Doctrinaire? Hell Yea!
Matt Clifford • October 27, 2015 • Progression •
Cha Cha Spinrad Resists the Kragle on her Quest for City Council
(Full-on Disclosures: The author is serving as Treasurer on the Cha Cha For Boulder Council Campaign)
Cha Cha Spinrad is showing up. Defying ordinances meant to marginalize people like herself (out of sight, out of voice), Cha Cha is answering Boulder Mayor Matt Appelbaum’s assertion that certain problems go unsolved in town because those most affected are simply failing to “show up.” And in doing so, her campaign for city council is making some of Boulder’s more glaring inconsistencies plainly visible.
The People’s Republic of Boulder is a funny place to do politics. A self-fancied liberal/progressive city, the New York Times recently observed, “people are likelier to spot a wandering black bear than an elected Republican.” Indeed, the city council has just one. While not raising any objections, it does shift the context that politics here should be considered within, negating the traditional and horribly simplistic red/blue spectrum. And as the Democratic Party on the national stage have morphed into the Republicans of yesteryear, while the GOP has branded themselves some sort of reactionary freedom clowns, Boulder’s professed character becomes easier to maintain on a surface level. As the left moves right, thus may Boulder. “Our reputation is Birkenstocks and hairy armpits and tie-dye,” says Waylon Lewis, founder of local “non”-new-age imprint Elephant Journal. “Our reality is, it’s an affluent tech town. It’s far more complex.”
Cha Cha looks below this surface straight into the complexities of Boulder’s civic processes. What she sees there is a distressing array of groups underrepresented or excluded from sharing in the city’s abundant resources and a concerted effort to maintain the privilege established for those who currently hold it. It can be difficult to find the compassion amidst the law, wealth, and spiritual materialism. Cha Cha has put education and compassion at the center of her campaign and worldview, turning social justice into a very tangible and modern lens for looking at how political decisions are considered and made. (Cha Cha was founder of the Boulder Free School. And a pre-k teacher! For this context, education is considered across a variety of modes, not limited to state-sanctioned)
Her core issue is affordable housing for those who have or want it, and shelter for those who do not. One cannot have a voice in city decisions if one cannot afford to live in the city. “The creative class no longer lives here,” acknowledges Elephant Journal’s Dave Rogers. “We’ve become quite Santa Monica-fied.”
Cha Cha points to housing occupancy limits as one of many issues maintaining this problem. It is illegal in Boulder to have more than three unrelated persons living in a home. This outlaws the creation of cooperative households, itself a discriminatory act toward those who would wish to pursue such a lifestyle. Living collectively, a resident can pay around $300 a month for rent, a couple hundred more for food communally prepared, and have their basic necessities taken care of. In contrast, seeking a single room in a “properly” zoned unit, one expects to pay at least $750 a month just for rent.
These price differences are significant for students, artists, and activists, and there is little sense behind them. The Rad-ish Collective regularly hosts events with hard end times strictly enforced. They work with their neighbors to ensure noise levels are acceptable. Trash issues? Try a compost pile. Rather than being nuisances, they actually better their neighborhood, providing bike repairs and surplus rescued food. Meanwhile, CU’s Greek organizations hold an exemption from occupancy limits, despite sporting a less-than-neighborly reputation.
And if occupancy limits are to protect property values? The median price of a house in Boulder is $504,000, swelling to $762,000 downtown, and over a million in other parts of town.
Adding further insult, these noise issues have led the city to place alcohol-related development moratoriums in the area, forcing a fixed demand of party people into a lessened supply of venues and exacerbating the initial concern, while reducing the chances of opening new artistic spaces in what should be one of the more cultured areas of Boulder. When bros get shitty and everyone else is punished, it is no wonder they move on to the finance industry and expect government bailouts for overdoing it.
So if occupancy rezoning is such a nonstarter, why not build more units? Boulder’s Open Space laws prohibit buildings from being over four stories tall, meaning high-rise affordable housing units are off the table. While idyllic in name, bearing the noble intention to preserve nature and maintain pristine views of the Flatirons, Open Space laws underlie a sense of NIMBYism (not-in-my-backyard). People are not necessarily opposed to cheaper rents, as long as it doesn’t cut into their open fields and unimpeded views.
There is even an attempt to codify NIMBYism into law in the upcoming election. Ballet Question No. 300 is titled the Neighborhood Right to Vote on Land Use Regulation Changes. It seems positive – who doesn’t want control of their neighborhood to stay as local as possible? This is a case where Cha’s Cha’s emphasis on educating yourself is important. She explains that in the details of this initiative, only 10% of neighborhood residents’ petition signatures are necessary to bring an issue to vote, meaning a small constituency can have a great impact over citywide politics. Additionally, the neighborhoods would have to approve any changes to land use regulation. This would provide a superfluous layer of difficulty to navigate through when trying to build affordable housing units. It systemizes NIMBYism as neighborhood autonomy.
