BW Editor reexamines 20 years of coverage

Joel Dyer | Boulder Weekly

As far as I know, it’s been two decades since anyone pulled the newsprint archive of Boulder Weekly’s first year and looked back through every page of all 52 issues. I recently completed that task, or journey, as I prefer to call it, and I’m a little surprised by what I found.


Many of the issues that we were reporting on 20 years ago are still hot topics today. I’m not sure exactly what this means other than to say that we are apparently better at talking about and studying problems than we are at actually fixing them.

Even more surprising, I found that a fair number of the personalities, restaurants and other businesses that were the subjects of BW stories back in 1993 have coincidentally reappeared, for good or bad, in articles that we have written just this past year.

But the most pleasant part of my exploration of that first year was just seeing the familiar faces and places looking back at me from the photos on those yellowing pages, and to read one name after another that pulled up a memory that I had long ago forgotten, or at least thought I had.

So I’ve decided to share a few of my discoveries from my journey through BW’s first year. I hope you find them as thought-provoking, surprising and enjoyable as I did.

I couldn’t help but chuckle when I started reading the first cover story in Boulder Weekly’s history. It seemed almost too appropriate that the very first person ever quoted in the paper was then Boulder City Council member Steve Pomerance, and he was talking about the need to curb Boulder’s growth rate.

See what I mean? The more things change, the more they stay the same.

As most Boulderites know, Steve Pomerance is still an incredibly passionate advocate for planning all things Boulder for the benefit of the city’s residents and the environment. This doesn’t mean that we all always agree with him, but it does mean that we all owe him our gratitude for working so hard for so many years to make a difference.

This, of course, is true of many of the people whose names appeared in those early editions. The second issue of BW featured an interview with a North Boulder community activist fighting against a proposed Safeway store in the neighborhood. That activist was none other than current and perpetual city council member Lisa Morzel.

Talk about irony. Just last week it was announced that the city is going to conduct a survey of workers who commute into town each day to find out why they don’t just live in Boulder. The title of our first cover story two decades ago was “Is the middle class being squeezed out of Boulder?” The answer back then was “yes,” and it’s still true today.

But the circumstances around the county have changed dramatically. While some commuters taking the new survey will, no doubt, say they live to the east because of Boulder’s excessively high rents and housing prices, many folks nowadays will also explain that they prefer the towns to the east because they are both more affordable and offer a comparable quality of life without all the traffic, congestion and rudeness.

So you read it here first. I suppose the city could now save the money it’s going to spend on the commuter survey, but after 20 years of reporting on things that could save the City of Boulder money if it would only listen, we won’t be holding our breath.

Yep. Vince and the boys were the subject of a Dave Kirby BW story all the way back in 1993. The band holds the distinction of having been written about by BW more times than any other music act. And why not? I can’t think of anyone more deserving to hold that unique place in Boulder Weekly’s history.

But you should know it’s a challenge to write about these guys. You try coming up with dozens of headlines that play off the name Leftover Salmon. That said, if they’ll keep playing for another 20 years, we’ll keep the Salmon puns coming. Thanks, Leftover Salmon, for putting so much joy into so many lives for so long.

Among the things I was looking for when I went through the first-year archives were stories that marked the beginning of a trend for BW. This photo of a young woman struggling to get her wheelchair into Bean’s Coffee on the Pearl Street Mall marked the first time the paper took the plunge into social reporting. I’m proud to say that this type of journalism has been a mainstay at BW ever since.

Along those same lines, it was soon after the paper had launched that we found ourselves faced with the task of writing our first obituary. The task fell to Boulder Weekly’s living encyclopedia of all things music, Leland Rucker, who, as the paper’s first editor, penned a heartfelt obituary for music legend Frank Zappa. Sadly, this too was the start of a trend at BW. Over the last two decades we have had to write our goodbyes to far too many musicians, artists and writers.

I have to admit that I had forgotten all about this 20-year-old story when I came across it. As our readers know, for the last few years we have dedicated a good deal of BW’s resources to doing the state’s most comprehensive, in-depth reporting on fracking and other misguided practices of an oil and gas industry hell-bent on turning our county into a contaminated pin cushion.

So you can imagine my surprise when I came across this 1993 story reporting on the environmental dangers of having producing oil and gas wells in the middle of neighborhoods, in this case, Lafayette.

Back then, BW couldn’t have imagined the hazards posed by the modern version of hydraulic fracturing of horizontal wells in shale formations, or that our region would find itself on the front lines of an oil and gas war that will ultimately determine the future quality of life in our region, and possibly even the nation.

