Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Job perk: Meeting some great people right here in Kuna

What a great job I have. Just in this week’s issue alone, you can tell I had the opportunity to meet some really fascinating people. This is my job. I get to meet great people, interview them, write down what they have to say, then share it with the community. Unbelievable.
I’ll start with Russell Hayes and the family of Abdul Farhan Salman, the Iraqi family who now live in Kuna because of the efforts of Russell and several others.
Russell is an unassuming person, quiet, humble. He believes in providence and miracles. Well into his 50s, he gets called up for military service in Iraq. Rather than fight his deployment, his wife tells him that perhaps he’s being sent there for a reason. He goes to Iraq, meets a family in need and helps them come to the United States. Russell almost seems to shy away from taking credit, preferring instead to list off the names of all the people who helped.
But, obviously, were it not for Russell, these folks would not be here.
Abdul, himself, is a welcome addition to the city of Kuna. We should be proud to call him neighbor. He is to be considered an American hero. Putting his and his own family’s life at risk, he refused to act as a terrorist and turned down a request to help others kill Americans in Iraq. You hear stories all the time about roadside bombs and suicide bombers. Yet here is someone who refused to go along with one such plot and in the process saved countless untold American lives. And he paid a serious price. He lost a nephew, who was kidnapped and beaten to death for refusing to aid the terrorists.
I had the great good fortune of being invited to lunch at this family’s home a few weeks ago. What an honor I felt to share a meal with this family. I am proud to have them as my neighbors, and I can only hope that their children will go to Crimson Point and perhaps my own sons can become their friends.
And speaking of school, another terrific person I got to meet was Donene Rognlie, the new principal at Hubbard Elementary School.
Donene is just what the Kuna school district needs. She is fired up about teaching, about education, about methods of educating, about helping students learn and about helping teachers teach.
And best of all, she’s from Kuna. She’s a 13-year club member and Kuna High graduate, inspired to teach by one of her Kuna teachers. She has taught in Kuna for the past 12 years. Her first year of teaching was in Melba.
It is heartening to see the Kuna school district recognize internal talent and reward that talent by promoting from within. In fact, Donene told me that she would have waited for a principal opening in Kuna rather than go to Nampa or Meridian. That tells you two things. One, she loves Kuna and doesn’t want to leave, and two, she was still happy teaching and could have continued teaching indefinitely. She wasn’t moving up just for the sake of moving up or getting ahead. Congratulations to Donene and congratulations to the district for moving her up.
This job affords me a tremendous opportunity to meet such a wide range of people, and I think I’ve taken advantage of that opportunity over the past three years. It still amazes me, though, just how many wonderful people can live in one small community.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

In defense of urban renewal district in Kuna

It seems that it is necessary to back up the trains on the urban renewal district debate. Since writing about the issue a couple of weeks ago, I’ve received a couple of letters to the editor and a couple of posts at my blog. The responses have been largely arguments against urban renewal districts, that Kuna just shouldn’t even go there.
I feel this is an important and good debate, and I think it’s good to step back and discuss the merits and drawbacks of urban renewal to see if there’s some sort of middle ground (time limits on frozen values, who is elected to run the district, limits on indebtedness, etc.)
Properties within an urban renewal district still pay taxes to pay for services up to a “frozen” amount, the amount at the time of the formation of the district. Property owners still pay money to the library district, the fire district, the cemetery district, etc.
Without urban renewal, though, you’re probably just going to see stagnation of property values and even worse, a decline in property values, which would provide less property tax revenue for everyone. Property owners, particularly in historic downtowns, need more help because the buildings are older, infrastructure is older, existing sidewalks need to be upgraded and widened, aging facades need to be improved, parking lots need to be carved out of existing developed spaces — all problems that new buildings don’t face.
Everyone benefits from an urban renewal district because it improves a city’s core, its identity, attracting other businesses and investors and bringing residents down to the rehabilitated area. With more businesses, the tax burden is eased on everyone.
The reality is that time and again, when a city does nothing, what has happened across the country is that these downtowns deteriorate and become a blight and a drag on the entire community. The record is rife with American cities that let their historic downtowns deteriorate only to come back years later to try to rehabilitate them.
The reason the area along Kuna’s Main Street is unique is because these are historic structures that speak to Kuna’s history, which is its identity. A Walgreen’s or Outback Steakhouse, while providing vital services to residents, don’t really distinguish themselves as unique to Kuna. Further, because these are older buildings with older infrastructure, they need a little more help than a brand new building.
In addition, a major problem we have here in Kuna is one of perception. Downtown is not just a bunch of bars. In downtown, we have a gift shop, an ice cream shop, a coffee shop, a hardware store, a couple of thrift stores, a consignment shop, convenience stores and gas stations, a post office, a community hall, as well as service offices, such as a newspaper, investment adviser, dog grooming, insurance, accountant.
But make no mistake, bars and restaurants are a major draw to bring people downtown. They are the foundation upon which you get people downtown, walking around, visiting, browsing, window-shopping, which leads to other businesses moving downtown. The historic downtown is the only place that can provide a unique experience that tells people, “You are in Kuna.”
Finally, what alternative is there? If the city does nothing, the historic downtown will continue to deteriorate, businesses will continue to flee downtown and move into nondescript strip malls scattered here and there, and the downtown buildings will become vacant shells that are a blight on our city. Then what?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Kuna should be careful to keep an open government

