Category Archives: City Council Campaign

Time to Unplug Boulder’s Municipalization Effort

Ballot Issues:
2L (Muni Tax): NO
2O (Muni vote): YES
(if 2L passes, we still need to have a go/no go vote before issuing bonds;
2P (Muni exec sessions): NO I might have said “yes” to this, if Sam hadn’t added a poison pill – only discussions of taking a muni off ramp, ending the muni, must be held in a public forum. I’m not even sure how that could work, practically speaking.

September 19, 2017: Daily Camera question – Should Boulder continue muni effort? No. The game was/is rigged. Pull the plug. Let’s start saving electrons and stop wasting money. Sad, but true. The path may be “clear,” but I don’t believe we can get there from here any time soon – the condemnation and separation battles could be tied up in the courts for years and all the legislative hoops and hurdles, along with the PUC’s broad discretion, tilt these tables against Boulder. Boulder should re-purpose the money being spent on the muni effort to squeeze every joule of energy out of the electrons and natural gas Xcel sells to us, so we can kick the habit

August 28, 2017: Open Boulder Questionnaire – Municipalization? I am concerned that we will never be able to afford the price we may be required to pay Xcel to purchase their aging, increasingly irrelevant infrastructure. It would help if we had won a few of our lawsuits along the way. The costs to date, coupled with the delays, which seem to stretch well over the horizon, make it increasingly unlikely that buying out Xcel will be fiscally responsible.

In any event, Boulder’s voters must be given an opportunity to vote up or down on municipalization when all the facts are known.
In many ways, my opinion has not changed since we began our effort, but city expenditures have continued and even accelerated with no end in sight.

I’m no fan of the way Xcel has conducted itself during this prolonged struggle, either. There should have been a way to work together to reduce Boulder’s carbon footprint, but Xcel hasn’t offered a reasonable one yet.

I will wait to see what Council decides to put on the ballot before taking positions, but my sense is that Boulder’s citizens are becoming more interest in pulling the plug on this endeavor.

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 last time. Wish me luck? {;< ) Ed Byrne

Don’t Pass Laws Government Shouldn’t Enforce; Don’t Enforce Laws that Shouldn’t Have Been Passed (12/12/2016)

“This city is heading for a disaster of biblical proportions . . . human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together . . . mass hysteria.” – Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ghostbusters

Even if the proposed cooperative housing ordinance is passed, and – unlike the 20 years that followed passage of the last one – people from cooperative households actually prepare and submit applications that the City then approves, the prospect of more than a couple of dozen cooperatives being established in Boulder seems remote. In a community with more than 40,000 households, there just aren’t that many individuals willing to commit to a true cooperative housing lifestyle.

There are, however, many students and adults who might not mind sharing rent in greater numbers than Boulder’s occupancy rules (i.e., “up to three unrelated people”) currently allow. And it appears the clamor is growing for stricter enforcement of these rules. We should hesitate before doing so.

The City should focus its prosecutorial attention on negative impacts observable from public rights-of-way or by reasonable concerned neighbors. We should not, and if we respect our state and federal constitutions, we must not try to count heads on pillows or test the depth or quality of the personal relationships of co-tenants. Blood relations don’t guarantee good neighbors, and the lack of same doesn’t always and everywhere make bad ones.

Our overoccupancy code provisions, based as they are on the behaviorally meaningless blood relationship distinction, may very well be unconstitutional, and they are almost certainly arbitrary and capricious.

Boulder has more than enough – probably, too many – behavioral rules and regulations governing stuff that disrupts or imposes burdens on neighbors. Let’s enforce those. That is enough.

We should not pass laws that should not be enforced. Government has to know its limitations. They are real and they exist for good reason. There be demons. A failure to acknowledge such limits will embolden the neighborhood cranks and officious intermeddlers among us, who seem to have nothing better to do than pry into and judge the lives and activities of their neighbors.

Reliance on complaint-based lifestyle enforcement implicitly authorizes private snoops to go where government dares not tread, feeding a beast we should, instead, starve.

Although the exercise of prosecutorial discretion can mitigate potential over-reach and prevent invasions of privacy, why raise expectations of government involvement when and where it should not be engaged in the first place? Such inappropriate mission creep can cause collateral damage, while it arms complainants with government resources in circumstances where understanding, balance and neighborliness should prevail.

