On Nov. 7, 2023, five seats on the Boulder City Council are up for grabs and 14 candidates are in the running. Credit: John Herrick

The field of candidates running in this year’s Boulder City Council election is now final. In all, 14 people are competing for five open seats, including the position of the city’s first directly elected mayor. The last day to petition to run was Aug. 28. 

The 10 city council candidates are: Taishya Adams, Silas Atkins, Terri Brncic, Jacques Decalo, Waylon Lewis, Tina Marquis, Aaron Gabriel Neyer, Jennifer Robins, Ryan Schuchard, and Councilmember Tara Winer. The candidates for mayor are: Mayor Aaron Brockett, Councilmember Nicole Speer, Councilmember Bob Yates, and Paul Tweedlie, a retired software engineer. 

The candidates made their pitches during two election forums this week. One was hosted by PLAN-Boulder County, an organization that has long advocated for city open space. The other was organized by the Boulder Chamber, which represents businesses, at the Boulder JCC. (PLAN-Boulder County organized a mayoral forum last week and the Boulder Progressives hosted the first election forum in June.) 

The forums are different from debates in that the candidates are given a certain amount of time to respond to questions rather than converse with their rivals. The responses, therefore, are relatively scripted and the overall tenor is somewhat subdued. But with each event this year, the choices before voters have become clearer.

Here are six takeaways from the week’s forums. 

What is public safety? Depends who you ask 

Several political organizers are hoping to rally voters around the issue of public safety this election. Reports of crime have gone up in recent years. Bike thefts have held steady but remain an issue of concern. Some hope the Safe Zones 4 Schools ballot measure — which would require the city to prioritize clearing out encampments of homelessness people near schools, multi-use paths and sidewalks — would improve safety. 

During last week’s debate hosted by PLAN-Boulder County, Councilmember Speer, a scientist, pushed back on the idea that the uptick in crime is linked to homeless encampments. She said she considered public safety to include traffic deaths, floods and wildfires — especially given the 2021 Marshall Fire, whose flames spared Boulder due to sheer luck of the winds.

Similarly, Adams, the first Black woman to serve as a commissioner to Colorado Parks and Wildlife and a founding member of the city’s Police Oversight Panel, said she wanted to “expand the definition of who’s safe and who’s not.” She cited Zayd Atkinson. In 2019, a city officer drew his gun on Atkinson while he was picking up trash outside his home, fueling the department’s reforms to reimagine policing

During this week’s debate, Brncic, who is an organizer with the Safe Zones 4 Kids campaign, said it was “irresponsible” to suggest “there are different definitions of safety.” 

“It divides us as a community,” Brncic said. “I would like to see our leaders take more responsibility for uniting us and coming together, letting go of their political ideologies and really serving the people of this community.” 

Robins, a real estate consultant, also weighed in. 

“In general, we can look at public safety from the direction of fires and floods,” she said. “But public safety right now, I think for people in Boulder, is something a little different. And that is focusing on making sure that your businesses are safe, that you’re personally safe when you’re walking. I mean, everybody’s heard about the stories of break ins and stabbings and all these horrible things that have happened.”

On crime and encampments, some candidates seek jail time 

In terms of how to address safety concerns related to crime or encampments, candidates shared varying perspectives. 

Mayor Brockett, a co-founder of a software development company, listed off several new programs that should be coming online in the coming months, including the expansion of the Downtown Boulder Partnership’s ambassador program, which includes helping connect homeless people to services, and the creation of a new non-police emergency response program

Decalo, a former Tesla employee who was born in Boulder and graduated from Western Washington University, said he was impressed with the Boulder Police Department’s new plan to focus on problem-solving and prevention. He said this needs to be continued while focusing on the city’s “main areas of impact,” such as Boulder Creek. 

“I personally believe that much of our city is incredibly safe. However, you know, there are acts of vandalism. I’ve picked up needles at the creek. I’ve seen broken glass,” he added. 

Brncic said the city should stop dismissing tickets under its Community Court program, which has been used primarily to encourage homeless people to sign up for services. She also suggested that the city advocate for higher bail amounts that ensure “meaningful consequences to criminal behavior,” such as incarceration. 

In response to a question about how to manage public spaces, Councilmember Yates, a retired lawyer and telecommunications executive, said the city needs more affordable housing with support services and treatment for people dealing with a mental illness and drug addiction. He also called for continued enforcement of the city’s camping ban, increasing the size of its encampment removal program, and helping “transients” who have been in Boulder for less than one month to get “on the way to their next destination.” He echoed Brncic’s calls for tougher bail policies, too. 

“There needs to be consequences of crime,” he said. “You know, people who have 50, 60, 80 violations, they don’t go to jail. That’s not right.” 

Councilmember Speer said the encampment removal program “doesn’t seem to be working” despite the city’s investment of $3 million per year in it. She suggested the city should instead invest more “new approaches like a day services center and mental health first responders and other things that we know work.” 

Aaron Gabriel Neyer, a software engineer, said the city’s camping ban just “shuffles people around.” But he also supported enforcement of the camping ban in a way that “prioritizes mental health outreach.” He also called for more shelter services and public restrooms to help manage public spaces. 

Many ideas for affordable housing, but no silver bullets 

During the PLAN-Boulder County forum, candidates were asked what ideas they have to make housing more affordable in Boulder.

Some suggested limited forms of rent control and zoning changes that encourage smaller housing units. 

