Opening the conversation on Boulder’s future
By Chris Ozeroff and Jessica Yates :: posted 10/19/2014
Erica Meltzer’s Oct. 11 [Daily Camera] article “Boulder Junction symbolic of divide over building boom” gives a very good account of the differing schools of thought on Boulder’s future that have long simmered and last month boiled over into controversy over a possible building moratorium. “People who support and oppose Boulder Junction agree on this: There was an extensive public process, but there was not always very much public participation,” writes Meltzer. She goes on to say, “Lou Barnes…a longtime observer of the Boulder real estate market, said city government isn’t easy for the average person to participate in.” That’s why a group of Boulder residents has formed Open Boulder, a new grassroots, nonpartisan organization that aims to make it easier.
Local city and county government decisions are the ones that impact us the most, as evidenced by the outcry from some to halt the change wrought by the surge in construction, and the countering outcry that a building moratorium is too radical a response. The upside was a broader and more robust community conversation about the complex relationships among housing, transportation, jobs and land use than we have seen in some time.
Boulder is changing, and with change comes risk. Boulder’s scenic beauty, outdoor lifestyle and amenities have created high demand to live and do business here. This pressure could easily lead to runaway growth, and careless, soulless development, irreparably damaging the quality of life we cherish. Conversely, an unthinking and reactionary approach could prevent needed updates to aging buildings, gut the dynamism of our economy and make Boulder a static enclave of the rich and retired. Open Boulder does not want to see our community’s charm destroyed by unchecked development. However, we believe that change, approached proactively and guided thoughtfully, is actually necessary and is a force for good in our future.
We are concerned that the planning for our future has not benefited from a truly broad public conversation. Busy lives, apathy and silent satisfaction keep most of us from participating in late, lengthy meetings, or staying on top of the latest news about city and county decision points. As a result, a small group of hearty citizens has often dominated the conversation. Open Boulder seeks to open up these discussions to voices that are currently not being heard and help Boulder make forward-looking decisions, decisions that welcome the right kind of change for the way we live, work and play.
Live. Local government should focus on the practical, daily-life needs of its residents. We will support policies that make it feasible for a more diverse spectrum of people to live here so fewer younger people, new families and moderate-income folks have to commute in. With regard to city services, transportation and our public spaces, the needs of residents should take precedence over far-flung agendas, however noble. We support community investment in arts and culture as key to a vibrant civic life.
Work. A diversified, entrepreneurial business community that creates a variety of jobs is part of what makes Boulder great. Our robust economy funds key amenities, including open space, and makes it possible for a diverse spectrum of people to live and do good work here, enriching the city for all of us. Our local government leadership should embrace and build upon Boulder’s heritage of outstanding entrepreneurs and companies, many with ties to CU and the federal labs, and in other fields like natural products and the outdoor industry.
Play. Environmentalism and active outdoor recreation go hand in hand. Many of us actively use Open Space and Mountain Parks to hike, climb, run, bike and walk our dogs, and we value the ability to experience nature so close to an urban environment. We gladly pay open space taxes, but our local government does not always value active recreation. In response to increasing use, land managers often implement further restrictions rather than expanding opportunities for visitors to recreate responsibly.
We are Open Boulder, and we believe that actively engaging the silent majority will make local politics more inclusive and lead to smarter, more proactive decisions about our future. Please go to our website at OpenBoulder.org and learn more about us. If you are interested in getting involved, we would love to hear from you. Help us make Boulder an even better place to live, work and play – it’s why we’re here.
Chris Ozeroff and Jessica Yates wrote this on behalf of Open Boulder.
Opening Open Space
By Brady Robinson and Jim Butterworth :: posted 12/05/2014
Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) are a major reason why many residents live here. The City funds the acquisition of private properties for OSMP through tax dollars, so it is natural for residents to expect this land to be open for their use and enjoyment. It may surprise many Boulder residents, however, to learn that the vast majority of the City’s recent OSMP land purchases are closed.
OSMP acquisitions lean heavily towards preserving agricultural uses, preserving wildlife habitat, or preventing encroachment of suburbia – all important aspects of OSMP’s mission. Yet despite Boulder residents’ passion for enjoying open space responsibly, the City rarely buys land for its recreational value. Since 2005, when the Visitor Master Plan (VMP) was adopted, the City has acquired more than 2,500 acres of OSMP land at a cost of more than $56 million (adjusted for inflation). Most of these properties remain closed to public access.
For example, in July 2013, OSMP purchased the 330-acre Joder Arabian Horse Ranch for $5,025,000 (in addition to $2,040,000 paid in 1996 for a conservation easement on the property). In 1991, the City (in conjunction with Boulder County) purchased a smaller parcel of Joder Ranch with the express intent to create a trailhead with parking and trails to connect it with an adjacent Open Space parcel. Yet more than a year after the complete acquisition – and 23 years after the initial acquisition – the entire property remains closed to the public.
Notwithstanding its history, its unique potential for a regional connector trail, and its ample existing trails for equestrians, bikers, runners, and hikers, the City designated the Joder property a Habitat Conservation Area (HCA), the most restrictive designation within OSMP. The VMP defines HCAs as “remote areas” with “few, if any, trails or roads.”
