In Coeur d'Alene, growth, development and housing costs dominate local politics

Election 2019

click to enlarge From left: Elaine Price, Christie Wood, Dan Gookin, Michael Pereira, Dan English, Lacey Moen, Tom Morgan.
From left: Elaine Price, Christie Wood, Dan Gookin, Michael Pereira, Dan English, Lacey Moen, Tom Morgan.

It's a busy election year for the Coeur d'Alene City Council. With three of its five seats up for grabs, a host of candidates have jumped into the ring, ranging from neighborhood activists to a former cop.

But they're all basically talking about one issue: How to deal with unprecedented growth. Coeur d'Alene's current population of roughly 51,000 people has grown 16 percent since 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. (Idaho, meanwhile, was ranked as one of the nation's fastest-growing states.) As such, regional property values and rents have spiked, cultivating a seller's market.

Among the candidates, the responses to the trends are varied. In the race for longtime Councilman Ron Edinger's seat — he's retiring after serving on the council for decades — Elaine Price, a 50-year-old longtime Coeur d'Alene resident and small business owner, wants the city to slow the pace of development and listen to the concerns of current residents. She criticizes the city as too willing to let developers run roughshod over neighborhoods.

"It seems like the citizens who have been here the longest, who have helped bring the city up, their voices aren't heard," Price says. "Infrastructure should be in place before we're increasing the density."

Price is running against Christie Wood, a 58-year-old former Coeur d'Alene Police officer, school board member and current city Parks and Recreation Commissioner. Wood is less squeamish about growth and development.

"I am not someone that will say 'restrict growth completely' like my opponent has," Wood says, arguing that the city needs to accommodate a variety of different housing types in its new comprehensive plan, which is slated to be updated. (The plan hasn't been updated since 2007.) "I'd rather see [the city] focus on bringing diversity in options of what's available."

In another race, incumbent 58-year-old Councilman Dan Gookin argues that the city should impose more regulations on how and where developers can build, and mandate green space or facades that fit in with existing neighborhoods.

"When they bring in high density, they tend to think that it means the biggest possible structure on the lot," he says. "If you want to do the density without making that Soviet cinder-block-style housing, you have to add green space and that adds to the cost.

"I want to protect the established neighborhoods," Gookin adds. "The NIMBYs basically don't like things that stick out and if you can do it in a way that isn't obnoxious, then people don't complain."

Michael Pereira, a 52-year-old community activist and bank risk analyst, is running against Gookin. He says that the city needs to add more housing to bring down rents, in addition to partnering with nonprofit organizations like Habitat for Humanity to create affordable housing.

"It's a supply-and-demand world," he says. "We're going to have to have some high density to address the affordability."

Naturally, he doesn't take the politically unpalatable tact of saying the city should upzone parcels everywhere. But he does chide the notion of effectively banning new development by warding off large swaths of the city as "historic."

"You can't just name every neighborhood as historic," he says. "It's a balance."

In the fight for 68-year-old incumbent Councilman Dan English's seat, the talking points are a bit different. Political newcomer and beauty salon owner Lacey Moen is framing the race in terms of generational representation. At 36 years old, she argues the council needs more young people to effectively represent all of the city's residents. She also says that the city needs to update its constituent communications, such as building out its social media presence or creating an app.

"The average age in Coeur d'Alene is 36. We're a very young community, and I think a lot of people forget that," she says. "The issue is that we should be equally representing the entire city of Coeur d'Alene."

Moen doesn't frame growth in a negative light, but she's also noncommittal on specific measures the city could take to address rising housing costs: "It's all about trying things and if it works it works."

English, her opponent, argues that he's all for young people getting involved in politics and local government. He's running for a third term on the council and previously served as the county clerk for 15 years.

"I am not ready to stand aside at this point, but I'm happy to see the engagement and I hope it lasts," he says.

Tom Morgan, a 51-year-old HVAC worker and founder of the Lake City Bicycle Collective, is also running for English's seat.

He says that while he's not anti-development, the city should be wary of allowing new high-end development that won't provide working-class housing and displacement.

"Let's not go in and plow over older established neighborhoods where stuff is still somewhat affordable and turn it all into units that is only affordable to a handful of people," Morgan says.

On growth, English is also pegging his hopes on the update to the comprehensive plan. He's a big fan of different small-scale housing types, such as backyard cottages and accessory dwelling units.

"Maybe there can be some new creative options for pocket housing," he says. "Other cities have done some things with a whole cluster of tiny homes."

A third candidate who filed against English, teacher and author Roger Huntman, will also appear on the ballot. However, Huntman tells the Inlander that he has "bowed out" of the race due to a lack of financial resources. "I just can't compete," he says. ♦

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About The Author

Josh Kelety

As a staff writer, Josh covers criminal justice issues and Spokane County government. Previously, he worked as a reporter for Seattle Weekly. Josh grew up in Port Townsend and graduated from the University of Washington. Message him through Signal @ (360) 301-3490.