Fort Collins City Council election: 20 questions with Jeni Arndt, mayoral candidate

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Jeni Arndt

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. 

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

Learn more about Arndt at jeniarndt4mayor.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 next few years will be pivotal in our history. The mayor and City Council should build strong relationships with local and regional partners to coordinate a response that addresses the social and public health impacts of COVID-19. This has been an extended period of retrenchment and isolation resulting in mental health issues, economic downturn, financial hardship, educational upset and learning delays. How we band together and work alongside the county, the state and our federal delegation will be critical to reestablishing a positive direction for our overall social and economic health. This takes goodwill and bold vision because things will not return to the way they were. Leveraging our creativity, we can emerge stronger and better situated to face longer-run challenges. Imagine our businesses being more resilient and nimble, our education being more flexible in meeting students’ needs, our community being more inclusive and caring for all people.

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?

Fort Collins benefits from a vibrant and diverse economy that combines small local businesses with innovative manufacturing, high tech, research facilities and a top-notch university. This unique blend has helped us to weather past economic downturns and it will get us through our current COVID crises as well. That said, it is imperative that we harness local resources available to support our businesses and help rebuild our local economy. Some of the key local players we need to continue to engage include Larimer County, the Fort Collins Chamber of Commerce, Northern Colorado Business Alliance, the Fort Collins Downtown Development Authority, and of course, Colorado State University. The city can act as a communication and coordination hub to ensure that both state and federal resources are released quickly and are dispersed strategically.

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 believe in Fort Collins for everyone. To have a strong community, we have to have those who work here live here. When the core of the city is privileged and our underserved workers drive in to serve the privileged and then drive out at the end of the day, that system is not moral, equitable, sustainable or viable. We will need to look at our zoning codes to ensure that they’re not contributing to or exacerbating this problem. We need a dedicated funding stream to (a) supply more affordable housing and (b) shelter people experiencing houselessness and near-houselessness. We need a centralized campus, complete with mental health services, addiction services, the Housing First model, the Murphy Center (one-stop servicing). If we bring these proposals before the people, knowing our community values, I believe Fort Collins residents will vote in favor of creating a community that is for everyone.

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

Over the last 10 years, Fort Collins has grown consistently at a rate of just under 2% per year, outpacing the state and the county rate with a population of 174,081, and we aren’t slowing down. The city’s response to growth and how we manage it will be critical to maintaining our sense that we live in a unique city defined not just by boundaries but by our connectedness to each other, our neighborhoods, our care of all residents, and our innovative and vibrant business sector. A growing population combined with finite land and water means we have to consider our shared values and then live them out through careful city planning. I passed a bill that links land and water planning in master plans. We must plan with an eye on growth coupled with limited resources.

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?   

The city staff have done an outstanding job developing a vision, identifying strategies and acknowledging challenges. The most appealing strategies are the ones in the city council and the mayor’s purview. First, the quick wins: 

1. Assess displacement and gentrification risk.

2. Extend the city’s affordability term.

3. Advance Phase One of the Land Use Code (LUC) Audit with off-cycle appropriation.

4. Recalibrate existing incentives to reflect current market conditions.

5. Create additional development incentives for affordable housing.

6. Fund foreclosure and eviction prevention and legal representation.

Next, I would prioritize these strategies:

1. Bolster city land bank activity by allocating additional funding to the program.

2. Explore revisions to occupancy limits and family definitions in order to streamline processes and calibrate the policy to support stable, healthy and affordable housing citywide.

3. Create a new dedicated revenue stream to fund the Affordable Housing Fund.

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?

Honestly, I just don’t see it being a practical reality at all for having oil and gas activity (fracking) in the city limits. I am not sure it would be economically viable for a company to conduct operations in our city limits. There are more productive areas for oil and gas activity. Having said that, in response to Senate Bill 181 that I voted yes on in the House, I think it would be prudent to develop regulations in the event of a proposed drilling site in the city limits. I would make them exceedingly stringent, keeping the health and welfare of our residents first and foremost in mind.