Marquis, a former president of the BVSD Board of Education, said the city should keep an eye on Denver Mayor Mike Johnston’s proposal to help renters become property owners by giving them a portion of the investment returns on properties they’re renting. More specifically, she said the city should implement a “vacant home tax” on properties that sit vacant for more than six months out of the year. 

Lewis, founder of Elephant Journal and author of two books, said the city should look at repurposing “dead office space” for housing and charging developers a higher fee to generate revenue for the city’s Affordable Housing Program. 

Schuchard, a member of the city’s Transportation Advisory Board and founder of More Mobility, an organization promoting multimodal transportation, said he wants to let more people live in smaller units, such as accessory dwelling units and duplexes. He said he wants to think about incentives for people who live in larger homes to convert basements or garages to living spaces. Ideally, he said, the city would eliminate minimum parking requirements.

“[Parking mandates] force us to use concrete that doesn’t work well in floods, to park a bunch of cars and jam our streets. It could instead be used for this affordable housing. We really have a big opportunity there,” he said. 

Tough tone toward University of Colorado 

During the PLAN-Boulder County forum, candidates were asked who else should be responsible for addressing the demand for affordable housing. Several candidates said the University of Colorado. 

“Having 30,000 students descend upon Boulder every fall, and CU not providing housing for those sophomores and juniors, is a real issue,” Robins said. 

“CU, no offense, but isn’t it your job to create housing for sophomores?” Winer said. “Those kids are suffering.” 

CU Boulder has about 10,000 beds on its campuses for its approximate 36,000 students. It requires first-year students to live on campus. And for students who live off campus, its 2020 Housing Master Plan states the high cost of housing is “pushing them further from the campus core.”

Higher pay for councilmembers 

PLAN-Boulder County hosted its debate at noon on a Wednesday. The only candidate to not attend was Silas Atkins, a paraeducator at Manhattan Middle School and member of the task force advising the city on the creation of a guaranteed income program. Like many other people in the middle of the day in the middle of week, he was at work. 

“It is difficult to take time off during the school day,” he said in an email to Boulder Reporting Lab. 

He said he makes an hourly wage and tries to only take time off for medical appointments. 

Campaigning for office is a challenge for workers. So is serving on the city council. In 2022, councilmembers earned $12,695 per year. Some are calling for councilmembers to be paid more. 

“If you have a job because you need it to pay your bills, you can’t do this work, and that’s not okay,” Speer said during a forum last week. 

Adams suggested the city should pay more to members of boards and commissions and those who participate in its community connector program, which helps the city gather feedback from communities who have been typically underrepresented in the public engagement process. (Community connectors are paid stipends ranging from $20 per hour to $24 per hour, according to a city official.) 

“We need to pay people to do work that matters for our community. We cannot live in volunteerism. Volunteerism is a result of inequitable economic policies,” Adams said during a PLAN-Boulder County forum last week. “We still have significant wage gaps” by race and gender. 

Climate change is a big priority for the candidates. But the subject has received less attention in forums 

The next Boulder City Council will likely update the region’s Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan, a guiding land-use document shared between the city and county to determine what gets built where. Several candidates said they are interested in studying the possibility of building housing in the Area III Planning Reserve, an area to the northeast of the city, or at the Boulder Municipal Airport

The candidates also said the new planning document should include a “climate assessment.” This could mean determining which areas are vulnerable to floods and fires, or where residents may have a hard time getting fire insurance

“We need a plan for resilience that is comprehensive and holistic,” Schuchard said. 

“I am really concerned about this crisis around home insurance,” Marquis said. “And I want to make sure that when we think about flood and fire and planning, that we’re doing it in a way where all of us as a community are going to be able to get reasonable insurance for our homes.”

Many candidates also agree on reducing car traffic by reducing parking requirements, supporting more bus routes and subsidizing RTD passes, and building protected bike lanes, among other ideas.

During the two events, Lewis was the only person to mention the Marshall Fire, which destroyed more than a thousand homes in Boulder County. He said the City of Boulder will be a “target” for another, similar fire “again and again.” 

For its part, the city’s wildland fire division has been particularly concerned about embers from a wildland fire landing on flammable material in the city — like wooden fences or ground junipers — and fueling a Marshall Fire-like scenario, in which homes catch fire one after another.

“There should be fire mitigation groups going from house to house,” Lewis said.

John Herrick is senior reporter for Boulder Reporting Lab, covering housing, transportation, policing and local government. 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. Email: john@boulderreportinglab.org.

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. I’m glad to see active candidates in this important council race, especially since this council will be working with the land-use plan which has a big impact on all of us.

    I can’t believe that despite all of the studies out that higher bail doesn’t reduce crime and disproportionately hurts people of color, several candidates including Terri Brncic and Bob Yates were gung-ho for increasing bail. It just shows how out of touch both of them are. Brncic in particular was sniping at other candidates and taking what they said out of context. That’s not the sort of “politics as usual” that we need.

    Same with pushing to move “transients” out faster – to where? Let’s focus on getting more short-term and long-term affordable housing, and providing support services for people who are housing-poor. That’s most of our neighbors, especially seniors, new, talented young adults, and families.

    Seems like some candidates just want to nit-pick and do the same old thing, while others have fresh ideas and good perspectives.

Leave a comment
Boulder Reporting Lab comments policy
All comments require an editor's review. BRL reserves the right to delete or turn off comments at any time. Please read our comments policy before commenting.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *