Boulder’s 2016 Ballot: How I’m voting on national, state, and local issues

I am a registered Democrat and generally vote for Democrats unless having a strong reason to vote for another candidate. I’m mainly interested to give my positions on state and local ballot measures, which people have a variety of viewpoints regardless of party.

A note about the presidential race specifically: I am voting for Hillary Clinton. I am not simply voting against Donald Trump, nor voting for Jill Stein or Gary Johnson. While I supported Bernie Sanders in the primary and some of Hillary’s past decisions have bothered me, I believe that the Democrats are the progressive party in this country and we need to continue to work at every level of government to keep driving positive change in the party. Hillary is uniquely qualified to lead the country.

I am happy to cast my vote for the United States’ first woman president, Hillary Clinton.

Presidential Electors Hillary Clinton / Tim Kaine
Democratic
United States Senator Michael Bennet
Democratic
Representative to the 115th United States Congress –
District 2
Jared Polis
Democratic
Regent of the University of Colorado – At Large Alice Madden
Democratic
State Senator – District 18 Stephen Fenberg
Democratic
State Representative – District 13 KC Becker
Democratic
District Attorney – 20th Judicial District Stan Garnett
Democratic
County Commissioner – District 1 Elise Jones
Democratic
County Commissioner – District 2 Deb Gardner
Democratic

 

Colorado State Ballot Measures

Amendment T
YES/FOR
Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado
constitution concerning the removal of the exception to the
prohibition of slavery and involuntary servitude when used as
punishment for persons duly convicted of a crime?

I am voting YES on the measure. Colorado needs to go even further to eliminate prison labor entirely.

Amendment U
YES/FOR
Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution
concerning an exemption from property taxation for a
possessory interest in real property if the actual value of the
interest is less than or equal to six thousand dollars or such
amount adjusted for inflation?

I am voting YES on the measure. The measure would reduce costs for local governments as the cost of collecting these taxes outweighs the average tax assessment ($24 per affected person).

Amendment 69
YES/FOR
SHALL STATE TAXES BE INCREASED $25 BILLION
ANNUALLY IN THE FIRST FULL FISCAL YEAR, AND BY
SUCH AMOUNTS THAT ARE RAISED THEREAFTER, BY AN
AMENDMENT TO THE COLORADO CONSTITUTION
ESTABLISHING A HEALTH CARE PAYMENT SYSTEM TO
FUND HEALTH CARE FOR ALL INDIVIDUALS WHOSE
PRIMARY RESIDENCE IS IN COLORADO, AND, IN
CONNECTION THEREWITH, CREATING A GOVERNMENTAL
ENTITY CALLED COLORADOCARE? (Truncated…)

Perhaps the most difficult item on the ballot this year. I am voting YES on the measure. A number of notable politicians in Colorado have come out against ColoradoCare. Although some details of the proposed law may need to be improved, the net benefits in covering an entire population and reducing overhead from insurance companies could outweigh the costs.

Here’s an op-ed in favor of the measure by Colorado State Senator Irene Aguilar: Yes on Amendment 69: Coloradans should take back their health care

Amendment 70
YES/FOR
Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution
increasing the minimum wage to $9.30 per hour with annual
increases of $0.90 each January 1 until it reaches $12 per hour
effective January 2020, and annually adjusting it thereafter for
cost-of-living increases?

I am voting YES on the measure. The phased-in approach and cost-of-living adjustments are smart policy. Although some groups are pushing for a higher minimum wage, giving the geographical disparities in Colorado, a higher minimum may have huge impacts on rural parts of Colorado while still not being sufficient for some of its cities. I think this measure finds an appropriate balance without having a more localized policy.

Amendment 71
NO/AGAINST
Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution
making it more difficult to amend the Colorado constitution by
requiring that any petition for a citizen-initiated constitutional
amendment be signed by at least two percent of the registered
electors who reside in each state senate district for the
amendment to be placed on the ballot and increasing the
percentage of votes needed to pass any proposed constitutional
amendment from a majority to at least fifty-five percent of the
votes cast, unless the proposed constitutional amendment only
repeals, in whole or in part, any provision of the constitution?

I am voting NO on the measure. While raising the amending the constitution for measures like marijuana or personhood may seem inappropriate, voters do have the ability to weigh-in on important issues. Colorado doesn’t currently have the problem of dozens of measures each election cycle like California does, and notable measures (like those against oil and gas) in fact failed to get on the ballot this year. The proposed changes would make it certain that only well-funded and organized efforts could have any possibility to get on the ballot in the future, and it would be very difficult to fix problematic items currently in the constitution (like TABOR).

Amendment 72
YES/FOR
SHALL STATE TAXES BE INCREASED $315.7 MILLION
ANNUALLY BY AN AMENDMENT TO THE COLORADO
CONSTITUTION INCREASING TOBACCO TAXES, AND, IN
CONNECTION THEREWITH, BEGINNING JANUARY 1, 2017,
INCREASING TAXES ON CIGARETTES BY 8.75 CENTS PER
CIGARETTE ($1.75 PER PACK OF 20 CIGARETTES) AND ON
OTHER TOBACCO PRODUCTS BY 22 PERCENT OF THE
MANUFACTURER’S LIST PRICE; AND ALLOCATING
SPECIFIED PERCENTAGES OF THE NEW TOBACCO TAX
REVENUE TO HEALTH-RELATED PROGRAMS AND
TOBACCO EDUCATION, PREVENTION, AND CESSATION
PROGRAMS CURRENTLY FUNDED BY EXISTING
CONSTITUTIONAL TOBACCO TAXES; AND ALSO
ALLOCATING NEW REVENUE FOR TOBACCO-RELATED
HEALTH RESEARCH, VETERANS’ PROGRAMS, CHILD AND
ADOLESCENT BEHAVIORAL HEALTH, CONSTRUCTION
AND TECHNOLOGY IMPROVEMENTS FOR QUALIFIED
HEALTH PROVIDERS, EDUCATIONAL LOAN REPAYMENT
FOR HEALTH PROFESSIONALS IN RURAL AND
UNDERSERVED AREAS, AND HEALTH PROFESSIONAL
TRAINING TRACKS?

