The 2013 Rad-ish Council Candidate Forum

Last night seven Boulder city council candidates visited the Rad-ish Collective, an activist co-op that does a lot of volunteering behind the scenes of Boulder Food Rescue.

Candidate Literature by Zane Selvans on flickr

The candidates had some motley seating, including one stool made out of the back half of an old bike frame (Andrew Shoemaker) and a chair upholstered in what appeared to be a faux Yeti pelt (Sam Weaver). Half the walls were covered with murals, and the other half with event flyers, political literature, and all the daily household bookkeeping that goes into making a co-op run smoothly.

The crowd’s median age was probably under 25, and most of us sat on the floor. As the event progressed, more and more people filtered in, and those sitting shoulder to shoulder in the front slowly scooted forward until we were within reach of the candidates’ feet. Sam Weaver remarked at some point that it was probably the largest or second largest audience of any forum they’d attended, even though it was being held in a living room!

Chillaxing by the Fallopian Tube by Zane Selvans on flickr

Despite the outwardly anarchic setting, the forum started at 6 o’clock sharp, and stayed on schedule right up to the end. If nothing else, living in a co-op apparently teaches you how to run a meeting! Rather than a predetermined speaking order, the organizers decided to keep a “stack” of candidates ordered according to when they’d indicated they wanted to say something. At first this seemed odd, since for most of the questions each person only had the chance to make a single response, but by the end of the night it was clear that it was a good idea. Nobody was obligated to speak if they weren’t ready to, and it gave the forum a little more the feeling of a discussion, even without too much back-and-forth between the candidates, because people were often inspired to speak immediately after hearing another person’s response. Allowed response times ranged from 1 to 2 minutes, depending on the question.

The role of Moderator was traded off between the event’s two primary organizers, Cha Cha Spinrad and Christina Gosnell. Time was kept by Helen Katich (who’s father it turns out went to law school with Ed Byrne).

Christina and Cha Cha The Co-MCs by Zane Selvans on flickr

The candidates present were Sam Weaver, Mary Young, Andrew Shoemaker, John Gerstle, Micah Parkin, Ed Byrne, and Kevin Hotaling. Incumbents Macon Cowles and Matt Appelbaum were busy at City Council crafting the rules under which recreational marijuana will be sold in Boulder come 2014. Jonathan Dings had a prior engagement at the state Board of Education. Greatful Fred’s location remains unknown.

The day before the event, candidates were provided with a three page packet (PDF) explaining the format and agenda, and giving them some general background on the topics to be addressed.

Update 10/24: What follows is not a verbatim transcript, it is my paraphrasing — my best attempt to capture the spirit and substance of the discussion.  During the forum, I was typing continuously, and I can type pretty fast, but I’m not a stenographer.  I took down as much of what the candidates said as possible,  filled with shorthand and typos, and here I have cleaned that record up, and edited it for clarity.  Enjoy!

Program:

  • 6:00 – 6:05 Candidate Introductions
  • 6:05 – 6:25 Diversity, Inclusivity, Racial and Economic Segregation
  • 6:25 – 7:00 Housing Equity and Affordability
  • 7:00 – 7:15 Transportation Equity
  • 7:15 – 7:30 Sexual Assault
  • 7:30 – 8:00 Community Questions
  • 8:00 – 9:00 Open Mingling and Discussion

Candidate Introductions:

Kevin Hotaling: My main issue is simply holding our city council to account.  We get too many big promises to save the world, and not enough actual change.  They end up being bad promises. We need real plans and we need to measure results.

Ed Byrne: I’ve been here since 1981.  I’ve written a lot of articles for the Daily Camera.  Go back and read them to find out where I stand.  I’m mainly worried that we’re pricing both Boulder’s youth and many of its long-time residents out of the city.

Micah Parkin: I know many of you from my climate work with Colorado 350.org, and you know that my main issue climate change.  I have two young daughters, and I want to leave them a livable world.

John Gerstle: I’m concerned about environmental issues, not least of which is our land use. I’m currently on the Boulder County Planning Commission. We’ve been dealing with fracking in the county.  I’ve spent a lot of time working with environmental groups at the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Andrew Shoemaker: I’ve been on Planning Board. I’m a trial lawyer. I organized bringing the USA Pro Cycling Challenge to Boulder last year.  I’m known for analyzing complex issues, and being able to put myself in other people’s shoes.  Our largest problem is housing, and it’s a regional problem.  We are going to have to work with other cities to solve it.

Mary Young: I’m currently on Planning Board.  I’ve got an engineering background, but now I work in the non-profit sector.  Right now I’m really passionate about figuring out how we can provide community-wide Eco Passes.

Diversity, Inclusion, Racial and Economic Segregation:

Many of the working poor and undocumented individuals cannot go to city council meetings because they’re working or taking care of kids. How could we work with you (city council) to increase civic engagement amongst typically underrepresented demographics, such as college students, renters, and the 19,000 people living below the poverty line in Boulder?

Mary Young: I’m a native Spanish speaker.  I’m already reaching out to the Hispanic community through El Centro Amistad. I can bridge the language and cultural barrier in
person.  Also, I think we’ve really got to do a better job of understanding the immigrant community might need a hand, but they’re not really looking for handouts.

Andrew Shoemaker: One thing that people (including you!) can do is call us — I’m happy to put my personal number out there.  We can also have more informal events for people to just get together and talk about issues.  We might consider having some council meetings on weekends.  We could also have them in other places — move them around to the areas and neighborhoods we’re actually talking about affecting, and help turn out the neighborhoods to engage directly.  I’ve been knocking on a lot of doors in the last few weeks, and you really get to know exactly what people care about talking to them one on one, face to face.

