Fort Collins City Council election: 20 questions with Erin Hottenstein, District 4 candidate

0
0

Erin Hottenstein

The Coloradoan sent a 20-item questionnaire to all Fort Collins City Council candidates, seeking their viewpoints and policy ideas about a range of city issues.

The Fort Collins municipal election is April 6, and the City Clerk’s Office will send ballots in the mail by March 19. Check your voter registration here to make sure you get a ballot. Council members are elected by district, and the mayor is elected city-wide. Check which council district you live in here.

Erin Hottenstein is running to represent District 4, which covers southwest Fort Collins. The other District 4 candidates are Jessica Dyrdahl, Shirley Peel, Melanie Potyondy and Sidna Rachid. These are Hottenstein’s submitted answers to our questionnaire.

Learn more about Hottenstein at erinhottenstein.com.

1. What should the city do to address the social and public health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic? Is there anything you’d like council to do differently in this space?

The best thing the city could do now is to provide coordination and logistics for COVID-19 mass vaccinations. My church has done more to get local seniors vaccinated than the city has. Seniors, many of whom are not comfortable with technology, are being asked to navigate online portals to even get on a list to be notified about potential appointments. Then, if they’re not quick enough, they can miss a notification email and lose their priority, as I know from trying to help a couple of seniors. It’s a mess. As we know from news stories, the situation is even worse for people of color who are eligible. The racial disparities for vaccination rates are stark. Why has the city, with all its resources, not stepped in? If I were on council now, I would be asking these questions and urging the city to get mass vaccination clinics scheduled.

2. What should the city do to address the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic? Is there anything you’d like council to do differently in this space?

As a small business owner, I have personally felt the economic pain of COVID-19. I will work tirelessly to help businesses get back on their feet and recover jobs. City Council oversees the spending of millions of dollars in CARES Act funding for things like small business assistance. The economic fallout of the pandemic will be long. Council must look at solid data to determine how businesses are being affected and adjust the budget based on updated revenue forecasts, state funding, and potential future federal funding. 

As a member of the Larimer County Workforce Development Board, I believe in programs like NoCoRecovers.com. The city must continue collaborating with regional partners. I will definitely prioritize funding for the city’s economic development efforts so we can support our small businesses and stabilize the economy.

3. The Homeward 2020 initiative recently wrapped up, with organizers recommending that Fort Collins or Larimer County create a dedicated revenue stream to address homelessness. On a related note, a recent city effort to explore a centralized campus for a homeless shelter and services resulted in no concrete action. What do you think of these two approaches, and do you have any other specific suggestions for addressing homelessness in Fort Collins?

Creating a coordinated, comprehensive approach to ending homelessness is critical. It is a complicated problem stemming from a variety of factors, such as mental health issues, lack of affordable housing, and job loss. To prevent homelessness or to make it rare, will also require a variety of solutions. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development just designated Larimer and Weld counties as a Continuum of Care area, which will open up more resources. The city should also consider a dedicated revenue stream as one part of the puzzle. Additionally, while the idea for a centralized campus for services makes a lot of sense, we are waiting for the results of a recent North Fort Collins Business Association survey about safety and crime its members may be experiencing. I suggest convening a community conversation process to hear from all stakeholders and find solutions that would work best here.

4. How should the city respond to recent and projected population growth?

The whole Front Range is growing and people are moving here. The important thing is to keep our sense of identity and sense of place, and still make space for those who also want to enjoy it. I wish there were an easy answer to this question, but there is no quick fix to the challenges growth brings. It is vital that elected officials educate themselves, seek input from key stakeholders and work to find common ground. As a journalist, I became adept at seeking out different perspectives on any given issue. Last year, I participated in CSU’s Water Literate Leaders program to understand the complexities of water use issues. I will bring this knowledge to the role of council member. We want to keep the qualities — like great neighborhoods and plenty of open space — that make Fort Collins special and carefully manage new developments.