I am voting YES on the measure. While the major concern is that cigarette taxes fall onto lesser educated, poorer populations—so do the negative health effects. The law’s funding would mostly target those who are most affected. Colorado currently ranks 43rd highest on cigarette taxes out of 56 states and territories, and the proposed law would move the state to 12th on that list.

Proposition 106
YES/FOR
Shall there be a change to the Colorado revised statutes to
permit any mentally capable adult Colorado resident who has a
medical prognosis of death by terminal illness within six months
to receive a prescription from a willing licensed physician for
medication that can be self-administered to bring about death;
and in connection therewith, requiring two licensed physicians to
confirm the medical prognosis, that the terminally-ill patient has
received information about other care and treatment options,
and that the patient is making a voluntary and informed decision
in requesting the medication; requiring evaluation by a licensed
mental health professional if either physician believes the patient
may not be mentally capable; granting immunity from civil and
criminal liability and professional discipline to any person who in
good faith assists in providing access to or is present when a
patient self-administers the medication; and establishing
criminal penalties for persons who knowingly violate statutes
relating to the request for the medication?

I am voting YES on the measure. The need for right-to-die legislation affects a small amount of the population, but in cases of significant debilitating diseases can make a large impact on the individuals themselves and their families. According to the Oregon law, “1,545 people have received end-of-life drug prescriptions, and 991 used the medication between 1999 and the end of 2015, according to the Oregon Public Health Division,” showing that this option is used very rarely. Requiring two doctors and a mental health professional to sign off on the measure should be an appropriate safeguard against misuse or abuse.

Proposition 107
YES/FOR
Shall there be a change to the Colorado Revised Statutes
recreating a presidential primary election to be held before the
end of March in each presidential election year in which
unaffiliated electors may vote without declaring an affiliation with
a political party?
Proposition 108
YES/FOR
Shall there be a change to the Colorado Revised Statutes
concerning the process of selecting candidates representing
political parties on a general election ballot, and, in connection
therewith, allowing an unaffiliated elector to vote in the primary
election of a political party without declaring an affiliation with
that party and permitting a political party in specific
circumstances to select all of its candidates by assembly or
convention instead of by primary election?

I am voting YES on the measures. The caucus system used currently disenfranchises many people who are unable to spend several hours on a certain weeknight in order to participate in the political process, including people doing shift work or needing childcare. The caucus system also failed both Democrats and Republicans this year by having inadequate capacity to serve the public in the former, and bypassing the system entirely in the latter. A state-run system would be less likely to face either problem.

Allowing independents to vote may have the effect of reducing partisan affiliation, which is why the state chairs of both the Democratic and Republican parties oppose the measure.

Another marked change from the current systems is to assign a winner of the primary the entire set of delegates instead of a proportional division. That could have some variable effects depending on how competitive Colorado or other states are in a national election, making the state potentially more or less desirable to spend resources in a given year. I’m neutral on that aspect of the measure.

Here’s a good debate on both sides of these measures: Point/counterpoint: Should voters approve Propositions 107 and 108?

Boulder County Ballot Measures

COUNTY ISSUE 1A

(Road and Bridge Mill Levy Increase):
NO/AGAINST

SHALL BOULDER COUNTY TAXES BE INCREASED $5.5
MILLION ANNUALLY (FIRST FULL FISCAL YEAR DOLLAR
INCREASE IN 2017) THROUGH AN INCREASE IN BOULDER
COUNTY’S AD VALOREM PROPERTY TAX MILL LEVY OF
0.785 MILLS, FOR FIFTEEN YEARS TO AND INCLUDING
DECEMBER 31, 2031, FOR THE PURPOSE OF FUNDING
ROAD AND BRIDGE PROJECTS WITHIN THE
MUNICIPALITIES IN BOULDER COUNTY AND
REHABILITATION OF PAVED PUBLIC LOCAL ACCESS
SUBDIVISION ROADS IN UNINCORPORATED BOULDER
COUNTY, SUCH INCREASE IN PROPERTY TAX REVENUES
TO BE IN EXCESS OF THAT WHICH WOULD OTHERWISE
BE PERMITTED UNDER SECTION 29-1-301, C.R.S., EACH
YEAR WITHOUT SUCH INCREASE; AND SHALL THE
REVENUES AND EARNINGS ON THE INVESTMENT OF THE
PROCEEDS OF SUCH TAX, REGARDLESS OF AMOUNT,
CONSTITUTE A VOTER-APPROVED REVENUE CHANGE
AND A PROPERTY TAX REVENUE CHANGE; ALL AS MORE
PARTICULARLY SET FORTH IN BOARD OF COUNTY
COMMISSIONERS’ RESOLUTION NO. 2016-89?

I am voting NO on the measure. Boulder County has sufficient funds for common road and bridge projects within the county, and also sufficient funds to repair subdivision roads (albeit at a slower pace than these homeowners desire). Advocates for additional subdivision road spending in the county have repeatedly rejected funding local improvement districts or converting these roads to lower-cost roads. The measure would cause a disproportionate funding for subdivision roads to be paid for by residents of cities (Boulder, Longmont, Louisville) rather than residents of these subdivisions.

COUNTY ISSUE 1B

(Countywide Open Space Sales and Use Tax Bond

Authorization and Tax Extension):
YES/FOR

SHALL BOULDER COUNTY DEBT BE INCREASED BY UP TO
$30 MILLION, WITH A MAXIMUM REPAYMENT COST OF UP
TO $54 MILLION, WITH NO INCREASE IN ANY COUNTY TAX
OR TAX RATE, BY THE ISSUANCE OF REVENUE BONDS
FOR THE PURPOSE OF OPEN SPACE LAND ACQUISITION,
WHICH BONDS SHALL BEAR INTEREST, MATURE, BE
SUBJECT TO REDEMPTION, WITH OR WITHOUT PREMIUM,
AND BE ISSUED, DATED AND SOLD AT SUCH TIME OR
TIMES, AT SUCH PRICES (AT, ABOVE OR BELOW PAR) AND
IN SUCH MANNER AND CONTAINING SUCH OTHER
TERMS, NOT INCONSISTENT HEREWITH, INCLUDING
PROVISIONS FOR FUNDING ANY CAPITALIZED INTEREST
AND REQUIRED RESERVES, AS THE BOARD OF COUNTY
COMMISSIONERS MAY DETERMINE;
AND SHALL ONE-HALF (0.125%) OF THE COUNTY’S
EXISTING 0.25% SALES AND USE TAX FOR OPEN SPACE,
CURRENTLY SET TO EXPIRE DECEMBER 31, 2019, BE
EXTENDED FOR AN ADDITIONAL PERIOD OF FIFTEEN
YEARS TO AND INCLUDING DECEMBER 31, 2034 FOR THE
PURPOSE OF FUNDING THE OPEN SPACE PROGRAM [Truncated]
COUNTY ISSUE 1C

