Fort Collins City Council election: 20 questions with Jeff Hansen, District 5 candidate

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Jeff Hansen

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.

Jeff Hansen is running to represent District 5, which covers central-west Fort Collins. The other District 5 candidate is Kelly Ohlson. These are Hansen’s submitted answers to our questionnaire.

Learn more about Hansen at jeffhansen4foco.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?

Directives regarding COVID-19 largely come from the state and from county health agencies. City Council should encourage city staff to continue to maintain a healthy and active relationship with these agencies.

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?

City Council has taken innovative actions such as allowing additional sidewalk dining and even abandoning some parking to allow some on-street dining space, which allows some restaurants to have extended occupancy and operating capacity. I expect the business community to continue to propose other innovative ideas. City Council should be receptive to those ideas.

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 support City Council working cooperatively with Larimer County to establish dedicated funding for addressing homelessness. The North Fort Collins Business Association recently conducted a survey regarding the impacts of homelessness on the businesses in their area. The feedback from that survey is certainly eye-opening and makes me wonder if a decentralized approach to addressing homelessness, i.e. multiple or smaller campuses dispersed throughout the city, is a better idea. Although keeping the homeless safe, warm and fed is important immediate need, I believe the homeless community in Fort Collins would be best served by programs that focus on mental health services and job training. When looking at successful examples around the country, programs that put an emphasis on charitable services rather than government-funded services have more encouraging results.

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

Fort Collins has worked hard to become one of the best places in the country to live. This attracts a lot of people, and finding a place to put them all is a good problem to have. Carefully and thoughtfully planned growth is the only approach that will allow this growth to happen and maintain all the characteristics that make Fort Collins so attractive. The recently adopted strategic housing plan lays out a lot of good strategies to help and stay ahead of this growth.

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?

Housing affordability and attainability is very complex problem, in fact, complex enough that no city in the country has found a solution yet. As a world-class city with the right team behind the effort, this is something that Fort Collins can accomplish. The strategic housing plan lays out 26 strategies which are all interconnected, and deemphasizing any one of them would be detrimental to the plan as a whole. Some of the quick wins we can start seeing the benefit of in a couple years. However, some of the longer-range goals, which may take a decade or more to fulfill, require policy and land use code changes that should be happening today … The clock is ticking.

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?

In some communities in Northern Colorado, the impacts of oil and gas activity are significant. With relatively few existing wells in Fort Collins and virtually no potential for new wells, I feel like this time and effort could used on more urgent causes.

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

With a 19-month-old son, I am fully aware of the cost of child care in Fort Collins. When he was born, waiting lists were typically 12 months or more. Supply and demand is certainly a component of this issue. Securing grant money, providing tax increment financing, and land-use code exceptions aimed at promoting child care facilities are all strategies the city could use to encourage more supply in this market. There are also several nonprofit organizations in the area that the city could partner with to help with the financial burden to individual families. Examples:

My first priority in addressing this need would be for the city to help reconnect families of all varieties with these services.

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?

There is an existing county tax that Fort Collins gets a portion of to acquire and maintain open space and natural areas. This tax was approved by the voters for this specific purpose and the fund it is put into is dedicated for this specific purpose and should be protected, even when budgets get tight. If the city ever ended up with a budget surplus, I would consider putting a portion of that surplus into that Natural Areas fund. The city of Fort Collins has an existing program with specific procedures and processes for using the money in this fund to expand the city’s natural area portfolio. This is a carefully coordinated balancing act that has been working, and I would be very cautious about upsetting that balanced approach. (See the next question for details on that.)

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?

I honestly have not yet decided how I am going to vote on this ballot measure. Either way, I see the outcome as a difficult situation for the citizens of Fort Collins in general, and it will likely result in further negotiations. That conversation will need to be initiated in a true spirit of cooperation if it has any hope of being effective. The interconnected relationship between Fort Collins and CSU is important to keep healthy (and I think it is not at the moment). This process as it has played out only made that disconnect more apparent. If city leadership had been more inclusive to the voices of all the stakeholders in the outcome of the site, this situation could have likely been avoided. Regardless of the result of this measure, the new city leadership needs to include people who can stay calm and patient in tense conversations, are going to listen to all voices, fully understand the values of all perspectives, and consider all options to ensure the best outcome for Fort Collins.

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?

The Colorado cities that have recently decided to allow marijuana deliveries are doing so as a result of Colorado House Bill-19-1234, which allows this with local jurisdiction approval. The regulations associated with this bill are pretty robust, and as long as these regulations are followed, I would be supportive of exploring the possibility of allowing marijuana delivery in Fort Collins.

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?

