On Aug 23, the nomination period for Boulder City Council candidates came to a close. Ten candidates have officially filed their campaign with the Election Committee, with five council seats in play.
The election comes at a time when rising homelessness in the city is on many Boulderites’ minds. A recent data analysis found that in 2021, homelessness in Boulder County rose for the third year in a row.
Following this, City Council voted in April to spend $2.7 million on initiatives to bolster Boulder’s camping ban. Several 2021 candidates have continued to advocate for more aggressive enforcement of the camping ban.
In July, the ACLU sent a letter to Boulder officials arguing that the city’s treatment of the unhoused is inhumane and unconstitutional. The ACLU wrote that Boulder’s system “makes shelter available to only a limited few, and with the other, criminalizes those forced to sleep outdoors under the false narrative that they are resistant to services. The scheme betrays a governmental aspiration ultimately to drive unhoused residents out of Boulder.”
Another key issue this year is the Bedrooms Are For People ballot initiative. The initiative aims to change Boulder occupancy laws, which currently make it illegal for more than three unrelated people to live in the same house. The Bedrooms Are For People campaign argues that the occupancy laws create unnecessary economic hardship, as well as negatively impacting the environment by forcing more people to commute from outside of Boulder.
More broadly affordable housing is at the forefront of this election. House prices have consistently risen in Boulder over the past several years. This year, Boulder’s median real estate sales price reached $1,557,500, having risen more than 50% since last year, according to the Boulder Daily Camera. All candidates have come out in support of creating affordable housing in some form.
Additionally, the election is taking place while Boulder is developing its Police Master Plan, which allows the community to give input in redefining policing in the city. Many issues within the department were put under greater scrutiny in 2019, following an incident in which a Boulder police officer pulled a gun on Zayd Atkinson, a Black Naropa University student, while Atkinson was picking up trash in his yard. Many feel that the incident was the result of racial profiling. Additionally, the officer was found to have violated multiple department policies in the encounter.
Several candidates have called for funds to be divested from the police department and redistributed to other public services. Others stand firm in their belief that the police need to be given even more money, especially for the purposes of enforcing the camping ban.
Here’s some information about each candidate for Boulder City Council:
A freelance astronomer and photographer, Matt Benjamin entered Boulder politics with his first run for Boulder City Council in 2017. Additionally, in 2020, he ran the Our Mayor Our Choice campaign, which sought to bring ranked-choice voting to Boulder mayoral elections. The ballot measure was ultimately approved, with 78.14% voting in favor.
If elected, Benjamin wants to go even further, and institute ranked-choice voting for Boulder City Council elections, as well.
Benjamin is pro-affordable housing, and wants to use the land recently annexed from CU South to build housing units aimed at CU Boulder’s students and faculty.
“With most of CU’s workforce living outside the city, this could be a way to reduce our collective carbon footprint by reducing in-commuting,” he writes.
Additionally, he has previously spoken on behalf of Boulder’s homeless community, tweeting, “We need to have greater empathy for the unhoused.” His campaign platform includes providing accessible shelter, food, and hygiene to the unhoused.
“With regards to specifically what we can do to help our unhoused residents, we must look at sympathetic ways of creating greater services, we should be providing greater access to showers and hygiene, we should be looking at where they can actually live rather than criminalizing the act of just being unhoused,” Benjamin said during a candidate forum last Wednesday. “We also have to absolutely focus on our mental health and our addiction services … and we have a suite of opportunities to try.”
“What’s driving me to run is really … looking at our community and realizing we have a lot of challenges in front of us and a lot of these challenges are not unexpected,” Benjamin told the Boulder Daily Camera. “They didn’t just show up. They’ve been present for years or decades and we just haven’t been a proactive government.”
Michael Christy has worked as a family lawyer since 1997, in addition to previously serving as an adjunct professor at San Diego School of Law. He also worked as a volunteer at Boulder Shelter for the Homeless and Boulder’s Community Mediation and Resolution Center.
“As a certified, practicing mediator with deep roots in public service, I am uniquely positioned to work collaboratively with community members and other city leaders to take positive action on the challenges facing Boulder,” Christy writes. “I believe in the power of the free exchange of ideas and thoughtful discussion, paired with open mindedness to accomplish real change in Boulder.”’
While Christy, like many of his peers, supports affordable housing in Boulder, he says he wants to make sure it is done correctly: “In California, I witnessed first-hand the impacts of rapid and large-scale development without adequate planning. The strategic growth I envision includes a variety of housing types that meet the needs of people in all stages of life and are affordable for low, moderate, and middle-income households.”
Christy supports Boulder’s camping ban, but does not think it is adequate on its own: in his opinion, it must be paired with robust mental health services. He also wants “a long-term strategy, including county, regional, and state collaboration, to address the unhoused crisis.”
