Tuesday, Oct. 10 2023
Two experiences led Jenny Robins to run for Boulder City Council. The first was when her girls aged out of city Parks and Recreation programs.
A Girl Scout troop leader, Robins is well accustomed to finding fun and enriching activities for youth. But in Boulder, she struggled to find activities for her own children. It added to her frustrations in finding leadership opportunities for her Scouts.
“They were truly hungry for community activism,” she said. “I have resources. If I’m struggling, and this is what I do, I can only imagine how impossible it is for people who are at work from 9 to 5 or longer, or swing shift, or night shift. Most families in Boulder have two working parents.
“How can the city support the families by supporting the kids?”
That question is the driving force of Robins’s campaign. Her top priority is creating a teen center with “pro-social activities, wraparound services to de-stigmatize issues kids are going through” — mental health, identity and orientation, anxiety around climate change, bullying [and] body image.
“Since COVID, there’s an enormous sense of isolation,” Robins said. “Kids are a very vulnerable part of our population. If we could save one child” through services at a teen center, it would be worth it.
A Tara Winer recruit, Robins is also focusing on public safety, primarily through the lens of unsheltered homelessness. A fair amount of her public appearances include entreaties to “hold people accountable for their actions, enforce the camping ban and support police.”
“If we’re not careful with how we manage safe public spaces, we’re in big trouble,” she said. “We’re not headed in the right direction.”
In her professional career, Robins, 46, does contract negotiation with a focus on land use and zoning. While she acknowledges those skills and experiences would positively contribute to City Council, “I don’t consider myself an expert on any particular topic.”
“My intention for getting involved in council is not because I have huge opinions on this or huge opinions on that,” she said. “I think it is important to listen. Anybody you speak to has something valuable to bring to any conversation. Someone who is super-strong in their beliefs, there’s probably a very good reason for that. I’m gonna take that in.”
“There’s a lot of important issues I could be helpful with.”
Top work plan priorities
- Youth Programming and Safe Spaces: Create no-cost leadership programs for youth and explore opportunities for a teen center or similar safe spaces.
- Permitting Reform: Overhaul our current permitting system to modernize and increase efficiencies.
- Municipal Court Reform: Review municipal laws and court policies to identify any outdated or problematic regulations that may need to be amended.
Why you might want to vote for Robins
Robins is thoughtful and even-keeled. She resists the hyperbole that is so often present in Boulder politics, and shows care and thoughtfulness when it comes to critics and those with whom she disagrees.
Although her experience with city operations is limited, Robins’s professional career could come in handy given all the upcoming land use and zoning projects: Boulder Junction Phase 2, possible redevelopment of the municipal airport, updating the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan, results of the Planning Reserve study, continued work on use tables, etc.
Robins takes criticism exceptionally well. She is aware of her weaknesses and has worked to educate herself on issues she was less familiar with at the start of the campaign.
Why you might not want to vote for Robins
Robins is new to city politics. That’s not a bad thing (fresh perspectives are good), but compared to other candidates — with their stints on city boards, commissions and working groups — her relative inexperience means she’ll face a steeper learning curve when it comes to understanding how things work.
Her main platform idea, more youth programming, is a bit underwhelming in the face of all that Boulder County’s youth are struggling with.
Robins acknowledges this: No, it won’t meet the need, “but it’s a step in the right direction,” she said.
A teen center could have services to address the bigger challenges of mental health or, at the very least, a stress-free place for youth to go and socialize, where “everybody is welcome.”
“I’m not a doctor, I’m not a mental health professional. I’m not an educator — I’m a manager,” Robins said. “I point people in the directions of where they can find the help they need.”
And, in fairness to Robins, youth- and teen-specific spaces have emerged as something children consistently say they want, according to Growing Up Boulder. “Hanging out” is one of 10 major themes gathered in feedback from 2009 to 2022, with “teen-only spaces” mentioned specifically.
“I have some big, grand ideas,” Robins said. “I’m just doing it in really, really small increments.”
This news doesn’t write itself. Throw us some cash if you’ve got it, so we can keep this community news source free for all.
Robins on the Issues
Housing + Development
Boulder’s current approach to affordable housing — requiring a certain percentage of affordable units or the cash equivalent — is “pretty successful,” Robins said. If she were to change anything, it would be to “rezone areas in the business districts to allow for more mixed use.”
She is less supportive of the council’s recent changes to occupancy limits and zoning to allow attached housing in traditionally single-family neighborhoods (while still following existing density limits). Those changes should be paired with affordability mandates, Robins believes.
“If we’re talking about increasing density or intensity, we have to have affordability attached to it,” she said. “We need more multi-family housing in areas where there is transit and retail. Putting families in a low-density neighborhood, they’ll still have to drive.”
