Calochortus nuttallii , Fort Boise Military Reserve, Idaho, July 5, 2022
Boise could lose its last sagebrush-steppe remnant to industrial development
It’s time to envision, identify, and preserve an “emerald necklace” of trails and open lands encircling Boise from its southeast, south, southwest, west, to its northwest.
Boise airport officials are asking the city to rezone for industrial development what may be the last sagebrush forest on the city’s edge. The 77 acres is zoned A-2, Open-Land Reserve District “to provide for permanent open space and to properly guide growth of the fringe areas of the city.”
In early January, I decided to go take a look after reading the compelling testimony of Indian Lakes and Western Riding Club neighbors opposed to the plan to build industrial facilities behind their homes. As I approached the area, the first thing I noticed was a hawk circling above. She certainly did not view the land as “vacant and unused,” as it is described in the airport’s rezoning application.
Then I went through the Indian Lakes neighborhood to the southwest corner of the A-2 properties. From both vantages, what I found is a dense sagebrush forest extending a half-mile to the east and to the south.
The sagebrush habitat—seen here, looking north—is much more extensive than anything we have in the Fort Boise Military Reserve, Boise’s first and largest open-space reserve, next to which I’ve lived since 1986.
The Military Reserve was once viewed by some as “vacant and unused.” In the early 1970s, Aldape Heights neighbors noticed speculators scoping out the Military Reserve for development. The original 460 acres had been patented to the city by the federal government in the 1950s. Led by parks commissioner Alice Dieter, photographer Stan Burns, and the US Interior Department’s Idaho solicitor Bill Dunlop, the Aldape neighbors negotiated a reversion clause into the patent, which permanently protects the now 734-acre Military Reserve from development.
In this case, there is no federal patent to fall back on. It’s up to city officials, guided by public input, to recognize and acknowledge the unique ecological and recreational values of this place and continue to protect it as open land.
On Feb. 6, accompanied by a botanist familiar with the sagebrush-steppe ecosystem, I decided to take another, closer look at the area the airport is asking to rezone for industrial development. This is likely the largest sagebrush steppe remnant in Boise. Wherever there are clearings in the sagebrush, we found cryptogamic soils—a thin, fragile crust made up of mosses, lichens, algae, and bacteria—which are found in undisturbed areas throughout the Columbia and Snake River Basins.
Cryptobiotic crust has been dubbed the “protector of the desert” because the sticky webs of soil retain water, so plants are able to root into the spongy crust, which enables them to survive hot, dry conditions. It then converts nitrogen from the air into usable nitrogen to help plants grow—the perfect breeding ground for young sagebrush starts:
In 1990, the airport purchased this land, ostensibly to protect it from residential development within the airport influence zone. The land was then outside the city limits in Ada County and was zoned RP, Rural Preservation. In 2005, the land was annexed into Boise City and zoned A-2, Open Land Reserve, a zone comparable to its Rural Preservation designation by the county.
Airport officials now want to rezone the land so that it may be leased for light-industrial development in order to finance the expansion of airport facilities. In the rezoning application, the parcels are described as “vacant and unused.” There is no evidence that the ecological and recreational values of the property were surveyed or considered. There is only the simple assertion that “Light industrial would be the best use of these properties as they are within the Airport Influence Area…”
More than 2,000 new homes have been approved in the Cory Barton Homes “Locale” development that is being constructed on the southern edge of the sagebrush-steppe remnant about a half-mile from the A-2 parcels. There are plans for more residential, commercial, and industrial development in the surrounding area.
In addition to the 77 acres included in the airport’s A-2 open-land reserve, there are about 100 additional acres of sagebrush forest on State of Idaho lands that also should be preserved.
Alexander Garvin was a renowned New York City architect and city planner who passed away in December. Alex produced the 2004 BeltLine Emerald Necklace plan that added 1400 acres of parkland and miles of trails as Atlanta developed its BeltLine corridor.
The Cleveland, Ohio, metropolitan area where I grew up is also encircled by an Emerald Necklace of parks, trails, and open lands envisioned over a century ago. These urban and suburban amenities have proven invaluable.
