Friday, September 28, 2007

PLAN Boulder Q and A

My PLAN Boulder Questionaire Answers

PLAN-Boulder County City Council Candidate Questionnaire

1. What experience and skills do you possess that will make you a strong leader on council and a fair and open representative of the citizens?
I have been a participant in our civic process since my arrival in Boulder in ’86. Over the past five years, I’ve participated as a member of Boulder’s Human Relations Commission, and I’ve been very involved in the dialogue on diversity issues which I think is essential to the maintenance of the collective psychic and moral health of our community. As I’ve mentioned at a couple of the forums, in 1994 I created the bicycle share program at Naropa, soliciting donations from local vendors for a silent auction, which led to the purchase of some discounted bikes, and now it’s a model of a great bike share program – the kind of thing we could always use more of in Boulder. In 1998 I led a group of citizens questioning the appropriateness of TIF finance for the new mall – a technique used by mall developers to expand their profit margin, and not, as certain individuals proposed, “help” our community. I visited with council members and wrote op-ed pieces on the subject, also opposing the lifting of the height restriction, which won on the ballot by less than a hundred votes.
I have consistently advocated for the establishment of humane institutions within our community, and the development of policy that supports a better understanding and sense of caring between the very diverse groups of people who live here. Without that sense of caring, I submit our community is shortchanged. I am both an activist and an advocate – I’ll support a program that makes sense, but speak out passionately against policy decisions that are inappropriate and supported primarily by a very small subset of our community, such as the expansive development proposal for a convention center next to Central Park.
I feel very supportive of the PLAN platform; I hope PLAN-Boulder will lend me its support as well.

2. Name the 3 top priorities that you plan to address in your first year on council. Please outline the issue and your proposed approach in each case.

As I stated at the most recent forum, if elected I will immediately seek a performance audit for our planning department. Boulder pays an incredible per capita sum for planning services that have been reasonably questioned by a great many individuals – indeed, when reviewing the TVP (Transit Village Plan), or proposed downtown convention facility concept, it’s hard not to find fault. For instance, with regard to the TVP, the site is currently set to go forward with only two small pocket parks as greenery. I find that unacceptable on several levels; however, from a community-wide perspective, we’re adding enormous density without providing relief from that density—thus obviously creating circumstances that will cause people to drive away from their residences to obtain that relief, thereby putting more stress on all of our park and open space amenities. I grew up in the middle of Manhattan (NY, not Kansas) in a housing project built with nearly 20 percent green space on its premises. It’s not simply functional—it’s livable—and remains a place where seniors can go out their door and sit under shade trees—or kids can find a playground with their parents nearby to supervise. Those are essentials for a large housing development – I can’t really imagine a different approach.Moreover, I’m appalled that the plan received unanimous approval on council. It may sound a bit strong when I say that I would “shred” the plan—however, unless the issues are approached by someone with conviction and the life experience to understand the importance of these issues, it’s likely we’ll be stuck with a project no one appreciates—least of all the new inhabitants.
I think a performance audit would begin to give us a better handle on our direction with the planning department—we need extreme detail on who is spending their time doing what for whom. I want planning that serves all of Boulder, but particularly the present residents who deserve better value for their tax dollar. This audit would be the first step, I believe, in getting a better set of planning decisions for Boulder’s future.
A second priority for me would be to seek a revenue-stabilization plan that is fundamentally based on a fairer assessment of who pays what for what service. Some years ago, Boulder citizens did not pay a tax on basic food items (I don’t have the date on the change.) I think it wrong when a low-income resident is paying sales tax on milk and canned tuna, while others working or living in our community do not pay the fair share of cost for our roads or service infrastructure. I believe that a modest head tax—with funds paying for the infrastructure used by non-transit commuters-- would improve the revenue picture for Boulder and give us better funding for basic community services.
I want a thorough look at the options, but I think action in this area is in order. I also do believe that certain expenditure realignments would help create a balanced budget.
My third priority would be to change the focus and direction of our ‘economic vitality’ program. I might support an “incentive” to working families that went in the direction of partnership on some basic service like early childhood education—I believe there are studies to show that this type of program is a progressive community-oriented type of choice. I don’t support handing out government checks to corporations that serve as decoration to some division manager’s end-of-the-year balance sheet, as is presently the case. I support programs that offer documentable results—not programs that offer some vague assurance of retaining businesses that have been here across decades.

