Growth

Weekend's events a shock; Perspective on the city's crime rate

NEWS ANALYSIS

Editor's note: Crime isn't part of our charter here, but growth is. For coverage of this weekend's events, we suggest your local television newsroom or newspaper site for updates.

The Boise area had a difficult weekend.

According to police, a Los Angeles man stabbed nine people - including six children attending a three-year-old's birthday party near State St. and Wylie Ln. Some of those stabbed were refugees. 

Then on Sunday, a Meridian Police Officer was shot in the leg - and a manhunt ensued for two suspects.

In an overheated national political climate and a torrid discussion of growth in the Boise area, it is easy to worry that crime is spiking and that our area is changing is so fast we can't keep up.

A look at the FBI's uniform crime statistics for the City of Boise does show a slight uptick in the crime rate over the past few years, but rates are still significantly lower than the early 2000s in the City.

Boise Violent Crime Rate

Crimes per 100,000 residents. Source; FBI UCR

The numbers for 2017 haven't been released, but the 2016 rate was 244 violent crimes per 100,000 residents. Violent crime includes murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery and aggravated assault. 

The property crime rate, which includes burglary, theft, motor vehicle theft and arson has seen a significant downward slide since the turn of the century. In 2000, there were 3,765 property crimes of this type per 100,000 Boiseans, higher than the national average. In 2016, the rate was 1,770 per 100-000 - a drop of more than half. The property crime rate is also now lower than the national average, despite a steady decline in that average as well.

Property Crimes

Crimes per 100,000 residents. Source; FBI UCR

The crime rate for a city or metro area can certainly change - and growth can drive that change. But Boise has been growing steadily for nearly a century - and even while it can feel like things are changing rapidly, it's important to keep an eye on long-term trends.

Think a lot of Californians are headed for Idaho? New data says you're right

New data compiled by realtor.com proves up what many people feel anecdotally: A lot of Californians are moving to Idaho.

Ada County, Idaho is the number four destination for California residents - behind only the counties surrounding Phoenix, AZ, Las Vegas, NV and Prescott, NV.

The median home price in the Golden State has zoomed 83% in the past six years, and is more acute in popular areas like the East Bay - home to big Silicon Valley employers like Facebook, Google and Apple.

In California hot spots, searchers looking to move away are twice as common as the U.S. average.  The data mixes searches on realtor.com with the American Community Survey.

“Our research shows many California residents may have reached their breaking point,” said Danielle Hale, chief economist for realtor.com, in a statement. “Affordability is pricing them out of the California home market, and many are searching for more affordable options in other areas."

The San Jose Mercury News points out that the housing market in Idaho is a key factor. People moving to Boise from the East Bay find "homes are $750,000 to $965,000 less than the typical property in Santa Clara  (the county surrounding Palo Alto and San Jose)."

The report says Idaho is the fourth most popular destination for Santa Clara County residents, the third most popular spot for exiting Los Angeles County homeowners and the number two hot spot for Napa County residents moving away.

In the past year, the average value of a home in Ada County has increased 12.5% to $365,000, while in Canyon County the average price popped 15% to $263,608.

Company fed up with California moving to Treasure Valley

Bob Piazza has spent all of his 74 years living in California - married for 53 of those, and operator of a business for 46.

His roots in the Sonoma Valley north of San Francisco are as deep as those of the nearby grape vines that define surrounding wine country.

California State Senator Mike McGuire visits with Price Pump President Bob Piazza in Sonoma in 2016. Courtesy Price Pump 

California State Senator Mike McGuire visits with Price Pump President Bob Piazza in Sonoma in 2016. Courtesy Price Pump 

But soon, Piazza, his wife and many of his employees will pull up those roots and transplant to the Treasure Valley.

When the dust settles, Price Pump Co. will be a proud part of the Idaho business economy, with a plant in Caldwell and 36 employees who are residents of the Gem State.

Piazza said he decided to leave the sunny days of Sonoma due to growing dissatisfaction with what he calls "irresponsible progressive decisions" across California. From restrictions on water use from private wells to what he sees as a conflict between California's 'sanctuary state' status and Federal Law - he says his company is the latest part of a manufacturing exodus over the last 30 years.

What's more, the cost of wages has been weighing on the company's bottom line.

"It's difficult to attract employees (to Sonoma), particularly from out of state," he said. "They can’t afford to live here. Labor makes up about one-fifth of my sales dollars."

Those high wages can make it harder to be competitive in the market, he said.

This November, Price Pump will move to a new facility in Caldwell.

According to the Idaho Press-Tribune, the company signed a $486,129 deal with the city’s urban renewal agency for about 6 acres of land in the Sky Ranch Business Center. 

And in a surprise to Piazza, half of his California-based employees will come along.

"Six months ago when we made this decision I thought we’d only get one to go - and that one is me. We got 18."

Piazza thought the Treasure Valley could sell itself - so he made it easy for employees to check it out.

