Q&A with PLAN Boulder
Plan Boulder has held three forums for City Council candidates. They asked all the candidates to be prepared to verbally answer each of the questions below in two minutes.
I went ahead and wrote my answers out in advance. I didn't answer verbatim but I think that my answers below get to the heart of what I said in the forum. Enjoy the read.
PLAN Boulder, City Council Candidate Q&A - Mark McIntyre
What is your view of the relationship between density and affordability of housing?
First there is a relationship between affordability and density. When housing is developed, whether at a market rate or as permanently affordable, there are three major components:
hard costs (materials, labor, etc…),
soft costs (legal fees, design fees, financing, etc…),
While there are changes to be made in hard and soft costs that may affect affordability, the greatest variable is land cost per unit as determined by density. Land / # of units or Land / #of people with homes.
I also want to address a broader definition of affordability. This extends beyond dollars and cents. With our climate crisis weighing on all us humans of the world we need to decide if we can afford more suburban single family home development and all of its associated environmental impacts. These impacts are well documented. Sharing assets reduces environmental impacts. The assets to which I refer are broad and the impact great. We can share open spaces, community spaces, cars, bikes, gardens, tools, transit systems, art, stories, thoughts and experiences. All as a product of moving away from our suburban, ultra low density development patterns.
The “Minneapolis 2040” plan (to take effect in November 2019) doubles zoning density in all Minneapolis single-family neighborhoods, provides that all single family lots can have either duplex’s or triplex’s, eliminates any need for off-street parking, and allows buildings of up to four stories in height. Should Boulder consider some variation of this legislation?
In short, yes. The key words in your question are “some variation.” What Minneapolis did certainly was bold. I think our climate, housing, and transportation challenges deserve bold action. The city has set many goals that I believe, if asked, most Boulderites would support. . But to reach those goals we need to take action in our land use patterns, energy consumption, and transportation systems.
Boulder should choose a flavor of legislation that brings along the community. I think that if we craft land use regulations that are focused on helping citizens live closer to where they work, that allow them to age in place if they choose, or to down size affordably, the changes will be welcomed.
This sort of change in land use regulations also has the ability to bring more families into Boulder— we are currently experiencing declines in our K-12 age populations. In recent years Boulder has experienced overall declines in population and declines in diversity. Allowing more flexibility in the way people experience “home” is good and I support that.
What is your view of the relationship between adding jobs and creating adequate housing for workers in those jobs?
Getting people to live close to where they work is important. See my answers above. Of my 42 years in Boulder, all but one of my jobs were located in Boulder and a large majority were running a distributed business, where all our partners and employees worked from home offices.
Boulder is attractive, it attracts interesting, smart, ambitious people and I don’t think that is something we want to change. Those people and their talent attract employers. All of that makes for a pretty resilient community economically. Another feature that we should foster as another downturn looms.
Clearly though we will not be able to have all the people who work on Boulder, live in Boulder. That does not excuse us from taking action on homes for some of those.
While not asked, this is a transportation question too. We have painfully clear patterns of workers commuting in on the Diagonal, Arapahoe, Baseline, and US 36. Given that rail is not coming soon, we need to change the commuting patterns of our workforce. We have seen the success of Bus Rapid Transit on 36. The FF1/FF2 run at or over capacity. We need to expand on that success and bring true BRT to our other commuting corridors. That is the way we will get people out of their single occupancy vehicles.
How important do you think Neighborhood Plans, Area plans and Sub-community Plans are? What would be needed to give residents of these areas a real input in the outcome of such planning efforts?
I think all of the plan types are very important. It is important that residents are given the opportunity to contribute. Great ideas, hopes, and aspirations can come from these. But… community wide goals and our stated values need to be the lens by which we craft an area, sub-community, or neighborhood plan. The more local plans are still subservient to our overall goals.
The way the question is worded presupposes that residents don’t have “real” input. We have had, and will continue to have contentious discussions about the direction of the community. Whatever side did not prevail often comes out with the “we weren’t heard” refrain. For the most part that is not true. They were heard, and more often than not, they had a real influence on the decision, but ultimately, a path must be chosen and there is always disappointment..
We have a large community of people, like you attending today, that have the time and resources to show up at planning events. That’s great. We also have a large part part of our community that does not have the ability to show up at every event due to work, kids, life, and that is why we have a representative form of government. The people that can’t come get a voice too.
Finally, great design, whether it be landscape design, city design, architectural design, transit design, great design does not happen by committee. It is achieved by smart, creative, professionals, doing the job for which they were hired. NCAR was not designed by an area planning process or sub-community plan. Sometimes we don’t know what we want until it’s there.
Municipal Utility - Do you support the proposed Boulder Municipal Utility? Why or why not? Are you willing to put it on the ballot.
I voted for the muni the first three times. I voted against the muni in 2017. I think an electric utility is a fine role for city government. I wish we had formed a muni a hundred years ago when we had the chance. We didn’t. But there is no sense in looking back. We need to look forward and ask what are our real goals? In our heart of hearts is the goal to have a muni—just because, or is our goal to do whatever we can to ameliorate the effects of climate change by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. At the moment we don’t seem to be getting very far on either.
I think we would do ourselves a favor to end the muni efforts and commit ourselves,money, our time, and our staff resources to four areas of action:
Owning the production of industrial scale clean power.
Subsidizing commercial and residential solar, especially for low and middle income residents and building owners willing to commit to having energy affordability be part of their leases.
Using funds from the muni effort to address GHG emissions from transportation which make-up about 40% of our citywide emissions. This could be eco-passes, ebike subsidies for low and moderate income people.
