Waylon Lewis wants to make Boulder fun again

Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023

Waylon Lewis’s hat says it all: “Make Boulder Weird Again.” He wears it at most events; it’s even visible in his campaign photo, along with his dog, Winnie. 

“My vision for Boulder is to continue our path as this weird, wonderful, ethical, never-perfect place,” Lewis said — the kind of city that earned its reputation as 25 square miles surrounded by reality

“People like to make fun of Boulder,” Lewis said. “I’m like, ‘Bring it on.’ If we can’t laugh at ourselves, something is wrong with us.”

These days, though, Boulder is decidedly less funky. “Fun,” Lewis said, “is a word I don’t hear very often.”

And he knows exactly who — or rather, what — to blame: the ever-rising, even-more-unreachable cost of housing.

“The 60,000 people driving into Boulder every day, some of them would like to be able to afford to buy or rent,” he said. “We need artists, we need teachers, we need real people who aren’t making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year here to make a culture.”

For Boulder to make progress on housing and its other pernicious problems (homelessness, climate change, transportation, etc.), Lewis believes the ruling class needs to stop slinging mud and start really talking to one another.

“My value system is: Listen first,” he said. “PLAN, [Boulder[ Progressives… [their solutions] are incomplete, because they’re not listening.”

Lewis, the founder of “mindful” publication Elephant Journal, said he is “super-aligned” with progressive values and issues.  — The only place he’s “full-on PLAN-Boulder hippie” is environmental policies, he said. He still pines for the failed effort to create a municipal electric utility — but he doesn’t like progressives’ rhetoric or approach. (Note: Lewis was not endorsed by Boulder Progressives, but by the more centrist Better Boulder.)

“Progressives would rather be right than listen to and talk to the so-called NIMBYs who they revile. I can communicate to the PLANners in a way they can hear it,” he said, dubbing himself “the PLAN whisperer.”

“I have deep, long-lasting relationships with people [that] can be leveraged to make progress while listening to opposition.” 

He sees West Pearl as an example. The city temporarily closed the 900 to 1100 blocks to traffic during the pandemic. Many residents, including Lewis, wanted it to stay car-free, but businesses were opposed. The street was reopened to car traffic in September 2022.

“West Pearl was a failure of council,” Lewis said. Elected officials “didn’t do their homework and talk with all of the stakeholders, and it allowed all this resistance to build up. Not all the restaurants were against it. I could have sat down and talked with Dave Query [of Big Red F] and Jay Elowsky [of Pasta Jay’s] and worked out a creative solution — tokens for free parking, something. There are municipalities who figured it out.

“And now it’s basically closed for the foreseeable future, which is a polite way to say forever.”

Lewis’s experience and endorsers are diverse. He’s a 49-year-old Naropa University grad and spent years on the board of New Era Colorado, a civic engagement group for youth. He has earned the approval of a cross-aisle contingent of current council members, including Matt Benjamin, Tara Winer, Aaron Brockett, Junie Joseph and Mark Wallach. 

His own past endorsements for Boulder City Council, via his publication Elephant Journal, were similarly mixed: The board (of which Lewis is just one member) has historically endorsed a mix of slow-growth proponents and more density-friendly folks. 

Those endorsements in particular irk some in Boulder, who see it as contrary to achieving progress on Lewis’s stated goals. Lewis respectfully disagrees.

“My job is to listen and work with people who vehemently disagree,” he said. “That is really my goal — not to be a moderate, because I’m an extremist on climate change — but to really vilify as few people as possible.”

“You can’t get hard things done when people won’t talk to each other.”

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Top 3 work plan priorities

  • Homeless solutions, including services and/or a transitional campground 
  • Increase climate mitigation funding 
  • Double the amount of affordable housing developed by Boulder Housing Partners

“Bonus” priorities:

  • Living wage for City Council
  • Work on a “downtown magnet area” on 13th or East Pearl to replicate the (temporarily car-free) West Pearl 
  • More water fountains, more public bathrooms
  • Increasing funding for urban forestry and gardens
  • More benches or seating areas
  • Increased disability access at the Boulder Reservoir

Why you might want to vote for Lewis

Lewis has been in the community a long time, and has strong relationships with many different groups of people. His involvement in politics has mostly been in the background, but that’s given him a fair familiarity with the city’s major issues and efforts to solve them. He’s creative and full of new (mostly plausible) ideas.