The Boise area’s Ridge-to-Rivers system of trails and open space is unparalleled, but it is largely in the foothills to the city’s north and east. It is high time for Boise and surrounding communities to envision, identify, and preserve an “emerald necklace” of trails and open lands encircling the area from its southeast, south, southwest, west, and northwest.
The Sagebrush-Steppe remnant southwest of the airport just east of Indian Lakes would be a worthy gem to hang on such a necklace. Air travel is the least efficient form of transportation on our planet. In light of the city’s goal to reach “net zero” fossil-fueled energy by 2050 or earlier, it’s time to start asking ourselves difficult questions: How many more jet-fueled passenger miles would destruction of this sagebrush forest buy Boise? Seems like a devilish deal to me.
The Boise Planning and Zoning Commission has scheduled a public hearing on the airport’s rezoning proposal, CAR21-00037, beginning at 6 p.m., Monday, March 14, 2022, at City Hall. Members of the general public have 3 minutes, or approximately 500 written words, to testify. Written testimony and documents—no word limit— may be submitted by 5 p.m. on Thursday, March 10, 2022. Email: email@example.com
Idaho Press Carries Out Hatchet Job on Boise Mayoral Candidate
Early in the week of July 21, a packet of WikiLeaks documents hacked from Hilary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign was sent to the Idaho Press by an unnamed source.
The anonymous source alleged that Boise City Council President and mayoral candidate Lauren McLean is part of a “dark money” political fundraising effort to shield progressive donors from campaign finance laws that would require them to disclose their identities. McLean is campaigning to unseat Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, who is running for a fifth four-year term.
In support of the claimed election law violation, the “packet” included a March 2015 email to John Podesta, then-White House chief of staff. National Education Association director John Stocks had forwarded the email to Podesta, inviting him to a Ketchum meeting of the Idaho Progressive Investors Network, which McLean founded a decade ago. Stocks, a progressive organizer and Idaho state senator in the 1980s, is a member of McLean’s network.
Along with McLean’s meeting invitation, Stocks attached information about Better Idaho, a group that promotes progressive causes supported by several investors in McLean’s network.
On July 25, the Idaho Press headlined the story:
McLean defends political fundraising through organization she founded
The clear implication of the header is that McLean is on the defensive about her fundraising organization. You have to read on to learn that the emails are not about fundraising for her mayoral campaign but about work she did in her profession as an advisor to investors who want to fund progressive causes.
The story begins with this sensational lede:
City Council President and mayoral candidate Lauren McLean makes an appearance on the notorious website WikiLeaks, but she says it’s not in relation to any fundraising for political candidates or “dark money.”
The only actual appearance McLean makes (present tense) is her smiling photo above the lede in the online edition. Her forwarded emails made their appearance three years ago when WikiLeaks published the hacked contents of John Podesta’s computer.
Reading on, we learn that four years ago Stocks wanted to get Podesta to Idaho to take him on a hike in the Boulder-White Clouds roadless area to lobby then-president Barack Obama to designate the area as a national monument. Podesta never came.
In the rest of the story, McLean explains that neither her investors network nor Better Idaho raises funds for political candidates. Their purpose is to connect donors to Idaho causes they care about like education, public lands, and other issues affecting the state’s future. Because the work relates to clients’ financial decisions, members’ names are not published.
Gary E. Richardson is a former Idaho Public TV reporter/producer. He is not endorsing any Boise mayoral candidate but knows “dirty tricks” when he sees them.
The original Idaho Press story can be viewed at https://www.idahopress.com/news/local/mclean-defends-political-fundraising-through-organization-she-founded/article_4cd221e9-fd83-5cdd-a3be-05137128b991.html
Recent photos of the Fort Boise Military Reserve
A Brief History of the Friends of Military Reserve
I discovered the Fort Boise Military Reserve in 1977 during my occasional Boise visits. As the Idaho Conservation League’s first field organizer, I was in Boise every month or so. The Reserve was a virtually unknown retreat into the “outback” less than a mile from the office. During breaks from staff meetings, I had discovered hidden bowers perfect for meditation or a picnic on the grass.