5. The city’s Housing Strategic Plan lays out a vision for strategies to increase the volume of affordable and attainable housing in Fort Collins. Which of these strategies are most appealing to you, and how would you work to make housing costs more affordable in Fort Collins?

Affordable housing is an ongoing challenge for Fort Collins and would be one of my top priorities as a council member. We want a place where people of all income levels can live. The recent Equity Indicators project highlights several important issues. There are significant race-based equity concerns in terms of homelessness and homeownership numbers. We must work to ensure that people of all races can afford to live here. For this reason, I support resident organizing in manufactured home communities. I am also interested in reviewing our Land Use Code and updating it, especially in regard to allowing accessory dwelling units (sometimes called mother-in-law cottages). Since the city spends about $2 million annually on affordable housing, but the solutions are estimated to cost many times more, I would also fight for more funding.

6. Council recently directed staff to draft regulations on oil and gas activity that would serve as a de facto ban on oil and gas activity in city limits. Do you agree with this approach? Why or why not?

I agree. We know that air quality is worse close to oil and gas operations. Nearby residents suffer from health problems like asthma — and often people of color and people with low incomes are disproportionately affected. That’s why the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has increased setbacks from time to time. Through a feedback process, residents expressed their opposition to allowing oil and gas near schools and in parks and natural areas. It’s also important to note that the impact of further restrictions would be limited since there is only a small fraction of land within city limits that is known to have oil and gas.

7. Many residents in the community struggle to afford the rising costs of child-care. How should the city address child-care affordability?

In 2019, I was upset to find out the Funshine Early Learning Center — a business owned by an African-American woman where I had taken my kids — nearly closed due to changing state regulations and the inability to find another suitable location due to city regulations. Though the center lived on, it is currently closed due to COVID-19. The city should take child care centers into consideration when it reviews the Land Use Code and take action on zoning and regulations affecting them. The average cost of child care locally is $1,200 per month per child, and single parents can spend 50% of their income on child care. That’s shocking and unacceptable. To raise awareness among businesses and residents who may not know how dire the situation is, the city must convene meetings about the need for innovation and partnerships on this important issue. 

8. If you’re elected, what would be your approach to open space preservation and creation of new parks and trails? How would you prioritize this value in relation to other city priorities, particularly when the city is facing budget constraints?

I am an enthusiastic supporter of the city’s open spaces. Larimer County voters passed the Help Preserve Open Spaces tax in 1995 and again in 2014, and Fort Collins voters passed the Open Space Yes tax in 2002. These funds have allowed us to purchase many beautiful open spaces and build trails that we can all enjoy. Of course we don’t have unlimited funding to expand open spaces, so it will be important to consider where there is a lack of such natural resources available to residents, such as in the northeast quadrant of the city. We must also prioritize connecting existing areas, such as a trail from Coyote Ridge to Horsetooth Reservoir, to expand access and usability.

9. The future of the Hughes Stadium site has been a subject of contention for the last few years. Where do you stand on the city’s involvement so far in the rezoning of that property and the ballot measure that would direct the city to rezone the property as 100% open lands and attempt to acquire it from CSU?

The Hughes Stadium site has a long legacy in Fort Collins. First it was Native American land, then it became an agricultural area, before becoming a sports center. For the last decade, it has been at the center of a controversy when CSU wanted to build a new stadium. Recognizing this history, it’s not altogether surprising that we have a new controversy — one where the two important values of open space and affordable housing come into conflict. But unlike many issues, Hughes is a unique opportunity to actually hear from the voters. Many people worked very hard to put the measure on the ballot and it is important to listen to voters. If the majority of people want Hughes as open space, then that is how the city should move forward in its conversation with CSU.

10. Several Colorado cities, including Denver, Aurora, Littleton and Longmont, have recently decided to allow marijuana delivery or are expected to consider it in the coming months. Some marijuana dispensaries in Fort Collins have expressed support for a delivery program here. Would you support the city exploring that possibility?