Likewise, Ballet Question No. 301, titled New Development Shall Pay Its Own Way, is a prohibitive measure. It places impact fees on new construction projects. Again, a great sounding proposal in light of the environmental crises we are suffering and the disruptions communities endure during construction. However, Cha Cha explains there are already processes in place to establish such fees, and that all this passage would accomplish is to codify fees at an expedited and higher-than-necessary rate, thereby discouraging new developments. Most tellingly, affordable housing units are neglected from the projects exempted from such fees. Many labor, construction, and activist groups oppose the question.
These stances have led Cha Cha and her like to accusations of being “pro-growth,” a label Cha Cha will admit to. Without increasing housing supply to match growing demand, rents will rise, the burden will fall most heavily on the least fortunate, whose voices will fail to be heard as the city continues to marginalize them. Still, Boulder proudly bears its anti-growth standing. It is near antithetical in a hypercapitalistic society to oppose growth, a badge of honor for against-the-grain Boulderites. Yet, it is Boulder that has reaped the greatest benefits of capitalism’s growth, dividends still being paid out by Pearl Street investment firms, and now they want to pull the ladder up.
Maybe this housing debate wouldn’t appear as bad if it weren’t for the inhumane way Boulder treats its homeless. (It would) Boulder was actually one of the early cities in the United States to enact “urban camping” bans in the early 1980s, making it illegal to rest with any covering in a public place, essentially outlawing homelessness. Such legislation gained nationwide traction several years ago as a method to subdue the tactics of the Occupy movement. (While I consider the Occupy movement an overall important success, I maintain this as one of its greatest failures) These bans are economically inefficient and of blurry legal status in the eyes of the Supreme Court, a fact Boulder dismisses as something that won’t be sorted out for years. Most of all, they are cruel.
Boulder has three times as many homeless residents as its shelters can handle. When it is against the law to rest in the park in the cold with a blanket, it forces the homeless to seek shelter in more hidden places, for instance under tunnels or bridges, increasing the danger of what is already an overly risky situation. Multiple people froze to death last winter due to such circumstances. While nauseating on any level, the fact it happens in the shadows of high-end yoga salons where wealthy adherents are attempting to align their sentient beings to the universe’s vibrating wisdom under a bastardized form of meditation, the anger becomes too palpable to bear.
This is to say nothing of the inordinate police harassment the homeless face.
Even once living in town, getting around is a further necessity. Accessibility is an issue limited not just to housing, but also to transportation. Cha Cha is a consistent proponent of the rights of cyclists. For a city that is far more fit than it is progressive, she has faced a surprising amount of resistance on this topic.
One opponent opined that rezoning laws would only add more cars to already crowded roadways. 16 new residents, 16 more cars. Cha Cha responded that a good amount of people drawn to collective living are the type to prefer walking, cycling and public transportation over owning an automobile. Moreso, so what if there are 16 more cars? Park down the street and figure it out. Is it really worth higher rents and shutout citizens so that those with cars can have closer parking spots?
Others have tried to sell her on the merits of electric cars. Cha Cha counters that while they do mark some progress, it is not nearly enough of the paradigm shift required to avert global climate catastrophe. Electric cars still need to be charged, which requires energy, which at this point is still coming from largely dirty sources. Electric cars require all the raw materials to build as gasoline-fueled ones do. They still strain resources and crowd roadways. Again, the frustration of a widespread problem whose obvious solutions face great resistance is compounded by the rhetoric of sustainability and living green being spouted by the city selling ecoluxury products. Saving the world in style.
Boulder has carbon taxes and vows to offset emissions. What goes unaccounted for is the fact that many people who work in Boulder can’t afford to live in Boulder and have to drive or bus in. Cha Cha points out that a transportation system’s efficiencies are limited when it is not connecting a continuously developed area. Miles of Open Space separate all of the more affordable towns surrounding Boulder, generally too far to bike. The increased carbon emissions of all these commuters occur from Boulder’s anti-growth ethos. So now we got anti-growth being a net negative for the environment and discriminatory against lower income earners. That doesn’t sound much like the Boulder Boulder talks about when it talks about Boulder.
Cha Cha is also critical of the handling of the recently terminated protected bike lane experiment on Folsom Street. She says early data was encouraging on safety and increased ridership, while traffic delays saw an uptick of just 90 seconds. She thinks two months were not nearly enough of a trial and the city caved too easily to a vocal group of complaining motorists.
In this, though, is a prime example of Cha Cha’s platform of compassion. “I feel for the parent who has had a long day at work and has to wait a few extra minutes to see her daughter,” says Spinrad in a radio interview with Boulder stalwart Rob Smoke. When measured as social justice, though, cyclists are not having their right to transportation protected and the ecosystem is suffering from increased auto use. With a sense of compassion and a dedication to the greater whole, we can all garner the understanding to accept solutions that do not disregard anybody and are best for our shared environment.
The qualities of compassion and education combine in a certain way to formulate the components of social justice. Heart plus mind into action. In a city like Boulder, where the politics nuance because a large number consider themselves in some sense liberal or progressive, it becomes a powerful tool with which we can differentiate the still disparate modes of thinking and needs of all. It can overcome the bubble’s potential for groupthink so that nobody is shoved out (Keep Boulder Weird). Yes, you may not be able to see the mountains as well, but now an artist can live here. Team play.
