Category Archives: City Elections

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 . . .

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

Byrne on Negative Ads

September 29, 2012

Don’t boo. VOTE! Negative ads are meant to “disgust,” not persuade. They engender a sort of “pox on both their houses” attitude that doesn’t harm the ad sponsors. Negative ads are paid for by supporters of one candidate, not to get you to vote for them,- but to keep you from voting for their opponent.
Continue reading Byrne on Negative Ads

Directly Elect Mayor in Boulder

November 19, 2011

On November 6, 2009, I suggested we should directly elect our Mayor because there would then be at least one person in town who really could say s/he “represents a majority of Boulder’s voters.” The runners-up would reveal relative voter share of other points of view. I would even recommend we use instant run-off, or ranked voting, in this race.
Continue reading Directly Elect Mayor in Boulder

2011 Boulder Election Results

2011 Boulder Election Results
November 5, 2011

More than 26,000 people voted, 48% of those receiving ballots. During our last off-year election (2009), only 18,353 (29%) city residents voted. Direct mail worked this time. Give PLAN-Boulder, the Sierra Club, New Era, and Renewables: Yes credit for turning out their supporters, winning a close fight over 2B and 2C, while also electing their preferred city council candidates: Suzanne Jones (ran a near-perfect race for a newcomer), Lisa Morzel (best showing by an incumbent) and Tim Plass.
Continue reading 2011 Boulder Election Results

Vote – or Else . . .

Vote – or Else . . .
August 13, 2011

We have only ourselves to blame. The answer is simple: VOTE! Hold your nose if you have to, but vote – every time. If negative ads turn your stomach, and both major party candidates use them, vote for the one whose ads you dislike least, or vote for a third party candidate . . . but vote! It matters. The only way to reclaim our democracy is one vote at a time.
Continue reading Vote – or Else . . .

Seth Brigham, Redux

Seth Brigham, Redux
September 25, 2010

‘Tis a challenge to find 250 more words to write on this arguably unworthy subject. Isn’t all the attention going to encourage or enable similar behavior? Not to mention the cold, hard cash. Do we really want Council’s public comment period to become the City of Boulder’s “Gong Show” (apologies to Chuck Barris)?

The premature “hook” of Mr. Brigham is apparently going to cost “us” $10,000. What would have been “price-less” is waiting a few additional seconds to see whether Seth might remove his skivvies, thus committing an actual code violation; or, his three minutes having been exhausted, whether Seth would be content to simply leave the stage wearing fewer clothes than when he started.

Let’s be honest. Boulder’s citizenry are a creative lot. Anticipating every behavior that might be conjured up by one of our own is well nigh impossible at a public hearing, where passions have occasionally been known to run hot. Thus, patience is proved yet again to be a virtue. Instead of, “Go directly to Jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200” (apologies to Parker Brothers), we pay $10Gs. We ought to be able endure for three minutes or less almost any combination of words and actions. We do it on the Downtown Mall all the time, don’t we?

There are victims of city mistakes who are far more deserving, but the City has told them, “times are tough; we’re sorry, but we just don’t have the money.” This case settlement would suggest otherwise.

No Harm, No Howl

February 27, 2010

“No shirt, no shoes, no ‘sermon?'” At this point, I’ll bet everyone who was in Council’s chambers Tuesday night wishes Seth Brigham had been given his 3 minutes, because the resulting exposure (pun intended) just might have everyone disrobing for the next City Council meeting. I suppose it is a good thing that Council will now have carefully crafted procedures to handle the next person who seeks to speak in their skivvies, but we really do have more important matters to address this year.

I hope we don’t spend too much time carving out First Amendment exceptions to avoid comments that might hurt a councilor’s feelings or breach civic decorum in some other “personal” way. Give a clear warning, threaten removal if need be, and then follow through. But remember the “sticks and stones” rule: “names will never hurt me.” Council members ought to be able to survive 3 minutes of ill-conceived diatribe, even if it’s rude, insensitive and demeaning, without permanent harm.

Don’t get me wrong, they clearly don’t deserve it – Lord knows theirs is a thankless, poorly compensated “job” for which they deserve our thanks, not our brickbats. However, uncivil discourse almost always says more about the speaker than the accused. The audience can keep score pretty easily. Let’s not sternly manage Council meetings to prevent 1% from getting away with behavior that 99% of our citizens would never even consider doing. After all, such moments can be quite “revealing.”

We Should Elect Boulder’s Mayor

November 7, 2009

When I moved to Boulder in 1981, city council elections were a revelation: pick 5-6 winners from among 12-15 candidates? Cool. I’d look at the members who had 2 more years, then cast all my votes on a group of candidates I thought would fill in the missing community DNA. I’d vote for Spence Havlick and Bob Greenlee because both viewpoints deserved a place at the table. “Bullet-voting” was unheard of – you balanced your own ticket and figured everyone else would, too, so a representative sample would be chosen.

This year, 18,535 ballots were cast by Boulder residents (a 29% turnout), generating 75,114 “votes,” which equates to about 4.05 votes per ballot. This means very few voters wandered off their respective reservations to cast 5th votes. Macon Cowles received 7,749 votes and KC Becker received 7,719 votes. Barry Siff’s 177 and 245 vote edge over Tim Plass and Jyotsna Raj, respectively, are another indication that our two “core” constituencies are roughly equal at a secondary (down-ballot) level of 7,000 votes.

8 of our 9 current City Council members received fewer than 10,000 votes apiece – 10% of our population; 15% of our registered voters. Who represents a majority of Boulder’s citizens? Who knows? But there’s no shortage of folks claiming the mantle. We should elect our Mayor. Then there would be at least one person in town who really could say they represent Boulder, and the runners-up would reveal the relative size of our other points of view.

Boulder City Election Turnout

October 31, 2009

In 2007, the City of Boulder had 48,267 registered voters. 15,928 ballots were received, a turnout of 33%. In 2008, local measures on the ballot along with state and national candidates received 45,777 Boulder votes (a 70% turnout). Would a 70% turnout in an “off-year” election change the outcome? Certainly. Boulder, along with most local governments and special districts, holds elections in odd years because of a belief that during even year general elections many voters cast “poorly-informed” local votes. Ouch.

2007’s low turnout elected our current city council. The top vote getter received 9,815 votes (10.4%) [10.4% of a 33% turnout, I should add]. The lowest vote total for a successful candidate was 6,836 (7.2%/33%). By comparison, top city vote getters since 2001 garnered between 12,544 and 14,091 votes and the lowest “winner” prior to 2007 received 8,939 votes (11.4%/40% turnout).

With such small percentages of such pitiful turnouts, it’s a wonder any elected official in Boulder has the chutzpa to claim to represent “a vast majority of Boulder citizens.” If tamping vote totals down through the use of off-year elections is a conscious strategy, the best response to the tactic is to turn out in droves! I hope we do . . .

As of 9:00am Friday, 6,939 Boulder ballots are in (10.8% turnout). Lost ballots can be replaced, but all ballots must be received by no later than 7:00pm on November 3rd (Tuesday night). You should hand deliver your ballot to 1750 33rd Street (between Walnut and Arapahoe). Carpe diem!