Leslie Durgin: Look beyond the ballot titles

Over the last two months, I have participated in numerous debates on issues 300 and 301 and had dozens of conversations with friends and neighbors. Many people are having a hard time understanding these issues and making up their mind whether to support or oppose them. I’d like to share a few more things I have learned that solidify my No vote.

First, it is now clear that both issues are so poorly written that nobody really understands what they will do. This was illustrated when the Daily Camera reported on the fact that the city attorney’s office believes that single-family home remodels could be covered by 301, and that they will recommend that these be included in the building permit moratorium that will go into effect if 301 passes.

Now I have spoken at multiple debates with the two main proponents of 301, and each time they have stated that these do not apply to things like adding a bedroom — exactly what the city attorney says they could apply to. Even the proponents don’t understand what they wrote!

To confuse matters further, the author of 301 was quoted in the Camera that he intentionally left in single-family homes because he thinks that people who choose to share their homes, or to add a granny flat so that an elderly relative can live their home, or to generate a little extra income to afford their mortgage, should have to pay higher fees. But he doesn’t agree with the city attorney that 301 would charge fees when someone with a lot of money scrapes a small home and builds a big one. The intent is kind of like Robin Hood in reverse — targeting lower- and middle-income folks for higher fees while exempting the wealthier.

Another insight is the power of the ballot titles. The way the system works, the group that petitions gets to name it. That is how we ended up with the “Taxpayer Bill of Rights,” or TABOR, which has hamstrung our state since 1992. If the government was referring 300 and 301 to the ballot, they would have neutral titles that actually describe them — something like “creating 66 neighborhood election districts with veto power over land-use decisions” or “an issue to increase certain fees on new development, remodels, and changes of use.” Those have a very different ring than “right to vote” and “pay its own way,” don’t they? It’s important to look past the pleasing titles down to the actual impacts.

A very practical immediate impact — if 301 passes, the city will stop issuing building permits. It is unclear whether this will halt all construction that does not have a building permit yet (which is what the language of 301 implies), or whether projects that are already in the pipeline could continue forward due to state law — another area where the city attorney and the proponents disagree. If all are halted, Boulder will enter its own mini-recession. Last year, nearly 20 percent of city revenues came from taxes and fees associated with infill and redevelopment — halting this overnight will be a much bigger hit to city services than the great recession. And just last night one of my colleagues spoke with the owner of a local small business that does energy efficient home remodels, who was trying to figure out which of his employees he will have to lay off if 301 passes.

It also hit me in a debate last week that 300/301 will make traffic worse. Our traffic woes are very much related to high housing prices pushing workers out of Boulder. We could never add another job, but still end up with tens of thousands more in-commuters, if we force existing employees out through higher housing prices.

The biggest impact will be on the character of our community. While there are lots of good things happening in Boulder, by far the most negative change is the dramatic escalation in housing prices, pushing out teachers, firefighters, baristas, nonprofit workers — the folks who make our community function. If we want to retain the soul of Boulder — and a functional economy and transportation network — we need housing options in Boulder for these friends and neighbors. To quote the major affordable housing provider, Boulder Housing Partners, “At a time when our community needs to be doing everything possible to aggressively encourage and preserve affordable housing, we are very concerned that 300 and 301 will do just the opposite.”

Please vote no on 300 and 301.

Leslie Durgin is a former mayor of Boulder.

Originally published by Daily Camera on October 31, 2015