ELECTION 2015

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CITY OF BOULDER BALLOT INITIATIVES 

Ballot Question 300: 
Neighborhood Right to Vote on Land Use Regulation Changes

Yes
No

Ballot question 300, or the “Neighborhood Right to Vote on Land Use Regulation Changes,” is the only race, ballot issue or other vote about which we are not making an endorsement. That’s because, in short, 300 is a deeply flawed initiative that would likely cause logistical and financial problems for the City for years to come. But it also might be the last best opportunity for Boulder citizens concerned about growth to have a real say in how that growth is managed.ut growth to have a real say in how that growth is managed.

Boulder will have to decide for itself what it wants to be.

On one hand, opponents of 300 say the passage of the ballot issue, which would write the clause into the City’s charter, would effectively shut the proverbial gates on the City and prohibit all new development. Doing so would inflate the prices of homes in Boulder and likely make it impossible for lowand middle-income residents to live in the city.

On the other hand, proponents say it gives local neighborhoods — about 65 neighborhoods are delineated based on City-recognized boundaries — a tool to combat unwanted development that affects quality of life, housing prices, traffic and more. Proponents say the amendment would be a valuable tool for future communities as the planning for Boulder’s development is likely to change drastically in the coming years. And to be clear, the amendment would not allow neighborhoods to vote on development that meets existing land use codes.

Opponents of the ballot issues have outraised proponents by a more than three to one margin, which makes sense as it pits development, real estate and other business interests against citizens with far less resources.

The ballot issue was initiated by Livable Boulder, a citizen’s group that comprises a bit more than ordinary citizens with two former City Council members on their steering committee (a third former Council member, Cindy Carlisle, was a steering committee member, but is no longer listed on the group’s website. Carlisle is running for City Council this year.) The group gathered 4,511 signatures to put the issue on the ballot.

How 300 would look in practice if it passes is a small mystery. On paper, if the City decided to make a land use change (such as increasing the size or density of a residential development; reduce on-site parking requirements for development; or change what’s allowed in a particular residential zoning district) in a residential neighborhood, the residents of that neighborhood would get 60 days to file a petition. If 10 percent of that neighborhood petitioned against the land use change, the City would hold and fund a special election for that neighborhood to determine if the land use change could proceed.

We think there are major flaws in 300: the neighborhoods are drawn far too small; the special elections could prove to be a logistical and financial quagmire; lawsuits will definitely become the norm not the exception. However, it might also be the only tool citizen’s have to combat what they see as a grow-at-all-costs mindset from the City.

Critics of 300 say its supporters should simply elect no-growth candidates to Council if they want to stop growth. In a perfect system that would be true, but Boulder doesn’t have a perfect system. Developer influence permeates the boards and City staff that Council members have no choice but to rely on for their information. As a result of this influence below the elected level of government, Council will never be able to accomplish what 300 sets out to do.

We didn’t endorse a position on this ballot question because the vote on 300 is literally a choice between two completely different cities. Should 300 pass, citizens will find themselves living in “Boulder A,” which is pretty much the same town we see today, only in the future housing prices will be far higher and more people will be commuting to Boulder from East County and Denver.

If 300 fails to pass, citizens will find themselves living in a completely different type of community in the coming years. “Boulder B” is an urban city defined by much denser population and, hopefully, better mass transit. Critics of 300 claim that Boulder can easily support 200,000 people or more if planned properly. That is not the town that exists today. We should also point out that we believe even in this urban “Boulder B,” tens of thousands of daily commuters will still be coming in for work because housing prices in “Boulder B” will still be far higher than those in surrounding communities. We believe that the theory that infill will make Boulder affordable is wrong and has been proven a myth in other cities who have followed this path of density.

That said, this is in important ballot issue. We think that it could define Boulder for the foreseeable future, and that it comes down to this basic choice: if you want to live in “Boulder A,” then vote for 300 and don’t complain about the chaos and NIMBY issues that it will inevitably cause. If you want to live in the hip urban city setting that is “Boulder B,” then vote no on 300. Just don’t do so thinking that traffic will be better, you’ll be creating a smaller carbon footprint or that Boulder will become more affordable. It won’t.

These are two very different visions. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. We can live with either one. What is important to us is that democracy has its day and the people of Boulder get to forge their own future. Good luck.

Ballot Question 301: 
New Development Shall Pay Its Own Way

Yes
No

Ballot question No. 301, or “New Development Shall Pay Its Own Way,” is too vaguely worded and too redundant of existing City impact fees to endorse. Vote no.

