Category Archives: Sustainability

Chautauqua Parking Test Program

April 21, 2012

The beatings will continue until morale improves — or should I say, parking tickets will be issued until we leave our cars at home. Motor vehicles are considered a suspect class in Boulder, so driving disincentives abound. However, our land use patterns require most people to drive almost everywhere to do almost anything.
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State of the City of Boulder

February 18, 2012

Boulder’s great, but it could be better. Drive through most older neighborhoods in Boulder and one can’t help but wonder why we don’t have “affordable” housing. More than 50% of Boulder’s dwelling units are for rent. Many owners have little incentive to upgrade while their tenants slowly buy their properties for them. Selling the lot as a scrape-off yields a reliable return.
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Need for a Longer Planning Horizon (2012 City Council Retreat)

January 14, 2012

It’s time to dramatically extend our planning horizon to anticipate a future where carbon-based energy resources become so expensive that market-based assumptions are irrevocably altered and to protect ourselves and our beloved community from the negative consequences resulting therefrom. This means more renewable energy sources, better energy storage technologies, more robust year-round agricultural productivity, and strategic primary resource planning.
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Boulder’s Municipalization of Electric Utility Referendum

January 7, 2012

50.4% – 49.6% (13,353 – 13,141): the margin of “victory” in Boulder’s municipalization referendum (occupation tax extension) on November 1st was 2011’s top Boulder story. We’re a progressive and well-educated town, but consensus on the way forward eluded us, even as more violent weather events occur world-wide and rapidly warming polar regions scream out for aggressive climate change-slowing solutions. I’d wager greater than 85% of Boulder’s voters agree on the City’s climate action goals. Our debate is about means and methods, and how to get the most bang for our bucks, sooner than later.
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Municipilization Election Stand-Off – Carpe Diem

December 31, 2011

50.4% – 49.6% (13,353 – 13,141): the margin of “victory” in Boulder’s municipalization referendum (occupation tax extension) on November 1st was 2011’s top Boulder story. We’re a progressive and well-educated town, but consensus on the way forward eluded us, even as more violent weather events occur world-wide and rapidly warming polar regions scream out for aggressive climate change-slowing solutions. I’d wager greater than 85% of Boulder’s voters agree on the City’s climate action goals. Our debate is about means and methods, and how to get the most bang for our bucks, sooner than later.
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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.
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Open Space Fees: Pay to Play?

June 18, 2011

The irony is that Boulder’s open space and mountain parks (OS&MP) were purchased, for the most part, twenty or more years ago, back when the City of Boulder was the northwest metro area’s regional shopping center. The sales taxes came from the pockets of many people, not simply the residents of Boulder. In fact, during the past couple of decades, many residents of Boulder moved further east, so their former sales tax dollars also contributed to the acquisition of Boulder’s OS&MP. If a determination of who owns Boulder’s park lands is based upon who paid for it, the answer is decidedly complex.

There is, however, the question of ongoing maintenance and operational expenses. They are substantial enough that non-resident parking fees, presuming they are paid, and can, in fact, be collected for a “profit,” pale by comparison. Protecting Boulder’s OS&MP from the teeming masses who love them is not cheap.

Our “wilderness” interface is a resource protection nightmare, a behavioral challenge, and an educational opportunity. Colorado’s ski industry has learned to harden the first couple of miles of trails leading from the top of their chairlifts, and they’ve installed interactive educational exhibits, so that summer visitors won’t inadvertently, irrevocably harm the fragile alpine ecosystems they’ve often traveled thousands of miles to see. Boulder must do the same. User fees should flow directly to OS&MP operational expenses. If earmarked, everyone should pay them (including residents, voluntarily). Wisely used, the future of OS&MP may depend on them. “Pay to play” makes sense.

Conservation Makes Cents for Xcel

April 30, 2011

Recent polling showing citizen “uncertainty” concerning whether to establish a municipal energy utility and toss Xcel should surprise no one. It’s complicated. Should the City spend hundred(s) of millions of dollars buying Xcel’s pipes and wires? Should we, instead, invest the money rehabilitating structures (commercial and residential) to reduce our consumption of natural gas and electrons? Admittedly, all energy is not created equal. Some, including most “renewables,” are sustainable. Others borrow from the distant past, squandering a diminishing supply of solar energy stored in carbon-based fuels to support profligate lifestyles today.
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Economic Resiliency: A Do or Die Proposition

March 26, 2011

“Economic resiliency” is a term we’re hearing more often of late. Auto manufacturers in the midwest are shutting down and laying off workers because the earthquake in Japan disrupted the supply of engine parts. Semiconductor chip prices are jumping for the same reason. The Middle East’s “Jasmine Revolution” is increasing oil prices and driving ethanol production, which competes for fields of corn — raising food prices.

Some of the challenges Boulder must address to achieve economic resiliency include a shortage of workforce housing, the need for more year round local agricultural production, and the ability to withstand temporary manufacturing supply disruptions, which may become permanent. When the price of oil rises high enough, “outsourcing” goes away, because the price of transport exceeds the savings realized from less expensive labor and less restrictive environmental regulations overseas.

Boulder would be well-advised to examine our local economy for vulnerability to supply disruptions. “Just-in-time” inventories work great until the flow stops. What raw materials, parts or products do we depend upon now that may become unavailable or unaffordable when predictable, probable disruptions occur? What is Boulder’s back-up plan? It is unwise to ignore the warnings current events are firing across our bow.

The essence of effective long range planning is anticipation of probabilities and preservation of options. If we assume we will always be able to afford what we need to survive after it has traveled half-way around the world to return to us, we may find that our “resiliency” was an illusion.

Gas Price Increases Won’t Persist

March 12, 2011
The law of supply and demand does not apply. Speculators rule. We (literally) pay the price.

Is $3.75 per gallon the new normal, or will this be just another bump in the road? Experts are attributing half the price increase since last fall to competition with India and China. That is unlikely to change. The price increases during the past couple of weeks are harder to explain.

The situation in Libya is very troubling from a humanitarian perspective, but Saudi Arabia has committed to replace Libya’s 2% share of world oil production. Experts have indicated there is no shortage of oil or gasoline in the supply system, so emotions and potential profits, not market principles, underlie the recent price spike. This, too, shall pass.

U.S. consumers have shown a remarkable ability to rapidly reduce gas consumption in response to historic price hikes. The result has been clogging of the distribution system, which has often lead quickly to price decreases to clear out the excess inventory. Thus, in ordinary circumstances, we profligately waste gas, but we know how to conserve when that matters.
The gas price roller-coaster rides we have taken in the past have braced us for a future that is not built upon a cheap energy foundation, but it hasn’t lead to widespread industry retooling, business model revision, or personal behavioral adjustments. We have, however, sold our clunkers, greased our bikes, and identified trip-combining opportunities – our personal transportation “Easy” buttons. The future is likely to demand more.