I asked all of the Boulder City Council members if I could interview them and Angelique Espinoza was gracious enough to accept (1½ others have also accepted). Angelique is my favorite council member, not because I agree with her (I disagree with her on a number of things) but because she is both very nice and a nerd. Talking with her is always a pleasure.
So we first discussed her not running for re-election. She's going to miss the council – a lot. Angelique said this was by far the most interesting, fascinating, rewarding job she has ever held. She likes the work. She likes the difference she can make. She thinks she brings a valuable voice to the Council as the only member with young children. And while she didn't say it, she's it for racial diversity on our Council.
So why not continue? Because she can't afford it. The council pay is virtually nothing for what is in practice a full-time job. I think if you look at the hourly rate they end up receiving it's well below minimum wage. As she says, in this economy her family can't take the risk of having a single working parent because layoffs happen and it can take time to find a new job. Crappy pay does limit who sits on the City Council.
We then went in to the upcoming budget cuts and Angelique brought up the key point. Even without the depression the City was facing a major financial issue – the rate of inflation for the city's expenses is 4%/year while tax revenue has been increasing at 3%/year. The depression has accelerated the impact of this difference, but the core issue would exist regardless. The bottom line is that the City is going to have to look at everything it does and decide what of that it should be doing (and at what level) and what it should stop.
Well not everything. I asked about Police & Fire and she says that those need all of the funding they presently receive although they will both look for any possible efficiencies. It blows me away that the majority of the City's budget is viewed as untouchable. First, this means a 1% shortfall will require a 2% – 3% cut across the remaining programs. Second, when an operation is told that it does not face any cuts, then it has no incentive to find new more efficient ways to perform its services.
Ok, so diving into the cuts. A lot of time this is Kabuki Theater where we all know what we will end up doing but we have to go through the motions of getting citizen input, commission reviews, staff input, etc to then implement what the Council had in mind at the start. Apparently not this time. Angelique's comment was that she may just not see it because she has only been doing this for a couple of years, but she does not see any consensus at all. This may be due to the fact that some very very hard decisions need to be made and it's not clear how those decisions will play out. But it does look like there is no done deal here and the citizen input will shape this decision.
She then brought up the library system and said that because they were proactive and were first (and so far the only) to come up with the various alternatives based on funding levels, everyone assumed that they were going to see large cuts. Angelique was very adamant that all that has happened is the library did their review first, and did a good job. But they are not specifically on the chopping block.
We then got into a long discussion about the future evolution of libraries due to items like the Kindle. This was a fascinating discussion about what libraries bring to the community today, which is much more than books. And what factor books will be in the future when any book is instantly available on a wireless device – but children will still want to come in for reading events. Having someone on Council with Angelique's tech background and her understanding of the many ways a library helps make our community a community is very valuable. (Here's hoping someone else with these skills takes a vow of poverty and runs in the upcoming election.)
We then discussed the conundrum for Boulder where it can grow out, it can grow up, or it can grow richer. Angelique understands that this is a real trade-off and that mouthing platitudes toward affordable home prices while restricting growth in either direction means we will unquestionably become a place where only the wealthy and the subsidized can afford to live. She unequivocally supports greater density and the taller buildings that that requires, both to make Boulder more affordable and to improve the economics of mass transit.
Angelique also thinks we are headed for constantly increasing oil prices and the end of the automobile for mass transit. I disagree but hey, anything that can be done to make mass transit more economical is generally a good thing so the specifics she wants to accomplish make sense even if the car remains in use.
She also discussed how the increased cost of living in Boulder was leading to a clear racial divide and reduced diversity. (I personally have always found Boulder to be incredibly white.) She brings up the very valid point that we are losing the middle class which is the most diverse stratum in society. We will have mostly Hispanics in the subsidized housing and mostly whites in the rest – and we then have skin color marking economic level with a large divide between the two. Not a good situation. And we are headed for this, but I wonder if anyone else on Council ever thinks of this – you tend not to when you're on the winning side of the line.
Angelique leaving the Council is a loss for Boulder. She's an intelligent, thoughtful, curious, open-minded individual. And she is willing to face the trade-offs the city faces and propose real solutions as opposed to pushing those decisions off – which means we make the default decision. She is also very respectful of the democratic process talking several times about how the Council needs to respect the will of the electorate even if they don't agree with it. And to repeat, she's a really nice person.