Livable Boulder, the group that brought forward ballot question 300, also created 301. The latter issue, however, has major omissions in how it would be implemented, which prevent it from receiving our endorsement. For instance, the language of 301 calls for the City to deny any development that wouldn’t fully pay for or provide requisite services for the burdens the City would incur from such development. The ballot question language would require that any burden to “police, firerescue, parks and recreation, public libraries, housing, human services, senior services, parking services, transportation, and open space and mountain parks,” that development effects would have to be offset financially or in-kind by the developer.

But nowhere in the ballot question language does it provide an outline or direction on how the City would calculate those costs. For instance, how do you quantify in dollars a fire department’s estimated emergency response time before and after development? How would you determine the impact of a development on our library system in fiscal terms?

All the language in the ballot issue requires is that the City Council determine how to quantify these incursions; a time-consuming task for a new Council who, with such vague language, has enough room to effect a multitude of dubious outcomes.

Plus, the City already has a number of impact and excise fees on development, including regulations that require new development to construct City infrastructure (like drainage, new streets, sidewalks, utilities), and has code that says, “growth will be expected to pay its own way.”

Ballot Issue 2N: 
Short-term Rental Tax

Yes
No

The 2N ballot issue would allow the City to raise up to $400,000 in tax revenue from taxing short-term rentals in the City. Short-term rentals would be rendered illegal by default if this ballot issue fails. So with a gun to our head placed there irresponsibly by our last City Council, we say vote yes.

Short-term rentals have rapidly increased in popularity over the last five years, not only in Boulder but nationwide. About 1,800 listings for Boulder were found on Airbnb last year, a website where Boulder residents can list their room, home or other dwelling for vacationers interested in staying anywhere from a night or two to several weeks.

Since Boulder’s zoning rules effectively outlawed short-term rentals, City Council took the issue on over the past few months and laid out rules on how to regulate them, including that residents could only rent out their primary residence (and some minor qualifying situations); have to get a rental license; and have to pay a 7.5 percent tax, which is comparable to the tax rate paid by hotels — provided that Ballot Issue No. 2N passes.

City Council determined that the passage of the ordinance is contingent on the passage of the tax. If 2N fails to pass, all short-term rentals would be illegal.

The City says it would use the tax revenue to enforce the new short-term rental rules. Hopefully, the next Council will govern more and hold us hostage less.

Ballot Question 2P: 
Climate Action Plan Tax Extension

Yes
No

Over a decade ago, City Council passed a motion to commit Boulder to emission reductions and developed its Climate Action Plan (CAP). To fund the plan — a series of City programs and services aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change — Boulder voters passed the nation’s first citizen-approved tax devoted to tackling climate change. The current tax expires in March 2018. If approved, this measure would extend the tax another five years.

The CAP tax varies based on the amount of electricity citizens and/or businesses consume each year. The average yearly tax rate is currently $21 for residential, $94 for commercial and $9,600 for industrial, generating approximately $1.8 million each year to fund CAP programs. Through CAP funded programs, such as EnergySmart and SmartRegs, the City has prevented 50,000 metric tons of emissions between 2007 and 2015.

There is no formal opposition to the tax extension. However, the Boulder Chamber of Commerce remains neutral on the issue, stating that the new commercial building performance ordinance promoting energy efficiency should not be part of the CAP tax program. They argue that energy efficiency investments should not be mandated but rather decided by the individual businesses while considering other competing costs.

Although Boulder still has a long way to go in order to reach its goal of an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050, and the CAP tax is but one small piece of the puzzle, Boulder Weekly supports the extension. Vote yes on Question 2P.

Ballot Question 20: 
Utility Occupation Tax Extension

Yes
No

This item, if passed, would extend the Utility Occupation Tax the City currently charges the public utility company serving Boulder (i.e., Xcel), which the company passes on to consumers as part of their monthly energy bill. Set to expire at the end of 2017, this extension would continue to generate tax revenue for the City’s general fund, providing essential city services such as police, fire, library, park maintenance, planning and human services.

As part of the process toward municipalization and a clean energy plan involving renewables, the City of Boulder did not renew its 20-year franchise agreement with Xcel energy in 2010, forgoing the 3 percent franchise fee Xcel charged customers and the company remitted to the City. That same year voters passed the Utility Occupation Tax to maintain the $4.1 million revenue generated by the Xcel franchise fee.

To be clear, voting for or against this tax extension does not mean voting for or against the City’s municipalization plan that is currently tied up in  Public Utility Commission hearings. It is a temporary solution for the City to continue to generate tax revenue from energy usage which funds necessary city services to the community.

Boulder Weekly supports this tax extension. We endorse a yes vote on Question 20.