Christy has also prioritized community safety in his campaign platform. He has spoken in support of community input with city officials in police reform as part of the Police Department Master Plan.
Lifelong Boulder resident Jacques Decalo joined the race seemingly without having made a public announcement last week. Decalo, who is 25-years-old, is the Creative Director at Hemp Design US, a startup that intends to “bring elegance and innovation to the most iconic and influential natural resource [hemp] in human history.”
As someone who grew up in Boulder, Decalo feels that he would bring a unique perspective to City Council, especially with regards to the housing crisis.
“Most of my friends that grew up in Boulder can’t afford to live in Boulder or they have trouble finding housing,” Decalo told the Boulder Daily Camera.
Decalo also works for Tesla, something that he has said drives him towards finding sustainable solutions.
“I believe Boulder should be running off solar. There’s no reason we can’t,” Decalo said during Wednesday’s candidate forum. “We get 300 days of sunshine. With battery capacity now, we could be off the grid.”
During the forum, Decalo also spoke in support of earning passive income for the city via cryptocurrency mining, citing San Francisco’s use of CityCoins.
Affordable housing is one of Lauren Folkerts’s key issues. As an architect specializing in sustainable design, she believes she can bring a unique and necessary perspective on housing to City Council. If elected, Folkerts also wishes to tackle climate change and social justice from this perspective, as she feels that “the housing crisis, climate crisis, and social injustice are all inextricably linked.”
While none of these issues are unique to Boulder, Folkerts feels that Boulder is in a unique position to set a standard in dealing with them.
“What makes Boulder unique is an appetite for taking on big challenges,” Folkerts writes. “We need to both advocate for increased regional, state, and federal action, and simultaneously push solutions at the local level. We should not be a community that settles for mediocre achievement.”
Public safety is another key issue for Folkerts. However, she wants to turn to crime prevention rather than law enforcement by investing in social services and counseling. She believes that the services Boulder’s disadvantaged people need already exist, and that they need to be expanded so more people can make use of them.
“Right now Boulder has no day shelter, no place where service providers and people in need of service can easily and regularly connect, no place outside of the court system to have mail or important documents stored,” Folkerts writes. “Because of this we are missing opportunities to connect people with existing services.”
With 20 years’ experience as an investor in the financial and housing markets, Steve Rosenblum feels that he is well suited to handle the issues troubling Boulder.
“I understand how city policies create or constrain housing and economic opportunity and have also learned that sometimes the best decision is not to build,” Rosenblum writes. “The highest authority is what’s best for the community.”
Rosenblum is also focused on “public safety and homelessness.” In particular, his campaign website states, “I am a firm supporter of the camping ban, tent ban, propane tank ban, and restaffing our depleted Police Department, which has lost 43 officers since May 2020.”
“Ignoring people while they struggle with addiction and victimize the community…is NOT compassionate to them OR the city. And it’s not compassionate to let people with severe mental illness wander the streets without effective treatment,” his website also states.
“The only solution is housing,” Rosenblum said at last Wednesday’s candidate forum. “… Boulder spends $23 million a year in housing and human services, eight times the amount per capita as our surrounding communities. Our other communities need to step up, and we need to make sure we spend our funds as efficiently and as effectively as possible.”
Rosenblum is a member of Safer Boulder, an organization that says it is dedicated to “nurturing a safe and welcoming environment” in Boulder. Rosenblum says that Safer was created to deal with “accelerating crime in our neighborhoods, drug abuse, and environmental degradation in our public spaces.”
In June 2020, Safer Boulder created a petition lobbying the Boulder City Council for greater enforcement of the camping ban, as well as increased police patrols in public areas such as the Pearl Street Mall. The petition currently has more than 8,000 signatures.
As the Director of Operations at CU Boulder’s brain imaging research facility, Dr. Nicole Speer works with United Campus Workers Colorado, a union for CU system employees. She is also active within Boulder’s First Congregational United Church of Christ, as well as the Boulder County branch of the NAACP.
Since before this election cycle, Speer has been an outspoken advocate for racial justice. In March 2019, shortly after a police officer’s alleged racial profiling of Zayd Atkinson, she wrote an article in the Boulder Daily Camera criticizing Boulder’s enabling of structural racism.
“White Boulder has enabled a community in which people of color find their lives perceived as being worth less than our own,” she wrote. “If we are committed to making our community inclusive, we each must take an earnest look at the ways we perpetuate racism in our community, notice our role in societal structures that put black and brown lives at risk, and stop believing in the fairy tale of a post-racial society.”
