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The Third PLAN-Boulder Council Candidate Forum of 2013


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The final PLAN-Boulder County City Council candidates forum was re-scheduled due to the flood, and took place on Monday, September 23rd. The moderator was Bruce Goldstein, and the final batch of candidates were Ed Byrne, Jonathan Dings, Kevin Hotaling and Micah Parkin.

The last PBC forum (all photos by Zane Selvans)

Candidate Introductions

Ed Byrne

Candidate Ed Byrne

Why am I doing this? We moved here in 1981, and the city has been great to us. My youngest kid is now a sophomore in college. I’ve been writing editorial comments in the Daily Camera for years, so what I stand for is no mystery. With our current housing crunch in Boulder, even people with resources can’t find somewhere to live. Especially given all the people who have been displaced by the floods. We can’t rely on FEMA to help us here—more and more we have to take care of ourselves locally. The same can be said about the food stamps and other federal programs that are being curtailed ever more.

Jonathan Dings

I’ve lived here 15 years, and am in my 5th year of service on the city’s Human Relations Commission. I work for the Boulder Valley School District, as the chief of planning and assessment. I’m an analytic thinker with a heart, and a PhD in educational measurement and statistics. From libraries to parks and open space, our city EcoPass programs, and promoting cycling, walking, and other good habits, the city needs to work to preserve the high quality of life that we’ve got.

Jonathan Dings and Kevin Hotaling

Candidates Jonathan Dings (left) and Kevin Hotaling

Kevin Hotaling

This is my 3rd run for council. I’m a tech entrepreneur, doing web development and helping other people get their companies up and running. I spend a lot of free time working on political issues, both local and national. It’s hard to fit me into a box—I’m most concerned with the powers that we give to our politicians and other power brokers, and the fact that we take away rights from our citizens to do it. I’ll use the example of one public safety issue that came up recently—of occupiers camping on city property. Instead of just saying no camping, no tents, we decided to lock people up if you’re found in a park after 11pm. We’ve seen even more egregious overreach at the national level with the NSA debacle. We need more ground-up community solutions, and less top-down management.

Micah Parkin

Candidate Micah Parkin

I want to create a great future for our two young girls. We moved here from New Orleans after Katrina. We wanted to be in a safer place all around, especially safer from climate change. But as we’ve seen, no place is really safe from the changing climate. I have worked with 350.org and all levels of government working for sustainable energy systems. I served on the clean energy tech team for the city, as well as the board of PLAN-Boulder County. Lots of opportunities still exist that are just as big and bold as our pioneering open space and blue line growth limits. I think we should do much more with local food. Right now only 2% of our total food is produced locally.

Questions from PLAN-Boulder County

Q1: What are the 3 biggest issues facing the city in the next 5 years?

Jonathan Dings: Obviously, the flood is now a huge issue. We’re going to have to make some difficult budget choices going forward. Regional transportation is another big one. Lots of people who work here don’t live here, and we’ve really got to do a better job of getting them into and out of town without driving. A community-wide EcoPass should be pursued aggressively. We should also work to restore cuts to the city’s human services funding, and work more closely with our community (NGO/Non-profit) partners who are actually a great, highly cost-effective resource.

Kevin Hotaling: I agree with Ed that we have to look at housing. We’re expected to have 10,000 additional CU students within the next 20 years. 60,000 people still have to commute into Boulder. What’s the ideal population of Boulder? That’s like asking what’s the ideal population of the USA? Is it 150 million? Some people would like to ship people out of the country, but I don’t think many people in Boulder would agree with that solution. So why is it the right choice for the city? We also can’t afford to repeat the mistakes of the 29th St. Mall redevelopment, which we are doing right now in the Boulder Junction/Transit Village area. We need to get rid of our height and population density limits. And we can do it without hurting the town.

Micah Parkin: Climate change is the one issue looming over all the others. We should learn from the floods, which while extraordinary for the region overall, really only constituted a 50-year event if you look at the flow rates on Boulder Creek. We need more clean energy, more local food. We should be making it easy for homeowners to build ADUs (accessory dwelling units), we should support more community oriented housing like co-ops, co-housing, and more small housing, which can be affordable and reduce our ecological footprint. We need to expand access to EcoPasses, and we can allow more density in our frequent transit corridors, and more truly walkable neighborhoods.

Ed Byrne: We’ve made some great early decisions—on securing our water supply, on firm growth boundaries—but we’ve got to figure out what we want to do going forward. We need to figure out how to re-mix our land uses and recover from the land-use mistakes we made in the middle of the 20th century. We need to support “village” centers scattered all over town that can become the walkable neighborhood centers we all aspire to live near.

Q2: The question of annexing the Hogan-Pancost property into the city is coming to council on October 3rd. If you were on council, what would be the most important consideration in making that determination?

