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

Mark McIntyre:  While I am no longer a renter, I have been a renter and we are small property landlords. I made my living selling US manufacturing services to US OEMs for 32 years. Most of the people working on the lines making those products were renters. It is hard for many to engage in local politics because they just don’t have the time or energy. I want to use my experience and understanding to be a voice for equity for all members of our community, even if a second job or lack of child care, keeps them from showing up at council meetings.  I am a supporter of the City’s findings and adoption of the Public Participation Working Group. The report summary can be found here.  As a result there have been several initiatives that have been implemented including, “Walk with council member,” “Coffee with a council member,” etc… these are effective and important but limited.

In representative government, it is important for the representative to be a voice for a broad constituency who may not be able to speak loudly or frequently. This is especially true regarding home affordability.  As a community, we have many excellent stated goals about housing affordability but many times our actions do not agree with our goals. I plan on being a voice for action on our goals across the city.

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.

Benita Duran:  I truly believe that achieving sustainable city planning and development requires the support, commitment and involvement of a variety of public and private stakeholders. I take a three-step approach to community engagement. First, I identify and seek out relevant stakeholders who have interests and activities relating to the issue in question, who can provide information, expertise and resources required for effective policy making, and who are key players in ensuring successful implementation. Second is determining how to engage all stakeholders to participate. This part of my process requires an analysis and understanding of their needs, priorities, and interests – and most often, meeting people where they are – meaning that all meetings and engagements do not necessarily occur at 1777 Broadway. My third step is establishing the communication tools and approaches that are most relevant to the different stakeholder groups. Sometimes there are language barriers – so communication, verbal and written, needs to be in at least English and Spanish. My approach has worked in a school district, the largest and most diverse in the state, and in redevelopment projects in which I have been involved, enabling the given project to serve the community’s broader interests.

Paul Cure:  Volume can be influential but votes are the loudest sound of all.

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.

Brian Dolan:  This is a very important topic for me, as I don’t think we as a city currently do enough to engage the non-vocal majority.  There are many ways I think we can improve this.  First: We need to actively engage all stakeholders in the decisions that impact them.  This can be done with surveys, post cards, study sessions, and neighborhood canvasing.  I think it is also important to help people who don’t have the ability to make it to council meetings because of work, family, or other commitments.  I support the idea of having options for childcare at the library on council nights, so citizens with children can still attend.

Andy Celani:  Engagement is a viable goal,perhaps more communication with community groups will further that goal.

Corina Julca:  I would like to see better, more statistically accurate surveys that reach every impacted resident. The surveys should be written with all options, not pushing towards this or that answer. I also think that the current public hearings discourage participation, as residents often end up sitting in the chamber for hours. I think City Council should stick to a tight schedule for the weekly meeting, allowing people to sign up online for exact time slots (obviously there could be 10-15 minute delays).  Meetings should end at 10:00 PM.

Gala Orba:  It’s so true! But balanced councilmembers already know this. I know this and have been studying the phenomenon for years. As a teacher, I am skilled in the art of reading those who do not speak up in my classroom. It was my job to ensure that students who are shy learn just as much math as those who are not. I do this well.  I will not be swayed by ‘loud’ community members. I listen to them yes, but I have my heart and mind on the greatest good for the whole community. I read rooms well, and that includes noting who is absent. The council needs more members who know how to keep balance-I am one of those people. If I get a chair on council I will remind my fellow members that we must respect the wishes of the people who are not here- the ones who are happy and enjoying our beautiful Boulder.

I suggest that to bring all the stakeholders to the table we ask them directly for their opinion. In my experience, if you ask ‘the other side’ to comment or come in and speak they often do. An invitation goes a long way. We can do better to use the Daily Camera and other means to invite all sides to the table. I am not shy, I will invite them directly. I encourage you to ask your members to make sure they speak up at Council to be a ‘voice of reason’ on important issues to your group.

Nikki McCord:  As the lobbyist for the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, I worked with both the business community and the environmental community to pass legislation. Currently, through my company, McCord Consulting Group, I work with organizations that have disparate opinions on how to reach a goal. I facilitate these groups and so that they come to a consensus and have an action plan for next steps. A successful stakeholder process includes representation from all impacted parties and a facilitator who can broker consensus among the group. This facilitator should not be a member of either group, but should be recognized as a person whose goal is to bring the group together. I am not seeking endorsements from any Boulder interest groups because they polarize our community. I enjoy the freedom to weigh all viewpoints and make decisions that benefit the entire community, not just the loudest voices. My experience and objectiveness to build consensus among stakeholders will be an asset to the Boulder City Council.

Susan Peterson:  I think BARHA does a fantastic job in organizing landlords and helping them address common concerns, keeping them informed on Council deliberations on issues that could profoundly affect them.  It would be great to see a similar organization for renters and for the two groups to engage with the City.

I would also like to see the City employ more modern methods for engaging all community members in taking part in what they would like to see in our Community. For instance, the ThinkBoulder Survey engaged 533 community members – a highly statistically significant number – uniquely identified by IP addresses, and broken down demographically in participating in the development of their community.

I am also in favor of using on-line petitions and other technology to poll community members easily, accurately and often, rather than just relying on Voter Referendums.

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.