Fort Collins City Council candidates talk housing affordability, equity, climate action

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The 14 candidates for Fort Collins City Council aired their views on housing affordability, population growth, equity, climate action and more at a Wednesday evening virtual candidate forum held by the League of Women Voters of Larimer County.

The two-hour event gave each candidate a bit of time to speak on several city issues. What follows is a sampling of quotes from each candidate. To view a recording of the full forum and see what each candidate had to say on the issues, visit youtube.com/watch?v=RhgeG2qOG2E.

The election is April 6. The city will send out ballots in the mail later this week.

GUIDE TO FORT COLLINS’ APRIL ELECTION:Get to know the candidates and the issues

Mayor candidates

Candidates for Fort Collins mayor, from left, Jeni Arndt, Gerry Horak and Molly Skold.

Jeni Arndt on climate action:

“At the state, we set up the Office of Just Transition. So when we retire a coal plant, we’re going to be intentional about retraining workers. We’re going to do this in a kind way. Clean energy is also an equity issue for people who have the least among us, because pollution hits them harder than it hits some other people. So I think it’s an equity issue to transition as fast as we can for ourselves, and more importantly, our kids and grandkids. It’s also going to take a regional approach, because pollution doesn’t know boundaries. We’re going to partner with our region and our state to make some of these things happen.”

Molly Skold on growth:

“I look at the strategy of the growth in terms of disciplined growth. We’ve got to be, yes, thoughtful; yes, strategic; yes, pragmatic, but also disciplined so that we understand there are things we can do, and there’s the things that we need to hold off on because we can’t pay for everything all of the time. I think of metro districts, as well. … (We need to) work toward a community where you can walk to school, you can walk or ride your bike to work, you can walk in close proximity and shop and play and live and thus making our environment in our city healthier and happier and safer.”

Gerry Horak on climate action:

“In 2015, I made sure the Climate Action Plan is more than an action plan, it was a climate implementation plan, taking a look at what specific measures can be done … and I was on the Platte River Power Authority board and made sure that we moved forward on these goals. Currently, this year, we’ll have 50% noncarbon energy, and in a few short years we’ll be close to 100% (noncarbon) energy. I think that’s a significant step. Number two we need to work on is vehicles. They are the second largest polluter in Fort Collins. We need to really encourage people not to be using cars, have people use electric vehicles more. That’s how we do. But we have to be aggressive on these things. And (remember), solar energy and wind energy actually cost less than coal energy.”

More:Fort Collins 2021 mayor’s race: Meet candidates Gerry Horak, Molly Skold and Jeni Arndt

District 1 candidates

Candidates for the Fort Collins City Council District 1 seat, from left, Nick Armstrong and Susan Gutowsky

Nick Armstrong on equity and inclusion:

“One of the things that I have been most proud of is building platforms for my neighbors, and then stepping back and allowing them to speak and then not just listening to what they have to say, but acting and learning, based on what they’ve said and shared. The BIPOC community has shared their story time and time again and gotten mostly inertia as a response. We have to do better.”

Susan Gutowsky on equity and inclusion:

“Equity is one of my top priorities. I’ve always believed that everyone should have an opportunity to thrive, and equity is that umbrella under which everything else exists. I worked on the equity on the Community Impact Committee, an ad hoc committee. We were charged with (figuring out) how to assess the equity gaps, and we came up with the Equity and Inclusion Office, which is going to be probably online this coming summer, in order to have a systematic assessment of the equity issues that exist. Systemic racism does exist in Fort Collins.”

District 3 candidates

City Council District 3 seat candidates, from left, Tricia Canonico and Gavin Kaszynski

Gavin Kaszynski on equity and inclusion:

“I believe in a colorblind society, and that’s what I do in health care. At our (health care) practice, we take care of almost 100,000 lives in this community and we are completely indifferent as to their race, or their sexual orientation, or their transgender status. None of that matters to us. …

“As my friend Wade Troxell says, Fort Collins is that city where four people pull up to a four-way intersection, and everyone is waiting for each other to go through. That’s the way we treat one another. We’re a kind community. I don’t think there’s racism here. And if there is, it needs to be pulled out by the roots and gotten rid of wherever we find it, but I haven’t seen that, and I don’t think that exists here. So we do need to do better and we do need to work on this.”