Inclusivity in Boulder is one of the core themes of Speer’s bid for City Council. She has made numerous tweets in support of the LGBTQ community, and her campaign website’s banner incorporates the color scheme of the bisexual pride flag. Speer has also called for all city communications to be translated into Spanish, as well as for interpreters to be present at public events.
“We’ve left a lot of people out of our decision-making processes,” Speer told the Boulder Daily Camera. “We’ve got a city that’s working for some people but not everyone.”
A retired software engineer, David Takahashi has been extensively involved in environmental activism. He is currently involved with multiple groups, including the Lexicon of Sustainability and the Denver/Boulder regenerative hub.
If elected, Takahashi has made it clear that climate action and sustainability will be his primary focus. Takahashi has a unique perspective on the issue, having lost his home to the Fourmile Canyon Wildfire of 2010.
“We’re in a climate emergency, and it’s basically all hands on deck,” Takahashi told the Boulder Daily Camera.
Takahashi also wants to prioritize public engagement with City Council processes, as well as trying to bridge the gap between opposed sides.
“We actually are very willing and able to find common ground and to come up with solutions that wouldn’t otherwise see the light of day,” Takahashi said.
During Boulder Progressives’ Raucous Caucus, in which prospective City Council candidates gathered to discuss their views on key issues, Takahashi was reportedly the only attendee to take a hard stance against allowing accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in regions of Boulder where they are not currently allowed.
Proponents of ADUs say that they create flexible and affordable housing while giving homeowners an additional source of income.
Mark Wallach’s name will be familiar to those who follow Boulder politics as the only incumbent member of City Council to run for reelection. A real estate developer, Wallach has made housing issues his primary focus. He has previously pushed for Boulder Municipal Airport to be converted into affordable housing.
Although he is pro-affordable housing, Wallach has previously spoken against housing co-ops in Boulder. In a 2016 op-ed in the Boulder Daily Camera, Wallach wrote that co-ops would “degrade property values […] put more cars on the street, create noise issues and ramp up tensions among neighbors,” and that they would mostly be populated by “a transient population with no roots in the neighborhood they are diminishing.”
Wallach has publicly voiced full support for the City of Boulder’s camping ban. While he concedes that “the great majority of the homeless do not engage in criminal activity,” his recommendations regarding homelessness in Boulder mainly pertain to improving the police’s ability to enforce the aforementioned bans. This would include increasing the Boulder Police Department’s budget, according to Wallach.
Additionally, during Boulder Progressives’ Raucous Caucus, Wallach was the only attendee who disapproved of reallocating police funds to other city needs, according to Boulder Beat.
Dan Williams is a litigation attorney who has previously volunteered with the Boulder branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). More recently, Williams worked with the Bedrooms Are For People campaign in handling their lawsuit against the city. His platform primarily concerns affordable housing, social justice, and climate change.
Williams has also stated his opposition to Boulder’s current camping ban.
“The evidence does not support Boulder’s current policy of using police to break up homeless encampments, because according to Boulder’s own Police Chief, that policy has failed to reduce homelessness and instead just moves people from place to place,” Williams wrote. “Research shows that treating unhoused people as criminals only makes it harder for them to get back on their feet.”
Additionally, Williams has expressed a desire to divest funds from the Boulder Police Department and “[d]eploy social workers and other civilian professionals instead of police officers to address social problems and quality-of-life issues.”
Though she is a small business owner, Tara Winer has stated her intent to put her personal interests aside when necessary, if she wins a seat on the Boulder City Council. In addition to her business background, she has experience in community engagement, having spent the past year serving on both the Boulder Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and the Downtown Boulder Community Initiatives Board.
“Through over 25 years of creating and running a successful business, I have developed an expertise in forming partnerships, listening to people, understanding problems, and developing solutions,” Winer writes. “I would be honored to utilize these skills in the service of the city I love.”
Winer’s key issues are economic growth in Boulder — in particular, she wants to support small businesses — and community safety. She wants to extend a non-police security presence, such as Boulder’s Ambassador and Ranger programs, to Boulder’s business areas. These programs have been pitched as unarmed alternatives to policing.
Winer has spoken in support of enforcing Boulder’s camping ban; she believes that allowing the unhoused to camp in Boulder “put[s] a bandaid on a complex crisis that needs our attention.” She holds that homelessness is best addressed through mental health services and substance abuse programs.
“We must start with compassion. We must treat people as individuals,” Winer writes. “There is not one reason why people fall into homelessness and so there is no one-size-fits-all solution.”
CLARIFICATION: This article was updated on September 2 to clarify Rosenblum’s specific stances on initiatives related to public safety and homelessness.
Correction: Zayd Atkinson was not physically assaulted as originally reported. A Boulder police officer did pull a gun on him while he was picking up trash, in addition to calling for backup.