To cut through political platitudes, Boulder Progressives hosting Raucous Caucus for city council candidates

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Photo by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Just shy of two dozen presidential hopefuls will participate in the first Democratic debate next week, including a pair of Coloradans. The stage at Boulder’s first city council candidate caucus may be no less crowded. With food, alcohol and audience participation, it’s almost certain to be more fun.

The Raucous Caucus, hosted by political newcomers Boulder Progressives, will take place two days before the national event in Miami. Nineteen invites have been extended to prospects vying to fill six available seats up for grabs on Boulder city council this fall.

A non-partisan race, city council candidates usually divide on issues of growth and development. But it can be hard for voters to suss out which candidates best represent their values, said Masyn Moyer, a representative for Boulder Progressives.

“When you ask candidates about housing, everybody’s for affordable housing,” Moyer said. “You can’t discern one person from the next. Everybody gives the same softball answers.”

But there are real differences in approaches to policy. That’s in part why Boulder Progressives was formed: to challenge the city’s predominant approach to affordable housing, which is the slow, steady creation of hundreds of rent- and deed-restricted units available to people below a certain income threshold.

On the “Who We Are” page of their website, the Boulder Progressives  pitch themselves as “a broad range of community members concerned that the voice of the people was being lost to the demands and debate of the privileged elite political class that has long dominated Boulder politics and leadership.”

The unspoken elite entity is PLAN-Boulder County, the city’s dominant political group. PLAN endorsed six of the current eight council members and has held a majority for most of the past several decades; dozens of their members regularly fill Boulder’s 21 boards and commissions. PLAN’s past and current leadership are responsible for some of the most innovative planning efforts in the country, including the establishment of Boulder’s Blue Line and open space programs as well as the charter-mandated 55-foot height limit for buildings.

But to their opponents, PLAN today exists as primarily an obstructionist force. PLAN candidates, to Moyer and those who share her ideology, have become synonymous with NIMBY-ism and exclusionary zoning that protects single-family homeowners at the expense of renters, the working class, seniors, racial and ethnic minorities and the environment.

Yet even PLAN candidates campaign with promises of creating affordable housing, Moyer said. “What they mean is that there should only be (subsidized) affordable housing projects. Those of us who really are for (affordable housing) want to use every tool in our toolbox trying to make affordable housing happen for a majority of residents here: working class, seniors, students. For us, we look at every opportunity we can: tiny houses, co-ops, ADUs, condos, townhouses, affordable renting, affordable ownership.

“We’re saying we need as much of all of these as we can possibly put on the table.”

It’s unfair to label PLAN members as un-progressive, said Adam Swetlik, a former PLAN board member and city council candidate who will be participating in the caucus. (Swetlik was speaking for himself, not as a representative of PLAN. When reached for comment, PLAN co-chair Peter Mayer said he’d “never heard of” Boulder Progressives or the Raucous Caucus and deferred comment to Swetlik.)

Swetlik and others in the PLAN camp don’t buy the argument that increasing supply will bring down prices without “drastically” changing the town. It’s the capitalist system itself that is producing such disparate outcomes, not government policy, he said: Building more and more varied housing will simply keep lining the pockets of developers.

“The current system is broken,” said Swetlik. “Right now, it’s a really good way for people who have a bunch of money to make a bunch more money. If you keep building stuff in a broken system, you’re going to get the same result.”

There are tools in PLAN’s toolbox, too: non-market based, state government-level interventions such as rent control and higher fees on landlords that, when combined, might incentivize property owners to sell homes rather than rent them out. Swetlik, a member of Boulder’s Housing Advisory Board, lobbied before Colorado’s congress this past session on a failed rent control measure.

This divide over housing and land use policy is playing out on a national level. More liberals are embracing a policy of urban density to combat climate change, affordability crises, homelessness, social isolation and other of society’s ills — and criticizing their peers for failing to keep up.

