city two, three, five, ten years from now, but also building of scenarios that recognize that costs are changing quickly. And so we've got to make sure that that we have built into our budget some of the likelihood that costs will change so that we can deliver on the policies and programs that we've said to the people Boise will deliver on.

GEORGE PRENTICE: I got just a couple of minutes, but I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about spring and summer, which are the two near the top of the list of why we live in Boise. We love spring and summer here, but drought is reality. And while we in the media spend a lot of time talking about drought in rural Idaho or the agricultural sector, could you talk a bit about how concerning drought is in the city?

LAUREN MCLEAN: Sure. And I'd say, George, I think a lot of us, myself included, love winter as well. And we really saw the impacts of that drought on our snowpack this summer, this winter, and which of course, will impact water downstream in the spring and summer.

GEORGE PRENTICE: But I love sitting in a city park on a summer afternoon.

LAUREN MCLEAN: Under a tree, so it's a little cooler. And then I'll give it.


LAUREN MCLEAN: And I'll give you that. Summer's magical time here in Boise. The impacts of drought are real. And, you know, we've seen in the last several years our days getting hotter in the summer. So that's not water. But it does impact water and drought. The impact of more wildfire in the west and what that means from a smoke perspective in our community, because we've been blessed so far not to burn as other places have. And then now with such a low snow winter, the kind of repercussions of yet another low water year on the supply of water, both this year in the short term. But then what this means long term as this continues to change in the West. And so as a city, we believe that we've got to take care of people, protect our residents health and mitigate risk from a health perspective, but also from a financial perspective. And so with our Climate Action Division, we've made goals around being carbon neutral and by around transitioning to clean electricity by 2030. That's really important because that helps us prepare. For a climate constrained future. And then also we are water planning for the future. And a big, big step that Boiseans took was to approve that clean water climate action bond back in November at 80%. What a vote that was. And that sets the city up for water renewal in the future. So taking used water, cleaning it so it can be reused in the event that we have less water than we have in the, than we have today. And then, of course, steps that we're taking to conserve water as a municipal government and then looking at how and providing information to the public on how they can conserve water, how each of us at home can conserve water. But really looking at the big impact that we can have as a city municipal government is to look at our own operations and reduce that use wherever we need to make sure that we have water supply in the future. So looking at the opportunities when water rights become available to secure those for Boiseans, I mentioned water renewal. If you can use water once, you might as well use it twice. So you've got more taking steps like that because Boise does expect us to lead. But fundamentally it's about protecting the health of our residents, ensuring that we have access to a life giving resource which is water, and making sure that we've done everything we can to limit the costs in the long run of having access to water in a climate constrained west and in a community that's experiencing and will continue to experience drought.

GEORGE PRENTICE: Well, I know that you have another very long, busy day and we'll be watching and listening this evening. And and good luck with that. And in the meantime, we're very grateful for you to give us a few minutes this morning.

LAUREN MCLEAN: Well, George, thanks so much. It was great to chat with you again. I hope you have a great weekend.