Launched in 2014, Open Boulder is the voice of Boulder-area citizens who came to this community to “live, work and play,” and who want to ensure that the amazing assets that brought them here are open for all for generations to come.
We are a grassroots, nonpartisan movement of open-minded, pragmatic and moderate individuals of all ages, cultures and economic backgrounds. We are parents, we are young and not-so-young professionals, students and recent grads, long-time residents and recent arrivals. We are employees and business owners, entrepreneurs and technology workers. We are outdoor enthusiasts and outdoor athletes, we are animal lovers, and we are environmentalists.
We are forward looking, dynamic and we embrace diversity. We aren’t afraid of change done right and we want our voices to be included in shaping our community’s future. Most importantly, we are open to new ideas, new people and new ways of living, working and playing in Boulder.
Change is inevitable. But the right kind of change can be a powerful, positive force in the community. Indeed, to be a sustainable, healthy and economically viable community, our city and county must evolve.
Our vision for an open Boulder is that we can live, work and play in a place that:
- Creates housing, transportation and civic solutions to enable younger generations and working people to live, work and raise families here.
- Embraces the business community and entrepreneurs, and recognizes the importance of a robust and diverse economy to the Boulder lifestyle.
- Values our Open Space as much for its recreational opportunities as for the urban shaping and natural habitat preservation it provides.
- Welcomes all types of people to civic life, and allows the voices of everyone to be heard in the critical local decisions that affect our lives.
- Fundamentally meets the needs of its citizens.
The City of Boulder and its surrounding county are widely recognized for their high quality of life. So what needs to be fixed?
The reality is that Boulder has not always handled change well. And given the many impediments to political involvement, many of the same civic leaders have continued to influence Boulder politics for decades. As a result, community conversations about issues and policies that will affect our quality of life — such as future housing, neighborhoods, transportation and City services, about Boulder companies and job growth, about the types of cultural and sporting events we should host, about access and recreation in our mountain parks and open spaces — tend to be dominated by small groups of people.
The other reality is that people like us are busy with work, school, raising a family, trying to get or stay in shape, creating a new business or working in one of the many up-and-coming companies that call Boulder home. Let’s face it, we’re all leading very, very busy lives. Finding the time to write letters, to attend City Council meetings, to be an activist … well, it just isn’t realistic.
That’s why Open Boulder formed — to be your voice, to offer a platform so you can be connected to other voices like yours, and to be sure that our city and county leaders recognize us and weigh our voices according to our numbers.
Through forums, surveys and social media, we will hear your concerns and your ideas for pragmatic solutions. We will conduct research to ensure that community conversations are driven by data and objective information tethered to the true needs of the community. Together we can present a unified voice of common sense.
Finding Ways to Keep Boulder Open to Young Families and Low- to Moderate-Income People
Boulder is an amazing place to live, work, and play. As every “best place to [fill in the blank]” survey indicates, we’re not alone in thinking that, and every year the basic laws of supply and demand drive housing prices further beyond the reach of all but the wealthiest. This has a fundamental and irreversible effect on our community: decreased diversity (age, ethnic and socioeconomic), vitality of the innovation and creative scene, and quality of life. The Boulder we value — rich in culture, robust economy, plentiful in opportunity — is ours to lose if we don’t do something about the housing crisis.
The statistics tell a difficult story. With median home prices in Boulder now at $528,000, which is almost $400 per square foot, we are comparable to some of the highest-priced resort communities in the country. For renters, the median listed rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Boulder is rapidly climbing toward $2,000 per month (currently about $1,800), hundreds higher than Fort Collins, Broomfield, or Denver. Of our highly educated, college-town peers nationwide, only Berkeley is higher. And salaries are not keeping up. Using the standard 30% guideline for ratio of rent to income, that $1,800 price tab corresponds to $72,000 in annual income. And what’s the median family income in Boulder? Not even close … about $57,000. What’s worse, according to Boulder Housing Partners the low end of the market is inflating the fastest. In a few years, BHP predicts, the only units available in the city for anyone with family income under $60,000 — that is, the current median — will be permanently designated affordable housing.
What this means is that many who support our community foundationally, such as our teachers, nurses, safety workers and service workers, cannot afford to live among those whom they serve. This translates into increased response times when safety and health care workers need to commute from their homes in distant cities, and being less aligned with our community’s values. Because our teachers are not our neighbors, our children are less likely to see them outside of the classroom at community events. This disparity effectively causes a division of class.