When considered in this sense, the ideas Cha Cha is propagating are not all that “radical,” one of the most overwrought words in our political lexicon. Affordable housing, caring for the homeless, environmental progress, increased bicycle ridership, the protection of all lifestyles. These common sense issues are just the mechanism to provide basic rights. It isn’t even yet touching on possibilities further down the field.
We are discussing affordable rent, not free rent, as even Adam Smith, capitalist funk daddy, thought would be more wise (landlords suck but don’t spit it back out). Asking to be able to pay rent is not class war. This is not an attempt to end the monetary system or plunge property values. Demanding a place in the city is not overtaking it. Lockheed Martin will still be one of the city’s largest employers after the election. We are still discussing gay marriage and not, say, relationship discrimination protection for the polyamorous. Systemic racism, police brutality, reparations, Native Americans. Health care, income inequality, corporate welfare, military, prisons.
This can go so much further, but without compassion, there is no imagination to the necessary possibilities. Without being able to imagine new possibilities, we cannot have conversations about how to achieve them. Without conversations, no actions will move forward. Even the concept of calling Boulder inconsistent and hypocritical is practically a running joke around town.
This all makes Cha Cha’s anti-endorsement by The Daily Camera as too “ideologically doctrinaire,” rather confounding and slightly bemusing (it’s a pretty grand phrase). Firstly, she is entering into the teeth of the system, further than many an ideologue would dare go. Moreover, Cha Cha educates herself on each issue and runs it through a lens of social justice before deciding her stance. Her views on Ballot Questions No. 300 & 301 demonstrate she can read through the stated language into the intentions of those presenting such legislation before reaching a conclusion that may otherwise have been counterintuitive. If anything, it is more doctrinaire to uphold a status quo that has repeatedly been seen as an exclusive and alienating force. Cha Cha isn’t getting campaign contributions from the mayor and Congresspersons like her opponents are. How a young “outsider” is the doctrinaire in a system as rigid and entrenched as Boulder’s I will leave to the establishment newspaper.
Boulder is right in many ways. GMO foods should be studied and labeled. Farm-to-table organic meals taste amazing. I like hiking. We should be able to municipalize our energy grids to harness power in whatever way the locals using and affected most by it desire. Fracking is dangerous and worth banning, renewables are worth funding and spreading. I am for energy municipalization. Buddhist institutions. Fair trade coffee. Booze in kombucha. Self-care is important and attempts at mindfulness are too often scoffed at. There are certain movements that, for better or worse, at this point are going to emerge from more high-income areas. Go for it, Boomtown.
Still, the politics of Boulder are by and large concerned far more with principles that positively affect the individual, rather than achieving a social justice for all that may require more sacrifice from the privileged class. Cha Cha has faced remarks that some of her ideas are not what the “real Boulder” wants or “what Boulder really wants”. Many have already left this city under some combination of cultural and financial pressure. (I recently moved to Denver because it is impractical at best and impossible at worst to be in a rock band in Boulder) Boulder is certainly at a crossroads, with the tech industry moving in and the creative class moving out. If that is what Boulder wants, it should just say so and finally abandon the dying vestiges of their countercultural past.
Cha Cha has stayed and shown up to fight to keep Boulder accessible and there for us. She compares the city to the imagined dystopic metropolis in The Legos Movie, even using the hash tag #resistthekragle in promotional material. Kragle refers to Krazy Glue, a weapon of permanent stillness in the animated subuniverse the Lego figures act in. President Business utilizes it in an attempt to maintain perfect order over the chaos inherent to his empire. Everybody’s always messing up his stuff. Cha Cha likens this to an attitude of stagnation evolving around Boulder. The current order of things is perfect and this is the way it is supposed to be forever. That which messes with it or makes it uncomfortable must be banished, if not by the force of law then by manipulation of the housing market. If this Krazy Glue of anti-growth is not resisted, it will inalterably shift the character of Boulder far away from its hippie heyday. Worldwide, the population is growing and urbanizing – does Boulder want to be a part of this, or are they are just fine exactly where they are? There is a lot of fun, interesting diversity missed in exchange for security. The world isn’t a perfect place and isn’t supposed to be, not always, not ever. This concept that it can be legislated into one, or at least the appearance of one, is more ruinous than grown men playing with Legos sets the wrong way.
Boulder doesn’t want to see its problems.
Boulder wants to look at the mountains and live in the stars.
This represents a very small and opinionated portion of what the Cha Cha For Boulder Council campaign is about and has covered. If you can’t tell already, vote, and vote for Cha Cha. She is energetic, studied, involved, dedicated, patient, empathetic, and gives a shit. I can’t think of anyone else I know in Boulder more qualified to be a member of city council. She is in it to win, not just make a point. Boulder is a place we felt some affinity toward at some time, that united us in some way, and that inspires us still. Keep the People’s Republic of BoulderCha Cha For City Council
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