Ballot Question 2Q: 
Amending Charter Provisions Regarding Library Commission

Yes
No

This initiative comes from the Library Commission itself, which has expressed a desire to change the City’s charter language concerning the Commission’s duties and rules since 2012. The section of the charter outlining the creation and role of the Library Commission was written in 1917 when the City had a small library system, according to Paul Sutter, chair of the Library Commission.

“The charter as it currently exists, depending on how you interpret it, gives power to the Commission in terms of writing checks and buying books, and that’s not what our Commission can feasibly do as a voluntary commission,” Sutter says. “For a few decades, the Commission has been functioning as advisory and in the past there have been problems that have arisen from a lack of understanding of what the Commission’s role is.”

Part of this confusion, Sutter says, comes from whom the Commission reports to according to the City Charter. Currently, the Library Commission is appointed by City Council and then operates under the direction of the city manager, which, according to memos from the Library Commissioner handbook, is unlike other similar City boards and commissions in Boulder.

“This delineation of power might make sense if we were running the library,” Sutter says. “As library director, David Farnan reports to Jane, but who are we advising? The new language makes it clearer that as an advisory commission, we make suggestions to City Council. We are appointed by City Council, and we report to City Council.”

The updated language changes neither how the Commission functions, nor does it take away the Commission’s power to “shape library policies and programs,” Sutter says.

Under the new language, the Commission can adopt bylaws, rules and regulations for itself; provide advice to assist in preparation and revision of a master plan for the development and maintenance of a “modern library system” within the city; conduct an annual review of the library budget prior to submittal to the city manager (as well as make recommendations regarding approval or modification of the budget); review the library director’s annual report and make comments and recommendations; take steps to encourage grants or gifts to the library; and represent the library to the community and the community to library “with the goal of building awareness, understanding and support.”

Ultimately, this is an administrative clarification. We endorse a yes vote on Question 2Q.

Ballot Question 2R: 
Charter Provisions Regarding Compensation for Council Members

Yes
No

Being a member of Boulder’s City Council is a time-consuming undertaking — regular Council meetings are held twice a month (first and third Tuesdays; also not known for their brevity), and then there are special meetings and an endless stream of documentation to review in preparation for voting. A truly involved Council member also interacts with citizens through emails and one-on-one meetings. There are journalists to answer to and community events to attend.

This is more than a part-time job, and a pure love for democracy doesn’t pay the bills.

That being said, being a member of Boulder’s City Council is also not a lucrative endeavor, and many Boulder residents have spoken out about how inadequate compensation for Council members could limit who is able to serve.

Currently, Council members are paid $206.97 per meeting for up to 52 meetings a year, which works out to a maximum of $10,762.44.

If passed, this initiative would establish a base salary of $10,000 per year for Council members, plus $210 per meeting (stipulation: at which a quorum of City Council is present) for up to 52 meetings a year. This brings the annual maximum pay up to $20,920.

Additionally, this initiative would give Council members the ability to receive benefits — health, vision and dental — at the same rate as other fulltime city employees.

Boulder Weekly believes a pay increase for Council members would increase the number of citizens who see Council as a viable option for civic participation. While this pay increase does not create a livable wage in the City of Boulder, it does (in combination with health benefits) provide enough incentive for more residents to consider committing the kind of time necessary to serve on Council. We believe this would attract candidates from diverse walks of life.

Citizen-led environmental organization PLAN-Boulder County opposes the measure, saying, “[Now is] not the right time for a pay raise of about 100 percent. PLAN-Boulder strongly supports increasing diversity of the Council, but also supports the concept of the citizen Council member.” They do not, however, give examples of how this vision is achievable.

While Council member Tim Plass says that too high a salary could create a negative dynamic within Council, he says it’s hard to argue that a $20,000 salary destroys the citizen Council that Boulder upholds.

“That’s a hard salary to live on in Boulder,” Plass says.

We wholeheartedly agree.

The Boulder Chamber takes a neutral stance on 2R, claiming that while they believe that Council’s current compensation is indeed need of review, this particular amendment “lacks important components.” The Chamber would like to maintain a “citizen” Council system, attract diverse candidates and clarify a more “limited role and scope of Council activity.”

We believe Question 2R would indeed maintain a citizen Council system while attracting a more diverse set of candidates. It seems the Chamber’s desire to limit the role and scope of Council is a completely separate issue from compensation.

We endorse a yes vote on Question 2R.

LAFAYETTE BALLOT INITIATIVES

Ballot Question No. 2J: 
Boards and Commissions Qualifications

Yes
No

This measure would eliminate the requirement that all Lafayette board and commission members — with the exception of the Planning Commission — be residents and electors of the city.