3. Are you willing to spend City funds on economic vitality incentives? Please explain your reasoning. If yes, what types of economic subsidies do you think will be most effective? How would you measure effectiveness?

My answer is just above—however, in terms of measuring effectiveness, I generally hold to the principle of communication with recipients, and in particular, I find the testimony of a division manager who would insist a hundred grand incentive as the reason for a billion dollar firm staying in Boulder as somewhat specious—but would likely believe the report of a working parent who felt that an early childhood program was valuable as not specious at all, but visible and real.

4. Would you favor construction of a conference/convention center in Boulder? Why? Do you believe the facility's operations would have to be subsidized each year by the City? Where would you locate such a facility?

By its nature, such a facility would be somewhat like a football stadium – good for use a few days out of the year, but a waste of land and resources at other times. I would possibly support a facility that was in a location that would a) not add to congestion downtown; b) not demand subsidy by the city; and, c) not displace, diminish, or otherwise harm very significant long-term resources like our downtown park or farmer’s market. I’m a little disconcerted by certain candidates who offer a certain position at a “business” forum, and then offer a take that equals a reverse of that position, or a quagmire of viewpoints that are largely indecipherable when testifying elsewhere. I will have the same position on this today, tomorrow, and during any term on council if elected. I do want to support the needs of non-profits in our community—I have doubts as to whether a new convention facility really does that effectively, and I also have doubts as to whether there is a shortfall in the city or region. That said, any plans for a facility have to make sense in both the particulars and broader view.

5. In 2005 the Boulder Civic Forum completed a study showing that 45% of the City’s residents have incomes lower than 80% of the Area Median Income, yet our community goal is to provide 10% permanently affordable housing. Does this indicate that our affordable housing program is inadequate? How would you change the program and its funding sources, if at all?

I grew up in a very progressive middle-income housing project built in NYC under the “Mitchell-Lama” law passed through the state legislature which provided underwriting support to significant parties like the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (so named at the time), which sought living quarters for its retired workforce. Eighteen of these projects were built—all of them largely successful and providing living quarters for half or less than half the market rate for would-be occupants. These projects were based on a European model that I think deserves recognition. The basic principle is that large underwriters supported a not-for-profit housing corporation creating the housing and the structure for its management, and the management was controlled by the people living in the project. I think this is an excellent model. I recently had a conversation with the RTD (TWU) union president about this type of opportunity, and I think it would work in Boulder. If elected, I would pursue a pilot program. I think the idea of dependency on developers to “gift” us an affordable housing program is counter-productive. A friend described it as “rinky dink”—I realize that may sound harsh to people who have benefited and I don’t discount their benefit—however, I don’t think it’s a program that works in the direction of solving the problem, but moreover tends to perpetuate it as the larger effect of new (and expensive) development is gentrification of the entire city. I want to see something that represents real change and I think I have the type of solid life experience and understanding to help us get there. Incidentally, my father was an affordable-housing advocate in New York State for many years—he was instrumental in establishing New York’s senior citizen rental rebate program, which I believe is still in effect.