Furthermore, young professionals, millennials, and young families who are the future of Boulder have little hope for growing roots here. If we are not creative in solving this housing crisis, even our own children will have little opportunity to live in Boulder after they leave their parents’ homes.
Source: U.S. Census 2012 American Community Survey, one year estimates
Open Boulder recognizes that there is no easy solution to this complex problem, but believe it is a fallacy to dismiss all attempts to deal with the crisis and continue to make matters worse. Ours is a multiple-prong approach.
- We believe Boulder must grapple with housing diversity by becoming denser where it makes sense, mainly around transportation hubs, and focusing on building attainable housing wherever land is not devoted to another use (such as designated open space).
- We also believe in regional solutions, including better transit connections to more affordable communities nearby, and creative micro-solutions, including loosening rules on how many people and households can reside at one address, where appropriate.
- We are excited by ideas such as a large-scale Community Land Trust, which separates land value from structure, thereby reducing cost of home ownership greatly.
There is great urgency to this: No city that refuses to be open to new energy — new ideas, different people — can ever hope to thrive in the long term. And there is danger of this type of tired attitude taking root in Boulder. Up until now, city leaders have only given lip service, and created unproductive, one-sided “conversations” about the problem with many ideas off-limits. It’s long past time to get serious. Other cities have done it. So should we.
Open Boulder opposes both growth-related initiatives proposed for the 2015 ballot because they will cripple our ability to use planning tools to solve the housing crisis, making matters much worse on the housing diversity front. They ignore the needs of the 62,000 daily in-commuters and the resulting environmental effects, and effectively eliminate the opportunity for middle-class families to live here. Boulder must reject the proposals of those who wish to set the city they love in stone, or surround it with a proverbial fence. We understand the emotion, but we recognize that it’s impossible and counterproductive to reject even well-planned change.
Letting More People Enjoy One of Boulder’s Greatest Gifts
Boulder is known worldwide for many things: Our intellectual climate, beautiful setting, entrepreneurial energy. But perhaps the most renowned is our Open Space program, begun 50 years ago by some true visionaries to whom we owe a great deal. Open Boulder is a strong supporter of the program, but we also insist on a balance between recreational access and conservation prudence. Today, new acquisitions, and even older units of the system, are often made off-limits to people wanting to spend their play time in the outdoors. That’s a shame, because in order to preserve these lands for future generations, we must be good environmental stewards and encourage people to fall in love with them like we did. After all, open space costs (tax) money: Nearly a quarter of the city’s share of sales tax, and over a half of the county’s, go toward preserving and managing their respective open space systems, well more than any other Colorado community (some pay for their systems with property tax). Maintaining this revenue stream requires residents to connect emotionally with these lands.
The Open Space system was set aside for, among other things, “preservation of land for its aesthetic or passive recreational value and its contribution to the quality of life of the community” (Boulder City Charter). Indeed, the City owes part of its economic vitality to the unique quality of life our greenbelt offers to businesses moving or starting here. Certainly it is no accident that people who love the outdoors want to live here, and start families and businesses on the way. But we see danger signs: Most of the acreage added since 2005 at a combined cost of over $50 million, including the renowned Joder Ranch (a former working horse ranch), still allows for no public access. With visitation now well over 5 million a year, the trail system is not keeping pace and, inevitably, impacts are becoming more intense and congestion more problematic where public access is allowed.
Open Space lands form a large part of the reason why many of us moved here, and recreational users of the Open Space system constitute some of the most enthusiastic supporters in the open space tax base. But we have a vision where managing responsible recreation on Open Space and Mountain Parks properties is part of a carefully considered balance, where access is allowed wherever possible and recreation and conservation are not considered mutually exclusive. We envision a system where more of these extraordinary lands are open, and people can enjoy them in a more spread out manner. And this, we believe, ensures that political support for the Open Space system never wavers.
We support excluding some activities (or all) in some areas if the science shows that ecological values would be compromised. But we oppose these restrictions when they are made on the basis of poor or broad-brush science, anecdotes, or simply assumptions. As the city’s Comprehensive Plan states, “Public access to natural lands will be provided for, except where closure is necessary to protect areas from unacceptable degradation or impacts to agriculture, habitat or wildlife, for public safety, or limits on access necessary to preserve the quality of the visitor experience.” This, we believe, captures the balance well.
In the past several years, this balance has too often been transformed by city leaders into a presumption of no or limited access, with the burden of proof on those who wish to experience city open space with their chosen form of non-motorized recreation. We would like to see this change.
