What are slates, anyway? Whose backing who in Boulder council election

Photo by Tara Winstead from Pexels

Friday, Oct. 8, 2021 (Updated Sunday, Oct. 10)

Casual observers of politics in Boulder might have noticed that candidates for Boulder city council — and even elected officials themselves — tend to fall into one of two “camps.” Though city council is a nonpartisan body, this split mimics the U.S. two-party system of Democrats and Republicans.

The divide usually occurs over issues of growth and development, with candidates falling into the slow-growth camp (led by PLAN-Boulder) or a more pro-density camp. That’s changed somewhat slightly in 2021 (more on that later) but the slates are as prominent as ever.

A slow-growth slate has been standard for the past few elections, at least. PLAN has endorsed a majority of city council members nearly every year for the past 40 decades. Pro-density groups typically split their support among a number of candidates; political insiders recount with dismay the 2017 election in which non-PLAN candidates received slightly more votes than PLAN ones (67,188 vs. 66,054) yet gained only one seat. The votes were spread among seven people, whereas PLAN endorsed five candidates — one for each open seat. (Two independent candidates, with a combined 3,040 votes, may have factored as well.)

That changed in 2019 with The Coalition. Disparate organizations coalesced into a bloc that interviews and endorses candidates as a sole entity. Each member group gets to vote during that process.

This year is no different. Among 10 candidates vying for five seats, four have been backed by The Coalition: Dan Williams, Dr. Nicole Speer, Lauren Folkerts and Matt Benjamin. Another four — Tara Winer, Mark Wallach, Steve Rosenblum and Michael Christy — have been endorsed by PLAN and related slow-growth groups that typically follow their lead.

Two “independent” candidates have picked up the odd endorsement as well, and a few candidates have shown some cross-party appeal.

What has changed is the dividing line. Slow-growth sentiment is not as stark as in past years. All candidates recognize the need for additional housing, though they differ in their views on where it should go and how to add it.

The Winer-Wallach-Rosenblum-Christy group might more appropriately be called the Yates’ slate. Councilman Bob Yates was the first to endorse them as a set (along with The Coalition’s Benjamin as a crossover candidate) and they all mirror Yates’ centrist ideals and pro-business leanings that, in past years, would have been anathema to PLAN. (PLAN also picked up Jacques Decalo, a climate-focused candidate who, in his first public appearance as a candidate, said that “big companies should pay their fair share” to located in Boulder.)

Some slow-growth remnants remain. All Yates’ picks, like Yates himself, don’t believe in ending single-family zoning throughout Boulder. (Single-family zoning prohibits duplexes, townhomes, condos or apartments — anything other than a detached home.) Denser development should be clustered near transportation options, they say, leaving existing neighborhoods (where they live) alone. Aside from Benjamin, the Yates’ slate also seems opposed to Bedrooms Are For People, as is PLAN-Boulder. Yates has been a vocal opponent of less-restrictive occupancy limits.

Homelessness is perhaps the starkest dividing line among the candidates in this election, separating those who support the camping ban and removal of encampments (Yates’ slate) and those who don’t (Coalition candidates). It was Yates’ homeless policies that prevented Boulder Progressives from endorsing him in 2019; their vote kept The Coalition from doing so, though individual member groups backed him.

Safer Boulder, a newly emerged group that organized around the issue of encampments, writes on its website that, “there are only four candidates running that meet our criteria for endorsement … consistently aligning with the public safety values of Safer Boulder. … the other six candidates do not clearly and consistently support the camping ban.”

Official election groups

These are groups that have registered with the city to campaign on behalf of certain candidates and issues, or in opposition to certain ballot measures. They must disclose organizing officers as well as financial donations and expenditures.

View a summary of group contributions and spending
A list of group filings can be found here 

Better Boulder

This group, formed in 2013, is focused on growth and development, and it is unabashedly pro-density as a way to link land use/housing, transportation and climate change and advocates. Better Boulder also has a heavy pro-bike element, counting cycling advocates among its leaders. Its board of directors and leadership team also includes representatives from the Boulder Chamber of Commerce, Boulder Area Realtors Association and former local elected officials.

