Ready to start your week with a little community journalism? ⛰️🗞️ We’ve got you covered.

First up, wildfire reporter Tim Drugan sits down with Wildland Fire Division Chief Brian Oliver to talk strategies for mitigating the threat of potential home-to-home ignition in the case of a blaze in Boulder city limits. Then Benjy Sachs looks at the city’s proposal to acquire its public streetlights currently owned by Xcel in order to reduce consumption and gain more autonomy over its energy infrastructure.

Plus today’s launch of the Recovery Navigators program for Marshall Fire victims, addressing transit gaps for Boulder County residents with special needs, an upcycled youth fashion show at the CU Museum of Natural History and more.

See you back here bright and early on Wednesday. ✌️

– Jezy, managing editor

The City of Boulder is weighing the possibility of acquiring public streetlights owned by Xcel to reduce consumption and gain more autonomy over its energy infrastructure. Read more in today’s top story by Benjy Sachs. Credit: Timothy Hurst

Quickly

Mostly cloudy and warm: Expect highs near 90 today under mostly cloudy skies. Tomorrow should be slightly cooler, with an afternoon storm possible.

🆕 Recovery Navigators available: Beginning today, residents affected by the Marshall Fire can get one-on-one support ranging from legal referrals to mental health services through the county’s Recovery Navigators program. Call 303-446-7782 or email to set up an appointment. Read our previous reporting on the program here.

👀 Witnesses wanted: Boulder police are seeking any additional information related to a violent daytime assault on an older resident at approximately 12:45 p.m. on July 21, which took place on the bike path near the 1700 block of 13th Street. Anyone who witnessed the attack or has further information is asked to call Detective S. Ramos at 303-441-3323, reference case 22-06932.

Energy code survey: The City of Louisville is asking residents to complete its Energy Code Public Engagement Survey through Friday, Aug. 5, as the city considers new construction code options to encourage net zero and/or all-electric new construction. A community meeting on the project takes place Thursday, July 28 from 11:30 a.m.—1:30 p.m. Register here.

🚌 Addressing transit gaps: Boulder County commissioners are asking residents to sound off on “top transportation needs and priorities for special needs populations, such as youth, individuals with disabilities, older adults, Spanish-speaking households, veterans, and other populations with unique transportation needs and gaps.” Register to attend (and sign up to speak at) a meeting of the Board of County Commissioners at 1 p.m. on Thursday, July 28, to discuss adoption of the Mobility & Access for All Ages & Abilities (MAAAA) Final Plan.

🍂 Fall recreation guide: With autumn not far around the corner — wild, right? — the Boulder Parks and Recreation Department has released its official fall recreation guide, featuring hundreds of classes and programs “for people of all ages and abilities.” Registration opens at 8:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 2. Sign up here.

🎨 Art museum seeks volunteers: Want to help the CU Art Museum execute its mission and strategic plan? Community Council volunteers provide “advocacy, ambassadorship, community connections and guidance.” Learn more about the committee, which meets four times per academic year, and apply here.

🚴🏽 Curious about the e-bike sharing boom? Via Boulder Transportation Connections: “For a limited time, you can get an Annual @Boulder_Bcycle Pass for just $99! Enjoy an entire year of unlimited 60 min e-bike trips at this discounted rate.” To get the deal, download the BCycle App, click annual pass and enter promo code YEAROFTRIPS.

🥾 Chautauqua Trail closure: OSMP will close the trail today from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., so the department can remove invasive weed species in in the area. Learn more about the latest trail closures (and plan alternative routes) with OSMP’s handy interactive map.

Top Stories

What worries Boulder Fire-Rescue about wildfire spreading in the city proper? Junipers, mulch and wooden fencing, to name a few. New laws could be in store.

By Tim Drugan

House fires once primarily began from within. Whether through faulty electrical boxes or overzealous water heaters, firefighters used to face infernos whose origins lay in structures’ depths.

But as appliances continue to modernize and building codes root out the most common causes of house fire, concern no longer lies within a home’s basement or walls; for Boulder and other towns in landscapes made to burn, the main risk of incineration prowls outside their borders.

In a previous story, Boulder Reporting Lab spoke with Jim Webster of the Wildfire Partners program, which helps unincorporated Boulder County residents reduce the risk of wildfire on their property. BRL subsequently toured a property certified by the program to get a taste of the doled out advice.

However, as the Marshall Fire showed, fire does not differentiate between unincorporated space and the town proper. Flames will sate themselves on a home nestled at the end of a cul-de-sac the same as one secluded in the mountains.

Brian Oliver, the City of Boulder’s Wildland Fire Division Chief, said when city residents previously considered wildfire encroaching on town, most thought: “Oh, that’ll never happen here,” or “It might happen here, but whenever it gets close the fire department always puts it out.” Yet Oliver said that above all else, the lack of fire thus far in Boulder proper could be attributed to good fortune.

“The fire department’s gotten really lucky,” Oliver said. “You get all the conditions lining up, like they did in the Marshall Fire, and there you go. And we get conditions like that on a regular basis. So I think everyone’s starting to look through that lens and thinking, ‘Oh crap.’”

Boulder considers acquiring public streetlights owned by Xcel to reduce consumption and gain more autonomy over its energy infrastructure

By Benjy Sachs

Boulder’s streetlights typically don’t spark much conversation, but a recent city proposal has thrust them into the middle of a policy debate.

At this week’s Boulder City Council meeting, members will discuss a plan to acquire all streetlights on public property owned by electric utility Xcel — which account for the vast majority of Boulder’s 4,540 streetlights — and upgrade them to smart LED models. 