I moved to Boise for good in 1978 to supervise ICL’s growing field-organizing efforts, living in several North End Boise rentals, always close to the foothills. For two years in the early-’80s, I lived half way up Bogus Basin Rd. at the Hawkins ranch, which the city recently purchased with foothills levy funds. While caretaking the 160-acre ranch, I acquired an energetic black Lab, and after we moved back into town, Boomer made sure we walked daily in the foothills, usually the Military Reserve. In fact, it was on one of his walks in 1986 that we discovered the home on the reserve boundary that we bought and have occupied for more than 30 years.
Shortly after we moved into our home on a half-acre adjacent to the reserve, Alice Dieter came calling. Alice and her husband Les, were among the first residents when Aldape Heights was subdivided in the 1950s. Les was among a team of Mountain Bell employees transferred to Boise from Denver in 1955. Alice, a writer for Sam Day’s Intermountain Observer, also was one of Idaho’s first female broadcast journalists. On the Boise Parks Board in the 1960s and ’70s, she helped shape Boise’s park system as it was transformed into a full-fledged city department under director Gordon Bowen. They successfully initiated then-controversial projects like the Greenbelt and thwarted many inappropriate ones. Alice was a force to be reckoned with.
When I welcomed Alice into our living room that afternoon in 1986, she got right down to business. “Gary,” she said, “you and I are going to start the Friends of Military Reserve.” She paused just long enough for me to understand that this was a direction, not a suggestion. “When the North End and the East End begin limiting access to foothills development, access through Military Reserve is not going to be an option,” she explained. Thus, the Friends of Military Reserve was born with Alice Dieter as its first chair. I succeeded her in 1989 and Pam Marcum succeeded me in the early ’90s, followed by Don and Marie Essig as co-chairs.
Alice had been among neighbors of the reserve who had become concerned in the 1970s when developers were seen in the reserve speculating on its development potential. With the help of neighbor Bill Dunlop, the US Dept. of Interior Solicitor for Idaho, the group pressured for a revised patent of the Military Reserve to the city that would revert the reserve back to the United States if threatened by development. The resulting 1981 “recreational and public purposes” patent includes an attached master “plan of development,” which is actually a plan to protect the reserve from development.
In addition to the concern that Mountain Cove Rd. not become a thoroughfare for foothills development, were other forms of encroachment into the reserve—off-road vehicles, decades of trash dumping, shooting and archery practice, paintball games, runoff and erosion from adjacent streets, dumping and other incursions from adjacent properties. Our first official action was to request a new survey of the reserve boundary. The survey revealed several encroachments, not the least of which was the lower portion of our own driveway.
Our neighbors across Santa Paula Ct, who built one of the first homes on the street, recalled the day in 1958 when Joe Aldape plowed his D-9 Caterpillar up the hill to carve out what became the driveway to the home we later bought, unaware of the encroachment. The reserve had only recently been patented to the city and initially was treated pretty much as a wasteland. The boundary’s location was easily overlooked at the time. Gov. Andrus’ dog’s kennel also had to be moved, along with several other encroachments. The largest incursion, 3,220 square feet adjoining the Eaton property along the reserve’s northern boundary, was finally settled with a 2001 boundary-adjustment/property-transfer creating trail and emergency access to the reserve at the end of Claremont Dr.
There were repeated attempts over the years to “upgrade” Mountain Cove Rd. in violation of the original master plan, which specified that “Parking lots and upgraded roads including the three main roads will have a gravel surface.” In 1988, likely responding to pressure from property owners, the city quietly got the BLM to sign off on a plan amendment allowing “the granting a right-of-way to the Ada County Highway District for the Mountain Cove Road and authorizes paving of the road.”