6. Public discussion in the last few years on management of Open Space and Mountain Parks, on trail building, and on dog regulation has been the subject of controversy between those who emphasize resource protection and those concerned with the availability of public lands for public use. What are your thoughts, and how would you resolve conflicting demands?
I’ve written about this elsewhere—however, the basic principle to my mind is that this precious resource will be diminished if it is not protected—and although I love dogs, I have consistently seen that owners fail to act responsibly when they are not firmly regulated. A NYC policeman will instantly write an expensive ticket to anyone not cleaning up after their dog and NY’s Central Park is still a beautiful place on that account. It’s unfortunate, but we do need that level of regulation and I am also aware that native plant species—often damaged by dog leavings—is a central part of our natural ecosystem. I support dogs on leashes only on designated trails. I think our current policies in that regard are pretty good, but probably will continue to need adjustments. In any case, I greatly support resource protection.
7. The University of Colorado presently has an undergraduate population of about 22,000 students. CU planning documents project a potential increase by 2030 to as many as 35,000 students. What challenges will this create for the city, and how would you propose to plan for and deal with results of this university population growth?
I think the planning at CU is questionable and has been across the past couple of decades. I think, generally speaking, there are communities across the state that would benefit from a greater educational opportunity in their district, and the quality of the education at CU-Boulder is jeopardized by the planned growth. In terms of dealing with whatever growth occurs, I support working with CU on issues that have been discussed at council over the years – I did serve on the recent oversight committee and participated in some in-depth discussion about alcohol abuse and its effects on our community. I recall the suggestions of Will Toor, Spense Havlick, and other council members who talked about helping CU establish new housing options and restrictions on car use for incoming students—these are perhaps smaller items for the agenda, but just the same, I think our city needs to comprehensively engage in all of the areas of concern, and ought to do its utmost to work with CU on its growth conundrum. Certainly, there are other communities around the state that deserve higher education services within closer reach—our city ought to find partners able to influence intelligent policy decisions for the future.
8. Boulder County and City of Boulder citizen surveys over the last decade, including a county survey only a few months old, consistently show that growth of population and attendant development are by far the highest-ranked concern of city and county residents. Do you believe growth rates in the city and county justify these concerns? What, if anything, would you propose to do about the amount and type and form of growth?

Again, I support growth paying its way—since someone eventually does pay. The costs have to be looked at from a holistic perspective and met with accordingly. I’m dog-tired at the moment from working a job as well as running for council—however, I only offer that as an excuse for giving you a short answer here. I do have a lot of ideas on this topic. One would be to discourage the type of development where everyone has a two-car garage and an extraordinary amount of square footage and a postage-stamp sized lawn of their own. I think we can do it differently and I believe in comprehensive policy decisions made both locally and regionally. Co-housing communities, where people share everything from kitchen space to car parking facilities to green space—offer some potential. If we had even a few of those along the 36 corridor, everyone would be a lot better off right now, and it’s unfortunate that we don’t. We need to have a much broader discussion on these issues. I think the concerns of residents are very justified—I have to add that I am disgusted by the developer sales pitches which inevitably inform prospective buyers that adding 2,000 or 3,000 more square feet to their already large home purchase is a good deal from an investment standpoint. These profit-motivated sales pitches run counter to everything people have done to make our community livable across time. Again, I believe we have to work hard to establish better regional policy. I want to see real incentive for managed growth, and disincentive for real estate profiteers.

9. Boulder City Council has discussed the possibility of taking action to preserve neighborhood character and sustainability by somehow regulating the demolition of existing housing to make way for new housing that is often significantly larger, more massive, and much more expensive. Should council address this issue? What approach would you suggest?
Absolutely—we have to acknowledge firstly that there’s an enormous difference between someone adding a couple of rooms to their house and a “pop ‘n scrape”. I’m living next door to a pop-n-scrape site where the home demolished was probably less than 30 years old. It’s unconscionable. I believe in neighborhood self-determination, and investment oriented pop/scrapes are a detriment. We need advanced economic disincentives to this type of activity. We need some sort of graduated set of fees as a starting point. If it costs more to do a pop/scrape than can be recovered through the sale of such an item, the activity would diminish quickly, and I think that’s probably the right direction generally.
10. The Boulder City Council recently approved a $1.8 million allocation from the city’s Educational Excise Tax revenue to the Boulder Valley School District to help fund green building practices at Casey Middle School, but stopped short of requiring any preservation of the historic 1924 building. Despite the city’s Zero Waste Resolution and Waste Reduct ion Master Plan, this may result in the total demolition of the 1924 building. What would you have done? How would you address this ongoing issue on council?
I think the excise tax revenue would be better directed to another program entirely. There are many demands for educational capital improvements—I have to add that the BVSD’s policy of regarding its Boulder properties as convertible income is pretty unnerving. If we want to teach conservation and preservation to children, we might start by preserving local schools. That said, I still hope there’s a way of changing course with Casey.

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