Kevin Hotaling: We got this question in the Elephant Journal debate.  The solution is technological.  We’ve already got great tools, open source tools, for crowdsourcing opinions and ideas asynchronously. I (maybe foolishly) promised at the Elephant Journal event that if I wasn’t elected to Council this time around, I’d put together a platform for this very purpose.

Micah Parkin: My kids to go Columbine Elementary, which is about 70% Latino and pretty low income.  I’ve been secretary of PTA for 3 years now, and have had to deal with this issue there first hand.  We have to have two language groups for the PTA so we can engage with all of the parents, many of which are monolingual Spanish speakers.  I’ve also been to plenty of City Council meetings that last until the middle of the night… and it’s not easy to do that with kids at home and a job.  I was at this Peer Potluck thing last night, at  Fuse, and the suggestion came up to allow Skype or Google video chat, so yeah, I think there’s also a role for technology to play.  We might also just need to have more, shorter council meetings.

Everybody look at Sam by Zane Selvans on flickr

Sam Weaver: We really saw a lot of great outreach with the Civic Center Area Plan, both in person and technological.  Also, anyone on the boards and commissions, or on Council, know that we really do read all of the messages that we get.  We’re hungry for input from people, to inform us and let us know what people care about.  Email us if you can’t be there in person.

John Gerstle: Yeah, I agree with Sam, you should be aware that every council member really is interested to get input from just about any source. We’re available to talk and meet outside of the meetings if you’ve got concerns. The system really is pretty open for public input and participation, even outside of the regular meetings.

Ed Byrne: Well, speaking of technology, my Reddit AMA is tomorrow at 2pm, jump on there!  I’ve been a coach in all kinds of different sports, including skiing, and have gotten to see a ton of kids from all kinds of backgrounds, teaching them for free, and helping to move people into the ski industry and other mountain jobs.

We can act to change our culture and make it more inclusive. What are some programs you would encourage either for city council or other departments to achieve this end? An example of such a program might be cultural sensitivity training for police, or being educated with multicultural awareness.

Mary Young: Cultural sensitivity is not something you can learn in 4 hours. It’s a long and involved process. It’s not clear it’s really something you can teach well, but rather has to be learned by doing.  One thing I’d love to see more of is people from different cultures painting murals together in Boulder, experiencing that creative act together.  We need to change the laws that say that’s graffiti right now, and let people express themselves.

Ed Bryne: Listen to your children!  At our church we were one of the very first congregations to be Open and Affirming. We also started a youth program taking kids into the wilderness. You need to share experiences with people who are different from you!

Kevin Hotaling: It’s not training, it’s building a community. One of the problems we have here is that our police don’t live in Boulder! They’re not part of our community, they don’t share our values, they’re not around when they’re off-duty. We need to make it possible for public servants to live in the city that they serve.  But today, they just can’t afford it, so we need to provide an incentive to live here, and a pay scale that makes it possible.

Sam Weaver: Look for the Latino Task Force report. We need culturally sensitive service delivery. Every service that will touch a community needs to understand how to interact with that community. That was probably the most meaningful thing I saw in that report. It’s systemic.  It’s not just a workshop you can graft on top of all your existing programs and departments and staff.

Andrew Shoemaker: I agree with Kevin, that we should have housing solutions for our public servants.  And I agree with what Mary said — art, music and events really bring people together.  It’s so freaking hard to have events in this town!  The hoops you have to jump through just to close down a street for the day, or serve a beer without putting everyone in a cage are crazy!  We need to get people out in the streets rubbing elbows with each other and enjoying life together, instead of pushing everyone into their living rooms where they watch TV.

Everyone still looking at Sam by Zane Selvans on flickr

John Gerstle: I’m actually the child of immigrants.  English was not my first language. And yes, the best thing that can happen is just getting people doing things together regularly. And not just art and music, but really anything. My parents got involved in the Open Space and Blue Line initiatives very early on, and they could hardly speak to the other people they were working with. It worked well, and helped to get them integrated into the community.

Micah Parkin: One of the biggest barriers at my school, like I said above, is language. Over the last few years I’ve taken classes to learn Spanish just so I could interact with the other parents at our school and through the PTA. It would be great to get language classes made available to adults for free.  Also, maybe we need to do more translation of meetings and documents. Also liked the suggestion of using the arts.  Intercambio is great.  There’s a lot of life to be shared non-verbally.

Housing:

Because of occupancy limits, the status quo in Boulder is a don’t ask don’t tell relationship between landlords and tenants. This creates illegal populations which discourages civic engagement. How would you work to legitimize the enormous population of responsible Boulder citizens who currently live in illegally over-occupied dwellings, while still addressing homeowner concerns about bad neighbors?

Sam Weaver: I’ll give you the same answer I just gave the Boulder Libertarians. I’m in favor of supporting co-ops and more people living in our existing homes.  Of course neighborhood impacts are an issue, but so is landlords taking advantage of tenants in the current situation. If the real problem is parking, then let’s talk about how many cars can be in a house, not how many people. Occupancy is a “victimless crime”.  The real problems are trash and noise — behaviors, not the number of pepole, and we can address those behaviors directly, with laws we’ve already got on the books.  I’m all for having this conversation; it’s long past due.

Micah Parkin: I very strongly agree with removing the occupancy limits.  Doing so would help address many of our top community concerns: housing affordability, climate and sustainability, etc.  It’s a no-brainer.  I completely agree with what Sam is saying about the issues being all about behavior, not occupancy.  We need to enforce our noise and trash ordinances.  I’m a big supporter of doing more co-housing, co-ops and ADUs in Boulder.  They’re all great ways to get more people in our community more affordably often without needing to build anything new at all!