When we wrote this first story, we never dreamed that just two decades later, a trade agreement like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) would be poised to cause the drilling and fracking of hundreds of thousands of new wells in the U.S. because it will allow the unrestricted exporting of natural gas, which could eventually account for more than half of all the natural gas produced in this country being shipped overseas.

The TPP drilling boom that has already begun is a calamity that will leave the U.S. with millions of tons of air pollution each year from production platforms, increase global warming due to escaping methane and potentially cause catastrophic contamination of our groundwater aquifers, all so that a handful of oil and gas corporations can gain billions in profits in a short period of time. We get all the contamination. Other countries get the gas. The oil and gas industry gets all the money.

No, we didn’t know how bad it was going to get back when we first started covering this issue 20 years ago, but we sure know it now.

Who is that attractive young man?

Holy cow, talk about coming full circle. As many of you know, longtime KGNU station manager Sam Fuqua finally called it quits this year after dedicating more than 20 years of remarkable service to community radio and KGNU’s legion of listeners. I had to smile when I saw this old photo of Sam when he was only a knee-high news director at the station. I remember taking this photo. It was the first time I met Sam, which means it was a good day for me. What a privilege to know and cover someone from start to finish for 20 years.

Wait, what’s that, Sam? You say your life’s work isn’t over just because you left KGNU? Stay tuned, folks. I have a feeling that Sam Fuqua might just reappear in the pages of BW one of these days.

Over the years, Boulder Weekly has uncovered and reported on many of the area’s most important environmental stories. It’s one of the things that we committed to early on because we understand that taking care of the planet is perhaps the single most shared trait among our readers throughout the county.

It was this story of toxic spills, groundwater contamination and cover up at the Syntex manufacturing facility in East Boulder that launched the paper’s legacy of in-depth environmental reporting 20 years ago. It is a legacy we promise to continue for the next 20. We just hope there are fewer such stories to report.

I couldn’t help but notice as I went through my pile of old papers that some of the first restaurants we ever reviewed are still going strong. And I also noticed that the restaurants we praised 20 years ago are the ones still around, and the ones that received mediocre or poor reviews are the ones that have disappeared. Location may be important, but great food is a necessity in this foody county.

By coincidence, we gave a great review to Ethiopian restaurant Ras Kassa’s just last week. I had to grin when I noticed we also gave it an equally stellar review in its old location south of Boulder. It was the second restaurant BW ever reviewed.

Similarly, our readers have voted Sushi Zanmai the Best of Boulder award for Japanese restaurant the last couple years. So I wasn’t too surprised to find that it had gotten a glowing review in our food section two decades ago.

And the moral of the story is this: quality stands the test of time when it comes to restaurants and weekly newspapers.

But some things that deserved to last, didn’t. I confess that I loved hanging out at Penny Lane. It was one of those great Boulder coffee shops where you’d have to wait in line for 20 minutes to order a cup of coffee even though the line was only two deep.

Coffee was important at Penny Lane, but not as important as everybody in line catching up with everybody behind the counter. It was cosmically slow and appropriately so.

The good news is that shortly after we wrote this piece about the impending closure of the coffee shop owned by Isadore Million (in photo), Penny Lane got a temporary reprieve by moving to the other side of Pearl Street.

But like so many Pearl Street classics that existed when we first launched the paper in our tiny downtown offices above Falafel King, Penny Lane eventually succumbed to Boulder’s ever-rising rents. I suspect it would have required less conversation to make the business model work, and that was just too high a price to pay.

It’s been a long, hard road to marijuana legalization. That point was driven home as I reread BW’s first story about the early, organized efforts to make pot legal. Many of the names associated with the legalization effort have changed over the decades, some have not.

The first quote in this story is from Laura Kriho, as she explains that the hemp initiative is about far more than just making pot legal. She explained the environmental benefits of making everything from clothes to paper out of hemp.

Ken Gorman was interviewed for the piece. He was running for governor on a marijuana legalization platform because he was angry. His father had died in great pain from cancer because he was unable to get and use marijuana for medical purposes.

BW could not have imagined back when we were doing this story that 20 years later marijuana would be legal and sold to the public like alcohol in stores. We could not have imagined that our original editor, Leland Rucker, would have returned to the Weekly fold as our first-ever dedicated marijuana writer.

Boulder Weekly always dares to cover the real stories that truly affect the people of Boulder County and beyond. They do a stellar job of taking the bread and mayo off the shit sandwich that corporate media is always feeding us! Thanks for keeping it true and Clear Channel- and Koch-free!

