Tuesday, October 20, 2020
Jacob Greenberg Added a Second Plate to a Full Plate When COVID Hit
Jacob Greenberg had a hand in the veteran's memorial in front of the old Blaine County Courthouse.
Monday, October 5, 2020


Jacob Greenberg was working on a series of land use issues when the news of a new coronavirus beginning to wreak havoc in communities on both coasts began to worry him.

The chairman of the Blaine County Commissioners shifted his focus from the pressing topic of his county’s role in addressing climate change to the new topic, which would end up turning his county upside down overnight.

He pressed Idaho's governor to order a shelter-in-place for Blaine County as Sun Valley emerged as the nation's hotspot. And, with that, his schedule became a blur of telephone calls to the local health district and meetings with St. Luke's emergency physicians, first responders, business leaders and others.

"I've always described this job as a big overtime position because there's so much going on. COVID added a second plate to a full plate," said Greenberg.

Continuing to guide Blaine County through the pandemic and addressing the economic fallout the pandemic caused are two of the reasons Greenberg wants another term as county commissioner. He will face challenger Kiki Tidwell, another long time Wood River Valley resident, in the Nov. 3 election.

Greenberg notes that Idaho’s employment numbers are the third best of the 50 states. Sun Valley’s outdoor businesses have done well during the pandemic, and real estate has boomed as city dwellers seek some place with more elbow room. But, he says, about 25 percent of local businesses are worse off than before the pandemic.

"These public health and economic concerns demand proven leadership and experience," he said. "I don't believe someone can step in and know all the longer-term economic recovery efforts that are in place. We were first to ask for a stay-at-home order and the state has great respect for what we're doing in Blaine County. It takes that relationship between state and county to have them realize what we need to be successful."

Greenberg and his wife Jeanne moved to the Wood River Valley in 1982 from Los Angeles, where Greenberg worked as a financial analyst. Their eldest son was about to start kindergarten and they liked the outdoor experiences Sun Valley offered, along with its strong sense of community.

"Its characters and values suited us, as did the mountains, fresh air and knowledge we could go into the grocery store and know those we saw there,” he said.

Greenwood landed a job as a financial analyst for Scott USA and eventually went on to open his own financial consulting practice. At some point, he and his wife bought Western Cafe and Deli-tasse in Ketchum's light industrial district.

When Bruce Willis put Shorty's Diner on the market, he jumped at the chance to take it over because he wanted to be in Hailey.

Now, 38 years later, Greenberg has relinquished the management of Shorty’s to his son Josh. But he still relishes the fact that people are quick to wave hello and express their appreciation for the work he’s doing as he sips a mocha outside Shorty’s Diner.

“I like that they understand how diligent and hard working I am. Even if they don’t agree with everything I do, they appreciate how much I care about the community and them,” he said.

Given his passion for the outdoors it’s no surprise Greenberg was involved in creating the Boulder-White Cloud Wilderness and maintaining public access for fishermen and others in the Flying Heart subdivision.

He recently provided input on the Bureau of Land Management's plans for new trails in the Hailey and Bellevue backcountry, addressing whether motorcycle tracks would be appropriate in residential areas and where protections needed to be put in place for wildlife.

Greenberg hopes to be able to return to the task of creating an Office of Sustainability and Resilience--something that got put on the backburner during the pandemic--as the next year starts. The office would construct plans to make the county more sustainable in the face of climate change and launch solar and other projects.

It’s the debate over the undergrounding of a proposed high-voltage transmission line from Hailey to a substation in Sun Valley that prompted Greenberg’s opponent to jump into the race. But Greenberg says he doesn't expect most Wood River Valley residents would care to spend between $38 million and $46 million to bury Idaho Power’s redundant transmission line.

Greenberg proposes instead spending $9.1 million to underground the new distribution lines without addressing the lines that are already up. Idaho Power says it would add just $3.57 to people’s monthly bills to pay for that over the next 20 years.

“We can do nothing and have 10 lines or we can do something and have three lines,” he said.

Greenberg said that Idaho Power and the Public Utilities Commission don’t appear concerned about overhead transmission lines sparking fires, as they have in California and Oregon, where at least 13 of the Beaver State’s wildfires were sparked by power lines this summer.

“At this point, the PUC and Idaho Power holds the cards. At some point we can make our case again,” he said, noting that the final decision would be made by the Idaho Supreme Court if the case is pushed that far.

Greenberg said his constituents are often surprised how much work is asked of commissioners. They also seem surprised at how much work goes into applying for grants and other sources of funding for such projects as new bridges, given that the county has a $30.5 million annual budget.

“The new Adams Gulch bridge was a multi-million-dollar project. We can only increase our budget 3 percent over last year, and that goes to pay for cost-of-living increases for county employees, including the sheriff and prosecutor. Payroll makes up most of our expenses. We don’t have a lot of room for other things.”

Greenberg said that Sun Valley Economic Development is trying to determine how many people have bought new homes in the valley because of the pandemic and how many of those plan to live here full-time. The flurry of real estate activity over the past couple months puts pressure on affordable housing and the ability to keep service people in the valley, he added.

The county recently transferred the long-vacant Blaine Manor property on Hailey’s Main Street to the Idaho Housing and Finance Association for ARCH Community Housing Trust to build a 60-unit affordable housing development. But the county is limited in its ability to provide affordable housing because of its limit of one septic tank per acre.

“A community investment fund would help, but that takes time and people willing to invest. Thirty-eight states have real estate transfer taxes but there’s not great support for that here,” he said. “We’re going to encourage cities like Bellevue to look at revamping density. If there is growth, it should be in the cities.”

Editor's Note: Meet Jacob Greenberg's opponent Kiki Tidwell in Tuesday's Eye on Sun Valley.






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