Boise Mayor Lauren McLean stood in front of a large crowd late Wednesday afternoon, ready to give the annual State of the City address.
Behind her, sweeping views of the city could be seen from the sixth floor of the JUMP building.
Among the packed crowd in the room were city officials, business leaders, state legislators — and even McLean’s son, Aiden, who came in through the back door to catch his mom’s speech after finishing his final day of high school. He apparently tried to be sneaky, but then his mother called him out from the stage.
This year’s address was McLean’s third, but the first she had held in front of a crowd. Having taken office in January 2020, much of McLean’s tenure has consisted of meetings behind masks and via computer screens because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s really incredible to be back, to see faces,” McLean said. “It’s a little exciting to be able to deliver a speech like this in person, but also, frankly, a little nerve-racking because it’s been so long.”
McLean spent her time on stage focusing on the city’s recovery from the pandemic and on the housing crisis. She also detailed ways she hopes to help the city grow in a positive direction.
Small-business, child-care relief
Calling small businesses as one of her “highest priorities,” McLean said she knows many are still trying to get back on their feet after financial losses caused by the pandemic.
“I’ve heard from many business owners that (they) are hurting because they couldn’t access federal money,” the mayor said.
McLean announced a partnership with the United Way of Treasure Valley to give $2 million to small businesses that did not receive federal COVID-19 relief dollars. She said it will help create a “new and resilient economy” within the city.
However, the mayor noted that if Boise businesses are going to be able to flourish, they need employees. A significant obstacle for people trying to get back into the workforce is finding child care, McLean said, and she plans to address it by incentivizing more people to become and remain providers.
The mayor announced a new initiative to allocate $3 million that would help increase retention of child-care workers by raising wages.
Lower crime, more police and fire
McLean said Boise has been able to remain a safe city as it grows and she is “committed to making it even safer.”
McLean said Boise’s crime figures are down, including both violent and property crime, and she attributed that to its police force, which was involved in several shootings in 2021.
“We’re making critical, critical investments in police and fire, just like I have the last two years,” McLean said.
The department added 33 officers in the past year, including new positions for Asian-American and Pacific Islander liaisons, and for a substance abuse services liaison, the mayor told the crowd.
McLean also announced investment in the city’s fire department. The city will break ground on a new station in Northwest Boise, something residents there have long sought.
Knowing that housing is on the forefront of many Boiseans’ minds, McLean said the city is working to address it amid big growth. The city wants to build an additional 1,250 affordable homes by 2026, including 250 for those exiting homelessness, she said. Another $12 million in COVID-19 relief funds will go toward preserving existing affordable housing units, according to McLean.
Better urban spaces, climate change
McLean expressed passion for creating better outdoor spaces within the city. She brought up Primrose Park, a planed 1.5-acre site off of Gary Lane, and the 13,500 trees planted so far through the City of Trees challenge.
From the city’s remaining COVID-19 recovery funds, $10 million will go toward meeting Boise’s climate goals by expanding the city’s geothermal heating system and turning seven buildings fully electric.
“All of our buildings going forward, as we build them, will be fully electric,” McLean said.
McLean also promoted her recently formed disability task force, which hopes to make “a city for everyone” by examining access to everything from parks to buildings. She said the City Council is allocating $3.1 million to address accessibility needs.
Throughout her speech, the mayor stressed that infrastructure and community plans are meant to benefit the city’s future.
“Why do we do this? Because Boise is our home. And, like a home, you make investments in it over time to make sure it provides you with what you need to thrive,” McLean said.