Kevin Hotaling: This goes along with the more general question—what is the edge of the city? How do we know when we’ve got a large enough footprint? I think we’ve got a big enough footprint, but not enough housing. We should focus on the core needs of our community, and not make it into a divisive battle. If we’re not going to expand geographically, we have to find a way to create more density within the city.

Micah Parkin: The number one consideration: Hogan-Pancost is in the South Boulder Creek floodplain. Developing it would put the proposed congregate care facility in danger, and would impact existing neighborhoods. Annexing has to have a community benefit. Instead we need to make sure that we’re getting rid of structures in the high hazard zones, and especially not building new critical facilities in areas like Hogan-Pancost.

Ed Byrne: Part of the challenge is we’ve already put a lot of housing out there in the floodplain. It certainly doesn’t make any sense to go forward with annexation without having a definite site plan. However, one could imagine a project there that’s got community benefits.

Jonathan Dings: Look at what Planning Board said: No, unanimously, 9 to 0. There are no clear community benefits, and there are clear adverse impacts. There’s just not a lot on offer to support voting for annexation today.

Q3: What should the city do about the 60,000 people who commute into Boulder every day?

Micah Parkin: I’m strongly in favor of a community EcoPass, and looking forward to seeing the results of the city/county/RTD study. I think we could look at VMT (vehicle miles traveled) fees going forward. We might consider congestion charging like they have in London and Stockholm. I want to see more bike paths and lanes, like the one we’ve been promised along US36. For trips in town, we need to do better complete streets—especially separated bike lanes, more than just a slim little line of paint to protect kids and our other more vulnerable riders from motorized traffic.

Ed Byrne: We need to admit that there are limits to what we can do locally. We really need a regional solution. I remember debating with an advocate for the 1% annual commercial growth cap. The proponents could only imagine the city getting worse less quickly, which is a lousy vision. We need to find out what folks in the regional communities would like to buy here, and build it in walkable neighborhood centers. A good BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system can help, but only if we’ve got good walkable, transit rich regional centers.

Jonathan Dings: We certainly don’t wait for the train that isn’t coming. We have to look for ways to make the bus, walking, and biking possibilities work better. A community-wide EcoPass program would be a good first step… but whether or not it works will depend on how well we promote it as part of what living in Boulder means… even if it’s less convenient than driving we need to make it a social norm. Maybe we should have our leaders take their official pictures while wearing bike helmets.

Kevin Hotaling: Most start ups fail. The number one challenge is figuring out what your customers want. In government we do the exact opposite—what can we hit them with to limit their options, or make it harder for them to do what they want to do. We should be trying to make it easier to do the right thing. Can’t wait for the train, by 2042 we’re going to have autonomous vehicles! We should explore putting the city’s vehicle fleet into the eGo CarShare pool.

Q4: How can we make walking, biking, and transit more accessible to our lower income citizens?

Ed Byrne: The community EcoPass is the obvious first step. We can’t keep developing “transit for other people,” it needs to be for all of us—employees, residents, old, young, service workers, etc. Right now, we’re a sprawling suburban community, and we just can’t support transit with the low density that we’ve got in most of the city. We can get around this by increasing our population density in selected corridors and centers.

Jonathan Dings: I agree with Ed that the obvious first step is a community-wide EcoPass. We should also do more to support Community Cycles for their continued outreach to low-income populations.

Kevin Hotaling: Density means fewer people need to own cars, and more shared resources—including all of our infrastructure investments—which actually makes things more affordable, instead of spending public money trying to make expensive things affordable by subsidizing them. Again, the city should look at switching to using CarShare for their city fleet, just like in Philadelphia.

Micah Parkin: I would work with Bridge House to get people hooked up with both work and transportation options. And I’d echo Jonathan on supporting the work done by Community Cycles and their bike ambassadors. We could also have a better program in our schools to get kids biking early and often.

Q5: Low income housing seems challenging enough, but what about making sure the city can retain our middle-income population and young families? Do we need a city board dedicated to low and middle income housing?

Jonathan Dings: I don’t think we need a new board. The city is pretty much out of land for greenfield single-family developments. It’s not like we don’t have the expertise to deal with affordable housing, I’m just not sure how much power we actually have have here to fix the problem in the city by subsidizing affordable housing.

Kevin Hotaling: Do we want to feel good about ourselves, or do we want to actually help the community? My rent went up 10% this year. Which is great for you homeowners, but it sucks for us renters. We need to create intrinsically affordable housing, not subsidized expensive housing. If we’re going to add 20,000 new units, we can either dump them into your neighborhoods, or we can find a bunch of asphalt and dilapidated buildings to replace, like in Boulder Junction. We should increase the height limit and allowable density there, not everywhere.

