Mayor of Boise on climate issues: “The responsibility ends here”

Boise Mayor Lauren McLean nears the end of her second year as mayor as she reflects on the highs and lows of 2021.

BOISE, Idaho — Boise Mayor Lauren McLean is nearing the end of her second full year in office. His first year in office, 2020, proved to be a difficult year for the city, the state, the nation and the world with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, through it all, McLean said she’s proud of how the city has balanced a health emergency while advancing initiatives like tackling Boise’s growing housing crisis.

For perspective, KTVB sat down with Mayor McLean for his thoughts on 2021 and moving forward. Below is a transcript of the interview between Mayor McLean and reporter Joe Parris

Joe: I talked about a year ago about your first full year as mayor and I mean, 2020 is a hell of a year to come back to 2021. You know, to me as an observer it seemed equally difficult. Do you think 2021 is as difficult for you as 2020?

MAYOR: It was, it was as difficult for our community as 2020 was to be honest. We’re in this together, and we’re going through it together and we’ll be stronger as a community because of the challenges we face. Because, time and time again, the Boiséans have demonstrated that they want to partner with me to protect what we love about this place. And it’s the people and this great community that we live in.

Joe: Something you are passionate about is the environment and taking care of our climate. Of course, President Biden was here a few months ago and you were able to talk to him because he was in town assessing the wildfires in the West. For you as mayor, why do you think the climate is such a big topic of conversation? There are many mayors who say it’s too big for our city. We’ll take what we can control

MAYOR: The Boiséans have been clear, they want us to lead on the climate and the responsibility stops there. Really, we can’t keep shifting the blame to someone else. So it’s about people. It’s about our health. And it’s about jobs of the future, making sure our community stays vibrant, that our children and grandchildren have access to clean water, clean air, and most importantly, jobs that will needed to build the life here that we all want them to be able to build. And so yes, climate innovation is really important to me because in our transition to clean energy, we will need to innovate and that innovation will create opportunities for our residents.

Joe: The economy in Boise, I hear two very loud conversations over the past year: you have the group of people who say I lost my business, COVID restrictions and COVID as a whole forced us to close our doors, I am now out of a job. At the same time, the city of Boise is growing explosively. The economy lately seems to be great downtown here at the end of the year. For you, how do you reconcile the difference between people who had arguably the toughest year of their lives losing their business, and people who are newcomers now thriving in our community?

MAYOR: It’s the paradox of COVID, that we as a community have struggled, and we’ve come through this with a strong economy and a much more tight-knit community – and because we’ve done it together. But the hardships of residents are real, and as our economy grows, we must recognize that people are struggling. And so because of that, we’ve done everything we can to take advantage of the COVID dollars that the ARP (American Rescue Plan) dollars will redirect into the community to support these residents, corporate artists in their needs, because the needs are real .

Joe: Major conversation in our community, people facing and struggling with homelessness. With the interfaith shrine moving, there’s been a huge conversation: where do you put it? Of course, you know, there’s a lot of public hearings and a lot of talk about moving to State Street. For you: how do you navigate this conversation? Because no matter where you want to travel interfaith, there will be plenty of community conversations. Sounds like an unwinnable situation?

MAYOR: We as a community have shown time and time again that we want to support these people in our community. And so as a city we are prioritizing the philosophy of housing first, we have made investments in permanent supportive housing, I announced at the state of the city the next development that will be in collaboration with New Path. But we must also recognize that there is a deep need for emergency overnight shelter. And it’s important as a community to have a respectful conversation to recognize the importance of having a roof over the heads of Boiséans every night and to do everything we can to make sure that happens. At the same time, recognize that the best way to address homelessness is to prevent it. And so, in partnership with Jesse Tree and CATCH and other organizations, we have worked and assisted nearly 2,000 residents with housing assistance since the spring and are now in a second round of funding. We are using Ada County funding and we have applied to the federal government for state funding that was not spent by the state to support Boiseans and we are working to prevent evictions with Jesse Tree and at the same time we are working through Our Path Home to ensure there is emergency shelter.

Joe: For the second year in a row, there is antisemitic graffiti near the Anne Frank Memorial during Hanukkah. It happens again, and it has happened before. We saw swastikas on the Anne Frank statue. As the leader of the city, how, I guess, do you deal with these continuing circumstances? Because at this point, it’s not just an isolated case.

MAYOR“As a city, as a state and as a country, we are witnessing a rise in extremism. And the graffiti that has been plastered on the tunnel along the Greenbelt is both a literal and figurative stain on our community. A reminder once again, of this rise of extremism and hatred that exists, and we cannot and will not tolerate it. And we need to see business leaders, community leaders, political leaders and throughout this region and this state stand with our Jewish neighbors and with our community and make it clear that we will not tolerate it. Not only will we speak out against it, but we will ask people to join hands and take action to curb this rise in extremism to protect our community, because it is worth fighting for.

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Teresa H. Sadler