Happy Friday, Boulder. Here’s what’s up.

For today, John Herrick covers the continued search for a new police monitor as the spotlight grows on police oversight issues. The city didn’t hire any of the previous contenders it was courting, saying that none of them had the correct blend of skills for the job.

Also, I talked with Robert Crifasi about his new book “Western Water A to Z: the History, Nature and Culture of a Vanishing Resource,” and how it relates to Boulder’s water situation. Turns out, a Boulder court case played a pivotal role in establishing the “first in time, first in right” doctrine that governs water use in Colorado. And though the City of Boulder is well-situated in terms of its water rights portfolio, it will still feel the effects of a drying Colorado River.

Finally, the county’s 2022 election report is available. It shows (among many other things) that Longmont surpassed Boulder in number of registered voters.

We’re taking a break on Monday for Presidents’ Day, and will return with this newsletter on Wednesday.

— Tim, reporter

What to know today

  • Sit back and watch that snow melt: Warmth will abound today and through the weekend. With temps in the 50s and sun, today and tomorrow should be lovely. Sunday and Monday, however, bring wind as company. If you’ve got hatches, batten them down.
  • City wants more money to respond to meth use: City officials are requesting about $238,000 in additional funding for security guards at the city’s libraries as part of its response to methamphetamine use, which prompted the closure of the downtown library last December.
    • The money will be used to contract seven security guards — up from three — to patrol the main library as well as the Meadows and George Reynolds branches, according to a recent city staff memo. The money will come from the city’s general fund, which is funded primarily through sales tax revenue. City officials have previously estimated spending $125,000 on cleanup work.
  • Don’t forget to pick up your Solo cups: The Boulder City Council voted 6-2 Tuesday night to approve an ordinance that will make it easier for police to impose fines on landlords whose properties are in violation of rules for weeds and trash, the latest effort to “increase quality of life” for residents who live on University Hill. Those fines will likely be passed onto tenants. The ordinance will take effect in 30 days. For more on the debate, read our previous coverage.
  • Proposed climate tax spending: Last November, Boulder voters approved the climate tax ballot measures 2A and 2B, granting the city authority to borrow up to $52.9 million to invest in climate resilience efforts and support enhanced climate initiatives in the community. The climate tax took effect on Jan. 1, 2023, replacing the former Climate Action Plan (CAP) and Utility Occupation Tax (UOT). The new tax is set at $6.5 million for the first year.
    • The tax will fund ongoing programs led by the Climate Initiatives Department, and $1.5 million of the money will be spent on wildfire resilience projects this year.
    • Three areas are the focus of these fire mitigation efforts: resilient landscapes, fire-adapted communities, and safe and effective wildfire response. To address these focuses, the tax fund will be used to accelerate wildfire risk home assessments, develop grant tools to assist homeowners and businesses, and update and deliver wildfire preparedness information.
  • Colorado rent control bill clears committee, heads to House for a vote: The state House Transportation, Housing and Local Government Committee on Wednesday voted 8-5 along party lines to pass a bill that would allow local governments to enact policies to limit how much landlords can increase rent. The bill now heads to the House for a vote, but faces an uncertain future. Democrats control both chambers, but Gov. Jared Polis, of Boulder, has not supported the bill. In 2022, Polis threatened to veto a bill that sought to cap rents at mobile home parks.
    • The bill’s passage followed an eight-and-a-half hour public hearing in which residents on both sides of the issues weighed in. Rent control policies exist in cities across the country as part of a near-term remedy to rising rental rates. They do not address the housing supply shortage driving the housing crisis, and critics of rent control argue such policies will discourage new housing developments due to potential limits on investment returns. (Boulder’s land use and zoning regulations have also been cited as discouraging housing development).
    • Boulder’s median rent in February increased 10% over last year, according to Zillow. The City of Boulder is supporting the bill. So is the City of Longmont. Both have goals to establish more deed-restricted affordable housing.
    • “It’s not possible to build these units fast enough to outrun the rent increases,” Longmont Mayor Joan Peck told lawmakers during the hearing Wednesday. She said teachers, medical workers and other workers can’t afford to live in the area. “The quality of life in our beautiful state depends on the stability of our workforce and families.”
    • The state policy prohibiting rent control was passed in 1981, months after organizers began collecting signatures for a ballot measure to enact a rent control policy in the City of Boulder. — John Herrick
  • 2022 election report available: In its 2022 post-election report, Boulder County revealed some figures from its most recent election. At the highest level, the county’s voters are increasing. It had 224,533 registered voters in 2022, up from 193,386 in 2014.
    • The report shows Longmont surpassed Boulder in number of registered voters and says roughly 45% of registered voters in Boulder County were unaffiliated, 42% were Democrats, 12.5% were Republicans, and the remaining 1.5% belonged to other political parties.
    • While the report states 2022 voter turnout was lower than in 2018, the county had more ballots returned on Election Day than in any election ever. The report also shows turnout was highest among voters ages 71 and older and lowest among those aged 18 to 25.
    • Turns out voters as young as 16 years old can pre-register to vote. There are approximately 3,600 pre-registered youth in Boulder County.
    • Lastly, mail-in ballots were the most popular method of voting in 2022, with 167,208 total ballots counted. This data was based on the weight of returned ballot boxes.
  • Boulder County gets safe street funding: Congressman Joe Neguse has announced that Boulder County will receive more than $473,000 in funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s Safe Streets and Roads for All grant program. The funds will support Boulder County’s Vision Zero Action Plan, which aims to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries.
    • The plan will use a multimodal approach to create safer roadways, including separated bicycle lanes, improved pedestrian crossings, and low-cost safety fixes, such as rumble strips, among others. Larimer County will receive $240,000, and the Town of Silverthorne will get $200,000, Neguse said.
    • “With traffic fatalities in Boulder County trending in the wrong direction, we are very excited about the safety work that this funding is going to make possible,” said Alex Hyde-Wright, Boulder County’s regional multimodal planning division manager.
  • Presidents’ Day closures: All city administration facilities, libraries, and Age Well Centers will be closed this coming Monday. However, recreation centers, the Boulder Reservoir, Flatirons Golf Course’s driving range, Valmont Bike Park’s asphalt pump track and skate park, and Open Space and Mountain Parks trails and trailheads will all remain open. Parking in city garages, parking lots and at on-street pay stations will also be free for the holiday. Happy day.

