2024 year in preview

What could be in the coming year

By Reader Staff

We don’t want some of this to come true, nor do we wish to give anyone any ideas, but as is our custom, the Reader staff presents its annual list of predictions for the coming year. A handful of the entries to follow will be no-brainers, a few of them will be more hopeful than others and there will be some that are just for “fun,” however you wish to define that.

As always, this exercise is performed in the spirit of speculation more than prognostication, and if we get some of these educated guesses wrong or even right — which we will — try not to hold it against us. 

Zach’s predictions

Shaking up City Hall

Elections come and go, but some of them end up functioning more as the beginnings and endings of specific eras. The November 2023 city election was one of the latter, marking not just the changing of mayor and council, but the transition into an entirely different way of pursuing the city’s business.

Incoming Mayor Jeremy Grimm ran with the clear intent to eliminate the city administrator function, which had been at the center of all city doings since the hiring of Jennifer Stapleton for the job in 2015. Likewise, new Councilors Pam Duquette and Kyle Schreiber also felt the city could and should function better without it (and Stapleton, specifically).

Even before those folks could be sworn in, Stapleton announced before Christmas that she’d resign, effective Jan. 3. That leaves a huge operational vacuum and ends eight years of some of the most vigorous internal reorganization and management in the city’s history.

Now for the predictions: Grimm will make good on his promise to function as both mayor and city administrator (for a time), but the votes won’t be there to fully eliminate the position. That means sometime over the coming year, we’ll probably be talking about refilling the job, though it will be much altered in scope. 

Meanwhile, we’ll see a significant slowdown on a number of projects and increased hesitancy to start new ones. That said, we feel quite confident that the city will have its Comp Plan in place before 2025.

Plan to replan

In keeping with the above prediction, many of the elements of the various master plans developed over the past several years will be revisited — specifically in the Multimodal Transportation and Parks and Recreation plans, and even more specifically, the “East-West Connection” long-term concept, a.k.a. “the Curve,” in the former and the downtown waterfront and City Beach projects envisioned in the latter.

Peering into our crystal ball, there will be a (probably) successful effort to eliminate the Curve entirely from the document. Meanwhile, ambitions for the beach and Sand Creek will be dialed back significantly.

People will probably applaud doing away with the Curve once and for all, but the upshot of shelving a lot of the big-vision parts of the waterfront concept will be the beginnings of large-scale redevelopment along the east side of First Avenue.

If what we’ve been led to believe is true, developers have been lined up for more than a year with projects either ready to go or in a holding pattern, waiting for clarity on what’s happening with Sand Creek and that side of First. It has only been by choice that they haven’t started pulling permits and turning dirt.

There’s a possibility that at least some of those developers will decide they’ve waited long enough and, with the direction of downtown design being not quite as solidified as some might have thought (and critical people with whom they’ve worked at City Hall no longer on the job), they’ll jump in with both feet.

That said, the city is launching into several months of workshops and meetings related to downtown design code changes intended to provide that kind of clarity. Will developers hold off on their long-delayed plans to see that process reach its conclusion? Only time will tell, but I wouldn’t be surprised to start seeing real movement on First Avenue redevelopment in the new year that will tee off more than one season of local discontent.

GOP primary will bring out the sharp knives

No matter what, the 2024 GOP primary election in May will be a humdinger in District 1. We already know that Jim Woodward will seek to regain the seat he lost to Sen. Scott Herndon in a bruising, mud-slinging contest in 2022, and Rep. Mark Sauter has announced he’ll seek a second term. 

The candidate filing period for the primary is March 4-15, so we’re sure to see some new names. We haven’t received official, concrete word from Herndon or Dist. 1B Rep. Sage Dixon on whether they plan to run again, but Herndon is already pulling in campaign contributions for a 2024 run, putting him up for a grudge match against Woodward, which we prophesize will be even more bare-fisted than the last one.

We’ve heard Sauter will be opposed, and knowing how the Bonner County Republican Central Committee feels about he and Woodward (spoiler: not great), you can bet whoever gets the nod will come from far right field. 

Dixon is a bit of a cipher going into the 2024 election cycle — rumors have circulated that he might actually prefer to transition to the county level, while others have claimed he might just step back entirely from the Legislature. Regardless, both the seats held by Commissioners Steve Bradshaw and Luke Omodt will be up for election. If he chooses to run again, Bradshaw has already drawn a challenger in Brian Riley, while we’ve heard that Omodt would have at least one opponent.

The BCRCC also has a lot of opinions about Bradshaw and Omodt, which will certainly set up a slate of candidates from a very distinct segment of local politics — and one probably preferred by Commissioner Asia Williams — but she might not be too happy to get her wish for colleagues who agree with her, because governing decisions are way more politically fraught than protest votes.

Ben’s predictions

Chaos in the county

I predict there will be more chaos for Bonner County government in 2024. OK, that’s not fair. That’s like “predicting” that an airplane will take off at an airport. Let’s just agree that if it involves Bonner County in 2024, there will be chaos.

I’ll be more specific and say that one of the current three commissioners will most likely not be seated at the end of the year. There’s just no conceivable way the dysfunction and ire on display at every weekly meeting will be tolerated for another year without something — or somebody — breaking.

My best guess is that Commissioner Asia Williams will resign, either due to the fact that no candidates will prove to be Williams’ allies after the November election, or out of sheer frustration. Following her departure, Bonner County will likely find itself served with yet another lawsuit, which she’ll file on the way out the door.

