John Tayer: Ignore the Sirens’ Call!

Last Monday, the Boulder Chamber Board voted to oppose two proposed ballot measures, the so-called “Neighborhoods’ Right to Vote” and “Development Shall Pay Its Own Way” initiatives, and we urge you to decline to sign the petitions to put them on the ballot. As I will outline below, they circumvent our community’s time-honored planning process and undercut the ability of our elected leaders to lead.

Some years ago, the city of Boulder and Boulder County jointly adopted a Comprehensive Plan intended to “protect the natural environment of the Boulder Valley while fostering a livable, vibrant and sustainable community.” The comprehensive planning process, which repeats every five years, is designed to infuse such core values as sustainability, inclusiveness, innovation, economic vitality, and neighborhood character, among others, into the plan. This process is the basis for a rational approach to planning for our community.

While the above ballot measures might sound enticing, they are a veritable Sirens’ call that would effectively undermine the comprehensive planning process. As with TABOR — the complex tax-limitation initiative that has tied our state finances in knots — the devil is in the details. Upon closer inspection, these initiatives create a tortuous web of legal and political barriers to responsible progress.

With respect to the “Neighborhoods’ Right to Vote” measure, Boulder already subjects building projects to a rigorous planning review process. This includes extensive mandates for citizen input and multiple layers of scrutiny by city staff, appointed boards and our elected council. We can find clear evidence that this process works in the many projects that are returned to the drawing-board in the face of public criticism. And while we acknowledge that the current development review standards may not always yield results that please everyone, there are plenty of opportunities to adjust specific project and area plans through the comprehensive planning process and other development review steps.

The specter of individual neighborhood votes on building projects, however, thwarts comprehensive planning efforts and undermines representative government. The terms of the ballot measure allow a mere 10 percent of a single neighborhood’s residents to force a neighborhood vote that could kill projects with wider community support. Further, providing neighborhoods with authority to veto projects within their boundaries will hamper efforts to address community-wide needs in such areas as housing affordability and transit efficiency.

As for the ballot measure which proposes to apply the full cost of public infrastructure and service impacts to new development, the “Development Shall Pay Its Own Way” initiative, such a proposition implies that new commercial and residential development only imposes adverse impacts. The businesses that new building projects accommodate and their employees add significant funds to the local tax base and make other contributions to our economic vitality. And, of course, these businesses provide jobs which many individuals and families rely on for their financial security. With respect to residential development, expanding the diversity of workforce housing options is critical to addressing both social and economic needs.

Boulder’s prosperous economy provides the financial foundation for many of our most prized community investments, including thousands of acres of open space, arts and culture attractions, energy efficiency and climate action programs, let alone helping to finance such necessities as transportation infrastructure and emergency response services. To the extent there are further community needs we must address, the right way to allocate the associated costs is through a comprehensive evaluation of trade-offs by our professional staff and elected leadership, along with extensive public review. By contrast, the proposed “Development Shall Pay Its Own Way” initiative creates a recipe for political gridlock and puts the city at risk of burdensome and expensive lawsuits over the nexus between development impacts and fees.

Make no mistake — the Boulder Chamber and our membership embody the spirit of our tagline: “We Build Community Through Business.” Indeed, we are all privileged to live in this wonderful place and, similarly, we are privileged to have so many responsible businesses that help to make it so wonderful. Along with their employees, our local businesses care deeply about the future social, environmental and economic welfare of this community. That is why, on behalf of our business membership, the Boulder Chamber is compelled to alert our fellow citizens about threats to our economy and quality of life, such as the two proposed ballot initiatives that will be in circulation and in search of your signature.

Reject the Sirens’ call and decline to sign the petitions for the “Neighborhoods’ Right to Vote” and “Development Shall Pay Its Own Way” initiatives!

John Tayer is president and CEO of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce.

Article originally published in the Daily Camera on 05/23/2015