Andrew Shoemaker: I agree with what has been said, but in some places you are going to get some serious resistance, like on University Hill (where I live).  We need to be politically savvy about it. Frat houses are bad for you guys too, because they give lots of people — especially young people — living together a bad name.  The current situation (with over-occupied rentals being the norm) is untenable, and leads to landlords taking advantage of renters.  Personally I’d like to re-write the laws so that landlords have to give you back all the rent they’ve collected from you if they’ve knowingly had the building over occupancy, and then try to raise the rent later because of it.  We need to set up the right incentives in the landlord-tenant relationship, and they aren’t there now.

Mary Young: You need to start a movement on this.  You need to come to city council meetings and represent yourself to get these laws changed.  The squeaky wheel will get the grease on this issue!  Participate and we will respond!

Ed Byrne: More than 50% of the housing in this town is rentals, and the buildings are being run into the ground by landlords just waiting to scrape the lot and re-build something they can sell. People are learning to drink in college… we need to change our drinking culture, not pass zoning laws. We shouldn’t force drinking underground. Not only are our unrelated occupancy limits bad policy, I believe that they are unconstitutional.  Obviously it’s a behavior issue, not the occupancy itself that’s the problem.

Cha Cha the Barefoot Moderator by Zane Selvans on flickr

John Gerstle: I also support removing the over occupancy restrictions. At same time I would also put much stricter requirements on landlords that buildings are well maintained, and that behaviors within the buildings don’t disturb the neighbors. I think we can revise these laws and we should.

Kevin Hotaling: This issue is a microcosm of boulder policy: We pass a law to address a problem that doesn’t exist. The real problem is that we don’t hold council to account when they make promises. There are lots of victimless crimes here that we need to get off the books in Boulder. It’s counter productive.  Also I would point out that this issue has come up before.  Candidates always say they want to change this law and then they never do!  Hold them accountable!

Mary Young: I just want to re-emphasize that what we need to actually get these laws changed is a MOVEMENT.  There will be opposition.  It will be a struggle.  The city’s Comprehensive Housing Strategy will be coming before City Council soon. That is the time to act.  That’s the opportunity.  Read the reports.  Come to meetings and open houses.  We’re going to be having related conversations anyway.  Bring it up!

Boulder’s policies on housing, such as occupancy limits, height limits, minimum lot size, lot line setbacks, and generally low density zoning, makes it prohibitively expensive for some contributing members of our community to live within city limits and are in direct opposition to the city’s sustainability goals. Our current policies discourage socio-economic and cultural diversity. Plain and simple: the poor can’t live here.  What changes do you think could provide housing security for these disenfranchised members of our community?

Ed Bryne: Our economy is regional.  It extends county-wide and even beyond.  We’ve had bad mono-use zoning in Boulder for 60 years.  We need to do much, much more mixed use zoning, with increased density along our transit corridors.  I’ve been working on this for more than a decade! Look at NoBo — it’s great.  We need to look at what neighborhoods have, and lack, and come up with a plan to make up the lacks, and build housing here that the people who are commuting actually want. We need to build a city where you have great neighborhoods, village centers scattered all over town, where cars aren’t needed.

Kevin Hotaling: In 2006 Boulder committed to the Kyoto Protocol, and some per-capita reductions in our emissions. Our first GHG inventory found that we emitted 17.5 tons of CO2 per person. Now 7 years later we’re at 19 tons per person! We’re actually failing worse today than when we started trying. We need to take real action now!  Real action is re-building our built environment. About 95% of Boulder is a ‘burb. If that’s what you want, then you’re doing great… but if what you want to do is lead on climate, then we’re screwing up. We should increase the height limit in the eastern parts of town that are being redeveloped, like the Transit Village Area (Boulder Junction), but we really do need to have this conversation now.

Andrew Shoemaker: We all know first hand how expensive it is to live here. One amazing statistic: it takes 2.7 minimum wage earners to rent a 2 bedroom apartment in boulder county — that’s not even the city itself.  The commuting this generates is horrible. Our police and teachers are spending two hours a day driving, sometimes from outside the county. They should be spending that time relaxing with their families, or working on lesson plans.  We can build more housing, and we should think about how to do that, but the market alone won’t fix this, because we’re a desirable place to live.  We need to think regionally.  We need to look at ways to control rents.

Sam Weaver: First, I have say on carbon… if we’re serious about our emissions, the biggest single problem today is coal*. Density isn’t an end in and of itself, it’s a means.  Basically there are two ways we can do it — we can do rezoning like in the Transit Village, for a large area.  The other way is to do small scale infill, like ADUs.   We should reduce the density restrictions on those kinds of dwellings.  I can walk from my home in the Whittier neighborhood through trailer parks and million dollar houses, and there are  triplexes and duplexes back behind them all.  That’s what we need more of.  We don’t need “starchitect” skyscrapers.  What we need is livable, classic urbanism like Paris or Washington DC.

* See this short paper Sam put together with fellow Planning Board member Leonard May to inform the board’s discussion of the city’s new Climate Commitment.

Micah Parkin: Like I said before, I’m a strong supporter of ADUs, more co-ops, and other kinds of small neighborhood infill development.  I’d also support increased density and mixed uses to create more 15 minute neighborhoods, where you can walk to get everything you need on a daily basis within 15 minutes.  It’s especially important to pursue this along our transit corridors, and also especially in our existing auto dominated strip-mall developments.

John Gerstle: Important to realize that even with all the density we can ever imagine building, there’s no way to build enough housing for everyone who wants to live and work in Boulder.  It’s very important to also have improved public transit on a regional scale. This should have two positive impacts: lower traffic loads, and making it easier to have a desirable life even while you’re commuting to Boulder.

