Email to DeAnne Butterfield re: the Public Policy Working Group Report (7/10/2017)

Dear DeAnne,

Thank you for sharing this public process report with me. It certainly shows a lot of quality work was done. However it is used, Boulder is sure to benefit.

The PPWG’s recommendation that Boulder “assess, plan and pilot a change of culture” makes sense – our high octane civic debates may not be unique, but stepping back long enough to consciously choose a new approach to community engagement, leading to “integrated, representative, and transparent decision-making” and collaborative problem-solving is an achievable and worthy goal.

In one of my 2009 EAB opinions, I wrote, “(d)emocracy cannot survive in an environment suffused with tirade-driven, bumper-sticker logic.” Today, we’re testing this thesis nationally, and at a local level, with uncivil discourse that scorches podiums and drives reasonable voices from the room.

Promotion of mutual respect, clarification of decision-making roles and better coordination between volunteer boards and City Council should also help quite a bit, but I’ve always thought Council should consistently note the community DNA that is unable to attend and participate effectively in our hearing processes. It would be interesting to collect demographic data on hearing attendees, gathering the data on separate sheets that do not include individual identifying information (Ever addressed board or council before? How often per year? Rent or own? Children at home? Income? Work in Boulder? Retired? Years as resident? Car, bike or walk to hearing? Etc.) It shouldn’t be hard to collect and the profile generated could be very enlightening. This gathered data could be collected at all of our council and board meetings and might go a long way towards identifying who we’re missing, both in terms of diversity and balance of viewpoints.

Active listening by city representatives (elected and appointed) and a request for interest-based, instead of positional commentary could also be encouraged. Tell us the “why,” not just the pro or con, including whether the concerns expressed are personal, representative of a named group or special interest, of from a community-wide perspective.

It is important to acknowledge that the public process challenge is ongoing and will never die. Determining the appropriate level of civic engagement for any particular issue or plan is a valuable exercise, if for no other reason than it encourages us to determine before a process is designed what we hope to achieve, from whom we hope to or need to hear, and whether we should embark on the “vision quest” at all.

The background examples were a good mix of challenging topics and more or less dysfunctional public processes. This year’s council election is likely to pick at these wounds again and again. I was personally involved in all but the North Trail Study Area process.

The Housing Linkage Fee “compromise” was developed outside the hearing room, but it was fashioned by stakeholders with direct knowledge of the market forces involved. Much higher linkage fees were desired by some, but the unintended consequences likely to flow from use of linkage fees for growth management of non-residential development (some, but not all; new, but not existing) might have been significant. I’m glad the increases were modest under these circumstances.

The Housing Boulder Working Group process was interesting to watch, as you know. I thought our group was pretty well balanced. How did yours hold up? It was a little odd that staff developed the list of “solutions” we ranked – an exercise that had everyone scratching their heads – but the rankings, themselves, gave some focus to positional debates that might otherwise have added little of value to the overall community debate. We’re all in this together, and stacking the groups with self-selected neighborhood representatives could have stifled discussions that needed to be more robust.

As legal advisor for the co-op folks, I was in the room as our proposed revisions to City Code were developed. I kept asking them to consider carefully the opinions of their neighbors and the resulting recommendations really were designed to require a commitment to active, relatively sophisticated co-op governance up front, in order to discourage “pretenders,” and promote better self-regulation within the existing code. Our idea was to reduce the City’s enforcement challenge on the back end and prevent future problems that would have tarred and feathered “good” co-ops along with bad ones. Instead, Tom Carr designed a revocable license-based approach (facilitating stricter enforcement, not encouraging creation of well-managed co-ops).

Unfortunately, Tom’s strategy re-opened issues that were, presumably, hotly debated and laid to rest when the first Boulder co-op ordinance was passed. The public perception was (and still is) that co-op advocates were listened to, when, in fact, our recommendations were largely ignored. It took more than a year of interminable revisions and painful public hearings to convert this Code re-boot into something that may encourage co-ops – we’ll have to wait to see.

Finally, the “right-sizing” of Folsom kerfuffle could have been avoided entirely had staff recognized that the shift from 4-lanes to 2 single lanes with a shared third (turn movement) lane would not work where raised medians already occupied the potential “shared” middle lane (south of Spruce and north of Arapahoe). People would barely have noticed the changes elsewhere on Folsom. I wrote about this in the Camera before the lanes were down-sized (July, 2015), but to no avail.

BTW – Andrew Shoemaker announced he will not be running for reelection to Council this year. I have decided to run.one last time. Wish me luck? {;< ) Ed Byrne

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