Boise Weekly's Top News Stories of 2017 

These are the stories that may play out again in 2018

Whether it's the race to determine who should be the next Idaho governor, the escalating disagreements over major policy changes from the Trump administration or the shrinking inventory of affordable housing in the Treasure Valley, 2017 saw some of the most engaged citizen debates in recent memory. Here's a refresher course of the news that may be making a comeback in the new year:

Boise's Parking Dilemma

There may have been other news stories in 2017 that were more controversial and politically-charged, but our articles on transportation—mass transit (or lack thereof), rerouting the most congested thoroughfares in Boise or the headaches triggered by never-ending road construction—garnered the most reader attention. And it was the challenge of finding a parking place that triggered the most feedback.

This past summer, as part of the Boise Weekly Annual Manual, we sought out absolutely free parking spaces in downtown Boise. We looked for spaces with no hourly or residential restrictions whatsoever, and ended up finding hundreds of free spots. A few months later, city staff told BW they found our story surprising, but added we shouldn't count on some of those spaces remaining free. By the end of the year, the city had unveiled a radically new parking strategy, increasing rates at many downtown meters, extending the hours of charging for metered parking and, for the first time in the Boise history, charging motorists to park in metered spots on Saturdays. Those parking increases came in the wake of the Capital City Development Corporation decision to raise rates in most downtown parking garages. All the hikes, from both the city and CCDC, will go into effect in February 2018, but more than a few critics say the real impact will be felt only when the two downtown farmers markets open next spring, and visitors are faced with feeding the meter just to buy fresh vegetables.

Looking for a Place to Call Home

This year, we were inundated with survey after survey. They were reminders that Boise is one of the most livable places in the U.S., yet more and more people in the Treasure Valley are hard-pressed to find an affordable place to call home. In our July story "For Rent," we reported that although an unprecedented number of rental units were being unveiled in downtown Boise, the city was still facing a historically low vacancy rate.

"Right now, we have people applying to 20 or 30 different places and wasting money on application fees, putting themselves in a deeper financial hole," said Diana Lachiondo, Director of Community Partnerships at Boise City Hall. "It's a really bad scenario."

While more than a dozen new or in-development housing units will bring nearly 1,300 apartments to downtown in 2018, it will be a bellwether year to see if the Boise working class can afford the higher rents that many of those new units require. A community assessment from the United Way of Treasure Valley summed up the problem, saying, "The percentage of individuals who are burdened by high housing expenses is higher among renters." The study also revealed that nearly 16 percent of Treasure Valley renters are food insecure, triple the number of homeowners in the same situation.

Who's Really Pulling the Strings?

In our Aug. 16 story, "The Power Brokers," we took a close look at the men and women who might have a say in who will be the next Idaho governor. Whether by way of endorsements, campaign contributions or dedicated resources to help a candidate, the most influential political advocates in the Gem State are poised to play a big role in the 2018 race for lame duck Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter's position. The conservative-leaning Idaho Freedom Foundation, for example, has already influenced Tommy Ahlquist, the Boise-based millionaire/physician/builder who threw his hat into the ring to challenge political veterans Lieutenant Governor Brad Little and Congressman Raul Labrador in the May 2018 GOP primary. Ahlquist's most ambitious political statement to date was that, if elected, he would slash the Idaho state budget by $100 million within the first 100 days in office—a statement that came only two days after the Idaho Freedom Foundation announced its own blueprint to cut the state budget by an almost identical amount.

"He's listening. I appreciate that," said IFF founder Wayne Hoffman. "I was really proud of him for saying that."

A New Hope

In our January story, "In Search of What Doesn't Divide Us," we introduced readers to Nora Harren and Colette Raptosh, two high school students who organized the Women's March on Idaho, which saw thousands of citizens flood the steps of the Idaho Statehouse. It wasn't a coincidence that the Jan. 21 event came on the first full day of President Donald Trump's administration. The rally made national news and thrust Harren and Raptosh into the spotlight, earning them a profile in Teen Vogue.

By the end of the year, Harren and Raptosh hadn't lost their activist spark. They held another rally on Saturday, Dec. 23, again on the steps of the Statehouse, this time to protest the FCC decision to upend net neutrality.

"We have to fight for equal access and resist the injustice of large companies bottlenecking access," said Harren. "We recognize the harsh impact of repealing net neutrality on vulnerable communities."

Clearly, Harren and Raptosh have their eyes on the future—and they will be a pair to watch in 2018.

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