For Ada County Commission candidate David Langhorst, some things hit close to home. Like the line that divides the city and county, which cuts right through his Hill Road property. On the city side sits Langhorst's sloped-roof rental house that used to store vegetables for Hill Road Farms, and on the county side gleams the newly constructed two-story home he shares with his wife Chris. Inside, the house's dark wood interiors are splashed with light from large windows overlooking the rising, undeveloped Foothills. To Langhorst, a retiring state senator who's running against Republican County Commissioner Rick Yzaguirre in District 2, the line dividing his property speaks to the race's central issue: managing growth in Ada County.
"Even though this was one property with two lots, the city limits are between these two houses," said Langhorst. "I'm certainly within the area of impact, but I haven't been annexed yet."
Among county commissioners—who control property taxes and decide which properties are developed in the county—annexation and areas of impact have been hotly contested. Though Langhorst pays county property taxes, he waters his colorful, tiered backyard xeriscaping and washes his maroon F150 with water from the city. Though this has minimal impact, when you consider the deluge of planned communities previous commissioners have green-lighted outside of Boise, Eagle, Meridian and Kuna, the burden on city roads and utilities adds up. Langhorst knows his clear view of the Foothills will change as the city expands, but he wants to make sure that developments proceed in a responsible way.
"The Land Use Planning Act of the State of Idaho says growth needs to be directed at the urban areas. That's the focus that we need to get back to. We need to make sure that there's a path to annexation. Whoever develops it needs to be sure that it's going to become part of a city one day," Langhorst said.
At the opposite end of the district, Langhorst's opponent, former Eagle mayor Rick Yzaguirre, lives in a suburban Eagle home. Unlike Langhorst's neighborhood, Yzaguirre's community was developed years ago. His house sits off a meandering road littered with playgrounds and Priuses; Halloween decorations boo and scowl from his close neighbors' neatly manicured lawns. Yzaguirre built his house in 1986 to be close to the grocery store he owned and to have a safe environment for his wife Sandy and their three daughters. Twenty years later, urban sprawl and the construction of high-end planned communities have drastically changed the face of Eagle. What Yzaguirre said was once a "high-end neighborhood" he now describes as "low to middle end."
As Yzaguirre sat in his single-story home filled with hanging green houseplants and chirping pet birds, he cracked a soda and explained, matter-of-factly, his platform for the upcoming election. While Yzaguirre has supported more of a laissez-faire approach to development during his six years as a commissioner—four planned communities were approved since 2006—most of his platform deals with mitigating the effects of growth.
"The central issues are: open spaces, trails, greenbelt access, quality of life," said Yzaguirre.
Out on Yzaguirre's raised back patio, he points to the greenbelt behind his backyard as a selling point when he purchased his home. New developments necessitate this same allotment for recreational space. To promote these spaces, the current commission created the Open Space Task Force and helped open 250 acres of land at the county-run landfill.
"The current commission has done a lot with connectivity of trails," said Yzaguirre. "We've set aside money in our budget for open space acquisition to provide connectivity between the parks."
Langhorst, an avid hunter and angler, is also an advocate for open spaces. Standing behind his kitchen's marble island, he pulls open his refrigerator, offers a beer, and makes his way outside to the back patio. Pointing to the Foothills rising right behind his house, Langhorst notes how the commission granting land-use entitlements would affect his day-to-day life. During his six years in the State Legislature, he's been an advocate for public lands, wildlife, outdoor recreation and natural resources.
"Some of the Republican candidates in the primary were all about growth and air quality and open spaces, and it's like, 'where have you guys been?'"
Another issue the candidates agree on, which is also directly related to growth, is improving air quality. Yzaguirre is a member of the Treasure Valley Air Quality Council and Langhorst sponsored legislation for more stringent vehicle emissions testing in Ada and Canyon counties. Though they have some eco-friendly platform similarities, the candidates differ in a number of ways, too.
For example, though both candidates champion fiscal conservatism and spending cutbacks, they approach the budget in drastically different ways. Yzaguirre touts the $7.7 million saved by the commission over the last three years by not taking an annual 3 percent tax levy increase, as one of his biggest accomplishments. Though he notes that the county is now consolidating jobs in places like the Planning and Development Services Department because of the current economy, he's still staunchly against tax increases.
"If things were really that bad, we'd provide the minimum services at the minimum level, but we'd still have to step up and do it," said Yzaguirre.
Langhorst, on the other hand, wants to eliminate some of the tax credits that make property taxes higher across the board, and thereby lower taxes in the aggregate. He also wants to develop a fluid budget that prioritizes spending in case of revenue shortfalls.
"I have a very basic tax philosophy, you tax as many people as possible, you have the broadest base, that is, and you keep the rates then as low as possible," said Langhorst. "The more people that share the burden, the less you have to charge."
As Langhorst walked down his gravel driveway out to his mailbox, he spoke candidly about the six months he's taken off from his job as a commercial real estate appraiser to campaign. Langhorst had raised $56,288.96 and spent $42,595.80 by the end of September, netting the endorsements of the mayor of Eagle, Phil Bandy, and Bandy's popular challenger in the last election, Saundra McDavid, along with the mayor of Kuna, J. Scott Dowdy.
"I've talked to, I don't know how many, thousands at the door ... and almost everyone of them says that what's lacking at the county is leadership. I think that is what I can bring," said Langhorst. "Leadership isn't about how many years you occupy a seat, it's about what you do when you're in the seat."
Yzaguirre has conducted a much more subdued campaign, raising $23,108.04 and spending only $4,172.59 so far. Still, he's garnered the support of the Ada County Association of Realtors, which has independently campaigned for him. He's confident that his six years of service as a county commissioner and experience as a small business owner, mayor of Eagle and Eagle City Council member will speak for itself.
"I think I bring a lot of practical, common-sense business experience to the job, which is important," said Yzaguirre. "I look at my experience, proven leadership and the way I've done business over the years and the contacts that I've made, I think it's valuable."