Mary Young: Okay, I’m gonna talk wonky here. Two years ago we started allowed density bonuses for commercial buildings… unfortunately, what that means is that we’re getting a lot more commercial development, and hardly any residential.  Including especially downtown.

Sam Weaver: And the reason that’s happening is the 20% affordable housing requirement — we don’t have any such requirement on commercial development, so building commercial properties pencils out better for developers financially.

Kevin Hotaling: Just want to point out that the good urban spaces highlighted above are totally illegal in Boulder.  Paris and DC have a 75 foot height limit: illegal in Boulder. Building anything that looks like Pearl Street today: illegal in Boulder. If affordability comes from subsidies, it’s not sustainable.  We need to create more intrinsically affordable housing.  Smaller units and more of them, shared spaces, places where you don’t have to spend a ton of money on owning a car.

Micah Parkin: Another problem we’ve got is the cash-in-lieu program, which allows developers to just pay the city instead of creating affordable housing as part of their project.  This means that a lot of the affordable housing ends up going “elsewhere”, creating segregation in the city, and making it much more difficult for those communities to have access to a lot of the things that make Boulder great.  The reason this happens is that when the city spends the affordable housing money they tend to do it in the parts of the city where it’s most cost effective… which predictably tends to be at the periphery.

How highly would you prioritize Human Services?  Today many social services are located very far North — which is inconvenient for folks utilizing them and distances the issue at hand — do you have any plans or visions to centralize services and make them more accessible?

Mary Young: I talked at Emergency Family Assistance earlier today. They want to bring their services to the middle of town. Another accessibility issue is that a lot of our services are only available between 8am and 5pm on weekdays, which makes them basically impossible to access if you’re working, especially a low-paid service job with inflexible hours.  We also make the whole system way too bureaucratic.  You have to keep telling people at every organization the same information over and over again.  The information should be shared and the processes streamlined.

Ed has the floor by Zane Selvans on flickr

Ed Byrne: It’s gonna take a while. It’s taken us 60 years to screw the city’s land use up this badly.  We should really have five or six little “downtown” type neighborhood centers scattered all over town.  And you should be able to get the entire menu of services in any of them. There’s tremendous pent up desire for development in Boulder — admittedly often coming from outside the city.  We can use that to re-shape the city to be more vibrant and livable.  It creates opportunities, and also ethical issues we need to pay much more attention to.

Micah Parkin: I just recently met with Bridge House. They think spreading out social services is also a big issues. A lot of homeless people also have mental and physical health issues.  We have to make it much more accessible and easier both for users and deliverers of services to connect with each other.

Kevin Hotaling: I promised to give Jonathan Dings a shout out here.  I don’t know what he would say… but I’m sure he would have a very good answer. (Editor’s Note: Candidate Jonathan Dings has been on the Boulder Human Relations Commission since 2005)

John Gerstle: It is a problem that there’s so much concentration of social services in North Boulder. The residents there resent it too!  The reason this happens is because that’s where it’s most affordable to do projects. We really need to improve the city’s transit system to help everyone get access to the services they need.

Sam Weaver: There are actually some pretty good examples of neighborhood scale human service centers too.  In Whittier we’ve got both Attention Homes (which works with at risk youth) and Mother House (a non-profit that provides support for pregnant women in need).  There’s no real impact to the neighborhood.  Lots of people probably don’t even know they’re there.  I think backlash can be mitigated with better outreach. We also really need other kinds of transitional housing — something in the enormous space between the Housing First project at 1175 Lee Hill and just sleeping down by the creek!

At this point there was some minor technical difficulty, finding the next set of questions…

Andrew Shoemaker: While we’re waiting, can I just say, we’ve been to probably ten or fifteen forums by now, and this has got to be just about the biggest or maybe second biggest crowd we’ve seen — in by far one of the smallest spaces!  It’s totally awesome!

Mary Young: Yeah it’s interesting that our two biggest crowds have been the youngest (you guys) and the oldest (Frasier Meadows)!

Transportation:

Why is affordable, convenient access to our transit system biased against the lower income members of our community, including most non-student renters?  How would you work to make transit access more equitable?  Would you be supportive of putting more affordable housing in transit accessible areas? How would you work towards securing a Community Wide Eco Pass?

Mary Young: Unfortunately the Neighborhood Eco Pass program was really designed to try and reduce transportation related GHG emissions — it was never meant to be a social program, and the way it’s structured makes it extremely difficult for us to use it to provide access for low-income people.  This is an issue that I’m very passionate about. (See Mary’s 8 page policy paper on providing affordable Eco Passes here in PDF form).

Andrew Shoemaker: In terms of getting the service lined up with our population in the right way… we need to put the service in and then allow people build around that transit infrastructure, like is done in DC.  They’ll extend a rail line, and then the housing and other buildings start going up around it, clustering, giving people easy walking access to it. Also, I agree with the community wide Eco Pass, but really, why do we need to make it such a pain in the ass to ride the bus in the first place?  Why can’t we just make our Community Transit Network free?  We need to do whatever we can to reduce the barriers to using the system.  It’s almost entirely paid for with sales tax money as it is now.  Just making it free wouldn’t cost much more.

Micah Parkin: Everyone seems to know that we’ve got 60,000 in-commuters every day, but I was amazed to learn recently that we actually have about 250,000 trips in and out of the city of Boulder every day.  Obviously we need to make transit universally available!  Of course, it’s not actually free — we do have to pay for it somehow.  Why do we always pay for things with sales taxes?  It’s regressive, and totally unrelated to anyone’s behavior.  We should work more toward paying for things with user fees where we can — at least the things that we want to discourage use of, like driving single occupancy vehicles — we should look into using a transportation maintenance fee, or license plate recognition systems, or a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fee to fund the Community Wide Eco Pass.