Liberal media stalwarts the New York Times and The Atlantic have recently joined housing-focused organizations like City Lab and Strong Towns in publishing article after article questioning urban zoning that favors single-family homes. A handful of municipalities are considering broad land use changes: Minneapolis’ city council voted 12-1 to outlaw single-family zoning; Oregon is considering a similar state-wide measure like the one that stalled in California amid pushback from homeowners.

Our country, our state and definitely our community is in crisis,” said Moyer, who is also a HAB member. “We no longer get to moratorium every hard issue that comes down the pike. It’s time to demand city council leadership and governance that’s ready to take action for the people and for the environment. We deserve more than platitudes.”

Moyer hopes that a caucus will help cut through the perceived double-speak and produce real answers for voters. Each candidate will be given two minutes to introduce themselves, then answer a series of questions from Moyer (who is moderating), a press panel (in which the Boulder Beat will take part), and members of the audience, who can submit their questions before the event starts. They will be drawn at random. To keep things moving, only two candidates will answer any given question, their names also drawn at random.

The event will start at 5:15 with food, drinks and an informal candidate meet-and-greet: Big Daddy’s Texas BBQ food truck will be on hand (with vegetarian options available). Doors open at 5:30 and the caucus itself will be underway by 6:15. For $3, kids can use the Elk’s Lodge pool; lifeguards are on duty until 8 p.m. The caucus will wrap up by 8:15, with networking until 9 p.m.

Moyer hopes the Raucous Caucus will become a regular event, as integral to Boulder elections as yard signs and newspaper ads.

“It’s important to have an environment and a space where regular people feel like they can come after work, have a beer, listen, ask questions, engage in a let-our-hair-down kind of way (but still) start asking the hard questions,” she said. “Maybe that way, it allows us to de-armor a little bit, start to lean in and hear each other a bit more, see if we can find a little more common ground instead of complete opposition.”

Raucous Caucus: 5:15 p.m. Monday, June 24, Elks Lodge, 3975 28th St.

For more information and to RSVP, click here.

— Shay Castle, boulderbeatnews@gmail.com, @shayshinecastle

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13 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Don’t give PLAN so much credit, Shay (” are responsible for some of the most innovative planning efforts in the country”). They are not the inventors of any of the “innovations” listed (height limits, green spaces or belts, topographic or landmark based height limits, to name 3). As per Boulderites’ predilections, they fancy themselves the inventors. They are not.

    Kudos to Ms. Moyer and Boulder Progressives for organizing and serving notice to Swetlik, PLAN, et al., that the emperor has no clothes. It will be refreshing IF we get to see an actual variety of viewpoints from our CC candidates this year. Some should represent BP’s agend, I hope, and do so as elected reps. We will likely see all the same faces and platitudes from the status quo on the other side of the ballot.

    Boulder has wrung its hankie on the side and me-oh-mied for far too long now on some big issues. Time for some change, time for some new voices and new policies.

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  2. I am low income and disabled, I live in permanently affordable (deed restricted). I support PLAN Boulder County and am a member and am speaking for myself. Masyn Moyer is a complete fraud who wants to normalize extreme poverty by advocating for tiny houses that she has a financial interest in. Most of these so called Progressives are freinds of major developers and they usually have a financial conflict of interest. They like to blame PLAN Boulder County even when they know Google and Facebook et al moving in eliminated our free market housing. Can we at least put our differences aside and unite to demand Google Facebook (and other corporate newcomers) build or completely fund affordable housing projects in Boulder. Also these projects should reject all normalization of poverty options such as tiny houses, cohousing and micro apartments. Poor people deserve better than that.

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    • Hi, William. Thanks for your comments. I appreciate having some different voices on growth and development here, since I know my readership skews on the Progressive side. I hope more ppl will comment so we can start some dialogue. I did want to say that my general rules and guidelines are that claims should be supported by facts and sources. So when you say above that Masyn Moyer has a financial interest in tiny homes, what’s the source for that? She owns a hair salon; she’s not a tiny home builder that I’m aware of. (I’ll actually run this claim by her to see if she has another business I don’t know about.) And I did want to offer that none of the steering committee of Boulder Progressives is in the development business either, that I’m aware of. To be fair, I don’t know what all of them do, but of the ones I’ve interviewed and know, there are some tech people, two small business owners (barber shop and hair salon) and a stay-at-home mom. I’ll have a story out shortly (ish) on the interview I did with the Progressives leadership.

