Dear Fellow Boulder citizens:
Are you dismayed by the congestion and traffic you are encountering in Boulder? Are you shocked by the price of housing and rents that we are experiencing? Do you wonder what is driving our elected city leaders and our government to create ever more controversial policies and experiments on our population?
Livable Boulder is an informal group of your neighbors, past city council members, and others with experience in developing citizen initiatives. We came together over the issues above that were causing us to fear for the future of the community we all love. We tried participating in many of the city’s ill-fated planning processes; we tried communicating our concerns to the city council; we organized our neighborhoods over and over to fend off over-sized and inappropriate development projects. None of these efforts has had any real or lasting impact.
After lengthy consideration, we determined that the only effective way for us to regain control of our community’s future would be to develop two initiatives that would amend the city charter—Boulder’s “constitution.” One initiative, Neighborhood’s Right To Vote On Land Use Regulation Changes, will give neighborhoods the right to hold a referendum on city proposals that would change the city land use regulations to increase density or intensity of uses in their neighborhoods; the second, Development Shall Pay Its Own Way, will require the city to actually implement the policy that has been in our Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan for over 40 years, that is that growth pays for its costs (for details of these initiatives, please see our web site www.livableboulder.org).
Threatening the status quo through change always brings resistance. Because these initiatives will put considerable control back in the hands of the citizens, they are being opposed by city council members, and by the development interests that have been benefiting from the fact that control has been resting in the hands of a powerful few. The groups that profit from development have organized into a campaign, known as One Boulder, to oppose the two initiatives, and are expending a great deal of money to keep them from passing. Absent any real factual issues to hang their opposition on, the One Boulder campaign is using the well-worn political campaign tactic of sowing fear, uncertainty and doubt.
But no matter the campaign tactics, the real fact is that someone has to pay the costs associated with growth and development. It’s clear that those costs are not being covered now—just look at the increasing traffic jams, the city’s inability to provide sufficient affordable housing, and that we have added almost no significant new public facilities in decades. So the question is—should the developers who are making all the excess profits pay to address these costs, or should the citizens, who are hit with all the impacts pay? The fair and reasonable answer should be clear.
As to the red herring that has been raised about legal challenges, the Development Shall Pay Its Own Way initiative was reviewed by the City Attorney’s office, both before and after signatures were gathered. They have already identified what is required to implement it; and they did not identify any real surprises or significant legal issues. Because the initiative requires the city to use standard professional practices in its implementation, and because it only requires the city to do what is allowed by state and federal law, it’s hard to picture how it could create legal problems, at least any more than what the city is already doing.
It is no coincidence that the amount of profit in development is closely related to the costs that are not being paid by development—such as traffic congestion, escalating housing costs, crowded recreation facilities, pressure on fire, police and other critical city services. The opponents argue that development already pays for its costs; however any reasonable analysis of this claim will show that development is coming nowhere near paying its costs. The transportation and affordable housing costs alone are millions in the red (go to the Livable Boulder website for actual financial data on the shortfall in development paying its costs). Right now, all Boulder residents are paying these costs, whether it is through increased taxes or in degraded services. Livable Boulder describes this condition as “privatizing the profits, socializing the costs,” and we think this situation must change.
The Neighborhoods’ Right to Vote would only be used if the city decides to change the land use regulations, such as zoning or allowed uses in neighborhoods (this would NOT affect projects that are evaluated under the existing land use regulations, such as additions or renovations). The existing referendum process of petitioning our government for redress that is currently allowed by state and local laws could be used by any affected neighborhood. Ten percent of the voters in a neighborhood (to be reasonably defined by the city) could petition for an election that would allow a majority of neighborhood voters to approve or disapprove the land use regulation changes. This potential control by a neighborhood will provide real incentive for the city to involve and really consider the input and concerns of neighborhoods, which will lead to better outcomes for the entire community.
Many of the aspects of Boulder that have made Boulder such a desirable place to live and work were the result of citizen initiatives. The Blue Line Amendment kept our mountain backdrop as undeveloped land for all of us to enjoy rather than for a few wealthy homeowners; our Open Space program is the result of a citizen initiative; the height limit was a citizen-initiated response to several multi-story buildings that changed the existing human scale of Boulder. A citizen initiative took on the escalating amounts of money that were starting to overwhelm City Council elections, and we now have sensible limits on spending, and matching city funds for campaigns that allow any citizen to mount a credible campaign. Livable Boulder’s two initiatives are the most recent effort of citizens to take back control of our community, and are the latest in the tried-and-true grassroots actions that have made Boulder what it is.
One of our council members recently wrote a guest opinion in the Daily Camera saying there is no need for these initiatives. He lists development projects that were opposed by citizens with the end result, in his opinion, something better than the original. What he doesn’t see from his side of the council dais is the amount of time and effort that resisting these projects takes. Citizens have to be hyper-vigilant at all times, ready to turn out to testify at council meetings that too frequently go late into the night. We have to constantly scan the newspaper announcements, comb the city web site, and generally take on all the responsibility for keeping our community livable. We have lives that include work, family activities and upkeep of our homes. Trying to keep development in check is a full time job that we don’t have time for, and for all the time we have invested, we haven’t always even been successful in our protests, as any tour around our community will reveal. From our side of the council dais, these initiatives are our only real leverage to get our community back.
Livable Boulder is not an ongoing, membership organization. We came together for this one purpose—to pass two initiatives in November. We have no paid staff, as the opposition groups have. We are your neighbors, volunteering our time and some limited funds. We all feel this effort is critical to the future we want to see for our children and grandchildren. We want to inspire you, our neighbors, to join us by volunteering with us to help in the campaign, to take a yard sign, and to make a financial contribution. Most importantly, since this is the ultimate goal, VOTE YES for Ballot measure 300 – Neighborhood’s Right to Vote on Land Use Regulation Changes, and YES on Ballot Measure 301 – Development Shall Pay Its Own Way.
Writing for your neighbors at Livable Boulder