Active carbon sequestration on city agricultural open space properties.
I am for action now. But, the voters have spoken and the next step in the process is a “real” determination of costs and another vote.
On a personal note, my wife and I own a small commercial building in the county. We installed one of the largest privately owned solar systems in Boulder county on that building. It produces 50,000 kwh of carbon free electricity per year. Our decision to install the system and invest our capital in clean power was heavily influenced by a 15% subsidy of the system cost provided by the county. The city can do the same and achieve real results now rather than spend our money in court, fighting with Xcel.
The city is currently updating the Transportation Master Plan. How would you ensure that the plan tackles Boulder’s carbon footprint and how should the needs identified in the Master Plan be funded?
I currently serve on the city’s Transportation Advisory Board. I feel I have been a significant contributor in one particular way, and that is the statement of goals on page 9 of the draft. Those goals are:
• Be SAFE
• Be EQUITABLE
• Be RELIABLE
• Provide travel CHOICES
• Support clean air and our CLIMATE COMMITMENT
I advocated for a clear and memorable statement of goals that a community member could read, remember and hold our transportation department accountable if we fail to act on those goals.
As a board we used those goals to change the North Broadway pavement reconstruction project from a status quo design that changed asphalt to concrete but nothing else, to a design that when complete in 2021 should be a model for how to design our street going forward.
Regarding funding, I served as the TAB representative to the Transportation Funding Working Group. After our work was complete staff presented a report to council. I sent my own minority report to council objecting to the regressive nature of all the proposed funding mechanisms. I proposed a VVT (Vehicle Valuation Tax) that would tax the value of your vehicle progressively. So if you are driving an 80K Audi A8 you pay a bunch. If you are driving a 20 year old Corolla you pay very little. I think this combined with a cordon fee or congestion pricing would be a great way to fund a safe carbon free transportation system that offers real choices to people of all incomes and ages.
The Final Draft of the Open Space Master Plan shows a huge unfunded financial gap for trail and facility maintenance and resource preservation. As of 2020, Open Space funding will be decreased by nearly 30% with the sunsetting of two sales taxes (Council recently voted to put a 0.15 sales tax for Open Space and Longs Gardens on the ballot in November). The Master Plan also shows dramatically increasing visitation with damaging impacts. How would you ensure the sustainability of our Open Space system with decreased funding and increased use?
First kudos to our moderator for penning a great piece in Sunday’s paper. On this issue, I am in full agreement with Bill.
It is also important to note that a great deal of the OSMP budget goes or has gone to debt service. The debt service was structured sales taxes used to pay for that debt. So a 30% reduction in total budget does not mean a total gutting of the department’s operating budget.
I will likely support the sales tax extension for two reasons:
OSMP must commit to a reorganization geared towards maintenance. See Bill’s piece.
The only caveat that I have is regarding Long’s Gardens. The city and the county have a history with conservation easements that is problematic. The easement must be written in such a way that we will not be surprised in 20-30 years when the then owners of the land decide that they want to do something different with the property. It needs to be airtight.
Recreation vs. preservation? Please discuss.
Another question that presupposes an unnecessary conflict or dichotomy. We can’t have one without the other. Recreation on our open spaces is what feeds our soul and creates the connection with the natural world that we love. It is this connection that feeds our desire to preserve and protect our public lands.
We create better preservation values by creating trails that take people where they want to go and do so in a fun and adventurous way. We honor the land and the wildlife that live upon it by maintaining our trails and infrastructure. Benign neglect is not a conservation value and does not serve the land, the flora, nor the fauna and it certainly does not serve the values of those that started our open space system. It serves no one
What is your view of the City’s financial condition? As a council member, what steps would you take given your view of its condition? (Current investments vs. necessary/obligatory investments. Where should we direct the City’s finances moving forward?)
Council’s recently requested that all departments list their unfunded needs. This was to assess what our budget shortfalls are and to try to evaluate future funding sources. This set off a bit of a race to create the biggest list of unfunded needs so that if funding was ever increased— the department with the greatest need might get the most funding.
This sky is falling list of needs belies the fact that in comparison to most of our peer cities we are doing quite well. However we do need to acknowledge that sales tax revenue is flattening while wealth and wealth disparity continues to grow.
There are a number of things that are more progressive that we could do if allowed by state law:
Currently state law prohibits:
Real Estate transfer tax.
Any income tax on even the highest earners.
A variable or progressive head tax.
I support working with our state legislature to change what cities are allowed to use for funding tools. Ending our over reliance on sales tax and using a VVT (see above) along with new progressive tools that should be allowed for home rule cities should be a focus for us.
What is your view of the appropriate future of the land known as CU South? How would you balance the need for effective flood mitigation and the University’s drive to develop as much as possible on this site?
“Known as CU South,” makes it sound like there is a question of ownership. There is not. CU owns that land. We may wish we (the City of Boulder) owned it but we don’t, so let's stop pretending and wishing away what is a hard reality. CU owns it and CU will do with it what they want. We can negotiate with them by using access to our city water as our bargaining chip. That is really the only chip we have and we need to use it wisely to negotiate:
Flood safety and mitigation for downstream residents.
Access to planned open spaces and joint stewardship of those open spaces.
Excellence in the design of grad student and faculty housing and excellence in the design of the ways CU moves people from the site to the main campus that results in less GHG production and reduces congestion on our streets.
I think CU has been a good negotiating partner to-date and that we need to be a good partner in return. Ultimately, partnering rather than fighting will result in a superior outcome for Boulder’s citizens.