Jacques Decalo: Bring back the ‘golden standard’ of environmentalism

Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023

The first time Jacques Decalo ran for Boulder City Council, he was the youngest candidate by at least a decade. Two years later, he’s still the only candidate under the age of 30. 

“The younger voice has been ignored in politics for a long time,” the 27-year-old said. 

Decalo’s focus is still the same, too: the climate crisis. Boulder has taken its eye off the ball, he believes.  

If he is elected to City Council this time around, “every decision I’m involved in will be about sustainability and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions,” Decalo said.

His own climate policies have evolved from deploying autonomous vehicles to investing in bike and bus infrastructure. He’d still like to see increased public-private partnerships, though: In an interview and public appearances, he mentioned the need to “work with businesses” and property owners on solutions like rooftop solar and car pooling. 

All of Decalo’s positions are more fleshed out than in 2021. He is familiar with the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan, tossing out references to the jobs-housing imbalance. He is also more clued into common complaints of (some) community members such as blaming “big tech” for Boulder’s changing culture. 

“Last time for me, the biggest issue was the environment,” Decalo said. “That will always be my biggest issue, but this time I’m actually listening.”

What he’s hearing are worries over housing affordability, public safety and open space. Those issues are part of having a sustainable community, he said.

“Sustainability is a quality of life that everybody has access to clean water, clean air, and making sure we have a safe space for everybody.”

Decalo feels that Boulder “continues to push for profits over the actual needs of our community” by allowing too much development. The city has “shifted away from family values,” he said, and has failed to “preserve” the “dialogue between neighborhoods and council.”

For a long time, Boulder was “the golden standard” for a sustainable city. “That’s something we need to bring back.”

“I want Boulder to be the most sustainable city in America,” he said, “the most sustainable city in the world.”

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Top work plan priorities

  • Evaluation of a tax on single-use plastics
  • Increase community solar gardens, battery storage, and incentivize electric heat pumps to replace gas furnaces
  • Evaluate an expansion of the HOP bus route

Why you might want to vote for Decalo

Decalo would add much-needed youth to the City Council. Younger Boulderites are almost completely lacking representation: Only one remaining council member (Lauren Folkerts) and one candidate (Aaron Gabriel Neyer) are younger than 40.  

Decalo has also worked hard to educate himself on the issues since his last run, demonstrating an ability to learn. 

Why you might not want to vote for Decalo

While Decalo’s knowledge has increased over the past two years, he still comes up short compared to most of the other candidates. A fresh perspective is an asset, but he will have a steep learning curve on many issues. 

Some of Decalo’s positions have also shifted significantly. That could be a result of his expanded knowledge or reflective of his involvement with the limited-growth group PLAN-Boulder County. The organization’s members asked him to run, he said, and former councilwoman Cindy Carlisle held a fundraiser for Decalo at her home. But PLAN ultimately declined to endorse him.

There were inklings of this in 2021. Decalo flipped on CU South from pro- to anti-development after picking up a PLAN endorsement. Since that time, it is not clear that Decalo has made an effort to hear and learn from a variety of voices and perspectives — every person he mentioned by name was a slow-growth proponent or PLAN-endorsed candidate — or that he will do so if elected. 

Decalo acknowledges the role PLAN played in his candidacy, but insists he is meeting with and listening to a diverse group of community members. As for his continuing lack of understanding on the complexity of Boulder’s issues, “I’m ready to put in the work,” he said.

“I would definitely leave the majority decision making up to those who were more knowledgeable about those and who have had experience in those, but I bring a younger perspective. You need critical thinking from every age.”

Decalo on the Issues

Housing + Development

Boulder is a “completely different town than most towns in the Front Range,” Decalo said — more like “mountain towns” than places like Aurora or Parker “that have more ability for sprawl.”

Decalo sometimes supports density. He’s OK with the University of Colorado building densely to support its student population. When CU redevelops its family living complex north of campus, “that needs to be high-density,” he said.

Otherwise, density “is really appropriate in areas that have grocery store access, that have access to rapid transportation right in their neighborhood [and] for mixed-use commercial areas” such as Broadway and Violet Avenue in North Boulder, he said. “I don’t necessarily think it’s appropriate for single-family neighborhoods.”

For that reason, Decalo was opposed to the recent expansion of occupancy limits from three to five unrelated adults in most of the city. At the Aug. 17 public hearing for the measure, he said that occupancy should be decided by the neighborhood, on a by-house basis.

“We could have done this in a more cooperative way and not pushed more stress onto these neighborhoods already dealing with high density,” he said in a followup interview. “People are going to feel the burden of reduced street parking, increased trash, litter [and] noise complaints.”

