Andy Celani: Keep Boulder Boulder

AndyCelani1
Andy Celani, ex-used car salesman and city council candidate

Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019

Boulder is changing, and Andy Celani knows who to blame: “Developers,” he said. “Well, and their agents.”

“If we see the level of development that we’ve seen just recently … once these huge buildings are up, they’ll never come down,” Celani said. “The huge monies that are made by these guys who are in there, they’re not giving that back. It’s done.”

Even with Boulder’s height limit and greenbelt of open space, “We could become like any number of extremely dense towns” if the growth isn’t stopped.

Increased development is what motivated Celani to run for council: “I see a direction the city is taking that I believe is not what I have for a vision for the city,” he said.

Asked to explain his vision, Celani replies that he’s “basically a preservationist.”

“The reason these monied interests are here is because of the very unique and long-term care our predecessors provided. They came up with a blue line, they came up with open space. They made demands on zoning to maintain neighborhoods. All these things have really led to where we are today. These beautiful parks and open space that we have today came from the efforts of 50-plus years.”

To preserve all of that, Celani doesn’t have many policy suggestions. He wants to see unspecified changes to the city’s cash-in-lieu requirement for new development to fund affordable housing and supports the open space sales tax extension on the ballot. At a candidate forum hosted by Boulder Chamber, he referenced beefing up regional transportation options.

“Our transportation system, it’s 50 years old,” Celani said during this interview. “The design of it was when there were very few people here.” 

Celani first gained local prominence because of his vocal opposition to the right-sizing of Folsom Avenue, in which a vehicle lane was removed in order to expand and add protective bollards to the bicycle lane. He owned Smooth Motors, a used-car dealership, and testified to Boulder’s Transportation Advisory Board that the resulting traffic jams were impacting his business.

He has not altered his stance that Boulder’s bike infrastructure is sufficient as is. He told the Daily Camera that collisions between cyclists and vehicles are inevitable as population grows. Elected leaders are naive to push 15-minute neighborhoods, he said during this interview.

“The city kind of sticks their head in the sand and says, ‘We don’t think people will want to go anywhere anymore, or they’ll be walking and biking, all of them.’ That is not the case. It hasn’t proven out to be the case when you see conjecturally how busy it is and how hard it is to get around.”

More populous cities avoid excessive cycling deaths and injuries by de-prioritizing vehicle travel. But Celani is not a favor of copying solutions from other places. He is ardently anti-density for this reason.

He doesn’t necessarily deny its purported environmental and racial-equity benefits; Celani acknowledges that the Sierra Club, for instance, has endorsed compact urban development as being a more sustainable strategy than single-family neighborhoods and recognizes the arguments being laid out in the pages of the New York Times and elsewhere. But none of those organizations are in Boulder, he said.

“They have different worlds. We have to deal with what we have. I’ve been to New York; I worked in New York. I lived right outside. That’s not my future. If it is, I will really fight for the sanctuary that we have been provided.”

Who he says he represents: Neighborhoods.

Endorsed by: N/A

Campaign filings: https://election.bouldercolorado.gov/report.php?report=CandE&statementID=1103

Priorities: Open space

Relevant LTE/op-eds: “Corporations benefit at Boulder’s expense

Why you might want to vote for him: To his credit, Celani agreed to an interview despite being warned by unidentified people not to. 

“People warned me about Shay Castle,” he said. “They said, ‘Don’t do it.’ I said, ‘I know Shay. She’s going to give me a fair shake.’” (Author’s note: I interviewed Celani when he closed his used-car dealership while I was working as a business reporter at the Daily Camera.)

Answering to the media is one way elected officials are held accountable for their votes, actions and statements. It bodes well that Celani ignored pressure to skip the interview.

Celani was at his most compassionate and kind when discussing the plight of unhoused residents. He demonstrated a deep and nuanced understanding for the struggles that force many into homelessness.

Why you might not want to vote for him: Even though he agreed to interview, Celani tried to tap out 33 minutes and 54 seconds in, before addressing most of the major issues. 

“No, I’m done now,” Celani said when asked about police oversight.

Boulder Beat: “We’re only halfway through the issues.”

Celani: “Oh no. Really?” 

He stated his support for police oversight with a curt, “Yeah, sure” and then powered through for an additional 15 minutes and 58 seconds, answering questions about the Hill hotel and council’s frequent use of moratoria succinctly (see below). He took a little more time addressing lethal control of prairie dogs (he’s undecided).

Celani initially declined a request to follow up via email — “No, I don’t answer emails,” he said — but eventually relented.

BB: “Can I call you?”

Celani: “For more?”