Tricia Canonico on equity and inclusion:

“I think an equitable and inclusive Fort Collins is one where everyone thrives, and I think creating the equity and inclusion office is a really great first step. But I think there’s still a lot of work for us to do in our city. I work with the Family Center, and we do a lot with the Latinx community. Just today, I was speaking with the rest of the executive committee, and we were just talking about how (the Latinx community’s) voices aren’t being heard. So … we still have more work to do to dismantle institutional and structural racism, but I think Fort Collins is really moving in the right direction.”

District 4 candidates

City Council District 4 seat candidates Jessica Dyrdahl (top left), Erin Hottenstein (top right), Shirley Peel (bottom left), Melanie Potyondy (middle) and Sidna Rachid (bottom right).

Shirley Peel on housing affordability:

“I think, first of all, it’s the city’s responsibility to make sure they are not making it harder to obtain affordable housing. We need to continue to partner with charitable organizations like Habitat for Humanity to help with housing needs. I think they need to revisit the U+2 ordinance and look at their zoning laws and land use code to make sure that it has kept up with the changing needs of our community. I think part of the thing they can do is work toward a healthy business community who will have the (resources) to offer things to their workers like a housing stipend, or first-time buyers’ savings accounts, or even bigger employers like CSU that have floated the plan of building houses for their employees.”

Melanie Potyondy on equity and inclusion:

“I think it’s wonderful that we’re starting the Equity and Inclusion Office, and I’m hoping, moving forward, that not only do we collect data and have conversations, but we do see some opportunities to put our historically underrepresented groups in the driver’s seat. It needs to be them making decisions for their communities about what works. I also love that we’re talking about a legal defense fund for some of our most vulnerable Fort Collins-ites. We’re moving in the right direction, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

Sidna Rachid on housing affordability:

“It’s nice to say we need more affordable housing, and I’m all in favor of encouraging affordable housing complexes that are for rent and not for sale. I do not believe in giving tax incentives to private developers, for building, you know, three or four or five houses that will remain affordable for maybe one person and they will not be resold at below market value. So I think we need to be a little bit more realistic about that.” 

Erin Hottenstein on equity and inclusion:

“The city is in the process of doing its Equity Indicators project, and we’ve seen that there are racial disparities in our city when it comes to housing and homelessness, arrest rates and other areas. I’m so glad that that we are taking a good look at what our numbers are. I’m also very excited about the the new Office of Equity and Inclusion. I think that’s so important, because for me, there is no ‘us’ and ‘them.’ If the entire community isn’t thriving, then we’re not thriving. We’ve got to take care of everyone.”

Jess Dyrdahl on housing affordability:

“I think I’m the only potential council member that lives with roommates, so this is very near and dear to my heart. … What needs to be first and foremost of how the city addresses this problem is the understanding that it does disproportionately affect people that are low-income and people that identify in the BIPOC community as well. So how are we looking at the land use code? How are we looking at our housing supply? City Council just adopted the Housing Strategic Plan a couple of weeks ago, so how are we immediately implementing some of those strategies already and looking for the next 1-2 to 10 years in the future?”

District 5 candidates

City Council District 5 seat candidates, from left, Jeff Hansen and Kelly Ohlson

Jeff Hansen on housing affordability:

“It’s a very, very complex problem that needs to be looked at from multiple angles. It’s not just a matter of providing any one particular housing type. We also need to make sure that we’re promoting the right kind of jobs to ensure we have people across the range of income levels and ethnic backgrounds that can fill in a variety of housing types that we’re also promoting. There’s a lot of regulation that I think is maybe not necessary that we can look at reducing that is detrimental to the housing costs in Fort Collins.”

Kelly Ohlson on housing affordability:

“I think we need to start plugging away at it and get to work right away. I also agree that we need to put more money in the land bank because they’re not making any more land. So we want to make sure we have land in the appropriate places, near employment near transit, near central shopping. But we also have to recognize the reality … that no community in the country has solved this problem. We have to have realistic expectations.”

More:Fort Collins City Council election: Decipher District 5 candidates Jeff Hansen, Kelly Ohlson

Jacy Marmaduke covers government accountability for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @jacymarmaduke. Support her work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.