Since adoption of the Visitor Master Plan, the city has been conducting in-depth studies of trails in different areas of the system. They are half way through, and this year is the turn of the Northern area of the system. Open Boulder and its allies have adopted a series of recommendations and are advocating for these new opportunities as the process continues.
ARTS & CULTURE
Making Boulder an Open, Welcoming Place for Creative People
For a city as highly educated, and creative as Boulder, there is remarkably little public investment in the arts and culture. Per capita funding for the arts comes in at a paltry $6.93 in our town, which is a fraction of what is committed in our peer cities. Ft. Collins and Loveland both devote over $30 per capita, as do many of our peer cities nationally, notably Eugene, OR and Madison, WI. And Boulder voters are inclined to support such public investments. In 2014, the city approved by a nearly 2:1 margin referendum 2A, which will generate $9 million a year and dedicate it to capital improvements of existing arts facilities. But it expires at the end of 2017 and does little to address the many needs of arts organizations beyond facilities upgrades, and nothing to expand the spectrum of state of the art performance spaces. Clearly, the time is ripe to make a dramatic change in how we view arts and culture in the city.
Arts and culture nurture people and improve the quality of life in any city. Equally as important is the economic impact of the arts. Each year, according to city statistics, arts and culture organizations and their audiences in Boulder spend over $20 million directly for events and performances. National statistics suggest those audiences on average spend another $22-25 per person per event on other expenses, like meals. A vibrant arts scene attracts people who use their creativity in other ways, such as starting companies and employing people. It also draws people who volunteer and participate in the community (including voting) at higher rates than average. Finally, a vibrant arts and culture scene allows people to age healthier and happier, a major concern in a demographically changing population like Boulder’s.
The arts are a critical part of the good life, and a thriving arts scene usually means that a dynamic city is behind it. Our city today spends an almost symbolic amount of money directly on arts grants and public art: $353,000, which is barely more than $1 out of every $1,000 dollars in the general fund. It is more generous on capital outlays, especially with 2A but also in its funding of the Dairy Center, which is owned by the city. Nevertheless funding for arts organizations, artists, and facilities is far too low. We envision a city that, in one bold step, multiplies that funding number by an order of magnitude, competing directly with its peer cities at around $30-35 per capita.
We support another ballot referendum to continue a portion of the 2A tax increment indefinitely. We also support city assistance in establishing a community arts foundation that would match public funds with private gifts. Such a revenue stream could make Boulder an arts destination as well as a nature, food, and academic destination. And we support a public art program for the city. Finally, we envision thriving creative industries, and world class cultural opportunities for residents both new and old.
Creating a thriving arts scene is about more than public dollars, however. Open Boulder’s five issue priorities reinforce each other in many subtle ways, but this is one of the most direct: Unless we make progress on our attainable housing crisis, we will not be able to nurture and sustain a strong arts community in the city. The two go hand in hand because the majority of artists are not high income earners. Without progress on both fronts, we lose creative people, especially young ones. With even modest progress, however, we can take advantage of our existing economic and other strengths to produce a truly remarkable city for the next generation of Boulderites to enjoy.
Little a city can do with its tax dollars returns as much to the people it serves.
Maintaining and Increasing Momentum for Boulder’s Global Reputation for Entrepreneurism
Entrepreneurs and the innovative companies they start have long played a significant role in the economy of Boulder and Boulder County. This legacy is partly due to good fortune: Tech and biotech entrepreneurship has been catalyzed by science and engineering research at CU and the federal labs, and the decisions of major technology companies like IBM to locate here, attracting a talented and educated workforce that stayed and started companies of their own. But there is also something about Boulder — the lifestyle and nonconformist culture — that has always attracted smart, creative and ambitious women and men, who came here and wanted to start something. And so our innovation legacy extends far beyond technology to fields like natural and craft foods, design and marketing firms, and outdoor sports and recreation.
Currently, the start-up and new-economy sectors in Boulder are thriving, and the start-ups of years past are building-out here. These companies are providing well-paying, sustainable jobs, and are a keystone of the economic and tax base that supports the amenities we enjoy. The statistics are startling: Boulder has (by far) the highest per capita number of start-ups in the U.S., and the number of patents per capita (a measure of future potential) is one of the highest in the nation as well. Media outlets from CNN/Money to Inc Magazine and Bloomberg BusinessWeek have praised the City for its thriving entrepreneurial scene. Boulder is renowned internationally as a competitor for much bigger innovation hubs like Silicon Valley and Boston metro. And the success of our innovation sector is now attracting the next generation of creative geniuses. They want to be in Boulder today because they know about the energy, the entrepreneurial culture, the angels and VC’s, the programs like TechStars and Galvanize, and most critically, that they can have all this and the Boulder lifestyle.