Micah Parkin: We should allow more mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods in some areas, and selectively increase our density. We should increase the number of ADUs (accessory dwelling units). Today we only have 133 of them, because the rules that govern them are too complicated and hard to satisfy. They’re a great kind of intrinsically affordable housing, and help both homeowners who get revenue from the extra units, and renters who have more options in our existing neighborhoods. I also have lots of young friends who live in housing co-ops around town. They’re cheap, and they’re great communities. We should also be supportive of co-housing, especially with smaller units. It can be affordable but still looks good and fits in well.

Ed Byrne: The thought of yet more city boards is daunting. We did a study of these issues, and then we didn’t do anything with it. “We’re getting what we want” as described by our rules. We’re losing both our wisdom and our youth. We’ve been building single family residential for 60 years! Nobody is investing in our existing rental stock, which makes up 50% of our dwelling units today. It’s just being operated and banked for scraping later. We should invest in 5 to 6 new walkable town centers around the city.

Q6: Followup question from the moderator: Is there a problem w/ the inclusionary zoning, in that it’s leading to a bunch of the low income housing ending up in the same neighborhoods? I.e., the places where new development is taking place, like North Boulder?

Kevin Hotaling: If we’re going to have subsidies, they should follow people, not properties.

Ed Byrne: It’s going to take at least a few decades to fix the last 60 years worth of screw ups. We should do more of what’s been done in North Boulder in other areas of the city—the eastern office parks, the Table Mesa shopping center area, the Diagonal Plaza, etc.

Jonathan Dings: Lots of people are concerned about the concentration of the social services in North Boulder. We should try and make the program more flexible so our non-profit partners can locate in other parts of the city.

Micah Parkin: It’s payment in lieu that’s creating this problem—they pay to have the low-income housing happening “elsewhere.” Maybe we should look at that policy, and require it to be done on-site. Maybe we should also look at just purchasing housing units all over town, and bringing them into the affordable housing program.

Q7: Within the city’s budget, what is most underfunded, and how would you go about funding it?

Kevin Hotaling: Our core community needs, like transportation maintenance. How do we fund it? We could put 20,000 new units in the Transit Village area right now if we wanted to—but we’re not doing it because a few people don’t want to see a different skyline. That’s ridiculous. 20,000 new people would mean $40M in new tax revenues each year, and a vibrant eastern Boulder center too!

Micah Parkin: Human services needs more funding—our mental and physical health programs, providing work for the homeless, etc. Thankfully, we’re smart enough to use ongoing funding for ongoing expenses, and one time funding for one time expenses in the city generally. We also have transportation system maintenance funding shortfalls. There are two measures that address it (2B and 2D, both of which I support) on the ballot today. Going forward I do hope we can find a way to shift our transportation funding toward user fees that can actually affect our transportation choices.

Ed Byrne: I would agree about funding human services. We also need to admit we’re not going to be able to count on getting federal and state funding, and we need to fend for ourselves locally. We could deal with a lot of the “aggressive transients” with soft policing. Maybe we do need more police, but I think we also need different types of police.

Jonathan Dings: Transportation and Human Services are the underfunded programs. I’ve worked with a lot of our local non-profits, and they are of incredible value to the city. We should work more and better with them, including releasing more RFPs (requests for proposal) to the community to address a lot of the needs we’ve brought up.

Q8: Follow up from Bruce: What can we do to deal with bad behavior in the city? Rowdy students, and other disorderly populations?

Kevin Hotaling: Panhandling could easily be addressed with collection boxes on Pearl Street. I don’t know how to solve the aggressiveness. With the student population, it’s probably not going to be solved. Students are going to drink, and we should work to make sure it’s the safest, least disruptive situation possible. If we can accept that the Hill is going to be the core of this kind of behavior, and manage it in that context, I think we can do better.

Jonathan Dings: We could do much more outreach, and develop a real relationship between the city and the students. Can we get them involved in volunteer opportunities? We need to engage with them, and keep that engagement going. I think there’s similar opportunity for outreach to the homeless. We build our parks specifically for people to hang out in and do nothing… part of the problem is that some folks get antsy when the people hanging out don’t look like them.

Micah Parkin: We just had a PLAN-Boulder forum on this very issue. It seems like we could get a lot out of addressing the few “bad actors”—bars with late night drink specials at closing. And bartenders should be penalized for selling drinks to the already drunk—which is illegal now.

Ed Byrne: This problem has been around forever. Who in the room didn’t get stupid drunk in college? It’s a peer pressure/cultural issue, and it’s unclear that laws are going to fix any of this or the related issues. I mean seriously, prohibiting couches on porches? Of course we can do better, but not at the end of a gun. In the future, land use regulations might be interesting, but creating grandfathered non-conforming uses that can never be killed because they have an intrinsic advantage over any new business isn’t going to help anyone.

