Dannie Wurtz was watching television at her home in San Diego when a commercial caught her attention. It didn’t make her day.
The commercial extolled Idaho’s scenic beauty and other attractions and encouraged viewers to visit.
“It didn’t encourage them to move to Idaho, but what’s going to happen?” she asked. “They visit, see how nice Idaho is and some of them move there.”
The commercial was of interest to her because she lived in Boise for ten years. A San Diego native, she did the opposite of what thousands of Californians are doing and moved back to California from Idaho in 2004 following the death of her mother, who lived in Boise.
“I wanted to go back to Boise sometime, but it’s not the same any more,” she said. “It’s sad to hear about all the traffic and other changes.”
Sound familiar? It’s hard to get through a day any more without reminders of how much Boise and other cities in the valley have changed: gridlock, long lines, short tempers.
I was slowing down to stop at a red light last week when another driver passed me on the right. Zooming past at well over the speed limit, he shouted something unprintable before cutting back in front of me in his haste to stop at the light before I did.
In the same week, one of my daughters lamented an hour-long, stop-and-go drive to take her daughter to a piano lesson. It used to take 20 minutes.
While I was writing this, my wife called to say she’d be late getting home because she was stuck in traffic.
“I’ve been on the bridge on Emerald Street for 15 minutes,” she fumed. “The light turns green for about ten seconds and stays red forever. It’s insane!”
One of the television news programs recently ran footage of a packed parking lot at Barber Park. So many people were floating the river that no parking places were left at the put-in.
It hasn’t been that many years since that wouldn’t have happened. And, going back more years, the valley is so changed that it hardly seems like the same place.
When I was growing up here, most of the land between Nampa and Boise was farmland. Boise was a city of 34,000, Nampa, 18,000. Meridian was a sleepy farm town of 2,000. Eagle was so small it isn’t even listed in some reports for that year.
Now, according to 2019 figures cited in World Population Review, Boise’s population is almost seven times what it was then. Meridian’s is 108,000, Nampa’s 96,000. The once bucolic, blink-or-you’ll-miss-it berg of Eagle is 28,000 and has some of the highest housing prices in the state.
Home prices have risen so much that many first-time buyers are priced out of the market. One of them is my granddaughter who just received her bachelors degree at Boise State and can’t even think about buying a house. Another granddaughter and her husband had to move when a woman in California bought the house they were living in and nearly doubled their rent.
When I was in college, you didn’t have to worry about finding a parking place at Barber to float the river. You could float it on a weekday and not see another soul. You could drive across town in a few minutes. We used to fish and hunt ducks in a wooded, rural area that’s now a busy shopping center skirted by major arterials with non-stop traffic.
That’s not to say that all the changes are bad. The Treasure Valley’s cities aren’t just bigger; they’re more vibrant, attractive and interesting. We have cultural, educational, entertainment and business opportunities we once wouldn’t have believed possible.
Newcomers have helped make that happen. Many of the newcomers have brought needed skills, given back to our communities, made this a better place to live. They aren’t all jerks who drive like lunatics and disrespect our way of life.
Californians included. Californians are famously resented, not just in Idaho but in other states where they’re moving, because there are so many of them. A recent New York Times story reported that last year alone 20,000 Californians moved to Boise (which also has a video pitching its attractions).
No wonder it’s taking longer to drive anywhere.
That said, should we hate Californians? Hate doesn’t accomplish anything. It would make more sense to look at why they’re moving here and ponder it as a cautionary tale.
“People from California are jumping ship left and right,” Wurtz said. “They’re moving to Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Arizona. The policies, prices, fees and taxes in California are pushing people out of the market. In Idaho, I paid $58 to register my car. In California, it’s $600. Our power bill is $250 to $300 a month, and we pay $8,000 a year in property taxes. We have sales tax, property taxes, luxury taxes, retirement taxes … People can’t afford to live here so they’re leaving.”
“… Idaho has always been 15 or 20 years behind California. Fast forward 15 or 20 years, and if things continue the way they are you’ll have what we have now.”
When she first moved to Idaho and still had her California plates, “some guy tried to send me a message by trying to run me off the road at Lucky Peak. Another two feet and I’d have gone into the reservoir.”
That’s appalling. Most Idahoans are known for being friendly and welcoming.
But should we be doing things that encourage people to move here?
At a time when we’re spending more and more of our time stuck in gridlock, our housing and infrastructure can’t keep up with the demand and home prices and taxes are at record levels and rising, maybe it’s time to rethink the time-honored idea of promoting growth.
Instead of doing glossy commercials telling people how wonderful Boise and Idaho are, perhaps we should be telling them about the things the best-cities surveys don’t mention: low incomes, the rising cost of living, traffic jams, winter inversions, summer air-quality alerts …
My guess is that a majority of the people who live here have had enough of being one of the fastest growing places in the country and would love it if we slowed down and let our infrastructure catch up.
A late Boise Chamber of Commerce director was known for coining the phrase “Greater Boise.” These days, “Lesser Boise” sounds pretty good.