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 collaborates with the Early Childhood Council of Larimer County (ECCLC), Larimer County government and United Way of Larimer County, among others, to address and act upon the needs of child care affordability. The city continues to prioritize child care access in community funding opportunities but often is only able to fund a patchwork of solutions based on the strict funding requirements for grantmaking from the city. Tangible long-term impact is more likely to come from systemic investments in things like workforce development, infrastructure and advocacy for local and state-level policy initiatives that will positively impact early childhood education access. Efforts to subsidize care, while helpful, result only in a Band-Aid on a much larger issue. True prioritization means dedicated funding for and collaboration with local experts to tackle these issues in a way that remains responsive to community needs.

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?

Open space preservation and creation of new parks and trails is an absolute priority in a growing city like ours. Our natural environment is one of the top reasons people and businesses are attracted to Fort Collins. We need these spaces for our physical and mental health and for connecting with each other — creating a strong community. We should never lose sight (even in tough budget years) of the value and tranquility of wide open spaces and recreational opportunities. Our budget should always be a tangible reflection of our community values. This shares a place at the top of the list.

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?

Open space and parks have been a cornerstone of what makes Fort Collins a great place to live. Our public lands and open space budget should be used to the highest benefit of all people in Fort Collins. Should the ballot initiative prevail, the city will be bound to follow what the voters directed. We also need affordable housing. I am not convinced that this is an “either/or” proposition. It’s not either we have affordable housing or we have open space. We need both. We also need good relationships with our community partners. And where interests diverge, we should be able to reach a conclusion that benefits the residents of the city. Obtaining open space that preserves our natural environment and building affordable housing in community developments so that people who work here can live here with a high quality of connected living is our shared goal, I believe.

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 that possibility. Here is why: Marijuana is legal. I believe that legal substances should be able to be obtained in a safe manner, ensuring the recipient is of legal age. I voted yes on this bill at the Capitol. Prescription drugs can be delivered via the mail and those are controlled substances. Alcohol can be delivered now and there is a bill to make take-out and delivery permanent in statute. I don’t think it’s correct to discriminate one substance from another, if they are legal.

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?

There is so much work to be done. I think the immediate focus should be on equity in health (vaccine availability) and general COVID-19 relief. COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted communities of color, lower socio-economic groups and women. Additionally, areas of access need focus: access to health care, education, employment, transportation, housing, to name a few. We should involve community members and service organizations who support our underserved and underrepresented community members in reviewing existing outreach programs and proposing new program ideas. The city should rely on the information and expertise provided by people with the lived experience and the service organizations who support these groups of people. Collaboration and partnerships are key to the success of this new office, both internally and externally; the leader/director/manager and the office function may fail if it exists in isolation.

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?

To be clear, I am not satisfied with the racial disparity in rates of arrests and citations. This is an issue of critical importance to the safety of our community. We must hold ourselves to the highest possible standards of equity. In addition, we must recognize the many systems that contribute to racial bias in our communities, and we must hold ourselves accountable in all aspects. The legislature passed a police accountability bill last May. I voted yes. The scope of modern police work is incredibly broad, and Fort Collins has been progressive in their adoption of mental health professionals as co-responders. Similar innovations will help us to eliminate racial bias, enhance community safety, and support public servants. I believe the police are committed to growth and continued improvement, and I look forward to working with them.

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?

I am comfortable reviewing city ordinances to make sure they are working for the people. I believe that is good governance. In a city as big (and growing) as our is, it may make sense to develop or adjust rules specific to different areas of the city. I am also open to reviewing the variance process to make it less cumbersome to obtain one, if all conditions are met. In my experience, if rules or processes are too cumbersome, they can be routinely flouted. Then, the original intent can be lost. Let’s do our research and see what the compliance rate is, how we can streamline the variance process and consider what works well for our families, our students and our neighborhoods. This is also one of the policy recommendations in the Housing Plan, as mentioned above.

