Matt Benjamin: Yearning for past inherently breeds fear of future

Boulder has been debating for years what should drive our policies and the overall direction of our city. Is it to recreate the past or plan for the future? Our society is constantly changing and I strongly believe that if we are not actively planning for the future, we are inherently weakening our community. The strength of Boulder is measured by how well we adapt to these changes.

For the past year and half, our city council is comprised of a majority that is reactionary and not meeting the needs of the community. This shouldn‘t surprise us; several of them ran on that exact platform — that Boulder circa 1985 was the pinnacle of our republic. Nostalgia has a place around a campfire but not on council. This type of thinking and governing is not the will of the majority of Boulderites — and more importantly it‘s putting them in danger.

Reactionary governance is the consequence of being unprepared and/or unwilling to plan for the future. We see this occurring through moratoriums (Pearl Street banks, opportunity zone, etc.) and disregarding evidence-based recommendations (CU-South flood mitigation, inclusionary/affordable housing, etc.) On Dec. 18, council voted 6-3 to set an 18-month ban on all development in the designated opportunity zone. Going against the city staff, who saw an opportunity to invest in our community, council said “no thanks.” They reacted to the potential for development based on their fear of the unknown. These areas are in great need of revitalization. This is prime example of when opportunities present themselves, do we seize the opportunity? Or do we put up walls?

The community survey conducted by the city and the National Research Center shows in the 2018 survey that 92 percent of Boulderites are unhappy with Boulder‘s housing affordability. Robustly tackling affordable housing is clearly a “community driven” priority. We hear a lot about “community driven” decisions and a majority of Boulderites want policies written for us and by us. Unfortunately, it‘s hard to be an effective elected representative if you aren‘t in touch with what the whole community wants. Council has been governing from its own echo chamber and not listening to the broader community. The hypocrisy is that council members will often discuss the need for affordable housing, but when an opportunity for developing affordable housing comes up, they are the first to limit it. This is yet another example of rejecting facts in order to support a preconceived point of view.

Last August, council voted 6-3 to select Variant 1, a flood mitigation option for CU-South — against all recommendations and agreement to select Variant 2. Former Councilwoman Jan Burton accurately pointed out in a recent op-ed that their decisions were not based on facts, evidence or trust in experts. The decision made by council is more simply put, a dereliction of duty. There has been years of study, expert recommendations, and yet council chose to play politics with the health and safety of 3,500 Bouderites. And why? Is it a general distrust of CU? Is it a stall tactic on the construction of around 1,000 affordable housing units? Is it some misconstrued environmental concern? Are any of these valid reasons from which to continue to put peoples lives in danger? I say no. These 3,500 Boulder residents are no safer today than they were during the flood of 2013. In fact, at the March 5 council meeting, council learned that CDOT has future plans to potentially expand (U.S.) 36 and the current proposed location for the floodwall will likely need to move. So our neighbors will likely have to wait even longer to be able to sleep easy in our current climate crisis. This is not a sign of a strong community.

These examples of city council‘s process and disastrous decisions are a clear sign that Boulder needs to seriously consider what kind of leadership we want in the upcoming city council election. The longer we delay our community‘s forward-thinking policies, the steeper the hill becomes to catch up with a changing society and a changing world. We should elect leaders that are committed to using facts and willing to listen to the majority of our community to drive effective policy. Boulder‘s prosperity in the future depends on us adapting to change and governing proactively. The upcoming election gives us a chance to choose to be paralyzed by nostalgia or to pragmatically put our future first.