Town hall draws large crowd, huge concern about climate
By Eric Valentine
No one declared their candidacy for mayor at the City of Hailey’s town hall Monday night, but a number of residents declared their concern that climate change is already impacting this tiny Wood River Valley town and it will take a community-wide effort to do anything about it.
Nearly 100 residents filled the Minnie Moore Room at Hailey’s Community Campus to take part in Mayor Fritz Haemmerle’s so-called “open mic political karaoke.” The mayor set up the special town hall session after announcing he would not be seeking re-election for the city’s top post. It was designed, the mayor said, to let him outline where he believes Hailey currently is in its evolution and to open the floor to the public so it could address how the city should now evolve.
“I have a European background and towns in Europe are gorgeous,” Haemmerle said. “I always wanted Hailey to be the same way.”
Although the mayor’s talking points centered on everything from town aesthetics and historic preservation to more wonky topics like public safety and funding challenges, the meeting kept dovetailing back to one theme: How will Hailey deal with the impacts of climate change? And it wasn’t just the adults in the room who were asking the question.
Multiple teenage members of W.A.T.E.R. (We Appreciate The Earth’s Resources) attended the town hall and two of its members addressed the audience, calling for the City of Hailey to create a so-called Department of Environmental Health. The department, Abbie Heaphy, one of the students who spoke Monday night, said, could focus on increasing general knowledge of any project’s impact to climate change and on using development practices that align with clean-environment goals.
W.A.T.E.R. members were followed by Amy Aranda, representing a group of teenagers in attendance called Nosotros United (we are united). Aranda said the group was established to, among other things, blend Hispanic culture and American dreams. Aranda called for city officials and residents to consider developing a multi-use facility where youth could safely hang out. Right now, Aranda said, so many teenagers do their socializing in the parking lots of places like movie theaters or fast-food joints. It’s not always safe and it’s not the optimal way to develop connections to culture, Aranda said.
Attendees, including the mayor, seemed invigorated by the testimonies of the teenagers.
“You only have to be 18 to be mayor,” Haemmerle quipped. “But if you can’t run, make sure you at least vote.”
Although nearly every topic on the table circled back to climate and environmental concerns, residents made their opinions on other issues very clear.
People who spoke up Monday night were in support of the city’s so-called town square concept where a centrally located city-owned plot of land could be used specifically for community events from farmers’ markets to live music days. But where should it go—both in terms of location within Hailey and placement on the city’s priority list?
Consensus started to develop on the idea that a town square should be near the heart of town, but away from Main Street/Highway 75.
Paying for the town square, regardless of location, would likely require a levy.
Livability and Workability
Erin Sweeney, a resident of five years, expressed her concern that Hailey is seen as a “bedroom community” and is losing out on some opportunities for what she called the “creative class”—entrepreneurial artists and alternative health professionals who live here and need office space. Currently, Sweeney estimated, we lose 20 percent of our workforce to Ketchum and an unknown amount of business patronage to the north part of the Valley.
“How amazing would it be if we captured those people here,” Sweeney said.
Vision for Hailey may be large, but budgets are rather small. In addressing what one member of the community called a bottleneck in funding, Haemmerle called attention to the state law that prohibits cities from increasing their budget by more than 3 percent from one year to the next. Nonetheless, the mayor said, between grants and levies and bonds, there’s always a way to pay for something. What’s not always present is political and public will.