(Countywide Sustainability Sales and Use Tax

Extension):
YES/FOR

WITH NO INCREASE IN ANY COUNTY TAX OR TAX RATE,
SHALL ONE-HALF (0.125%) OF THE COUNTY’S EXISTING
0.25% SALES AND USE TAX FOR OPEN SPACE,
CURRENTLY SET TO EXPIRE DECEMBER 31, 2019, BE
EXTENDED FOR AN ADDITIONAL PERIOD OF FIFTEEN
YEARS TO AND INCLUDING DECEMBER 31, 2034 FOR THE
PURPOSE OF FUNDING SUSTAINABILITY
INFRASTRUCTURE AND PROGRAMS [Truncated]

I am voting YES on the measures. Both support preserving existing taxes that enable open-space in the county, while diverting a portion of the existing tax (which is not needed for the current open-space plan) to provide sustainable transportation options in the county.

County Question 1D

(District Attorney Term Limit Extension to Four

Terms):
NO/AGAINST

Shall the term limits imposed by state law and in Article XVIII,
Section 11, of the Colorado Constitution on the office of District
Attorney of Boulder County, Twentieth Judicial District, be
modified so as to permit an elected officeholder in that office to
seek and, if the voters of Boulder County choose to re-elect that
person to a fourth term in office, to serve a fourth consecutive
term?

I am voting NO on the measure. Each term is four years and the extension would allow a district attorney to serve 16 years instead of 12 years, which is a long time for one person to hold the office.

Boulder City Ballot Measures

CITY OF BOULDER BALLOT ISSUE 2H

SUGAR SWEETENED BEVERAGE PRODUCT

DISTRIBUTION TAX
YES/FOR

SHALL CITY OF BOULDER TAXES BE INCREASED $3.8
MILLION (FIRST FULL FISCAL YEAR INCREASE) ANNUALLY
BY IMPOSING AN EXCISE TAX OF 2 CENTS PER OUNCE ON
THE FIRST DISTRIBUTOR IN ANY CHAIN OF DISTRIBUTION
OF DRINKS WITH ADDED SUGAR, AND SWEETENERS
USED TO PRODUCE SUCH DRINKS, EXEMPTING: (1)
SWEETENERS SOLD SEPARATELY TO THE CONSUMER AT
A GROCERY STORE; (2) MILK PRODUCTS; (3) BABY
FORMULA; (4) ALCOHOL; AND (5) DRINKS TAKEN FOR
MEDICAL REASONS;
AND IN CONNECTION THEREWITH, SHALL ALL OF THE
REVENUES COLLECTED BE USED TO FUND: THE
ADMINISTRATIVE COST OF THE TAX, AND THEREAFTER
FOR HEALTH PROMOTION, GENERAL WELLNESS
PROGRAMS AND CHRONIC DISEASE PREVENTION IN THE
CITY OF BOULDER THAT IMPROVE HEALTH EQUITY,
SUCH AS ACCESS TO SAFE AND CLEAN DRINKING
WATER, HEALTHY FOODS, NUTRITION AND FOOD
EDUCATION, PHYSICAL ACTIVITY, OTHER HEALTH
PROGRAMS ESPECIALLY FOR RESIDENTS WITH LOW
INCOME AND THOSE MOST AFFECTED BY CHRONIC
DISEASE LINKED TO SUGARY DRINK CONSUMPTION [Truncated]

According to my Twitter feed, the sugary drink tax is the most controversial issue on the local ballot. I am voting YES on the measure.

My support bases on several key pieces of evidence:

  1. The Berkeley sugary drink tax has reduced sugary drink consumption and increased water consumption compared to neighboring cities. Boulder’s tax is modeled after this tax. Berkeley sees a big drop in soda consumption after penny-per-ounce ‘soda tax’
  2. The tax is not a grocery tax, nor does it directly affect prices at grocery stores. The tax is levied on distributors and not individual businesses. An economic analysis of the tax in Berkeley showed that “47% of the penny-per-ounce tax had been passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices for sugar-sweetened beverages, according to a previous study by some of the same researchers. For sodas in particular, 69% of the tax was incorporated into the price.” This means that the distributor or producer absorbed 31% of the price, reducing their profits. Boulder’s tax is higher, putting more pressure on distributors to absorb more of the price increase while also ensuring that the tax raises the price for consumers (which is required to change behavior).
  3. The taxes collected will benefit poorer populations and minorities. As the ballot language states, the revenue collected will go to “improve health equity, such as access to safe and clean drinking water, healthy foods, nutrition and food education, physical activity, other health programs especially designed for residents with low income and those most affected by chronic disease linked to sugary drink consumption.” In my opinion this counteracts any problems with a regressive nature of the tax. It’s also important to understand that the sugar industry targets low-income and minority populations specifically: Washington Post: “When soda companies target minorities, is it exploitation?”
  4. Sugary drinks directly relate to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and premature death. “Sugary Drinks Take a Deadly Toll
  5. The sugar industry has systematically tried to influence public policy to protect sugar. “An article in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that in the 1960s, the sugar industry paid Harvard scientists to publish a study blaming fat and cholesterol for coronary heart disease while largely exculpating sugar.” NYTimes – How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat, The Shady History of Big Sugar
  6. The World Health Organization directly supports a sugary drink tax, as does the American Heart Association. W.H.O. Urges Tax on Sugary Drinks to Fight Obesity

Here’s why I think arguments in opposition are not very compelling:

  1. “Boulder is mostly white and has a 12% obesity rate”

Boulder may seem an unnecessary place for such a tax, but here’s why I think it’s still worthy to support. Boulder does have minority and poorer populations, even if they are a smaller portion of the city than most consider. These populations are important to protect for many reasons, particularly because they’re vulnerable and give Boulder much of its racial and ethnic diversity. Revenues raised would benefit them most.