As we try, with increasing desperation, to legislate good manners, we are doomed to either fall short or leap too far. In order to “catch” everyone, we continually add specific provisions to the Code that cover increasingly remote contingencies. Eventually, compliance becomes so complex or expensive that behavior we may have hoped to encourage is prevented. The enemy of good is perfect.

Despite what you may have heard, Boulder is not heading for a disaster of biblical proportions. We need to leave some room for people with good intentions to experiment with living arrangements that do not impose undue burdens on others. Let’s focus on such burdens, not on trying to count how many people may be sleeping behind closed doors.

In Defense of Positive Change (6/17/2013)

The rhetoric and opinions we hear during this City Council election season always touch on the vision people have for Boulder and how to best support and enhance the city’s countless positive characteristics. What we hear reveals a variety of implied and explicit visions for what Boulder should become. To varying degrees, the topic of “growth” and its impacts frequently comes up, and very often it is not in a positive context. I contend that certain types of growth in Boulder are necessary, beneficial and deserving of wholehearted support.

First, a definition of terms is in order. Boulder cannot substantially grow outward; future growth will be mostly variations of internal redevelopment. When viewed this way, growth can be seen not only as new structures; growth will include changes to activities within areas of the city or changes to the city’s demographics and their needs. In fact the latter issues will happen with or without new buildings being built. Boulder’s growth can therefore be viewed more generally as guaranteed and constant change, hopefully in the long run, change for better, not worse. The devil is in the details.

Perhaps unfairly, growth and change are often broad-brushed as somehow being inappropriate and forceful actions of developers and the business community. Such loose and fearful assessments of the role businesses play in Boulder reveals a failure to recognize the incredibly integral role growth plays in Boulder’s quality of life.

The city of Boulder’s 2008 budget projects 47% of the general fund revenues will come from sales and use taxes. This equates to nearly $44 million and represents the single largest source of funding for a wide range of city departments, programs and services. This includes police and fire protection, parks, the arts, housing and human services and various other governmental responsibilities Boulder’s citizens expect to be performed. Outside of the government, the contributions by businesses to the local non-profit community, the role of tourism and the synergies between the city and the University of Colorado are examples of growth’s positive impact over time that has made Boulder such a desirable place to live.

The crucial role Boulder’s economy plays in supporting our quality of life is sometimes overlooked as the concerns over “change” cause people to forget how consistently dynamic Boulder really is. Growth has always been occurring in one way or another in Boulder, and – on balance – we are better for it.

Consider your daily activities compared to 5, 10 or 25 years ago. Are you still doing the exact same things? Have you since learned new skills, developed new hobbies, made new friends? A community also can choose to constantly develop its strengths, confront challenges and tap into the evolving passions of its residents. This is possible when growth is seen as an intentional and positive force.

On the other hand, to consider the city as “complete” or somehow mature enough that very little change is acceptable is unrealistic and unhealthy. For whatever image one has of the time when Boulder was “perfect”, there were decades of land use decisions, economic trends and demographic changes that evolved together to create Boulder at that point in time. Such a snapshot is not the goal, bur rather a subjective benchmark.

How many people who say Boulder is growing “too much” nevertheless enjoy shopping at a store that didn’t exist in the city 5 years ago? Or walking a trail built since the extension of the open space sales tax in 1997? Or have friends they met in the last couple of years who came here for a great job? Upon reflection, if you’ve been in Boulder more than just a year or two, you are likely to have willingly spent time and money enjoying the benefits of “growth”.

Boulder could not have become the compelling magnet it is to entrepreneurial, progressive and generally interesting people if there was a pervasive resistance to growth. Instead, Boulder has been amazingly visionary in managing that growth and creating a community that is renowned for its quality of life. It is the “steering” of growth in positive directions to better meet community needs that will keep Boulder the remarkable place we love, not the “stopping” of it.

The missions and efforts of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce, the Boulder Economic Council and other business advocacy organizations are not in conflict with this evolution. These organizations are championing the best policies for sustainable economic growth, without which Boulder’s highly regarded –and demanded – government programs would struggle for funding.

To quote a city council candidate with a refreshing grasp of common sense: “Boulder doesn’t have a trust fund, it has a tax base.” Whatever your favorite aspects are of Boulder, our economic vitality almost certainly helps fund them either directly or through providing the vibrant atmosphere for such amenities to thrive. The acknowledgement that the city’s economic vitality is a necessary component to our high quality of life is not some sort of concession; it is, instead, an honest recognition of how our city budget functions, and indeed how our lives are enriched by the collective support thus provided by our pooled community resources.

