Top 13 of 2013: A Look Back on the Year That Was 

Boise Weekly's picks of the weird, wonderful and WTF?

Over the course of 365 days, we're inundated with the weird, the wonderful, the WTF? In the morning, it can be disaster and destruction; at lunchtime, it's scandal and acrimony; and by quitting time, it's layoffs and lawsuits. We never know what might hit our inboxes, but one thing is for certain: It's always going to be interesting.

Here at Boise Weekly we live for variety, and 2013 delivered. We started the year with political infighting at the Statehouse; unpacked the chaos of Sun Valley city government; went inside the lives of undocumented immigrants; explored the effects of industry on rural life; followed Boise's controversial anti-panhandling ordinances; and looked at mental health care for veterans, support for the homeless and the ongoing struggle for low-income Idahoans to find food security. We chronicled the effects of the 2013 wildfire season on the lives and livelihoods of the Wood River Valley, contemplated climate change, dug into Boise's ill-fated bond proposals, parsed education reform and helped bring to light a military family's lack of closure related to the death of their daughter, whom Air Force officials said died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound while stationed half a world away.

We did all of that while keeping a steady bead on the cultural, artistic and gustatory life of Boise and its surrounds.

But there are a few stories that, in the spirit of end-of-year stock-taking, we return to as the most fun, or quirky, or trend-setting. Below you'll find a list of 13 such stories--by no means a summation of 2013, or a true representation of The Most Important Things That Happened This Year--but a baker's dozen that would spring to mind should one of our relatives ask us at the holiday table, "So what did you write about this year?"

We hope you enjoy this little trip through the archives, and we'll see you on the other side of the calendar for another go 'round.

--Zach Hagadone
LEILA RAMELLA-RADER
  • Leila Ramella-Rader

Add the Words

We've come a long way, baby. We still have a way to go, but the Add the Words campaign and subsequent addition of language to Boise city code in late 2012 was a step or two in the right direction. The equal employment opportunity language now includes the phrases "sexual orientation" and "gender identity." It reads, "The City of Boise is committed to providing equal employment opportunity for all persons without regard to race, color, religion, gender, age, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, veteran status, or any other applicable legally protected status." Throughout 2013, other Idaho cities passed legislation and adopted the language, bringing the grand total to seven. Hopefully more will follow suit--now we just need to get the state legislators on board...

LAURIE PEARMAN
  • Laurie Pearman

Sesquicentennial!

The Sesquicentennial was a celebration of Boise's 150th anniversary that felt like it lasted 150 years. And we covered almost every single happening related to it--if someone walked in the door of the Boise 150 Sesqui-Shop, we probably reported on it. In fact, a search on boiseweekly.com for "boise sesquicentennial" nets 769 results, about 2.15 times more than there were days in 2013. But it's not every day your city turns 150, and we reveled in Boise's longevity as much as anyone. We are so proud to be a part of this community and look forward to celebrating all of Boise's birthdays with the people who make it great.

Chaos, They Name is Insurance Exchange

They wailed; they gnashed their teeth; they made noxious comparisons to the Holocaust. They tried to unseat their own colleagues; they rattled sabers about lawsuits; threatened secession; formed voting blocs; and Monday morning quarterbacked like they worked for ESPN. But lawmakers ultimately approved Idaho's health insurance exchange--Your Health Idaho--which went live on Oct. 1.

If the run-up was politically cacophonous, the roll-out was (to a lesser extent) also chaotic. Tied to the federal system HealthCare.gov, whose launch made Kittyhawk look smooth, Your Health Idaho fared better, with more than 75,000 unique visitors in its first month of operation.

The biggest glitch was--surprise, surprise--political, with controversy swirling around a $375,000 contract initially awarded to a technology vendor whose owner had been appointed by Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter to sit on the Your Health Idaho board. Frank Chan, owner of Boise-based Applied Computing, stepped away from the contract in late October after coming under fire from lawmakers.

A two-week, $150,000 taxpayer-funded investigation into the award of the contract was completed in November but kept secret--except to say that "lapses in judgment" occurred.

Going into 2014, when Your Health Idaho is set to ramp up its marketing, another potential hang-up is looming: According to the Associated Press, though more than 1,700 Idahoans had signed up for coverage through the site as of Nov. 30, reliance on federal software and processes meant Idaho officials had no idea whether enrollees were previously uninsured or had a prior policy. It could be a big problem: That data is at the core of judging whether state-based exchanges even work, and key to ensuring they meet President Barack Obama's goal of providing coverage to those who previously had none.

The good news: With Idaho's insurance exchange up and running, the 2014 legislative session may be the first in years not dominated by doomsday predictions over health care. The bad news: We're sure they'll come up with something else.