  1. “Other items with sugar [i.e. yogurt, frappuccino] aren’t being targeted like sugary drinks”

While added sugar in any form can contribute to negative health outcomes, sugary drinks are very easily and quickly consumable and habit-forming. Added sugar in grocery foods is a problem not covered in this tax, but I do not believe that is a reason not to support the tax. Items like frappuccino made in a coffeeshop or restaurant are not covered due to their inherently high cost as a full-service item. However, a frappuccino sold in a store would be required to pay the tax.

  1. “The tax is regressive and disproportionately targets poorer populations and makes food scarcity worse”

As I made clear above, the sugar industry already targets poorer populations with marketing. The sugary drink tax does not contribute to food scarcity because sugary drinks should not be considered food, and healthier alternatives will be more attractive given the additional tax on sugary drinks.

City of Boulder Ballot Question 2I

Clarify and Amend Blue Line, Water Not Supplied

West of Line
YES/FOR

Shall the boundary described in Boulder Home Rule Charter
section 128A and approved by the voters in 1959 that provides
that the City of Boulder shall not supply water for domestic,
commercial, or industrial uses to land lying on the westward side
of the line be amended to clarify the location of the boundary
and to allow the provision of water service to existing developed
properties as described in Ordinance No. 8133, and further shall
the standards in Charter section 128A be amended to clarify the
conditions and eligibility for water service as described in
Ordinance No. 8133?

I am voting YES on the measure. The measure works to clarify an existing section of the charter without significant change to the existing line. Image below in this Daily Camera piece: Boulder’s murky Blue Line could get clarity from voters in November

NewBlueLine

City of Boulder Ballot Question 2J

Provide Insurance Benefits for Council Members

YES/FOR

Shall section 7, “Compensation,” of the Boulder Home Rule
Charter be amended pursuant to Ordinance No. 8132 to allow
council members serving on January 1, 2020 and after to be
eligible to receive benefits under the same terms and conditions
that are available to full-time city employees including without
limitation participation in city health, vision, dental and life
insurance plans?

I am voting YES on the measure. The measure provides a significant and needed benefit to members of the city council, whom make approximately $12,000 per year for a job that typically consumes 25 or greater hours per week. Given that previous pay increases have been rejected, this is a measure that would help increase the supply of people who might consider serving on the city council.

City of Boulder Ballot Question 302

Qualifications of Council Members
YES/FOR

Shall section 4 of the Boulder Home Rule Charter be amended
by adding a new paragraph to restrict council members to three
terms in the person’s lifetime, which requirement shall apply to
any candidate for council after November 8, 2016?

I am voting YES on the measure. I will review a number of arguments against the measure:

“Term limits are not needed based on historical precedent and have the appearance of targeting current council members”

While Richard Valenty makes a compelling case against term limits using historical data, the strength of incumbency and bias toward older and retired members of the community are powerful counter-arguments.

“The measure only reduces the supply of people who can run for city council, and does not increase it”

I agree that the measure would reduce the supply of people available to run for council, and does not address other reasons that other demographics do not run (very little pay and benefits). I support both increasing city council pay and increasing benefits (City of Boulder Ballot Question 2J)

“Other policy to increase equity in who can run for city council is more important”

I agree. Yet the policy on term limits is reasonable policy looking forward as the city grows, while recognizing the need that Boulder has more work ahead to give broader representation of various people who may run for city council.

BOULDER VALLEY SCHOOL DISTRICT BALLOT

ISSUE 3A:

YES/FOR

SHALL BOULDER VALLEY SCHOOL DISTRICT RE-2 TAXES
BE INCREASED BY $10,000,000 IN 2016 FOR COLLECTION
IN 2017 AND BY WHATEVER AMOUNTS IN ANY YEAR
THEREAFTER AS ARE RAISED FROM A MILL LEVY WHICH
SHALL NOT EXCEED FOUR (4) MILLS, PROVIDED THAT NO
MILL LEVY INCREASE FROM YEAR TO YEAR SHALL
EXCEED ONE (1) MILL, FOR THE PURPOSE OF PROVIDING
ONGOING CASH FUNDING FOR CAPITAL CONSTRUCTION,
NEW TECHNOLOGY, EXISTING TECHNOLOGY UPGRADE,
AND MAINTENANCE NEEDS OF THE DISTRICT [Truncated]

I am voting YES on the measure. Colorado funds education far below other states, largely because of TABOR, and local funding is needed to make up the gap.

The Denver Metropolitan Scientific and Cultural

Facilities District (“SCFD”) Ballot Issue 4B

YES/FOR

SHALL THERE BE AN EXTENSION UNTIL JUNE 30, 2030, OF
THE AGGREGATE 0.1 PERCENT SALES AND USE TAXES
CURRENTLY LEVIED AND COLLECTED BY THE DENVER
METROPOLITAN SCIENTIFIC AND CULTURAL FACILITIES
DISTRICT THAT ARE SCHEDULED TO EXPIRE ON JUNE 30,
2018, FOR ASSISTING SCIENTIFIC AND CULTURAL
FACILITIES WITHIN THE DISTRICT, WHILE AUTHORIZING
THE DISTRICT TO CONTINUE TO COLLECT, RETAIN, AND
SPEND ALL REVENUE GENERATED BY SUCH TAX IN
EXCESS OF THE LIMITATION PROVIDED IN ARTICLE X OF
SECTION 20 OF THE COLORADO CONSTITUTION [Truncated]

I am voting YES on the measure. The area would re-authorize an existing tax used to fund the arts in the region. Here’s a short summary from The Denver Post: Ballot issue 4B would renew funding for culture, arts with sales tax

Why I support a tax on sugary drinks: Yes on Boulder’s Ballot Issue 2H

 

CITY OF BOULDER BALLOT ISSUE 2H: SUGAR SWEETENED BEVERAGE PRODUCT DISTRIBUTION TAX

 

 

YES/FOR

SHALL CITY OF BOULDER TAXES BE INCREASED $3.8MILLION (FIRST FULL FISCAL YEAR INCREASE) ANNUALLY BY IMPOSING AN EXCISE TAX OF 2 CENTS PER OUNCE ONTHE FIRST DISTRIBUTOR IN ANY CHAIN OF DISTRIBUTION OF DRINKS WITH ADDED SUGAR, AND SWEETENERS USED TO PRODUCE SUCH DRINKS [Truncated]

 

According to my Twitter feed, the sugary drink tax is the most controversial issue on the local ballot. I am voting YES on the measure.