Endorsed

  • Lauren Folkerts
  • Matt Benjamin
  • Dr. Nicole Speer
  • Dan Williams
  • Yes on 300 (Bedrooms Are For People)
  • No on 302 (Let the Voters Decide on CU South Annexation)

Monies raised: $1,120
Monies spent: $1,083.68
As of Sept. 21

Boulder is for People

This group was formed by the organizers of Bedrooms Are For People, which successfully placed a petition on the 2021 ballot to amend the city’s occupancy limits. While Bedrooms is an issue campaign, Boulder is for People is an unofficial candidate committee.

Endorsed

  • Matt Benjamin
  • Dr. Nicole Speer
  • Dan Williams
  • Lauren Folkerts

Monies raised: $3,895
Monies spent: $1,914
As of Oct. 5

Boulder Progressives

The Progressives formed ahead of the 2019 elections. They seek to link land use (housing), transportation and climate change and embrace density as a way to accomplish the city’s goals on all three. They also have a platform heavy on social justice issues (homelessness, police oversight and racial diversity) and issues of governance and inclusion, including bringing renters into the government decision-making process. 

Endorsed

  • Lauren Folkerts
  • Matt Benjamin
  • Dr. Nicole Speer
  • Dan Williams
  • Yes on 300 (Bedrooms Are For People)
  • No on 302 (Let the Voters Decide on CU South Annexation)

Monies raised: $5,690
Monies spent: $2,042
As of Oct. 5

The Coalition

This group is actually made up of several others: Better Boulder, Open Boulder, Boulder is For People, United Campus Workers Colorado, South Boulder Creek Action Group and Boulder Progressives. It formed ahead of the 2019 election; its membership expanded to include two new groups this year (Boulder is for People and UCW.)

Endorsed

  • Lauren Folkerts
  • Matt Benjamin
  • Dr. Nicole Speer
  • Dan Williams

Monies raised: $6,205
Monies spent: $5,958
As of Oct. 5

Forward Boulder (FRWRD)

A newly formed group this year, not much is known about FRWRD Boulder. Their main issues appear to be housing/growth and support for open space, with an added focus on police support and removal of homeless encampments. FRWRD’s origins are opaque. The group does not provide any names or contact information on their website. Official election filings reveal two officers: Hernan Villanueva, a member of the Environmental Advisory Board, and Greg Ekrem, who opposed a project downtown to provide housing to homeless youth who had aged out of the foster system. Campaign finance records show that many stalwarts of the slow-growth movement are donors, as are several active members of Safer Boulder.

Endorsed

  • Steven Rosenblum
  • Tara Winer
  • Mark Wallach
  • Michael Christy

Monies raised: $14,779
Monies spent: $10,083
As of Oct. 5

Sierra Club Colorado – Indian Peaks Group

Sierra Club is an environmentally focused organization; the Indian Peaks group is a local chapter of the national Sierra Club that endorses city council candidates and sometimes takes positions on local ballot issues. They have formed an unofficial candidate committee and a ballot measure committee for this election.

Endorsed

  • David Takahashi
  • Lauren Folkerts
  • Matt Benjamin
  • Dr. Nicole Speer
  • Dan Williams
  • Yes on 300 (Bedrooms Are For People)
  • Yes on 301 (Humane Clothing Act)
  • No on 302 (Let the Voters Decide on CU South Annexation)

Monies raised: $4,375
Monies spent: $1,545
As of Oct. 5

United Campus Workers Colorado

UCW is a union for employees of the University of Colorado system. This year, the group joined The Coalition and formed an unofficial candidate committee.

Endorsed

  • Lauren Folkerts
  • Matt Benjamin
  • Dr. Nicole Speer
  • Dan Williams

Monies raised: $260
Monies spent: $0
As of Oct. 5

Political groups

These are groups which engage in political activities such as endorsing candidates but who are not officially registered with the city as candidate or issue committees. These groups may still donate to specific candidates or causes. When applicable, financial contributions have been noted.

Open Boulder

This group formed in 2014. Two of Open’s current leaders have connections to the outdoor industry; another is a former city council candidate (Mark McIntyre). Open Boulder’s website lists its priorities as open space access and government transparency. The group itself has advocated for increased access to open space by residents, including some controversial connection trails, and for improved access for bikes, in particular.

