City council eschews political players in filling key Boulder boards

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Thursday, April 2, 2020 (Updated Friday, April 3)

There are plenty of familiar names among the candidates for Boulder’s 22 boards and commissions, but none of them have yet made their way into a seat. City council on Tuesday appointed members of key groups, including those takes with reviewing flood mitigation and annexation efforts on University of Colorado land along South Boulder Creek.

Council wasn’t initially planning on making appointments, due to concerns over handling “divisive” business in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The process in the past has been partisan; council members reward political insiders with sought-after seats on high-profile boards, regardless of qualifications or experience.

This year’s votes did divide council along party lines, with multiple 5-4 splits. But the picks tended to be relative newcomers from among a candidate pool full of previous city council candidates and members and even a former mayor.

Only a handful of boards, those necessary to urgent business were filled: Water Resources Advisory Board, Transportation Advisory Board, Open Space Board of Trustees, Planning Board and the board for Boulder Housing Partners.

Planning Board — behind only city council in terms of power in shaping Boulder’s built environment, and long a funnel for future elected officials — now has no design professionals among its seven members. Outgoing chair Bryan Bowen, an architect, prior to his departure urged council to select a female architect to preserve professional experience and gender diversity.

Bowen was replaced by Lisa Smith. Smith, like other remaining members, has a master’s degree in urban and regional planning, and previously served on the Boulder Urban Renewal Authority. She made a brief run to replace K.C. Becker as representative of Colorado’s House District 13 and worked for the City of Boulder as a communications specialist from 2014-2018.

There are two attorneys on the board — Harmon Zuckerman and Peter Vitale — who have some experience in land use and/or development, and Lupita Montoya, a former professor and current research associate at CU’s department of civil, environmental, and architectural engineering. Montoya’s research is focused on air quality. Sarah Silver, appointed last year, and John Gerstle, were best known for their political activities. Both come from Boulder’s slow-growth camp.

“I think it’s important to have at least one design professional on the Planning Board,”  said councilman Bob Yates, who nominated architect Erin Bagnall for the seat. “Why would we not replace an architect with an architect?”

Aaron Brockett, who served on Planning Board prior to his election to council, said it was “extremely helpful” to have “one or two design professionals” on the board to balance the opinions of industry outsiders like himself.

We always got to a better outcome because of the input they supplied,” Brockett said.

Planning Board’s job includes review of development applications for adherence to the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan as well as aesthetic values. It is one of the few boards that has quasi-judicial authority; most groups merely serve to advise city council.

“It’s not a design board,” said councilwoman Mary Young. “It’s the Planning Board.”

Young suggested a workaround to the lack of professional expertise by having the Design Advisory Board lend a non-voting member to Planning Board. DAB in recent years has struggled to draw enough members to seat meetings.

Boulder has sought other workarounds to round out its boards and commissions. Council is right now exploring the option of allowing non-city residents to serve, in hopes of garnering more racial, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity.

There were fewer than 10 applicants of color for all of Boulder’s boards. One of Tuesday’s appointees has a surname of Spanish origin, but it’s unclear if that individual identifies as a person of color.

A date for the remaining board appointments has yet to be scheduled. Council will continue to revisit its non-COVID agenda at future meetings.

Read a play-by-play of Tuesday’s appointments here. (Note: The TAB appointment was made at the end of the meeting. A recap of that discussion can be found here.)

2020 Boulder Board and Commission Picks, Part 1

WRAB

John Berggren, water policy analyst for nonprofit Western Resource Advocates.

Five-year term. Nominated by Yates and Wallach.

Notable quote:  “It comes back to that equity lens. There are people who live in the flood zone. Do we have responsibility to protect them? Yes.” (In response to a question from councilwoman Young about what council is “missing” in the CU South conversation)

5-4 vote to appoint Berggren (Brockett, Friend, Yates, Joseph, Wallach in majority)

OSBT

Caroline Miller, a registered nurse who also works with the Colorado Mountain School and is an alumni of the National Outdoor Leadership School. She owns a small farm outside Orlando, Fla., where she previously lived, and is an equestrian and climber.

Five-year term. Nominated by Nagle.

Notable quote: “Understanding the total cost of system management is very important. Protecting our water resources is one of the top and most important things we can do. Prairie dogs being on land that is irrigated … is becoming problematic.” (In response to a question from councilwoman Friend about how best to balance competing open space priorities in managing prairie dogs)

5-4 vote to appoint Miller (Weaver, Swetlik, Young, Nagle, Wallach in majority)

Planning Board

Lisa Smith (credentials described above) Five-year term. Nominated by Wallach.

Notable quote: “What options might we have to explore the possibility of having duplexes (or) triplexes? How can we do that in a way that allows us to use our existing stock more intelligently? … How do we make sure developers can meet that bottom line without building luxury housing? Can (we) look at building patio homes, townhomes, along transportation corridors where we’re not going to see it overwhelm our traffic?” (In response to a Wallach question about needing to add 22,000 homes to Boulder, given the current pace of development, in order to net 15% affordable units, Boulder’s established goal)

5-4 vote to appoint Smith (Weaver, Swetlik, Young, Nagle, Wallach in majority)

Transportation Advisory Board

Lauren Lambert, head of public policy and government relations for Google, former researcher at Pew Charitable Trusts and former Legislative Director and Senior Budget Advisor to Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper.

Five-year term. Nominated by Yates.

