I interviewed Tim Plass at the Steelyards Coffee Shop (which is now apparently a tea shop). It was a very interesting conversation, with an incredibly interesting idea coming up part way through (read on to find out – this is what they call a teaser). Tim comes across as both personable and professional. And he clearly likes to discuss issues.
Tim sits on the Landmarks Board and so it was no surprise that he launched in discussing housing. But the part he started in on was affordable housing. He definitely sees the big picture on affordable, discussing how many units we are behind where he would like us to be at this point (an additional 1,000 units) and how this impacts the affordability of the city, number of kids in school, rush hour traffic bringing workers in every day, etc. All good points.
He then started discussing what is required to increase affordable housing. He sees a need to find additional funding sources for it as we are hitting the real estate developers for the max we can wring out of them. He would like to look at tying it to open space funding. He thinks that combining those would lead to more support for both. It's an interesting idea as open space has increased property values driving the poor out so having open space funding help address the problem it caused could make good sense. But open space is the 3rd rail of city politics so we'll have to see how that goes.
He also discussed mobile homes, both the problems at Orchid Grove (I personally think the land owner there is trying to drive everyone out) where simple fairness requires giving the tenants reasonable rights as well as the fact that mobile homes are a great way for working class families to purchase a home. He definitely favors trying to find a way for the tenants to purchase mobile home parks.
He then moved on to discussing housing in general. Tim is a strong believer in finding compromises that work for everyone. He likes how Washington School worked out, although he stated up front he would have preferred that it stayed as a school. And he did state that the long process was a significant effort for the developer. But he thinks the outcome was good. Same for Lolita's Market where the land owners have come up with a plan that retains the building.
Tim never discussed high density, maximizing use, etc in old Boulder. But he did say that East of 28th street we can try to find ways to build that make maximum use of public transit, high density buildings, etc. And he sees the transit village as the place to center those efforts. He didn't expressly say it but I read his comments as being that East of 28th people are more willing to see the kind of development required to provide high density housing that is both affordable for the middle class and has enough people for public transit to work.
He then discussed pops & scrapes. His approach is we try and limit changes in houses so that people can add a room for a parent or additional kids, but we stop the conversions to McMansions. He stated that this alone would do a lot to keep middle class housing in Boulder. This was the really interesting (i.e. new) point brought up. I pointed out that the logical end-point of his approach is that we allow no increase in house size and that will force parts of Boulder like Martin Acres to remain middle class – because no rich person is going to live in one of those houses as is.
I want to stress that Tim did not propose that we lock down house sizes. But that idea did come out of what he proposed and it is an interesting idea. I don't know if it's a good idea – there are definitely houses all over Boulder that are small even by the standards of their neighborhood today. But it is clearly an interesting idea to discuss. And it's worth noting that in discussing this issue with Tim, a solution that would keep a middle class in Boulder did come up. That speaks well of his bringing about innovative ideas.
One other item of interest came up while discussing housing. He has no children and as such did not understand why parents with children would not move in to neighborhoods with few or no children. He understood the dynamics once I explained them. But while he will be a voice that naturally understands the concerns of many in Boulder, those concerning families with children he will have to learn.
The other big issue for Tim is reducing the City's carbon emission. He sees this as an essential part of his job. His view is what will get our world through this crisis if we elect enough local leaders taking the same approach. He wants to see us reduce our emissions to the necessary level because that is our part of solving this problem. He was very matter of fact about it too – it's just something we need to step up and do.
What was also commendable was I asked if he would accept an approach where everyone here keeps emitting but pays to have offsets elsewhere. He very clearly wants to reduce our usage, not just buy our way out. He thinks the next step is working to get people to make their houses more energy efficient both for the carbon reductions and for the money they save.
We discussed the fact that cars are the biggest emitters in the city. He didn't have any suggestions on that other than providing more affordable housing would reduce the number of people commuting to Boulder (I don't think there is anything the City can do about this). But he does have solid workable ideas on the rest.
I then brought up the sales tax problem. He thinks the blue ribbon commission did a good job of laying out the problem, but agrees that there are no obvious solutions. His first idea is revenue sharing with surrounding communities. (There's no way the surrounding communities are going to agree to give Boulder money – but every candidate is hoping for that because it's free money.)
He does understand that sales tax revenues are going to continue to decline. He thinks we can get a bit of money with an additional fee on our utility bill (charge per house, not per BTU). But that isn't going to generate a lot. Aside from that he didn't have any major suggestions. But this is a really tough problem the city faces – especially with no taxes on internet purchases and a lot of our major purchases being made outside the city.
So what do we get with Tim? He definitely looks to find the compromise that works for everyone, which is the mark of an effective politician. He also is driven to try and preserve Boulder, not to the extent of freezing it in time, but of moving forward without rebuilding everything – at least West of 28th street. He will be a strong voice for reducing our carbon emissions. And he listens & learns.
Audio of Interview: Download TimPlass