Colorado Supreme Court Accepts Bedrooms Are For People’s Appeal
Today, the Colorado Supreme Court made the decision to take up the Bedrooms Are For People case after the campaign appealed a district court’s previous ruling. Although five Boulder City Council members have repeatedly refused to listen to the voices of many thousands of their own constituents, the state’s highest court will now hear voters’ concerns about the City of Boulder’s bungled ballot petitioning process.
Bedrooms Are For People is a grassroots campaign that seeks to empower Boulder’s electorate to vote on its 2020 ballot measure, which would overturn Boulder’s overly restrictive and exclusionary home occupancy laws by allowing at least one person to live in each bedroom of a home.
On August 18, five Boulder council members continued their attempts to suppress direct democracy as they reiterated their July 21 decision not to place the Bedrooms Are For People measure on the ballot, despite the fact that campaign exceeded the petition requirements that the City of Boulder repeatedly provided to voters.
The legal brief the campaign filed makes it clear that a correct application of the law would inevitably lead the court to the conclusion that the City Council must place Bedrooms Are For People’s measure on Boulder’s November election ballot.
Bedrooms Are For People’s appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court hinges on two key issues: (1) Voters’ reliance on rules provided by the city government; and (2) the City Council’s retroactive decision to change their interpretation of the city’s election laws after the petitioning process had started and key deadlines had already passed.
Bedrooms Are For People volunteers relied on the petition process rules that the City of Boulder repeatedly provided. Therefore, the campaign is asking the court to apply a legal principle of fairness known as equitable estoppel to ensure the City Council honors the original rules the city provided and places the measure on the 2020 ballot. This area of law exists to ensure fair dealing and to prevent manifest injustice, and can be applied to municipalities in the case of election law. The appeal seeks to determine:
“Whether the City of Boulder, after making a last-minute change in its rules for citizen ballot initiatives, should be equitably estopped from refusing to place a petition on the ballot, when the petition complies with all of the requirements established by the City at the beginning of the election cycle.”
The campaign’s appeal also asserts that upholding the district court’s August 14 ruling “would have the effect of eviscerating a trial court’s equitable powers in nearly every election circumstance where local election officials set incorrect election procedures.” This case is especially noteworthy since Boulder’s city government repeatedly and consistently misrepresented its own election laws to voters and volunteers from Bedrooms Are For People.
If the City of Boulder is not held accountable for providing bad election guidance, that would set a disturbing precedent that municipal governments across Colorado have no liability for giving bad election information to their own voters.
The second issue in the campaign’s appeal is the City of Boulder’s retrospective lawmaking, which is unconstitutional in Colorado. Once Bedrooms Are For People’s petition was certified, the campaign had the right to complete the petition process pursuant to the rules and requirements that the city originally provided to them.
“By upsetting vested rights by moving a deadline for petition submission to a date that had already passed, the City unconstitutionally denied Bedrooms...their right to participate in the ballot initiative process.”
The Bedrooms Are For People initiative has faced consistent political opposition from a 5-4 majority of the Boulder City Council. The laws against retrospective lawmaking are specifically in place to prevent the kind of arbitrary and capricious legislation that five council members have engaged in this year.
“Although our volunteers anticipated pushback from Boulder's powerful political elite, we never expected they'd go so far as to retroactively change the rules and prevent the public from voting on our measure at all,” said campaign co-chair Eric Budd. “We have played by the rules and we hope that the Colorado Supreme Court will shut down the Boulder City Council's attempted voter suppression.”
“We are not done fighting on behalf of every person who currently lives in the shadows, has been evicted for safely sharing a home with others, or is being denied equal access to housing,” said campaign co-chair Chelsea Castellano. “We will continue working to dismantle structural discrimination and bigotry to build a more free, just, and equitable community.”
You, too, can join Boulder voters and Bedrooms Are For People volunteers on the path to housing justice. Please take your first step now by contributing at www.bedroomsareforpeople.com/donate.
View Appeal to CO Supreme Court — Bedrooms Are For People Case #2020-SA-289.
Order granting review from Colorado Supreme Court, 8/20/2020.
Listen to the “Bedrooms Are For People” song performed at Boulder City Council on 8/19/2020. (Melody and lyrics composed by and vocal performance by Krista Nordback.)