Coeur d’Alene mayoral candidates disagree on how to handle growth, but find common ground on mandates in the event of a pandemic

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Like much of Kootenai County, the town of Coeur d’Alene has experienced significant growth over the past few decades, with a population increasing 57% over the past 20 years and, at 54,600, more than two times more than just 30 years ago.

The three mayoral candidates have different ideas on how to handle this growth over the next four years.

For Jim Hammond – a former mayor of Post Falls, state senator and administrator for the city of Coeur d’Alene – the discussion of growth must shift to a different phase, as northern Idaho has diversified. from its historic resource-based economy to a blend that includes construction and technology.

“In the past, we had a hard time finding jobs,” Hammond said. “Now we have the jobs, but we don’t have the workforce. “

Along with the need for more and better training, he believes the rising cost of housing is discouraging some skilled workers from moving in.

Joe Alfieri – a retiree who moved to the area nine years ago after careers in advertising, sales, web design and opening and operating New York’s first Computerland computer store – describes himself as a “political refugee” and an average citizen concerned with city life. future. He wants to do more to help small businesses grow rather than promote urban renewal districts that would attract outside business.

“Small businesses are at the heart of any community,” said Alfieri, who wants to form a business council to help them grow.

A first-time candidate, Alfieri initially announced a campaign for city council as a way to ‘get your feet wet’ in politics, but moved on to the mayoral race after urging Kootenai County Republican Party contacts . The city’s positions are officially non-partisan, and although the local GOP does not endorse them, it has “recommended” Alfieri, who describes himself as a “Republican Trump.”

Michael Lenz – a recent resident positioning himself as an outsider – said Coeur d’Alene needed to change direction.

“The city needs to reorient itself away from planning for the future to preserve what residents have,” Lenz said. “I want to keep everything as it is now.”

He said he would oppose any zoning changes that would move single-family areas in the existing city to higher density, relegating higher-density housing areas to newly annexed areas, and explore ways to charge for higher density. taxes or higher fees to out-of-state residents. owner-operated condominiums or vacation rentals or VRBOs.

As someone who has lived in the area for less than a year, Lenz concedes that it may seem like he has found something he loves and wants to prevent other newcomers from doing the same.

“It’s a fair review,” he said. “But I chose to move here and it excites me.”

Hammond retorts that the suggestion that the city could stop all growth “is not realistic”.

One of the consequences of the growth has been heavier traffic, and although travel times are still below the national average, Alfieri believes the city could do more to improve traffic, including setting up traffic lights. electronically rather than manually and using roundabouts for certain intersections. .

“They take a while to get used to, but they work,” Alfieri said.

Some work is already underway to reduce traffic jams, Hammond said. New traffic lights on US 95 and more lanes on State Highway 41 should make the difference. But with the state and the federal government responsible for some roads, the city cannot fix the issues on its own.

“Finding the money is the biggest challenge,” he said.

Traffic problems will take time to be resolved, Lenz agreed, but he ties the problems to growth which he says is not paying for its effects on infrastructure.

All three criticize the city council’s controversial decision last October to impose a mask warrant in the absence of one from the Panhandle health district. With COVID cases high again in northern Idaho, none would support a similar move now.

“Health is a personal decision,” said Lenz, who said the city should instead do a better job of educating the public about the science around the disease. He contracted COVID shortly after applying.

People are responsible for their own health, Alfieri said, and the city should not impose any mandate on masks or vaccinations. It should make information available on alternative forms of medicine. Alfieri said he has had COVID twice, once at the start of the pandemic when he was not easily diagnosed, and a second time with the delta variant. “I had been down for about a month.”

Hammond said he would work with medical professionals to educate the community about their options, but would not support any type of mandate as he doubts it will be enforceable.

“If you can’t enforce a law, you shouldn’t enforce it in the first place,” he said.

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