Lewis is one of two car-free candidates in the race (Taishya Adams is the other but has access to her partner’s vehicle), which could add valuable perspective. Though many council members and candidates bike, that’s different from being entirely dependent on non-vehicular transportation. 

Why you might not want to vote for Lewis

While Lewis is full of ideas, he’s a bit short on solutions to Boulder’s biggest, most persistent problems. He’s also inconsistent. 

In follow-up interviews about his responses to questions at candidate forums, several of Lewis’s positions changed. The ability to learn and grow is an important one for elected officials, but Lewis’s shifting responses feel more like indecision or pandering than an evolution of thought.

Case in point: At one time during the campaign, Lewis was listed as both endorsing and opposing the Safe Zone 4 Kids ballot measure (He now expresses conditional support for the measure.) His statements on policing and homelessness are similarly conflicted: In an interview, he spoke extensively about the need to reduce police spending and action on the unhoused. Yet in a public forum, he reiterated a common talking point about the police having their hands tied when it comes to clearing encampments, and told the Boulder Reporting Lab that he supports the camping ban and enforcement of it.

While open-mindedness and a willingness to listen to all sides are important qualities for elected officials, it might be hard to predict how Lewis will actually vote and who he’ll actually listen to when on City Council.

Lewis disagrees with this assessment. “I’m not a pander-bear,” he said.

His openness to multiple positions and talking points is evidence that he will not be “owned” by any organization or political party, he said, but can help bridge the divide between them. He insists that his votes on council will reflect his stated, progressive values. 

“I don’t think I’m gonna go where the wind blows,” he said. “I do have a little bit of backbone.”

Lewis on the Issues

Housing + Development

Despite some of his past endorsements, Lewis said he is “a huge fan of people density, human-designed density, along traffic corridors.” At the same time, he said, “I love historic preservation. I think that’s a friend of affordability, if it’s done right.” 

“Density is a word I would like to massage and re-introduce to the public. It can be so fun and so exciting and so wholesome. Understandably, PLAN-Boulder is traumatized. It’s like a trigger word for them.”

Specifically, Lewis mentioned co-housing, accessory dwelling units and larger plots of land such as Alpine-Balsam, the airport and Flatirons Golf Course as potential solutions. “Those are the only areas where we can set the terms for affordability,” he said.

Lewis’s position on occupancy limits is ambiguous. He endorsed Bedrooms Are for People, the defeated 2021 city ballot issue to raise them, and said he supported council’s recent vote to allow five unrelated residents in most cases, but also would not be opposed to revisiting the issue and adding in some affordability requirements.

“Landlords won’t lower the rent,” he said. “They’ll just exploit people.”

He would like to see a tax on second homes, or vacant ones, something council (briefly) discussed in 2019. He’s also hopeful that state legislators will try again to lift Colorado’s ban on rent control (last session’s effort failed quickly). At a candidate forum, he mentioned the possibility of converting surplus office space into housing.

Quick q’s: 

Do you support rent stabilization? No. “I support our affordable housing program and doing more.”

Do you support the City Council’s recent vote to increase occupancy limits? Yes. “[I] would amend to include affordability but not limit or kill it.” 

Did you support SB213 (the failed state bill requiring cities to allow certain types of housing and development and overriding local control)? No. “[I support] most everything in it, but we can do [those things] locally.”


In an interview, Lewis was extremely critical of the city’s encampment removals, conducted with some regularity since the camping ban went into effect in 1980. A renewed focus in 2021 put more manpower and money into enforcement, with no discernible reduction in unsanctioned camping.

“We’re throwing millions and millions after the police … to move people around endlessly and not even change anything” he said. “If Bob Yates and their friends have their way, we’ll spend millions more. It’s not going to help to hate on the homeless and throw money at the police.”