"I said, 'anyone who wants to go to Idaho - I will pay for you to go up there for three days come back and you tell me if you want to go or not. If you want to go, I will give you a $12,500 moving allowance'."

Twelve employees took him up on the trip offer - but 18 folks are going to make the move. Price Pump will hire another 18 people locally to round out his workforce.

One employee had worked for the company for 46 years, and at 66 will be one of the new Idahoans.

“I’ve had a lot of business people from both Boise and Sonoma tell me we’re making the right call.”
— Bob Piazza, Price Pump President

"He said 'I looked at finances living in California, I can’t afford to live here. At 66 I’m not going to find another house. I'm going to have to sell my house and move… Boise is just as good as any.'"

Another employee lost his house in the 2008 housing crisis, and feels like this is a chance to start over - and with the Boise area's comparatively lower housing cost he will again be able to own a home.

 "It makes sense for me to take these people who know this business up there - helps me move product to my customers without disruption," he said.

One of his business partners is based in Boise which put the area on Price Pump's radar. They looked at other locations - Texas, Reno, Las Vegas.

Ultimately Idaho has what Piazza sees as a business-friendly climate won the business. Lower income and sales taxes help, plus more modest market values for property mean lower overall property tax.

Steve Fultz, Economic Development Director with the City of Caldwell said Price Pump has been offered a number of incentives to relocate - including a 5-year property tax exemption of up to 75% and a job creation grant of up to $200,000. The new Price Pump plant in Caldwell was previously owned by the Caldwell Urban Renewal Agency and was sold at a below market price "in exchange for the private investment and job creation." Price Pump could also qualify for incentives at the state level.

"The City of Caldwell is excited to have Price Pump as a corporate neighbor," Fultz said. "It is a long-standing business with an impeccable reputation in the industry.  The addition of this new business to Caldwell means great job opportunities for our residents with a quality business, and continues to build Caldwell's reputation as an excellent option for locating a manufacturing business."

Piazza is excited about the change of venue.

"Labor laws in California are onerous," Piazza said. "You don’t need a union in the state of California, the state IS your union. Even though it’s a right to work state, it’s really not - whereas Idaho is."

He said the decision has been backed up since it became public.

"I've had a lot of business people from both Boise and Sonoma tell me we're making the right call."

Analysis: Boise is about to add a lot more people. Buckle up

NEWS ANALYSIS

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It's probably hit your radar a few times this weekend: HuffPo's latest story titled America’s Housing Crisis Is Spreading To Smaller Cities with a shiny picture of the Boise skyline on the top.

The story sums up the blistering growth hitting the City of Trees, and the divides it has exposed: screaming matches over baseball stadiums, large income inequality gaps, and the death of a five-year-old living in a car at the Walmart parking lot.

It also drops a stunning stat: Boise could add 200,000 more people over the next seven or so years. (The story refers to this Wall Street Journal story from last year that makes the same claim but does not cite it).

The projection significantly outstrips the Idaho Department of Labor projection for the entire SW Idaho region - which estimates adding just 100,000 people by 2025.

SW Idaho population project

Courtesy Idaho Department of Labor

You say big potato. I say huge potato.  EIther way -- it's a growing potato.

HuffPo notes a few problems are starting to weave together to magnify the challenge: A lack of new homes being built and friction in government - local and state.

Cash needed, but no option

In March, I laid out the plan by Valley Regional Transit to massively expand the bus system in Ada and Canyon Counties. They make a compelling case the area needs better transit options. But the plan rests on raising taxes to fund the expansion with a local option tax vote.  That is currently banned by state law. This quote from my friend Dr. Jim Weatherby - the dean of Idaho political analysts - sticks in my head:

"There is little reason to believe that negative legislative attitudes toward a feared patchwork of new local taxes and rural hostility toward granting local option to Idaho’s larger cities will change any time soon," Weatherby said.

Idaho remains a fiscally conservative state, and lawmakers and other state leaders aren't interested in the idea of letting voters in Ada and Canyon Counties raise their own taxes.

VRT isn't the only group that would like some local option cash. In 2010, Boise Mayor David Bieter told Boise Weekly he liked the idea of local option taxes for his long-hoped-for streetcar plan. Even The Idaho Press-Tribune advocated for a LOT for a new jail in Canyon County.

A 2010 study by the Capital City Development Corporation on the streetcar outlined a way to push the local option option along:

The City of Boise and Valley Regional Transit should enlist the private sector to take the lead in collaborating with other cities, counties, chambers of commerce and other organizations in the Boise Valley to obtain a dedicated source of transit funding including an enabling statute allowing local option taxing authority.

Building up, or rising up

City leaders are pushing for more density and taller buildings in the Downtown Boise core. They are wrapped up in the 2011 version of Blueprint Boise - the document which guides development around the city.  This plan led Boise's Planning and Zoning Commission to say no to developer/city councilor/CCDC commissioner Scot Ludwig's plan for two tall towers connected by a skybridge because the area was not zoned for buildings that tall (among other concerns).  Ludwig has tweaked the plan and now his fellow elected officials on the Boise City Council will decide if the plan can proceed.

