Question and Answers for Neighborhoods Right to Vote Initiative:
- What was the origin of this proposal?
Answer: The Boulder government appears to be moving very quickly in the direction of proposing land use changes of all different sorts in neighborhoods. There hasn’t been any type of broad community consensus, or even a broad inquiry into, whether people are generally in favor of the direction the City seems to be taking regarding growth, development, greater density, and larger, more massive, 55’ tall buildings. Our neighborhood initiative was basically born out of a concern for democracy. We’re not sure the great majority of Boulder residents agree with the City’s direction. This initiative simply guarantees that neighborhood residents have the right to petition their government such that the neighborhood might get a chance to vote, in the event of a terribly unpopular City proposal. The alternative is for neighborhoods not to have voice, and we didn’t think that was good.
- What will this proposal do?
Answer: If passed it will mean that no land use change decision from Council or the City will go into effect for 60 days. If, during that time, 10% of the effected neighborhood(s) sign a petition asking for a vote on the proposed land use changes, the neighborhood will get to vote in a special election for that neighborhood. A majority of voters in the affected neighborhood must approve the City land use changes, in order for them to stand.
The City may propose sweeping changes to a particular type of zoning that exists in several neighborhoods throughout the City. Our initiative respects that each neighborhood may feel differently about the proposed changes, and this is their right. Therefore, each of the affected neighborhoods can petition for a special election within it. That’s not to say each will get a special election. They first must pass the formidable hurdle of getting enough signatures on a petition (10% of the registered voters in the neighborhood). That takes organizing, going door to door, official petition procedures. Our guess is that only in cases of wildly unpopular land use changes from the City, would the rights afforded in this initiative ever be exercised. But, if ever there were a wildly unpopular proposal from the City, that’s all the more reason to have this initiative in the books.
- What’s the difference between a ballot initiative and a Charter Amendment?
Answer: the City Council could always change a ballot initiative, months or years afterward. They can’t change a Charter Amendment, not without putting it before all the Boulder voters, just as we’re doing.
- Is this elitist or exclusionary?
Answer: No. Giving a voice and democratic rights to people is never elitist. It’s about as inclusive as you can get. We are not so concerned about how neighborhoods will vote, than we are that get a chance to vote.
- Don’t you just think neighborhoods will vote their own self interests, and never allow for the accomplishment of broad societal goals within their borders, things like affordable housing?
Answer: You’re assuming you know how neighborhoods are going to vote. I don’t. I suspect each one will be different.
But on the subject of broad societal goals, there’s this: Many young families, with young children, need a house with available parking and a yard for the kids and the dog to play in. The data suggests that even Millenials are moving out of urban inner cities and into the suburbs faster than they’re moving in. The point is, single family neighborhoods are, and will always be, in demand. The problem now is that since single family neighborhoods are being de-emphasized in Boulder, to the point of their being proposals to permanently change their character, into multi-unit housing and other changes. And even now, hundreds of families are giving up on Boulder and its diminishing percentage of single family neighborhoods. They’re not just passing on Boulder because of price. They’re doing so because Boulder doesn’t have the type of housing they want. They’re simply seeking the housing and neighborhoods they want further down the Turnpike, in Lafayette, Westminster, or in Longmont. That’s adding to the 60,000 daily in-commuters we have. If there is a neighborhood in Boulder that wishes to maintain its character, we think that’s great, because it means that a very highly-in-demand type of housing will be preserved in Boulder, instead of being lost forever. This will accomplish the broad societal goal of allowing workers to find single family housing in Boulder, instead of more of them having to look further down the Turnpike.
Basically, this is about maintaining diverse housing stock. There is momentum in Boulder toward changing much of its diverse housing stock into one type: dense, massive, towering, multi-unit stock. We think it’s healthier when a community actually maintains, rather than reduces, the different types of housing it has.
- Won’t this paralyze government, by having the people micromanage the government’s decisions?
Answer: No. Remember, this only pertains to land use changes to neighborhoods proposed by the City. That’s the only realm in which citizens could petition their government for a change to vote. And, some proposed changes by the City may be agreeable to most people. We see that happening in some cases. This initiative really just covers the worst case scenario, and restores a final level of checks and balances between people and their government. Remember, citizens’ right to petition their government is afforded in the U.S. Constitution. This initiative just reinforces it at the local level, for extreme and isolated cases in the event of a wildly unpopular action by the City.