14. Fort Collins adopted climate action goals to reduce the 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 goals of the city and I believe we need to strive to meet them. The climate action plan of Fort Collins has my full support. The city of Fort Collins could work independently to pass multiple ordinances, however, our work in meeting the 2030 goals cannot be achieved without a strong partnership with the state. Reaching climate goals is a global feat, so it will take the collaboration of all levels of government and lifestyle change to accomplish these climate goals. The city should do everything it can to push clean energy goals forward with the backing of its residents. I think that climate goals and a clean energy economy make good economic sense. Our largest economic driver in Colorado is tourism. Our Colorado brand is our natural environment and our commitment to clean energy, water and air are right on so many levels.

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 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?

Fort Collins has the best overall recycling rate in Colorado, which I am proud of, but we still have work to do to improve our statewide recycling rate. We have to move closer toward “zero waste,” and we have to act even harder on climate. One of the bills I sponsored at the Capitol last year, SB 20-055, aimed to expand the market mechanisms for the development of recycling. It accelerates the state’s recycling economy by attracting businesses and entrepreneurs to Colorado to use our recyclable materials to make new products. I will always look for new and creative ways to reduce waste and generate more recycling developments. Perhaps instead of revising our goal, why don’t we revise our practice?

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 our air quality will take planning, zoning and vision. We have to fundamentally build and zone around becoming less car-centric. Additionally, our infrastructure and individual behaviors should not be ignored. Automobiles are the single biggest source of air pollution in our state. We must move to electric cars (and charging stations). I was encouraged to read that General Motors is committed to an all-electric future. Lifestyle patterns will likely change as we strategically rethink our public spaces, allowing residents to easily and safely walk, bike, wheelchair, carpool and access public transit, all of which will decrease air pollution. Our walking streets could be made longer, and if we strived to make them spaces that will make people want to use them, we would have fewer cars on the road and cleaner air. These ideas are 100% compatible with Fort Collins’ generally healthy and active lifestyle.

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?

The health and quality of the Poudre River are essential for our city’s future. As mayor, I would work with the county commissioners to see if we might take advantage of an historic opportunity to see water in the Poudre River that hasn’t been running through our city in decades. Regarding Thornton, whether we like it or not, they have the right to the water in the quantity and the quality they purchased it. However, what about running the water down the river through our city and then bringing the quality back up (we would need to pay for that) and delivering to Thornton east of town?  If preserving (or improving!) the Poudre is a community value, and I believe it is, let’s put our heads together and get a solution that benefits our city and leaves Thornton whole.

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

Let’s think of transportation in a broad sense that means mobility. This thinking helps us to design and build systems of mobility including walking, biking, transit and driving. We need good, safe roads, bikeways, public transit and we need create and maintain necessary infrastructure. We need to make sure we continue to enhance and improve the multimodal travel throughout the community. Partnerships are critical here, too. We need to work with county in joint projects to help the outlying areas like the new light at Vine Drive and Timberline Road or the new light at Douglas Road and Highway 1. We also need to work regionally and with our state and federal partners.

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?

When what was once in the private sphere (Comcast, Century Link) is now partially in the public sphere (Connexion) how do those meet their respective charges? The private companies can control information, pricing, marketing, etc., whereas a public entity traditionally cannot. So now we have a public entity competing with the private sector for market share, and what is a fair arrangement? The voters spoke twice (I was a strong yes on both ballots) in favor of a public broadband option. I think that during the complicated buildout, the city is correct to hold its cards a little close in or else the project might flounder before it has a chance. After buildout, the residents will be better served with a utility where the shareholders are ourselves. I trust our city government to work on our behalf, and I am glad they took this ambitious project on.

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.

I would like to talk a little about the importance of feeling connected in a city. Every single person in our community deserves to be seen, heard and cared for. We build community through personal connections to family, friends, community members and a sense of place. The happiest communities are not the wealthiest ones (monetarily). Rather, they share similar traits, the following of which are under the scope of city planning and management:

1. A sense of belonging (planning around people, zoning for inclusion)

2. Stress reduction (open space, recreation places and programs, entertainment)

3. Purpose (good jobs and good schools)

4. Opportunities to move naturally (pathways, trails, community gardens, benches, walkable services)

And that is the kind of city I would like to live in with you all.