But with this success comes challenges. As the demand increases among companies and workers to come and expand here, stress is placed on housing and transportation, and on services and amenities like Open Space. The City becomes more crowded, there is redevelopment and construction to meet the demands for space. The costs of doing business increase. New companies find it more expensive to locate here, less affordable and feasible to scale-up their operations here, and more likely that their existing employees, or ones they would like to recruit, can’t afford to live here.
These are not easily solvable problems.
We can choose to approach them proactively, in a way that recognizes the innovation economy as a fundamental part of what makes Boulder great. However, some in our community seem to view our business success as more of a problem in itself, and want to create burdens on business, entrepreneurs, and their companies such that they should depart for the many places eager to have them. There is a growing backlash among groups in our community that says that too many companies are moving to town, and that too many jobs are being created. When Google announced it was enlarging its presence in Boulder, there was organized opposition and ambivalence by our political leaders.
These are viewpoints that would be unthinkable in most places. If these viewpoints prevail, Boulder will survive, and still be a nice place to live. But, more and more, it will become an enclave for the rich and the nonworking, and its diversity, vitality and culture will suffer.
Boulder should remain a vital, working city, and a fundamental aspect of that is the innovation economy. A city that works uses every avenue at its disposal to maintain the climate that gave birth to its success. It does not attempt to discourage it from growing. Open Boulder believes that the foundation for well-paying, sustainable jobs in the 21st century will come disproportionately from the high-tech and other entrepreneurial industries that already cluster on the Front Range. These jobs are the key to maintaining a solid economic foundation and tax base, a demographically diverse population, creative energy, and a vibrant dynamic culture.
We support the city’s efforts to attract responsible businesses in its key clusters, particularly high-tech, bio-tech, natural foods, and outdoor recreation. We believe that the attainable housing gap and practical transportation solutions are critical issues, and inextricably linked to the future viability of our innovation economy. We want Boulder to always be a place where it is possible for young (and not-so-young) people with an idea to thrive. We believe that our leadership must do much more to work in coordination with, rather than opposition to the business sector; in proposing new regulations or programs that will impose new costs on business, the transparency, communication exchange, and accountability of the political process must be dramatically improved. Most of all, we oppose the point of view that sees our city as having reached its final state, that sees new businesses and other ventures as only adding new burdens. In fact, a thriving Boulder innovation economy, well-planned-for and sustainable, will make Boulder an even better place to live. We welcome the new Boulder economy.
Boulder was founded in 1871 and passed its first charter shortly thereafter. Much of the structure of our current charter and form of government comes from the Progressive Era of American politics, which peaked in the first two decades of the 20th Century. The Progressives invented what became known as the manager-Council form of local government, in which an elected Council supervises the work of a professional, non-elected City Manager, and the mayor is severely under-powered. It’s unique to the United States. More than 3,300 cities with populations of over 2,500 still use the system, some quite large (Phoenix, for example).
The manager-Council form of government has served Boulder well and we have no desire to change it. However, over the decades the city has grown from a sleepy little college and mining town to a sophisticated, hard-to-govern, international magnet for innovation. Some of the challenges of much bigger cities have come along for the ride, unfortunately, and Boulder’s governance model needs some sprucing up. This is not an indictment of our current government so much as a recognition that any model that has survived for 100 years is likely to creak at least a little. Can we make some changes that will allow government to be more responsive to, and representative of, the people it serves? Or just to function more efficiently? We think so.
To begin with, in 2016 Open Boulder is proposing a limit on the number of terms Members of Council can serve in their lifetimes. This is a way to open up seats on the city’s governing Board to larger numbers of candidates, and to ensure members with different life experiences and priorities have a chance to serve. You can find out more about our initiative here.
In future years, Open Boulder may return to the voters with additional updates to our governance model.
Andy comes to Open Boulder from the Office of Jared Polis, where he was most recently Colorado Director, and prior to that Chief of Staff. Andy has a 20+ year career in public service, government and natural resource policy, and with nonprofits. Andy served for four years on the Boulder City Council, and previously worked for the League of Conservation Voters, the National Parks Conservation Association, and the African Wildlife Foundation. Until recently, Andy served as board chair for ProgressNow Colorado. Andy has a M.S. in Natural Resource Policy and Administration from the University of Michigan, and a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Anthropology from Yale University. Andy lives in Boulder with his wife and two kids.