Bonds, Failed Bonds

State of the City addresses usually follow a fairly set formula: historical example of Boise's ingenuity or strength or determination + present-day achievement = propensity for progress + environmental amenities + "livability" improvements from the previous year = Boise is the greatest city in America -- current challenge = bold new plan to make Boise even greater.

We don't know what hizzoner had for breakfast that morning in June, but he came out swinging at the 2013 State of the City, ripping both the Ada County Highway District and state of Idaho for holding Boise back on a range of measures. But the real fireworks came when Bieter not-quite-but-sort-of-did-even-though-he-was-joking called for Ada County's secession from the state of Idaho.

"We're on our own. We have to build our own economy," he said.

The "bold new plan" that capped the speech was a $32.9 million bond package to be split between improvements to fire protection services ($17.2 million) and spending on open spaces, including protecting land in the Foothills and along the Boise River, as well as parks improvements and acquisition ($15.7 million). Taking 20 years to pay off, the combined bonds would total more than $50 million and levy $1 a month from the average Boise homeowner.

Months of electioneering followed, with slick mailers and even a YouTube ad touting the Yes! Yes! for Boise campaign. But, despite being one of the most well-organized and powerfully backed ballot initiatives in recent memory, the bond proposals failed to win the necessary two-thirds majority vote: The fire protection bond drew 64 percent, while the open spaces bond earned 61.5 percent.

Bond backers were quick to point out that even though the bonds failed, vote totals proved Boiseans want those improvements. Beiter went so far as to characterize the loss as an example of the "tyranny of the minority," adding that, "In almost every other electoral world, that's a landslide."

It's not the last Boise will see of the bond proposals. Conservation Voters for Idaho Executive Director John Reuter--whose organization was Yes! Yes! For Boise's biggest donor--promised the initiatives would return in some form, possibly as early as November 2014.

"Make no mistake, we'll be back," he said.

PATRICK SWEENEY
  • Patrick Sweeney

Funny, Ha-Ha

It is gut-wrenching when a stand-up doesn't elicit so much as a chuckle--even a groan is less painful than the pin-drop silence following a joke bomb. That's why the inaugural Boise's Funniest Person at Liquid came as such a surprise.

BFP was a simple concept: 20 amateurs with little comedy experience were paired with a local professional comic mentor and given a shot at stand-up in front of a live audience and a panel of judges (full disclosure: former BW staffer Josh Gross and current BW staffer Amy Atkins served as judges). Not only was the monthlong event well-attended--some nights were standing-room-only--it was well-organized and, above all else, the wannabe stand-ups were funny. As in side-splittingly funny. As in can't-breathe-from-laughing funny. Story, Story Night founder Jessica Holmes may have walked away with the coveted title of Boise's Funniest Person, but everyone who performed and attended walked away with a sense that this was the start of something hilarious.

PATRICK SWEENEY
  • Patrick Sweeney

Con-Quest

We weren't sure if the community-at-large would embrace the debut of Boise's Comic Con, or if it would be the exclusive purview of Dr. Who- and manga-loving nerds. Turns out that everyone turned out: The one-day event in August included panel discussions, family friendly activities, a wildly popular visit by a Dalek (the dangerous cyborgs that wreak havoc in the Dr. Who-niverse), a costume contest with more than 200 participants, and a warehouse full of comics and their creators from around the country and the valley. It was a draw across the demographic spectrum and, by all accounts, successful: Plans are already in the works for the second annual Library Comic Con.

The Owyhee's Renaissance

When the Owyhee Hotel's new owner, Clay Carley, told Boise Weekly in November 2012 about his plans for the Boise landmark, it came across like a zephyr of spring air four months ahead of the season. When work began in earniest this year, all eyes were on the Owyhee. His two-point program--to "bring a lot of the original architecture back to life" and "energize the entire hotel"--was welcome news because, at the time, the Owyhee seemed like the killing jar used to suffocate the butterfly of downtown Boise's emerging western wing. With its beige tint and drab, featureless exterior, it was smothering a prime piece of real estate.

The new Owyhee Place won't have a hotel; instead it will boast $900-per-month apartments (ready for new tenants in February 2014) designed for downtown professionals and will include a fitness center and a bike barn. Other parts of the old hotel are being converted to restaurants and business offices, and its rooftop patio and full bar will be an ascendant locale in the summer months, with a killer view and drinks that will make you glad there's an elevator to help you return to street level (though the question of whether the bar will be open to the public or reserved for private parties seemed up in the air, with conflicting reports from various officials associated with the property).

Though the first floor is still draped in construction plastic in the run-up to the new year, the casual viewer can already see where workers have blown out the tall, bricked-over first floor windows and gutted whole floors of the original building to make way for businesses that will use the accommodations for office spaces.