This isn’t a call for sweeping or massive redevelopment. Boulder’s awareness of long-term impacts, and the very public processes we employ, ensure that change does not occur too quickly. But change will and should occur. Recognizing change as the fuel for our greatest attributes is the healthiest, most positive and empowering way for the city’s leadership to guide Boulder’s journey as one of the greatest cities in the world. Don’t put a fork in Boulder, we’re not done yet . . .

What Ed Byrne Will Add to Boulder’s City Council (10/1/2013)

Ed Byrne understands planning principles that have stood the test of time: walkable neighborhoods with wonderful village centers that support local businesses, decrease traffic congestion and provide flexible housing options for the elderly, young families and in-commuters.

Focus on Essential City Services.

Boulder’s key city services such as police, fire, transportation, water, libraries, senior centers and parks and rec must be adequately funded to protect our quality of life and to ensure we are prepared for events like floods and fires. I support renewing and reallocating a portion of Open Space sales tax revenues (Ballot Questions 2B, 2C & 2D) as a critical step towards safeguarding our city’s infrastructure and supporting our safety net programs.

Economic Understanding of Environmental Goals.

I will help businesses that support our local economy stay in Boulder by addressing workforce housing and transportation challenges. I will lead the city to improve our commercial codes to attract and retain progressive, innovative businesses that share Boulder’s social and environmental values.

Effective Governing Strategies.

Local governments shouldn’t try to solve every problem with an ordinance. We need to focus our resources where they will do the most good and be more effective. I believe that we should use all the tools in our municipal tool kit including incentives, education and partnerships – because not every problem is a nail.

Vision for the Future.

Thanks to the Blue Line and Open Space acquisitions, and while we pursue a cleaner energy supply, we can now focus on improving our town – the “inside” of our incredible natural setting – with innovative, sustainable and walkable neighborhood design.

Correction of Daily Camera article, 8/11/2013

Correction of 8/11/2013 City Council Candidate Article

August 11, 2013

In Sunday’s story on the city council race, Erica Metzger wrote, “(Byrne) said he strongly supports the city’s pursuit of a municipal utility.” Well, not exactly. If forced to choose between the City’s proposed charter amendment and the one from muni opponents, I support the City’s because it allows the staff’s analysis to be completed. When all the facts are in, I want Boulder’s citizens to have one last chance to vote on whether to proceed. That day is years and a few off ramps away. Both of these competing ballot issues are premature, but we may have to vote on them anyway. More’s the pity.

Continue reading Correction of Daily Camera article, 8/11/2013

Why You Should Support Ed Byrne For City Council (from the candidate)

Hello. My name is Ed Byrne. In 1981, my wife, Anne, and I moved to Boulder because we thought it would be the best place in the world to raise a family. It was. Conor, Erin and Kathleen thrived at Foothill Elementary, Centennial Middle School and Boulder High, and we’re very grateful. Continue reading Why You Should Support Ed Byrne For City Council (from the candidate)

Municipalization Vote-to-Vote Initiative

May 17, 2013

Because you can, does not mean that you should. Today, Xcel fessed up: they’re behind the “vote to vote” initiative. No surprise there. My question: how many electors are willing to sign it? DON’T! After carefully poll-testing the ballot language, we’ll be voting, again, about issues that will still not be fully vetted – the City’s efforts to complete its approved homework assignments are ongoing. The vote comes before the results will all be in.
Continue reading Municipalization Vote-to-Vote Initiative

Open Space Tax Extension 2013

May 11, 2013

Will there ever come a time when the City will finally declare victory concerning the open space acquisition program? If we are able to complete the right-of-way acquisitions, if any, needed to complete a bicycle trail circumnavigation of Boulder, may we conclude that success has been achieved?
Continue reading Open Space Tax Extension 2013

Boulder’s Big Events

May 4, 2013

There may have been times when big events caused more of a drain on Boulder’s service providers than could be offset by sales tax revenues attributable to visitors attracted by them, but event sponsors and the City have learned from the mistakes and successes in our past. We have also learned how to more effectively protect our natural resources while deriving greater economic benefit from the visitors and residents who enjoy such events.
Continue reading Boulder’s Big Events