According to a memo prepared by city staff, Boulder says the acquisition project would save the city $13.6 million over 20 years and reduce annual electric consumption by 2.3 million kWh (kilowatt-hours) — equivalent to the electricity used by about  200 homes in a year. LED lights are more energy efficient than HPS (high-pressure sodium) lights, which are used by most Xcel-owned fixtures in the city. The memo estimates conversion would reduce streetlight energy usage by 70%.

In addition to energy savings and emissions reductions, the city says upgrading the streetlights to a newer model would lower Boulder’s energy bill and significantly reduce light pollution, which negatively affects human health along with flora and fauna. 

The proposal comes after voters nixed a decade-long effort by the City of Boulder to form its own electric utility. “The city was exploring this at least 15, if not more, years ago,” Carolyn Elam, the city’s Energy Program Strategy Manager, said of the LED program. “And streetlights were part of what would have been acquired if the city had gone forward with municipalization.”

Acquiring the streetlights from Xcel would give the city autonomy over at least this infrastructure – including repairs. Installing smart controls, which Xcel does not currently offer, would  allow the city to more quickly identify streetlights in need of fixing. 

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BRL Picks

🤫 Silent film screening: Don’t miss a summer night showing of the 1924 silent film Sherlock Jr., starring the one and only Buster Keaton, at Chautauqua Auditorium on Wednesday, July 27. The evening will feature live piano accompaniment by Hank Troy, kicking off at 7:30 p.m. Tickets here.

🖼️ Mural tour: Want to see Boulder’s public art in a whole new light? Grab a friend and create your own downtown mural tour with the help of Street Wise Arts. The collective’s interactive online map allows you to craft a custom tour from your phone — or you can download the printable pamphlet for a more analog experience as you learn about the artists behind some of the city’s eye-catching murals and see them up-close for yourself. 

🗑️ Trash the Runway: The CU Museum of Natural History hosts a fashion-forward exhibition featuring original garments made from upcycled materials, designed and constructed by young local artists, grades 6-12. Organizers say the show is a way for visitors to “learn how making better decisions about the clothing we buy and how we dispose of it can better support the planet, a trend that is always in style.” See it in the museum’s BioLounge at 1035 Broadway through Sept. 6.

🧳 ‘Traveling’ Exhibition: Now open — Dairy Arts Center presents a new exhibition exploring “our human desire to travel and our ability to reflect experiences through art.” The aptly named Traveling Exhibition opened last Friday and runs through Sept. 17, featuring works by Amy Guion Clay and Caroline Douglas, Louise Grauer, Kristen Snedeker and more.

Covid-19 Updates Boulder County: July 25, 2022

  • 156 daily new cases (7-day avg.) ⬆️Up 12% over preceding 7-day avg.
  • 25 patients hospitalized with Covid (7-day avg.) ⬆️Up from a high of 13 last week.
  • 42% percent of ICU is occupied. Down from avg. of 68% since July 2020.
  • Note: Stazio Ball Fields in Boulder is now the only free community testing site in Boulder County. It’s open 7 days a week, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

What We’re Reading

📖 Former Boulder mayor on harrowing outdoor plunge: “After [Will] Toor and his wife, Mariella Colvin, tumbled nearly 1,000 vertical feet down an icy couloir, Toor had a broken femur. Colvin, 59, had nine broken ribs, fractured vertebrae and a broken sternum but still bushwhacked over talus and downed trees to reach campers almost 2 miles away. Of course neither of them knew the extent of their injuries as Colvin went for help. Now, as they face a long recovery with a good prognosis, Toor said they are reflecting on ‘our heroes.'” [Colorado Sun]

📖 Voters to decide on legal psychedelic mushrooms: “An initiative to legalize psychedelic mushrooms statewide just landed on the ballot after the Secretary of State’s office verified its petition on Thursday. But proponents of a different approach to the same issue said they’ve begun collecting signatures to offer Coloradans an alternative in November. For now, Coloradans can expect to vote on the Natural Medicine Health Act this fall. For those 21 and over, the measure would decriminalize the possession, growth and gifting of mushrooms containing psilocybin and psilocin, which are hallucinogenic compounds found in certain strains – but it would not allow retail sales.” [CPR

ICYMI from BRL

🛢️ Ahead of this summer’s ozone season, Boulder County officials put the spotlight on oil and gas drilling as culprit. Local governments along the northern Front Range have been monitoring emissions from fossil fuel production sites. They want state regulators to use their data as they seek to impose new regulations that curb the industry’s emissions.

🏘️ In rebuff to Boulder City Council, city’s Planning Board allows housing near pharmaceutical plant in East Boulder redevelopment plan. The board approved a version of the East Boulder Subcommunity Plan, a long-term vision for adding residential neighborhoods to an entirely commercial area of the city. The plan is now back in the hands of the city council.

👮 Boulder City Council seeks changes to police department’s partnership with the FBI. During a town hall hosted by the Boulder Police Department, the police chief urged residents supportive of the existing agreement to get involved in city council meetings as it finalizes its Master Plan.

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Have a story tip for us?
Send us your ideas at tips@boulderreportinglab.org.

– The BRL Team

Jezy J. Gray

I’m the managing editor of the Boulder Reporting Lab. In addition to years of writing on the culture, politics and history of my home state of Oklahoma, I was the final editor-in-chief of the Tulsa Voice, a local bi-weekly newspaper where I led a small but mighty team of journalists to regional and national honors in feature writing, diversity reporting, LGBTQ+ coverage and more. I look forward to listening to and learning from the Boulder community as we work together on telling the stories that matter here.