Responses to PLAN-Boulder Forum Questions from Candidate Dan Williams (who was unable to participate virtually)
Question 1 – 2 min – Candidate Introductions. Please tell us specifically why are you running? Why would you be a good choice for voters?
Boulder’s gotten off track. Our wealth disparity is increasing, our population has stagnated, we’re locking out future generations, and we’re failing on our social equity goals. I’m running for City Council to change that, and to make us a true progressive leader.
On City Council I will ask three questions for each decision:
• Does this make it easier or harder to live, work, and play in Boulder?
We’ve built a wall of restrictions and barriers, brick by brick, that make it harder to live here, harder to enjoy our outdoor spaces, and harder to make a small business or non-profit work. Each was for good intentions, but collectively they’re stifling creativity, making it harder for people to thrive here.
• Does this advance social justice and racial equity?
Boulder considers itself liberal, but our actions often don’t match our words.
• Does this address the climate emergency?
We need to break with old patterns and make some immediate changes to respond to the crisis we’re living through now.
I’ve spent decades as a lawyer fighting for people, and I’m ready to join City Council to fight to make Boulder a place for all of us.
Question 2 – 3 min – Affordable Housing. What do you think are the specific areas of concern for housing affordability in Boulder? The following are of interest to PLAN-Boulder: o Who needs to be served? o How much housing should we add? How much is enough? Should we try to house anyone who comes to Boulder or works in Boulder and can’t afford housing? o How should we pay for the affordability increment? 2 o What kind and where should we add affordable housing? o What are acceptable and unacceptable impacts on neighborhoods?
Pondering whether we can house “everyone” makes this issue appear insurmountable, but the reality is that there are many things we can do now, incrementally, without first solving that riddle that will to promote two of Boulder’s most pressing goals:
1. Making Boulder affordable so this our City does not continue on its current path of becoming an enclave accessible only to the ultra-rich; and
2. Recognizing that we are living through a climate emergency and that the experts tell us that the single best tool we have to lower per capita carbon emissions is to live more closely to our neighbors in more compact, walkable and transit-friendly neighborhoods.
I love my neighborhood in North Boulder near Wonderland Lake. When rowhomes along the transit corridor, multi-family housing and subsidized housing (including the Homeless Shelter) were placed in my neighborhood, initially there was concern. Today far North Boulder near Broadway is considered one of the most desirable places to live in Boulder, and needless to say, nobody’s property values have diminished. The reality is that living in moderately denser and more diverse neighborhoods like far North Boulder allow for successful street-level retail, better transit, and more thriving communities. With some new ways of thinking we could have these benefits in other parts of Boulder as well.
In terms of funding, development should pay for itself without subsidy. Boulder currently requires affordable housing to be built along with new residential construction and that should continue. We can significantly expand market-rate affordable housing in Boulder with tools like revamping our development processes to make it easier and quicker for projects to be approved, which reduces costs of development and ultimately makes it less expensive for the residents of such projects. Similarly, we can eliminate well-intentioned but out-of-date rules written before we recognized the climate emergency that make it more expensive to build the type of multi-family units that would be attractive to in-commuters, young people, and new families, such as parking minimums and other requirements. Those types of changes alter the equations for building market-rate housing that is affordable to in- commuters and others.
Question 2a – Yes/No – Some have suggested small parcels of Boulder’s Open Space be sold off for housing. Would you pursue this?
Question 2b – Yes/No – Would you support any changes or exceptions to the 55 foot height limit?
Question 3 – 2 min – Transportation. Transportation both impacts and is impacted by development decisions made by the council. What should be done to reduce the impacts of the 60,000 commuters that already arrive in Boulder? What steps, if any, should be taken to balance employment and workforce housing in the city?
We need a two-pronged strategy for in-commuting. First, we need to make it much easier to take transit and bicycle/e-bike into Boulder. That means assuring that transit services are fast, frequent and inexpensive, and it means having protected bikeways for in-commuters. Second, to balance employment and workforce housing, we need to increase our supply of market-rate affordable housing, both by building new housing as discussed above, and by making better use of our existing housing stock through measures like Bedrooms Are For People. The idea that we reduce carbon by reducing Boulder’s job base has been rejected by the City’s climate staff, who now are telling us we need to consider Boulder’s regional impacts on carbon emissions, and it is a failed policy of the past that we need to let go of if we are serious about addressing the climate emergency.
Question 4 – 3 min – Annexation of CU South. Given the level of community conflict on this issue: How would you have approached the question of flood mitigation and annexation of CU South to come to a more acceptable outcome? The following are of interest to PLAN-Boulder:
- How you would have gone about defining the problem to be resolved;
- Developing and evaluating alternative options;
- Balancing responsibility for safety and protection of downstream residents and property among the City, CU and Property Owners;
- Evaluating input of City professional staff and consultants;
- What weight would you give informed citizens, citizen experts and general citizenry? How would you include them in the process?
- How does climate change and the likelihood of increased and more severe flooding in the future influence your thinking regarding flood mitigation?
