Fort Collins City Council election: 20 questions with Gerry Horak, mayoral candidate

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Gerry Horak

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.

Gerry Horak is running for mayor. The other mayoral candidates are Jeni Arndt and Molly Skold. These are Horak’s submitted answers to our questionnaire.

Learn more about Horak at gerryhorakformayor.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?

I support marshaling people, power and data to ensure that hard-to-reach people receive the vaccine when eligible. This will entail going door-to-door to identify those who do not have access to the internet or are simply overwhelmed. The mayor and council, city manager and city staff should work with Poudre Fire Authority, Poudre and Thompson School Districts, UCHealth, Larimer County Health and other organizations to achieve this goal.

For more, see gerryhorakformayor.com/priorities.

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?

Businesses — especially small businesses — are hurting. They are struggling to hold on and recover. Many have closed their doors. As your mayor, I will partner with our business community and primary employers to ensure they thrive so that we all can thrive.

I will work to revitalize the economy.

Action items:

  • Empower small business to get employees back to work
  • Retain primary employers and encourage their growth
  • Build partnerships with CSU, school districts and business organizations to create more job opportunities
  • Complete I-25 expansion
  • Provide direct loans and grants
  • Modify regulations and policies to facilitate commerce
  • Support NoCo Recovers
  • Install Connexion in low-income neighborhoods ASAP

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?

I will encourage Larimer County to be the lead government entity to provide services to the homeless. The county is the government unit that the state directs to provide social services. I believe the county is well suited to develop a consistent county service level for the homeless. Cities and towns would collaborate with the county and provide financial support.

I support collaboration with nonprofits, businesses, foundations, governments and individuals to provide a day/night 24/7 homeless inclusive shelter. As a community we need to join together and do the right thing for the homeless. The community accomplished a similar collaboration when funds were raised and the United Way building was constructed to meet a community need for social nonprofits agency and sliding-scale day care. Interestingly, that building with the city cooperation is now totally occupied by an expanded Teaching Tree, the successor of the original United Day Care.

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

I support continuing planning for the development in the Urban Growth Area (UGA). We have cooperatively worked with the county for 40 years through an intergovernmental agreement to ensure developments are built to city standards and that properties are annexed to the city when they are contiguous. I support following city plan and updating our codes to facilitate developments according to the plan. This agreement only addresses lands inside the UGA. Communities around Fort Collins are growing too. Those communities’ growth rates are higher than ours with no end in sight.

A tenet of City Plan is citywide transit. I led the effort for transit to operate 365 days a year. Transit is a basic service the city can provide. It provides people, especially low-income folks, a mode to live their lives: work, shop attend religious services and recreate. I support incentives to riders and employers to increase transit ridership.

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?

I support building community to make living and housing more affordable. Working families are hurting and under pressure. They cannot afford to live in Fort Collins. I will work to make affordable housing more available and the cost of living more reasonable for vulnerable families.

Action items:

  • Develop an affordable housing action plan to specify how yearly goals will be met with specific implementation steps
  • Facilitate affordable housing projects through the development review process
  • Provide affordable and reliable utilities
  • Provide low-cost internet to struggling families
  • Ensure that residential metro districts provide affordable housing units
  • Expand affordable childcare
  • Build partnerships with diverse populations to provide opportunities
  • Provide a 365-day transit and transportation system
  • Work with nonprofits, businesses, foundations, governments and individuals to provide a day/night 24/7 homeless shelter that is inclusive
  • Connect low-income individuals and families with a city rebate, reduced utility rates, utility bill assistance, energy and water efficiency, and reduced-rate recreation programs
  • Increase funding for nonprofits that provide gap funding to those who are struggling

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?

The Colorado Oil and Gas Commission recently adopted regulations that likely prevent oil and gas development in at least 95% of the city, if not 99%. The state regulations are in effect a de facto ban. Since the city’s draft regulations have not been published, it is speculative to comment on them. Fort Collins currently has one producer for oil. They have been operating since the 1920s in north Fort Collins and produce water and oil with minimal gas. I believe in recent years no oil and gas development applications for permits inside city limits have been submitted.

Larimer County is also developing oil and gas regulations. I support the city working with the county to develop regulations that protect people’s health, safety and the environment, especially in the Urban Growth Area.

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

The city has been supportive of child care affordability, and I support a greater effort. Using federal Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG) funds, the city has provided grants to sliding-scale day care centers.

