I had lunch yesterday with Jyotsna Raj at Boulder Beer. She is very personable and a joy to talk to. She clearly is intellectually curious on a wide array of subjects – always a good thing when facing serious problems without clear answers. She also grew up in India which gives her a much more global perspective.
So why is Jyotsna running? In her case it is a very specific – the Pops & Scrapes issue and Macon Cowles. She went to the Pops & Scrapes hearing and at first planned on just listening, but toward the end decided to speak. Afterwards she got a call from Macon asking her to run for council. And so… now she's in the race.
Jyotsna says that in all the discussions about Pops & Scrapes, on the anti side all she heard was people who had specific projects planned for their house and didn't want them stopped. While on the pro side she saw people who were looking at what is best for the city.
Jyotsna also spoke about how houses should be kept proportional & appropriate for a neighborhood. She clearly comes down on the side of passing legislation that will keep Boulder as is (as much as possible). She misses the old Crossroads including Sears & Montgomery Wards. This led in to a discussion about how the stores in 29th Street don't sell anything that people need or want (unfortunately this is all too true).
The conversation moved over to the sales tax revenue problem and she had one of the best summations of the problem I have ever heard – that you can no longer buy a washer & dryer in Boulder (there's missing Sears again). Those big ticket items generate a ton of sales tax revenue and that is all gone. She does not have any solution to this problem but does understand the issue. She's also the only candidate (so far) that admits that revenue sharing is a tough sell at best.
The subject of business came up numerous times in the conversation. Jyotsna is a strong proponent of both helping start-ups and bringing in more business. She wants to see the funding that goes to provide advisory services to start-ups continue. (Kudos to her as the BIC and other services like that are one of the most useful ways to help new companies). She wants to see Boulder's empty office space fill up with new companies that are high tech, green energy, organic food, etc.
We also discussed the "business community" where she asked me about that. I replied that the business community was at least three very different groups – real estate developers, retail business, and everyone else. She agreed with that 100% and discussed how the real estate developers were the biggest threat to Boulder – not that they are bad per-se but that their interests do not match what is best for Boulder.
She then started quizzing me on what the "everyone else" business community needed from the City. I couldn't think of anything direct as the city does not affect companies like mine much. (We also don't pay much to the city as we don't sell here and therefore don't pay sales tax.) She circled back to the money spent to help advise small business and how that is a significant help to this group. I think she has a very valid point on this.
We then discussed keeping housing affordable. She sees the Pops & Scrapes legislation accomplishing this. As Jyotsna says, if houses in Martin Acres cannot be expanded, then they will remain middle class. I think this is a very interesting approach. She's definitely right that if Martin Acres remodels are locked down, then the area will remain middle class. And legislation could probably be crafted that accomplishes this.
But this opens up the gigantic question of will the voters go for this? Because this will keep a lid on house prices and that means homeowners there will not see their property appreciate as much as it would otherwise. So will Boulder accept Martin Acres homeowners gaining less from their homes in return for keeping Boulder affordable?
Here's what's interesting about Jyotsna on this issue – this is an incredibly contentious issue and one that most politicians would discuss obliquely if at all. But she addresses it directly. And the thing is, this might be the best way to keep Boulder affordable. Possibly the only way outside of adding a bunch of high-density housing.
So what do we get with Jyotsna? First off, we get someone who will give a direct answer about what she is thinking on issues. Combine that with her clear intellectual curiosity and we have someone who will be very effective in working through these problems and discussing the trade-offs in various approaches. She also will be a strong voice (and vote) for minimizing changes in our buildings.
Finally, she will work to help start-ups succeed here. I think this final point could be where she would provide the most value as we have never had someone on the council that sees this as one of the main areas for their attention & effort. And she appears to have a decent understanding about what the city can best do to help and a desire to learn more on this.
Interview: Download Jyotsna Raj interview