But in response to an emailed questionnaire from Boulder Reporting Lab, Lewis said he was “in favor of the camping ban [and] enforcing it,” detailing the crime, drug use and untreated mental illness in encampments.

One consistency between both responses was a desire for less division on the issue.

“If you read the magic” of cities like Houston that have made great strides on reducing homelessness, he said, “the secret sauce was [they] got everyone to stop name-calling or arguing and work together.

Quick q’s:

Do you support the Safe Zones 4 Kids ballot measure? Yes, “but it needs to be paired with actual solutions as mentioned above — transitional campground, day shelter, etc. — or we’ll just keep pointlessly (and worse) moving human beings around at great expense.”

Should the city dedicate more of its money toward services/solutions for homelessness? Yes. “Solutions often save money as with [Safe Outdoor Spaces], Houston, etc. vs. pointless status quo that is [the] worst of both worlds.”

Would you continue the city’s current encampment removal strategy? Yes/No. “I would [do removals] but have a place for [the] homeless to go that is safe and has wraparound services.”

Are encampment removals an effective use of resources to address homelessness? No, “but I would enforce as long as there is a place to go. What we’re doing now is worse than pointless; [it] harms communities and doesn’t help [the] greater public.”

Public Safety, Policing + Oversight

While he criticizes the over-policing of homelessness, Lewis gives officers themselves kudos for their (usually) compassionate handling of encampment removals. While he understands the inclination to push for police as the solution to Boulder’s woes, he thinks it is a misguided approach.

“I think the public safety crowd is well intentioned at [its] core,” he said, “but in many ways they are making public safety worse.”

His big beef with cops is the time they spend “idling in their SUVs. I would love to see much more community policing,” which he defines as “people on bikes.”

Quick q’s:

Should the Police Oversight Panel have more say over officer discipline in the case of misconduct? “They should have a say; [I’m] not sure how much say they have at present.”
(Note: At the Boulder Progressives’ Raucous Caucus candidate forum, Lewis answered “yes” to this question.)

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. “Honestly, [I] don’t know enough about it, though I’ve watched one meeting on it. I’m not clear as to what she did beyond social posts. I like Lisa and appreciate her work to help in Boulder.”

Do you think the police budget is too high? No, “though it could be reprioritized toward more community policing [and] less campground [or] homeless maintenance as solutions are put in place.”
(Note: At the Raucous Caucus, Lewis answered “yes” to this question.)


Lewis is mostly unfamiliar with the city’s budget. In an interview, the only thoughts he offered related to comments about spending on police and homelessness and Boulder’s propensity to approve spending for issues we are passionate about, such as electrical municipalization.

“We invest in the common good, historically,” he said. “I totally disagree with the premise that it’s more expensive to do the right thing.”

“No one is concerned about throwing millions and millions of dollars to the police on that side of the public safety, but the second you start talking about” services, suddenly there’s not enough money.

At candidate forums, Lewis said he was “a big fan of fines to help pay for” open space maintenance. This was in response to a question about balancing preservation with recreation.

Quick q:

Do you support the sales tax extension and arts funding bill on this year’s ballot? Yes. “I would prefer a higher tax that would better support our vital nonprofits and arts community, instead of playing Solomon and cutting ’em in half. That said, I support this compromise and [would] work to increase support going forward.”

Transportation + Parking

Lewis’s transportation priorities are “protected bike lanes [and] disability access,” which “we are not that great” at in Boulder, he said, as well as expanded, all-electric and (if possible) free transit.

“What can we do regionally, statewide, federally? If RTD won’t do it, we need to work with Lafayette, Longmont, et cetera. I’d like to see the Hop, Skip, Jump, et cetera. go nuts.”

Quick q’s:

Would you support a tax or fee to increase public transit frequency and services? “Hell yes.”

Do you support eliminating minimum parking requirements for new housing developments? “Hell yes, but also finding a way to make sure those cars aren’t going to park in the neighborhood, which is the concern.”

These profiles take hours of work: multiple interviews, attending public events, fact-checking candidate claims and statements. If you value this in-depth information, please consider paying for it.

— Shay Castle, @shayshinecastle

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