The Boulder City Council met for its annual retreat on Jan. 22, 2022. Credit: John Herrick

The Boulder City Council has created a roadmap for what it hopes to accomplish in the years ahead, setting an agenda primarily focused on increasing access to housing and shelter, and building out more bike lanes and bus routes. 

The nine councilmembers met over Zoom for their annual retreat last weekend. With the help of a facilitator, members pitched policies and settled on those with the most support among their colleagues. 

Many policy ideas were chopped from the list because city staff, who were present during the virtual meeting, said they have limited capacity to take on more work. The City of Boulder faces a staffing shortage in part due to 2020 Covid-19 budget cuts. Last week, it announced 91 job openings in a city that employs about 1,400 people.

Ideas nixed from the agenda ran the gamut, from a study on whether to decommission the Boulder Municipal Airport to create new housing to a sales or property tax to pay for homelessness services. 

Councilmembers also tabled proposals to create a program for the city to purchase and replace single-family homes with deed-restricted duplexes and triplexes, give the municipal court judge oversight of campaign finance complaints, and allow people to purchase accessory dwelling units (ADUs) even if they don’t own the land. 

Which priorities survived? Here’s a summary of what the Boulder City Council will seek to achieve between now and the end of 2023. 

Housing: middle-income units

Councilmembers want to expand access to middle-income and affordable housing, mainly by changing the city’s zoning codes and cutting red tape for ADUs. The council also wants to take steps to develop new tracts of land in part to increase the city’s housing stock. These ideas include: 

  • Pass an ordinance to revise the city’s inclusionary housing code to encourage the construction of more middle-income housing. 
  • Pass an ordinance to increase housing density through loosening requirements on the minimum amount of outdoor space needed for certain housing units. 
  • Revise city code to remove restrictions on ADUs, including allowing more of them in neighborhoods.  
  • Kick off the second phase for the neighborhood development project near 30th Street, known as the Transit Village Area Plan, and study the annexation and potential development of a 500-acre plot of land north of the city, called Area III Planning Reserve. 
  • Implement a middle-income downpayment assistance program under which the city issues loans to homebuyers. Homes purchased under the program, which voters approved in 2019, would be capped in terms of home value appreciation. 
  • Study what other college towns across the U.S. are doing regarding occupancy limits and potentially revise the city’s occupancy ordinance limiting the number of unrelated people who can live together. 
  • Reduce fees for creating housing cooperatives and increase the amount of time between relicensing requirements.

Homelessness: new shelter

Councilmembers want to set up a working group to discuss how to create a day and night shelter providing a wide range of services to people experiencing homelessness. Nonprofits have said they will help provide the services, but they need the city’s help finding a location and coming up with the money. 

Transportation: bikes and buses

Councilmembers want to study and build new transportation infrastructure designed to get cars off the road and more people riding bikes and buses. Goals include reducing the number of traffic accidents along major corridors and cutting emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Money for these projects would come from scaling back some neighborhood safety programs, including adding speed bumps. Ideas include: 

  • Create the Core Arterial Network, or “CAN,” with more protected bike lanes and bus routes across the city, particularly in areas with high accident rates.
  • Permanently close West Pearl to vehicles. 
  • Study a free city-wide bus program. 
  • Pass an ordinance to reduce minimum parking requirements for new developments. 

Elections: even-year voting 

Councilmembers want to put a measure on the 2022 ballot to change local elections to even years. The city’s residents elect councilmembers and pass city ballot measures in off-cycle, non-presidential election years. This leads to lower turnout, particularly among college students

Starting in 2023, the city’s residents will elect the mayor through ranked-choice voting after voters in 2020 approved the Our Mayor Our Choice measure. The council plans to set up a working group early next year to help implement this policy. 

Other ideas: disaster recovery and Covid-19

In the wake of the Marshall Fire, councilmembers plan to reform disaster recovery policies. This could include requirements to clear trees and other flammable materials — a process known as defensive spacing — around homes located in the wildland-urban interface. It could also include expanding emergency warning systems to include people near the evacuation zones as well as continuing work on the South Boulder Creek flood mitigation project.  

And as the Covid-19 pandemic continues, councilmembers are wondering when they will return to City Hall for meetings. They want city staff and county officials to present them a plan or timeline in the coming months. 

Some councilmembers are also interested in creating a vaccine passport program, a policy in which businesses could deny people services unless they are vaccinated for the coronavirus. According to City Manager Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde, the city’s Covid-19 recovering team plans to present to city council their ideas on vaccine passports in the next few months.

Correction: A previous version of this article said direct election of Boulder’s mayor starts in 2024; it starts in 2023.

Clarification: In discussing the switch to even-year voting, a previous version of this article said it could begin in 2024. It remains unclear whether it could begin in 2024, or 2026.

John Herrick

John Herrick reports on housing, climate, health and local government for Boulder Reporting Lab. He previously covered the state Capitol for The Colorado Independent and environmental policy for VTDigger.org. He is interested in stories about people, power and fairness.