A new week, Boulder, starting with a Monday.

Today, John Herrick reports on the union push at Ash’Kara. Union efforts have gained momentum in recent years, with coffee shops across the country, including in Boulder County, voting for collective bargaining power. In December, workers at Ash’Kara, a Middle Eastern restaurant on Pearl Street, sought to ride that wave of enthusiasm. They organized to demand better pay, benefits and transparency around the “fair wage fee.” But this month, after deciding on an election to form a union, workers called off the vote. They didn’t have enough support, they said.

The outcome illustrates the challenges and stakes of unionizing in an industry with high turnover, relatively low pay and few job protections.

Also, the City of Boulder has received a second formal complaint over the Police Oversight Panel; a member of the Louisville City Council is heading to the State Capitol; and more.

Have a good Monday.

— Tim, reporter

What to know today

  • Sun is a-comin’: After several cold and snowy days, the ball of flame might show itself again. Today remains bitter, but tomorrow temps climb almost to freezing. Get those flip flops ready.
  • New Boulder County rep heads to Denver: Kyle Brown, a member of the Louisville City Council, was elected by the House District 12 Vacancy Committee on Saturday to serve the district at the Colorado Capitol. His election by fellow Democrats comes after the resignation of Tracey Bernett, a civil engineer who represented the eastern half of Boulder County.
    • During the virtual meeting on Saturday, 51 vacancy committee members voted in a race among five candidates. Brown won the first round of virtual voting with about 80% of the vote. He is expected to head to the statehouse as soon as today. “I will work everyday to make good on the faith that you have put in me,” he told fellow Democrats during the meeting.
    • Bernett’s resignation came after the Boulder County District Attorney filed criminal charges against her, alleging she faked her home address to run for reelection in a more politically favorable district. She rented a one bedroom in Louisville while still living in Longmont.
  • Complaint over Police Oversight Panel: The City of Boulder has received another complaint from a resident over the appointment of new members of the Police Oversight Panel. This time, the complaint is from Zayd Atkinson, whose interaction with a Boulder police officer in 2019 is often cited as the reason why Boulder needs civilian oversight of its officers.
    • The complaint, first reported by Boulder Beat, was sent to the Boulder City Clerk on Thursday, Jan. 26. It alleges the Boulder City Council violated the ordinance that created the panel when it delayed a vote to approve candidates. Atkinson said councilmembers refused to “fulfill their required duties.”
    • Atkinson also alleges councilmembers violated the ordinance when, on Dec. 15, they voted to request, in writing, information from the selection committee related to how they determined nominees. This, Atkinson wrote, “intruded on the confidential deliberation of the selection committee by demanding information about the selection committee’s deliberations.”
    • The Boulder City Council voted last Thursday to approve the list of candidates. The vote came after another resident filed a complaint alleging the selection committee set up to nominate candidates violated city code when it put forward someone who was “biased” against police. That complaint has prompted an investigation into the selection committee.
  • New study on air pollution and prenatal exposure: A study published in Environmental Health last week, with many authors from CU Boulder, found prenatal exposure to air pollution affects the neurological development of children. “Higher exposure to air pollutants during pregnancy, particularly in the mid and late prenatal periods, was inversely associated with scaled and composite motor, cognitive, and language scores at 2 years,” the study says. “These results indicate that prenatal ambient air pollution may negatively impact neurodevelopment in early life.” The research was conducted in Southern California among Latino mother-child pairs.
    • The study adds to a growing body of evidence on poor air quality and children’s health, and may have relevance for the Front Range. In September, levels of pollution were classified as “severe” by the Environmental Protection Agency for its high levels of ground-level ozone.
    •  As John Herrick previously reported, “Oil and gas emissions are the single-largest contributor to ground-level ozone, one of the Front Range’s most urgent public health threats. Ozone forms when VOCs and other pollutants from oil and gas, wildfires and automobiles react with sunlight. The toxic gas is linked to respiratory ailments, heart attacks and strokes.”
    •  “Despite newer regulations, oil and gas emissions have not decreased,” said Cindy Copeland, Boulder County’s air and climate policy adviser.
  • Changes to floodplain regulations: Boulder County is hosting a virtual public meeting to let residents know about coming changes to how the county navigates floodplains. The updates would only affect unincorporated Boulder County, and include possible changes to the Land Use Code, like protections for manufactured homes in floodplains and clarification on what types of homes require “Elevation Certificates.” Most of it is to ensure the county is adhering to standards set by FEMA and the Mile High Flood District.
    • Those interested are welcome to send comments on the land use draft to FloodplainAdmin@bouldercounty.org. These comments would be part of the public record, and would be taken into consideration before the amendments are put into place.
    • The meeting will be on Feb. 9 at 6 p.m. Registration is encouraged.
  • Police seeking more info in fatal crash: At 4 p.m. last Thursday, a 4Runner crossed the median of Foothills Parkway near the intersection with Valmont and crashed into two cars. A 65-year-old woman in one of those was badly injured and died on the way to the hospital. Nobody else was injured.
    • The police are seeking witnesses and any other information associated with the crash. If you know anything, call Officer David Kaufman at 720-291-2768 or email at kaufmand@bouldercolorado.gov.

Go deeper

Ash’Kara workers withdraw petition to form a union

By John Herrick

January 30, 2023

In recent months, at least three workers at Ash’Kara, a Middle Eastern restaurant in downtown Boulder, had been organizing to form a union, in part to demand transparency over how its “fair wage fee” is distributed among workers. In late December, about a dozen workers and supporters bundled up in winter garb to protest outside the restaurant on 1043 Pearl Street, chanting support for the union and blasting their message across social media. 

The effort followed recent successful union campaigns in coffee shops and restaurants across the county. In December 2021, workers at Spruce Confections, a Boulder bakery, voted to form a union. About a year later, baristas at Brewing Market Coffee followed suit, after voicing grievances over how their tips were being distributed. 

But on Jan. 18, about a month after Ash’Kara organizers filed a petition to hold an election to form a union, they withdrew it. The decision ended the effort without a vote. 

The group of organizers, some of whom no longer work at Ash’Kara, said they didn’t have the support needed to win the election. To form a union, they would need to earn a majority of support among those voting. 

Continue reading…

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BRL picks

🏡 Biodiversity, climate and you: Next Tuesday, Jan. 31, is a Cool Boulder event at Junkyard Social. From 6 to 8 p.m. panelists and presenters will discuss the importance of biodiversity at both a global and local scale. This ties into Cool Boulder’s “Pollinator Pathways” action area, focused on creating corridors of diverse plants, that span yards and forests alike, to support cooling temps and nourish local pollinators. Register to attend in person, or watch the livestream.

🎭 The year to come: On Wednesday, Feb. 1, the R Gallery and Wine Bar will host local artists updating the community on their “year ahead.” Those wishing to present should prepare a one minute informal update on “performances, exhibits, installations, and new works that you are looking forward to.” The event is free, but RSVP to RSVP@bouldercolorado.gov to present.

🥾 Tuesday/Thursday hikers: Meeting on the T days at 9 a.m. in North Boulder Park, the group is segmented into smaller chunks based on where folks want to go, carpooling to trailheads while reimbursing drivers. Interested hikers are reminded to bring their own lunch, and snacks, and water.

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 related topics. He is also the lead writer of BRL Today, our morning newsletter. Email: tim@boulderreportinglab.org.