If you just took the time to watch that video, then you're probably feeling like I am right now: stunned, goosebumps, and tears. Seeing this video is shocking, and for those of us who survived it, it's extremely triggering and traumatic. Can you imagine knowing that you live in harms way? Can you imagine how triggering a wet monsoon season is? This is why I fully support the annexation agreement between the City of Boulder and CU Boulder.
First and foremost, this is an issue of health and safety. City Council takes an oath of office that obligates them to protect the health and safety of people in Boulder. For those that are new to Boulder this may seem a little strange or that there is some missing context. Boulder received over 18 inches of rain in just a few days in September of 2013 and South Boulder creek among other parts of the city and along the front range were devastated by raging flood waters. Nearly 2500 people living along South Boulder Creek were forced out of their homes when 3-4 feet of water came through their neighborhoods as the creek overtopped Hwy 36 (the video above is a clear reminder). These residents--our neighbors, friends, grandparents and co-workers--are no safer from flooding today than they were eight years ago. Just look at Europe and China. They have been experiencing catastrophic flooding like we did. These extremes will certainly come back to Boulder sooner rather than later. Since the 2013 flood we have had three presidents and NASA designed, built, launched, and landed the Perseverance Rover on Mars, of which many CU researchers and students worked on. It is also a helpful reminder that in that same time frame we have not dug an ounce of dirt toward building flood protection. By the time the flood protection gets built (~2027 as stated in the draft annexation agreement), kids born the year of the flood in 2013, will be close to starting high school. With this draft annexation agreement, we can change this narrative and put Boulder on the path to providing the essential flood protections our neighbors need.
In addition to the most critical criteria being health and safety, we have met nearly all of the guiding principles stated in the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan that originally defined this project. City staff, Council, and CU have put thousands of hours in to this negotiation. As residents we have had an abundance of opportunities for community engagement and participation. This process has been long and most importantly thorough. I feel that we have gotten CU to agree to a plethora of conditions that have been shaped by years of community input. The current annexation agreement with CU contains a lot of community benefits such as:
Flood Protection: This is the most important factor, as walking away from this draft annexation agreement will undoubtedly continue to place these ~2500 residents at risk. This is a major part of our community’s climate resiliency.
Height Limits: CU has agreed to abide by our 55-foot height limit and to scale their building heights based on the surrounding homes, which is a huge step for preserving neighborhood character and sight lines.
Housing: With a minimum 2-1 ratio for housing to non-housing square footage, this guarantees solid guard rails for this site to be housing focused. Gaining nearly 1100 units for upperclassmen/staff/faculty is a big win to reduce in-commuting and to allow people to live, work, and play in this great city. There will also be five acres dedicated to affordable housing. This is vital, as it will help the City reach its long-term goals of affordable housing stock by 2030.
Open Space: Development would be limited to just 129 acres of their 308 acres and the rest would be acquired by the city as new Open Space.
Wetland Restoration: This is consistent with our environmental values. Reclaiming much of this area and the associated water rights puts the city in the driver’s seat to maximize protections for our wetlands and critical habitats.
Protecting Hwy 36: Keeping our major highway from being under water is a critical part of flood protection as it will maintain an essential ingress and egress of emergency vehicles and the ability for residents to safely leave lower elevations.
Transportation: CU has agreed to create a multi-modal transportation hub along with traffic management to reduce impacts on surrounding neighborhoods. This fits right in with our transportation master plan and that of our larger community focus on equity.
These community benefits are real and something we can hold CU accountable for. Perhaps most importantly they were driven by a long and thorough public participation process. There is no question in my mind that this is the best deal we can get with CU. I am equally certain that if we walk away, the city will not have such a willing partner in CU in the future and the city will lose most of its credibility to negotiate on future projects.
Let’s not let perfection be the enemy of the good. It is time we move forward and allow thousands in harms way the confidence to sleep a little easier than they have in last eight years.