ACHD actually began preparing Mountain Cove Rd for paving. I personally confronted the crew manager and explained that the highway district did not have jurisdiction. They left. While the city had been allowed to grant right-of-way to the district, it had not yet done so. Friends of Military Reserve demanded a public hearing, which was held Oct. 30, 1990, where paving the road was overwhelmingly opposed. Yet, a year later, the Ada Planning Association proposed a Mountain Cove Parkway through the reserve. Each time the proposal to pave the road comes up, it has successfully been thwarted. My guess is that, like the proposal for a cross-foothills thoroughfare, it will continue to crop up from time to time unless a clear prohibition laid out in the reserve master plan puts that genie back in the bottle.
Relocation of the archery range out of the reserve was an issue pursued by FMR from its inception until it was finally accomplished a decade later. Initially, the archers had located a site on Hubbard Rd and were working with the county. That site eventually fell through, and the present site in the second retention basin seemed the ideal solution.
It took about a decade of persistent effort to end off-road-vehicle abuse in the reserve. Emplacement of rock barriers, improved enforcement and a few high-profile prosecutions of off-roaders eventually did the trick. Part of improved enforcement was educating reserve neighbors about how to to make non-emergency requests to officers familiar with the reserve and its restrictions.
Friends of Military Reserve joined with other citizen groups and federal, state, county, and city agencies to form the Boise Front Coalition, which led to establishment of the multi-agency Ridge-to-Rivers trail system. FoMR members participated in the campaign and negotiations to save Hulls Gulch from residential development, which became Boise’s next foothills reserve. We also helped draft the city’s first comprehensive Foothills Plan, another years-long collaborative effort of neighborhood, conservation, developer and property-owner interests.
With city leaders’ growing awareness of the value of its reserves as shown by support and implementation of the foothills/open-space levy, the need for the watchdog activities of Friends of Military Reserve seemed to diminish in the late ’90s. It is time to revisit that notion; we are awakening the watchdog lulled asleep by our past successes.
Boise’s first open-space reserve is once again threatened by development. City leaders have recently approved construction of a “world-class bike-skills park” in the Military Reserve. If it became the regional attraction some hope it to be, it would negatively affect neighborhood traffic, public safety and emergency services, as well as the natural, ecological values for which the Reserve was created.
Plans to design and build the bike-skills park in Military Reserve were developed without the open, transparent public involvement promised by the city’s Open Space Reserves plans. The city council approved the bike park development agreement without discussion as an item on its March 13, 2018, consent agenda. That action was in violation of the Boise-City-Code requirement that all park and open-space development agreements be reviewed by the Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners whose recommendations are then considered by the City Council. [BCC §13-01-04(G)]
Blindsided by the Council’s action, a group of Military Reserve users and neighbors decided to resuscitate the Friends of Military Reserve. At Council President Lauren McLean’s invitation, she and President pro tempore Elaine Clegg met with 16 of us on May 14, 2018. Ms. McLean acknowledged that they’d screwed up. We asked if—in response to the widespread concerns about the lack of proper public process expressed in comments taken at the April 4th “open house”—a hearing could be held before the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Open-Space Advisory Committee to revisit the decision to build the bike-skills park in the Reserve.
Council President McLean said that it had been a unaminous vote of the council that couldn’t be reconsidered and our only opportunity for public input would be to appeal the staff-issued permits to the Planning and Zoning Commission. Thus, Friends of Military Reserve appealed the improperly authorized Floodplain and Hillside development permits. [CFH18-00051 and CFH18-00052]
We were joined in the appeal by Wildlands Defense and Great Old Broads for Wilderness. The East End Neighborhood Assn. filed a separate appeal. The basic complaint of all the appeals is the lack of the transparent, open public involvement promised in the city’s open-space reserve management plans.
There’s been no study or even discussion of the impact of the decision on traffic, parking, safety or emergency access in the nearby neighborhoods already challenged by the St. Luke’s expansion, construction of the Boise High athletic complex adjacent to Fort Boise, relocation of Hillside Elementary to the Lincoln School on Fort St. Nor has there been any analysis of the spin-off effects of a “world-class” cycling attraction on the natural ecology for which the city’s first open-space reserve was created.
