My name is Sue Muncaster, and I am running for one of the two seats open on the Victor City Council. While out canvassing the past couple of weeks, I was struck by the incredible diversity of residents and the reasons they chose to live here.
I have met fourth-generation Mormon grandmothers living in harmony next to more transient fishing guides and retired ski patrollers. I’ve met organic farmers and Latino brothers coming home from a successful hunting expedition. I’ve met 80-year-olds living off the income from one Airbnb, moms driving school buses, and concrete contractors exhausted from 60-hour work weeks and driving Teton Pass. What everyone has in common is a passion for this incredible place, and the fear that people flocking here in search of what we all love will be our eventual downfall.
While change is inevitable, the headaches that plague overdeveloped mountain towns like lack of workforce housing, congestion, low paying wages, and sprawl are NOT inevitable. We still have the opportunity to tell a different story. But to thrive, we need to turn to each other, not on each other.
Around the world, people are waking up and declaring business (and politics) as usual is no longer serving us. We can shift the narrative to treat nature as a gift, not just a resource to extract money, thrills, experiences. We can decide that housing the people who are the heart of our community is more important than housing the multi-millionaires that have been driven out of Jackson by the billionaires.
We can learn from our past and our neighbors and declare that slow, steady, thoughtful growth is a better option than a land-grab-free-for-all.
Some I’ve spoken to are distressed at the level of planning and local government policies and are fearful of losing liberties; others are demanding more regulation in the name of community safety, environmental protection. Most want to ensure we stay unique by avoiding the homogeneity and cultural standardization of fast food and box stores chains.
While out canvassing, housing has been the #1 issue. How to address this issue, however, is also incredibly diverse – ranging from “Government should stay out of housing” and “We don’t want low-income housing, it attracts the wrong kind of people” to “Government should restrict short term rentals (which, in Idaho, we can’t do, but we can incentivize long-term rentals)” to “The City should allow any multifamily housing anywhere and any way we can get our hands on it.”
I am capable of understanding and considering conflicting ideas and balancing economic benefits with environmental and social costs. When elected, my goal is to ensure that every decision, rezone, business license, event, and tourist initiative comes to the council outlining how it will benefit the residents.
So here’s a concrete idea: President Biden’s new infrastructure bill includes grants for affordable housing, especially in rural areas (or it did, it’s hard to tell these days). The downside is these competitive grants are only awarded to cities committed to relaxing zoning laws, like minimum lot sizes, mandatory parking requirements, and prohibitions on multifamily housing to encourage new housing construction. In Teton Valley, neighborhood opposition to rezoning like this often guarantees no affordable housing ever gets built.
So what if the City initiated a competition to engage landowner/developers to submit proposals to receive grant money (anywhere they see fit) intending to produce the greatest benefits for the community, not simply the developer. The City would engage the public and eventually judge which submissions to grant funding based on neighborhood impacts and community benefits. These might include contributing to vibrant public spaces, funding roads, pathways and trail building, civic, arts, and recreation amenities, or social spaces like community gardens and dog parks. This process could create a culture of engagement where the developers and cities reach out to the local stakeholders ahead of time, reduce litigation costs from controversial rezones, and actually build affordable housing, not just housing plans.
I also think increased tourism should be part of the solution, not part of the problem. The City of Victor has an initiative on the ballot to increase the lodging tax tourists pay on hotels and short-term rentals from 3% to 6% and earmarking some of that for affordable housing and tourist impacts. I hope the residents vote yes on this visitor tax; it’s a start.
Victor is special, and I’ll work tirelessly to keep it that way. Much effort in the past ten years to create public-driven strategic plans with tactical tools within the county, cities, and the school district, but we need strong leaders to implement them. Local elections are often won or lost by a couple of votes. Please get informed on the school board and the City of Driggs and Victor candidates and vote on November 2. Your kids will thank you for it!