My support bases on several key pieces of evidence:

  1. The Berkeley sugary drink tax has reduced sugary drink consumption and increased water consumption compared to neighboring cities. Boulder’s tax is modeled after this tax. Berkeley sees a big drop in soda consumption after penny-per-ounce ‘soda tax’
  2. The tax is not a grocery tax, nor does it directly affect prices at grocery stores. The tax is levied on distributors and not individual businesses. An economic analysis of the tax in Berkeley showed that “47% of the penny-per-ounce tax had been passed along to consumers in the form of higher prices for sugar-sweetened beverages, according to a previous study by some of the same researchers. For sodas in particular, 69% of the tax was incorporated into the price.” This means that the distributor or producer absorbed 31% of the price, reducing their profits. Boulder’s tax is higher, putting more pressure on distributors to absorb more of the price increase while also ensuring that the tax raises the price for consumers (which is required to change behavior).
  3. The taxes collected will benefit poorer populations and minorities. As the ballot language states, the revenue collected will go to “improve health equity, such as access to safe and clean drinking water, healthy foods, nutrition and food education, physical activity, other health programs especially designed for residents with low income and those most affected by chronic disease linked to sugary drink consumption.” In my opinion this counteracts any problems with a regressive nature of the tax. It’s also important to understand that the sugar industry targets low-income and minority populations specifically: Washington Post: “When soda companies target minorities, is it exploitation?”
  4. Sugary drinks directly relate to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and premature death. “Sugary Drinks Take a Deadly Toll
  5. The sugar industry has systematically tried to influence public policy to protect sugar. “An article in JAMA Internal Medicine reported that in the 1960s, the sugar industry paid Harvard scientists to publish a study blaming fat and cholesterol for coronary heart disease while largely exculpating sugar.” NYTimes – How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat, The Shady History of Big Sugar
  6. The World Health Organization directly supports a sugary drink tax, as does the American Heart Association. W.H.O. Urges Tax on Sugary Drinks to Fight Obesity

 

Here’s why I think arguments in opposition are not very compelling:

“Boulder is mostly white and has a 12% obesity rate”

Boulder may seem an unnecessary place for such a tax, but here’s why I think it’s still worthy to support. Boulder does have minority and poorer populations, even if they are a smaller portion of the city than most consider. These populations are important to protect for many reasons, particularly because they’re vulnerable and give Boulder much of its racial and ethnic diversity. Revenues raised would benefit them most.

“Other items with sugar [i.e. yogurt and frappuccino] aren’t being targeted like sugary drinks”

While added sugar in any form can contribute to negative health outcomes, sugary drinks are very easily and quickly consumable and habit-forming. Added sugar in grocery foods is a problem not covered in this tax, but I do not believe that is a reason not to support the tax. Drinks made in a coffeeshop or restaurant are not covered due to their inherently high cost as a full-service item. However, a frappuccino sold in a store would be required to pay the tax.

“The tax is regressive and disproportionately targets poorer populations and makes food scarcity worse”

As I made clear above, the sugar industry already targets poorer populations with marketing. The sugary drink tax does not contribute to food scarcity because sugary drinks should not be considered food, and healthier alternatives will be more attractive given the additional tax on sugary drinks.

Housing Cooperatives an Important Step To Provide More Housing in Boulder

As Boulder housing prices continue to rise, with the cost of an average home now over $1 million, the city council has begun evaluating a variety of options to maintain a middle class of people able to live inside city limits. One of the first steps council has taken is to update the existing, never-used cooperative housing ordinance, which is one tool to improve Boulder’s ability to house low and middle-income people. The goal of a cooperative housing ordinance is to create sustainable, communal, and affordable options for housing while placing reasonable constraints on impacts to neighborhoods.

Cooperative housing fits many of the city council’s criteria for “gentle infill” in existing neighborhoods, providing modest amounts of new housing capacity without the need to build new structures. Co-op housing is one possible type of infill the city council may pursue, and they might later permit tiny homes, accessory dwelling units (ADUs), and subdivided lots. All of the proposals try to minimize neighborhood change while allowing moderately more occupancy or compatible housing. Housing cooperatives can provide a number of benefits to Boulder by providing unsubsidized low-cost housing for communities that conserve resources and produce engaged, socially conscious people.

Boulder’s affordable housing program covers less than 10% of its housing stock and raises money from impact fees paid by new development. By allowing occupancy similar to existing Boulder cooperatives, new co-ops could enable monthly housing costs closer to one-half or one-third of other available options in a single-family home or rental unit. Combined with savings from reduced per-capita energy, water, food, and shared transportation, co-ops create real affordability through collaborative living.

Conserving resources also has positive environmental benefits. Boulder’s existing recognized cooperatives (and some of its sub-legal cooperatives) started a joint bulk food buying program, allowing them to cheaply and efficiently share group meals while reducing food waste, trips to the store, and packaging. By letting more residents occupy the same space in a typical Boulder home, co-ops consume 28% of the electricity and 31% of the water per person of the average Coloradan, according to data collected on existing co-ops in Boulder—and capital investments to reduce energy use can spread across a greater number of people.

While co-ops provide affordability to residents and help meet a range of city goals, they can also act as a stabilizing force in neighborhoods, particularly ones with large numbers of rental units. The proposed ordinance would allow for both ownership and rental cooperatives: ownership cooperatives will operate similarly to home-ownership, while rental cooperatives will provide more permanence than existing rentals. An ordinance that requires certification of co-ops in the form of written bylaws, regular democratic meetings, and resource sharing will help support careful membership processes that result in cooperative homes with less-variable turnover and strong cultural concern for community.

Furthermore, the proposed ordinance contains provisions to address neighborhood compatibility and potential nuisances like noise, trash, and parking, including a limitation on the number of vehicles associated with each cooperative. These provisions make handling potential nuisances more enforceable than with a typical rental. For example, a noise complaint will be associated with the offending property itself, rather than an individual, and multiple complaints can result in fines or revocation of the co-op’s permit.

The broader impact of cooperatives forming in Boulder will be limited in the proposed ordinance, both by an overall cap on the number of new cooperative permits issued each year and by provisions limiting the concentration of cooperatives. The new law would currently permit only five rental cooperatives, five nonprofit cooperatives, and five ownership cooperatives to form each year and would limit the concentration of cooperatives so they do not overwhelm any neighborhood.

