Eviction petition effort primed for ballot placement while End the Muni falls short

Ruy Arango, right, walks residents through the signing of petitions in front of the Safeway grocery store on Iris and 28th on Thursday, May 28. (Shay Castle / Boulder Beat)

Friday, May 29, 2020

Thursday was a good day at Safeway near the corner of 28th and Iris. Busy: dozens of people heading in and out during the lunch hour. Many stopped to sign petitions set up by volunteers for No Eviction Without Representation, a group seeking to provide attorneys for every renter that faces legal removal from their homes in the city of Boulder.

It’s been a month of good days for the campaign, which has gathered roughly 3,800 signatures as of Thursday afternoon, according to organizer Ruy Arango — more than enough to place the citizen-led initiative on November’s ballot.

Success wasn’t guaranteed. NEWR, like other circulators, faced an unprecedented situation: Gathering thousands of signatures during a pandemic when keeping your distance from other people, especially strangers, was for some a matter of life and death.

“For a second, we were in a really low spot,” Arango said. “But we have incredibly dedicated volunteers. We’re all working-class renters, the people that make the city of Boulder run.

“We were not just going to roll over and accept defeat.”

NEWR is aiming for 4,500 signatures, since some typically get kicked out during the verification process. (Rejection varies by campaign, according to Elections Administrator Dianne Marshall, but it happens with every initiative.) Arango said his group is on track to meet that higher threshold by next Friday, when signatures are due to the city clerk.

The No Eviction folks got the jump in January, garnering nearly 2,000 signatures before coronavirus came to town and shut down efforts for more than a month. Efforts were put on pause as city council promised to provide a safe alternative to in-person collection.

But that help never came. Elected officials rejected placing measures on the ballot themselves — twice — and early implementation of voter-approved online signatures. While council debated, NEWR and other groups waited for guidance that ultimately sent them back out into the streets, despite advice from law enforcement and health officials.

Patrick Murphy believes those lost weeks did in his bid to repurpose funds from a takeover of Xcel’s utility assets to other renewable energy efforts. As of Thursday afternoon, End the Muni was more than 1,000 signatures short of the charter-mandated threshold.

“If we’d had another month,” he said, “we would have made it.”

His campaign was cleared by the city clerk to start gathering signatures March 6 — one week before Boulder County’s first confirmed case — but took a wait-and-see approach out of an abundance of caution. By March 24, Boulder was under stay-at-home orders.

Murphy and others launched online petitions when it looked like that might trigger council action. When it became clear circulators were on their own, Murphy started manning a table, posting up in parks around town for hours each week.

While NEWR has a team of volunteers — six to 10 were out every day, Arango said — Murphy has been flying solo, staffing every signing event himself.

“I never wanted to expose anyone else,” he said. “This is risky business; I’m exposed to hundreds of people a day.”

As a result, he has been forced to distance himself from two people he “cares for” in his personal life — his mother-in-law and his partner, both immune-compromised — since he started gathering signatures April 29.

He did have a helping hand; several, in fact. Campaigns have been coordinating to maximize their resources, hosting all three (now four) active petitions at every signing event and bringing them to people’s homes upon request in an effort called #curbsidedemocracy. Murphy estimates about half of End the Muni’s signatures resulted from that collaboration.

Governor Jared Polis also extended a lifeline to petition circulators statewide, issuing an executive order that paved the way for mailed and emailed signatures. The rules themselves are forthcoming, having withstood their first legal challenge, but they will arrive too late for NEWR or End the Muni.

Two other efforts underway in Boulder — one for direct election of the mayor and another to ease occupancy limits — may benefit. Those groups have until August 5 to remit 4,048 signatures. Charter amendments such as these have a higher bar to clear but more time in which to clear it.

Deadlines were discussed in depth this week at council, along with what measures officials intend to place on the ballot. They settled on two: adding members to the Arts Commission and granting emergency powers to city council to amend Boulder’s charter during crises like COVID.

Read a live tweet thread of Tuesday’s ballot discussion

There were mixed opinions on the latter, which is still subject to council vote before heading to the electorate. Elected officials have until Sept. 1 to finalize the ballot.

Murphy will be asking them to send End the Muni to voters, a privilege afforded to them by their legislative powers.  City Attorney Tom Carr has already testified that members may use any criteria they want to place items on the ballot.

It’s an unlikely course of action given that a possible settlement with Xcel Energy has been promised for the November ballot. Murphy acknowledged this, but said council should honor his extraordinary efforts and acknowledge their own role — and COVID’s — in suppressing the petitioning process.

“We’re not going to give up,” he said. “We’re putting this to them so it’s on the historical record what we did and what they did. They were unable to adapt.

“All they really need to change is their mind.”

Signing events

Friday, May 29
8 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Target (2800 Pearl Street)
10 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Safeway (3325 28th Street)
Noon to 4 p.m.: Wonderland Lake trailhead (4201 Broadway)

Saturday, May 30
8 a.m. to 6 p.m.: King Soopers (1650 30th Street)
8 a.m. to 6 p.m.: Target (2800 Pearl Street)
Noon to 4 p.m.: Pearl Street Mall (at 14th Street)

Sunday, May 31
8 a.m. to 6 p.m.: King Soopers (1650 30th Street)
8 a.m. to 6 p.m.: Target (2800 Pearl Street)

More info:

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

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