The year in re- and preview

What has been and (maybe) will be in 2023

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

We’re just going to get this one out of the way at the top. Since 2020, when we started doing these annual review/previews, we included a little tongue-in-cheek prediction that iconic actress Betty White would make it another year — rooting for her to at least make it to 100 years old. 

In the Jan. 2, 2020 paper, we hoped against a gauche prediction from The Cut that Betty would shuffle off her mortal coil. In the Dec. 31, 2020 paper we rejoiced that The Cut had been wrong. In the Dec. 30, 2021 paper, we upped the ante and prophesied that “Betty White will continue to grace us with her presence until at least 2023.”

Alas, the day after that paper hit the streets — that is, on New Year’s Eve — Betty passed away at the age of 99. 

Courtesy photo.

I was greeted that morning with a phone call from News Editor Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey in which she said simply, “You killed Betty White.” I also got blowback from more than one person both on the streets and social media, accusing me (only half-joking) that I’d cursed a national treasure. “No more predictions for you,” wrote one commenter.

Well, here I am again, tempting fate. 

As I scatter jinxes everywhere, let’s also take a look at a few things we got right, wrong, half-right and half-wrong about 2022.

Downtown and surrounds

Right off the bat, we were only half-right about efforts to “turn downtown around,” referring to a slate of sweeping changes along Sand Creek that would redevelop the downtown waterfront with a slew of pedestrian and watercraft amenities and effectively reorient the east side of First Avenue so that buildings would face both the street and the creek.

Those efforts remain underway, with the city embarking on a design competition to solicit visions for what that part of the downtown core should look like. Thus, the downtown waterfront — a.k.a. Farmin’s Landing — project remains conceptual. 

However, one development within that area did raise a lot of hackles in July, when a routine vote about a land swap between the city and a developer at First Avenue and Bridge Street turned into a collective social media freak out over plans for a 13-unit high-end condo development on the site.

Five days before the City Council vote, Developer Bridge Street, LLC, released a number of renderings on its website touting “small town luxury living” in its envisioned 65-foot-tall mixed-use development.

“It’s a monstrosity,” more than one resident testified.

For their part, City Hall officials reassured citizens that the One Bridge Street images were “cartoon in nature,” and wouldn’t necessarily represent the final design. How all that shakes out remains to be seen, but we predict there will be a much firmer vision for the future of downtown by the summer.

Meanwhile, we were spot on that there would be some “forward momentum” on a parking structure at the current city parking lot (though we had been predicting that since 2020).

In the Dec. 8 paper, we reported that the Sandpoint Urban Renewal Agency has approved a memorandum of understanding with the city of Sandpoint — which the council had approved at its Nov. 16 meeting — to establish a steering committee that would get the ball rolling on determining what kind of redevelopment should take place at the lot, find a developer to do it, and arrange a property transfer from the city to SURA to the developer.

We still don’t know what might go up there, but the consistent talk has been of a mixed-use residential-commercial project including additional parking. Expect to see at least a concept by the end of 2023.

We were also correct that the availability and affordability of housing would remain tight through the year (no duh). The city took a hard look at the issue during the year, commissioning a report from Portland, Ore.-based Leland Consulting Group, which presented a draft in the summer and a final study on Dec. 8.

The key concept: Sandpoint is growing at breakneck speed (double duh), houses cost upwards of $700,000 because we’re running out of inventory and the only way we’re going to seriously address the crunch is by expanding the area of city impact to open up more acreage for new housing stock.  

Considering the stridency with which the Leland report emphasized the importance of the ACI to the fate of Sandpoint, we predict the city will take some pretty bold steps in 2023 toward collaborating with surrounding municipalities to extend infrastructure and utilities into the western hinterlands. We also predict that’s not going to make everyone happy (triple duh).

Elections, etc.

We didn’t quite nail it that “COVID politics” would persist through 2022. Sure, there’s still some of that furor, but the virus and its political baggage seemed to have taken a back seat to things like inflation and various fronts in the culture wars such as access to abortion, LGBTQ equality (and safety, amid a thwarted attack on a Pride gathering in Coeur d’Alene by an armed right-wing extremist group), “critical race theory,” and banning and censoring books and other media for “inappropriate” content.

