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Wednesday, April 25,2001

Politics of exclusion

How whiney NIMBYs keep others down

Wayne's Word

Politics of exclusion
How whiney NIMBYs keep others down

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by Wayne Laugesen (letters@boulderweekly.com)

It was a predictable parade of selfish hypocrisy at the Boulder City Council meeting. It was sad and telling, removing all doubt that modern liberals are really just statist materialists, hell-bent on getting government to protect their own personal wealth and lavish lifestyles.

Visualize about 40 people marching to a microphone, one at a time, nearly every one of them telling council members the same exact thing: Not In My Back Yard, by God!

The council was taking public feedback on a city proposal to revise its portion of the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan. The plan sets a vision for future development of the community, and guides the council and members of the Boulder Planning Board in decisions about zoning.

The city has proposed changes to the comprehensive plan that would allow denser housing development in various neighborhoods, mostly those near transportation thoroughfares. It's the only real "affordable housing" proposal Boulder has put forth. It's the only proposal that takes into account true economic principles, and accepts the fact that making housing more affordable in Boulder means allowing the market to provide more homes. It's a proposal that would reduce in-commuting, improve the balance between jobs and homes in Boulder, and for those reasons lesson our city's toll on the environment.

But when it gets right down to it, most Boulder residents couldn't care less about the health of the planet or the quality of our air. They care nothing about the social injustice of a community planned so poorly that middle class workers must commute from far away towns for lack of ability to find affordable homes in Boulder.

Boulder, quite simply, is best defined by greed. Don't believe it? Than watch a re-run of the April 17 city council meeting on municipal Channel 8. Here's what I saw:

  • A man who pleaded with the city not to zone for more housing in his neighborhood because he enjoys his unobstructed view of the mountains and trees. Translation: "I got this view 'cause I'm old enough to have been here first. Someone else's need for housing is not as important as my view. To hell with anyone else!"

  • Several people who invoked the safety of children as a reason not to allow more people in their neighborhoods. More people, they said, means more cars and more kids getting run over. "Save the children! Save the children!" Never mind the children who need homes. (besides, there are lots of children in New York City, and they aren't being slaughtered in droves by maniac drivers)

  • A man who said all but the "renters" in his neighborhood were against increased density. It's amazing how quickly young adults with starter homes decide to loathe "renters" as some sort of sub-human species sent here to destroy our town. If Boulder had more houses, enough to meet demand, homes would cost less. Therefore, more people would buy and fewer would rent. But this is about greed, don't forget, so anything that keeps houses in short supply and therefore in demand is in the interest of greedy first-time home buyers who already "got theirs."

  • A man who told council members that more density would make it less likely children in his neighborhood would see foxes, doves and geese in the future. That's nice, sir, but this is a city. What about the children who are forced to live in Commerce City, while mom and dad work in Boulder, so that you can watch doves and geese on urban space that could contain affordable housing? Those children simply want roofs over their heads in a clean, safe community, but your desire to keep anyone from having what you enjoy will preclude that from happening.

  • The "Mothers of Fourmile Creek," who pleaded with council members to continue excluding workers from living in Boulder, all in the name of the children.

  • A pilot who showed up to ask that dense housing not be allowed near the airport, as it would inconvenience pilots.

  • The man who moved here from New York and "thought Boulder was special." Let's see... He moves here from New York, a crowed place, for a better life, then asks the city to keep others from moving here to seek better lives. He must be special.

And on, and on, and on. For several hours, it was "save the trees, save the horses, save the ducks, save the children, save my view, preserve my property value, etc., etc., etc."

All of these arguments were the same. In their own clever ways-using politically-correct buzz-words like "nature," "traffic," "wildlife," "mothers," and "children"-each of these people said: "I got mine, to hell with everyone else."

How is it that a community capable of this vile and callous display of disregard for the welfare of humanity enjoys a national reputation for progressive liberalism? When I was a young liberal, it meant acting with compassion toward those who can't find homes near their jobs. Liberalism meant the politics of inclusion.

Today, in Boulder, the definition of liberal has changed dramatically. Modern liberals don't cherish social justice. Instead, they value government and control. They want government controls to maintain an imbalance between themselves and others. It's "To hell with them. I live here now and I vote. Try getting re-elected by a local bank employee who commutes home to Globeville each night."

What's a politician to do? It's the only way to get elected and stay elected in this community. Boulder politics are 100 percent about exclusion. The mindset is this: "Save me from 'those people,' and I'll support you." Chances are, "those people"-should they ever find a home-will join in the politics of exclusion not long after settling in.

The depressing meeting had three bright spots:

  • One man urged council members to allow dense senior citizen housing near the East Boulder Recreation Center.

  • Attorney Barry Satlow, representing the Sierra Club, said the organization supports density zoning in general. He said density would protect wildlife and the natural environment, by allowing more people to live in one city, which would work against commuting and sprawl. "It's like staying on the trail," Satlow said, rather than hogging a trail and insisting that others blaze new trails through virgin terrain. What his speech means for membership renewals in Boulder is anybody's guess.

  • The man who called Boulder on its hypocrisy. He explained that city officials and neighborhood activists have been clamoring for the University of Colorado to build more housing to meet the demands of increased enrollment. "Why don't you hold yourselves to the same standard you want for the university?" he asked. He explained that if the university is supposed to build housing for every student, then Boulder should have to zone to allow for every worker to have a home.

But Boulder won't do that, because it would run counter to the profitable politics of exclusion. Unfortunately, too many "haves" in Boulder get their self worth, and their financial worth, from making sure the "have-nots" go home to Denver each night.

Send letters to the editor to: letters@boulderweekly.com. Fax: 303-494-2585. Snail mail: Boulder Weekly Letters, 690 S. Lashley Lane, Boulder, CO 80305. Contact Wayne Laugesen at Wayne@Laugesen.com.

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