Go deeper

Boulder’s search for new police monitor drags on as spotlight grows on civilian oversight panel

By John Herrick

February 17, 2023

The City of Boulder is continuing its search for a new police monitor, a position that will play a key role in overseeing how the city’s police department handles complaints of officer misconduct. City officials determined three finalists announced in January lacked the skills and experience needed for the job. 

The new police monitor will also help revise the 2020 ordinance that created the Police Oversight Panel, an 11-member board of volunteers who review investigations into complaints of officer misconduct. The monitor is a liaison between the city and the panel. 

“We didn’t feel like we had all of the traits we needed,” Aimee Kane, the city’s equity officer and liaison for the Police Oversight Panel, said of the finalists in an interview with Boulder Reporting Lab. “We wanted to make sure we are being diligent and getting the right person for this job. It’s a hard position to fill.” 

The city has received 43 applications for the position, which it had hoped to have filled by now, but it has not made any formal job offers, according to Kane. She said the city is considering changing the job description to help bolster the pool of applicants. 

Continue reading…

How a Boulder court case in the 1880s shaped the West’s water rights and later water woes

By Tim Drugan

February 17, 2023

Robert Crifasi is a former City of Denver hydrologist and Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks water resources administrator and author of the new book “Western Water A to Z: the History, Nature and Culture of a Vanishing Resource.” BRL recently chatted with him to get his take on the dynamic water situation in the Boulder area.

Turns out, Boulder had a hand in establishing Colorado’s “prior appropriation doctrine,” also known as “first in time, first in right,” that was put into our constitution in 1876. The doctrine states that a farmer or city that started using water first has a priority over those who began using water later. Boulder is sitting pretty in terms of water rights, having acquired many since the 1850s. This means our town has more water at its disposal than somewhat younger communities, like Lafayette.  But increasing strain on the Colorado River might reverberate across the Continental Divide and force Boulderites to reassess our water use in years to come.

Continue reading…

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BRL picks

🔥 Slash burning workshop: Sign up to see an active slash pile burn in the Magnolia Road area west of Boulder. This is an opportunity to learn and discuss various topics related to slash pile burning, weather conditions, regulations and requirements, as well as other local forest management issues. The event will take place during the week of Feb. 20. To register and receive full details, please visit the Eventbrite page.

🌨️ County town hall: Boulder County residents are invited to a town hall meeting on climate action hosted by the Board of County Commissioners and the Boulder County Office of Sustainability, Climate Action & Resilience (OCAR). The meeting will be on Feb. 23, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Hygiene Fire Protection District. The commissioners and Zac Swank, deputy director of OCAR, will review recent initiatives and discuss local issues impacting residents, including the impacts of climate change, reduced snowpack, earlier snowmelt, high-intensity wildfires and extreme weather events.

🎶 Rock & Roll Hall of Famer at Boulder Theater: Tonight at 8 p.m., Boulder Theater will host “Remain In Light,” a concert featuring Jerry Harrison, the keyboardist and guitarist for Talking Heads, and Adrian Belew, the former lead singer and guitarist for King Crimson. Harrison is a member of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame while Belew has released over 20 solo albums and has worked with several artists, including David Bowie, Frank Zappa and Nine Inch Nails. Tickets start at $36.

For more ideas on what to do this week, check out BRL’s Local Events page.


Tim Drugan is the climate and environment reporter for Boulder Reporting Lab, covering wildfires, water and other climate-related issues for Boulder with a focus on explanatory and solutions journalism. He also is the lead writer of BRL Today, our morning newsletter. Tim grew up in New Hampshire and graduated from UNH with a degree in English/Journalism. Email: tim@boulderreportinglab.org.