Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Enterprise zones in Idaho

Canyon County, small towns eye 'enterprise zone' to encourage commercial, industrial development. From the Idaho statesman:

Still in the early stages, the envisioned zone would be the first in Idaho, offering tax relief and incentives to industry and business locating around and between the western Canyon County towns of Greenleaf, Wilder, Notus and Parma.

Agriculture advocates say they're wary of the economic development proposal's girth - an early estimate spans more than 30,000 acres, including some of the county's best farmland - but encouraged that they'll have a voice in the process.

The affected small towns -populations range from 650 to 2,000 - embrace the prospect of pulling in new jobs, swelling the tax base and making it easier for rural community residents to work near their homes.

Read full story here.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Are "charter cities" the answer?

Freakonomics Q&A with renowned economist Paul Romer, famed for his work in endogenous growth theory, who recently resigned a tenured position at Stanford to pursue the idea of "Charter cities" full-time.

Economist William Easterly (author of one of my favorite books, "White Man's Burden") calls this "walking the thin line between revolutionary and crazy". What do you think?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ever wonder who will sort your no-sort recycling?

ID Statesman explains:

The transformation of newspapers and shoe boxes begins in your recycling cart at the curb. After being dumped together into a truck, their first stop is Western Recycling, where they are pressed together with other recyclables into 1,200-pound cubes.

Since Boise's no-sort recycling program launched in June, Western Recycling has seen about a 40 percent increase in recyclable material, said plant manager Soron Root. The biggest problem so far? Residents don't seem to realize that glass still isn't accepted.

"The biggest deterrent is we're getting a lot of glass. We're ending up with glass on the floor, flat tires on fork lifts," Root said. "I realize everyone wants to recycle everything they can, but we have to do it the right way."

The bales are shipped to facilities in Tacoma, Wash., or Clackamas, Ore., where they are broken open.

The materials from the bale are put on inclined conveyor belts into several sorting devices.

Big things are separated from small. Newspapers are pushed to one side, plastic to another. At the end of the line, containers with magnets pull the "tin" cans out, and an electrical current pushes the aluminum away so it falls off onto another conveyor belt.

"Everything that comes off the conveyor, in theory, is plastic," Root said.

"Unfortunately," he said, "the quality of material you get has some contamination - with your cardboard you're going to have some junk mail. A tin can with a yogurt container in it may end up with the tin."

With other cities in the Treasure Valley looking into no-sort recycling, Western Recycling is considering buying land to build its own sorting facility, Root said.

"We would probably almost double our size," he said.

Boise residents have adapted quickly and easily to the new trash program, said Department of Public Works spokesman Vince Trimboli.

Read full story here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

With fewer miles driven, how does the govt make money for roads?

Hal Bunderson, chairman of Ada County Citizens for Better Transportation, outlines five options for road revenue generation in an opinion piece published in the ID Statesman. Excerpt:

There is general agreement that Idaho has serious transportation infrastructure problems. Idaho is a large state with several thousand miles of federal, state and local roads and a relatively small population to pay the costs. It is critical that we develop a balanced, long-term transportation-funding model.

Our existing model - a fossil fuel tax and a vehicle registration fee - is fundamentally flawed. In the face of inflation and increased demand, improved vehicle efficiency is providing less fuel tax revenue per mile driven.

Gov. Otter has appointed a "Task Force on Modernizing Transportation Funding in Idaho." It is not the first time policymakers have studied transportation funding. Some argue that they have studied it to death, confusing effort with results. Hopefully this time, policymakers will avoid politics and parochial interests and reach conclusions based on agreed guiding principles, disciplined evaluation and objective analysis of probable long-term consequences.

Read full story here.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ada County families may lose financial assistance for rent, utilities

Families getting monthly financial assistance for rent and utilities were notified by the local housing authority late last week that their aid will be suspended on Aug. 1.

Deanna Watson, executive director of the Boise City/Ada County Housing Authority, expects that the wait for new families to get assistance could grow from about 2.5 years to 4.5 years. The program serves about 1,900 families, and another 4,700 are on the waiting list.

Read more here.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Boise Streetcar: Update

Pasting an article from the ID Statesman archives (published Jun 14, 2009):
Boise leaders raise streetcar concerns

Possible federal funding may alleviate the worries some Downtown powerhouses voiced this spring.

