Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023 (Updated Oct. 13)
“Conservative or liberal? I am conservative with resources and liberal with love; conservative with judgment, liberal with encouragement; conservative with anger, liberal with forgiveness; conservative with criticism, liberal with praise; conservative with loss, liberal with joy.”
That was Aaron Gabriel Neyer’s self-introduction at an August candidate forum hosted by PLAN-Boulder County. It is also a great summation of his campaign for Boulder City Council, a window into what he thinks is needed in the polarized world of local politics.
“If we want to actually move forward, we have to work together, find the common unity [and] emphasize communication and relationships,” he said in an interview with Boulder Beat. “We have to be data-driven, but we can’t only be data-driven.”
His bid for a City Council seat is Neyer’s first foray into local issues. The 31-year-old Naropa University graduate and former Google software engineer campaigned for Bernie Sanders and joined protesters at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation to oppose an oil pipeline.
“I got sprayed with pepper spray,” he recalled. “I got arrested a few times. I went to jail twice. There are a lot of governing bodies that are bent on serving a lot of the corporate things in this country that are not harmonious with the planet.”
Once he returned to Boulder, Neyer resolved to get involved closer to home.
“It became very clear to me that change has to happen, and it has to start locally,” he said. “We have to start in our own lives and our own neighborhoods. For things to change at the country level, we need examples of what can work at the local level. I see Boulder as a place where we can do experimentation.”
Neyer’s primary focus is the environment. That includes preserving as much nature and open space as possible, encouraging biodiversity and discouraging sprawl.
“If we learn how to use our space efficiently, we can house people in Boulder while also increasing the space for wide-open, natural spaces that allow for wildlife to thrive,” he said. “I want to see us putting programs in place that help us plant more [that’s friendly to] pollinators, more trees. It’s really important to me that we’re acting in a way that’s beneficial to life.”
He also thinks the city could do a better job of trumpeting the climate work already being done in Boulder.
“What we need is more people involved in climate solutions,” Neyer said. “How do we tell a better story around what’s happening and [be] that inspiration that is going to get more people working in their own backyard?”
Neyer feels the same deep sense of duty to Boulder’s natural environment as he does toward its human inhabitants. Just as our environmental practices should be regenerative, so too should our working relationships, he said.
“It’s important we choose not just who agrees with us” to be on the City Council, he said, but people who can “work together [and] actually move us forward. Sometimes that means swallowing our pride and personal belief systems and what we think is so right, and looking honestly at what is going to help.”
After all, Neyer said, “if a philosophy is not useful in the day to day, it’s not worth living.”
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Top work plan priorities
- Initiate a working group that involves a climate initiatives team, natural solutions and communications and an engagement team to better inform the population about climate solutions under way in Boulder
- Initiate a working group to engage with private companies working on better infrastructure solutions as they relate to green buildings, affordable housing and better transit solutions, to explore public-private partnerships
- Expand the current working group in the city focused on local solutions to homelessness to include leaders from local nonprofits and representatives from neighboring cities to foster better collaboration
Why you might want to vote for Neyer
Neyer is one of three renters running for City Council. (Taishya Adams and Silas Atkins are the others; Jacques Decalo lives with family.) That is an important perspective missing from the current governing body, all of whom are homeowners.
Neyer also sees himself as a representative of Boulder’s “spiritual” communities: fellow Naropa graduates; practitioners of “ecstatic dance,” breath work and the like, and proponents of health and wellness and “holistic movement.”
“I don’t feel they’re very well represented [on] City Council,” he said.
Neyer takes criticism extremely well — “I very much practice a wu-wei philosophy, flowing like water,” he said of his ability to handle difficult feedback — and is unfailingly considerate of opposing viewpoints and the people who hold them.
Why you might not want to vote for Neyer
When Neyer gave an initial interview in late June, he was among the least-informed candidates. He also lacks the relevant experience within the city government that many of his competitors have.
Fresh perspectives can be an asset, but there may be a steeper learning curve for Neyer. Over the course of his campaign, he improved his knowledge and understanding of the local government and various issues, demonstrating an ability to learn quickly.
“I don’t think what distinguishes me is that I know every answer,” Neyer said in response to this criticism. “What distinguishes me is that I’m able to look at things from a fresh perspective. I have the capacity to admit when I don’t know and lean on other voices.