If you weren’t the owner and editor of the local newspaper, you probably didn’t go to the city of Kuna’s web site,, to check out the agenda for the Aug. 4 City Council meeting.
If you were just an average citizen who lives in, say, the Crimson Point subdivision, you probably wouldn’t have noticed an item on the agenda under “Old business,” something labeled, “REQUESTS SUBMITTED BY GREG JOHNSON, POWDER RIVER DEVELOPMENT, RE CRITERION ORCHARDS SUBDIVISION APPLICATION:
i. Reduction of fees for processing of development application and
ii. Modify minimum size residential sq. footage.”
Now, as an average citizen, you likely wouldn’t know that Criterion Orchards is a proposed development on the east side of Meridian Road, north of Hubbard Road. Being a resident of Crimson Point, you probably wouldn’t have given this agenda item a second thought. You probably would not have even clicked on the link provided for the item.
But if you had done that, you would have found a memo from city planning director Steve Hasson and a letter from Greg Johnson outlining a proposal to reduce the houses sizes in Crimson Point North from 1,550 square feet to 1,200 square feet.
Wait a minute, you might say. Crimson Point? But the agenda item says Criterion Orchards. Yikes, and it’s 2:30 on Tuesday afternoon, and I haven’t made plans to attend the meeting. This is a lot of work for an average citizen. Needless to say, no one was at the Aug. 4 meeting speaking out about Johnson’s proposal to reduce house sizes. Council members began discussing the item, recognizing the shifting marketplace and the demand for smaller houses, etc.
But I had to interrupt. Why was this item under old business, I asked. City Clerk Lynda Burgess said she put it under old business by mistake. But then I asked why this was not a public hearing. Hasson said that the 1550-square-foot requirement was a condition of approval and not part of a development agreement, so it didn’t need to be a public hearing.
But weren’t the conditions of approval part of a public hearing, I asked. In which case, shouldn’t the changing of a condition of approval be part of a public hearing?
After conferring with city attorney Randy Grove, Hasson returned to report that, yes, indeed, changing this condition would require a public hearing, it would be properly noticed and put before council again at a later date at a public hearing, at which the public can weigh in on the merits of reducing house sizes.
Now, I am perfectly willing to give the city the benefit of the doubt, and I don’t like to throw around accusations freely. But, boy oh boy, this one really stinks. This was placed under old business, under another subdivision’s name without proper notice.
Full disclosure: I live in Crimson Point, not far from Crimson Point North, so I have a personal vested interest in the matter.
I think the city faces an interesting debate on minimum house sizes in this market. The ridiculous success of Silvertip with houses 850 square feet to 1300 square feet is telling. The city wants and needs building permits, accompanying revenue from fees and customers for the new treatment plant. Some folks in Crimson Point, likewise, may want more residents to help share homeowner association dues and costs to run the new pool.
The debate will be interesting. But let’s make sure we have a debate. I would warn city officials to avoid trying to pull one over on the good residents of this city.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Let's get moving on an urban renewal district in Kuna

Talk has begun once again on establishing an urban renewal district in Kuna. As I’ve written before, I’m in favor of an urban renewal district, and I think we should get started on it as soon as possible. The lull in the economy gives Kuna an excellent opportunity to work on this before the Wal-Marts and Targets and Applebee’s and Outback Steakhouses start setting up shop on our doorstep.
My biggest concern is downtown. A city’s downtown is its identity. Without its downtown, a city — any city — is merely a collection of subdivisions, chain stores and chain restaurants. Without our downtown, we might as well be Meridian.
My feeling is that the urban renewal district should encompass “downtown,” that is, Main Street from Linder Road to Avenue E. Any property with a Main Street address should be included in the district. Main Street should be narrowed to two lanes, with the center turn lane eliminated. The sidewalks on both sides should be widened to accommodate outdoor seating for the restaurants and bars. The city should actively seek federal grants to assist downtown building owners in improving facades, preferably restoring them to historic appearances. Kuna’s design review committee should have a big say in this.
What do you think? Send me a letter at PO Box 373, Kuna ID 83634 or an email at or post a comment to this blog.