One thing this old article makes clear: A lot of people worked very hard for a very long time to end marijuana prohibition. Our current laws were anything but an overnight success.

Marijuana isn’t the only thing that Boulder County citizens have been working to legalize for decades. Same-sex marriage and creating equal rights for all citizens regardless of sexual orientation has been an ongoing struggle for even longer.

When BW first began publishing, it was shortly after voters had approved Amendment 2, a controversial constitutional amendment that prohibited any community or county from passing laws that would make gays and lesbians a “protected class.”

The Amendment led to millions of people boycotting Colorado, which had a crippling economic impact on the state.

Eventually the high courts ruled that Amendment 2 denied gays and lesbians equal protection under the law, and the Amendment was tossed into history’s trashcan once and for all.

Other BW coverage from the day concerned Hawaii’s efforts to legalize gay marriage. We were a bit optimistic in our analysis back then. We surmised that gay marriage would become legal in Hawaii in 1994 and, as a result, the other 49 states would be forced to recognize those marriages, which would quickly lead to the passage of legalized gay marriage in every state in the Union. We could not imagine back then that it would take more than 20 more years to achieve such rights.

While it may be hard to believe today, we came very close to tearing down the Boulder Theater in the early 1990s in order to put in more office space downtown. Crazy, right?

When BW first started reporting on the issue, that’s the way it was looking to go. But then some creative people started trying to figure out how to save one of the city’s most important landmarks.

Eventually, a relatively new radio program called eTown moved into the theater and a few additional shows were booked. That reopening of the Boulder Theater saved the day. It kept the developers at bay until the property could be sold to someone with the money and desire to restore and protect the venue for future generations. It was a close call.

Speaking of eTown, when the Weekly first interviewed Nick and Helen Forster about their upstart radio program, no one, I suspect even them, could have imagined that the show would have become such a wild success.

Like many of the people who live here, I’ve had the experience of listening to the radio while driving down the road in some faraway place, when suddenly I hear those familiar Forster voices coming through my speaker. It reminds me of home. And I can’t think of any better ambassadors for Boulder County and its brand than eTown and its founders. Keep it going for another 20 years.

As I noted in the lead, some stories from two decades ago are still with us, and in this instance, that’s too bad.

Back in 1993, the City of Boulder was determined to relocate the homeless/transient population away from the Pearl Street Mall. The story was predictable. Local merchants didn’t want them around because they claimed the homeless scared off customers, and local parents were afraid that their kids were in danger when they walked the mall.

Boulder’s response? Arrest and harass until the poorest among us get out of sight. When that didn’t work, we targeted them with new laws about sitting on the mall and panhandling. Eventually the city and its police force drove away the large gatherings of the homeless.

Jump forward 20 years, and here we go again. Now the city wants to redevelop the municipal campus, including the area east of the Boulder Public Library, and those darn homeless people are in the way again. Our current response? Arrest and harass until the poorest among us get out of sight … again. Pass laws against camping, smoking and create curfews to make them get out of sight.

The question is, where will the homeless reappear this time, and how long will it take the city to figure out that moving around the homeless population is not a solution to the problem?

My, oh my, what a difference 20 years can make. I was actually shocked when I stumbled across this little piece of history I had forgotten.

I can’t imagine in today’s world of school and theater and workplace shootings that a business in Boulder could actually stay in business by boasting that it was giving away more than 11,000 guns to its customers as a promotion. But that’s exactly what Bank of Boulder did back in BW’s first year. Bank customers could choose a rifle in lieu of interest.

The funny part is that there were actually 11,000 people living in Boulder back then who chose a gun over money. What were you people thinking?

Sadly, we lost beloved film critic Roger Ebert in 2013. Ebert was a favorite at the Conference on World Affairs every year, where he would dissect a film, allowing the audience to participate by stopping the action and asking questions at any point. It was a magical experience for everyone fortunate enough to attend.

Not only were we plugging Ebert’s program at the CWA in that first year, we were also reporting that 1994 was likely the last year that CWA would take place at CU due to budget problems. I’m glad to report that a budget fix was found two decades ago and that the 2014 Conference on World Affairs should be a great success, albeit with Roger Ebert serving only as a fond memory of days gone by.

I’ll make this short and sweet. Two decades ago, people were puzzled by the fact that most of Boulder’s trails were closed to mountain bikers. Back then the sport was reasonably new, and no one was exactly sure what should or shouldn’t be open.

This 1994 story described how most trails had actually been open to mountain bikes for a couple of years in the mid 1980s but that there had been many complaints by hikers, so the trails were closed.

