Category Archives: Civil Discourse

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

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.

YIMBY or Not To Be (8/6/2016)

Having attended the first YIMBY conference in Boulder, I’m here to tell you that we were NOT volunteering “everyone’s yard” for development. We were, instead, intent on embracing positive change somewhere, in the right place, for the right reasons, to begin reconfiguring the dysfunctional land use patterns created post-WWII almost everywhere in the U.S. Our auto-dependent experiment has run its course. It is an environmental and societal failure.

If demand persists, personal wealth as a residency requirement is unwise, and sprawl is no longer an option, then building near someone who already lives here is inevitable.

I must concede that public land use hearings are generally not good theater, lacking in the sort of entertainment value attractive to neutral listeners interested in learning more, or even the supporters of projects with potential to make the quality of our lives better, not worse. An organized and vocal few opposed to change will nevertheless be willing to attend. Fear and loathing are strong motivators.

Elected council members and appointed board members are left in the unenviable position of having to account for missing segments of our community’s DNA (families with children, young professionals, non-resident employees, etc.). Accused of “not listening” by the disappointed people in the room, representing stakeholders deserving to be “heard,” but not there, is no defense.

The YIMBY movement is an attempt to organize and energize urban optimists to engage in the public process. I hope it has legs.

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)

Secession Proposed by Weld County

June 15, 2013

With a slim majority, Democrats pass some modest gun registration and rural electric energy mix laws and it’s time to form a new state? Seriously? An absence of moderates has few from either party problem-solving together in our current state capitol; how does forming a new one meaningfully bridge this divide?
Continue reading Secession Proposed by Weld County

Gun Control Initiatives 2013

January 19, 2013

Every time I’ve written about gun regulations in the past, I’ve received a profanity- and threat-laced anonymous e-mail from the same person telling me I better watch my back. Not terribly persuasive, but the caustic missives do underline the need for mental health outreach to the tortured souls in our midst. Ever since Cain and Abel, mankind has wrestled with anger management issues. I don’t believe the NRA’s arms race solution is the answer.
Continue reading Gun Control Initiatives 2013

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

TABOR – Our Republic Destroyed by Republicans

August 4, 2012

Douglas Bruce’s anti-government efforts have hogtied the legislature, embarrassed the Republican Party and landed him in jail. He may be the first “Tea Party” philosopher, long before that group even settled on its name. The harm he has caused to our republican form of government has slowly been reversed by communities in Colorado, both counties and cities, that have opted out of – de-Bruced –some of TABOR’s more insidious provisions. The most devastating of them relate not to the “ceiling” (spending caps), but to the “floor” (revenue caps lowered by down economic years),– a poorly-timed automatic austerity plan only a public vote can reverse.
Continue reading TABOR – Our Republic Destroyed by Republicans

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 . . .

Has the Fourth Estate Been Eviscerated?

Has the Fourth Estate Been Eviscerated?
July 28, 2011

What is the media’s responsibility, if any, for effectively analyzing and reporting on the federal debt and deficit crises? I wonder whether we still have a Fourth Estate capable of fulfilling the role of an educated and objective observer of current events. Has the media become an echo chamber without moorings or a compass, beholden to corporate sponsors and well-funded interest groups or, from a less conspiratorial perspective, is the 24/7/365 news cycle, dependent as it is upon intermittent crises and a constant flow of information and cash, simply unequal to the task?

I’m not surprised that the main stream media is covering Boehner, Cantor and McConnell v. Obama, Pelosi and Reid as a sporting competition with daily updates (who’s winning? losing? who scored points today? who lost points?). However, if truth matters, is this contest truly being waged by equivalent truth tellers? Does it exist within an historical context worth mentioning?

It is truly maddening, given that the lion’s (elephant’s?) share of the spending which created the current federal debt is clearly the direct result of the prior administration’s tax cuts, two unfunded wars, and unfunded Medicare prescription benefits, plus the emergency stimulus spending made necessary by the prior administration’s economic policies, budget decisions, and lack of regulatory oversight – not to mention the now well-proven inability of tax cuts for the wealthy to create good jobs here at home (with the possible exception of the jobs created in the banking and investment industry, which proved, in the end, to be a very mixed bag, indeed) .

After Congress did the bidding of monied interests by privatizing profits and socializing losses, record corporate profits from outsourcing and wage inequity have still added exceedingly few middle class jobs in America, though they do continue to fuel outrageous executive compensation packages, while underwriting outsourced jobs being created abroad. Anti-union campaigns and public sector job losses are helping to destroy the rest of our middle class, the foundation upon which all past economic recoveries have been based. Meanwhile, carefully orchestrated state level redistricting and voter disqualification strategies threaten to distort our electoral process for generations to come and corporate campaign spending increasingly crowds other voices out of our for profit, electronic “public square.”

What is the media’s proper role during a political dust-up of epic proportions with potentially calamitous economic consequences? Where is the in-depth analysis? Who should be responsible for fact-checking and contextual references? When the Republican Party states that their purpose is to ensure that President Obama does not win reelection, should someone question House Speaker Boehner when, with trembling voice, he says, “the president’s worried about his next election, but my God, shouldn’t we be worried about the country? I’m not worried about the next election.”

Really? . . . Really?