Category Archives: Commercial Issues

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

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 . . .

Moratorium on The Hill (8/23/2014)

Today, the Hill is struggling – a shadow of what it once was, but can no longer be: a place entirely dependent on students and their spending; where three months of summer was a welcome respite. The land is simply too valuable to sit relatively idle for that long. We need responsible adults to hang out there year-round.

The Hill ought to be Boulder’s hot spot: a place where young entrepreneurs, talented students and neighbors of all ages cross paths regularly in an environment designed to promote and nurture creative collisions. If you prefer to go to sleep early or the sound of parties sets your teeth on edge, you might not want to live there, but students who could care less what the neighbors think should live elsewhere, too.

Many plans have been developed for the Hill. The best of them see the inherent tension associated with conflicting student, neighborhood and business interests as, instead, the Hill’s seeds for greatness. Well-served by transit, but still somewhat dependent on the automobile, underground parking, first floor retail, second floor office and upper floor workforce and student housing will all be needed to create the critical mass essential to make this potential university village/neighborhood center thrive.

The streetscape and the bricks and mortar should reflect every Hill constituency (including neighbors, empty-nesters and families), students, faculty, and university employees), plus offices, retail, and restaurants prepared to feed off each other. The sooner, the better.

Should City Purchase BCH Broadway Site? (5/16/2015)

BCH recently decided to put all their eggs in one basket out east, closer to the center of where their customer base now lives. Retrofitting the Broadway structures again – in the wrong place – didn’t make economic or geographic sense. Smart move.

Can the City and County move quickly enough to acquire the 8-acre downtown campus to meet other community needs as well? The obvious use for many of the hospital’s existing well-wired and oxygenated rooms is senior housing, both long term care and assisted living. However, the large site a mere six blocks from Pearl Street can do much more, and it should. From customer service, overlapping areas of expertise and economies of scale perspectives, social and mental health services of many kinds might work well together here.

BCH should be paid fair market value for the site. A quick close is more valuable than any premium or discount that might be negotiated, and the money paid will be used to underwrite the nonprofit services BCH continues to provide to our community elsewhere. Don’t haggle. We all win.

Then, meet with the neighbors and envision a mix of compatible uses that meet some of their needs, while delivering optimal value to the community as a whole. City and County employees with similar responsibilities may also be able to co-habit here, while the County Courthouse and Municipal Building continue to house executive personnel and public hearings. Git ‘er done – times a-wasting!

Land Assembly Improves Neighborhoods, May Serve In-Commuters

January 25, 2014

When asked how to find out what in-commuters would buy or rent in order to live in Boulder and avoid their daily  commute, I suggested that we should ASK them. Radical notion, but I’m glad the City has finally decided to do it. Continue reading Land Assembly Improves Neighborhoods, May Serve In-Commuters

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)

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

Sequester Nonsense

March 16, 2013

As we fall into the sequester rabbit hole, don’t be surprised when perception of the size of things becomes distorted. Everything and nothing is relative in this latest iteration of the deficit crisis that simply will not die. Price tags for programs ripped from their budgetary moorings and held up for ridicule or support flicker and flutter like Tinker Bell, struggling to survive while her television audience dwindles, drained of passion by this endlessly repeated Promethean struggle.
Continue reading Sequester Nonsense

WalMart Comes to Boulder

January 26, 2013

I’m having some difficulty believing that WalMart was not aware of Boulder’s interest in who was rehabilitating the PetSmart/Ross space in the Diagonal Plaza.The inquiries were pretty specific. Playing hide the pea for a while may have been fair game, but even “plausible deniability” has its limits.
Continue reading WalMart Comes to Boulder