Steve Pomerance: Where are we headed?

Published in the Boulder Daily Camera, February 4, 2022
Link to the original article (p.A9)

Last week, I was engaged in a somewhat heated discussion with some Boulder city staff members about having more openness in the Advisory Group meetings that are taking place as part of the Xcel franchise agreements approved last year. I realized that I was frustrated, not by the city staff, but by the general retreat from openly involving the citizens of Boulder in the decisions that are being made that determine our future. And that is exacerbated by the lack of real Council discussion on these big issues. It’s as if somehow significant disagreement or intense interchange is now frowned upon, and what counts is false civility or something like that.

Apparently, my feelings were getting the best of me.

This does not only relate to the details of some particular policy, but to the contextual discussions also. In simple terms, we don’t have real opportunities to discuss where our community is headed.

Momentous decisions are being made, and I, and many people I know, feel like there is no serious debate, just politicized posturing about vague ill-defined values, like “inclusiveness” or “equity.”

For example, this notion of “more housing” has been advocated for as some form of indisputable public good. But what exactly does anyone hope to accomplish? As Mark Fearer, Adam Swetlik, and Chris Goodwin pointed out in their Camera guest opinion on Wednesday, just adding housing in Boulder isn’t going to make it more affordable, at least not to any noticeable extent. But it certainly will increase demand on our shrinking water supply, especially if the 500-plus acre Planning Reserve is annexed for that purpose, and if the downtown-sized development of the multi-100 acre CU South property survives the upcoming election vote on the repeal of the Annexation Agreement. (I sincerely hope voters support the repeal, and this whole issue gets the kind of look at alternatives that it deserved but never happened.)

Why is there no discussion about Boulder’s water supply and the combined effect of climate change on both our East Slope watershed and Colorado River sources? Do we really want to dry up our landscaping and/or the farming that depends on the Colorado-Big Thompson project water supply that comes through a tunnel under the Continental Divide to just south of Estes Park? This should engender some serious analysis and outreach to the public, but it doesn’t even seem to be on the radar.

Or, for another example, why is there no serious discussion about whether Boulder needs to keep adding more jobs? The East Boulder Subcommunity Plan, at least in its current iteration, adds many thousands of more jobs, far more than its proposed transit plan can handle, but there is a marked lack of willingness to speak out about the obviously significant negative effects on both housing affordability and traffic congestion. As a result, there has been no serious consideration of alternative plans. We are being driven by ad hoc decisions that have no necessary relationship to creating the kind of community most Boulderites want.

An example of some positive movement was the Council’s opening the discussion on integrating with the FBI on the Joint Terrorism Task Force. That resulted in plenty of people providing input on their concerns, and the resulting vote was not unanimous. When real issues exist, they deserve such airing and serious debate.

Back to the big issues regarding Boulder’s future: From my conversations, I think that people could live with, for example, some of the proposed densification policies if they had some sense that things were going to be stable thereafter. But this constant push to make huge changes, like adding duplexes and triplexes in single family neighborhoods, annexing huge swaths of land for more development, or increasing Boulder’s population and/or job base by tens of thousands of more people, just makes existing residents angry and upset. And politically motivated proposals like shifting elections to November of even years (apparently the only city in Colorado to do so) further alarms many, given how trivially easy it is to vote here.

I suggest that the City Council put a hold on much of what is in the mill, take a step back, and see how they can better involve the citizens that they are supposed to serve in coming up with a stable picture of Boulder’s future that is supported by a large majority of us citizens.

Let’s see if there is a common vision of the future that we all can support, or at least live with.
Steve Pomerance is a former Boulder city council member.