— Open Boulder Founder —
Lawyer and Civic Leader
Jessica is a lawyer and outdoor enthusiast who has found herself slowly immersed into civic life during the 9 years she has lived in Boulder. She has previously served as the chair of the City of Boulder’s Transportation Advisory Board, and as a member of the Capital Investment Committee of the City. She is still active in transportation issues in the US 36 Corridor, and serves on the board of the Colorado Health Foundation as well. She got involved in Open Boulder because she knows first-hand how challenging it is for working people to get involved in government, and wants to make sure our City and County focus on real-world challenges and practical solutions. When not attending a meeting or writing a legal brief, Jessica loves to spend her time climbing, skiing, and trail running with her husband, Gary Held, and their dog Daisy.
— Open Boulder Founder —
Executive Director of the Access Fund
Brady has lived in Boulder since 2007. He spent much of his early career working in outdoor education as a guide, instructor and manager for Outward Bound. He currently serves as the Executive Director of the Access Fund, the national organization that keeps climbing areas open and conserved, and serves on several local and national non-profit boards. He has a passion for both land conservation and access protection for human powered recreation, and believes that both movements must cooperate with each other to achieve their goals. This was the subject of his 2012 TEDxBoulder talk
. He hopes Open Boulder will help unify Boulder’s many interest groups around a broad, positive and inclusive vision for the future. He is married to Lucia Robinson and is the proud father of his two daughters.
— Open Boulder Founder —
Mom, Runner, Financial Strategist
Michelle, an immigrant and first in her family to go to college, much less graduate school (MBA in finance), has lived in Boulder since 2004. She is passionate about improving Boulder’s inclusiveness and diversity. She would like to see Open Boulder help make busy families aware of issues that affect their lives so their opinions can be included in how Boulder is shaped for their kids. She can be found on her bike pulling her twins in their double Chariot around town, rock climbing or trail running. She works in finance, serves on the Colorado Chautauqua Association’s Board of Directors and volunteers with Intercambio. Michelle recently served a five-year term on the City of Boulder’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.
Former City Council Member
Suzy Ageton is the principal in a consulting firm focused on communications, evaluation and strategic planning. She has served clients in the public, private and non-profit sectors including municipal, district and federal court judges as well as human services, educational and law enforcement organizations. Before forming her consulting business, Suzy litigated in state and federal court and served as Director of the City of Boulder’s Center for Policy and Program Analysis. She also worked over a decade as a Senior Research Associate for the Behavioral Research Institute, a research firm specializing in basic and evaluation research for federal agencies such as the Department of Justice and the National Institutes of Health. From 2005-2013, she served on the Boulder City Council. In this capacity, she worked with the US36 Mayors and Commissioners Coalition on transportation issues and played a key role in the development of the first apartment complex for the chronically homeless in the City of Boulder. Suzy has resided in Boulder for more than 40 years and earned a Ph.D. in Sociology and a J.D from the University of Colorado, Boulder.
— Open Boulder Founder —
Bioscience Entrepreneur & Attorney
Chris came to Boulder almost 20 years ago, drawn by the great climbing and skiing, but most of all, the family-friendly environment. As a lawyer, he worked with many new companies in the natural foods, bioscience and technology fields, helped launch the Boulder Office for an international law firm, and was an adjunct professor at CU, teaching the entrepreneurial law clinic. He was then co-founder of a biotechnology company developing cardiovascular therapies, where he remains today. He has a longstanding interest and involvement in issues impacting the local business community and Open Space. He is the proud father of two CU students, and in his free time likes to ski, bike, climb, flyfish and run the trails with his over-indulged Labrador Cooper.
Marketing Executive & Technology Entrepreneur
One of our younger members, Alex Lindsay, was raised in Boulder and educated in the public school system, before earning a degree in Business Administration at the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business. Post-graduate, Alex lived in London and worked at Forrester Research, an international market research company. Concluding that she couldn’t live without the Flatirons and access to the Boulder Mountain Parks, Alex returned to Boulder to join a technology start-up, Mocavo Inc., where she was Marketing Director. A leader in the genealogy market, Mocavo was acquired in 2014 as the one of the largest Boulder Techstars exits. Alex is now Head of Marketing for a recent graduate of the Techstars program, hobbyDB. As a native, Alex is passionate about ensuring that Boulder is a place where young families can afford to live, work, and play. She is also invested in ensuring that Boulder’s unique start-up network includes all types of entrepreneurs, so that the Boulder business community will continue to thrive.