Those battles were waged — and continue to be waged — at the national, state and local levels. To be honest, the Supreme Court upending Roe v. Wade kind of threw us for a loop, but it did color politics in 2022 to a great extent, especially in Idaho as we went through the May primary and November midterm elections.

It was in that area where we made a few prescient calls.

Specifically, that the Idaho GOP would be divided between its traditionalists and fire-breathers, with the May primary serving as “a referendum on IFF’s chilly grip on the Legislature.”

That’s certainly how some pundits saw it, with the hard-right wing losing almost all of the up-ballot races for governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state and superintendent of public instruction. IFF-backed candidates did much better with Raul Labrador as attorney general and in a great number of down-ballot legislative races around the state — so much so that we’re going to see a radically different Legislature when lawmakers gavel in after the new year.   

While we were right that Brad Little and Scott Bedke would go on to terms as governor and lieutenant governor, respectively, we were wrong that Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad would be the Idaho Democratic Party candidate nominee for governor. He didn’t make it onto the ballot due to a missed filing deadline, but did mount a write-in campaign.

Speaking of write-ins, by far the most interesting local political race revolved around the Senate 1A seat. 

First it was between Republican candidate Scott Herndon (he of the Festival gun suit, he of the “abortion abolition” activism) and incumbent Sen. Jim Woodward in the primary. That campaign involved an unprecedented amount of mud flung by Herndon at Woodward, with mountains of glossy mailers filled with misrepresentations of Woodward’s record mailed to residents throughout the district.

Herndon prevailed at the polls, though, and would have sailed to victory in November unopposed, but for Steve Johnson, who switched his party affiliation from Democrat to independent and launched an equally unprecedented write-in campaign to keep Herndon from the Statehouse.

Johnson, a farmer and longtime former educator, mounted such a vigorous, focused and visible write-in effort that it was reasonable to expect that he might actually pull it off. However, Herndon carried the November ballot with 13,064 votes to Johnson’s 9,025.

County drama

Can you believe that in the Jan. 6, 2022 edition of the Reader we had a lead news headline that read: “Deputy prosecutor alleges ‘defamation campaign’ by county officials”? That’s right: This is a story that we just reported on in the Dec. 8, 2022 paper, covering the ongoing spat between Bonner County Deputy Prosecutor Scott Bauer and County Commissioners Dan McDonald and Jeff Connolly.

On top of all that, the county has also been beset by citizen unrest about rezoning for development in rural areas; the Camp Bay saga, centered on public access to the lake through a high-end housing development; and, most recently, the death by apparent suicide of the fair director, which shocked the community and came amid an investigation by Sandpoint Police into potential misuse of funds and other resources. 

There’s a lot of “stuff” going on at the county, folks, and we all know it. But like icebergs in a sea on which smart people shouldn’t travel, we only see the tip. We’ll keep chipping away until the truth (or some approximation of it) is known.

And we’ll call that our first prediction: Even after two new commissioners take their seats in January, the various turmoils and controversies at the county will continue to make headlines.

Last words

Intensity seems to be mode for this batch of the ’20s, and 2022 was no slouch in that department. So in the spirit of prognostication — perhaps irresponsibly spirited — here are a couple of random notions for what 2023 might bring, both here and elsewhere:

• Elon Musk will announce the creation of the Mars Party, including leading members Ye, the My Pillow Guy, Nick Fuentes and Alex Jones, with the goal of establishing a labor camp/broadcast center/crypto casino on the Red Planet where there will be free speech for everyone, so long as they aren’t making fun of them. Donald Trump will serve as its representative on Earth. A five-year plan to wage war on Venus will immediately commence.

• The Idaho Legislature will vote to defund and outlaw all public libraries and schools. Rather, Idahoans are to be educated by a network of loud speakers installed around the state reciting from the Old Testament, the collected works of Friedrich von Hayek and a tractor manual. Lawmakers will then vote to outlaw themselves, conferring all governmental authority on whoever it is that funds the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

• The City Beach geese will meet with their high council in Ottawa, Canada, and decide to establish an open season on humans.

• An entire block of Aspen, Colo. will be purchased and transported to Sandpoint by an unnamed tech billionaire with business addresses in Delaware, Nevada, California and Wyoming, where it will be dropped on top of the Cedar Street Bridge.

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