“What I can bring is not somebody who has all the solutions, but somebody who can be part of a team.”
Neyer on the Issues
Housing + Development
Neyer would like Boulder’s zoning to “emphasize ecological harmony” by allowing more people to live on less land while incorporating more natural landscapes into developments.
“It is super-important that we figure out land use [and] figure out affordability so more people can live in Boulder,” he said. “Intelligently densify. We need to have things in place that allow for more communal living,” such as duplexes, tiny-home villages and co-ops, which are not allowed in most of the city.
Speeding up the permitting processes would help, too, Neyer said. That means simplifying rules for “simple projects” and to “use technology better” to automate processes we don’t need humans for.
Lastly, “there needs to be more of a relationship” between the city and the University of Colorado, since students contribute to and feel the impacts of high housing demand.
Do you support rent stabilization? Yes
Do you support the City Council’s recent vote to increase occupancy limits? Yes
Did you support SB213, the failed state bill requiring cities to allow certain types and amounts of housing, overriding local control? Yes. “Some level of state control is necessary to ensure cooperation, but there needs to be more emphasis on bottom up” efforts.
Neyer believes encampment removals are “extremely ineffective.” While Boulder needs “some level of enforcement” to keep public spaces clean and accessible, ticketing people and disrupting their lives without providing adequate alternatives is simply “shuffling them around [and] not helping the problem at all.”
“We all want safe bike paths, clean creeks and [for] people, especially those that are most vulnerable, [to] get the help they need. It doesn’t seem like removing them is an adequate solution without creating other solutions.
“If we’re going to say you can’t be here,” he said, “we have to have somewhere for them to be.
Do you support the Safe Zones 4 Kids ballot measure? No. “I wish this was more than a yes or no . I feel that Safe Zones warrants more discussion, as it’s a very nuanced issue.”
Should the city dedicate more of its own money to services/solutions for homelessness? Yes
Would you continue the city’s current encampment removal strategy? No
Public Safety, Policing + Oversight
Neyer is “pleased” with the direction of Boulder Police Department’s reform efforts, including the recently adopted Reimagine Policing plan. But he also believes there are “valid criticisms” of policing that need to be heard and incorporated.
“I’m glad [BPD is] emphasizing equity training and getting to the root of problems [to prevent crime], versus [relying on] police and patrols,” he said. “The Police Oversight Panel is necessary. There needs to be some better oversight.
“I don’t have a clear enough picture on the issues right now to have a clear idea on what the solution is.”
Should the Police Oversight Panel have more say over officer discipline in the case of misconduct? Yes
Do you support the City Council’s decision to remove Lisa Sweeney-Miran from the Police Oversight Panel over her public criticism of the police?? No
Do you think the police budget is too high? Yes
“I wish I knew more” about the city’s spending, Neyer said. He is aware of City Council’s limited role in shaping the budget, but would focus his priorities on “better transportation systems, climate regeneration projects, and shelters and homeless services.”
Neyer believes technology can play a role in making Boulder’s budget more efficient, rather than trying to save money by cutting staff or services.
“How do we cut costs in a way that does not cut programs?” he said. “I got laid off at Google because they were cutting costs, and I recognize the need for that. There was a need to be more efficient. I don’t think they balanced efficiency with people-care as well as they should have. We need to find a way to make our systems more efficient in a way that takes people into account.”
Do you support the sales tax extension and arts funding bill on this year’s ballot? Yes
Transportation + Parking
“I really think Boulder could lead the way in being a less car-dependent city,” Neyer said. “I’m not saying get rid of cars, but our society has an over-dependence on cars.”
To do that, Neyer believes we need better bike and bus infrastructure. He would also like to see “some kind of public-private program or partnership” for on-demand shuttles or other public transportation options.
“We need something in between the bus and Uber,” he said.
Neyer would like to reform Boulder’s parking practices, including reducing how much parking it requires of new developments and re-evaluating how much it charges for public and neighborhood parking.
“We need to stop using so much of our resources [for] cars, or at least be open and transparent about how much we are subsidizing cars,” he said. “People who do not have cars should be rewarded, while people who do have cars pay a little extra.”
Would you support a tax or fee to increase public transit frequency and services? Yes
Do you support eliminating minimum parking requirements for new housing developments? Yes
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This article has been updated to correct a reference to Wu Wei philosophy.
— Shay Castle, @shayshinecastle