For clarification, the chair and all but two members of a given board or commission must reside in the city.

Breaking this measure down, it affects two groups — those who are not residents of the City of Lafayette, and those not eligible to vote.

Supporting this measure allows two things: First, folks with a vested interest in Lafayette (such as those who operate businesses in Lafayette, or those whose children attend school in the city but live just outside city limits) would have the ability to sit on boards and commissions that influence factors of their daily lives.

Second, those who are legal residents of the city but can’t vote, such as residents with a green card (but not U.S. citizenship) or even those under the age of 18, can provide valuable input to boards and commissions. This can be exemplified through Lafayette’s Latino Advisory Board and the City’s  Youth Advisory Committee.

Boulder Weekly believes this is a straightforward way to support diversity and create a more inclusive government.

We endorse a yes vote on 2J.

Ballot Question No. 2K: 
Collective Bargaining For Lafayette Firefighters

Yes
No

This measure would give Lafayette’s firefighters the right to collectively bargain, which is to say they would have the right to negotiate their working conditions, wages and benefits.

Every other community that borders Lafayette recognizes their unionized fire departments through collective bargaining agreements.

At a Lafayette City Council meeting in July, Doug Hurst, a Lafayette firefighter and union president, told Council members that Lafayette’s firefighters went for years without air packs that were compatible with those of other cities. Hurst told Council that he and other firefighters fear that without collective bargaining, the city’s firefighters will continue to lag behind in obtaining better safety equipment.

The labor union movement, once a strong economic and political force in the U.S., has been steadily weakening since the 1980s, and along with it, social justice. Recognizing unions through collective bargaining isn’t just about paying employees more, it’s about telling those who often sacrifice the most that they have the right to negotiate for better working conditions — it’s about telling the firefighters, police officers and teachers of the nation that we appreciate their sacrifice and we believe their commitment should be rewarded with a strong voice that can positively shape the future of their profession.

We endorse a yes vote on 2K.

TOWN OF JAMESTOWN

Ballot Issue 2E: 

Yes
No

Ballot Issue 2E is proposing a permanent tax increase of $15,250 in 2016 and an increase in the following years of whatever additional amount, up to a 5 mill levy, on taxable property. The money would go toward municipal purposes and administrative costs. Due to inflation, staff overtime, additional insurance premiums and general operating costs, the Town’s expenses have increased. This tax increase would provide a steady stream of funding to the Town.

The critics feel that the people of Jamestown are already financially wiped out, and believe there are other sources of revenue for the Town, including tourism and grant funding. They feel it is too early to assess how much spending will be needed in the coming years and that this tax increase is premature.

We believe that passing 2E is the right thing to do and that the tax revenue it will generate is badly needed. We endorse a yes vote on Ballot Issue 2E.

Ballot Issue 2F: 

Yes
No

This is a temporary tax increase of $5,500 in 2016, that can be raised in 2017 and 2018 by any additional amount deemed necessary not to exceed 1.7 mills. These funds will help pay for a financial audit (estimated at $12,000- $15,000) that is required by State law after the Town received millions of dollars in grants for flood-related costs.

Critics of this issue say the audit should be paid for with funds from Rebuild Jamestown, and that taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for this floodrelated cost.

Boulder Weekly endorses a yes vote on Ballot Issue 2F.

TOWN OF LYONS

Ballot Issue 2A: 

Yes
No

If passed, Ballot Issue 2A would increase Lyons’ sales tax rate from 3 percent to 3.5 percent. Lyons benefits from substantial tourism each year, including the three million visitors who pass through on their way to Rocky Mountain National Park. So implementing a sales tax increase would be less harmful than a property tax increase, which would affect Lyons residents more directly. Lyons has the second lowest sales tax in Boulder County, and even with the increase, Lyons’ sales tax would still be lower than that of Boulder and Longmont. If passed, this would be the first time since the 1970s that Lyons will have increased its sales tax to generate revenue for the general fund.

We say vote yes on 2A.

Ballot Issue 2B: 

Yes
No

2B proposes a new 5 percent excise tax on marijuana products that are transferred or sold by a marijuana cultivation facility or a marijuana-infused products facility that is locally licensed. The tax could be increased but won’t exceed 10 percent. The funds would go to help pay any Town costs of marijuana law enforcement and regulation.

This is a common tax throughout the county, and we endorse a yes vote on 2B.

TOWN OF NEDERLAND

Ballot Issue 2C: 

Yes
No

Ballot Issue 2C is asking voters to authorize the collection of an $800,000 grant from State Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance. The Town will in turn match the money with funds they’ve been collecting for the past 20 years. The money would go toward the replacement of the Town maintenance shop, which has been deteriorating for years. The new building would serve as a place to store and service Town vehicles for all departments, which help maintain infrastructure of streets and pipelines.

