Monday, Oct. 2, 2023 (Updated Friday, Oct. 6)
“What have you accomplished in your time in office?” It’s a standard (and softball) question for elected officials, a chance for them to let voters know how effective they were.
After eight years on City Council, Aaron Brockett’s list is longer than most. But even focusing on the campaign promises he made in 2019, it’s an impressive resume.
Reforming rules for accessory dwelling units? Check. Council voted to loosen regulations in May.
Library funding? Check. After a vote of the people, a district will be established this year.
Bus rapid transit on East Arapahoe? “Initial grant funding has been secured,” Brockett said. Definitely more funding [is] needed, but it is moving forward.”
Support for small business? The city directed a lot of COVID recovery money to small businesses.
Arts and culture support? City Council has increased the arts budget each year since 2015. Funding for 2024 is at the goal level identified in the 2015 Community Cultural Plan.
Social justice? Boulder adopted its first-ever racial equity plan in 2021, and it’s already being applied. For instance: the city will now incorporate a “vulnerability index” in deciding where to do flood mitigation work, rather than basing decisions on property value alone.
Affordable housing? Boulder has added 672 units since 2019, and the city is about to break ground on its largest-ever affordable housing project at Alpine-Balsam. Changes to the city’s requirements, adopted this fall, are intended to result in more, smaller units, and Brockett hopes reforms to zoning and density regulations will do the same.
“I can’t take personal credit for that,” Brockett says, “but our initiatives are working,” adding that approval of the East Boulder Subcommunity Plan will (eventually) allow for up to 5,000 additional homes. “We have to get some more of that really desperately needed housing. It will make a difference to the lives of hundreds and thousands of families.”
None of these issues are settled and done with, Brockett said. “There’s always more to do.”
Many of Boulder’s persistent challenges require regional collaboration, or action at the state and federal level. Brockett believes he is well positioned to foster those relationships — he has spent a decade-plus working with local and state representatives, particularly the past two as Boulder’s mayor.
“I have deep ties,” Brockett said. “I’ve worked very hard to represent the city the best I can to make sure Boulder’s unique voice is at the table, in town or out of town.
The past two years, he estimated that he has put in “more than 50 hours a week” as mayor, and most of it was on relationship building and collaboration. “I spent a lot of time convening different people.
“It’s not about hitting the ground running,” he said. “I’m already on the ground running.”
What do his colleagues think?
Brockett’s peers on City Council say he is collaborative — perhaps less so than Bob Yates, but more than Nicole Speer, the two other incumbents running for mayor.
In off-the-record feedback, they shared that Brockett doesn’t necessarily wrangle his colleagues on every vote, but that he can and has brought folks together when council is handling controversial issues, helping to run the meetings more smoothly.
Some members heard from him more often than others, but all said he was available and helpful if they reached out to him. They never felt pressured by Brockett to vote a certain way, trusted that he would not attempt to influence them or city staff in any way, and would compromise when necessary.
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Did he accomplish what he intended to in 2019?
Brockett has accomplished much of this to-do list from his last re-election campaign. (See above) One thing that hasn’t yet been done: a long-promised reduction in red tape, particularly for arts and businesses.
“I brought this up at my first (council) retreat eight years ago,” Brockett said. “I can’t say we’ve made a ton of progress.”
City Council has asked staff to bring back a list of “ways we (as council) slow things down” and suggestions for how to “streamline rules and permitting.” That report is due in early 2024.
What Brockett is most proud of from this term
Gun violence prevention, affordable housing, CARE program (non-police response to some emergency calls), day center/shelter for the unhoused (pending), racial equity plan and progress
Still in progress, but accomplishments Brockett is also pleased to have been part of:
- Fort Chambers management plan, in collaboration with 13 tribes who originally inhabited this land before white settlement
- Development of future housing via planning efforts at Boulder Junction Phase 2, East Boulder Subcommunity Plan, Planning Reserve study, Diagonal Plaza.
- Electrification of new buildings (Nothing has been passed yet, but council in June directed staff to develop new rules.)
