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That's what she said

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Young: The underrepresented need representation


Mary Young, an incumbent running for re-election in the 2017 Boulder City Council race, has deep respect for the experience it takes to do a good job on Council. Though she had already served for nearly five years on the city’s Planning Board, she said “something clicked” during her third year on Council, and in realizing she was developing relevant connections and abilities, she also realized she wanted to run for another term.

Candidate Young with husband Kent (photo courtesy Mary Young)

Young, who served as Mayor Pro Tem for a year during her first term, listed among the relationships developed while on Council as being with “communities that aren’t often heard,” or those who tend not to speak up. She developed a first-hand understanding of what it is like to be similarly challenged and underrepresented by growing up in a Texas immigrant family.

“I was first-generation, the eldest of five. I basically had to raise my other four siblings, and didn’t speak English until I was in the first grade. My father left us when I was about 14, and I worked since I was 14. I kind of know what it’s like to be a foreigner, and I grew up poor. Especially in these times, it really seems to matter,” said Young.

She said she “didn’t have much of a childhood,” but the early life of hard work and responsibility molded her into a teen ready for adulthood. She enrolled at the University of Texas-El Paso (UTEP) straight out of high school, fortunately at a time when college wasn’t as expensive as it is today, and with the help of Basic Educational Opportunity Grants and work-study programs to afford higher education. She eventually earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering from UTEP, and came to Boulder to intern with IBM during the summers of 1978 and 1979.

“I had my resume in a booklet for the Society of Women Engineers, and IBM at the time was really big on bringing more diverse folks into the company. They called me up and said, ‘Do you want a job for the summer?’ and I said O.K.,” said Young.

After graduation from UTEP, she came back to Colorado to work for Bell Labs in Denver, and returned to college to earn a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California. She returned to Boulder and has lived here since 1982, and worked in the engineering field until 2008, when she turned her focus to the local nonprofit sector.

Her first formal experience in City of Boulder government was her term on the Planning Board, which included roughly a year as chair out of her nearly five-year tenure. She believes her time on the board was invaluable to her perspective and knowledge of city affairs as a Council member, since she learned city process and gained expertise in land use issues. When asked, she said the toughest process she experienced on Planning Board was over a proposed annexation for housing development on the Hogan-Pancost property, which had been controversial due to floodplain and groundwater issues for many years—and is scheduled to go before Council in the fall of 2017.

“That was 16 hours of hearings over three days—two evenings and one afternoon. It was very, very difficult and very, very technical,” said Young, who chaired the process that led to a recommendation of denial of the annexation in 2013.

Young made her first run for Council in 2013, and emerged as the top vote-getter with 14,724 votes, earning a four-year term. She mentioned several highlights of her time on Council, including her work to establish Indigenous Peoples Day in Boulder on the second Monday in October of each year. In short, the purpose is to “encourage understanding and appreciation of Indigenous Peoples, their traditions, culture, and our shared history” in the Boulder Valley area, according to the 2016 city resolution.

She fought to help Boulder’s lower-paid employees who work night shifts yet had to pay hourly fees in parking structures, and calculated that even full-time employees making $15 per hour could spend 12% of their earnings on parking. The result, after Young worked with city staff, was a pilot program establishing a nighttime parking permit system with quarterly fees as opposed to hourly.

As of early September, Young said she remained supportive of Boulder’s efforts to establish a municipal electric utility, saying that the muni is “essential” if the city is to meet its established climate and renewable energy goals. However, with no guarantee that voters will pass the 2017 occupation tax ballot measure that would fund expenses associated with moving forward with the muni, Young said it could be necessary to take the effort to the state level in hopes of changing state laws to potentially allow Boulder and other cities to better make their own energy choices. For example, Young mentioned the possibility of pursuing “community choice aggregation,” which in short allows customers to aggregate their buying power in favor of renewable sources.

With growth in Boulder and the future neighborhood character at issue in 2017, Young said she supports broad engagement in community planning, such as area planning or subcommunity planning processes. She said residents would have a voice in the future of their neighborhoods during the process, and that the plans could serve as “living documents” to guide change as neighborhoods inevitably turn over.

“People are afraid that their neighborhoods are going to change drastically, and people should have a say in how their neighborhoods are going to change. I see this as a way we can evolve in a more harmonious way than how we’ve been evolving,” said Young.

Regarding Boulder’s notorious shortage of affordable housing, Young favors re-examining the city’s recently adopted commercial linkage fee of $12 per square foot, which is used to fund affordable housing. During the most recent Council debate over the fee, Young made a motion to go to $35 per square foot—basically in the middle between a consultant’s finding of $60 and city staff’s recommendation of $15—but did not have the votes so she withdrew the motion. She also favors the city purchasing mobile home parks to preserve this form of affordable housing and help protect residents from lot rent increases, adding that she was pleased that the city recently purchased the Ponderosa Mobile Home Park in north Boulder.

Young has also enjoyed attending Urban Drainage and Flood Control District meetings to learn about regional flood issues, and learning more about the electric and autonomous vehicles that point toward a coming transportation revolution. But in the end, she re-emphasized her care for marginalized communities, and she knows the city’s recent Safe and Inclusive Community study confirms that not everyone is comfortable within Boulder’s borders.

“We need to have someone on Council who’s watching out for how our policies can be progressive, and I think because I have an eye and ear for that, that my voice is really important on Council,” said Young.



  • Young is one of the five candidates endorsed by PLAN-Boulder County, Together4Boulder, and Greater Gunbarrel. The Sierra Club and Boulder Area Labor Council AFL-CIO have also endorsed her.
  • As of Sept. 29, Young had received $100 maximum donations from current Council members Suzanne Jones, Sam Weaver, and Lisa Morzel; former Council members Susan Osborne, Steve Pomerance, and Allyn Feinberg; Council candidates John Gerstle and Mirabai Nagle, and others.
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