Aesthetically, the building will recall its early 20th century American architectural roots, sans the original skylight--that's still in the hands of the Idaho Historical Society--but it will launch into the 20-teens with renewed purpose and prestige.

JAMES LLOYD
  • James Lloyd

Drinking [At] Games

The House of Bronco Football just added a new room.

While the Boise City Council mulled a package of anti-panhandling ordinances which drew critics and supporters to the Council chambers in the late summer, it quietly passed what would come to be called the 10-10 pilot program, which annexed a chunk of Julia Davis Park on Bronco football game days for tailgaters.

The alcohol-friendly area spans the property between Zoo Boise and Broadway Avenue from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. during game days--hence the ordinance's name--to relieve pressure on nearby neighborhoods, where Boise Police Department officials said there had been "misunderstandings" about what kind of tailgating behavior was allowed--and where.

"We want to move tailgaters to campus and the park, and out of our neighborhoods," said Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson.

According to BPD, the 10-20 police officers who patrol the Boise State University area hand out 250-300 drinking-related tickets, as well as countless other minor violations and warnings, on game days each year. Creating a space near Bronco Stadium where tailgating could be more easily monitored, city and police officials argued, would free the police to focus their efforts on other crimes like drunken driving, fighting, noise violations and property damage.

Though the 10-10 ordinance is officially slated to expire in 2014, a post-pilot breakdown of crime statistics after the Bronco/Tennessee-Martin game Sept. 7 indicated that officers had handed out 12 open container citations that Saturday, down from 45 citations at the first home game in 2012.

ADAM ROSENLUND
  • Adam Rosenlund

BW Pokes 'Big' Ed Beckley

Let us tell you a little story about a big man with an even bigger dream. Out-sized Kansas-born, Texas-based "Big" Ed Beckley burst onto the Idaho scene in 2013 when he slapped down a fat wad of cash to hurl his nearly 300-pound body across the Snake River Canyon on a specially designed rocket-powered motorcycle.

Billed as the "world's largest motorcycle jumper," Beckley's stunt would repeat a similar attempt made by iconic daredevil Evel Knievel in 1974--an attempt, it should be noted, that failed when Knievel's parachute opened prematurely, sending him gliding to the bottom of the canyon adjacent to Twin Falls.

True to form, Beckley went big in every way when it came to securing the rights to jump the canyon: He paid $943,000 to lease a section of state-owned land along the north side of the canyon for a landing site. In an interview with Boise Weekly in November, Beckley was confident his plan would go off without a hitch.

"Look here, I'm going to tell you right now: My hands are going to be on a set of handlebars on Sept. 7, 2014," he said. "We're jumping that sucker."

But it wasn't as simple as all that. Though the state of Idaho accepted Beckley's bid for the landing site, the city of Twin Falls wasn't so sure Big Ed was the daredevil to make the jump. In November, the city announced that it would accept proposals from other interested jumpers, vying for the rights to launch from the south side of the canyon on land owned by Twin Falls.

Beckley was frustrated by the delay, but remained positive.

"Look, we've got the big pea in the pod," he said.

His confidence was borne out later that month, when the Twin Falls City Council overwhelmingly approved Beckley's application, opening the way for negotiations that could take up to two months to complete.

With regulatory hurdles (mostly) cleared, the elephant in the room, of course, was whether Big Ed is, well, too big to make the jump.

"Poke me," he insisted to BW News Editor George Prentice. "Put your finger right there [on the right side of his chest] and poke me."

Prentice obliged, reporting,"Rest assured, he didn't budge."

Blue Laws Ban Blue

Idaho Code 23-614 prohibits from appearing on the big screen "acts or simulated acts of sexual intercourse, masturbation, sodomy, bestiality, oral copulation and flagellation." It also prohibits "any person being touched, caressed or fondled on the breast, buttocks, anus or genitals"--at least where alcoholic beverages are served.

That means Boiseans very nearly didn't get a chance to see Cannes Palme d'Or grand-prize-winner Blue Is the Warmest Color the year it hit theaters. Here at Boise Weekly, that just wouldn't stand.

Blue Is the Warmest Color is the story of Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos), who learns to assert herself as a woman over the course of a passionate affair with Emma (Lea Seydoux).

The French film, now famous for its sensitive portrayal of love, youth, internal conflict and Paris--and notorious for its vivid portrayal of sex--was a smash hit at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, where BW News Editor and resident Film Guru George Prentice screened it with fellow critics, industry types and fans.

Back in Boise, though, BW reported that Idaho's blue laws would ban Blue at The Flicks, Boise's movie house of choice for independent films.