In the 1980s, community collaboration funds were raised to construct the United Way building to meet the need for nonprofit social service agencies and sliding scale day care. The building with the city cooperation is now totally occupied by an expanded sliding scale day care, Teaching Tree, the successor of the original United Day Care. I support the city collaborating with sliding-scale day cares to provide them with facilities. All city facilities should be evaluated for their potential to provide space. Also, for all new city facilities, day care should be provided in the facility.

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 value open space, natural areas and trails. For 40 years, I have been a local leader to expand the amount and access to these amenities. In 1993, I was one of the four citizen leaders who wrote and led the effort to gather signatures that placed a quarter-cent tax measure on the ballot to acquire natural areas and build trails. I worked each ballot measure for the city and county. They all passed. The quarter-cent sales tax funds natural area acquisition and building of trails as well as their operation and maintenance. Trails and open space are also funded through the city’s allocation of lottery funds. I support continuing to obtain open space and natural areas and build more miles of trail.

Parks funding for new community parks and refurnishing community and neighborhood parks depends on Capital Improvement Expansion Fees, general fund and multi-year capital improvement sales tax. I support the next capital improvement program to include funding for those needs.

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 ballot measure will likely pass. CSU rebuffed the city’s offer to purchase the property and is proceeding with a revised plan and will submit it after the April 6 election. CSU plans to invoke the Site Planning Advisory Review (SPAR). The SPAR process invokes CSU’s status as a public state entity and demotes the city’s involvement from decision-maker to adviser. The Planning and Zoning Board will provide “advisory review” and hold a public hearing and make recommendations to the Board of Governors, which approves the plan with or without the recommendations.

PATHS says the SPAR process is not appropriate for a housing development that will be sold to private interests. I support the city joining a suit to protect home rule rights.

I will do everything possible to protect open space designation. I will contact President Joyce McConnell, Chancellor Tony Frank and PATHS and request a meeting.

The outcome is uncertain. Certainty will only be obtained when either the city owns the land or it is developed.

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?

Yes, I support the city exploring allowing marijuana 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?

The office needs to develop policies for the organization working with various stakeholders. Once the city manager (and possibly council) approves the policies, a training program needs to be developed. City staff, boards and commission members and City Council must be trained. A yearly training module should be developed. The tenets of the adopted policies need to be woven into existing training (e.g. supervisory training).

Policies, programs and purchases for services need to be reviewed through the equity and inclusion lens and be modified to be consistent with the policies. All council materials and actions should have a similar review.

New employees are the future of the organization and a way to insert this desired value throughout the organization. These policies should be embedded in the hiring process as one of the city values we expect future employees to demonstrate. A written questionnaire as well as interview questions should include equity and inclusion questions.

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?

It is not acceptable for nonwhite citizens to be stopped, arrested and incarcerated at much greater rates than white citizens. I support dialoguing with nonwhite citizens and learning their concerns, suggested improvements and policy changes. The chief has convened a focus group to learn what those experiencing systemic racism face and their suggestions for change and improvements. I will work with the community, council and police to enact suggested changes.

The police force must reflect the community. The most glaring need is more female officers. I will encourage the city manager to make this so. I encourage collaborating with other jurisdictions in Colorado and regionally to attract more diverse candidates. Only then will we have a police force that better relates to citizens and uses less force and deescalates situations more frequently.

Police interviewing teams recommend the hiring of new officers and need to include community members. The hiring process will be transparent to the community and underrepresented groups will be more likely to apply and be selected as officers.    

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?

During my time on council, I have strongly supported U+2. This policy when enforced has helped to maintain and in some cases improve neighborhoods in the vicinity of CSU campus. I am willing to work with stakeholders to identify additional areas that could allow boarding house type zoning. This zoning allows additional occupancy when appropriate infrastructure such as off-street parking is provided.

14. Fort Collins adopted climate action goals to reduce community greenhouse gas emissions by 20% of 2005 levels by 2020, 80% by 2030 and 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 support the Climate Action Plan and Climate Implementation Plan (CIP). I pushed for CIP measures stating costs and predicted reductions. Most of the progress has been made by decarbonizing electricity.

Our wholesale provider has added wind and solar so that half of our electricity will be from noncarbon sources. As mayor, I will be a Platte River Power Authority (PRPA) board member. Previously, l led the effort to develop a decarbonization policy. I will push for achieving the 100% goal sooner and while retaining the current high reliability.