The grant needs approval because the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) puts a cap on revenue by tax dollars or state proceeds that a community can receive. By accepting this money, the town would exceed a 5.5 percent growth in revenue, thereby needing voter approval. Town Administrator Alisha Reis says she wants to stress this doesn’t mean an increase in taxes. By not approving the funds, the town will have to turn down the $800,000 grant, further delaying the building of this new shop.

Boulder Weekly says free money is good and we endorse a yes vote on 2C.

OTHER JURISDICTIONS

Boulder Rural Fire Protection District Ballot Issue 5B: 

Yes
No

Issue 5B represents a tax increase of $995,464. The tax revenue will be raised by increasing the district’s existing property tax by 4 mills. The revenue will allow Boulder Rural Fire Protection to hire staff and upgrade equipment and facilities. Currently, only 40 staff members serve 17,000 people in a 25-square mile area. We endorse a yes vote on Ballot Issue 5B.

Knollwood Water District Ballot Question 5A: 

Yes
No

In Ballot Question 5A, the Knollwood Water District is proposing to convert to a metropolitan district. This would give Knollwood Water District greater ability to manage services to the neighborhood, including improving roads that haven’t been resurfaced since the late 1960s, according to the Knollwood Water District’s Treasurer Barry S. Baer. Approving this change lets the water district manage upkeep, maintenance and improvement of roads, and it would be able to propose tax increases on Knollwood residents to fix roads in upcoming years. If not approved, Knollwood would have to wait for the County to fix roads, and they’ve been waiting for 40 years.

Also, if passed, the County would pay a third of the costs associated with fixing roads. This would greatly diminish the cost for Knollwood neighbors. This is also an example of the relationships that the County is trying to foster with unincorporated subdivisions, says Barb Halpin, public information officer for Boulder County.

We endorse a yes vote on 5A.

Estes Valley Recreation and Park District Ballot Issue 4C: 
Estes Valley Community Center Operation and Maintenance

Yes
No

Ballot Issue 4C proposes a tax increase of up to $200,000 annually for a decade-long period, commencing collection in 2018 and end in 2027. The money raised would go to paying for a portion of the costs for the Estes Valley Community Center operation and maintenance. This would be an operating supplement should the center be built with funds from ballot issue 4D, also on this year’s ballot.

Centers like these can become the cornerstones for building community. We believe a yes vote is in order.

Estes Valley Recreation and Park District Ballot Issue 4D: 
Estes Valley Community Center Bond

Yes
No

To garner funds to build and equip the Estes Valley Community Center, 4D is proposing a $19.83 million increase in debt by issuing a 20-year bond. The bond will be paid for by an annual $1.67 million property tax increase.

The community center would be a communal space for multiple generations of visitors and also provide senior services, child care, family amenities, library resources, meeting rooms, walking tracks, aquatic facilities, a multipurpose gym room, areas for group exercise and locker rooms.

4C and 4D go hand-in-hand for building and maintaining this proposed community center. We say vote yes on both.

Boulder Valley School District RE-2 Ballot Question 3A: 

Yes
No

According to state law (Senate Bill 152), government agencies are prevented from entering into any public/private contract with regards to telecommunications, which includes fiber optic networks. This BVSD question, if approved, would give BVSD an exemption from restrictions and allow the district the ability to lease excess fiber capacity to both private and public partners and potentially generate revenue.

Currently, every school in the district is covered by the fiber optic network, but there is still “dark fiber” or unused capacity sitting in the ground. “The excess dark fiber capacity we have, we believe could generate revenue and not impact our ability to deliver similar services to the schools,” says Andrew Moore, chief information officer with the district.

BVSD could also broadcast bandwidth in underserved neighborhoods where students don’t currently have Internet access at home. This could help close the achievement gap by providing underserved students with internet service that will help to level the playing field with their peers. In this way, BVSD will be a leader in bridging the digital divide and homework gap in the district.

The potential revenue is unknown, given that BVSD is prevented from entering any form of negotiation with the private sector by state law and there are no pre-established deals with any companies or organizations.

Any revenue generated from leasing excess capacity on the district’s fiber optic networks would go into the BVSD general fund and would not be designated for any specific program or department. However, all of the BVSD school board candidates say they would specifically earmark the revenue, if elected, to enhance technology for students who can’t currently afford it. There would be no tax increase associated with passing this question and there has been no public opposition to this question. We say yes. 

LINK TO BEGINNING OF ELECTION ENDORSEMENTS & ANALYSIS