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  3. Thank you, Shay, for what reads like a mostly neutral description of both Boulder Progressives and of PLAN Boulder. I’ve noticed the different sides, but have always struggled with the differences between. This has been really helpful to me, and I will be checking Boulder Beat out more often.

    I also really appreciated that we heard voices from clearly polar opposite camps. Nick seems to be incredibly biased against PLAN, while William seems to be similarly biased against the Progressives.

    I appreciated hearing William’s voice, however I would challenge his statement that “projects should reject all normalization of poverty options such as tiny houses, cohousing and micro apartments. Poor people deserve better than that.” I enjoy playing devil’s advocate and challenging stances from any side. While I can see William’s point that some impoverished peoples might have no choice other than these options, others often intentionally choose these options. Tiny homes and cohousing are great options for fiscally smart people to save money. They have much smaller environmental impacts. Many FIRE individuals may choose these options as financially intelligent choices. I have a good friend who lived in a coop for nearly a decade despite income approaching 6 digits because it’s an environmentally responsible choice. He saved enough money while living there to eventually buy a large 4+ bedroom house, where he has started his own group living home.

    While I can see William’s point, and kind of agree on some level that impoverished people shouldn’t be relegated to micro-residences, I also feel that the current subsidized low-income avenue isn’t the best solution either. It simply cannot address the size of the problem and provide enough subsidized housing to the number of people in need. Additionally, it tends to provide large homes to a single person or family in need, instead of providing smaller livable homes to multiple families in need.

    I, for one, would love to see Boulder allow tiny homes. I think they’re one of the coolest innovations of the last several decades, and are inarguably more environmentally responsible.

    Thanks again Shay.

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  4. I viewed a YouTube video promoting a tiny house community called Ferncliff Village off highway 72 north of Ward. Masyn Moyer was listed as official visionary/evangelist or something along those lines. This was about the time she was quoted in The Daily Camera claiming the city council was interested in the housing advisory Council’s suggestion that occupancy limits be raised (this was not actually the case no Council members were on record supporting the changes). The project seems to be completely defunct. I can no longer find the YouTube video but it did exist. Eric Budd (also a member) was a City Council candidate last election and took money from local Tech Billionaire Dan Caruso as did all 5 supposedly progressive candidates.

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    • OK, I am allowing this comment to remain only because I think it’s such a good example to use to show what kind of comments I am and am not going to allow.
      There are still some problems with the claims in this and your previous comment.
      1. Masyn Moyer was at one time exploring setting up an off-grid community in Boulder County town that she hoped to purchase. I’m not sure if it was tiny homes or what. That didn’t come to fruition (the community doesn’t exist) so arguing that she has a financial stake in tiny homes because of something that doesn’t exist… It’s just not accurate. Also, the community she wanted to develop, she also wanted to live in. So there’s some nuance there. It’s not as if she wanted to set this place up to sell to others as a business — that would be a pure financial interest, as your claim stated. But wanting to build a community of which your yourself would be a part… slightly different. Also, referencing a YouTube video that doesn’t exist anymore isn’t adequate sourcing. If you found another reference, in a news article or something, that reinforced your claims, that would be accepted.
      2. The Daily Camera article you reference… that would have been a perfect opportunity to include a link to it, so people could read for themselves about your claim. I did a quick Google search for “Masyn Moyer HAB occupancy limits Boulder Daily Camera” and found this: https://www.dailycamera.com/2019/01/09/boulder-city-council-pushes-back-on-advisory-boards-suggestion-to-explore-altering-occupancy-limits/. I also covered the occupancy limit thing myself: https://boulderbeat.news/2019/01/09/development-housing-likely-to-top-council-agenda-in-2019/. In neither of those articles did Masyn claim that council wanted HAB (of which Masyn is a part) to explore occupancy limits. HAB, in its letter to council, suggested looking at them, and they were roundly criticized by council for suggesting it. The criticism was not of occupancy limits, but of whether or not HAB should initiate research projects on their own, or stick to what council tells them to do. There was debate among council on this, so this, too, is nuanced. Saying Masyn claimed to have council support of exploring occupancy limits is inaccurate and provides and incomplete view of the situation.
      3. Your last claim is actually the most factual, though I’m still not 100% sure of its veracity. There was a political group, Engage Boulder, backed by Dan Caruso. The group did endorse Eric Budd, (https://bouldervote.com/endorsement/engage-boulder) who is part of Progressive Boulder leadership. However, in looking at the financial records, it does not look as if Budd took any money from Caruso: https://documents.bouldercolorado.gov/WebLink/0/edoc/153497/BUDD%20MF%2008-30.pdf. I will admit (and ask for help here) that I may not be looking in the right place for old election documents: I only found Budd’s individual donors. There may be another page for expenditures of Engage Boulder, but I can’t find it…? If anyone wants to help out with that, I would appreciate it.
      Some more context, though: Caruso is, as you say, in tech — not a developer. So if we’re going back to your original claim that Progressive Boulder leadership are developer shills… I’m not making the connection here?

