This fall, voters will face two ballot issues that have been placed on the ballot by a group calling itself Livable Boulder. The proponents are good people, and I count some of them as personal friends. But I think they are dead wrong on these issues, which will actually go a long way towards making Boulder far less livable.
This may seem strange coming from me. I have spent my adult life in Boulder as an advocate for environmental protection, open space preservation, climate action, and carefully managed growth. Aren’t these anti-growth ballot issues just another step to preserve the environment and the character of our community? The short answer is no.
I see four big ways that these initiatives will hurt our community. First is their impact on our environment. By forcing housing out of Boulder, they will increase the number of people commuting into town and make it much harder to serve travel needs by public transit or by walking and biking. By forcing jobs out of Boulder, they will be displaced to far flung suburban office parks built on former open space and direct commuter traffic away from transit alternatives.
Second is the impact on housing affordability. Housing prices in Boulder are already out of whack. But we have many opportunities to add housing that is affordable to working people, in places like Boulder Junction near 30th and Pearl, or the old Boulder Community Hospital site. These ballot initiatives will make this much harder, likely leading to far less housing, either permanently affordable or just the kind of smaller units that many working people can afford. Personally, I want to live in a community where there is housing for teachers and nurses and other folks who provide essential services. I’d also like to live in a town where there is some hope that my children can afford to reside, and where there are places for our elderly.
Third is the impact on our community decision-making. The so-called neighborhood vote proposal is perhaps the worst local public policy proposal I have seen in 20 years. It would carve the city into dozens of little fiefdoms, each of which would have veto power over changes in their area. Consider the Boulder Community Hospital site, bought by the city to meet broad community needs. I live two blocks from the hospital, and under this ballot issue, my neighborhood would get veto power over the future of the site. Is there anyone who actually believes that is the right way to make decisions that affect the entire community?
Fourth is the impact to our economy. When I moved to Boulder 35 years ago, we were largely a bedroom community. There just weren’t many jobs in Boulder. The stories about the Ph.D.s stuck working in coffee shops were very real. In the intervening years we have had significant job growth- which has made Boulder a better place. It’s good to have high paying jobs, and opportunities for advancement. Our thriving economy brings in the tax revenue that pays for our public services — whether it is buying open space, providing parks and recreation centers, or improving bikeways and local transit.
This is where the so-called “Growth Shall Pay Its own Way” measure falls down. It is true that urban sprawl does not pay for itself, because you have to build so much new infrastructure to serve it. But in Boulder, all of our growth is redevelopment, of areas like old car dealerships and 1960s strip malls. Our comp plan already requires growth to pay its own way. We already know what parks and transportation and other improvements we want as a community – these aren’t driven by new growth. Instead, sales and property taxes from new growth, plus the affordable housing and transportation fees they pay, help us cover the cost for our community improvements. All this vague, poorly-worded ballot issue would do is create uncertainty, and an endless stream of lawsuits over what the right level of fees would be — with the likely effect of shutting down new shopping and jobs — ironically cutting the tax revenue we need for our community plans.
If you stand for community…
If you stand for environmental values…
If you stand for sustainability…
Please vote ‘No’ on the two damaging anti-growth ballot initiatives!
Will Toor is chair of Better Boulder and a former Boulder mayor and Boulder county commissioner.