John Gerstle: Yes, we should make it easy for people who live here to use the bus, but we also need to make it easy for the people who work here.  It seems like we also need to also make sure that the incommuters pay for their share of the system. We might want to look into requiring employers to charge their employees for parking, or some kind of a head-tax.

Ed Bryne: Every weekday we’ve got around 155,000 people in Boulder… look around — it’s really not that crowded.  The impacts people don’t like aren’t actually about having more people.  A lot of it is more driving, more cars.  We talk about doing “New Urbanism” and Transit Oriented Development (TOD), but it’s actually old urbanism that we should get back to.  120 years ago, if you didn’t have everything you needed for life within a horseback ride, well, you died! And it was a very efficient system from the point of view of carbon emissions.  I’m in favor of using more property taxes, which are much less regressive than sales taxes.  The problem is we have to have a city that’s been built, physically, to actually support the kind of behavior and lifestyle we want.

Sam Weaver: I have to say, I think this is going to be a fun council no matter who gets on. Funding is the difficult and interesting question here. We need to go into negotiation with RTD TODAY.  We should start trading horses over the failed Northwest Rail (which at this point isn’t supposed to be built until at least… 2045.  Which is well beyond any kind of reasonable funding and planning horizon). I could see maybe having two different kinds of passes — one for Boulder residents, and then a different funding mechanism for commuters that would need to be funded with parking fees or head taxes or something similar. It won’t be easy, but it’s totally worth working through all of this. And the great thing is, once you’ve got great travel options in place, then you can start wielding the sticks and making it a little bit more challenging to drive.  And we shouldn’t leave bikes out of the picture here.  That protected lane on Baseline out there is just the tip of the iceberg.  There’s a lot more we can do to make biking in Boulder awesome for everyone.

Kevin Hotaling: All this talk about everyone using the bus is great… but the truth is a functional bus system requires at least 15 dwelling units per acre.  Boulder currently has a whopping 6.  Also, there’s no transit near affordable housing because there’s basically no affordable housing! Getting a Community Wide Eco Pass doesn’t solve these problems! Having a bus pass if you don’t live near the bus doesn’t do anybody any good!  The real future is mass car sharing and autonomous electric vehicles you can dispatch with your phone.  They’ll be eco-friendly and convenient.  Also, we should take the city’s vehicle fleet and put it into the local CarShare pool, like they did in Philadelphia.  It would save the City a lot of money and help spread the model.  And also, just to be clear, I’m one of those weirdos that doesn’t own a car. I bike just about everywhere.

Sexual Assault:

One in four women in Colorado will experience an attempted or completed sexual assault in their lifetime. While most attention has been drawn to sexual assault between strangers on the street, research shows that the majority of sexual assaults happen between friends and dating partners in places they know well. How are you planning on addressing the issue of sexual assault within our community?

Cha Cha and Christina Working the Room by Zane Selvans on flickr

Andrew Shoemaker: Well, obviously it’s illegal.  Boulder’s DA will prosecute these kinds of crimes, and he’s progressive in other areas as well, including being influential in Colorado’s move to legalize marijuana. Unfortunately, this kind of thing isn’t really City Council’s purview. What we can do is work on eduction (rather than enforcement). We could do a lot more in the way of public service announcements and ad campaigns here.  In lots of other countries they do it. Here we’re scared to educate on sexuality more generally too, because we’re afraid we might offend someone.  We need to make it a much more high profile, public issue.

Sam Weaver: Obviously this is a serious issue, and education is very important tool from city’s point of view. The police and hospitals need to understand how to deal with this appropriately too. Another concern is the immigrant community.  We need to do a better job of making it absolutely clear to victims that they will not be deported for reporting a crime, even if they are undocumented.

Micah Parkin: Unfortunately, probably every single one of us in this room knows someone whose been sexually assaulted. It’s terrible. Colorado is 4th worst in the nation. We have to prosecute these crimes, and education is extremely important. The Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Non-violence (SPAN) offers educational programs for youth. A lot of kids see violence — and learn it — at home.  We need to do what we can to make sure they don’t end up perpetuating the cycle.  We need to work better to prevent bullying as well, which is typically the first way that kids enact violence.  More teen programs for rape prevention.

Mary Young: You know, I’ve been to a lot of lunchtime seminars at SPAN.  They’re accessible and inexpensive.  The problem is we’ve only got representatives from half the population in the room.  There are almost never any men there!  We need to do a much better job of educating men about sexual assault, and getting them engaged in the fight against it.  They can prevent rape too.

Kevin Hotaling: I’d just like to point out that on a much larger scale we have got a serious problem with violence generally in America.  Our foreign policy is violence as the first resort.  No-knock drug raids in the US have been increasing dramatically.  Many state and local police departments are becoming paramilitary forces.  We also have an atrocious record of punishing non-violent, victimless crimes with state sponsored violence — putting human beings in cages for years or decades. Our schools are becoming more authoritarian — my sister un-schools her kids so they can learn that they own their own bodies, and their own minds.  And I think that while thankfully within Boulder we don’t have as much of a culture of state sponsored violence, the city still has a kind of disrespect for the individual, as evidenced by laws against victimless crimes, like the occupancy limits.

Ed Byrne: Sexual assault is a cultural challenge. My son is now 27. I always tried to each him to be a gentleman.  I remember once he was at a sleepover when he was about 15.  Some of his friends called one of his girlfriends at the time, and said some terrible things to her.  He said he was asleep and not involved, and I believe him, but I still made him apologize for their behavior, and he did, and he really was sorry and ashamed of his friends’ behavior.  That’s kind of kid you want to raise, and the kind of kid you want to be. You guys are doing much better than we did!  You have to help create a cultural shift, and you’ve already done it with drug abuse. It’s well past time to move on to sexual abuse.