The backstory that’s emerging: Joe Scott, grandson of Joe Albertson and head of the family foundation is an avid dirt and mountain biker. He, for instance, leaned on US Sen. Jim Risch to oppose the Boulder-White Cloud Wilderness because it would limit mountain-bike access. If you’ve seen what’s happened in the foothills above the Eagle bike park, which I believe also was funded by the Albertson Foundation, we fear that’s what’s in store for the Military Reserve. We have yet to determine how and by whom MR was chosen as the site. But we know why. They want access through the reserve to the Ridge-to-Rivers trail system. The original plan for the world-class bike park had two down-hill, bike-only thrill trails in the reserve—one down a swale on the face of Eagle Ridge that would have dumped out next to a geothermal well-house, another to the north of the upper Central Ridge Trail. After we raised a stink, those were eliminated; but two more are planned, one in the Freestone drainage above MR that will dump riders onto the Central Ridge Trail (#22); another, above Hulls Gulch. Relocation of the archery range back into the “natural” part of the reserve is on hold as they seek another site. FoMR spent about a decade to get the range moved out in the ’90s, when it was located at the end of the Toll Rd at the eastern corner of the reserve.
We’re still making public records requests to piece together how it all went down, but the city is being very chary about fulfilling them. Most of the documents sought have been denied as attorney-client privilege. The process was conducted behind closed doors. According to Lauren McLean and Elaine Clegg, foothills users surveyed at trailhead entrances to the reserves 1-2 years ago said having a bike skills park was a high priority. We asked to see the surveys and the analysis; first, they were promised, then we’re told to make a PRR to obtain them. The last survey we’ve found, done in 2015 shows nary a word about a bike-skills park. However, when the 2014 Hillside-to-Hollow master plan was developed through a facilitated public involvement process, a bike-skills park was sought and sited at Hillside Park, between the jr. high and the golf course. We’re told that MR was chosen after an exhaustive siting process examining alternatives that included Hillside.
According to Jimmy Hallyburton of the Boise Bicycle Project, he and Dylan Gradhandt of the Idaho Interscholastic Cycling League, and SWIMBA began consulting on the project a couple years ago. We have yet to discover if that was a parks and rec process, the foundation’s, or both; it was not an open, transparent one. Clearly, they want a world-class attraction where they can hold regional events comparable to the X-Games at Rhodes Park, which Albertsons also funded. They even had such an event already scheduled for MR this August!
My experience organizing around environmental issues has taught me that often our “successes” have been slowing down a bad process long enough for reality to catch up. My hope is that we can force the city to fix the process by having the proposal sent back to the parks and rec dept to be presented to the parks and rec commission where it will be given a public hearing. There alternatives and impacts on the neighborhood(s) and on the natural ecology for which the reserve was created can be addressed by the proper body. The result will likely be a much better plan after all of the “stakeholders” are properly informed and their concerns heard.
The days when the rich family on the hill called the shots for the whole community should have ended centuries ago. Democracy is a messy process. It works best when community consensus is built through systematic development of informed consent.
Judy Peavey-Derr inserts foot in mouth, big time!
…I think that the south end of town is getting blighted by a lot of refugees and different dialects coming into the school. I think the children are having — 124 dialects in one school system is a little rough. And I think it’s a big strain on the teachers. And so I would like to see — I know they’ve done the Vista neighborhood push to try to get more money in there. But I think they caused the problem to begin with. —Judy Peavey-Derr, responding to an Idaho Statesman reader panel request to explain her charge that Mayor Bieter has neglected south and west Boise
In the interest of full disclosure: In her apparent quest to be elected to every local seat of government, in 1998 Judy P-D ended my brief political career as the biking ACHD commissioner who didn’t own a car. When a liberal looks politically promising in Boise, the tea-party types roll out J P-D. The campaign was a nasty affair; P-D and her repugnican handlers played their dirty tricks. People called with tales to tell; I refused to mud-wrestle.
They’ve rolled her out again, with a full, skin-deep makeover. The nastiness is still there not far beneath the surface, as demonstrated by yesterday’s diatribe.