I recently spoke with DeAngelo Bowden and Jacqueline Kozak-Thiel of the newly formed equity and inclusion office, and I am excited about the work they have started. Fort Collins is a unique place, and solutions to equity issues that we see being proposed and used in other parts of the country are not necessarily the right answer for Fort Collins. The first step should be research and data gathering to accurately describe the equity gaps in our community. Further conversations with the BIPOC community to fully understand the root cause of those gaps will be important before any strategies are developed so that we have a solution that is the right fit for Fort Collins.

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?

When you look at arrest rates as a percentage of their respective ethnic groups, the statistics certainly stand out. However, when you look at the absolute numbers in those statistics, I think these arrest anomalies should be addressed on a case-by-case basis rather than calling for systematic changes within Fort Collins Police Services. When any government organization is given as much power and authority as a police department, we should expect the highest level of scrutiny possible for that organization. Monitoring should continue to ensure that we are only seeing isolated individual cases rather than a systematic issue taking hold. I commend Fort Collins Police Services for proactively addressing equity in policing in response to the national attention that this issue has recently seen.

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?

The U+2 ordinance as it is currently being enforced is no longer accomplishing its goals. Furthermore, it contributes to the rapid escalation of rental prices in Fort Collins, discriminates against the elderly and LGBTQ portions of our community, and limits our ability to help our friends and neighbors who have lost jobs due to COVID-19. The ordinance was intended to protect neighborhood character and promote rental housing safety, and that should remain the focus of any changes moving forward while also looking to eliminate the unintended consequences we have seen. Having conversations with various neighborhood organizations is the best place to start.

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?

Nobody should ever claim that setting realistic goals aimed at 40 to 50 years into the future is an easy task, and it is not surprising that we are not currently on track to meet those goals. Is it more important to adjust goals so we can attain them or stand by the values that led to those goals in the first place? Council can make whatever goals they want, however, if they do not align with the community’s values, little progress will be made. Fort Collins has had some form of a climate action plan since the late 1990s, and we were making steady progress toward our goals until about 2011. Progress has basically been a statistical flat line since then. Coincidentally, or not, adjustments were made to the climate action plan about that same time. My suspicion is those adjustments created a disconnect between the plan’s goals and the community’s values. The first step of any changes should be community outreach to make sure that those goals and values get reconnected.

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 (the most recent data from 2019 shows a 53% diversion rate), and staff considers it unlikely that the city will meet the 2030 goal. 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?

Again, goals need to align with the values the community. Laws and regulations can only go so far to make progress toward these goals. Policy and legislation changes goals; public education and time changes community values. If we are on track to miss our goals, one or both need to change. The upcoming ballot measure regarding plastic bags, which was initiated by City Council, is aimed at reducing solid waste. Based on anecdotal feedback, this is one example of a disconnect between policy and the values of the community. Reconnecting city policy and goals with community values will put us back on track to meeting our solid waste reduction goals.

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?

The poor air quality in Fort Collins is concentrated mostly on the western boundary of the city. The sources of contaminants are regional, and the concentration is due to wind patterns and natural land formations. There is little that Fort Collins can do to resolve this by itself. Addressing this issue will require broad regional cooperation, which the city of Fort Collins should initiate.

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 Interstate 25. What would you do on council to improve the health and quality of the Poudre River?

The problem seems simple: The Poudre River needs more water. The solution is significantly more complicated. Seasonal supply is inverted from seasonal demand, state water laws make preventing or reducing diversion difficult or impossible, and options for additional water storage are becoming scarce. Fort Collins loves the Poudre River, and the river helps give Fort Collins its unique identity. However, this is another issue that will require broad regional collaboration.

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

The Fort Collins street network was well planned and provides the foundation for what should be a high functioning road system. However, there are several points in that network which have not kept up with growth and consequently creating areas where long delays are commonplace (Vine and Lemay being a notable example). While the policy of “development pays its own way” works in many aspects, ensuring that significant infrastructure improvements happen is not one of them. Creating a dedicated fund, securing matching state and federal grants or other funding would be a good strategy to make sure these infrastructure improvements happen ahead of development.

Although Fort Collins ranks as a very bike-friendly city, there are several significant gaps in both the paved and unpaved trail networks. Putting a priority on filling in these gaps will help reduce traffic congestion, help us meet the goals of the climate action plan, promote an active and healthy lifestyle and help us connect to the natural areas around our city that we love so much.

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?

The need to balance transparency and accountability with competitiveness should be top of mind for anyone considering creating a public utility that is intended to compete with free market entities. Although I think that the creation of Connexion was ill advised, here we are with a significant investment that needs to be protected. I certainly believe that more transparency is needed to provide accountability to the citizens of Fort Collins. However, without knowing some more details – details that are currently being kept secret – it is impossible to know exactly how much more transparency is appropriate.

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.

(no answer)