At a candidate forum hosted by PLAN, Decalo said Boulder should increase its fees on development that fund affordable housing to “accelerate” those efforts.

“There’s probably no way to ever make it inexpensive,” he said, “but there are solutions to allow people who do not have high incomes to live here.”

To increase the supply of housing, he would explore ways to redevelop vacant office space. The airport should be considered for redevelopment, as should North Boulder’s Planning Reserve, but only “as a last resort.”  

Decalo also said he would be interested in some exemptions to the city’s 55-foot height limit if the buildings “don’t obstruct views.” 

Quick q’s: 

Do you support rent stabilization? Yes

Do you support the City Council’s recent vote to increase occupancy limits? No

Would you support a ballot measure to undo the recent change to occupancy? Yes, “with guarantees [for] affordable housing.”

Did you support SB213 (the failed state bill requiring cities to allow certain types and amounts of housing, overriding local control)? No


Unlike two years ago, Decalo now supports encampment removals. He cites the degradation of “riparian buffers” along Boulder Creek and pollution of the waterway itself as motivating his change of mind. 

“Once someone’s freedoms infringe on other people’s freedoms, that’s when you need to intervene,” he said. “The location of the camping is infringing on the public. We want to maintain our fragile ecosystems. So we really need to find safe places for these people to go.”

That could include sanctioned encampments with access to clean water and bathrooms, provided it was paid for by the state or county. “I don’t think it’s on Boulder to fully fund that,” Decalo said.

He would like to see a single, 24-hour shelter. Boulder Shelter for the Homeless is prevented from operating during the day (except in life-threatening weather) because of an agreement with neighbors.

“I worry that moving these people around will give them reasons to relapse because they don’t have a space to feel safe, where they feel like they have a spot that’s their own [and] where they have access to services,” Decalo said.

Quick q’s: 

Do you support the Safe Zones 4 Kids ballot measure? Yes

Should the city dedicate more of its own money to services and solutions for homelessness? Yes

Would you continue the city’s current encampment removal strategy? No

Are encampment removals an effective use of resources to address homelessness? No

Public Safety, Policing + Oversight

“I personally feel our community is safe,” Decalo said at the PLAN candidate forum, “but I’ve also seen the issues that are making us feel unsafe,” namely homeless encampments and bike thefts.

“Unfortunately, Boulder is not the sleepy town it was 15 years ago.”

“There are simple solutions” to crime, Decalo said, such as putting “tracking chips” in bicycles and locking car doors. He is pleased with Police Chief Maris Herold’s focus on preventing crime and targeted interventions. Hiring more police would help, too, he said. 

“I don’t think police need military vehicles or military-grade weapons. But we do need more officers.”

As for oversight, “I think Boulder is on par with most cities,” Decalo said. He acknowledges that some local communities, such as college students, “feel the threat” of being over-policed, but he believes police are “there to protect the neighborhoods and ensure there’s no riots.”

“The police are here to help us and encourage our safety and our community,” he said. “They’ve gotten a bad rap because of police stigma over the years.”

Quick q’s:

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? Yes

Do you think the police budget is too high? No


“The main thing that comes to my mind with budget is the general fund and making sure we have enough resources for emergencies, to support our transportation network, making sure we are continuously funding our open space and making sure that’s not neglected and working to see sensible ways to increase our budget like parking fees,” Decalo said. “There’s nothing on my mind that needs to be changed right now.”

Quick q: 

Do you support the sales tax extension and arts funding ballot measure? No. “I worry that the arts fund will take away from needed general funds for emergencies or unplanned events.”

Note: At an art-focused candidate forum, Decalo signaled support for this measure. That event took place after this interview.

Transportation + Parking

Decalo would look to increase bike and bus infrastructure, including e-bike chargers “so people feel comfortable taking [them] for a full day.” Bike paths need to be “removed from vehicle” lanes “to eliminate deaths.”

“We need to see which communities have been impacted the most by lack of transportation and increase their access,” he said. “If it is affordable and possible,” buses should be free, and so should parking at the Table Mesa Park-N-Ride.

Decalo thinks the city should build affordable housing with no parking. 

“People who don’t need a car [or] can’t afford a car, you give them residency in an area like a 15-minute neighborhood where they can bus and bike,” he said. “It reduces carbon emissions through congestion and traffic.”

Quick q’s:

Would you support a tax or fee to fund public transit? Yes

Would you support eliminating minimum parking requirements for new housing developments? Yes, “in strategically planned ways. We could do affordable housing with no parking.”

These profiles take hours of work: conducting interviews, attending public events, fact-checking and following up with candidates. If you value this in-depth information, please consider paying for it.

— Shay Castle, @shayshinecastle

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