Coping with "a new normal" dictated by recession and lower tax revenues is the daily preoccupation of Boulder's city government, Boulder City Manager Jane Brautigam told an audience of business leaders Thursday.
Recession has led to elimination of 26 full-time-equivalent staff positions, plus a heightened focus on prioritizing essential services so that money goes into areas with proven payoff, she told an audience of 150 in a "State of the City" address at the Spice of Life Event Center.
Brautigam ticked off numerous ways in which the City is coping with recession:
* Through its Economic Vitality Program, the City has used financial incentives and micro-loans to "help local businesses stay and grow in Boulder," she noted.
* Boulder has hustled to get its share of federal stimulus money, and is still hustling.
* At its recent planning retreat, the City Council concluded that promoting affordable housing should henceforth rank as high a priority as the heretofore front-burnered Climate Action Plan, which seeks to reduce the City's carbon footprint.
* The City is spending more than $1.5 million annually to assist the homeless and those threatened with homelessness.
Boulder's unemployment rate, at 5.7 percent, compares favorably to 7.5 percent statewide and 10 percent nationally. "Boulder," Brautigam said, "is fortunate in having a stable and diverse business community." No single industry employs more than 20 percent of the workforce. Many still-growing companies are in areas that reflect community values: clean technology, natural and organic products, outdoor sports and recreation, and advanced technology (aerospace, bioscience, information technology, nanotechnology and photonics).
A major goal: sustainability
Beyond the recession-related aspects of the talk, the City Manager offered a broad-brush view of Boulder's ongoing achievements -- Boulder has been on 95 national Top-10 Lists in the past decade -- and of its ongoing programs, most of which are supportive of an overall City goal: environmental, economic and social sustainability. Among these are:
* promoting photovoltaic and hydroelectric alternative energy (including, it is hoped, shared solar-energy facilities known as "solar gardens");
* a gradual switch to City use of hybrid and alternative-energy cars;
* expansion of single-stream recycling and curbside composting programs;
* promoting residential energy conservation through energy audits and homeowner loans;
* a "comprehensive digital services strategy" that includes an "online branch library";
* reconfiguring streets to be more pedestrian- and bike-friendly; and
* working toward "an era of good feeling" between the City and the University.
To get key messages to citizens, the City is boosting its reliance on municipal Channel 8 -- in particular, making use of a bi-weekly Inside Boulder program -- after a Comcast study found 45 percent of residents turn to Channel 8 as an information source. (Consult this Channel 8 program schedule.)
In reply to an audience question, Brautigam said there is "incredible interest" on Council in Boulder hosting a conference or convention center, but that the initiative for it is coming from the University, with City involvement.
A missing topic
In a brief interview after her talk, I asked Brautigam why another plan the City has discussed publicly -- called Sustainable Streets and Centers -- wasn't part of her presentation. This plan, still being brainstormed, focuses on major transportation corridors and various "centers" (such as downtown, The Hill, 29th Street and the Transit Village): promoting dense clusters of housing in these areas and making them more inviting and navigable for pedestrians and bicyclists -- in short, making them self-sustaining neighborhoods to help curtail all the driving.
"Next year's speech will be talking about that," Brautigam said. "(The Council's) decision has been to study it as part of the Comprehensive Plan Update... and then start working on the details later this year. We haven't spent money on it yet, but it's something that they (the Council) really care about and that they will make happen over the next 10 years."
She was asked: Won't plans like the Transit Village and Sustainable Streets and Centers result in population growth, and is that a good thing?
"The point is, we have a city that people want to come to, that we need to have growth of some sort. We have a lot of jobs in our community, and a lot of people commute in, and we don't like that commuting in -- we want them to live here and be able to use public transportation to get to work. And so that's what happens: cities densify in order to take care of their population so they don't have to sprawl. That's part of our philosophy."
Brautigam's "State of the City" presentation was highly revealing as to how City Council and staff view Boulder's strengths and challenges, and how they are strategizing for the future.
A 30-minute video of Brautigam's presentation of the "State of the City" talk to a City Council study session Jan. 26 -- largely the same talk she gave Thursday -- can be viewed on a Channel 8 web page.