Neighbors can find further comfort in other parts of the ordinance. Permits will be temporary and linked with the group forming the cooperative, rather than with a landlord or developer. A permit must be renewed after four years if the group continues to operate as a cooperative. Adding an overall cap on the number of residents in a cooperative may also help calm neighbors’ potential anxiety.

Boulder must acknowledge its housing crisis. While cooperative housing is a small piece of the city’s middle-income housing strategy, it can enable real affordability, sustainability, community benefit, and allow seniors to age in place without building additional housing. I support creating more co-ops, and stand with a group of people diverse in ages, incomes, and backgrounds—both homeowners and renters—who want to get a workable cooperative housing ordinance.

 
Eric Budd is a member of the Boulder Community Housing Association. You can tweet him at @ericmbudd.

I applied for Boulder’s Transportation Advisory Board. Here’s how I answered a few of the questions

Applications close today at 5PM for Boulder’s Boards and Commissions. If you’re interested in applying for TAB, you can fill out the form here.

1. Have you had any experiences with the Transportation Advisory Board or the services it oversees that have sparked your interest in becoming a member of the Board, and, if so, please describe the experience(s) and what insight you gained.*

I originally applied for TAB two years ago before having any involvement in The City of Boulder governance or advocacy. Since that time, I’ve decided to get involved in community organizations that focus on improving transportation and housing in Boulder. My work on the Better Boulder steering committee, Community Cycles advocacy committee, and Boulder Community Housing Association all share a common thread: if housing is currently the top issue facing Boulder, then a diversity of transportation options is the second. I want to work to help build walkable communities that offer nearby services, and developing places where one does not need a car to live daily life.

While the Transportation Advisory Board and City Council faced a lot of criticism for the project on Folsom, I fundamentally believe that their motivations were in the right direction: to help in the implementation of the Transportation Master Plan. But the challenge’s our community faces are in the implementation; I’d like to be a voice on TAB that helps improve the City’s outreach and how we use data to drive our policy and decision-making.

2. How can we best implement the Transportation Master Plan and how do we address the major challenges to doing so?*

As many transportation advocates, members of TAB and City Council realized last summer, implementation is the hardest part of having an ambitious Transportation Master Plan. The real lesson I took from the community project on Folsom Street had little to do with engineering, modeling, or data. In fact, the Folsom Street protected bike lane project was performing nearly in-line with models outlined for the project by the eighth week of implementation. But by that point, in the eyes of many people, the project had already failed. The way to successfully meet the challenges in implementing an ambitious plan lie in the definition and communication of a vision in order to get strong community buy-in.

Having a Transportation Master Plan is necessary but not sufficient to implement that plan. To speak about bicycle infrastructure in particular, our leaders need to communicate a vision for a connected bicycle network before trying to implement a challenging change on a particular street, which may look haphazard, trivial, or at worst, punishing. We need a communication strategy that works with local businesses and local residents on individual streets to have them become the strongest coalition for significant street projects. And we need inclusive processes that value a variety of voices and stakeholders in our community, some of which may not be reached by traditional means.

But speaking about Boulder transportation more broadly, success in implementation will rely on pursuing a true diversity of small improvements rather than relying on big projects that have the potential for failure. For transit improvements, many in our community want to enable a community-wide EcoPass, which could have incredibly positive impacts if achieved. But there are serious risks as well, namely that RTD simply will not provide the level of service needed to make such a program work. But what about smaller improvements, like raising money to buy up more local service, or further expand or support the neighborhood EcoPass program? While we cannot give up our lofty goals, having a real focus on what’s achievable in the short term will can make a real difference for Boulder residents in the short term.

3. What is your assessment of important transportation issues related to Boulder’s community sustainability goals (Economic, Environmental and Social)? How might the City work with the business community, neighborhoods, and interest groups to address these issues?*

Boulder needs to continue to work toward improving access to transit as a backbone to a diverse set of transportation modes, which is key to achieving its environmental goals. The current system of neighborhood EcoPasses shuts out potential users of the system if their neighborhoods do not sign up at a high enough rate, insufficiently serving some populations near transit corridors, such as Old North Boulder or along Arapahoe. While Boulder will always be at a disadvantage with RTD, the city needs to take further ownership in improving transit to help meet our transportation goals.

Continuing to develop a strong biking and walking system is one key to the area’s economy, particularly to encourage local spending on goods and services rather than auto-oriented spending, as the latter spending is more likely to leave the local economy. To gain the full set of advantages of improving transit access, the city also needs to look at land use changes as well, particularly in the case of the East Arapahoe transportation project. Moving to a land use pattern that builds more value (providing more housing and nearby services) will be key to recouping any investment the city makes in improved transit.

For social sustainability, it’s important to keep Boulder financially within reach for all classes of people, including tying in affordable transportation options together with affordable housing options. We need to continue to strive for transportation equity for all modes of transportation. I think this can be best summed up by a quote from Enrique Peñalosa, mayor of Bogotá, Columbia, that “a bus with 100 people has a right to 100 times more road space than a car with a single occupant.”

4. In your opinion, what are the most pressing transportation issues for the City of Boulder? What new approaches could Boulder take towards addressing these issues?*

Boulder’s most pressing transportation needs are highly connected to its other most difficult problem: the general availability and cost of housing. Total cost of living in Boulder will be dominated by both housing and transportation costs; as a city, we must provide strategies for lowering the cost of both. If we choose to densify urban corridors as an opportunity to provide affordable housing, transportation options will be key to reduce the need to own a car and reduce the impacts of automobile use. And by continuing to build out our biking and walking system, individuals and families can further reduce their car use for many of their trips, saving both the individual expense, and saving the city expense in maintaining car infrastructure.

Secondarily, we need to make strides to redevelop car-focused areas outside of the city center. Paying for increased transit in difficult-to-serve areas may not be the ideal return-on-investment, so other alternatives may be preferable: better bike infrastructure/protected lanes, additional car-sharing options (like a point-to-point system Car2Go) and continued support for e-bikes are all good options for under-served areas which may not benefit from additional transit access.