If Boise is going to add capacity for another 100,000 or 200,000 people - two things are going to have to happen: more homes are going to have to be built, and we are going to have to find the people to build them.  The HuffPost piece details how the 2008 market crash drove much of the construction sector under, and says in 2007 there were twice as many building permits being issued as in 2018.

Last year, a group of people rose up to fight a CVS pharmacy location with a drive-through on State St. that would have displaced low-income housing.  That effort grew into Vanishing Boise which is now fighting a multi-front battle over a mind-boggling array of development issues:

The City has responded with a few town halls and other events, but the tone of Vanishing Boise and its founder Lori Dicaire is feisty and fed up.  How representative the group is of the overall Boise public is hard to say and will be more apparent in the fall of 2019 when several city council seats and the mayorship is up for election.

Growth is a major issue in the most populous portion of the state, but has hardly come up in any of the recent debates for statewide and federal offices.

Growth won't stop

The idea that people will stop moving to Boise is at best far-fetched and worst delusional.  The Treasure Valley has many of the things folks from around the country only dream of. An argument can be made that state and local leaders could tamp down efforts to attract business or tourists or new residents - but a stagnant economy leads to its own set of problems.

The balance is tricky, and as a life-long Boise resident, I understand the frustration the problems growth bring.  We can't close the gates or build a wall and keep people from moving to Boise from California or Seattle or Texas or anywhere else.  Saying no to every development isn't going to help - in fact, it's going to drive rents and home prices even higher and increase the income inequality problem.  Boise - and the Treasure Valley as a whole - have to grow smart.

Right now there is conflict everywhere. Between citizens and city hall. Between city hall and the legislature. Between ACHD and city leaders. Between ACHD and citizens.

To grow smart, different constituencies are going to have to find ways to work together, compromise and deal with each other in a way that is open-minded and fair (less shouting, fewer secrets) - regardless of whether they are elected or not - or work at city hall or the Statehouse.

Without compromise, Boise is going to turn into a mighty unpleasant place.

(Header photo courtesy Jeremy Conant/Treefort Music Festival, CC BY 2.0)

"Look out Boise:" Silicon Valley looks to Idaho to solve expensive talent problem

NEWS ANALYSIS

‘The Bay Area is broken.'

That's the headline atop a San Jose Mercury News story on the need for affordable talent for companies based in the Silicon Valley area.

Here's the lead:

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"Silicon Valley may be the world’s tech paradise, but it’s a hiring nightmare for many local startups now forced to venture from Portland to Boise in search of talent."

The story shows why the immediate future of the greater San Francisco and greater Boise areas are linked.

It is very expensive to live in the Bay Area - and it won't get better soon.  The cost of land drives housing prices through the roof, and with it the costs of food, goods, services and of course talent.

A job somewhere like Facebook or Google could be appealing to many, but to have a standard of living that compares to one you might find in Boise could easily cost significantly more.

The average cost of living in Palo Alto is 39% higher than in Boise, according to data from PayScale. (A personal data point that can help illustrate this, I have been here since August as part of the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University - I pay $3,800 for a 2-bedroom cottage near Palo Alto. Per month. For rent.)

Now, companies are finding the Treasure Valley (and other locations like Portland) are ripe for expansion.  The Mercury News looks at Jelli, which opened an office on 8th St. in Boise last year.

The company says the Boise area allowed it to find employees for a third lower than what they pay people doing the same jobs in California.

“As we’ve been looking to hire, we’re running into the same issue that everyone else is running into — in that the Bay Area is broken,” Michael Dougherty, CEO of Jelli told the Mercury-News.

Jelli says it has ten people in Idaho - with plans for another 30 or 40.

“The community’s cool,” Dougherty said. “There’s a lot of really great folks there.”

The influx of jobs can boost the economy, but drive growth faster than leaders or planners expect.

Boise Median Home Price

Data via Zillow

Unemployment in the Boise metro area hit a low of 2.5% in August of last year - the second lowest since 1990 according to non-seasonally adjusted numbers.

With low unemployment and an influx of workers searching for a lower cost of living in Boise - the price of housing is zooming.  Zillow shows the median listing price of a home in the full metro area to be $290,990. In the City of Boise proper, the median listing price is now over $ 300,000, and has increased a breathtaking 18% in the past year alone.

The quick growth is causing increased friction between government and citizens in the Capital City.  Groups like Vanishing Boise have grown quickly and are working to organize and mobilize citizens to have a larger voice in the development and planning process.

The City of Boise has responded to frustration by planning town halls and a series of conversations about Boise's growth.

Leaders will have to balance the demands of private landowners and the need to add housing and services, with an increasingly vocal base of citizens who want to slow growth and preserve the quality of life and cost of living Boise is known for.  The rapid expansion in the tech sector in Silicon Valley in California may soon be strongly linked to the fortunes of the Treasure Valley in Idaho.