Some of Downtown Boise's biggest property owners and company CEOs laid out a series of high expectations they want met before the city moves ahead with one of Mayor Dave Bieter's top priorities - a 15-block streetcar loop through the center of town.
They want the city to better understand how many people may ride the streetcar, to develop a planon how to pay the operating costs and to make sure to take the time to do the whole thing right.
Seven members of the city's 36-member streetcar task force sent a letter April 23 with the litany of concerns to Gary Michael, chairman of Bieter's streetcar task force, and Capital City Development Corporation Director Phil Kushlan.
Many members of the task force "have become frustrated with the many questions and concerns that have been left unaddressed," said the letter, signed by Idaho Power CEO Lamont Keen, St. Luke's CEO Ed Dahlberg and others.
Bieter says the letter is "old news" because the city now plans to pursue up to $25 million in federal stimulus money, and that could help resolve one of the biggest concerns the business leaders have: How will the city pay for the $40 million to $65 million project?
At least one of the letter's signers, George Iliff, Colliers International managing partner, agreed that the federal money went a long way in answering his concerns.
But the question of funding may matter the most to the major property owners in town - like Rafanelli and Nahas, which owns the former Boise Cascade building and several surrounding blocks, and whose project manager Scott Schoenherr signed onto the letter.
The most likely source of the money discussed so far has been a "local improvement district," which would tax the landowners within it. And it can be created without a vote of those landowners - by Bieter and just three members of the City Council.
Plus, the letter states, the city has yet to make a plan for the operating costs of the streetcar: "This is an unacceptable response given the magnitude of the decision."
Bieter said he was confident he had the support of the business leaders because of the federal money.
"We went from zero (federal funding) to half - that's a fundamental change," Bieter said.
But that money is a long way off - even if all goes to plan.
Just Friday, Idaho's congressional delegation joined eight other federal lawmakers in asking the U.S. Department of Transportation to dedicate $300 million of its stimulus money toward streetcar projects around the country.
Boise's share would come from that money, but to get the full amount, federal officials would have to set aside a full 20 percent of the $1.5 billion the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dedicated to surface transportation.
Still, the possibility does temper some of the concerns.
"CCDC and the city of Boise have been receptive to the concerns we addressed in our April letter," Colliers CEO Iliff told the Statesman. "The issues in the letter still need further resolution and are in the process of being addressed by the city and its consultants."
Keen, Schoenherr and John Lamb, senior vice president for U.S. Bank Plaza owner Unico, said they are waiting to receive more information before taking a position on whether the streetcar project is headed in the right direction. The other business leaders could not be reached.
In the letter, they said they also were concerned that the city had never conducted a ridership survey to see how many people would use the streetcar, and that the project seemed to be proceeding too hastily.
Bieter said reports and evaluations under way now will address these concerns.
Gary Michael and Kushlan started tackling the problems at a May 15 meeting of the task force, which is composed of business and civic leaders and has been meeting monthly since November. The meetings have not been opened to the public.
Iliff said he's confident the questions will be answered.
"In the coming months the task force will be able to reach informed conclusions and make recommendations about the viability of the project and how it will affect the Downtown stake-holders and the community as a whole," he said.


A three-page letter outlining concerns with a plan to build a Downtown streetcar was signed by seven local business leaders:

- George Iliff, Colliers International managing partner;
- Ed Dahlberg, St. Luke's CEO and president;
- Lamont Keen, Idaho Power CEO and president;
- Jim Kissler, Norco CEO;
- John Lamb, senior vice president for U.S. Bank Plaza owner Unico;
- Doug and Skip Oppenheimer from Oppenheimer Companies; and
- Scott Schoenherr project manager for Boise Plaza owner Rafanelli and Nahas.

Cynthia Sewell
Cynthia Sewell: 377-6428
© 2009 Idaho Statesman


Sunday, June 7, 2009

Previously on the Streetcar

Below is an editorial published in the ID Statesman on June 7, 2009:
Now's the time for pragmatism to transcend politics