Statesman reader responses to J P-D’s crass comments have been reassuring. Perhaps the best was this link to a video illustrating the success of a refugee who, like most, came here with nothing:
As some readers note, J P-D’s comments may well be an intentional Trump card played to win the votes of the anti-immigration crowd, several of whom raised their ugliness among the Statesman comments. One wag noted that there was, perhaps intentionally, some syntactical confusion of “dialect” with “language” and “refugee” with “immigrant.”
We have only to recall the generosity Boiseans have shown for the unfortunate refugees whose enterprising international market burned down, to realize how wrong J P-D is about our town.
Elaine Clegg Cites Boise Successes and Work Yet to Be Done in Announcing Re-election Campaign
Mayor Hails Clegg as “Conscience of the City”
Friday afternoon, Sept. 18, 2015, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter kicked off city council member Elaine Clegg’s re-election campaign by noting that he and Clegg were both first elected in 2003. He got to know her well in their early years on
the council as they worked through “some really hard, tough sledding,” including the economic downturn, “to see the great times we see in Boise now.”
“Elaine Clegg is the conscience of the mayor and council, and of the city,” Bieter said. “She approaches every issue relentlessly. She looks at every plat; she reads every document. She makes sure that we never lower our standards in any way. She’s never caught off guard; she’s always ready to go. She’s known not only locally but nationally for her efforts in transportation and smart growth.
“As long as Elaine Clegg wants to do this, I don’t want to live in a city without electing her.”
First-class Transportation for 21st-Century Economy
“This is an exciting time for the city,” Clegg acknowledged. “I decided to run for a fourth term because of all the great things that have been happening, but even more importantly because we are on the cusp of so many more. The great things that have happened have set us up for an even brighter future.”
Clegg pointed to several city projects she helped start, which she wants to see to completion.
She noted that the city has done a lot over the last few years to improve transportation by, for instance, adding bus routes to the airport, southwest and southeast Boise and extending hours on State St. and Fairview. “We can do better on providing transportation choices,” Clegg added.
“With the Boise can-do spirit, instead of looking to the legislature to solve the issue, we can together find a permanent and dedicated source of funding for expansion of our transit system right here in the Treasure Valley.” The Idaho Legislature has been unwilling to grant local-option taxing authority to cities for transit funding, so Clegg is working on other, innovative options.
“A first-class transportation system will help drive a 21st-century economy,” Clegg said.
Standing before a group of supporters at the Boise Depot, Clegg noted that she has been pushing for a multi-modal freight system “that will include using this great rail system that we have right behind us, and figuring out a way to move freight from truck to rail and rail to truck and utilizing…a great airport that could also be part of this freight-movement system.”
Helping Businesses “Start Up in a Day”
Clegg has championed Boise’s participation in “Start Up in a Day,” a Small Business Administration project for which Boise recently was selected: “With cities around the country, we’re in a contest …to figure out how entrepreneurs can walk into city hall at eight o’clock in the morning and walk out at five o’clock at night ready to start a business.”
Clegg also wants to continue work on her initiative “to conserve water and save taxpayer money by increasing the city’s use of low-water plants in rights-of-way.” She pointed to several areas where such plantings are already saving both water and taxes.
“We need to work together…to find a collaborative solution to housing people in our community left behind in this economy,” Clegg said. “The bottom quartile of folks…have not been able to keep up, have difficulty finding and keeping housing. We need to do better on this.” The city currently manages more than 300 affordable rental units and has convened a group to find a collaborative solution to unmet needs.
“Finally, the work is not yet complete to develop all of the park lands that the city has owned for decades in neighborhoods all over the city,” Clegg said, noting the “greening up” on the Bench with Terry Day Park and in the west with Comba Park. “I want to make sure that the rest of that park land is usable by the citizens who live there “
“Some people say that politics is the art of the possible,” Clegg said. “I understand that what is possible is often measured by the determination we bring to our tasks. Too many in politics dwell on what we can’t do or what won’t work. My Idaho values have given me a more courageous perspective. As your city council member, I will never give up the fight to keep Boise a special place to live.”
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Building Boise Bike Lanes
Recent images of the Boise area
The following are several images of the Boise area that I have published previously on my Facebook page, usually as a header or background:
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