The Joder property, however, clearly does not meet the criteria for an HCA; besides the eight miles of existing riding trails, it includes residential sites, several roads and historically included indoor and outdoor riding arenas, jumping facilities and the sorts of things one would expect to find at an equestrian riding center in operation for over half a century. Indeed, its ecological value exists despite the extensive facilities and usage, and will persist with continued, well-managed public use. Overextending the HCA designation to properties that don’t fit the criteria undermines the management strategy envisioned in the VMP.
The Joder property also falls within the North Trail Study Area (TSA), which is the “implementation strategy to improve the visitor experience and provide a sustainable trail system while protecting natural and cultural resources.” Although the original VMP called for all TSAs to be completed by 2010, the North TSA planning process has yet to be put on OSMP’s schedule. Optimistically, it will be at least two years before the North TSA is done and, once finished, it will take several more years before full implementation. The VMP directs OSMP to “complete planning and infrastructure improvements in a timely manner, prior to opening newly acquired properties to public access” and “as appropriate, preserve existing public access during the planning and improvement process.”
Accordingly, in the interest of providing some public access on the Joder property, OSMP proposed opening up a trail consisting mainly of an existing dirt road (with a short section of new trail) to serve as a regional trail connection. At its Dec. 10 meeting, the Open Space Board of Trustees (OSBT) will address the question of whether to accept this proposal, amend it, or defer any access until completion of the long-awaited North TSA.
While this access proposal is a modest one with little or no appreciable environmental impact, it does not address the broader needs of the community. Namely, it neglects equestrians or other users who may not wish to encounter bikes. Trails that already exist along the south side of the property could easily be opened for this purpose. And there is still no provision for parking.
The Joder family, which owned the ranch since 1954, has been clear that they hoped the property would always be open for the public’s enjoyment. Let’s get people and horses back on the property in a manner that honors the family’s legacy and is consistent with the purposes of Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks.
Connecting people to our community’s treasured places in a sustainable manner is exactly what we need to do to build support for conservation acquisitions. The OSBT should open up the property for public use now. Otherwise, an exceptional property that was purchased for our community’s benefit will remain closed to public access, possibly for many years to come.
Open Boulder, a new citizen advocacy group, makes more room at the table
by Robin Noble, the Boulder Source :: posted February 2, 2015
Sometimes the actions of Boulder city and county government can make everyday citizens scratch their heads and wonder.
A few mystifying goings on of late: Mapleton Hill’s historic shed, the Boulder Junction awakening, Google’s unwelcome wagon, the effusive VRBO objector, and West Pearl’s construction bender – to name just a few.
Chances are you’re mostly unaffected by the inanity. Busy running a business, or marathon, or family, the average Boulderite sits back and lets the smart people in charge keep this amazing place amazing. When glitches arise, we sign and say, “Only in Boulder,” and enjoy the antics from the sideline.
Until, that is, we are directly affected by an ill-conceived or half-baked decision. But even at that point we may feel alienated from the process.
A new citizens group thinks Boulder can do better. Open Boulder believes in the power of collaborative governance. The new group is offering big ideas and practical action to help more Boulderites engage.
“The pessimism people feel about the federal government is widespread,” says Andy Schultheiss, Open Boulder’s [former, as of 2017] executive director. “One of the reasons Open Boulder is such a good idea is that we are trying to prevent that from happening at the local level.”
Schultheiss is the former district director for Colorado U.S. Representative Jared Polis, and served on Boulder city council from November 2003 – August 2007 (a brief period of Boulder civic history widely remembered for its pragmatic progress). Mr. Schultheiss recently joined Open Boulder to help plot the group’s strategy.
Open Boulder’s ultimate vision? A city that is responsive to what the majority of its residents want, not just the vocal few.
Open Boulder hopes to be a data-driven agent of change; a conduit of sorts between citizens and government, harnessing the ideas and concerns of people who are often too busy with life to engage politically – working people, students, seniors, families, and others. Among its methods, Open Boulder will use forums, surveys and social media to measure citizen concerns, and communicate those concerns to decision makers.
Recently founded and funded by working people, Open Boulder is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that describes itself as “a grassroots, nonpartisan movement of open-minded, pragmatic and moderate individuals of all ages, cultures and economic backgrounds.” The team includes Jessica Yates, Brady Robinson, Michelle Estrella, Chris Ozeroff, Angelique Espinoza and Jim Butterworth.
Inspired by open city government movements across the US, Open Boulder has specifically cited the success of Open Raleigh. The North Carolina city has committed to an open source, citizen-centric approach that emphasizes government transparency, collaboration and accessibility. In other words, Raleigh makes it easy for citizens to be aware and a part of the process.
“A lot of people move here because of the setting, the recreation, the open spaces. But in order to maintain these things we need to have thriving businesses, good paying jobs, and housing options,” Mr. Schultheiss says. “We believe the entire system needs to be cared for. For that to happen more constituencies need the opportunity to participate.”
If it’s true that people engage with what they feel part of and value what they help to build, Open Boulder is on to something big.