Wednesday, Oct.11, 2023
“Two years ago,” Terri Brncic said, “I was just another Boulder resident; someone who was paying attention but not engaged on a day-to-day basis.”
That all changed in March, when a propane tank exploded at an encampment next to Boulder High School’s football field. Brncic’s son was present for the explosion, though thankfully unhurt.
That event made Brncic realize that “I couldn’t sit by any longer.”
“We had been reporting those tents to the city for almost two weeks,” she said, “and they took no action.”
Brncic, 53, joined with other parents of BHS students to circulate a petition, Safe Zones 4 Kids, to force the city to remove encampments near schools more quickly than in other locations. (Sidewalks and multi-use paths will also be prioritized.) It made the ballot; voters will weigh the measure this fall.
“This is the first step in ensuring that our kids have safe passage to and from school,” she said.
The second step? Running for City Council, on a platform of public safety. That primarily means addressing unsheltered, chronic homelessness.
Brncic’s top priority is a dual policy of mandatory shelter and/or treatment for substance use, combined with a formal policy for “repeat offenders” who decline voluntary treatment or shelter. Removing people from public spaces is a necessary “short-term, stopgap measure,” she said.
“We need to do it, because people need to be safe in our spaces,” she said. “It never was a solution to homelessness. It is public safety.”
Brncic is frustrated by statements from other candidates who offer a more expansive definition of safety to include things like teen suicide and sexual assault, or the high rate of injury and death due to traffic accidents, and who point out that encampment removals are condemned by advocates for the unhoused as harmful and counterproductive.
At a candidate forum hosted by PLAN-Boulder County, she chastised her opponents for “perpetuating this false narrative that there are different issues or definitions of safety.”
“I would like to see leaders let go of their political ideologies and really serve the people of this community,” she said.
In an interview, Brncic explained further. Such rhetoric is “just irresponsible” and “creating a situation where it’s pitting community members against one another.”
“Our leaders need to be modeling good behavior,” she said. “They need to listen to each other, see both sides, and give some perspective.”
That’s the role Brncic sees herself playing in the City Council. She fashions herself after councilman Mark Wallach “in a lot of ways,” she said: pragmatic, no-nonsense and common sense; someone who will “bring the facts to the table.”
These characteristics will help with all of Boulder’s big problems, Brncic believes, from affordable housing to climate change.
“We’re at a pretty big inflection point,” she said. “The leaders that take over are really going to decide the path Boulder is on. I think Boulder has taken a wrong turn, and I’d like to see it get back on track.
“We need leaders who believe in responsible decision-making, who are relentlessly focused on outcomes and willing to change course if things aren’t working, and who prioritize action over ideology.”
Top work plan priorities
- Creating a safe indoor shelter policy. That includes formalizing camping-ban enforcement for repeat offenders, better utilization of shelter beds and detox facilities and court-ordered treatment for people with substance use disorders.
- Occupancy limit reform. Require rent reductions in exchange for additional occupants.
- E-bike policies and protections, including education, training and licensing requirements, better infrastructure and speed limits on multi-use paths, and “bike cages around schools and commute areas … bike valets in commercial zones” and bike registration
Why you might want to vote for Brncic
Brncic is smart and well-informed about Boulder’s challenges and potential solutions. She has remained consistent in her beliefs and values throughout the campaign, and will be a strong voice for constituents who share them.
Her background in accounting and finance — by day, she’s a chief financial officer — could come in handy on City Council: Boulder’s budget is often one of the hardest things for newly elected officials to wrap their heads around.
Why you might not want to vote for Brncic
More than other candidates, Brncic seems less receptive, understanding and empathetic of those who disagree with her. She mischaracterizes the positions of her political opponents and is quick to dismiss or downplay information and opinions that contradict or complicate her claims. She reacted strongly to criticism in an interview, displaying a defensiveness that no other candidate did.
It’s difficult to hear negative feedback from strangers, and there’s no requirement for elected officials to embrace their opponents. But these traits are particularly ironic when viewed against Brncic’s own statements about data-driven decision making and the need to stop dividing the community with ideological arguments.