Boulder county law enforcement responds to around 1600 cases of domestic violence every year. Although research shows that women abuse men in heterosexual relationships only 2% of the time, Boulder police officers arrest women for domestic violence 25% of the time they are called to the scene. What will you do to reduce domestic violence in Boulder and provide better support for victims?

Know Yer Rights by Zane Selvans on flickr

Ed Byrne: There it sounds like there’s a problem in the police culture. Police culture can change. It’s a kind of trivial example, but we’ve done it with parking tickets — officers were getting into shouting matches with people over tickets, wasting a lot of time and burning through public goodwill… even though they only ran into about 5 people a day who they were writing a ticket to, out of around 300 tickets a day total.  We told them it was clearly better for the community to just rip those tickets up. We should work with the police force to help change their culture where we need to.

Micah Parkin: There’s a citizen board that interviews new potential officers. That would be a great place to get some of you engaged — especially women who have experienced some of these discriminatory arrests, and also people who have been racially profiled. Hollaback is a good example of a direct program, aimed at ending street harassment.  We can learn from programs that other cities have to deal with these issues.  Public shaming is powerful.

John Gerstle: I don’t claim any special knowledge or expertise on the subject, but we should obviously have a good, active civilian review board that has meaningful oversight of the police enforcement, and which is able to propose appropriate remedies.

Andrew Shoemaker: It’s very hard to make any judgement at the scene — they really can’t, and it’s not their job. Police are just meant to keep the peace. Personally, this is something I would probably follow up on directly with the DA.

Mary Young: I remember in the 1980s there was a kid killed tragically in Longmont, and as a result the city created a multi-cultural plan, and started convening a stakeholder engagement process.  Really just getting people from different walks of life and communities in the same room together, talking face-to-face as real human beings.  It’s amazing how much that can help.

Sam Weaver: First I’d want to look at the data and see how much of this is actually going on in Boulder, and try and figure out what the root cause is, via the police commanders. It’s a real problem that we don’t have very many female commanders in the Boulder PD.  I’ve done ride-alongs with law enforcement, and also worked with them a lot when I was the fire chief up on Sugarloaf.  I respect them a lot.  I would want to talk to the police and understand what is going through their mind in the moment.  What is their decisionmaking process.  A lot of the officers are very young!  They’re basically your age!  They don’t really have a depth of life experience to draw on, and that can be an issue.  Tim Plass (also on Council) is another person who has really worked closely with policing.  Also, the civilian review board should not be primarily appointed by the police!

Kevin Hotaling: I agree with a lot of what has been said.  We need to get our police from our community, better review boards, etc.  Just one crazy anecdote, at some point I made a little bit of a name for myself by taking pictures of someone being beaten, maced, and tazed by a cop on Pearl Street… and he was the guy that had been attacked by someone else in the first place!  When I went to the review panel, the officer that was in charge of the review was in his first week on the job.  Of course he wasn’t going to be able to rebuke his co-workers at that point.

Community Questions:

The Co-op Crowd by Zane Selvans on flickr

On the city’s homeless policies, especially the camping ban:

Andrew Shoemaker: There’s basically no leadership on the homeless issues in Boulder today. We’ve got a bad situation on creek path and in civic area, and it’s giving the entire homeless population a bad name. Parents are concerned for their kids.  There’s a lot of fear.  And frustratingly, these folks really are not representative of the homeless population at large.  There are about 800 kids in BVSD that are classified as homeless.  Lots of women and families too.  We need to work to change the public face of homelessness in Boulder, for their sake.

Ed Byrne: Our church actually helped to find the first home for Bridge House, in a garage space we couldn’t use for anything else.  Again, just like the occupancy issue, what we’ve got to focus on here is actual behaviors that people engage in, not some blanket classification of people as “homeless” and thus problematic.  Need better soft policing policies.  Another place I lived the DA had what he called the 90 day club.  If it was summer, and you got caught as a repeat offender, you were put in jail.  If it was winter and you were arrested… you got sent right back out the door. We should do a much better job of working with the motivated homeless, and helping the transition out of homelessness.

Sam Weaver: “The Homeless” is a uselessly broad term.  There’s a huge spectrum within that umbrella.  I see it as three distinct populations.  There’s the people who have suffered some bad life events — the loss of a job, temporary illness or injury, loss of a house, bankruptcy, etc.   Then there are people who have permanent disabilities, either mental or physical, that make it really hard for them to support themselves.  And then finally there’s a small fraction that are transient as a lifestyle choice.  We need to support for the first two groups, in different ways.  For the people doing it as a lifestyle, making the path scary downtown, we need to look at that, but the real issue is giving good paths out of homelessness for those who are really in need.

Mary Young: I’ve recently had 3 different conversations, one with a family who had been homeless on food stamps; another while cooking for the homeless at one of the shelter, and finally with Stuart Lord, the new head of Emergency Family Assistance.  There’s a huge systemic problem in a lot of our human services programs.  We are looking at the wrong metrics. We don’t give institutions any kind of incentive to actually get people out of homelessness and poverty.  Almost all the grants and other programs are designed to reward organizations that serve a large number of people, rather than those who actually help folks become self sufficient.  We need to give our non-profit partners the right incentives, and measure the right things, if we want to the the outcomes we’re looking for.

Micah Parkin: The no sleeping ban is crazy when there’s no other option for some people!  The shelter isn’t even open in the summer.  We need year-round services.  We should look into bringing back boarding or rooming houses for the lower end of the economic spectrum that’s still able to be self-sufficient. We need more support for the disabled. I’m also really interested at looking at pairing our ready-to-work programs with building a local sustainable food system.