John Spitzer, a PLAN board member, filed an election complaint against Open Boulder for its campaign materials in 2017. The complaint was dismissed, but a campaign working group — which several Open Boulder supporters participated in — changed Boulder’s election rules to disallow the type of campaign materials that were distributed by the group.

Endorsed

  • Lauren Folkerts
  • Matt Benjamin
  • Dr. Nicole Speer
  • Dan Williams
  • Yes on 300 (Bedrooms Are For People)
  • No on 302 (Let the Voters Decide on CU South Annexation)

PLAN-Boulder

PLAN is Boulder’s oldest currently operating political group and responsible for some of the city’s most iconic and innovative policies, including the Blue Line (the point in the foothills above which the city will not provide water and sewer services) and the open space program. PLAN is firmly in the slow-growth camp, rejecting density and opposing most major developments. For decades, PLAN-endorsed candidates have held the majority of seats on council and several influential boards and commissions. 

PLAN contributed $1,000 to the Save CU South issue committee, according to campaign finance records.

Endorsed

  • Steven Rosenblum
  • Tara Winer
  • Mark Wallach
  • Michael Christy
  • No on 300 (Bedrooms Are For People)
  • Yes on 302 (Let the Voters Decide on Annexation of CU South)

Think Boulder

Think Boulder formed in opposition to the redevelopment of the former BCH hospital campus on Broadway, referred to as Alpine-Balsam. They have been relatively inactive since circulating flyers and a petition in 2019 to advocate for low-density development. The project has not been a major part of city council’s agenda since that time.

Endorsed

  • Steven Rosenblum
  • Tara Winer
  • Mark Wallach
  • Michael Christy

Together4Boulder

T4B, as it’s often referred to, was formed ahead of the 2017 elections. The group’s leadership is not publicized; it doesn’t, for instance, list chairpersons or board members on its website as PLAN does, and it wouldn’t disclose to the Daily Camera who its supporters were when it formed. Election filings from 2019 show its leaders as Susan Lambert (chair) and Karen Sandburg (treasurer). T4B advocates for slow-growth policies such as lower height limits and has opposed the Gross Dam expansion. The group also financially advocated for the municipalization effort. They are more outspoken against developers than PLAN, and more critical of pro-density proponents, often painting opposing views as being influenced by monied interests in literature.

Endorsed

  • Steven Rosenblum
  • Tara Winer
  • Mark Wallach
  • Michael Christy

Safer Boulder

Safer Boulder formed in 2019, coalescing around the issue of homeless encampments in public spaces. Members circulated a petition advocating for the removal of camps. A focus on homelessness evolved into support for the police in the wake of calls to reallocate spending on cops, and public safety in general.

Endorsed

  • Steven Rosenblum
  • Tara Winer
  • Mark Wallach
  • Michael Christy

Issue-specific groups

Save CU South/Save South Boulder

While these are two distinct groups, their leadership overlaps. Save CU South technically formed this year as an issue committee; Save SoBo has been around for several years. Organizers, which includes PLAN leadership, oppose development of the CU South property into an eventual southern campus for the University of Colorado. They have been heavily involved in the flood mitigation and annexation process, and in 2021 sponsored a petition that would substitute the city and CU-negotiated annexation agreement with new terms. 

Save South Boulder as an organization contributed $1,000 to this issue committee, according to campaign finance records

Monies raised: $9,666
Monies spent: $2,751
As of Oct. 5

South Boulder Creek Action Group

SBCAC formed ahead of the 2019 election. They are primarily residents of Frasier Meadows and the neighborhoods in south Boulder surrounding the CU-owned site where the city hopes to do flood mitigation. Though their issue is flood mitigation, they joined the Coalition, which has a broader focus.

Endorsed

  • Lauren Folkerts
  • Matt Benjamin
  • Dr. Nicole Speer
  • Dan Williams
  • Yes on 300 (Bedrooms Are For People)
  • No on 302 (Let the Voters Decide on CU South Annexation)

Author’s note: This article has been updated to clarify Yates’ and candidates’ positions on housing.

— Shay Castle, @shayshinecastle

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