Boulder-based political organizers have filed their first major campaign finance reports for the 2022 city election. The filings provide a glimpse into which campaigns could be best positioned this November to persuade voters on contentious ballot measures striking at the core of Boulder’s longstanding land-use battles.
So far, this year’s election has drawn relatively little money, with all registered campaigns raising just over $110,000 combined, according to the latest city election records. Last year’s election — which included races for Boulder City Council — brought in more than twice as much money.
Campaigns have raised the most money for and against Ballot Question 2F, which would repeal the CU South annexation agreement between the City of Boulder and the University of Colorado. The agreement, signed in September 2021, sets the terms for building housing, university facilities and a flood mitigation project on the 308-acre property known as CU South.
While complex and far-reaching, the measure to block the CU South development, at its core, pits those who want that land to be used for housing and flood mitigation against those who seek to protect its wetlands, plants and wildlife.
The group seeking to pass the referendum, Repeal CU South Annexation, has raised about $27,000 to spend on postcard mailers, yard signs and other election expenses designed to persuade voters. That’s slightly more than organizers raised to pass a similar measure to block the development in 2021, which 57% of voters rejected. (A similar measure in 2006, inspired by similar concerns over CU South, also failed.)
The group is backed by PLAN-Boulder County, a nonprofit that has long advocated for open space and has been influential in shaping Boulder’s land-use policies, and Save South Boulder, an organization that helped petition to get the referendum on the ballot. Those groups — each donating $3,000 — and their members make up much of the campaign’s contributions.
Also supporting the referendum is a new ballot measure committee, Save Boulder Wild Spaces, which has published videos calling for the land to be designated as open space and questioning the efficacy of the proposed South Boulder Creek flood mitigation project. The group has raised $1,500.
That fundraising haul by supporters of the referendum is less than half of what opponents of the measure have stockpiled so far.
The ballot measure committee opposing the referendum, No More Delay for Flood Safety, has raised approximately $66,000. The largest chunk of this money came from an in-kind donation of about $28,000 from Comprise, a Boulder-based public relations firm. (Comprise is a local business sponsor of Boulder Reporting Lab, part of our Community Leaders program. Sponsors have zero influence over the editorial content in the topics they sponsor and on BRL generally.)
The campaign also received $5,000 from Frasier Meadows, a senior living community in Boulder that flooded during the 2013 storm, and $1,300 from Leslie Durgin, former mayor of Boulder and chair of the campaign to oppose the referendum, No More Delay for Flood Safety. Councilmembers Bob Yates and Matt Benjamin also chipped in, each donating $1,000. All current city councilmembers support the annexation agreement.
Expenditure reports indicate the University of Colorado has spent up to $164,000 on consulting and advocacy for the campaign to oppose the referendum (as well as “three other unrelated projects”). Earlier this year, the university sent out postcards urging Boulder voters to reject the referendum, which it said would “overturn the annexation and put our community at risk.”
University representatives told Boulder Reporting Lab it would not campaign against the referendum after Sept. 1, 2022, when the Boulder City Council set the ballot measure titles. State law restricts the state university from spending taxpayer money to campaign for or against local ballot issues.
The CU South referendum goes to the core of longstanding land-use battles in Boulder, a city where undeveloped open space makes it an attractive place to live, but also exacerbates its housing crisis. Campaigns for and against it described it as a key turning point for Boulder.
“Please heed legitimate public outcry over the devastating impact of CU’s development plans on air, water, light, and noise pollution, its over-densification of an already densely populated and traffic choked set of neighborhoods,” the group that helped petition to place the referendum on the November ballot wrote to the Boulder City Council in January 2022.
“Boulder’s City Council must create a visionary agenda to respect and preserve nature, envision the kind of community that is generative and livable for all, re-evaluate our land use priorities, and plan for sustainability in the future. Right now, we are not on the correct path.”
Conversely, in promoting the annexation agreement, the university said: “Multiple city councils elected by the voters continually moved CU Boulder South annexation forward, codifying numerous values shared by the community and the university. The annexation agreement embodies the best of Boulder: protection of life safety and open space, creation of urgently needed housing, and a commitment to public collaboration.”
