Our business community, especially our retail and restaurants, have been hit hard by COVID and have also shown tremendous resilience. For years, we have heard candidates and community leaders talk about how we need fewer jobs and fewer businesses. This year, it was painfully obvious to all of us what that dystopian image would look like because we saw it in real time. Businesses were closed, employees were furloughed, sales tax revenue--the same revenue that funds our streets, bridges, snow removal, and more-- slowed down to a trickle. As such, our city saw a nearly 8% loss in revenue--close to $30 million. Sales and use tax are essential means of raising money for the City. Here are some of the policies and actions I will support in order for our community to revitalize the economy:
Keep West Pearl and parklets open for business and closed to cars
Invest in revitalizing the Hill (street closures on 13th from Penn. to College)
Bring our planning department up to proper staffing levels
Simplify and improve our building codes and permitting process
Assist businesses equitably
As we continue to ride the peaks and valleys of the COVID pandemic, we should invest in our local business community since doing so not only improves the livelihoods of their employees but also generates the revenues our city needs.
Keep West Pearl and parklets open for business and closed to cars:
I am particularly excited about the prospects of keeping downtown Pearl Street between 9th and 11th closed to traffic and open to more business in order to build on the liveliness that has been established there. A recent survey showed that 75% of downtown businesses want West Pearl closed permanently or at least seasonally. That same survey showed a staggering 87% of businesses wanted parklets to exist permanently or seasonally, including many of the restaurants that are not located downtown and have used parklets to keep their businesses alive. Similarly, I am committed to working with businesses on the Hill to bring about much-needed changes ahead of CU’s conference center and the Hill Hotel. As a Council member, I would work closely with the Downtown Boulder Partnership, the Chamber of Commerce, and members of the community to promote the policies that support our businesses, which can fuel our economic recovery. These closures and patio extensions were done so temporarily and without long term solutions to ADA, stormwater, electricity and emergency access. Any of these permanent solutions will need to incorporate many of those codes and regulations our city has. It’s important to remember during this election cycle that many candidates, myself included, are going to be advocating that the City spend more money on programs, services, and infrastructure. These ideas are futile unless we have clear plans and ideas for how to generate the revenue necessary for such important and bold actions going forward.
Invest in revitalizing the Hill:
I lived on the Hill for three years while I was in college in the early 2000s and remember the seasonal shift that would occur when students arrived in the fall and then departed for summer break. Many of the businesses on the Hill struggle with the cyclical nature of being bound to the university schedule. With The Hill Hotel and CU Conference center starting development later this year, we have a tremendous opportunity to lift up the rest of the Hill to take advantage of these new assets. Much like the vibrancy that is seen downtown, I would like us to mimic that on the Hill. I envision a walkable and open environment free of cars on 13th between Pennsylvania and College. Improving this part of the Hill would benefit not only the businesses, but also reduce some of the congestion that builds in the surrounding college housing. By providing a vibrant place for students to go, they will be less inclined to engage in destructive and/or inappropriate behavior in other parts of the Hill. I want us to lean into investing in our communities rather than letting them wither away.
Bring our planning department up to proper staffing levels:
One of the most direct ways to increase our planning staff is to use the City’s budgetary reserves or some of the ten million dollars of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds we currently have. By hiring and training staff in the planning department, we help eliminate or at least shorten the backlog of permits and inspections so that our businesses can be operating and help resuscitate our local economy. Some of our businesses have had to wait four to eight--or even ten--weeks to pass basic inspections. Many businesses have lost valuable time and missed out on key community events because of these backlogs. Increasing our staff would prevent such backlogs and help our businesses move forward without unnecessary delays.
Simplify and improve our building codes and permitting process:
As Boulder focusses on dealing with the urgent needs of Housing and Transportation, we must do so through the lens of climate action and resiliency. We need codes that allow us to invest in our future needs while not locking us into only solving the problems of today and ignoring future needs. A common complaint I hear from people, businesses, city staff, and former council members is that our codes are overly cumbersome and unnecessarily complex. It is mind-numbingly difficult to build new structures or improve upon structures in Boulder. Most of the time what begins as simple projects turn into long, expensive, and frustrating processes. Boulder is known around the country for its complex and onerous building codes. We can do better. This problem is simply a product of decades of revising codes and policies in a patchwork manner, and over time it has become what it is today. It is like adding layers of shingles to your roof. At some point you have too many layers and you just need to start fresh. We need codes and land use policies that reflect the urgency of climate action by incentivizing rather than penalizing creativity. Streamlining this process today allows us to adapt to the needs of tomorrow.
Assist businesses equitably:
A valuable lesson from COVID is that when the City is trying to support businesses in desperate need of help, we must do so equitably. Support from the City was disproportionately delivered to businesses on Pearl Street and downtown. I have talked with several restaurants and small businesses from around the City that felt left out of the City’s support. A rising tide floats all boats. COVID has put tremendous strain on, and in many cases shuttered, small businesses around the City. It is clear that COVID is not leaving us as quickly as we had hoped, and I will advocate for our Department of Community Vitality to have a rapid response plan to support our business community--regardless of where they are located--in times of crisis.
The relationship between business and the City is that of symbiosis: the interaction between two things living in close association which is an advantage to both. The success of our businesses is the success of our City and visa versa. In order for Boulder to thrive, we must help our businesses thrive.