our view - spending the stimulus

The mayor is working with Sen. Mike Crapo on securing stimulus dollars for the streetcar - in hopes that the feds could pick up half of the costs of a $40 million to $65 million project. In the state's senior senator, Bieter has an important convert.
"That is the kind of thing the stimulus package was intended to be used for, " Crapo said recently.
In February, Crapo voted against the stimulus package. Working now for streetcar dollars does not make Crapo a hypocrite. It makes him a pragmatist.
The fight over the stimulus proposal - as fiscal policy and as a prescription for an ailing economy - ended when the bill was signed into law. The deal is done. This overwhelming sum of money, to be paid by our children and grandchildren, has been committed. The job now is to identify projects that create jobs and maximize the long-range return.
The streetcar project fits the profile, in several ways. It would help boost the construction sector. It also would help boost property values along the 2.6-mile line, encouraging development on Downtown blocks that haven't been a part of the city center's rebound.
Bieter will still have to sell his plan - and the creation of a streetcar taxing district - to Downtown property owners who will want to see ridership and return on investment, if property taxes increase up to 30 cents a square foot. But federal spending has long subsidized modes of transportation from interstates to bus lines; an infusion of stimulus money into a transportation/economic development vehicle such as the streetcar is appropriate.
So, too, is the use of stimulus dollars to bring Boise a share of an Obama administration initiative: green energy. Local companies Inovus and Alloway Electric will share in a stimulus-funded project to replace 725 Downtown streetlights with energy-efficient LED bulbs; Bieter announced the project during his State of the City address Wednesday. "This will cut electricity costs to taxpayers, decrease our community's carbon footprint and help local companies and local jobs." The City Council will vote Tuesday on the $446,000 project, expected to protect 15 current jobs and create 10 to 12 new jobs.
It should come as no surprise that Bieter is moving to find potential uses for stimulus dollars. Nor is it surprising that, at the state level, Gov. Butch Otter has set aside his skepticism over the stimulus, and has the Idaho Transportation Department and other agencies working to roll out stimulus projects.
There is, to go back to the outset, a time for governing. From Boise City Hall to the state Capitol, this is a challenging time to govern, a time of dropping tax revenues and staff cuts.
The Monday-morning quarterbacking over the stimulus is still covered. Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele used Friday's news of a 9.4 percent unemployment rate as occasion to declare the stimulus plan "reckless and ineffective." A week earlier, an Idaho GOP fund-raising e-mail bearing a less-than-subtle subject line: "100-plus days of stimulus and other lies."
One stimulus truth, omitted in the e-mail, is that Idaho stands to receive more than $1 billion in stimulus dollars. At least some elected officials are trying to put the money to good use.
"Our View" is the editorial position of the Idaho Statesman. It is an unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Statesman's editorial board.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Treasure Valley housing market rebounding?

According to an article in the ID Statesman published today,

The number of homes sold in Ada County rose 12 percent last month, the second-largest increase from March to April in 11 years, the Intermountain Multiple Listing Service says. Sales in Canyon County rose 16 percent.

So, have we hit bottom then?

Read full story here.

Suburb in Germany bans driveways and garages...

If you ask me - that sounds a little extreme. Read full story here and then feel free to leave your $0.02.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A case of too many cooks?

It appears that there might be a reduction in the number of planning groups that operate in our area and make every decision as difficult as it can possibly be. ID Statesman has an article on how budget cuts might imply that some of these (what I have held for a long time to be quite redundant) groups may be done away with entirely while some (admittedly necessary ones such as COMPASS and Valley ride) will merge. Amen.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Urban farmers

Here's an interesting article from ID Statesman about urban farming. What does this new type of demand for urban land (which is due to the increased demand for locally and organically grown foods) imply for urban land rents/land market?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The road.. less traveled: Interesting report

Robert Puentes is a Senior Fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institute. He is an expert on transportation and infrastructure, urban planning, growth management, suburban issues and housing. His research focuses on the broad array of policies and issues related to metropolitan growth and development. He was recently a guest speaker at Boise State University.

In December 2008, along with co-author Adie Tomar, he published a report of U.S. driving patterns titled: ‘The Road…Less Traveled: An Analysis of Vehicle Miles Traveled Trends in the U.S.' as part of the Metropolitan Infrastructure Initiative Seriespublications from the Brookings Institute. According to the authors:

While all transportation modes have received their fair share of media attention, this report focuses on the VMT trends in detail. VMT is a pervasive measure used in transportation revenue, for both funding allocation formulas and planning and finance. With driving on the decline, the overall travel patterns will have profound impacts on how this nation pays for transportation and plans for future infrastructure needs. Furthermore, how much, where, and what we drive affects our energy consumption, carbon emissions, and land use patterns. Thus, VMT patterns inform the potential solutions to our national environmental and energy challenges.

This brief employs the latest federal data to construct a thorough picture of VMT patterns across the country, including roadway, vehicle, state, and metropolitan comparisons. It is intended to provide policymakers with a better understanding of American drivers’ behavior—what roadways they use, what vehicles they use, and where they travel the most.

This report presents an interesting analysis of American driving behavior and how it is evolving over time. Click here to download the full report.

Why HOV lanes allow motorcycles....

This is from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority: 

Why are motorcycles allowed in some HOV lanes?

Motorcycles are permitted by federal law to use HOV lanes, even though they typically carry only one passenger. The explanation for the federal law is that allowing motorcycles to use HOV lanes keeps them moving, and it is considered safer to keep two-wheel vehicles moving than it is to have them traveling in start-and-stop traffic conditions. The individual states can choose to override this provision of federal law, if they determine that there is an inherent safety risk by allowing motorcycles to use HOV lanes. In the State of California, motorcycles are permitted to use HOV facilities unless a traffic control device specifically prohibits them. 

According to US DOT Federal Highway Program's website, the "primary purpose of an HOV lane is to increase the total number of people moved through a congested corridor ", and they are also an "environmentally friendly option" [1].

However, here's an interesting fact: Contrary to what a lot of us believe, regular motorcycles are not more environmentally-friendly than cars.

