Opinion: Yes on 302 – Prioritize kids’ safety around schools and paths

Friday, Oct. 20, 2023

Want a different take? Read arguments against 302

By Jennifer Rhodes
Safe Zones 4 Kids 

Safe Zones 4 Kids is a group advocating for passage of measure 302

Ballot item 302, Safe Zones 4 Kids, as written in the code, says that the removal of prohibited items including tents and propane tanks would be subject to prioritized removal from within 500 feet of schools and 50 feet of multi-use pathways or sidewalks. 

It is an amendment to existing code, BRC 8-3-21, an emergency ordinance put in place to protect the city from public safety hazards associated with propane tanks and tents in shared public spaces. If 302 doesn’t pass, 8-3-21 would still be in effect, albeit with less prioritization for areas where our kids have to be. 

Under the city’s Safe and Managed Public Spaces program, data shows that teams have cleared 197,400 tons of debris, 81,000 needles and 352 propane tanks. Based on the evidence, this public safety measure appears to be working and is sorely needed to protect people from harm and exposure to used needles and propane tank explosions until we address the broader issues. 

While the successes of the SAMPS program are laudable, the method of prioritization that guides this work is highly variable and subject to interpretation. Here’s just one example of what we mean: 

In March of this year, two propane tanks exploded next to Boulder High School. In response, student athletes using the path were evacuated, and Boulder Fire Department responded to a tent on fire. Fortunately, no one was injured. 

This occurred after parents and other community members had submitted reports to the city about the tent and propane tank locations for weeks prior to the explosions and after an SZ4K committee member reached out directly to BVSD and the city numerous times. This is not prioritization. This represents a failure to prioritize the safety of students around schools. 

Immediately after these explosions, SAMPS did begin prioritizing removal of prohibited items around school. The areas around BHS remained clear until the summer, proving that prioritizing areas around school can be done effectively. 

Ballot item 302 is not about what work is done or how it is done. It is about when and where the work is done first. Without ballot item 302, prioritization of areas around schools and pathways are left to the whim of the city in an opaque process.

The sole purpose of the SZ4K initiative is to prioritize removal of prohibited items from around schools and pathways to schools when the city conducts cleanup work. The ballot item makes no recommendation about how the city implements and enforces the measure. 

The language of the code includes the words “subject to prioritized removal” as it pertains to schools and pathways. These words compel the city to interpret the code and then implement and enforce the ordinance based on best practices and real-time risk assessments. 

It does not say the city shall remove all prohibited items from within 50 feet of all sidewalks, all at once. We have to rely on the city to assess where the cleanups need to happen most. 

What we want is for areas around schools, where our young people have to be, to get higher priority than they do now. Putting distance between dangerous items and students mitigates risk and increases safety of students using the pathways and navigating the areas around schools. 

Ballot item 302 is not a solution to the substance use and mental health crisis in our community. It is a solution to the safety risks to our children and a policy to ensure the safety of our young people while the city works on practical strategies to support those experiencing drug and mental health crises prominent in our public spaces. 

The SZ4K group is wholeheartedly in support of solutions, and the ballot measure does not prevent any strategies or solutions from being developed and implemented. It also does not prevent anyone from getting the help they need. 

While the community works on solutions, we have to ensure the safety of all of our community members — sheltered and unsheltered. Our unsheltered neighbors are 3 times more likely to be victimized than sheltered residents. Incidents of assault, overdose and escalating drug use are rampant. Solutions to public safety are not in conflict with solutions to the drug and mental health crisis. We can and should pursue both. 

Ballot item 302 is not an either/or proposition. A ‘no’ vote for this measure is not a vote in favor of solutions, because there aren’t any proposed by the opposition on the ballot. Opponents who do not want the work of removing prohibited items to happen at all would need to undo an existing ordinance. That is not up for debate on the current ballot. 

A ‘yes’ vote lets our community and our leaders know the people are in favor of prioritizing the safety of our young people around schools and on the pathways traveling to and from schools. 

Jennifer Rhodes is a parent and organizer of Safe Zones 4 Kids, a citizen petition that resulted in this year’s ballot measure.

From the April 13, 2023 presentation to City Council:

  • Encampment clusters in 10% of City geography = 31% of crime
  • Violent crime 3.2x higher within one block of encampments
  • 70 crimes per week
  • 50% of warrants served in encampment clusters
  • Unhoused victimized at a rate 3.5x housed.
  • More than half of high utilizers have criminal history of drug and alcohol charges
  • 36% of campsites contained needles in clean-ups from January 2022  to February 2023
  • 352 propane tanks recovered from January 2022 to February 2023

This op-ed does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Boulder Beat

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