Robins doesn’t use the phrase “neighborhood character,” but she does believe in preserving Boulder’s neighborhoods.
“I’m not a fan of urban sprawl, but what we already have should be protected,” she said. “Property is America’s greatest asset, financially, and so I think the people that live here and live in those homes, I think they need to be protected.”
Do you support rent stabilization? Yes
Would you support a ballot measure to undo the recent change to occupancy? No
Did you support SB213 (the failed state bill requiring cities to allow certain types and amounts of housing, overriding local control)? No. “Every city in Colorado has different challenges,” she said at an event hosted by PLAN-Boulder County, calling the measure “scary.”
Robins is not opposed to expanding services for unhoused people who aren’t currently using existing services. She mentions tiny home villages, group homes and safe parking sites specifically, as well as other options that may help the homeless retain its sense of community. But she doesn’t believe Boulder should spend any more of its own money to do so.
“I think the money the city spends right now is enough,” she said “We need to look at federal money, state money and county money to supplement the services that we have.”
She is excited about the possibility of a countywide mental health facility, but believes its impact will be limited if treatment is purely voluntary.
“I think we need to allow judges to sentence people into mental health treatment,” she said. At the PLAN forum, she said, “We need to subsidize recovery and not enable addiction.”
“The problem I think we have now is not homelessness, it’s the high utilizer group in the encampments who are living by the creek.”
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? Yes
Are encampment removals an effective use of resources to address homelessness? No. Robins answered “Yes” to this at the Boulder Progressives’ Raucous Caucus candidate forum, but in an interview clarified her support for encampment removals.
“I don’t think it’s an effective way to reduce homelessness, but it’s the only solution we have to reduce encampments,” she said. Even for managing encampments, “it’s actually not super effective, but it’s our only tool” to keep public spaces clean and accessible.
Public Safety, Policing + Oversight
“From an overall crime perspective, I think we’ve gone backward in the last few years,” Robins said. “There’s been some restorative justice theories or practices put in place that may not be working as they should.”
That includes the municipal court’s much-lauded efforts to divert unhoused offenders from jail by helping them work toward housing (obtaining necessary documents, etc.) “We’ll see how that changes” now that Judge Linda Cooke has retired, Robins said.
She is hopeful for the alternative sentencing facility now under construction, which will serve the entire county, and understands the various challenges faced by local law enforcement, including a full jail, state regulations and a lack of mental health treatment. But she also feels for the small business owners, families and kids who are victims of crime.
“I don’t think it’s compassionate to allow people who follow the law to live in fear walking the streets,” she said. “People need to be held accountable.”
When it comes to policing and oversight, “I am a supporter of the police,” Robins said, and of Chief Maris Herold. “Her community policing strategy is wonderful.”
Should the Police Oversight Panel have more say over officer discipline in the case of misconduct? No. “I don’t think the POP should have any ability to reprimand officers besides just submitting recommendations. I think the people who sit on the panel are very intelligent, but they shouldn’t be able to [make disciplinary decisions] unless they go through full police training.”
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
Robins acknowledges that City Council has little control over the budget — “I think the city staff does a great job of putting that together,” she said — but there are still areas where she would like to shift spending.
In an initial interview, Robins said she would reallocate some of Housing and Human Services’ $40 million budget to increase spending on youth programming, possibly by reducing spending on homelessness. She later walked that back, acknowledging the worsening family homelessness crisis, historic demand at area food banks and depleted rental assistance funds. But she would still like to see more money for youth.
“With a $550 million budget, we should be able to focus more opportunities on kids,” she said.
Robins would like to increase spending on parks and recreation.
“HHS, police, fire [departments], they’re all about $40 million,” she said. “I think that’s the right amount of money to spend on those larger pieces of the pie.” Parks and rec “is a bit lower” at $34.7 million in 2023, and with aging recreation centers needing a revamp, “it might make sense to up their funding.”
Do you support the sales tax extension and arts funding bill on this year’s ballot? Yes
Transportation + Parking
“In general, I think we have been doing a pretty good job,” Robins said. “There can be more bike safety,” and she’d love to see more RTD service to Gunbarrel, where she lives. A planned Boulder-to-Longmont bikeway and an on-demand shuttle will help provide options.
Another element of safety is the number and behavior of unhoused people riding buses, which can discourage other users.
“It doesn’t feel safe to me anymore. I think RTD needs to look at creating a higher level of service from a safety perspective. I think that’s why a lot of people don’t use it” — especially children.
When kids can “ride free and [if] we could make it safer,” that would open up more opportunities for them, she said. “I don’t think we’ll ever be able to get rid of cars, so we’re going to have to figure out how to work together.”
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
These profiles require hours of work: interviewing candidates, fact-checking, attending public forums. If you value this in-depth information, please consider paying for it.
— Shay Castle, @shayshinecastle