Four Hailey City Council candidates addressed the housing shortage, climate change and budget challenges while touting their experience and governmental goals during a public forum Wednesday night. The Pizza and Politics forum—hosted by the Idaho Mountain Express at the Old County Courthouse in Hailey—was attended by more than 100 people. Voters can cast one vote for each of two open council seats.
Seat 3 candidates
Challenger Sam Linnet and incumbent Jeff Engelhardt both said they would bring a newly instituted half-time sustainability coordinator position to full-time, in order to address the city’s role in fighting climate change, although Engelhardt recently voted against supporting Mayor Fritz Haemmerle’s plan to budget $500 for the Sun Valley Institute to create a valley-wide business plan for sustainability.
Linnet, an attorney, added that he would require city staff to provide a graphic representation of budgeting changes, alongside a line-by-line accounting, to facilitate public understanding of budgeting trends.
With regard to the ongoing area-of-city-impact negotiations with Bellevue, both candidates stressed the importance of keeping a greenspace buffer between the two cities. Linnet also stressed keeping “positive relations” with the city of Bellevue.
Engelhardt, a real estate broker, said he most valued the city leaders’ support of engineering staff, education and amenities. Linnet most valued the city’s work on housing, but said more could be done to allow for accessory dwelling units on lots less than 7,000 square feet in area, and that he would promote allowing ADUs in the Limited Residential zones.
When asked if the city’s general fund should be tapped for affordable housing initiatives, Linnet said any ideas would be welcome, including the support for ARCH Community Housing Trust projects, Blaine County Housing Authority activities, deed restrictions and other types of “public housing.”
“We need all of it,” Linnet said, including the approval of a contested application by West Crescent Advisors to build apartments on River Street, as long as neighbors are worked with in the process.
Engelhardt criticized Linnet’s published opposition to annexations. He said city planning should be the city’s top priority and that “housing densities would control demand.” He also expressed concern that public support for housing would result in “the government competing directly with landlords.”
Both candidates said they were generally in favor of annexing the Hailey Fire Department into Wood River Fire and Rescue to create better efficiencies, or possibly signing a contract for services with the larger department, pending further analysis of financial details.
When pressed further on the issue of climate change, Linnet said he would encourage a clean-energy pledge by the city by 2035 and that Hailey could pursue grant funding for additional expenses in this effort. He said expense efficiencies in city departments could also be found, citing recent successes in decreasing snow-removal costs.
Engelhardt said he “liked the activism” shown by valley residents in recent weeks over climate change, adding, “America is a capitalist system. We need to create a market.” He suggested that the state should encourage municipalities to use electric automobiles.
When asked how the candidates would make Hailey more “safe and welcoming” to immigrants, Linnet said he would reach out to the Latino community. Engelhardt said Hailey was already safe and welcoming and that the solution is to simply “treat everyone with respect.”
Engelhardt, 64, said his experience over many years as a firefighter, military veteran, builder and real estate agent provide him with broad experience to continue serving the city. He said he has augmented his high school diploma with classes in accounting, business and English at the College of Southern Idaho campus in Hailey.
Linnet, 30, said his youthful energy and law background would serve to bring “creative solutions” to the council.
“I went to school for a long time,” Linnet said. “It is important that kids are able to go to college, come back here and make a living here.”
Seat 4 candidates
Challlenger Juan Martinez, 27, said his youth, Hispanic heritage, travel abroad and “passion for democracy” would serve the city if he beats incumbent Pat Cooley, 61, an eight-year veteran of the City Council.
Cooley took aim at Martinez’s support from Conservation Voters for Idaho, which supplied Martinez’s campaign (and Sam Linnet’s) with an endorsement and about $1,700 in indirect campaign support.
“Send this political action committee money back and let Hailey decide its future,” Cooley said.
Martinez, who works as a school coach, said because he is the first Latino candidate for the council, he would take support wherever he can get it.
“I need support from far and wide to win,” he said.
Cooley, who works as superintendent of the Ketchum Water Department, said his expertise in infrastructure and record of supporting many public projects is evidence of his qualifications to keep his seat. He said he strongly supports development-impact fees.
Martinez stumbled in answering questions about development-impact fees and some budgeting issues. He said his learning curve would be steep, if elected.
“This will be a full-time job for me,” he said.
Cooley attributed the housing shortage in part to low income levels in the valley, but said the city has the political “backbone” to support innovative solutions from ARCH and the Blaine County Housing Authority. He said parking is a limiting factor in Hailey, but added that a 38-unit apartment complex under construction in Ketchum with no parking at all could provide an experimental alternative.
“We’ll see how that works out,” he said, with apparent sarcasm.
Martinez challenged Cooley over his opposition to a micro-housing overlay district that would have brought units as small as 150 square feet, the size of some parking spaces. The overlay was passed with larger units allowed.
“I absolutely disagreed with that,” said Martinez, who said he has moved several times recently due to housing challenges. He said he would live in a room the size of a parking space.
“People can’t even rent and live here. Everybody should be a part of deciding these solutions,” he said.
Cooley said he would lobby for more variable funding sources for capital-improvement projects, beyond property-based taxation, if re-elected. Martinez said he would support a park sports program that would increase community inclusion.
Martinez said he would encourage the Idaho Transportation Department to create an increased “bottleneck effect” on Main Street to slow traffic during an upgrade planned for 2021. Cooley said he would leave it to the state’s design priorities.
Both candidates agreed that dogs at large is a problem in the city that needs to be addressed.
When asked if they would increase building heights to increase housing, Cooley said 50- to 60-foot buildings are prohibited by the city’s lack of a fire truck capable of fighting fires at such heights. He implied that raising roof heights would be detrimental to the city’s look.
“Is that what we really want? A city of shadows?” he said.
Martinez said many different sectors of the community need to come together to find solutions to the housing problem.
“Not just people with multi-million-dollar real estate agencies,” he said.
Martinez said he would support solar-powered housing projects. Cooley sought details on whether the panels required open space, in which case they could face land costs.
Both candidates supported increased funding for Mountain Rides. Martinez said he would like to see “an electric version” of the bus fleet.
Cooley questioned some of Martinez’s goals by asking how they could be accomplished while keeping a balanced budget, a practical task Cooley has been part of for many years.
Martinez said the local-option tax has been an important source of income for the city and that he would study the budget for a clearer understanding of funding options.
The general election in Hailey takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 5.