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Democracy isn’t pretty, but it’s better than the alternative

by CHRIS PETERSON
Editor | March 8, 2023 2:00 AM

I don’t often read the editorial pages of the Daily Inter Lake, namely because they get a lot of opinions on subjects or topics we don’t always cover.

But a Sunday letter by Keegan Siebenaler (see below) is so out of touch as to be comical. Siebenaler is the Affordable Home Ownership Project coordinator for the Northwest Montana Community Land Trust and sits on the Shelter WF board of directors.

For one, he blames the “minority” for opposing high density housing east of the Flathead River. As I read his letter, it’s the white old crabby men who are to blame.

I have sat through countless hours of these meetings, Siebenaler. I’m not sure where you were, but some of the most impassioned pleas against the River Highlands project, and others like it, came not from grumpy old white men, but rather refined and well-educated women.

In fact, the speaker that brought the most applause from opponents (and yeah, I know, you’re not supposed to applaud at a public hearing) came from high school freshman.

The young woman is no ordinary high school kid, either. I remember her being named the most outstanding 8th grader in her class by her peers and staff at the school and she has held that high standard now that she’s in high school as well. She also lives miles away from the proposed subdivision.

To be sure, there were some “grumpy old men” at the meetings, including a longtime mayor and county commissioner Gary Hall, who has approved more than a few subdivisions in his day.

Most the folks that I heard over the 18 hours of so of meetings I’ve sat through aren’t against high density housing. What they are opposed to, however, is compromising the Flathead River for a rather ugly apartment complex that will generate far more traffic than the winding roads south of it were ever designed to handle.

The Flathead River is a world class body of water that I think even a good soul like Siebenaler can see is one of Columbia Falls’, and the Flathead Valley’s, greatest assets.

In fact, when the Columbia Falls City-County planning board recently approved a high density apartment complex inside the city limits, only one person spoke in opposition, and he later admitted he jumped the gun — he meant to speak out against Rishi Kapoor’s Coral Gables, Florida charmer to the north of River Highlands.

Mr. Kapoor says his apartments, if approved, will cost about $2 a square foot. At that rate, a 1,000 square foot apartment is $2,000 a month.

People in the service industry are making $18 to $20 an hour. Even good jobs at Weyerhaeuser’s MDF plant start at about $22 an hour.

A person making that kind of money has to work more than two weeks just to pay the rent.

How is anyone ever going to get ahead at that rate?

Based on Siebenaler’s job title, I suspect that’s his job is to figure it all out. But as far as I can see, supply side economics isn’t working too well, if at all.

But back to Democracy.

There is this quote from author Evelyn Beatrice Hall: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

A phrase, perhaps Siebenaler, and many more of his ilk, should take a moment to ponder.