5. What do you think would be an effective approach for creating regional transportation solutions?*

Regional transportation is Boulder’s most difficult transportation problem as we control only part of the equation shared with RTD. The city has most control over how people get around once inside the city limits, only some control over the buses (or ride-sharing) to get to the city, and no control over the last-mile difficulties in other communities from where people commute (which are often low-density). Boulder needs to spend most of its resources on the aspects it can control—improving our connections inside of Boulder—with particular focus on how we might serve regional users and our 65,000+ in-commuters.

Outside of Boulder, we’ve had good success in connecting the 36 corridor and into Denver (a major growth area in the next decade) with bus rapid transit, which I hope continues to improve service downtown and to Boulder Junction. To be successful, we need to work with our neighboring communities to improve ridership (by using incentives and better infrastructure). and co-develop last-mile solutions that best serve their unique development patterns. This will be a long-term goal, but critical for working with the complexity of our current regional layout.

A Vision for Housing and Transit on Boulder’s East Arapahoe Corridor

Boulder’s East Arapahoe corridor, defined between Folsom and 75th streets, shows great promise to create a place where people can live and work. The City of Boulder is currently developing its East Arapahoe Transportation Plan, which presents options to extend dedicated bus lanes, provide “bus rapid transit” with improved boarding and reduced wait times, and develop separated bike routes along the length of the road. Currently, the city is not considering changes in land-use along the corridor, which would miss an opportunity to make some new “15-minute” neighborhoods that our city council desires. And while many residents have concerns about changing the character of surrounding neighborhoods, we can address those concerns by focusing the improvements to the areas directly alongside Arapahoe itself.

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Transportation area defined in the study from City of Boulder

An inefficient corridor

With a current speed limit of 45 miles per hour, Arapahoe east of Foothills Parkway is neither a street nor a highway. The Strong Towns organization, an advocacy group for strengthening local communities, calls these street/road hybrids “stroads”, which have several negative effects. Stroads promote congestion and have speeds slower than a highway, making them ineffective at moving automobiles quickly and safely. But these roads also move automobiles too fast to function as a street, which is a place for people that builds value with shops, businesses, or gathering spaces. By mixing high-speed and turning automobile traffic with people who are on bikes or walking, street/road hybrids create a dangerous environment for all users. These auto-centric corridors fail to provide productive financial or economic value to the city.

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Arapahoe east of Foothills Parkway in Boulder, Colorado

Several of the city’s proposed transportation options include expanded right-of-way, widening an already significantly wide road. But if you visit Arapahoe today, the avenue fails to give people a sense of place, largely due to broad building setbacks and an abundance of surface parking lots. Adopting design standards that focus on making places for people, along with making a complete street for buses, bikes, and pedestrians, could make the area into a human-scale boulevard.

How we can create a place for people

The Mason Corridor in Fort Collins provides a great example of how transit improvements can combine with new infill development, supported by the “MAX” bus rapid transit system, a bike trail, and several secure bike parking facilities. The Fort Collins project has also adapted its land use policies to allow for mixed-use redevelopment, providing buildings with retail shops on the ground floor, but also includes two to four stories of additional housing or office space. With added housing along the street, wait times for buses could be reduced from below the current 10-minute intervals for the “JUMP” during peak time, potentially matching or besting the 7-8 minute intervals for the “SKIP” on Broadway.

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Mason Street at Mulberry St. in Fort Collins, Colorado

From the recent Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan survey update, the top two desires from Boulder residents are more affordable housing options and the ability to get around with or without a car. A vision for Arapahoe can do both. The city needs to consider land use as a part of its plan to gain the real value wanted from this corridor and to make the significant transportation investments worthwhile. Arapahoe needs a rich mix of nearby jobs, housing, restaurants, breweries, climbing gyms, coffee shops, and other amenities in order to build a broader community in this part of town. Boulder needs to take this opportunity to make places that people want to live, work, and visit.

Eric Budd is a member of the Better Boulder Steering Committee. You can find him at @ericmbudd on Twitter.

What I learned from six months of wearing a Twitter-handle nametag

For the past six months, I’ve consistently worn a nametag with my Twitter handle @ericmbudd proudly displayed next to the cerulean blue Larry Twitter bird, running a live experiment on social circles and network effects.

Screenshot 2016-01-12 00.45.58

I sent artwork to Nametag Ninja, who for $13.38 shipped me a permanent magnetic nametag that I planned to wear everywhere.

My experiment seems like a proper follow-up to my previous view that “Facebook is the suburbs while Twitter is the city,” and now gives me an opportunity to build on some of Twitter’s advantages in a dense, urban, and creative-filled environment like Boulder, ColoradoInitially I had skepticism and nervousness about changing a social norm but realized I must embrace the decision for a proper test.

Places I have worn the nametag: public events like meetups and Ignite Boulder, larger private events, public meetings (Boulder city council), job interviews, coffee shops, and even my fifteen-year high school reunion (@MattSebek was impressed, which is cool because he’s way more Twitter famous than I am). I chose not to wear the nametag at work, for political and company-policy reasons, and at smaller gatherings meant to be private or semi-private, which are more focused on intimate relationships than public dialogue, or where I might call undue attention to myself.

Breakdown of responses:

  • “What is that?” (usually followed by me asking “are you on Twitter?” with a common response of “no”)
  • “Do you work for twitter?” (“no”)
  • “Why the nametag?” (“it’s a bit of a social experiment”)
  • “Do you wear that thing everywhere?” (“yes”)
  • “Nice to meet you @ericmbudd
  • “Oh you totally follow me on Twitter”
  • “Oh we met at…”
  • “Oh I think you favorited my tweet”
  • “I think I know you from Twitter. You’re always blowing up my feed.”

After wearing the nametag a few weeks, I realized I wouldn’t see a large shift in my Twitter or in-person experiences. Since the most common response to the nametag was “do you work for Twitter?”, unfortunately people did not intuitively understand my intent. And while about 560 people followed me on Twitter during the trial period, only a single person followed me directly due to the nametag (which she did on her phone mid-conversation upon first meeting). However, five to twenty people followed me indirectly due to the nametag: either by starting or furthering a conversation, or clearly identifying that I used Twitter and could be followed.

What did I hope the nametag would accomplish?