      It’s fine to be uncomfortable that Engage Boulder backed Eric Budd, a leader in this new group. That’s a valid opinion and perspective. What the issue is here, for me, is that you are making claims that are unsupported with facts. I understand that this process and way of commenting is new and different (you can say pretty much anything you want without being challenged in the newspaper’s opinion section). I know that it takes time to research and find sources and connect the dots of your opinion for readers. But that’s kinda the point.

      That’s what I’m going for here: clarity. I want a healthy, robust debate, because there *ARE* different opinions on the role of development in town, and the involvement of money from business owners in elections. But I need those debates to be based on fact, on solid arguments that connect the dots and make sense. I do hope you — and anyone else out there reading — will keep commenting and offering different perspectives. It really does strengthen the debate. But you have to do so in a factual way, at least if you want to have that debate here.

      Sorry for the novel. Thanks again for your continued engagement. And, while I’m wearing my moderator hat, Mark Van Ackeren from the above comment (and everyone else): You HAVE to use your full name in comments. I’m leaving this one because this thread is instructive and bc I know it’s you from past comments. But going forward, I will delete comments without a full first and last name. I put my name on shit; you should, too.

      -Shay

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      • I considered accepting the endorsement of an outside group spending money to influence the city Council election a donation. I do not know if Dan Caruso personally donated to Eric Budd’s campaign but I also think its kind of irrelevant (unless Eric Budd refused to accept the endorsement which he did not). I will try to be more clear in future comments.

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  5. Also lets not forget who the real emperors are in Boulder and its not PLAN Boulder County or the Boulder Progressives. Big technology companies and financial firms most of whom moved here after 2000 have taken over our town with some help from greedy landlords like the Tebo family among others.
    Thats not even factoring in the University of Colorado which has its own responsibility to the town. I don’t think its too much to ask to get together and demand some serious charity money for affordable housing from our new corporate overlords who did so much to create our current affordable housing shortage in the first place. If there’s one thing we should be in agreement on I would think that would be it. There’s no such thing as an affordable tech start up hub.

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  6. Leora Frankel who is a serious journalist wrote an editorial in The Boulder Weekly October 26th 2017 that does a great job of connecting the dots between The Foundry Group (finance),Dan Caruso (tech), Open Boulder, Better Boulder,Engage Boulder, One Boulder and a number of realtor associations and developers including W.W. Reynolds, Stephen Tebo, Dan Otis and Lou DellaCava (all if who donated to One Boulder in 2015). I don’t have Leora Frankel’s contact information but if you do I’m sure she can back up everything in her editorial. More recently Open Boulder and Better Boulder which teamed up to form One Boulder in 2015 will be forming a Coalition with Boulder Progressives and ex city councilwoman Jan Burton to form a candidate committee for this year’s city Council elections (Daily Camera August 4th Sam Lounsberry). Jan Burton is financially involved in tiny home construction but lives in a 9000 square foot house. Dan Caruso (Billionaire and founder of the Zayo group) has also lobbied for more density despite living in a 16 acre estate on Iris inside the City of Boulder. I think that’s a solid case for labeling Boulder Progressives as shills for local greedy Developers, whether they are true believers or arguing in bad faith I don’t know.