My understanding is that there has been conflict regarding CU South since CU acquired the property in the 1990s. By 2017, however, the conflict had been mediated through the inclusion of Guiding Principles for CU South in the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan, including supporting annexation of the property as is now being proposed. As a City and as a region, we rely on the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan to come as close as possible to reflecting consensus community values and goals, and the inclusion of CU South in the 2017 iteration of the plan shows that annexation and the benefits it will bring – specifically flood protection, desperately-needed workforce, low income, and student housing, and additional open space – reflect our community’s needs and values. I commend those who worked so hard to reach the level of consensus that went into the inclusion of this project in the 2017 Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan. I believe the current Annexation Agreement is true to the Guiding Principles for CU South set forth in the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan, and I’m supportive of the Annexation Agreement being approved.
There remain some pockets of community opposition to the annexation of the CU South property, although recent polling data show that a majority of the City’s voters support it. Hindsight is 20/20, and I’m sure more could have been done with respect to community engagement – that is always the case. That said, I do believe the City’s process for CU South was appropriate and I think the resultant agreement is a good one that both the City and CU should approve.
Question 4a – Yes/No – Do you support “Let Voters Decide on CU South Annexation” Ballot measure?
Question 4b – Yes/No – If the City Council annexes CU South before the November election, as is currently planned, will you sign the planned referendum petition that will seek to undo this decision.
I would consider a referendum petition only once the actual text of the petition is drafted, and the results of the current ballot question are in. That said, I support this Council approving the Annexation Agreement, and if it does, I think the next Council’s priority should be working within the confines of that agreement to get needed flood protection built as quickly as humanly possible.
Question 5 – 2 min – Climate Change. Using Boulder as an example, how do you see the role of local government in addressing climate change? What are the critical areas to focus on? Water? Flooding? Energy? What should Boulder be doing to prepare itself for climate change and to mitigate our own contributions to the problem?
We are living through a climate emergency and all levels of government, including the City of Boulder, need to take immediate steps to address it. I agree with the approach recently outlined by the City’s staff which divides the challenge into two pieces – reducing carbon emissions and mitigating the effects of climate change.
As to the first goal, the Sierra Club and others have made clear that infill development is a critical tool with respect to reducing climate emissions. The federal government recognizes this too, as do scientists. There simply is no lever with a bigger impact on reducing per capita carbon emissions than increasing housing proximity in urban areas, and if Boulder is serious about doing its part, it needs to break with old ways of thinking about what it means to be pro-environment and support measures to increase the supply of housing in Boulder, both through new construction of multi-family housing/duplexes, and through making better use of empty bedrooms with occupancy limit reforms and ADU reforms.
We also need to be ready for more and more severe floods, and more and more severe wildfires. Boulder is on the front lines of both of those issues and it needs to invest in more flood protection and more preparation for wildfires that may approach Boulder in the future.
Question 6 – 2 min – Public Safety. This year Boulder experienced a mass-shooting and many residents have expressed concern about increased crime and public safety in our public spaces. How do you view the issue of public safety in Boulder? What are your concerns? o Is our approach and investment in addressing public safety and homelessness on the right track? o What is the role of policing vs. social services?
The increase in crime that many in Boulder have experienced is unacceptable, and it needs to be addressed. Local officials predicted that during the COVID shutdowns of 2020 crime would increase when fewer people were downtown and more people were destitute, and sure enough, that happened. Police Chief Herold has been working on new strategies to prevent property crime and violent crime in the City, and I am supportive of those priorities.
Separate from increased crime, the City has also experienced an increase in homelessness. Those in the field report that over the last several years, services such as a day shelter and overnight shelter space have been cut, and this has led to an unsurprising increase in people living outside in public spaces and spending their days in public parks. That is a critical social services problem that demands an immediate social services solution. Over the last year, our City Council has failed to respond effectively to this challenge and has tried to police away the homeless problem. Chief Harold has reported that despite a year of “sweeps” of camps and criminal citations for violating the City’s camping ban, we have made no progress at all reducing the numbers of people living in public spaces. It is time for a different solution, backed by research and evidence. We need a City Council majority that will do what it takes to get unhoused people off the streets by providing them access to safe places to sleep, and safe places with social services where they can spend their days.
Question 6a – Yes/No – Do you support the ban on camping on public land in Boulder?
I believe our current camping ban is not working and changes are needed, and I also believe we can and must insist that people live in safe places rather than camping by Boulder Creek or in underpasses. We need places for safe parking and safe camping in Boulder, and we need no-questions-asked shelter services as well as supportive shelter services. With those critical resources in place, I would support prohibiting people from living in public spaces like next to Boulder Creek, with the understanding that City social services staff would assist in relocating unhoused people to safe places for them to sleep and work to get back on their feet.
Question 6b – Yes/No – Do you support defunding Boulder Police?
This question reflects a catch-phrase that started on the fringe of left-wing political thought and has been appropriated by the right as a scare-tactic to prevent meaningful police reform. Boulder needs to continue paying for a police force, and I would not support eliminating or, in the words of this question, “defunding” policing services for the City of Boulder. There is a different question that conservatives like to lump into the bucket of “defund the police” which is whether one supports shifting social services functions from police to social workers, and reallocating funds from police to social services to reflect that change. I am supportive of freeing our police force from the responsibility of responding to social problems to allow them to focus all of their energy on stopping property crime and crimes against people, and then reallocating the money that went to policing social problems to sending social workers to handle social problems.