BARHA Question 9: Proactive - Boulder Area Rental Housing Association

BARHA Question 9: Sometimes council decisions end up being reactive instead of proactive with little time to really dive into the details and/or unintended consequences.  In fact, often the best solutions do not require a new ordinance at all but could be worked out in other ways.  This can often be overlooked if there is a rush to action.  Do you have suggested solutions to prevent quick reactionary ordinances in the future?  And what would you do as a council member to encourage solutions prior to or other than an ordinance?  


Aaron Brockett:  One of my focuses on council has been to advocate for good governance. Decisions made in haste and at the last minute are rarely done well, and I have been distressed with the short timeframe council has acted on some initiatives in the last two years. Barring true emergencies, I think council should always take the time to consult thoroughly with the community and stakeholders when working on an issue, and consider creative solutions that may or may not involve ordinances.

Mark McIntyre:  of our quick reactionary ordinances result in moratoriums. Moratoriums based on fear and information lacking facts is no way to govern. It results in confusion by the general population and frustration by those actually trying to solve our challenges in housing, transportation, and environmental quality.

The key to fixing this is good governance. Good governance is fact and data based, is transparent, and exhibits leadership, boldness and is forward looking. It is willing to try solutions to problems and then course correct if needed. It looks to current policy and code first and adjusts if needed. Good governance provides certainty rather than always being site specific.  You get good governance by electing the right people who are committed to it and practice it.

Rachel Friend:   I love this question too! When we are reactive, it’s often evidence of lack of planning, lack of foresight, and lack of efficiency. At its worst, it can also evince a lack of bravery, a lack of leadership. It’s kicking the can down the road and hoping that somehow a problem will be less complicated when you next catch up to it.

If City Council limits its priorities, and moves efficiently through those priorities, we will be able to deal timely with what’s coming down the pike. Sometimes ordinances are necessary. The Assault Weapons Ban is an example of an action that could not happen without codification. And sometimes they are not. Moratoriums are often the result of dilatory planning. My proposal is for council to: empower boards and staff, which will result in council doing less micromanaging; prioritize and move through the work list efficiently, in a way that aligns with Boulder values; and remove politics (trading instead in facts and data) on all issues.

Bob Yates:  Using the press as the principal method to understand what actions are under consideration by council will inevitably lead to surprises, given that the local press typically previews matters only a day or two in advance. Therefore, I encourage businesses that might be affected by council actions, including landlords, to send representatives to the weekly Council Agenda Committee (CAC) meetings and to subscribe to the CAC meeting minutes. Every Monday morning at the CAC meeting—which is open to the public—council members discuss the agendas, presentations, and ordinances for the next six to eight council meetings. Groups, like the Boulder Chamber, who attend the weekly CAC meetings gain tremendous insight into what actions council is considering, when matters will be heard, and how they might interact with council members using the most effective advocacy.

Junie Joseph:  Sometimes Council makes snap decisions, but sometimes the City takes years and years to make relatively simple changes. Council does need to take a longer-term view than it sometimes does, listen to its experts, and (as discussed above) get input beyond the usual loud voices. But I’m not sure reactionary ordinances are a particularly big problem in Boulder right now, compared to our other problems.

Benita Duran:  I am bringing decades of experience to the governance issues of a Council having worked with and in local governments and with elected officials throughout this state. Additionally, I bring extensive large board experience (Boulder Community Health/Boulder Community Foundation/State Economic Development Commission) and know how to manage my time in reading materials from staff and constituents; and as importantly manage communication with a broad range of stakeholders. My collaboration skills and broad professional experiences can help minimize these types of issues bubbling up. Time management is a big part of the effectiveness of a policy making body and no one likes to feel like their time is not valued. If I were a council member I would drive towards being clear about priorities and if/when an ordinance is required; and also be aware of and articulate about unintended consequences.

Paul Cure:  Create a forum wherein policy is placed online for comments and allow for the debate to be solution oriented and not to clog the drain.