- Bus Rapid Transit and bikeway between Boulder and Longmont. Brockett was part of the delegation of mayors that helped secure a $25 million grant that provided the last bit of necessary funding. “This was the big thing we were asking for, and we got it.”
- Zero Emission Communities: Xcel Energy solicits bids for renewable energy projects, but they get more bids than the amount of renewable energy they want to provide. The Zero Emission Communities program will allow cities to pick up projects that Xcel rejected — at the price for which they were bid to Xcel. This was a direct result of negotiations over the now-abandoned push to create a municipal electric utility, Brockett said. There is a possibility Boulder could implement one or more of these projects. “That could bridge the gap” and get Boulder to 100% renewable energy.
Brockett’s biggest regret from this term
The flawed and controversial appointment of new members to the Police Oversight Panel, which ended in a member being removed and a POP work stoppage in protest. Brockett is not specific about what he would have changed, but feels City Council bears responsibility for the fracas and fallout.
“It’s hard to say exactly the one thing we could have done differently to keep it from spiraling into what it became,” he said. “But it was unfortunate for the community in all kinds of ways. My biggest regret is that we set that up in such a way that that happened.”
What Brockett wants to do with his next term (top work plan priorities)
- Implementing micro-communities for people experiencing homelessness including a safe outdoor space and tiny home village.
- Streamlining permitting, regulation and fees for affordable housing.
- Reforming parking requirements to reduce the cost of housing.
Brockett noted that these are subject to change, based on what other council members might bring forward.
“I don’t want to be absolutely locked into them,” he wrote in response to emailed requests. “Before each retreat, I try to figure out how what I bring forward can be synergistic with other council members.”
Why you might want to vote for Brockett
After eight years on council and four on the Planning Board, Brockett knows the issues inside and out. He knows what’s happening in Boulder and surrounding cities, as well as the state level.
That’s also true of Bob Yates and, to a lesser extent, Nicole Speer. But of the three candidates, Brockett is the only one who has done the job already.
That experience and deep knowledge will come in handy on a council of relative newcomers. After Yates and Brockett — only one of whom will remain and only if they win the mayoral seat — the longest-serving council member is Mark Wallach, elected in 2019.
Brockett also takes criticism extremely well, and takes active steps to correct behaviors that others have pointed out to him.
Between 2019 and now, Brockett, 50, also learned Spanish to increase his accessibility to monolingual Spanish-speaking residents. It would be easy to characterize it as a move to gain political points, and it may be, but it’s one that took hours of study and effort.
Why you might not want to vote for Brockett
His peers say Brockett is not as collaborative as they might sometimes like, treating the role primarily as an external-facing, figurehead position. Female colleagues also say he doesn’t always share the limelight or credit — a charge they level against all of their male counterparts, not just Brockett.
“I have a tendency to not try to work through every detail ahead of a council meeting,” Brockett admits. “It’s partly my approach to public meetings: There’s value in adhering to the exact words and spirit of open meetings laws, which is that we should have free-flowing discussions at council.
“I don’t want to be putting my finger on the thumb and saying, ‘This is the course of action we must take.’”
As for hogging the spotlight and opportunities to appear in public, Brockett is aware he hasn’t delegated as much as he would like. He has resolved to improve in the future, with a particular eye on including his female colleagues.
“If people are saying it’s happening, I trust them that it’s happening,” he said. “I will take that feedback and work on doing better.”
Other considerations: If Brockett is not elected mayor, he will no longer be on City Council.
Brockett on the Issues
Housing and Development
As noted above, Brockett has a strong record on housing, supporting a number of projects and policies to allow for more housing in the future. He also supported increasing occupancy limits to allow more unrelated adults to live together (and families to double up, the most common way of dealing with homelessness) and allowing duplexes on larger lots throughout Boulder, provided existing density limits are respected.
He would not necessarily support more multi-family housing (like fourplexes) on all city lots, something he got pushback for at the Raucous Caucus candidate forum in June.
“As you get closer to services [grocery stores, retail, offices, bus routes, etc.] that’s a better place for additional density,” he said. “In some of these far-flung, single-family neighborhoods, where it’s a mile and a half to the nearest grocery store, it’s not that walkable or bikeable.”