Notable quote: “We’re not going to move away from our current reality: We have approximately 60,000 people that commute into work. We have to think regionally about solutions to that (and) really talk to employers and figure out how they can spur behavior modification. … You have to think about not just a.m. and p.m. commuters, but how you move people throughout the day. If you have a meeting in the middle of the day, it’s as convenient if not more to not drive.” (In response to a question from councilwoman Joseph about transportation challenges)

Robert Hutchinson, senior fellow and former managing director at Rocky Mountain Institute.  Five-year term. Nominated by Wallach.

Notable quote: “People will fight against anything you do. … The solution to try and help with that is data. … Opposition goes away after awhile because at least some fraction of people will see the data.” (In response to a question from councilwoman Friend about how to balance competing transportation modes and advance the city’s goals to reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips)

CLAB

Health/Education seats (No council votes for these seats; appointment by default since there were two nominations and two seats)

Brian Keegan, a computational social scientist and CU professor. Served on the science and policy work group for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Colorado Department of Revenue’s marijuana enforcement division.

Two-year term. Nominated by Yates.

Notable quote: “Trying to make sure regulation and oversight are shaped by data … to make sure data grounds our policies.” (In response to question from councilwoman Young about what is Boulder’s greatest responsibility to the community with regards to the cannabis industry)

Tom Kunstman, medical director of CU’s student health center.

Three-year term. Nominated by Yates.

Notable quote: “They should be treated relatively equally. Consequences are not necessarily always the same between the two drugs, and that needs to be considered.” (In response to a Weaver question about aligning penalties for violations between alcohol and cannabis industries)

At-large seats

Michael Christy, an attorney and former JAG officer in the Air Force.

Five-year term. Nominated by Yates.

Notable quote: “I hearken this industry to being like the gold rush days. It’s sort of a free-for-all. It’s all over the place; statutes that are way over broad, some that are way too restrictive.” (In response Young’s aforementioned question)

Rick Muñoz, a disabled military veteran who served in Afghanistan and was a first responder to Hurricane Katrina. Muñoz self-identified as a medical marijuana user to treat service-related PTSD and a seizure disorder.

Five-year term. Nominated by Weaver.

Notable quote: “I’d definitely move toward parity-ing that law with alcohol. Make sure marijuana has a similar foothold to stand on.” (In response to Weaver’s aforementioned question)

Robin Noble, small business owner and mom.

One-year term. Nominated by Young.

Notable quote: “This board can be thoughtful about unintended consequences of the law. There has been an impression among many young people that it’s safe now because it’s legal. You might have an opportunity, you have a lever to push more messaging that for them, this drug is really not safe if it’s not used in a safe way. … We have to understand there’s a consequence to ubiquity … consequences I didn’t expect as someone whose smoked a little pot and voted for it to be legalized.” (In response Young’s aforementioned question)

Industry seats 

Alana Malone, co-founder and CEO of Green Dot Labs, a cultivation and extraction operation. Member of the Marijuana Advisory Panel.

Three-year term. Nominated by Yates.

Notable quote: “Recognize what we’re actually accomplishing here, which is leading the world in ending prohibition and regulation sale of cannabis. That’s not going to come without tremendous learning. We have to remain flexible but path we’ve taken has been very solid.” (In response to Young’s aforementioned question)

Ashley Rheingold, compliance director for Terrapin Care Station.

Two-year term. Nominated by Wallach.

Notable quote: “What we want to see is change. If we can build into penalties a path for the company to improve, to acknowledge they made a mistake, that would be beneficial because that’s what we really want: people to get better at running their business.” (In response to Weaver’s aforementioned question)

Boulder Housing Partners

Matt Bissonette, managing director at Berkadia, specializing in affordable multifamily lending.

Five-year term. Nominated by Wallach.

Notable quote: “I would invite them to come over and see one of the properties. …  When people meet people who live there, a lot of the stereotypes are going to fall away.” (In response to a question from councilman Yates about how to handle neighborhood opposition to affordable housing)

Julie Schoenfeld, former real estate attorney.

Two-year term. Nominated by Young.

Notable quote: “There are quantifiable and other soft important reasons why having mixed, diverse community is beneficial. Speaking and having hard conversations with friends, that I do often, that to me equals a thriving community.” (In response to Yates’ aforementioned question)

Note: Where individual council votes are not listed, it is because those votes were cast in a chat function and I had difficulty ascertaining who voted for whom with enough confidence to print a definitive count. View council’s chat record for the meeting here.

Author’s note: This article has been updated to reflect that councilman Bob Yates, not Aaron Brockett, nominated Alana Malone.

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

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4 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Thank you for this update, Shay. I wonder why you use the term partisan. That term refers to political parties, but the divide you are talking about does not fall on party lines. Council members don’t run on party lines, so many of us don’t know the party membership of council members but my guess is most Council members are Democrats. Seems the divide you are referencing is more about growth: how fast should Boulder grow? If that’s what you are referring to, for accuracy, I suggest you say “the votes split on Council members’ views on growth.“

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    • Thanks for the suggestion, Kathleen. It’s a great explanation of what “partisan” means in this case and in Boulder, where our local political groups have divided along these lines.
      Also, for future reference, a full first and last name is required to comment. I know you are Kathleen Hancock (from your email address that only I can see when you comment) so I’ve got you covered this time.

      Like

  2. Boulder city council appointments to populate boards and commissions: These seats are the training ground for city council or working for or with the city. If you want to know how your city operates and have some effect on it, then get a seat on a board. People who are elected to city council with no prior board experience are often found at the center of difficulties in understanding process and procedure. Is the incumbent council filtering applicants to thwart future challengers, and/or help others?
    In reply to Kathleen – partisan forces send candidates to school on a city council starting with a board appointment. Graduates are elected to higher office, in a one party system.

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