Dear city council and open space department, it has been nearly a quarter of a century since that lone experiment that allowed mountain bikes on our trails. Mountain bikes have changed. Mountain bikers have changed.

Today, tens of thousands of people enjoy mountain biking. These people are our leading environmental stewards. They are the ones who volunteer to help repair erosion and other trail damage. They understand that hikers and horses have the right of way.

It’s time to try another experiment.

It’s long past time to open up at least some of our older trails to mountain biking. Hundreds of other cities have made it work. At this point Boulder is just showing its age. It’s not just those young whippersnappers who like to ride those newfangled trail bike contraptions.

We shouldn’t still be writing about this issue two decades later.

This photo of the old hardware store that once operated in Downtown Longmont was part of a story titled “Poles apart.” As the title indicates, BW was examining the differences between what was then a very conservative Longmont with a population of 55,000 and Boulder.

What makes this funny is that some folks in Boulder still have this long-ago outdated vision of their neighbor city to the northeast because they have never actually Iris   Ave. driven   Boulder the 12 miles to see   it for themselves. Not kidding. Today, old hardware stores have been replaced by microbreweries, restaurants serving locally grown organic foods and galleries. Boulder canceled its art walks for lack of of   full interest.   Highlight   service Longmont’s monthly art walk draws as many as 18,000 people to Frist Main   time Street.   clients   only,   with   select Longmont, now a city of 90,000, is home to Left Hand and art walks for lack of of   full interest.   Highlight   service Longmont’s monthly art walk draws as many as 18,000 people to  Frist Main   time Street.   clients   only,   with   select Longmont, now a city of 90,000, is home to Left Hand and Oskar Blues. The current mayor, Dennis Coombs, owns the Pumphouse Brewery and has been an outspoken proponent of gay marriage. My favorite barometer of change: 20 years ago if you wanted organic vegetables you pretty much had to grow them. Today you just wander into Lucky’s, Sprouts or Vitamin Cottage. And in a few months, you can add Whole Foods to that list, as the chain is opening a new store in the new pedestrian mall that is taking the place of the old Twin Peaks Mall. The town has added tons of open space and many miles of greenway bike paths.

And the final kicker, in the last election, Longmont voted overwhelmingly for Obama, legalized marijuana and to ban fracking. If this all takes you by surprise, you really should get out more.

This story really hit home as I went through that first year’s papers. A service couple of decades ago we were reporting on the high Latino dropout rate.

We were searching for the causes, but not really finding anything specific that could be changed to make a difference.

Leap forward 20 years, and Boulder County’s Latino citizens are the primary driver behind what may turn out to be Boulder Weekly’s most ambitious project ever attempted. This continuing our year we will be reporting on the Latino history of our county. Working with the Latino History Project and local Latino community reporting on what has been described as leaders, we will be researching and the “missing early history” of the Latino community who settled in Boulder County.

This is important because research shows that young Latinos in our area often feel a disconnect from their communities because they have never been taught the important roles that the previous generations of their families played in the early development of our communities.

If all goes well, the results of the Latino History Project will become part of the school curriculum taught throughout the area.

And that may help to finally solve the high drop-out-rate problem we first reported on 20 years ago.

Twenty years ago BW ran three different stories warning that a catastrophic flood was likely in the not-too-distant future.

It wasn’t that we were so smart. It was because our primary source for the stories was so smart. Professor Gilbert White was considered one of the world’s greatest experts on floods, and he was very concerned that Boulder had built its way into dangerous territory when it came to our floodplain planning.

Twenty years ago, White told BW that it might not be tomorrow or next year or even the next decade, but sooner rather than later, a 100-year, 500- year or even a 1,000-year flood was coming, and it would devastate the city and county.

Gilbert White is no longer with us, and he is truly missed by all who knew him. But I can’t help wondering what he would say about the horrific flood that ravaged our county last September. I suspect he would be very concerned that the media continues to refer to the event as a 100- year and, in some exaggerated coverage, even a 1,000-year flood. I think he would agree with his peers in the scientific community who have tried to persuade the media that what we experienced was closer to a 30- to 50-year flood event, at least in Boulder.

I believe, based on the conversations I have had with him in the past, that White would want us to know this so that we understand that just because certain buildings in the floodplain survived this event doesn’t mean that they will be safe when a real 100-, 500- or 1,000-year-event comes.

And I think that he would once again explain, as he did to BW readers 20-years-ago, that every year there is a one in a thousand chance of a 1,000-year flood. The name doesn’t mean that such floods can only occur once every thousand years.

It may not happen tomorrow, next year or the next decade, but the really big one is coming, and we should plan for it now.