Because The Flicks serves beer and wine, it is subject to Idaho Code 23-614 and could lose its license to serve alcoholic beverages in the instance that a complaint is filed against a film's sexual content. Flicks management wouldn't speak on the record about what it describes as "a sensitive topic."

When BW reported in October that Blue likely wouldn't be seen in Boise, the story went international. Riding the wave of attention, bigwigs at Sundance were working behind the scenes to get a showing of the film somewhere in the City of Trees. Their work paid off: Edward's Downtown 9 agreed to a very limited release in early December.

This isn't the first time a critically acclaimed film has nearly escaped Boise's big screens on account of sexually explicit material. In 2011, the Michael Fassbender film Shame nearly passed Boise by until Edwards booked the film for a limited, five-day release.

Lightning Rod

Work progressed steadily on the Eighth and Main tower in downtown Boise throughout 2013, with the 18-story building creeping higher and higher into the skyline. It was topped off in the fall with a metallic, two-tiered spire, making it (officially) Idaho's tallest building.

But shortly after setting lights ablaze on the spike, Boise City Hall started getting calls complaining that the topper looked suspiciously like Mormon architecture.

Building owner Gardner Development Company got the calls, too, and around the end of October--with conspiracy theories bouncing around the Web (lest we forget, Salt Lake City-based Zions Bank will house its Idaho headquarters in the tower when it opens in January 2014)--decided to pull the plug on the lights.

Boise Weekly reported in October that changes could be as slight as altering the color of the lights to reduce the heavenly glow on the spire, but Gardner went a few steps further, deciding to surround the base with glass. Trouble was, the specialty glass would have taken months to ship and install--substantially pushing back the tower's opening date.

In early December, Gardner again asked the city for permission to redesign, this time recladding the spike itself with a darker color so it blends better with the rest of the building and, presumably, the tastes of Mormophobes.

PATRICK SWEENEY
  • Patrick Sweeney

Two-Wheel Tragedies

Cycling is a dangerous sport. It's not as dangerous as BASE jumping or street luging down winding hillsides. In fact, it's not even close, which is why the deaths of two bicycle commuters and a spate of cycling-related injuries in the autumn of 2013 left many in Boise--and not just the cyclists--asking how it could happen.

In the early morning hours of Sept. 26, 53-year-old Victor Haskell of Garden City was struck by a vehicle near 30th and State streets in Boise. Days later, on Oct. 7, 56-year-old James Kelly of Boise died of his injuries after being hit by a sport utility vehicle, leaving the community shocked and looking for answers.

"When something like this happens in the community, it's devastating," said Jimmy Hallyburton of the Boise Bicycle Project at the dedication of Haskell's ghost bike Oct. 8--one day after Kelly's death.

This wasn't the first rash of bicycle-related deaths Boise has experienced. In the summer of 2009, three riders--Kevin Pavlis, Kevin Chu and Tom Bettger--died from injuries sustained in bicycle accidents, resulting in the passage of the three-feet-to-pass law and numerous other measures to increase bicycle safety on Boise's streets.

Besides ghost bikes and memorial rides, however, few such tactics were deployed, in part because strategies to increase the visibility of cyclists and the awareness of drivers, and optimize Boise's downtown core for car-bike harmony were already in the works, including turning one-way thoroughfares downtown into two-way streets, installing roundabouts to slow traffic, and the Boise Bike Share program--all of which are set to become big news in 2014.

PATRICK SWEENEY
  • Patrick Sweeney

Teed Up

Mayor Dave Bieter was not having a great November. Though the Boise City Council members up for re-election all retained their seats, the two bond measures that would have paid for purchases of land in the Foothills, new fire facilities and other expenditures both narrowly failed at the ballot box.

But Bieter had a surprise up his sleeve: the city's pending acquisition of an 18-hole, 140-acre golf course and its 8,000-square-foot clubhouse, a gift from owner Dave Hendrickson. When Bieter and the City Council unanimously approved the acquisition of Quail Hollow Golf Course Nov. 19, they scored big for the city, doubling its municipal golf options.

The beneficiaries aren't just weekend warriors. According to the Boise Department of Parks and Recreation, about 600 junior players participate in Parks and Rec golf programs every summer and account for between 13 and 15 percent of tee times at Boise's first public course (and the most golfed course in the state), Warm Springs Golf Course. And while golf is declining in popularity nationwide, it's still a favorite sport in the Treasure Valley.

Quail Hollow entered the city's recreation portfolio Dec. 1, requiring $100,000 in capital improvements and with a $1 million per year operating budget. While that may sound like a chunk of change, Parks and Rec conservatively estimated that by the end of 2014, the course is expected to generate $55,000 in net profit.

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