Is Boulder Contagious?

It’s Election Day around the country. In Fort Collins it’s relatively quiet with school board elections, a city measure asking to opt out of state law regarding municipal broadband and a state measure about the state retaining tax refunds from marijuana sales.

The interesting election action is in Boulder. There years of suppressed demand have given way to a building boom, which has sparked a Boulderesqe-type no-growth backlash with two stop-growth measures on the ballot.

The first is Ballot Question 300. Called Neighborhood Right to Vote on Land Use Regulation Changes, Question 300 would embed a requirement in Boulder’s Home Rule Charter the right of residents to vote on developments in their neighborhoods.

The second is Ballot Question 301. Called Make Development Pay Its Way, Question 301 would also change Boulder’s Charter. In this case it would prohibit city government “from approving new development that does not fully pay for or otherwise provide additional facilities and services to fully offset the additional burdens imposed by the new development…”

In fast growing communities there would be a visceral appeal to such measures. Emotions aside, however, the implementation details would be numerous and complicated and the both measures are ripe for the law of unintended consequences.

For instance, regarding Question 300, there is the tyranny of direct democracy with the public subjectively taking or upholding the private property rights of their neighbors.  It might be heady stuff yielding such power over your neighbors until the day comes when you’re on the receiving end.

Concerning Question 301, how do you really know when development doesn’t pay its own way? This is a full employment act for attorneys and consultants who would be pitted against city staff and activists. Also notice the unspoken assumption that development is a burden on the community and provides no offsetting redeeming benefit in terms of taxes, employment and wanted products and services for local residents.

I’m mentioning this because the activist community in Boulder is often the inspiration for their fellow travelers in Fort Collins. If Questions 300 and 301 are rejected by Boulder residents, we probably won’t be seeing similar measures here. But, if one or both pass there, don’t be surprised to see them spring up here.

That’s why I’ll be following Boulder’s elections this year closer than our own.