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City Council Priorities: Taking the Long View


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In early January, the Daily Camera interviewed City Council members regarding their goals (see here) for the coming year,  in preparation for the goal setting retreat that occurred later in the month.  As I read through the goals – everything from meeting times to revenue stability – it made me think about what goals I would set for the City we all love.  I have a sixteen year old son, so I tend to think about what things we could be doing now that would make Boulder an even better place for him and his kids (at least in my estimation) than the great place we enjoy today.

After a lot of reflection, I distilled the top 3 things I’d like to see for Boulder, and a few short term goals for each that would move us in the right direction. “What,” you may be asking yourself, “makes her think that she knows what’s best for Boulder?”  Of course, I don’t – this is just my opinion, based on my view of the World.  I hope that this list inspires you to think about what your “top 3” would be, and that it might even get you to take some action toward making Boulder an even better place, whatever that means to you.  So, here goes:

“My Top 3 Visions for Boulder”

1. Make Boulder 100% Energy Independent From Renewable Resources

OK, I know that you skeptics are already ticking off the reasons that this is an impossible dream – but I would argue that if we even came close to this vision the impact on Boulder and our World would be so huge and multi-faceted that it merits our most serious consideration.  Roughly speaking, the last generation of Boulderites gave us Open Space and bike paths, the generation before that ensured our water rights, and the generation before that pulled together to bring us the University of Colorado.  I’ll bet all of those visions seemed pretty impossible at the time – but if you take the long view, and start moving in a certain direction you might find that you’ve made some pretty substantial progress in a generation or two.

Rocky Mountain Institute calls renewable energy a “solution multiplier” – one thing we can do that yields many, many returns, including but not limited to:

  • Financial prosperity – in his recent State of the Union address, President Obama said, “I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change.  But here’s the thing. Even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future, because the nation that leads the clean-energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy, and America must be that nation.” I agree with the President, and would like to see Boulder lead the way.  As worldwide energy demand sources and non-renewable resources dwindle, I just can’t imagine anything we could do that would have greater impact on our long term financial prosperity.
  • Climate action – almost 60% of our Green House Gas (GHG) footprint in Boulder comes from the way we produce electricity – so unless we get serious about changing this fact it’s going to be really hard for us to make a really substantial, sustainable dent in our local and global environmental quality.  Another 20% or so of our GHG impact comes from transportation – which could also be offset if we were generating enough clean, renewable energy to power more electric vehicles as that technology improves.
  • It’s the right thing to do – if you believe, as I do, that the quest for cheap energy has been the source for so many terrible upstream and downstream effects, ranging from worldwide wars to mountaintop removal mining, then it’s time we turn it around.

So what could Council do about this in 2010? Well, for starters, let’s get more aggressive about meeting our Kyoto Protocol goal by tackling the biggest, fattest GHG producer: our residential and commercial electricity use.  The County is offering the innovative ClimateSmart Loan Program to encourage energy efficiency upgrades and solar installations – it would be great if the City could do something similar to help us all, homes and businesses alike, take advantage of all of that great sunshine with which we are blessed.

And how about some tougher building codes requiring more on-site electricity generation?  Compared to many other hi-end upgrades, adding solar would be a drop in the bucket for the richest in our community, and it’s a great way to keep monthly bills low for those who struggle to make ends meet.

While we’re at it, let’s get the University involved, too.  They seem to be making great strides both in being “green” and in marketing themselves as such.  At the same time we have Conoco-Philips coming to town with a big new renewable energy facility.  How ‘bout we pull some executive heads together and get a nice Conoco PV research installation on top of every University building?  Good PR for Conoco, good PR for the University, great for Boulder’s air and prosperity…like I said, “a solution multiplier.”

2. Strive to make Boulder a community where a diverse community of people live AND work

I’ve asked myself many times why this is so important to me, and it basically comes down to this:  I like living in a place where I run into my son’s teachers at the grocery store and my mailman at the bank.  I like knowing the people who grow my food.  Maybe it sounds nostalgic to you, but I just think a community is stronger when people from all walks of life interact and have a stake in the game.  I don’t want my future grandkids to grow up in a town like Aspen.  I want them to grow up in a town like Boulder.

And besides – you guessed it – this is another solution multiplier!  When people live and work in their own community, they drive less and produce fewer emissions. Heck, they might even ride a bike to work or take public transportation, in which case they might have the opportunity to say hi to a neighbor.

I know that balancing our population with jobs is a tough equation, and I don’t think it’s a reasonable goal that 100% of the people who work here live here.  But I do think there are some key things that we could do to encourage it.

So what could Council do about this in 2010? First, I think we need to do some research to figure out who commutes in and out of Boulder, and why.  If, as I suspect, a large percentage of people are commuting into Boulder because they can’t afford to live here, then we should look at both sides of the equation:

  • How can we expand our affordable housing initiatives to stimulate housing starts that more closely match the requirements of our work force, both in terms of cost and the type of housing (e.g. apartments vs. single family homes), and
  • How can we make sure we’re paying people, especially the people who provide us critical services (like hospital workers and baristas) a sustainable living wage that allows them to live here.

3. Keep Our Creative Spirit Alive

OK, this one’s a little harder to quantify – but if you think about why you moved here (or what keeps you here), beyond the bike paths and the Open Space, there’s that indefinable something about Boulder that Chief Niwot warned us not to screw up long ago.  It’s that something that makes people worldwide raise their eyebrows a little bit (part in amusement, part in envy) when you say you’re from Boulder.  It’s that thing that brings hi-tech companies and creative thinkers alike to our town and makes them prosper here.  It’s our crazy collective fitness level and our wonderful artists.  It’s the Pearl Street Mall, and the Farmer’s Markets and the hundreds of non-profits and the 100,000 citizens who care.

So what could Council do about this in 2010? This goal is less of a specific action, and more of a way of being.  I would encourage the Council to take pride in all of the things we seem to do differently from our neighbors.  I would encourage them to be courageous in leading ways to prosperity that preserve what made us so prosperous in the first place.  I would want them to find ways to fund libraries and arts and flowers, and to more humanely provide options for the least fortunate in our community, especially the mentally ill.  I would worry more about pedestrian safety and less about medical marijuana.  Whenever possible, I would bring the University more into conversation with the City to embrace all of that great youthful energy, and instead of giving big companies economic stimulus packages, I’d give the senior citizens a new bus so that they could have more fun more often.  I would encourage them to find ways to make it legal for people to run down the street naked with pumpkins on their heads, at least once a year.

And last, but definitely not least, I’d take a huge hike and hug a tree.

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