I believe it makes sense to explore opting in on marijuana delivery because Fort Collins already allows the commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana and alcohol delivery. 

11. Fort Collins is creating a new Equity and Inclusion Office to promote those values at the highest levels of city management. What would you like to see that office focus on, and how would you work to make Fort Collins a more inclusive and equitable community?

As a council member, I will proactively seek out conversation with a variety of groups, so that I can best represent my district and make decisions that benefit the whole city. I think the Equity and Inclusion Office should first focus on economic opportunity, including the issues of poverty, income, employment, business ownership, and child care. Other issues like housing and health change for the better if we can help get people out of poverty or help them get better jobs. Beyond that focus, the office must help every area of city government use an equity lens on policy. We shouldn’t leave anyone out, whether its people with disabilities struggling with transit or indigenous people wanting the city to be better stewards of the land. 

12. Conversations about policing practices came to the forefront this summer after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, an unarmed black man, inspiring global demonstrations and police reform legislation in Colorado. Here in Fort Collins, Black residents are arrested and cited at higher rates than white residents. Are you satisfied with the level of equity in policing here in Fort Collins, and if not, what would you like to change about it?

I am not satisfied with the level of equity in policing here in Fort Collins. Our police department has been forward-thinking in many ways — for instance, implementing strict screening processes for applicants and providing implicit bias training. Our department has also implemented all of the “Eight Can’t Wait” policies, including banning chokeholds, that have been shown to reduce police violence by 72% according to the Coloradoan. Yet, we are confronted with the reality that the recent Equity Indicators Project showed that Black and brown people are arrested and incarcerated at disproportionately higher rates. The overall rate for arrests is 4 in 1,000, but the rate is 17 in 1,000 for Black people. So, yes, I think we must do better. The city must make space at the table for local organizations working on this issue, ensuring that the voices of people of color are valued and heeded.

13. What is your stance on possible changes to the “U+2” occupancy ordinance? If you support changes, what would like to see specifically and how would you catalyze action?

This is a complicated question and I have heard a lot of valuable feedback on it. On the one hand, U+2 has made neighborhoods, especially near the CSU campus, more livable by providing ways to deal with noisy house parties and insufficient parking. The people who like U+2 say it had the effect of keeping housing prices down, allowing families with children to afford homes. On the other hand, U+2 is somewhat arbitrary in defining “family” and deciding who can live together, but also it means that we’re not fully utilizing space to house people when we really need more space. I would support revisiting U+2 and finding ways to fine-tune the ordinance. We should be able to make some adjustments — perhaps a better waiver process, for instance — that maintain neighborhood character and also address our housing shortage.

14. Fort Collins adopted climate action goals to reduce community greenhouse gas emissions by 20% of 2005 levels by 2020, 80% by 2030 and 100% by 2050. The city is projected to miss the 2020 goal by a few percent, and big, systemic changes will be needed to reach the 2030 and 2050 goals. Do you support the climate goals, and if so, what should City Council do to ensure they are met?

I wholeheartedly support the Climate Action Plan. To meet annual goals, I would advocate for continuing rebates for solar panel installation, increased funding for public transit, and increased transition to renewable energy sources by the Platte River Power Authority. The city should consider innovative approaches like the Can Do Colorado eBike pilot program, which is giving free electronic bikes to essential workers. In addition, it’s crucial to meet milestone goals. Fort Collins should stay the course on the plan to stop burning coal at Rawhide and get PRPA to 100% renewable sources by 2030.

15. Fort Collins is working toward a goal of zero waste by 2030, but it didn’t meet its 2020 benchmark goal of 75% landfill diversion, and the city is now reevaluating the goal. What would you do on council to support meaningful reductions in the volume of waste sent to landfills?

According to the 2016 Waste Composition and Characterization Analysis done by Larimer County, 12% of the residential waste stream is yard waste.  I support implementing a year-round curbside organic waste collection program and a home composting education campaign, and will make these a priority. The same report indicated that there remains a significant amount of unrecovered aluminum, mostly from soda cans. We know that people will recycle if you remove barriers. The city must find ways to make it easier for people to care for our natural environment.