With several notable exceptions, many of the local campaigns and organizers opposing the development at CU South also are opposing Ballot Question 2E, which would move the city’s elections from odd years to even years to coincide with state and federal elections.
The measure aims to boost the number of people who vote in local elections, increasing the influence of CU Boulder students and other voters who typically vote less in off-year elections. The measure has the support of a majority on the Boulder City Council, which voted to put it on the ballot.
Helping get it passed is the ballot measure committee People For Voter Turnout, which has raised $7,200. The measure also has the support of Boulder Progressives, a ballot measure committee also opposing the measure to repeal the CU South agreement.
Top donors include Eric Budd, co-chair of the Bedrooms Are For People, a political advocacy nonprofit seeking to increase the city’s occupancy limits; Kurt Nordback, an advocate for affordable housing and a software engineer; and Jill Adler Grano, the chair of People for Voter Turnout and a former city councilmember who also worked as the community affairs director for Congressman Joe Neguse. All donated about $1,000. Councilmember Nicole Speer and Mayor Aaron Brockett have chipped in, too, donating $979 and $104, respectively.
The group seeking to stop the measure, Save Local Elections, has raised $7,700. It is being led by Jim Hooton, a retired co-founder of a consulting firm and husband of Rep. Edie Hooton, a Democrat from Boulder who is not seeking reelection, and Mary Dolores Young, a former Boulder city councilmember. According to the group’s website, the move to even-year local elections will “detract from attention to local issues” and “increase partisanship and polarization in local elections.”
Its top financial supporters include PLAN-Boulder County, which has donated $700, and several of PLAN’s members. Councilmember Mark Wallach donated $500. Two city Planning Board members — Sarah Silver and John Gerstle — also donated to oppose even-year city elections.
Another supporter of the 2E opposition campaign is Steven Rosenblum, a former city council candidate who is suing several of the organizers hoping to pass the change to even-year elections, including Budd and the Boulder Progressives, for allegedly conspiring to defame him during the 2021 election. Rosenblum donated $500.
According to the Save Local Elections’ website, the committee has the endorsement of organizations that support groups of city council candidates aligning around a common slow growth — or “careful” growth — platform. The organizations include Forward Boulder, a candidate committee co-founded by Greg Ekrem, a manager at a consulting firm, and Safer Boulder, an organization “advocating for public safety.”
Such platforms, or political “slates,” define Boulder’s city council candidates, much like a political party identification. But the divisions are less rigid. Former Mayor Sam Weaver, for example, is helping run the campaign to oppose the CU South referendum while also advocating against moving to even-year elections.
One concern about moving city elections to even years is that it would reduce off-year election turnout even more for Boulder Valley School District school board races. Board member Nicole Rajpal, a dietician, is opposing the change, while board member Lisa Sweeney-Miran, executive director of the homeless shelter Mother House, is supporting it.
Also on the November ballot is Ballot Issue 2A, a new tax on utility bills to pay for climate change resilience and mitigation projects. No groups have registered to campaign for or against it. Though the City of Boulder is supporting the measure, legally it cannot campaign for it. City code prohibits public officials from spending taxpayer money to advocate for measures after the ballot title has been set.
On the county ballot — at least much of the county — is a measure to create a library district and pay for it with a 3.5 mill property tax. The change is designed to expand public library services and create a more stable funding source. City sales taxes currently pay for city library services. Opponents, including the Boulder Chamber of Commerce, cite the proposed property tax increase as their primary concern.
As of July 28, 2022, supporters of the library district, Boulder Library Champions, have spent $62,000 on mailers, signs and other election expenses. Most of their money has come from Boulder Library Foundation, a nonprofit organization that raises money for library programs. The nonprofit donated $25,000 to the campaign in December 2021.
The opponents, Keep Our Libraries, have not yet reported any fundraising or spending. The group is headed by former City Councilmembers Crystal Gray and Lisa Morzel.
The next county campaign finance reports are due Oct. 18, 2022.
Update: This story was updated at 11:12 a.m. to clarify who was opposing the proposed change to even-year elections.