John Gerstle: Again, I have no special expertise here, but as a fellow engineer, I  heartily agree with Mary on providing the right incentives and measuring the right outcomes. Once upon a time I used to work in the World Bank, we had exactly the same problem.  We were rewarded based on the size of our programs, not their efficacy.  The more money we loaned out the better — nobody ever checked to see whether we actually helped people. We need to make sure we’ve got good paths for people out of bad situations before we start punishing them for being in that situation.

No waffling — if you had to decide today, should Boulder form a municipal utility and separate from Xcel?

Sam Weaver: First… vote No on 310, and Yes on 2E.  The truth is that until we get the final cost numbers from FERC (the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission), none of us can know if it’s a good idea.  That said, I’ve personally seen the CEO of Xcel threaten to walk away from the table when we start talking about them needing to change their business model — of selling energy (the more the better) and earning a profit off of capital investments (whether they’re really prudent or not).  Unless they suddenly capitulated completely on that point, I think the only reasonable option going forward is likely to be a municipal utility.

Mary Young: I’ll repeat what Sam said: vote No on 310.  Regardless of where we end up going with Xcel and the municipalization discussion, I think we need to focucs on industrial energy efficiency, since those users consume about 80% of the power that we use in the city. I think we can probably get much further on our energy goals (including efficiency) without Xcel.

Andrew Shoemaker: Well, what we’re in right now is a lawsuit.  I’m a trial lawyer, and this is the kind of thing I work on, and I know that what the various parties are saying can change very, very quickly.  When the court rules, the legal environment will change, and we might find ourselves in a very different landscape — I don’t think we honestly know what that landscape will look like.  But the court won’t ever get to rule if 310 passes.

John Gerstle: I would also urge you to vote No on 310, and Yes on 2E.  Honestly regardless of what outcome we are ultimately going for, we have to have a credible alternative to Xcel on the table in order to be able to negotiate.  If 310 passes, we lose that alternative entirely.

Micah Parkin: I’ve been working on climate change for 16 years.  I’m a strong supporter of municipalization. I think the city can get there much faster than Xcel ever could.  Our studies show that we can get to 50% renewables on day one, and keep their $35M in profits here in Boulder instead of shipping it off to Xcel’s shareholders via Minneapolis, and that has all kinds of other benefits beyond mitigating our climate impact.  Their business model is totally wed to fossil fuels.

Ed Bryne: I personally asked Xcel to pull the plug on their campaign for measure 310. This election is all some kind of  weird pre-game fight.  Like they don’t even want to get to the real question at hand.

Kevin Hotaling: We don’t need to go with either Xcel or a Muni! We should be going totally grid free! We’ve been spending $2M a year on studies and consultants.  How much solar could we have installed if we’d just paid for PV directly? Why are we going to pay $200M for a bunch of poles and wires that are about to be obsolete anyway — that amount of money could put solar on the roof of every single house in Boulder!  There are technologies coming online soon that are going to displace the distribution system entirely: fuel cells, modular nukes, graphene capacitors, and all kinds of other things.  I’m voting Yes on 310 because I want to shut the whole process down — we don’t need either option.

Sam Weaver: I just have to respond to Kevin on this.  Right now today we need a transmission system, and we are going to need a local distribution system basically forever if we go with renewable energy, no matter how good our storage technologies get.  And right now is when we need to start taking major steps toward zeroing out our emissions.  Also that $200M for the distribution and local transmission system isn’t just a giant cash dump — it buys us a roughly $100M per year revenue stream.  It’s potentially a very good investment.

Mary Young mentioned twice that we need to build a movement! Who do we need to confront? Where do we need to speak and be heard?

Mary Young: You need to keep track of the process on the City’s Comprehensive Housing Strategy.  You need to show up to City Council meetings and come to open houses. You are going to have to do your homework on this, and show up to speak your mind and get what you want.

Sam Weaver: Come to a Planning Board meeting.  The truth is only a couple of people generally come to these things. If you come, we will listen, especially if you’ve educated yourself about the issue.  Right now it’s actually a pretty progressive board, and we can change the rules.  There’s tremendous power in coming to meetings other people don’t know about, or care enough about to show up for.  This city is run in large part by the people who show up time and again.  All planning and zoning issues come through Planning Board before they ever go to Council.  We can make changes and recommendations before we pass them on to Council, and we will integrate your input if you come.  Also there’s a huge amount of power in being well organized.  Recently, a neighborhood group in SE Boulder did a fantastic job of this — they were fighting against a developer who wanted to build a bunch of stuff on a chunk of property (called Hogan-Pancost) just outside the city — they wanted that land annexed into the city.  But the land is in the flood plain, and it was going to have a lot of impacts on the groundwater table in the neighborhood.  They showed up with 40 people.  They pooled time.  They had 8 people give 5 minute presentations with slides.  They knew what they were going to say, and who was going to say it ahead of time.  They hired their own consultants, and did their own studies — just like we did in the run up to the municipalization fight.  It was very well put together and convincing, and ultimately it totally changed the conversation.  Planning Board voted unanimously against the annexation request, which was later withdrawn, after the floods.

Ed Byrne: We have a tendency in Boulder to make too many decisions based on who’s in the room, and not who’s in the town, but that’s the way it is — you need to show up to be heard and represented.  That’s just the way the American system works.  PLAN Boulder County did a lot of great pioneering stuff early on. They gave us the outside of the box, with the growth boundary and open space, the blue line, and the height limits.  It’s gotten us to where we are today, but it won’t get us where we need to go.  I’m part of a group of people (that includes Zane here) starting a new movement to work on figuring out what we want do inside the box, called Better Boulder, and I’d encourage all of you to get involved with us!