Having people I met follow me was not itself a goal. I see Twitter as a network of people more related by interests rather than an explicit physical or geographical connection. My goal was to enhance Twitter as a tool to build networks. By wearing a nametag, I wanted to invite conversation. By wearing a Twitter nametag, I also wanted to invite online conversation, and signify that our discourse could be public, inclusive, and continuing. I wanted to connect in-person people with an online network of others talking about topics we found interesting. And on several occasions I met people in person after only having known them on Twitter. I benefited from having the nametag both online and in person.

But I also got the benefits of wearing a nametag in general (via @BrianLehman): people knowing my name, and not ever getting embarrassed if they had forgotten or couldn’t instantly recall it. During the time period I also saw people running for elected office wearing nametags to great effect, and thought how powerful it might be to instantly follow up with someone online after meeting.

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Online network effects magnify in-person networks.

So what else did I learn?

Can a Twitter nametag help replace a business card? Absolutely, if interests are aligned. A business card might be useful for connecting with a person for a specific intent, but following someone on Twitter can lead to future ideas, conversations, or projects.

It helps to be up front: “Cool, I’ll check out your profile and might give you a follow.” Some people guard their feeds closely and may resist following new people who don’t align with what they want to read regularly. But putting people on a Twitter list can be a great alternative; I suggest building lists either based around geographic location or centered on a subject matter, like my list of “urbanists.” I try to put as many people as possible on relevant lists that I read, even if I don’t have an immediate connection in mind.

Does the idea of Twitter nametags scale? Probably; I benefitted from the fame of being the only person using a Twitter nametag, in a similar way that REI did with its #OptOutside campaign rejecting Black Friday. But what would happen if every Twitter user had one? Would the effect of increased interactions scale for the typical person? I’m curious. Could Twitter make advantage of the fear of missing out‘, and drive more users to its service?

Is there a business case for Twitter mailing nametags to all of its users? (from @isaach). I’ll leave rigorous analysis of the question to another article, but I think possibly, given some caveats: the people who would benefit most would live in a dense city that has lots of engaged users, with lots of people interested in connecting and learning with others.

Downsides or concerns

A few caveats to think about if you decide to make your own Twitter nametag:

  1. The nametag may drive too much meta conversation about Twitter.
  2. Some people pick Twitter handles that are not ideal due to scarcity of name options, prompting a user to add their name or pseudonym to their nametag as well.
  3. The perception that you are trying to brand yourself. (Some people might be and others might not be)
  4. The potential to intimidate others, particularly if they know you have a large, engaged following that might bring unwanted attention.
  5. The idea that people can’t talk to you about private topics because you might be very focused on public conversations.

And perhaps most importantly, wearing a nametag requires complete comfort with a public presence anywhere and anyplace. To make public posts on the internet largely without recourse is a privilege that many (or most?) people do not have, or may not think they have. A Twitter nametag can magnify the fear of putting one’s self fully into the public eye. But hopefully more people will be willing to try an expanded digital public presence.

Continue this conversation by chatting with @ericmbudd on Twitter.

Boulder could enshrine class and race exclusion into its city charter

Two ballot measures proposed by neighborhood groups, “Neighborhood Right to Vote” and “New Development Shall Pay Its Own Way” (300 & 301, respectively) aim to give citizens more rights to control growth and development in Boulder. However, support for these measures strongly biases toward homeowners and older demographics. The proposals will greatly disadvantage people who rent, people who are younger, and people who work or start companies in Boulder. But the main effect of these amendments to the city charter will be to exclude certain types of development and certain types of people from living in Boulder.

At a recent city council candidate forum hosted by The Boulder Community Housing Association, candidates discussed how to grow an inclusive and diverse city. The reality is that Boulder is both less racially diverse than the national average and also diversifying at a slower rate. According to the 2010 census, “Eighty-eight percent of Boulder’s population is White, with a 0.3 percent decrease from 2000, while the nation saw a percentage decrease of nearly 3 percent.” In part due to America’s racial wealth gap, Boulder will continue in its lack of diversity unless the city provides options for lower-income demographics that heavily skew non-white. Measures 300 and 301 would serve to uphold Boulder as an ethnically and economically homogeneous community.  

While cities themselves cannot force diversity, they do have the power to promote healthy communities by offering housing choices for wider ranges of income and family types. Both ballot amendments would serve to restrict supply and make intrinsically affordable housing—smaller footprints designed for walking, biking, and transit—financially infeasible. At a recent meeting of Boulder’s planning board on October 1st, 2015, two speakers from the audience illustrated the gap in understanding present in ballot issues 300 and 301.

In discussion about the first project at planning board, 3303 Broadway St., a woman remarked with surprise at the cost of the proposed $1000 per month one-bedroom units, saying that her “mortgage payment is less” than that (video link). Unfortunately for typical Boulder renters, the median price for a 1-bedroom apartment is $1,420 per month, and the median price for a two-bedroom apartment recently topped $2,000 per month. She also believed that the units were a “monolith… of tiny cubicles stacked together” and they lacked “trees and lawns.” But the project’s efficiency-sized units are an attractive option to the younger generation, housing one or two people who desire to live and work near downtown, serving potential employees that might otherwise in-commute. If ballot amendment 301 passes, additional fees placed on new development will likely make smaller-footprint units uneconomical, forcing a continued upward pressure on rents in the city.

A second speaker at planning board that evening commented on a related project at 2801 Jay Road, designed to provide a significant percentage of affordable housing to complement the Broadway site. The man stated that “wherever there’s low income, affordable housing, there’s crime. I am adverse to crime” (video link). Such opinion has no factual basis. If ballot measure 300 passes, our city charter will give outsize power for neighborhood fear to block plans that would allow more affordable housing through zoning or occupancy limit changes.

One of the main arguments for 301, that “development shall pay its own way,” claims that fees collected could lead to additional affordable housing built in Boulder. However, Boulder has never lacked funding for permanently affordable housing, which will be even more true with the recent Commercial Linkage Fee phasing in next year. Rather, the problem lies in that developers can rarely build truly affordable housing due to high overhead costs and neighborhood pushback, both worsened by 300 and 301.

Cities must work to appeal to all facets of society in order to maximize their value. Boulder real estate prices already put significant pressure on teachers, police officers, firefighters, and young families trying to afford living within city limits. Ballot measures 300 and 301 will only accelerate the problem. I urge you to vote down these proposals so that we can continue our work in making Boulder a more equitable and inclusive city.

@ericmbudd