BB: “What if I have questions?”

Celani: (Sighs.)

BB: “Don’t you want a fair and accurate representation? I can’t do that if I don’t have a full picture of your views.”

Celani: “Yeah, I guess. Call me.”

I did, six weeks later. Celani answered and promised to call back but never did. (As such, he did not have a chance to respond to this criticism, an opportunity offered to every candidate.)

Celani doesn’t have a campaign website and skipped a bilingual candidate forum attended by every other candidate except Susan Peterson. It’s unclear if he’s ever attended a city council meeting; there’s no record of him speaking at a public hearing, though (as referenced above) he did appear before TAB, according to city records.

Combined with his bizarre interview, it raises the question of how serious Celani is about holding elected office. There may be other unknown factors at play, but for now, they remain just that: unknown.

Council puts in hours upon hours and handles dozens of complex issues; other candidates talked with me for two to three  hours each, on average. Not wanting to sit through an hourlong interview doesn’t bode well for Celani’s dedication and patience. 

Celani on the issues:

Housing: Celani suggested “changing something” about the city’s cash-in-lieu fees that developers pay if they don’t build on-site affordable housing. Boulder can build more units with cash-in-lieu and is legally required to offer the option, but it has resulted in no affordable rentals being built on site in the 18-year history of the affordable housing program. 

“The intention was to have mixed-income, social, economic diversity. The intention, that didn’t happen. I think something should be adjusted there. I don’t know (what); I’d have to figure out something.”

Homelessness: Celani demonstrated great concern for unhoused residents. He interacted with them frequently when he ran Smooth Motors; they would camp out on a portion of his property. He did not, however, have any suggestions for tweaks to city policies and seemed either unaware or dismissive of the housing-first approach — widely regarded as best practice and the best solution to homelessness.

“I don’t have a solution; I don’t know anybody who does,” he said. “I don’t know how you get the guys and girls off the street. I haven’t seen or heard, ‘This is how it works.’”

Budget: Celani had a few thoughts on the city’s finances. The first was that Boulder’s general fund — this year at $131.4 millon — is “too large.” He would like to see more money dedicated to specific projects and priorities.

He also felt there needed to be more information about how much marijuana taxes have contributed to city revenues. (It’s actually not much of a contributor, Chief Budget Officer Kady Doelling told Community Foundation earlier this year: about $3.7 million annually, which the city beginning in 2020 will use to pay for ongoing costs.)

Celani’s major budget priority is open space. Despite the department’s relatively high and stable funding — Boulder spends more only on utilities and police, and open space has had dedicated funding since 1967 — Celani said open space is too important to underfund.

“I want the cops; we need our water. But if we starve open space, it’s detrimental to our history and tradition.” It will impact tourism. “Why do they want to come here? Because of our open space. That has provided us with a little sanctuary in a very big world not loaded with it.”

CU South/flood mitigation: Celani did not speak about this issue.

Police oversight: “Yeah, sure,” Celani said. “And we shouldn’t be beating up on the homeless guys when we arrest them.”

Attended March for police oversight: No

Attended city council listening session on racism: No

Muni: Celani “definitely supports” the city’s effort to create a municipal utility. 

“I hear more people supporting that than I could ever have imagined. As any elected official — well, not any elected official — I’m here to represent the wishes of the people.”

Hill hotel: Totally no.

Lethal control of prairie dogs: Celani did not take a position on this. Though he believes “we have an overabundance of prairie dogs,” he doesn’t “want to poison the little guys.” 

“It’s a difficult situation,” he said. “I don’t know the answer. We’ve got to come up with something.”

Council’s use of moratoria: “Necessary,” Celani said.

Opportunity zone: Celani is supportive of this moratorium; he told the Daily Camera it should be made permanent. Staff’s recommendation to nominate the area of east Boulder as an opportunity zone was “an overuse of power,” he said. 

“Council, once they became incapable of acting on having it changed, did (the moratorium) just because they panicked. That was a reaction to a really terrible thing.”

Height limit: Celani is in favor of this moratorium. He is “not a fan” of the city’s voter-approved 55-foot height limit for buildings, enshrined in the city charter.

Neighborhood input on development: Celani is a “huge supporter of neighborhoods having a huge voice” in projects near their homes. He believes immediate neighbors should have more of a say than the community as a whole because “they get affected most.”

We have to respect our existing neighborhoods,” Celani said during a candidate forum hosted by the Boulder Chamber. “It’s a very fine line.”

Author’s note: This article may be updated with additional or clarifying information.

— Shay Castle, boulderbeatnews@gmail.com, @shayshinecastle. Edited by Deanna Hardies.

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