The Draft Open Space Master Plan is a very different master plan than PLAN-Boulder County envisioned and worked toward when the process started. We anticipated a document that would build on the many plans and study data that have been developed by OSMP over the years to create actions to sustain the valuable natural ecosystems of our Boulder Open Space.
What we see is an aspirational document, much like the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan, with admirable goals and strategies, but that does not provide for resolution of the fundamental problem of sustaining Open Space ecosystems in the face of massive and increasing public use and climate change.
The public process for this master plan has been extensive and is an example of the City’s current public engagement strategy of quantity over quality. This process elicited a range of views from citizens who are knowledgeable about Open Space to those who know relatively little about the Open Space system but support it based on their love for the parts of the system they use.
The most important result of the public outreach for the master plan is the overwhelming support from the participants that preservation and sustainability of the Open Space system is their highest priority.A most important data point revealed in the draft plan is the increase in visitation. From Page 6 of the Executive Summary regarding Inspiring Responsible Recreation, “in 2017, OSMP attracted roughly 6.25 million visits, up 34 percent from 4.7 million visits in 2005”.
This level of use, and of increasing use, is unsustainable. OSMP and Boulder citizens must begin to really grapple with establishing limits to use of Open Space, and the Open Space Master Plan must establish the actions to accomplish this. In addition to increasing use, there are other major challenges to the sustainability of the Open Space program, including trying to mitigate effects of climate change, and especially funding, upon which all these efforts depend.
Our system is stressed right now and with projected increases in regional population and the impacts of climate change, we don’t have time for more multi-year planning projects that just put off the critical decisions on what it will actually take to sustain our Open Space into the future. As to more specific comments on the Draft Master Plan, we view the designated Focus Areas, with Value Statement, Outcomes and Strategies for each focus area as a reasonable way to organize the Master Plan material.
The coverage of Outcomes and Strategies seem to be a complete listing; however, the language of the Outcomes is aspirational without objective, measurable goals to guide the Strategies. The Strategies to achieve the Outcomes are equally aspirational and do not offer actionable, measurable approaches.
The Focus Areas are treated as free standing topics without real integration with the Outcomes/Strategies of other Focus Areas that could identify and resolve inherent conflicts between Focus Areas, such as the preservation of ecosystems versus the encouragement of recreational uses. OSMP has a wealth of information that would serve as baseline data for Strategies and implementation. For example, sizes and locations of large habitat blocks, adaptive management and monitoring results of the Visitor Master Plan since 2005, and condition of agricultural lands under lease. All of the baseline data should be incorporated in the Strategies and their implementation.
Section 3: Our Path Forward provides more detail on how the Strategies would be achieved by OSMP. Some strategies involve immediate actions, some specify developing more plans and programs, and some are noted to require significant community engagement. A system of priorities for actions on the strategies is part of this section; however, in many areas, the hard questions that are fundamental to the ongoing sustainability of Open Space are lacking. A fuller discussion of the shortcomings of effective implementation of the Strategies to produce successful Outcomes is too long for this communication to OSBT and City Council, but real analysis and input from the community on these specifics should be what the decision makers are looking for.
The much-too-short review time for this Draft Master Plan ensures that this is not what you will get. So much of the time spent on the Master Plan has been devoted to public engagement that there is relatively little time left in the already compressed schedule for real reflection on the plan itself. In general, the Draft Open Space Master Plan intentionally tries to be everything to everyone in order to make sure that every community member buys in to the Master Plan actions. This approach insures that no critical action will be taken, that repetitive planning and study will take the place of immediately identifying and making the trade offs that are required to sustain the system. It does nothing to set limits, where limits are what everyone knows are required to deal with the impact of increasing visitation on the ecosystems.
PLAN-Boulder recommends that OSMP form a working group of community members who have been involved with and have some expertise in the Open Space program to carefully go through the draft to examine, connect and recommend more specific actions for the Outcomes and Strategies. OSMP has said that these specifics will wait for the actual implementation of the Strategies but this is too vague a direction to ensure that the Open Space Master Plan will have an impact to sustain the resources.
If we wait to do all the identified planning and study, we may not have much left to preserve.And finally and most critically, it is obvious that there is not enough funding to carry out even a reasonable amount of the Master Plan actions. This should be clearly conveyed to the public and a new Open Space sales tax put on the ballot for the Boulder voters.
CoChairs, PLAN Boulder County