He looks to the next update of the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan in 2025 to tweak rules so that the city can create more walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods. If re-elected, it will be his third plan update as a member of the Planning Board or City Council. He’d like to see a bigger emphasis on the climate emergency and racial equity this time around.
“The climate emergency is much worse than eight years ago,” the last update. “How are we going to shape our community in the face of that? And also how we’re improving racial equity. We need to make sure [both issues are] woven all through.”
As for the future, “working regionally is part of the next step,” he said. That’s why he supported SB-213, a failed state bill that would have required cities to allow certain types and amounts of housing.
“If it had been passed, it would have been in line with policies we already have,” Brockett said at a candidate forum. “Housing is fundamentally a regional issue. We share this difficulty. If our neighboring communities were producing housing in a smart way in alignment with walkability and bikeability,” it would be a different conversation.
Within the city, a “key approach” should be “to take our aging strip malls and transform those into walkable, vibrant mixed-use neighborhoods, with big chunks of affordable housing.”
Sept. 1, 2020 — Brockett voted to place on the ballot a fee on rental units to fund rental assistance and provide legal representation to renters facing eviction. Initially a citizen petition, this measure was replaced by a council-proposed initiative.
Brockett voted to pass a number of protections for mobile home residents, including requirements for landlords to clearly communicate and post certain information.
Sept. 15, 2020 — Brockett voted to suspend enforcement of occupancy limits (rules on how many unrelated adults can live together) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Feb. 16, 2021 — Brockett supported rules for the sale and maintenance of mobile homes to protect residents.
April 20, 2021 — Brockett supported adding Diagonal Plaza and the Ball Aerospace campus to the list of places where buildings can be built up to the citywide height limit of 55 feet. (Additional, lower limits are imposed on most of the city.)
May 18, 2021 — Brockett voted to allow conversion of Marpa House from group living quarters to 16 three-bedroom dwellings.
Sept. 21, 2021 — Brockett voted to approve annexation of CU South, allowing development of a southern campus in exchange for land on which to build flood mitigation.
Oct. 12, 2021 — Brockett supported plans for development of Alpine-Balsam, which includes the city’s largest-ever affordable housing project.
Oct. 19, 2021 — Brockett voted to amend open space requirements at Diagonal Plaza to allow more housing units to be built.
May 17, 2022 — Brockett voted to approve the East Boulder Subcommunity Plan, which could eventually allow development of up to 5,000 housing units.
Dec. 15, 2023 — Brockett voted to annex 6500 Arapahoe, owned by the Boulder Valley School District, for eventual use as a modular home factory.
April 20, 2023 — (informal vote) Brockett supported endorsing SB213.
May 1, 2023 — Brockett voted to ease rules for ADUs, allowing more and bigger units.
Sept. 7, 2023 — (informal vote) Brockett did not support moving forward with changes to rules for middle-income affordable housing because of the tradeoff in affordable rentals that might occur.
Sept. 21, 2023 — Brockett supported a number of zoning and regulatory changes intended to encourage construction of smaller housing units.
Brockett believes continuing to invest in services is essential. He supports establishing sanctioned encampments, safe parking lots and/or tiny home villages, along with other “temporary, transitional solutions.”
“We can’t get everybody into housing right away,” he said. “We need to be able to meet people more where they are. What are those solutions that you can stand up more quickly and at lower cost?”
Brockett also supports Boulder’s encampment removal strategy. Although he opposed the initial funding, he has since voted numerous times to funnel additional money toward an in-house removal team, dedicated police officers and other interventions.
While he acknowledges that encampment removals are harmful to unhoused folks, Brockett believes it is necessary to keep parks, paths and waterways clean and accessible for everyone.
“The issue is too complex and the choices are too hard,” he said. Encampment removals are “the least bad of the bad options, because we don’t have the resources equal to the problems.”
“There will always be room for improvements, but we’re doing this in the most compassionate way we can manage right now” by not confiscating tents and by storing belongings and connecting people with what services are available.
