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  • Writer's pictureBedrooms Are For People

Boulder City Council rejects duty to democracy

"Guest Opinion" published in the Daily Camera on April 23, 2020.

On Tuesday night, Boulder City Council used a Zoom meeting to avoid in-person contact while rejecting alternatives to in-person signature gathering for November ballot measures.

Like the Wisconsin Republican Party, which refused to postpone an election during a life-threatening pandemic, a majority of Council (Mayor Sam Weaver, Mayor Pro Tem Bob Yates, Mary Young, Mirabai Nagle, and Mark Wallach) told petition campaigns that physical collection of signatures would be the only way to qualify for the 2020 ballot. While finding a path forward during a pandemic is difficult, Council abdicated its duty to uphold our democracy and protect the health and safety of their constituents.

In a pandemic, canvassers become vectors for transmission. If a campaign is required to collect 4,000 signatures, they must contact many more people in order to account for faulty signatures, people who decline to sign, or those who are not registered voters in the city. By the end, campaigns interact with tens of thousands of people. Asking campaign volunteers to contact people in high-traffic areas like grocery stores and plazas, or to walk door-to-door, poses a huge health and safety threat to city of Boulder residents at large and communities beyond, as we know the virus does not contain itself within municipal borders. Council’s decision forces campaigns to choose between exercising political rights versus infecting thousands of people, when Council could easily save everyone’s time and well-being by putting the measures on the ballot.

Council created a democracy crisis through a dismissal of public safety and their subjective views on the ballot measures themselves. Weaver, in his closing remarks Tuesday, said “I don’t see anything in front of us that has to get done this year. The subjects of these (measures) are not … imminent.” Rather than find ways to continue our democratic process, the Council majority demonstrated their political opinion that the measures do not deserve public consideration. The mayor’s comment callously ignores real housing, affordability and governance problems Boulder has faced for years.

One ballot measure, No Eviction Without Representation, is “fighting against the power imbalance between landlords and tenants by guaranteeing free legal counsel to all tenants going through eviction.” Protecting tenants from eviction is important in normal times, and even more so as our city and country face an economic collapse potentially as intense as the Great Depression. Eviction at this time also increases risk of catching COVID-19 since an evicted renter would no longer have a stable place to live.

A second measure, Bedrooms Are For People, would make modest changes to the city’s housing occupancy limits. Boulder’s strict housing laws limit unrelated people to no more than three in a home in most parts of the city. Currently, people live in the shadows because they fear being evicted or fined thousands of dollars for sharing a house or having more than three unrelated people. Changing this limit would secure housing for renters across Boulder and eliminate one threat of eviction. This measure would also encourage more Boulder residents to fill out their census forms, pay taxes in the city, and vote, all of which will improve our COVID-19 recovery.

A third measure, End the Muni, would divert spending from the city’s utility occupation tax to fund renewable energy solutions like solar and wind. Boulder’s municipal energy utility project started in 2011 after Boulder voters approved ballot measures 2B/2C. A utility “go/no-go” vote was originally scheduled for 2020, but has been delayed until 2021 or later. Regardless of your views on the municipal utility, voters should be able to have a say on the project in 2020, as originally intended. Forcing these advocates to potentially harm themselves and their neighbors to meet a ballot-qualifying signature count in the middle of a pandemic is undemocratic.

On Tuesday night at the 11th hour, democracy died in darkness. Council’s choice to disregard real alternatives to in-person petition gathering limits political discourse and marginalizes the broader electorate. Considering that, in 2020, Boulder’s voting turnout rates will approach 90% of active voters, the issues and timing matter. Unlike Boulder’s odd-year elections, when turnout often ranges from 40-50%, presidential election years also reflect the broader diversity of our community when people of all age ranges, housing status, and racial backgrounds vote in numbers more closely representing the overall population. In turn, we urge you to ask Council to promote democracy and place all three measures on the ballot.

— Charlotte Pitts is a member of Boulder’s Housing Advisory Board. Eric Budd is a former candidate for Boulder City Council. Both are organizing members of the Bedrooms Are For People ballot measure.

"Guest Opinion" published in the Daily Camera on April 23, 2020.

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