Category Archives: Sustainability

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.

If Resiliency Matters, Let’s Be Thorough (4/29/2016)

As a former member of the Boulder Daily Camera’s Editorial Advisory Board, I have written on the subject of resiliency many times, often working the concept into editorials about seemingly unrelated subjects because true resiliency must be woven into everything we do, privately and publicly, over the short and long term. Boulder probably made the Rockefeller Foundation’s short list because of several natural disasters in recent years. There are even better reasons for Boulder to be involved in a resiliency study, but let’s start with them.

Boulder regulates land use based on a hypothetical 100-year flood event. It could happen within our lifetimes or within the expected life of the structures we build. The 100-year flood won’t remain within the river channels formed in Boulder long before settlers arrived. However, it’s not a mile wide and several feet deep, like the floods in Iowa or New Orleans, either. Boulder’s downtown is going to get wet, but it won’t stay wet for long.

There are some obvious things we should do to prepare for this “toilet flush”-type of flood. Identify the properties at risk. Flood proof our infrastructure (install remotely triggered shut-off gas and electric valves outside of high hazard and conveyance flood zones). Plan how to direct people to higher ground. Segregate hazardous wastes. As opportunities arise, relocate facilities for the elderly and the disabled out of harm’s way. Require insurance. To prevent catastrophic fires, turn off the gas and power within mapped flood zones after the sirens go off and before the flood hits.

Wild fires have always been a challenge in the hills west of Boulder, but fires in the wildland/urban interface zone are becoming a more frequent occurrence. Building and fire codes are meant to protect us, but they are often no match for nature’s fury. One reason the fires have been so catastrophic is that building permit-based regulations do nothing to change existing structures. If we hope to do more than improve the survivability of the 1/10th of one percent of our buildings for which a permit is pulled in any given year, educational outreach and meaningful economic incentives need to be creatively employed.

To achieve true resiliency, though, Boulder must more effectively address the following challenges: workforce housing, year round local agricultural production, and creation of “primary self-sufficiency” in our neighborhoods (the ability to work, shop and play closer to where you sleep). It’s time to dramatically extend both our planning time horizon and its geographic scope. Boulder simply can’t meet these regional challenges quickly or alone.

Much of the residential development added to Boulder since the 1950s is not walkable. We should examine the pattern and location of Boulder’s rental housing stock to determine whether joint ventures with private landowners (willing to cooperate in assembling smaller parcels into larger ones) might enable new village centers to be built in the right places for the right reasons: to strengthen our transit system and improve the quality of life in our neighborhoods.

For the good of the planet and to strengthen our economy, we have to kick our fossil fuel dependency. Let’s plug every hole, insulate every wall and roof, caulk every window and door, and retire every gas guzzler. We need to reduce leaks along with our profligate use of carbon fuels before opening up the supply spigots any further. Expensive, hard-to-find, environmentally risky oil and coal production should wait until our entire energy system has been fine-tuned, so we will waste none of it going forward. This will also enable us to squeeze more value out of every electron we generate with renewable sources, while evolving our energy generation and distribution system into one that allows renewables and fossil fuels to “play well together.”

Finally, in an energy- and resource-constrained world, conservation, localization, and sustainable land use patterns will be critical to our survival, not just our quality of life. Boulder’s businesses should examine their supply chains to determine where raw material and integrated component vulnerabilities lie. “Just-in-time” inventories work great until the flow stops. The essence of effective long range resiliency planning is anticipation of probabilities and preservation of options.

NoBo Prairie Dog Relocation: Mountain or Mole Hill? (07/23/2016)

I would much have preferred to see artists instead of prairie dogs living on the North Boulder Armory site, but it now appears inevitable we will have neither. More’s the pity. It is surprising how often unintended consequences cause Boulder’s well-intentioned policies to run aground. Land owners have been willing to launder and relocate prairie dogs in the past, but we seem to have run out of “receiving sites.” State law prohibits us from transporting such critters, washed or unwashed, across county lines, absent permission from both counties.

Whatever. Let’s not make a mountain out of these mole hills (pardon the pun; blame our editor). The North Boulder Armory site is not critical wildlife habitat. When it was active, there were few interlopers, rodents or otherwise, but the site has been inactive for so long that the small mammals moved in, uninvited. A “plan” for their removal or relocation is required. The options are few. Waiting for nature to take its course, via plague or predator, is not one of them. Humane capture and donation to a raptor rescue or other wildlife recovery program seems the most likely scenario.

But what is to become of North Boulder’s artists? They’re hard to capture, let alone relocate. The original Armory plan was well-received by Planning Board and many neighbors, rare enough these days, but it foundered when city planners determined the project would have provided too few community benefits. Utter nonsense.

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.

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

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)

Water Shortages in 2013

April 6, 2013

Shortly after the first settlers arrived in Colorado, water started flowing towards money. In many ways, it was a brilliant scheme for a region west of the 100th meridian, where long periods of drought are to be expected. The people who contributed their sweat and toil to divert water that would otherwise rush unimpeded to the Arkansas, Colorado and Missouri rivers, derived profit from their labor. 150 years later, we struggle with the monetization of this critical human resource, but the concept of “highest and best use,” coupled with capital markets that flex enough to reward efficiency, may yet save the day.
Continue reading Water Shortages in 2013

Colorado Legislative Priorities

January 12, 2013

First, do no harm. Second, starve the trivial, feed the significant. Third,. the enemy of good is perfect. Fourth, water flows towards money. Fifth, government must know its limitations. For Colorado governance, that about sums it up. We don’t need to starve our beast, it’s already on life support. No one wants to pay more taxes, but should we consider doing so to secure our own future? To avoid squandering our children’s?
Continue reading Colorado Legislative Priorities

Boulder County 2100 (ca. 2012)

December 29, 2012

It is the year 2100. Residents of Boulder County and their regional neighbors are 90 years into their pattern-changing experiment in sustainable community development. Guided by practical wisdom, sound science and an entrepreneurial spirit, they have evolved new land use and development patterns that reconnect them to thriving ecosystems and agricultural zones, support a variety of dense, walkable village centers and nurture a diverse population of young and old, low-income and affluent, and people of all races and creeds.
Continue reading Boulder County 2100 (ca. 2012)