The transportation sector needs to be a priority and have specific implementation measures. I support:

  • More charging stations and new construction to include the infrastructure for public stations and in private garages
  • Encouraging the legislature to provide charging stations across the state and provide incentives for noncarbon emitting vehicles purchases
  • Decarbonizing the city fleet
  • Adopting measures to encourage noncarbon vehicles
  • Reducing travel by carbon emitting vehicles.
  • Revising the CIP must be a council priority.

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, and the city does not believe the goal will be met by 2050. 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?

During my last stint on council, I supported achieving zero waste by 2030. In 2013, I supported adoption of 11 new waste reduction goals. Many benefits accrue from reducing waste, including:

  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • Creating local jobs
  • Income and wealth creation from conserving and using resources locally rather than landfilling them
  • Improving air quality and reducing mobile source emissions by using resources locally and reducing toxic source pollutants

I support the four priorities that are needed to get to the goal: culture change; reduce and reuse; eliminate compostable organics from landfills; and reusing materials from construction, deconstruction and demolition.

The third priority, eliminate compostable organics from landfills, is a key element in achieving zero waste. I support the implementation of a year-round waste collection program. The exact method, curbside or other alternatives, needs to be examined and vetted with the stakeholders and the community.

I support the adoption of a Waste Reduction Implementation Plan.

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?

Indeed, air pollution is a significant health issue for Fort Collins and the entire non-attainment area from the southern metro to Fort Collins. I worked on this issue as Larimer County representative on the Regional Air Quality Commission from 2014 to 2019. I led the effort to evaluate measures proposed by the staff and determine their effectiveness.

We must act and act now. I support:

  • Developing an Air Pollution Reduction Implementation Plan with specific measures and their cost and predicted emissions reduction
  • Creating rider and employer incentives to increase transit ridership
  • Ensuring that new construction includes infrastructure public charging stations and in garages
  • A 100% zero emissions city fleet
  • Reducing travel by fossil fuel vehicles
  • Collaborating with Larimer County to implement health based regulations on oil and gas development and operation in the UGA
  • Lobbying the state for reduced oil and gas development and operation emissions to reduce emissions from Weld and Boulder county sources
  • Ensuring that monitoring stations meet the requirement for credible air quality modeling

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?

Sadly, the Northern Supply Integrated Project (NISP), if built as planned, will significantly reduce flows from the mouth of canyon through Fort Collins. This alone will lower the Poudre River’s grade. I will ask the city attorney to analyze legal steps the council can take to prevent this degradation.

I support:

  • Reducing oil-based pollutants entering the river as storm water by changing to a 100% noncarbon fleet in Fort Collins and in the Urban Growth Area and during the interim increasing alternative transportation modes
  • Collaborating with Larimer County and Colorado Extension Service to reduce fertilizer and chemical use that constitute the major pollutants in Poudre River water quality
  • Purchasing more lands adjacent to the river to improve riparian habitat and reduce pollutants.

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

My top priority is the completion of the North I-25 improvements to three lanes, with one as a managed lane. I was one of the original participants representing the city on the I-25 coalition. I worked closely with other Larimer and Weld county jurisdictions as well as Fix I-25 to achieve funding.

Another priority is the Vine Drive/Lemay Avenue overpass and realignment of Vine to alleviate the current tie-ups on Lemay and Vine. In the late 1980s I worked with Jim Alarid, who represented Alta Vista, Andersonville and Buckingham, to change the original alignment that split those communities. The new Lemay will be to the east of Andersonville.

I support evaluation of the transportation system in northeast Fort Collins to ensure the required collectors and arterials are planned and constructed. I support connecting transit to the northeast. When justified, I support a Timberline overpass over the railroad tracks and Vine Drive.  

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?

Broadband availability has been disappointing. Connexion has not been transparent. This needs to change as soon as the new council takes office. I support making information transparent so that you know when broadband is coming to your neighborhood, when you will be connected and what other neighborhoods have been connected. I support the reduced rate council included in the 2021 budget for low-income families. This $20-a-month charge provides an incentive to connect to ensure that all children have internet access for their educational needs.

I support Connexion prioritizing low-income neighborhoods. Those families need the service first. Children will be able to be on Zoom and have access to homework assignments and an internet trove of information. Their parents’ and caretakers’ job opportunities will expand. Many jobs can now be accomplished using the internet. Finally, during the pandemic I propose a nominal rate of $5 a month for qualifying families. This will encourage connection at a time that children sorely need to be connected to their friends and school.

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.

For significant issues affecting Fort Collins, I will ensure that a full public process is employed so council has adequate information to make decisions. A decision that includes a wide range of stakeholders is richer and more grounded. Equity and inclusivity need to be lenses we use when engaging the public.