California's Air Resources Board has recently imposed standards [2] that cut emissions of motorcycles closer to car emission standards.  Indeed, without these standards, "motorcycles now produce up to 15 times the emissions per mile as the average new car or light-duty truck" (also in [2]), despite getting better mileage.  Some motorcycles have catalytic converters and other features which would vastly reduce emissions below car level, but they are not required.  The EPA has followed suit in 2005 with similar NOx and HC restrictions [3] starting in 2006 and lowering again in 2010. 

Most motorbikes (excluding those in California) do not have catalytic converters which greatly reduce pollution. Only BMWs come with them stock. Also, most motorcycles do not have a charcoal canister fuel vapor collector. This means a lot of evaporated gasoline goes straight into the air.  Where you might get maxiscooters counted as green vehicles is in their much better gas mileage than the average automobile or SUV. 

In related news, the state of California is the only state to allow motorcycles to lane-split, that is, motorcycles to pass between the lanes of congested traffic. 

With the signing of the federal transportation bill by Pres. George Bush in Aug. 2005, states were allowed to issue stickers to owners of hybrid vehicles, allowing them to drive solo in HOV lanes.

Arizona, California, Colorado,Florida, New Jersey, New York, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia allow hybrids in HOV lanes.

Several of these states regret issuing the thousands of tags to hybrid cars as HOV lanes are getting over-crowded.


[1] US DOT Federal Highway Program,

[2] California Air Resources Board,

[3] EPA, here

Monday, April 20, 2009

AMTRAK in Boise?

For the first time since the Chicago-to-Seattle train ended 12 years ago, there's hope for the return of the Pioneer. Amtrak has seen six continuous years of passenger growth, and with high gasoline prices and a decline in airline service to mid- and smaller-sized cities, there's renewed interest in passenger train service in rural America, including southern Idaho.

Read the full article here

Friday, April 10, 2009

Era of the electric car?

Electric cars have been in the news with China recently announcing their "vow" to take over the lead in this market. Now our neighboring state is in the news - both Nissan and Th!nk have been expressing an interest in the state. Nissan will introduce its 2010 electirc car in OR and Th!nk is looking at site options. And now Mitsubishi has announced their plans for a strategic partnership with OR. Read details of the story here

If you are wondering what caused this recent flurry of planning and activity in electric car manufacturing - which has not enjoyed much attention in the past -  it is this announcement from the government: electric cars get a $2.4 billion grant

What do these upcoming techonological innovations in transportations mean for the future of cities?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Nashville's Gulch - any similarities with BoDo?

From article published in USA Today on April 7, 2009: 

Nashville took its time getting around to the concept of an urban lifestyle catering to active single professionals and younger couples who want to live and play close to where they work.

For years, the liveliest part of town has been Music Row, a stretch of hundreds of businesses related to country, gospel and contemporary Christian music. In the 1970s, the city saw the start of restoration projects of some old buildings. But laws limited the creation of apartments downtown, in part because of lingering worries the units would become flophouses.

As a result, there is practically no housing in the central business district, says Phil Ryan, executive director of the city's Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency.

"It was anemic," he says. "There were just a few condominiums and a scattering of mid-rise apartments."

Ten years ago, Nashville entrepreneur and philanthropist Steve Turner, whose family founded the discount stores Dollar General, and a group of developers began buying land in the Gulch. They wanted to create something new for Nashville — a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use, mixed-income project — and were appointed by the city to make it happen in the 60-acre spot.

The development plan emphasized easy access to bus rides, more than 6,000 jobs within a half-mile walk and abundant bike and walking paths. Nashville, the nation's 21st-largest city with 650,000 people, anted up $7 million for new streets, landscaping and utilities. Construction cranes have dotted the landscape since 2001, and by the end of 2009, The Gulch will have one-quarter of the housing stock in downtown Nashville, the city says.

"It's a remarkable achievement," Mayor Karl Dean says. "As a city we needed to focus more on our environmental priorities and making the city a place where people would want to live."

Read full article here

The Hole in BoDO has new owner but no plans

The new owner has no immediate plans for the half-acre site at the corner of 8th and Main, where two developers in 10 years have failed to erect a building. Read more here.  


This report about Suncor trying to sell Avimor was in the Idaho Statesman yesterday. 

Monday, April 6, 2009

Contrary to popular belief, BoDo is not dead

Apparently, we have all been mistaken to take our cues from closed store fronts in Boise Downtown. According to the news report in Idaho Statesman, vacancy rates show that the area is faring better than other Treasure Valley locations. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Census data on Racial composition

As promised in class, here is the link to the U.S. Census Bureau website that contains the data on Population by sex, race and hispanic origin. You will have to click on the drop down list on the right hand side of the screen and select the datatable you want. 

As for updated information on segregation at the Metropolitan level, this website from Brown University contains a rich assortment of data. You can find Boise city in there as well. The population estimates by race corroborate why Western cities have lower segregation indices.