Brncic disagreed with this criticism of her approach and platform. She can change her mind (she mentioned the Housing First strategy for ending homelessness as a notable example) and has the “ability to view data objectively and use it to inform my actions.”
As for seeking out diverse opinions, Brncic wrote in an email, following an interview:
“Since embarking on this campaign in June, I have met with over 70 people” from a variety of organizations, who represent a number of issues and viewpoints. “I looked at each of these meetings as an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the issues and they were instrumental in helping formulate my platform.
“I will continue to meet with community members over the coming months in order to continue this exploration of the key issues that matter in Boulder.”
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.
Brncic on the issues
Housing + Development
Brncic is not a fan of “building just to build,” but of clearly stated goals and measurable outcomes. Boulder’s affordable housing requirements are “working really, really well” for lower-income groups, but they’re not helping middle-income earners or even necessarily in-commuters.
To that end, she would like to redo the 2014 study of in-commuters to determine what type and price of housing could convince them to move into Boulder.
“We need to dust that off,” she said, “and then craft our affordable housing around those goals.”
Brncic supports a number of housing options — cottage courts, infill, development of the Planning Reserve in North Boulder and the municipal airport, and upzoning to allow more density in neighborhoods (although “I don’t want it on every single lot”). What matters more than what or where we build, she said, is that we are “building with affordability,” meaning “explicit mandates” to keep costs down.
She also said Boulder needs “a seat at the table” with the University of Colorado, although how the city would accomplish that is unclear. (CU, a state institution, outranks Boulder in key legal areas.)
“We can’t allow them to make unilateral decisions around enrollment and housing,” Brncic said. “They need to allow us to have a voice.”
Do you support rent stabilization? No. “ Rent control does not work.”
Do you support the City Council’s recent vote to increase occupancy limits? No
Would you support a ballot measure to undo that 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. “Boulder has demonstrated exceptional leadership. We ultimately need to be making decisions for what’s best for Boulder.”
Brncic would like Boulder to establish a Homeless Advisory Board to research, recommend and analyze policies, programs and approaches. It would include members with lived experience, mental health experts, representatives from area nonprofits, and members of the police’s Homeless Outreach Team and co-responder team. She also mentioned outside “subject matter experts” and the “need to bring other perspectives that aren’t totally aligned with” the Housing First model, which ties all services to providing shelter first and foremost.
The city has already convened various working groups on issues of homelessness, but “I’d like to see them formalize that a little bit,” Brncic said. “It’s crazy to me that we have a landmarks board but we don’t have some board that’s actually focused on homelessness.”
For her part, Brncic would like to see better utilization of the existing shelter (as discussed in her work plan priorities) as opposed to sanctioned encampments or other outdoor sheltering options currently being discussed by elected officials.
“We have to, as a community, agree that indoor shelter is better for everyone,” she said.
In public statements, Brncic has been critical of the Housing First strategy. In an interview, she said a conversation with the Boulder Shelter CEO led her to support it as an intervention, but she thinks Boulder needs additional solutions for people with substance abuse disorders. That includes supportive, sober transitional housing where they can “gradually work their way towards a more stable place so they can then successfully live in permanent supportive housing.”
Brncic would also like to see court-ordered substance abuse treatment. She is critical of the Municipal Court’s successful diversion program. (It waives tickets for camping and other non-violent, municipal offenses in exchange for people making progress toward being housed, which ultimately reduces interaction with police, jail and courts by as much as 99%, according to court data.)
“The community court right now has been a policy of just sort of ripping up tickets if individuals will go get food stamps or go get a driver’s license,” she said. “We have an opportunity here to really start pushing folks towards treatment rather than throwing up our hands and expecting severely compromised and severely vulnerable people to find their own way to a solution.”
Any solutions will need more support — financial and otherwise — from higher levels of government, Brncic said. She was disappointed to see Boulder County Commissioners not commit to funding a mental health facility like the one Larimer County voters approved.
“The city can’t do this alone,” she said. “We are carrying more than our share, and the county needs to step up.”
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. “Encampment removals do not address homelessness, they address public safety. Yes, if the question was “Are they effective to address public safety?”