Micah Parkin: As always, the people need to lead, and then the leaders will follow. You need an organization. There are lots of great organizers in the room, and I’ve worked many of with you. Council and planning board will pay attention to a large group of organized people.

Andrew Shoemaker: For the occupancy ordinance alone, I think it’s probably much easier than getting involved  on the whole comprehensive housing strategy. You should do a petition. Figure out exactly what it is you want. Get a huge number of signatures.  Bring it to City Council — before the end of the year if you can so they get it before their retreat in January.  They will present it to staff, and staff will study the issue. This will get it on the work plan, and get the process, the conversation, started.

Kevin Hotaling: Seeing all the youth activity in local politics in the last few years has been great with the utility and fracking issues… but I think it’s time to build a persistent movement to represent the future in Boulder, instead of getting people worked up about one issue here and there, for a short time or one campaign.  I’m happy to finally see more of you in the room.

John Gerstle: I agree with a lot of the comments about the process, but I take issue with Ed’s dig at PLAN Boulder. One of the reason we’re all here is that Boulder is nice, and Boulder is nice because a lot of the things that PLAN Boulder did a long time ago.  We really should not change some of those things.

Ed Byrne: John, I wasn’t digging at PLAN Boulder — I really do appreciate a lot of the things that they’ve done to make Boulder wonderful.  It’s just that we’re not done yet.  We can’t shrink wrap the city and keep it forever in this particular state.  We need to keep doing great things, inside the container that’s already been laid out by PLAN.

Lots of these issues have been brought up before, repeatedly, but they didn’t go anywhere. What has kept them from being addressed in the past?

Sam Weaver: I and a lot of other people are bitter that the Muni issue has sucked the air out of the room on so many other issues.  We just need to go ahead and get it done, and move on.  There’s a lot of other important things to work on.  It’s time to let the attorneys and engineers take the lead on utility stuff, and get our city government back to working on other policy stuff.

Mary Young: I agree with Sam that municipalization has taken over the city.  We’ve only got a limited amount of resources. We need to clear it off our plate, and start working on new types of area plans targeted to specific parts of town.

Andrew Shoemaker: The thing is, you guys gotta vote.  People talk about these things, and then they don’t win.  Look at council today.  Look at their demographics.   You are not represented on council. You have to vote. You have to show up. People who show up get what they want. That’s the way it works.

John Gerstle: Council has failed to move on a lot of issues because they end up compromising between all the parties who show up instead of leading independently.  I think that’s usually just how it is, so yes, you all have to do the hard work of showing up.

Micah Parkin: You can’t say it enough.  It’s showing up.  Talking about things during an election is one thing, but we can’t do anything without your support.  You have to help get the people who support your issues elected — spread the word about them to your friends and extended networks.  Then work with them after they’re elected, and they can take your issues to the agenda setting meetings — especially important to get your priorities in to the Council between the election and January, when they hold their annual retreat, which is where they set the year’s workplan priorities.

Ed Byrne: There’s a built in tension between change we need, and neighborhoods we’ve got. PLAN Boulder County has opposed every neighborhood plan to date other than NoBo, and that was only because NoBo didn’t really have any neighbors. We need to get better at doing what’s good for the city as a whole, instead of being beholden to the neighbors, and always giving them what they want on the small scale.

Kevin Hotaling: You know, I was recently talking to (mayor) Matt Appelbaum about whether or not we should integrate the city’s fleet into the CarShare pool, like I suggested before. He said he wasn’t sure if that sounded good like a good idea.  He said that he wasn’t sure if it was really worth pursing in Boulder — that he wasn’t sure if it would work here.  That people really want their own cars.  So you know, just look at Council.  You are not represented there.  They’re all Baby Boomers, and they just about all own property west of Broadway.  I don’t think the Baby Boomers really understand the new Sharing Economy, so they can’t imagine how you might want to live within it.  They just don’t get what it is to be someone sitting in this room, in this time, headed so much farther into the future than they are.

The Aftermath:

Mingling Before the Candidates Arrive by Zane Selvans on flickr

The last couple of questions got people pretty riled up, and there was a lot of energy in the room.  The candidates were encouraged to stick around and talk with people one on one if they had the time, and several of them were there for close to another hour talking about just about every topic that had come up in the forum, in more detail.

Overall, I think the evening was a roaring success.  The vibe was great, challenging but respectful, and all the experience that Rad-ish has in putting on events in their home really showed in how smoothly the whole thing came off.  I think both the candidates and their hosts/audience had a good time, and probably everyone feels more excited about our local democracy as a result of the forum.  Now we just need to keep the momentum going and organize — and not just for legalizing co-ops.  There’s a lot more we could get done if candidates felt like there was an engaged youth vote they needed to compete for.

I think it might not be too long before we just might be seeing some folks from the Rad-ish down at city hall, and who knows… they might just end up sitting behind the dias!

6 thoughts on “The 2013 Rad-ish Council Candidate Forum

  1. Sounds like a great event. And I totally agree on the thought that living in a co-op is great training for running effective meetings. The best training that I got for being mayor and facilitating council meetings was living through interminable attempts to reach consensus at house meetings when I lived at Synergy House ( a 50 person co-op in California).

  2. Zane,

    This is a great write-up! I’d like to point out one minor correction. You paraphrased me saying (about the Hogan Pancost Planning Board hearings): “Planning Board voted 9-0 against the annexation request, which was later withdrawn, after the floods.” I probably said the vote was unanimous, as the Board only has 7 members, and the vote was 7-0 to recommend denying the annexation application.

    Thanks,
    Sam

  3. This is already on track to be the most popular post on the site. More than 300 people have read it a little over a day since it was posted, and they’ve spent an *average* of 38 minutes each doing so. It always feels good when more person-hours go into reading something than writing it :)

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