Questions from the Audience

Q9: The Civic Area Plan will be colossally expensive to implement. How can we possibly afford it? Won’t developing more around the creek area just make future flood impacts worse?

Micah Parkin: My understanding is the Civic Center Area Plan actually does a lot to mitigate flood risk—by removing surface parking and structures that are in the high hazard zone right now. I think it’s worth funding that kind of redevelopment.

Ed Byrne: The Civic Area planning process was great, but we don’t have the money to do this without partnering with the private sector. We’re not removing parking, we’re just moving it into structures. This will create issues in giving people access to government services that are located downtown.

Jonathan Dings: “Can we afford it” depends on what kinds of financing mechanisms we have at our disposal. There’s bonding authority that could be used. So far as I’ve seen, the plan does address flood issues, though there’s only so much we can ever do with respect to floods. If we can come up with a compelling plan that voters will support, I suspect that we can find the money.

Kevin Hotaling: I like City Council. They’re good people, with good goals, but our execution kind of sucks. Web development (agile development) is actually a good model to look to in this context. We need to make an assumption, test it, and iterate quickly, constantly. Big centralized planning mechanisms are intrinsically flawed, because we can’t really understand the entire problem in one go.

Q10: Do you support mandating business recycling (currently only 17% of business waste is recycled)? Is it important in the context of our GHG emissions?

Ed Byrne: I’d want some clarification on whether that’s 17% of businesses, or 17% of the business waste stream. But the challenge is with the smaller businesses. Many of them think they can’t do it. We’ve pretty much solved this on the residential side (at least with single family residences). Another challenge is with food contamination. We should do a better job of getting it into the city’s composing facilities. Need to shame the ones who aren’t doing the right thing.

Jonathan Dings: I don’t support a requirement, but I do support an incentive. Lots of people do recycle all the time! It’s seen as an important thing here. My understanding is that landfill gases are only 2.5% of our overall GHG emissions, so it doesn’t seem like a big climate issue to me.

Kevin Hotaling: We shouldn’t require businesses to recycle, but I do want recycling to happen. We can’t hit them over the head with this. People just end up rebelling.

Micah Parkin: I went to an Eco-Cycle event a week ago, and learned just how much of our GHG comes from our landfills. Looking at the food and wasted material resources all-in, they say it’s more like 40% of our emissions. We’ve been trying for decades to try and get business to recycle and compost, and it’s just not happening. It’s time to require it. It will help us work toward our GHG and waste reduction goals.

Q11: What do you think about adding density within the city? Will it actually help with in-commuting?

Jonathan Dings: What would Boulder’s population look like with 10,000 – 15,000 more people? It’s unclear that it’s actually going to make a difference. There are threshold effects, and done right more density can support transit, walkability, etc. However, I’m unsure that we can really do much better with our planning process.

Kevin Hotaling: My assertion is that adding 20,000 new residents in Boulder Junction is doable, and that there are lot of people who would like to live here. And that housing will obey the law of supply and demand. I live at 28th St. and it was a quick 10 minute bike ride to get here.

Micah Parkin: We should be increasing the amount of affordable housing—especially intrinsically affordable housing. We need more small homes, but there are problems with our current minimum lot size requirements that discourage this. We also have to admit that there’s an ultimate maximum population for the city.

Ed Byrne: We’re suffering from a 60-year long failed land-use experiment. We can’t fix it by freeze-drying those mistakes in place. We already have 155k in town every day with the in-commuters. It’s not a body-count argument. What that additional population feels like will depend on how people end up behaving. OAUs (Owner Accessory Units) ensure that we get a self-regulating increase in density. We need to put our thinking caps on. We shouldn’t have so much fear-based policy making here in Boulder!

Closing Statements:

Kevin Hotaling: I love this community and want it to thrive, but we repeatedly fail our ideals, despite all our taxes and regulations. We need to do something different! We need to address truly affordable housing and transportation. We need somebody to move these things forward, and I’m that somebody. We need some younger people on council that are more people- and less government-oriented.

Micah Parkin: I feel blessed to live in this community that’s done so much historically to lead. I have the experience of community organizing, and the perspective of a mother with small children, concerned for the future that they will live in.

Ed Byrne: I’ve worked through my church, and on the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan. I’ve got several grown children. We need people with depth and breadth of experience. You can read what I’ve written over the years in the Daily Camera editorials. It’s easy to see where I stand on the issues. We need to work with the private sector—both for profit and non-profit—better to get things done. We’re losing 3 wonderful members of council, but I hope that you’ll find room for me in your 5 votes.

Jonathan Dings: Think about the background of experience you’re looking for on council. I will bring a clean analytic sensibility. I’ll look at our problems through the lens of data when we have it, and be very plain about the analytical framework I’m using. I’ve got a good background in human services, education, and the city’s human relations commission. I’ll bring my self completely to the job.

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