Mark Wallach:  It is the situation that governs. Take the Opportunity Zone, for example. I advocated in front of Council for the moratorium, because, given the time limits for investment in OZ properties it was likely that a number of projects would be filed in order to comply with the statute. And the recent NY Times article detailing the scandal that has become of the program and the perversion of its original intent (high-end waterfront condos on the Jersey shore, courtesy of the Kushner family, upscale hotels in Scottsdale, projects in upscale portions of San Francisco and Los Angeles), it is hard to argue that the concern over the program, and the actions taken, were misplaced. On a public health level it is hard to argue that the rapid action on vaping was inappropriate. But I do agree that a number of issues require a more deliberative process, and that sometimes less is more. I do not have a hair-trigger approach to legislating, and I will advocate for a more deliberative process when it is appropriate. I am also sensitive to the Law of Unintended Consequences, and will seek to understand all of the implications of the Council’s actions.

Brian Dolan:  I would take the recommendations from Participation Working Group: the first step is defining the problem.  Once we understand the issues, we can come up with solutions to directly address the issues proactively as opposed to reactionarily.

Andy Celani:  Council needs to maintain communication with staff and citizenry . Citizen input needs to be heard and received early in any planning.

Corina Julca:  I agree with this observation on the reactive style of council in many instances. I think that stakeholders – residents and businesses – should be brought into the process early. Additionally, many city staff members seem to hold a narrow view of their jobs. We should aim for a greater diversity of opinion and allow more creative solutions, bringing them to the public early on.

I noticed that there was controversy around Airbnb and around housing vouchers, topics related to BARHA. These issues seemed to appear very suddenly. As a council member I would consider calling town hall meetings when an issue first gets attention, to gather a broad range of views, and only then instruct staff how to proceed with preparing proposals.

Gala Orba:  I agree that the best solution often does not require a new ordinance but can be worked out in other ways. I will ask my fellow council members straight forward questions- are there other ways we can solve this issue? We all bring our expertise to the table I will use the knowledge base in the room for the good of all. I listen intently and I can hear the underlying issues.

Sometimes an existing law is being misinterpreted and just needs to be stated more clearly. To prevent reactionary ordinances my solution is to ask the question- is this issue addressed in any of the preceding rulings? Is the existing law being misinterpreted?

When it comes to listening to the concerns of the people I can often hear what it is that a person wants and therefore see the deeper request or the solution below or behind their request- I will ask the right questions to get to the heart of each and every matter. As a teacher, I am skilled in the art of saying things in more than one way so that more people can understand it and will use that to help clear any confusion in the room. I also know how to ask the right questions. When a decision is slowed down in this way a solution often presents itself. More ordinances is just more maddening. I will be that person on council who will be a Voice of Reason for simple solutions.

Nikki McCord:  As a lobbyist for both Fortune 500 companies and for the Department of Environmental Quality in Michigan, I was responsible for over 100 bills at a time. My job was to know the topic, client position, and stage of the bill passage process each bill was in at any given time…during a time when BlackBerries were the most technologically advanced phones! When I wasn’t tracking my legislation, I was in meetings with other stakeholders negotiating bill drafts so that we could present a piece of legislation with little to no opposition. The best way to pass thoughtful legislation is to give it the time it needs to be negotiated so that all stakeholders feel their concerns are addressed. This process takes a lot of time, a lot of patience, and a time constraint – like the end of a legislative session. The Boulder City Council would benefit from my presence as I have successfully passed legislation that is thoughtfully considered. I have also implemented pilot programs that do not have the force of law. These pilot programs provide an accountability structure for the trial period and a review mechanism before the experiment is codified.

Susan Peterson:  The City Council is responsible for diving into the details on a huge range of issues.  Witness the 1000 page briefing documents they are expected to consume each week.  My suggested solutions would include calling on the great wealth of expertise we have in almost every area you can imagine in our community to work more closely with staff to propose a more creative and greater range of options, with pros and cons for each carefully thought through, before moving to decisions or ordinances.

Adam Swetlik:  I think the communication between Staff and Council could be greatly improved so these issues don’t arise. Take the Opportunity Zone for example. This was a project not asked for by Council, and not well-communicated by staff, so a moratorium had to be put in place so that existing affordable housing units wouldn’t be replaced with much

higher-priced units. If there was more transparency and a better assessment about potential impacts there would be less need for moratoriums and ordinances. Council could also stand to take on less projects so that they can focus and give better attention to what is happening. We may even be at the point where a change in our government structure is warranted, as we’re a much larger city now than when our city government was adopted.