“We’re providing basically as much as we can right now, and we’re continually working on offering more. I will commit to continuing that process until there’s some point where we can say, ‘No, we’re actually meeting the needs of everybody here locally.’ ”
Jan.21, 2020 — Brockett voted to open winter sheltering every night during the season. (Previously, it was open only under certain weather circumstances.) Increased usage was an exchange for reducing the budget for emergency sheltering and cutting the number of beds in half by ending the lease on a rented facility.
June 1, 2021 — Brockett opposed adding $2.7 million in new spending to the budget for an encampment removal strategy that included an in–house removal team, downtown ambassador program, urban park rangers and a police unit specifically dedicated to encampment removal.
July 20, 2021 — Brockett voted to pass a ban on the use of tents on public property.
Oct. 6, 2022 — Brockett supported an expansion and extension of the encampment removal policy in the 2023 budget.
Sept. 28, 2023 — (Informal vote) Brockett supported establishing a sanctioned campground, tiny home village or other “safe outdoor space” for people experiencing homelessness.
Oct. 5, 2023 — (Informal vote) Brockett supported directing staff to establish a sanctioned encampment with services for the unhoused.
Public Safety, Policing and Oversight
Brockett is a supporter of Police Chief Maris Herold’s approach, which focuses on crime prevention by removing the opportunity for crime to occur.
“How do we set up our city and our systems such that crimes are not happening?” he said. “Sometimes that’s about environmental design, sometimes it’s about setting up systems such that the police are getting out into the community and [acting] more as partners.”
He’s also pleased with the “diversity in age, background and ethnicity” in the most recent class of police recruits, which he believes will help “change the culture” of the police department and policing in Boulder.
Council’s role in policing the police is largely fulfilled through the Police Oversight Panel. “That is a best practice that we should have, and so we need to get that group set back up for success. It’s important to have some outside eyes.”
Brockett was absent for the vote (his dog died), but sent a public email stating that he would not have voted to remove Lisa Sweeney-Miran, a vocal critic of police, from the Police Oversight Panel
At the Raucous Caucus, Brockett answered “no” to the question, “Is the current policing budget too high?” ($41 million in 2024, 10% of the city’s budget and 21% of its discretionary spending) and “yes” to the question, “Should the Police Oversight Panel haven more authority over disciplining officers found guilty of misconduct?” (Currently, all disciplinary decisions are made by Chief Herold, in accordance with state law and the police union contract.)
Nov. 10, 2020 — Brockett voted to establish the Police Oversight Panel.
Feb. 1, 2022 — Brockett approved the Boulder Police Department entering into an agreement with the FBI, designating an officer to a joint terrorism task force.
June 22, 2023 — Brockett voted to put in place a moratorium on review of new complaints by the Police Oversight Panel.
Sept. 7, 2023 — Brockett voted to approve the Reimagining Policing plan.
Brockett isn’t making any big promises when it comes to city spending.
“Fundamentally, I feel like our budget is on a good track,” he said. “The thing about having been on council for eight years is you learn that you can’t really make grandiose statements and then stick to them because you know how the process works.”
Some additional money will be coming to Boulder thanks to Proposition 123, which created a state affordable housing fund and which Brockett hopes will be used to “really make a dent in affordable housing and homeless services.”
April 28, 2020 — Brockett voted to create a financial strategy subcommittee of council members, to assess and recommend action on the city’s long-term financial health.
Oct. 20, 2020 — Brockett voted to approve the proposed 2021 spending plan.
Sept.1, 2021 — Brockett voted to place on the ballot an extension of the utility occupation tax, with funds to be redirected toward working on shared projects in partnership with Xcel Energy.
Oct. 12, 2021 – Brockett voted to accept the facilities master plan, which calls for an increase in spending on maintenance as well as the eventual consolidation of city buildings into two campuses at an estimated cost of more than $300 million.
Oct. 19, 2021 — Brockett voted to approve the 2022 proposed budget.
July 14, 2022 — Brockett voted to endorse the ballot measure creating a library district to be funded by a dedicated property tax.
