Something’s not right among the planning mandarins

Beyond the F-bomb controversy, some dubious ways of bringing about change

| Jun 9, 2015

Many are gradually realizing that something has gone seriously wrong inside a bureaucracy that calls itself Planning and Development Services at the City of Boulder.

Latest evidence comes in the form of an astute, strongly worded critique of what’s called the “Housing Boulder” process. This critique, just published on The Blue Line website, an organ with philosphical (but not financial) ties to PLAN-Boulder County, comes from Gail Promboin, and is based on her partipation in an affordable housing working group.

A couple of passages from her article:

The problems were pre-defined by staff, as were all of the potential “tools” to address them. All attempts to provide different perspectives on what the problems are or suggest different tools were rebuffed or ignored by staff. Every exercise in every meeting of the working groups and the neighborhood workshops was designed to select top priorities from among this limited, pre-defined set of actions. It’s important to note that none of these actions focused on preserving the character of existing neighborhoods, that most of them promoted higher densities and relaxation of development regulations, and that the “do nothing” option was never discussed, even as a straw man.

And the writer astutely weaves in the recent flap involving one Becky Boone, a Code for America consultant to the city, and her expletive-dotted speech to an Ignite Boulder gathering May 13 — an appeal to young techies to get involved in city politics:

The F-bombs thrown by the Code for America consultant aside — a transparent and tasteless attempt to look cool — the blatant attempt to arouse students and other young residents to oppose (even hate?) their elders and other long-time residents was much more offensive than her language. I’m all in favor of reaching out to groups that typically don’t participate in local affairs, but I’m mystified at the focus on those with the most short-term perspective on Boulder, many if not most of whom will move on after they complete their studies.

Becky Boone (Source: Ignite Boulder/Youtube)

Becky Boone
(Source: Ignite Boulder/Youtube)

A minor correction is that most of the crowd at the Ignite Boulder event hailed from Boulder’s bustling tech-startup community, few of whom are pursuing “studies” in Boulder as suggested. Most are slaving long hours in hopes of their code factories striking it rich in the current tech bubble. Most are too exhausted or too (as the writer suggests) just-passing-through to be ruminating about Boulder’s quality of life 20 years hence.

My biggest concern is that the City Council seems to be unwilling to confront the misguided policies and processes being pursued by Boulder’s “planning mandarins.” I’m with those who believe that reforms should have started years ago with reining in the growth of Boulder’s employment base, which has grown hideously out of whack with available housing.

I’m also worried that opposition to the error-ridden steps of the Planning bureaucracy will be taken out in next November’s Council election, where the people I view as liberals hold a still-precarious majority.

Truth be told, the above-cited Gail Promboin article, as welcome as it is, doesn’t dig into the heart of the matter: Which individuals are behind the questionable planning strategies and tactics we see being played out day by day? How did these people gain power? On the basis of what ideology — or whose coercion, or whose shower of favors — are their decisions being made?

And … Can’t something be done to right the course?

* * *

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article implied that The Blue Line might have financial ties to PLAN-Boulder County, which is not the case.–Ed.



  1. Rob Smoke says:

    Hi, Bob:

    I like the fact that you ask questions that reach beyond some general acceptance of how the debate might be framed.
    “Whose shower of favors?” indeed.

    The societal norm seems to be that money and housing are simply interchangeable parts of an algebraic formula. If an eligibility factor of “X” dollars is divided by “Y” — a figure representing some barely recognizable community standard, or set of standards, then by adding the co-sine of a certain variant, we find out if the developer wins, as dictated by the scientifically derived result, or if some compromise is produced.

    Not to be off-topic, but I am describing why I don’t find it acceptable that the Boulder city council agrees to categorize shelter beds as “housing.” Bob, if you traded your home today for a shelter bed, would you still feel housed? Do you think a single person staying at that shelter — presumably to avoid freezing, or being arrested, or perhaps for the sake of a shower and something to eat– mistakes the shelter for actual “housing?”

    To me, it would be a whole lot easier if we could all just get into a giant ring and bash one another (with Nerf bats?) until one person was left standing. I might not win, but I would have a better shot at influencing the final outcome. After all is said and done, my lack of financial resource simply equals disqualification from the process of who decides what does or does not qualify as “housing” (or whatever version of a “plan” is being dreamed up by those “in charge.”) RS

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