Regarding the other lawsuits — including several filed by Deputy Prosecutor Scott Bauer and one by Bonner County Clerk Michael Rosedale — I believe most of them will go away without much impact. It’s clear that Bonner County will continue to be one of, if not the most dysfunctional counties in Idaho next year. Be prepared. 

A political nightmare

My next prediction zooms out a bit further to national politics. I believe Donald Trump will win the Republican primary and start the slow, eventual faceoff with President Joe Biden in the general election, in what will literally be a battle of the ages (Trump being 77 and Biden being 81). However, due to the four criminal indictments and 91 felony charges Trump is facing, at least one of the court cases will deliver a verdict before Election Day and, for the first time in history, voters might cast a presidential ballot for someone sitting in jail. Unfortunately, the news of Trump facing jail time will likely spark unrest from his most ardent — or do I mean ignorant? — supporters. 

I’m no alarmist, but I believe in 2024 we will see yet another critical testing of the democratic institutions in America. Those who identify as MAGA are either going to protest Trump’s loss at the general election or the outcome of his court cases with another Jan. 6-style incident, and it’s not going to be pretty. 

It’s going to be a brutal year for national politics, and while I don’t think the U.S. will “fall,” I believe we’re going to come right up to the precipice. Whether or not our guardrails hold, candidates who traffic in fear and outrage will continue to gain ground in Congress, while more nuts-and-bolts style lawmakers will head for the exits at an alarming rate. Politically speaking, I predict that our best years are behind us.

High altitude prices

Finally, zooming back to North Idaho, I predict Schweitzer will raise its lift ticket and season pass prices considerably next season. There are a few factors that will contribute to this decision. Alterra Mountain Company purchased Schweitzer last fall. Alterra is big money. It owns some of the most luxurious resorts in the nation: Deer Valley, Mammoth Mountain and Steamboat Springs, to name a few. 

An unlimited season pass at Schweitzer last year (purchased before the Oct. 31 early bird cutoff) cost $999, and a day lift ticket was $125. By comparison, a season pass at Steamboat Springs starts at $1,700. Day lift tickets at Mammoth Mountain are more than $200. Meanwhile, at the super posh Deer Valley, a season pass will run you more than $3,500. 

With such a dismal beginning to the ski season this year and a host of new amenities to pay for — including new chairlifts and the inevitable new condo buildings that will continue to claim open spaces like the Gateway parking lot — the days of being able to purchase a pass at Schweitzer for less than $1,000 are likely over after this season. 

I hope I’m wrong about this prediction, because I love skiing our home mountain, but I’m expecting to be priced out of this lifelong hobby sooner than later.

Soncirey’s predictions

That’s showbiz, baby

The San Andreas Fault, which runs up 750 miles of California’s coast, will crumble under a series of massive, long-awaited earthquakes. The sea will reclaim half of the state; however, casualties will be minimal since Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson forewarned residents of the disaster in his 2015 movie San Andreas. Sadly, Dwayne will perish in L.A. like the captain of the Titanic going down with his ship. 

California refugees will flood into Idaho (even more than they already do) and broker a peace treaty with the locals, forming the new nation of Idornia for tax purposes. Sandpoint City Hall will subsequently scrap its Comprehensive Plan and waterfront designs and instead bulldoze historic downtown, making room for Hollywood Two: Electric Boogaloo. Lucasfilm will render all the buildings using CGI to sidestep unions. 

The first movies produced will be Mission: Impossible 9 — Double Death Penalty, Godzilla vs. the Pend Oreille Paddler vs. Queen Kong and a live-action remake of Finding Nemo starring Timothée Chalamet.

The miracle of life

Because of the loss of Bonner General Health’s labor and delivery services, the hospital will invest heavily in cloning technology in an effort to maintain Bonner County’s population. BGH will subsequently revolutionize medical science by giving the county’s elite the ability to grow adult replicas of themselves, which are preferable to children because they require little to no maintenance and, because they’re genetically identical to their “parent,” do not have to pay inheritance tax. 

New versions of South Sandpoint residents, unwilling to leave their prized neighborhoods for homes in any other part of town, will build an exact replica of Sandpoint on the other side of the Long Bridge called Souther Sandpoint. The new town will be infinitely more popular with tourists, despite looking exactly the same. To eliminate potential conflicts of interest, City Hall will mandate that anyone running for election against their clone must fight to the death to prove their superiority. Meanwhile, all teachers will be cloned without their knowledge to solve staffing issues without raising salaries.

Temperance: The newest trend

Because of Generation Z’s love of retro fashion and antiques — as well as the public desire to romanticize any fad over older than 2010 — Congress will pass its first constitutional amendment in 32 years to usher in the new roaring ’20s. The 28th Amendment will repeal the 21st Amendment, thereby reinstating the 18th Amendment and the prohibition of the production and sale of alcohol. Eighty-one-year-old President Joe Biden will give his hearty approval after being told that it will make him “hip with the kids” and attract younger voters. 

“Big Alcohol” will lobby for a 29th Amendment repealing the 28th, but will ultimately fail because the majority of California’s wine country will have been destroyed in the San Andreas disaster. Hollywood Two: Electric Boogaloo and Souther Sandpoint will become the epicenter for the West Coast’s illegal booze trade since every other fundraiser in the city was already marketed as a speakeasy before the amendment passed. 

Residents will take inspiration from the hit show Peaky Blinders to develop their criminal personas, and will consequently walk around in three piece suits speaking with Brummie accents — much to the delight of Reader Editor Zach Hagadone, who’d been waiting his entire life for the opportunity to do just that.

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