Oct. 6, 2022 — (informal vote) Brockett voted to exempt menstrual products and diapers from sales tax
Aug. 3, 2023 — Brockett supported advancing to the voters a ballot measure that would extend a 0.15% sales tax, splitting the revenue evenly between the city’s general fund and arts/culture programming
Aug. 24, 2023 — (Informal vote) Brockett voted to accelerate work on pursuing a higher minimum wage, although a council majority voted to continue the planned implementation timeline of Jan. 1, 2025, rather than joining Boulder County in pursuing a wage increase on Jan. 1, 2024.
Transportation and Parking
Brockett notes the implementation of CAN (prioritizing the city’s most dangerous and busiest streets for traffic, bus, bike and pedestrian improvements), the electrification of the city’s HOP bus fleet and the increase of the transportation maintenance budget (to address the obvious increase in potholes) as examples of work the city is doing. Progress can be slow, he admits, but the city is on the right track.
“It can take 20 years between starting lobbying for something and seeing the last bit of concrete get poured,” Brockett said. “The work is to take it as far as you can, then pass the baton. It’s not super sexy, but it’s the day-to-day work that you have to do.”
The decrease in RTD service is still a problem without a full solution. That’s where Brockett would lean on regional collaboration.
At the Raucous Caucus, Brockett said he would support eliminating parking minimums for housing development (which provides space for residents’ cars but also drives up costs and takes up valuable and costly land) and would support a city tax or fee to increase public transit frequency and services.
April 7, 2020 — Brockett voted to extend a temporary ban on e-scooters.
May 19, 2020 — Brockett voted to lower speed limits on residential streets to 20 mph from 25 mph.
Sept. 15, 2020 — Brockett voted to allow e-scooters in a limited area of East Boulder.
Oct. 26, 2021 — Brockett voted to raise residents’ fees for the neighborhood parking permit program and increase fees for parking tickets.
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April 21, 2020 — Brockett voted to allow temporary, online gathering of petition signatures during the COVID-19 pandemic while the city’s official online petitioning system was still in development.
July 21, 2020 — Brockett opposed an interpretation of city law that set new, higher signature requirements for certain citizen petitions, effectively disqualifying two petitions whose campaigns followed city guidance stating that fewer signatures were needed. Brockett supported placing both campaigns on the ballot.
Aug. 18, 2020 — Brockett voted to place on the ballot a measure to directly elect Boulder’s mayor using ranked-choice voting. Initially a citizen petition, this measure was replaced by a council-proposed initiative after the petition, following legal advice from the city, failed to secure enough signatures to be placed on the ballot.
Sept. 1, 2020 — Brockett voted to place on the ballot a proposed settlement with Xcel Energy to end the city’s efforts to take over the utility. Voters approved the settlement.
PARKS AND OPEN SPACE
Aug. 18, 2020 — Brockett voted to allow limited use of lethal control for management of prairie dog populations on city open space used for agriculture.
Nov. 9, 2021 — Brockett approved allowing restaurants as a limited use in regional parks. (There are three: Flatirons Golf Course, Boulder Reservoir and Valmont City Park.)
June 1, 2023 — Brockett voted to allow e-bikes on certain open-space trails.
QUALITY OF LIFE
Sept. 1, 2022 — Brockett voted to expand Boulder’s noise ordinances to daytime hours.
Feb. 16, 2023 — Brockett voted to strengthen “nuisance” ordinances — laws on things like weeds, trash and noise, reforms largely aimed at reducing conflicts with students and homeowners on University Hill (though the laws apply citywide).
Sept. 21, 2021 — Brockett voted to approve annexation of CU South, allowing development of a southern campus in exchange for land on which to build flood mitigation.
May 18, 2023 — Brockett voted to approve the Upper Goose and Twomile Canyon Creeks flood mitigation plans.
Dec. 17, 2019 — Brockett voted to adopt a racial equity plan.
July 21, 2020 — (informal vote) Brockett supported renaming the municipal building after Boulder’s first and only Black mayor, Penfield Tate II.
June 7, 2022 — Brockett voted to approve a suite of gun control legislation, including raising the age of purchase from 18 to 21 and banning assault weapons.
June 21, 2022 — Brockett opposed extending the historic landmark of the bandshell to include the entire Central Park.
This article has been updated to include council votes that occurred after initial publication.
— Shay Castle, @shayshinecastle