16. Fort Collins has relatively poor air quality compared to other parts of the country, particularly in regard to ozone levels. How would you work to improve community air quality?

Improving the air quality is a priority for me and every sector must help. I would start by advocating for more public education on such issues as cars idling at train tracks and the benefits of electric lawn mowers. Also, we must find ways to reduce the use of gas- and diesel-powered engines, such as by setting up electric infrastructure at City Park for food trucks. I’m excited that the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission recently adopted a first-in-the-nation rule to cut methane emissions at oil and gas wells — and it was done by a compromise crafted by both environmental and industry groups. The city should seek similar opportunities to influence decisions at the county, state, and federal level.

17. The health of the Poudre River degrades considerably as it moves from the canyon mouth to Fort Collins, and the city’s 2017 Poudre River report card awarded an overall grade of “C” for the stretch from Gateway Natural Area to I-25. What would you do on council to improve the health and quality of the Poudre River?

After being accepted into and completing the competitive CSU Water Literate Leaders program, I have a broad and deep understanding of water issues. Through the nine-month class, we learned about various municipal, industrial, agricultural, recreational, and environmental concerns — and how we must work together to find solutions that not only meet our needs, but also satisfy Colorado’s water compact obligations.

I would advocate for the city to prioritize improvements to our wastewater treatment plants. At the 2020 Poudre River Forum, Dr. Mazdak Arabi reported that we’re sending too much nitrogen downstream, which is bad for the ecosystems that depend on the Poudre. We also need to educate folks about stormwater and how to keep our river healthy by limiting runoff from fertilizer, pet waste, automotive fluids and trash, as the report card notes.

18. If you’re elected, what would be your top priorities in regard to roads and transportation in Fort Collins?

While Fort Collins has well-maintained roads and decent transit options, the city can do more. The Lemay and Vine intersection needs improvement. We also need to consider other congested areas, such as at College and Trilby, and work to solve those traffic problems. As for transit, we need to expand services and routes. More people would take the bus if it didn’t take a long trip with three transfers, instead of 10 minutes in their car. Creating an east-west MAX line near CSU would be beneficial as well. Expanded transit, more bicycle lanes, and making new developments more “walkable” will cut traffic even as our population grows. This is especially important from an equity standpoint  — to make sure everyone benefits from the improvements.

19. Council and the community have had many discussions in recent years about transparency and Connexion, Fort Collins’ municipal broadband network. Some of the public is craving more information about the buildout and the network’s financial performance. How do you think Connexion should balance the public interest in transparency and accountability with the need to preserve competitiveness?

It’s important that the city provide customers with the information they need to make decisions about their internet service provider, and this means being more forthcoming about when folks can expect to have access to Connexion broadband. This is a frustration that we’re all feeling. I’ve heard it over and over. We voted to approve creating a city broadband service, because many of us were unhappy with the services being offered by Xfinity and CenturyLink. But now some people have no idea whether they should go ahead and sign a new contract or wait to see if Connexion is coming. The city is about halfway through a 4-year buildout. That’s great news. But without a solid timeline consumers can’t know how soon their neighborhood will be connected. Internet is expensive and our residents deserve to have the information they need to make cost-effective decisions for themselves. 

20. If you’d like, use this space to share your perspective on an issue or issues that are important to you but weren’t mentioned in the Coloradoan’s questionnaire.

Voting is very important. I have been an active and enthusiastic local voter since 2000. In my work with Colorado 50-50 to inspire civic engagement in women, we have provided timely and accurate information on voting to thousands around the state. In 2018, I even checked an item off my bucket list by becoming an election judge. Turnout in city elections in April of odd years is only around 30% compared to about 40% in general elections in November of odd years. The city should consider moving municipal elections to November of odd years, when we have school board elections and often state measures. I will always fight for policies that decrease barriers and make it more convenient to vote.