Officials at Boise City Hall have no illusions about their plans for Tuesday, May 12—it's going to be another long night. Following a marathon April 14 workshop on St. Luke's Health System's massive expansion plans, including its proposal to permanently close a stretch of Jefferson Street, the Boise City Council came to one conclusion: Meet again.
"We've got a long way to go," said Boise Mayor Dave Bieter a week later at the Andrus Center's Politics for Lunch forum. "Yes, we've got another session and maybe another one after that."
The controversy started gaining steam earlier this year when neighbors argued against St. Luke's plan to close Jefferson, which resulted in the Boise Planning and Zoning Commission rejecting the master plan in a 6-1 vote on Feb. 9. Instead of going back to the drawing board, St. Luke's doubled-down, launching a full-throated public relations campaign, which included a heart-tugging video featuring the parents of a baby born prematurely at St. Luke's. Within days, the hospital posted on its website that there was a real possibility it might transfer some critical services to Meridian if its master plan was not approved.
"I thought the public relations on this was awful, just awful," said Bieter. "People don't respond well to ultimatums."
Bieter added he has public and personal skin in the game.
"St. Luke's services and employment? Of course I would like to keep them in Boise," he said. "Plus, my wife works at St. Luke's," which is why Bieter said he would have recuse himself from any tie-breaking vote on the matter. That won't be necessary since Councilman Ben Quintana, also an employee of St. Luke's, is recusing himself from the proceedings, thus leaving five votes on the council and no chance for a tie.
The next round of workshops on the matter take place on Tuesday, May 19. Following is the five-item agenda, which should take the council and public close to midnight to cover:.
• A five-minute recap of the April 14 session.
• A 10-minute Q&A when the council will ask St. Luke's representatives and city staff any outstanding questions from the April 14 session.
• A 60-minute Q&A with the general public. The questions will be written on blank cards distributed at the workshop. Additionally, city officials are soliciting questions online through the city's website.
• A 60-minute overview presentation on the St. Luke's master plan.
• A 90-minute presentation from St. Luke's on transportation mitigation issues, with particular emphasis on the proposal to close a portion of Jefferson and its impact to traffic.
City officials say they fully expected to hold a third workshop, presumably with more questions and answers triggered by the May 19 session. City Planning Director Hal Simmons said the earliest date for an agenda item before the council, which would require a full public hearing on the issue, would be Tuesday, June 30.