BARHA Question 5: Loudest - Boulder Area Rental Housing Association

BARHA Question 5:  Often it is the loudest people that have influence over council decisions, but those that are happy or indifferent to proposals stay at home.  What are your proposed solutions to bring all stakeholders to the table not just the loudest? 

Aaron Brockett:  It’s important to consider all opinions in decision making. The voices of those that come to speak at council meetings are certainly important, but outreach to the entire community is also important. A recent example of that was our Open Space Master Plan process, where we made sure to get input from many people, including folks that often don’t engage in city processes. The result was a plan that took all perspectives into account and was adopted with no opposition from the community

Rachel Friend:  I’m grateful for this question, and for the way you’ve framed it. In some cases, it’s not just the loudest — it’s the most connected. I am a co-chair of South Boulder Creek Action Group, and we have been advocating for flood mitigation for years. Our health and safety issue should have been a straight shot to completion (initial berm was slated to be built in 2018). But due to optics and politics and special interests’ concerns, we cannot get this urgent project moving forward. It sort of *looks* like it’s moving forward – but we have yet to settle on a concept, let alone a design or blueprint or annexation. I have experience as an attorney in mediator roles bringing stakeholders to the table to work through thorny issues. I believe stakeholder engagement is crucial and that we make the best decisions when we have maximal input from people who will be impacted by decisions. As a city, we need to LISTEN, and HEAR, and ENGAGE. At the end of the day, though, tough decisions need to be made. We cannot please everyone, and we cannot let the loudest voices drown out the calls for urgently needed projects to move forward.

Bob Yates:  I believe that the premise of the question is flawed. While I cannot speak for other council members, during my four years on city council I have undertaken the following to ensure that all voices have the opportunity to be heard:

  • Immediately after being elected to council in 2015, I rented an office at my own expense and began meeting one-on-one with between 10 to 20 constituents a week, as they requested. At the end of last year, I gave up the rented office (due to increased expense) and now meet with constituents in the Municipal Building. I estimate that, over the course of the last four years, I have met with more than 3,000 individuals.
  • I read each one of the more than 10,000 emails that I receive from members of the community each year. And I respond to nearly all of
  • Each month, I prepare and circulate to 4,000 subscribing residents a newsletter called the Boulder Bulletin, in which I explain every city council vote I take on major issues and I describe upcoming council decisions, asking residents to weigh in. In response, scores do, each
  • In 2018, I initiated Chats with Council, a regular opportunity for residents to meet with council members in schools, churches, and rec centers to have open-ended discussions about issues that matter to
  • This year, I initiated Walks with Council, a pedestrian version of

I believe that my council colleagues are equally accessible, in ways that work best for them and their constituents. Those who believe that council members listen to only the “loudest voices” have perhaps not availed themselves of these opportunities. They should.

Junie Joseph:  From an equity standpoint, we need to move away from paying so much attention to the loudest voices in the room, who tend to be people of privilege. We saw that with Alpine-Balsam, where wealthy homeowners with free time could organize, create websites, etc., in a way that working people just struggling to pay for housing in Boulder are less able to do. So we need to do a much better job of ensuring that input is representative of the full population and especially those who historically have been less privileged. I have learned that currently the City goes around to different sites in town to meet constituents. I would go even further and request that each council member have a town hall on the weekends in different sides of town to meet constituents who are not able to come to council. We have to bring the policy and politics to the community and vice versa. We also must integrate the different lived experiences in the policies that we create.

Mark Wallach:  First, we need to fix our public engagement process. It seems that, time after time, a new proposal is advanced by staff claiming that they have taken the temperature of the local neighborhood, only to find that such input has been minimal, and the community is up in arms. I am not suggesting that each neighborhood has an unqualified veto over every piece of legislation or development that occurs within its boundaries, but local opinion must be the bedrock upon which local policies are based. We talk constantly about sub-community planning, and it is time the rubber met the road with respect to that effort. But none of this absolves those who don’t show up from the necessity of making themselves heard. You don’t have to be an engaged warrior to drop a line to Council about how you feel about Alpine-Balsam, CU South, or any of a dozen different issues. You don’t have to scream to be heard, but you must take the time and effort to be heard.

Adam Swetlik:  I believe it’s very hard to engage with the City because residents are involved until most plans are already in motion. At that point they only get to make tweeks to a plan. Engagement needs to happen much earlier in the planning process so that residents will be a partner in projects, not an afterthought. If residents were involved earlier and had more say from the beginning, projects could move a lot faster without louder voices taking over and slowing things to a halt. I also believe we need to do a much better job about reaching underegaged groups. As a member of Boulder’s Housing Advisory Board we’ve begun listening sessions that focus around a specific under-represented group or solutions to a specific problem. In hearing from these groups we get to understand small problems they encounter before they escalate to larger ones. I’d like to bring this type of proactive engagement along to Council.