Opinion: Boulder’s biggest B.S. moments of the past 5 years

A slide from a public presentation on the dangers of 5G. City Council in 2019 held a public hearing and vote on the matter in March 2019.

Friday, Dec. 29, 2023

As I wind down Boulder Beat, I’m looking back at the past five years. In that time, I witnessed (and reported on) a lot of WTF moments.

Here are five that really stand out.

5.) Mirabai Nagle comparing killing prairie dogs to the Holocaust

I didn’t plan to report on this, aside from my Twitter thread of the brief, pre-meeting exchange between Nagle and councilman Mark Wallach. Not because it’s not newsworthy, but because I’m not a big fan of inflammatory stories that don’t accomplish a whole lot other than pissing a bunch of people off. I wrote what she said so people know that she said it, and I was ready to move on.

But like these things tend to, it blew up. Nagle issued a sort-of-but-not-really apology, putting more blame on “the media” (Read: me) than herself. She continued to use images of prairie dogs as her Zoom background during virtual meetings for the rest of her time on city council.

4.) Landmarking Marpa House

As a victim of sexual violence, this was personally upsetting to me. Survivors of the abuse at Buddhist organization Shambhala, Marpa’s former owner, asked council not to landmark, but council did anyway.

I and my fellow survivors are used to our experiences being dismissed and downplayed. There’s always something more important to consider, people say. In this case, it was “not the building’s fault that people may have done bad things” there, as then-mayor Sam Weaver said.

The vote was 7-1. Only councilwoman Rachel Friend recognized how much it could hurt survivors to preserve and honor a place connected with the worst moments of their lives.

Like I said, I’m used to people not caring. But it still hurts, every time.

3.) Mary Young forcing John Tayer to publicly apologize

I was at the Nov. 19, 2019, meeting, tweeting out the open comment speakers per usual. John Tayer, head of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce, got up to speak.

He didn’t address sales tax or city policies or their impacts on businesses. He was apologizing to councilwoman Mary Young for accidentally double-booking and missing a meeting with her (not for the first time; Tayer is notoriously schedule-challenged).

It was truly bizarre: A public apology for a private matter. I followed up and found out that Tayer had been compelled to apologize to preserve his (and the Chamber’s) working relationship with Young and city council.

I’ve still never seen anything like it. Elected officials forcing someone to publicly grovel for a private mistake. Watching people use their power in that way left a bitter taste in my mouth.

2.) Hypocrisy, generally, but particularly on housing and homelessness

I knew nothing about either topic before I moved to Boulder. In fact, I sat out the 2017 local election because the primary focus was growth and development, and neither side’s arguments convinced me.

But then I became a city government reporter, and suddenly housing and homelessness were two of the biggest topics I had to cover. I started learning: reading studies, interviewing experts and researching solutions.

People who know me — really know me — know that nothing upsets me more than hypocrisy. It’s not that I’m particularly tied to any outcome or opinion, and I don’t care about housing or homelessness any more than your average engaged, informed and compassionate reporter. What frustrates me is how much we know about both and simply aren’t doing (for reasons other than efficacy or cost).

This was never more evident than during my first few years covering Boulder’s City Council. They appointed people opposed to development to the board governing development, passing over actual experts in the fields of planning and design; put all homeowners on the housing board — despite the fact that Boulder is 50% renters; approved a costly flood control project that didn’t meet their own standards just to prevent housing from being built; used incredibly questionable data to justify a crackdown on people living in public spaces and generally refused to admit that anything was wrong with their approach to homelessness, all the while quietly adding services they’d previously insisted weren’t necessary and perpetuating long-disproved, harmful beliefs about unhoused people.

Sometimes, I love Boulder. Other times, I remember that this is the town that fought housing for homeless kids. (And then put one of the chief opponents on the board overseeing the building of, among other things, housing.)

I’m not saying those above perspectives aren’t valid or important to include: They are. I truly believe there is a place for everyone. But for a long time, Boulder elevated those voices to the exclusion of all else — and never questioned why things just kept getting worse.

1.) Petitioning and ballot bullshit

This one bothered me so much that I wrote a 3,500-word story about it.

Nothing, nothing stunned me as much as watching the city give incorrect advice to petitioners and then vote to change the rules in the middle of signature gathering, effectively keeping the initiatives off the ballot based on the city’s own faulty guidelines. Unless it was their subsequent vote to advance one of the petitions to ballots but kill the other one. 

Watching city council pick and choose which citizen efforts deserved a vote and which didn’t was absolutely gobsmacking to me. As I wrote at the time, the whole point of direct democracy is that it’s what people do when they can’t get their elected officials to do what they want.

It was particularly galling to see council members try to justify their actions after having spent months listening to them espouse the values of public participation and the will of the people. I guess I was still new enough to not know just how full of shit politicians can be.

Don’t worry: I’ve since learned my lesson.

Dishonorable mentions: The city’s failed efforts to bring a restaurant to Boulder Reservoir. Spending two meetings talking about the dangers of 5G — (which most of the speakers enumerated on while reading from their cellphones). Anything and everything involving prairie dogs. Councilwoman Young telling a formerly unhoused applicant to the Housing Advisory Board — who earned college degrees in housing policy and related issues! — that she was a better fit for the Human Relations Commission, a place council tends to stick “diverse” applicants and then ignore their input. (I could write a whole other section on the marginalization of certain city boards.)

— Shay Castle can now be reached at scastle@boulderweekly.com


2 Comments Leave a comment

  1. My thought is that the Muni boondoggle tops the list. For example claiming that they could take Xcel facilities and customers outside of the city. Dumb as a rock.

  2. An amazing list. Rather than long-winded editorials, highlighting BS vividly identifies major innate maladies. Great work! And agree with Patrick Murphy – we spent $13 million(?) on lawyers and consultants without saving a single gram of carbon emissions – the hot air coming from Boulder was so dramatic it may have increased global warming.

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