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  7. Hi William…

    It seems you really have your mind made up about me, my fellow activist and our grassroots movement. I get it. Our ideas may conflict with the beliefs you hold closely which I can understand. Not everyone will see eye to eye or exactly the same thus the reason we have a wide variety of political parties locally and nationally trying to influence the narrative.

    However, I am going to make a request… if you don’t like our ideas or policies which are all detailed in full on our website wwwboulderprogressives.org and why, debate them or educate us on why your position is better using facts or models you know to be working elsewhere. Name-calling, personal attacks, labeling for the sake of demeaning or the like not only diminishes a conversation, it overall erodes our ability as a community to work together or see beyond our differences and more importantly, it shifts the perspective from what should really matter – the policy – to noise. Ultimately we are probably more alike then we are different. Wouldn’t it be better if we could find commonality as a starting point?

    If you want to know about me, what I stand for or believe in, where I make my money, what I am invested in, or why I would even put myself out there to take these kinds of personal attacks, let’s set a time and meet. I would be more than happy to have a conversation. Honestly, I am a pretty open book. I am also pretty sure that would be true for anyone on my team. Boulder Progressives also offers weekly meetups where we feature non-profits in our community doing good work and talk about where we’d like to go from here as stakeholders in Boulders future. We are always open and welcoming to the public.

    Finally, in terms of who is out there in the political sphere doing work and giving money… I would posit that there are just as many wealthy and privileged individuals on the PLAN side of this political story living in large homes protecting their interests and peddling their beliefs all while the people and environment I hold dear are being harmed. If believing in living tiny, off-the-grid and within community as a way to save our planet, reduce GHG’s, prioritizes people and houses Boulders families, workforce, poor and seniors makes me a bad person, I am honestly ok with that. I don’t think it rises to your definition of a shill but since you own a house that a developer built and I want to live in a tiny house I built with my two hands, I think we could have a lively discussion on who actually fits that title more.

    Be well, my friend.

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  8. First of all I don’t live in a house although I would love to. I don’t drive and I’ve exclusively traveled on long distance Amtrak for over 10 years, haven’t flown once in that time. I sun dry most of my clothes. I don’t reasonably expect everyone to live like that. The developer who built my permanently affordable condo is my favorite local nonprofit; Thistle community land trust and they work they just need more money.I felt unfairly maligned by your comment in the July 17th Daily Camera 2019 by Cassa Niedringhaus; “again and again we listen to a vocal minority of wealthy privileged white single family homeowners to the detriment of the greater good”. I am not wealthy but I at least admit the fact that I would like to be. I do not live in a single family home neither do my Thistle community neighbors many of whom are not white although I don’t speak for my neighbors political beliefs. I believe you have just admitted that there are “just as many wealthy and privileged on the PLAN side of this political story”. In other words neither side is morally superior to the other, they’re both largely white and rich and they disagree on the future of our town. I want it to remain a large town. Open Boulder and Engage Boulder want to turn Boulder into a major city so they can create their expensive finance/tech start up hub and you and the other “Boulder Progressives” voluntarily teamed up with them to help greenwash their project and bully the local homeowners into submission. That doesn’t sound very progressive to me. Also if I had the funds to buy a peice of land and build a house on it I couldn’t do it alone but I know electricians, plumbers, carpenters, insulation installers, concrete workers and other tradesmen personally, none of whom consider themselves developers who could get it done. I would be open to meeting you after the election is over. If you want to live in a tiny house community you should do your thing. If other people don’t want to live in a tiny house community they should do their thing too. There’s space for both camps in Boulder County.

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