Note: This question came from the Boulder Progressives’ Raucous Caucus event.
Public Safety, Policing + Oversight
Most of Brncic’s public safety strategies are the same as her preferred approach to homelessness (covered above). She takes a hard line on crime, including unsanctioned camping.
“Criminal behavior needs to be criminalized,” Brncic said. “At some point, we need to set deterrents. We need to stop the cycle of crime” by making sure there are “meaningful consequences.”
She is full of praise for Boulder’s “exceptional” police department and Chief Maris Herold in particular (“one of the most progressive police chiefs in the country”) for her use of data and adoption of internal reforms. She wishes the broader community were as supportive.
“The police department feels very unsupported here,” she said. Nationally, “there is racism, but I think we have to be careful about spreading that narrative,” which doesn’t take into account Herold’s reforms.
“They have put in place a lot of measures to ensure that that kind of behavior doesn’t happen,” Brncic said. “No system is perfect; there will always be bad actors. If the data still comes back that we have not made improvements, then we absolutely need to course-correct. But we have to allow these reforms to have some runway before declaring them a failure.”
Brncic was very critical of Lisa Sweeney-Miran’s appointment to the Police Oversight Panel. She supports the POP and its work, she said, but wants panelists who reject “extremes” and “seek the middle.”
(Some quick context: Sweeney-Miran’s appointment was opposed by Herold and the police union, based on her social media posts criticizing police action and recommending a book on the police abolition movement. Her removal was protested by past and current POP members as well as the selection committee.)
“It is very important that we have a Police Oversight Panel in Boulder,” Brncic said. “What I object to is the politicization of the body in furtherance of individual agendas.”
Should the Police Oversight Panel have more authority over officers found guilty of misconduct? No
Do you think the police budget is too high? No
Brncic sees two areas where Boulder’s budgeting could be improved: Clearer communication about tradeoffs and more evaluation of and emphasis on the effectiveness of existing spending.
“You have to really be clear about prioritization, and really holding to your priorities,” she said. “Because inevitably, what ends up happening is, you agree on a certain set of things at the beginning of the year, and then everybody’s like, ‘I want to do this, I want to do this’ and then we’re not going in this direction.
“Things get approved and then people sort of forget about them and they’re on autopilot, and every year they get reapproved and nobody ever really revisits” whether or not the programs are actually working.
“When we decide to spend money on something, we’re defunding something else. And so you end up waking up two years later, realizing that our rec centers are completely underfunded and falling apart. And that’s because three years ago, we decided to move money from X to Y.”
Do you support the sales tax extension and arts funding measure on this year’s ballot? Yes
Transportation + Parking
“Boulder is a biking town,” Brncic said, “and we definitely want to do everything we can to keep people out of their cars. People have an appetite for it, and so we really have to respond to that and build” the necessary infrastructure.
That includes bike storage (to guard against theft) and “keeping the multi-use paths clean” and “crafting rules around e-bikes” to ensure safety.
For transit, Brncic said Boulder can’t rely on RTD to restore or increase service.
“We’ve got to be looking out for ourselves,” she said. Brncic supports “expanding our HOP service and potentially partnering with the county” to look at other local options. “We really have to start investing in our local and quality infrastructure.”
Although she answered “Yes” to a yes/no question about eliminating parking minimums for new housing developments, Brncic said the ideal approach would be more gradual and in balance with increasing transit and other options.
“It’s a little bit of a chicken/egg situation here, right? We don’t have the transportation infrastructure at this point, and so it’s sort of unfair to tell everybody to just suck it up and figure it out, but at the same time, you have to start somewhere. We should be agreeing to bring the minimums down at the same time that we’re increasing the transportation infrastructure.”
That’s the right approach for all our transportations strategies, Brncic said.
“Ten years from now, our whole transportation landscape will look a lot different. But I say that with one huge caveat: We have to be really careful that we don’t burden our working families that rely on their cars on a daily basis to get to work.”
Do you support eliminating parking minimums for new housing development? Yes
Would you support a tax or fee to increase public transit frequency and service? Yes
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— Shay Castle, @shayshinecastle