Fort Collins City Council election: 20 questions with Jessica Dyrdahl, District 4 candidate

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Jess Dyrdahl

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.

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

Learn more about Dyrdahl at jess4foco.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 financial, social, mental, physical and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic need to be at the top of the priority list for City Council. City Council can play a role in a variety of ways. Council can encourage residents to follow the current guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19. Council can continue to support resources such as rental, utility and child care assistance. In terms of mental and social impacts, Council can show support for initiatives surrounding behavioral health services, whether it is improved access, reduced substance abuse or promoting better overall health.

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?

Council can take a number of actions to ensure a swift recovery for our community. Council can continue advocating to state and federal legislators to receive more funding to support businesses in the community, especially our small, locally owned businesses. Council can offer tax incentives to small, locally owned businesses to help them thrive during these trying times. The City can continue to make economic health a top budget priority and partner with local businesses such as NoCo Nosh to encourage community members to support the local economy. We also need to invest in child care and early education as 43% of Larimer County families reduced their workload during COVID-19, according to the Fort Collins Area Chamber of Commerce.

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 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?

Homelessness is a multifaceted issue, and council can only solve this issue from multiple angles, leading with humanity. Most importantly, we must increase the availability of affordable housing within our community. Fort Collins is growing at a rapid rate, and we must adapt as a community so that we guarantee housing to all who reside here. I support increasing our homeless shelter capacity, increasing the number of social workers ready to help our community get back on their feet, and increased access to mental health services. These items will need a dedicated revenue stream to be put in place. Together, we can solve homelessness in our community, and it starts with the commitment that every person deserves a roof over their head.

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

As mentioned, we must adapt. Costly regulations, stagnant incomes and construction costs, among other factors, have made affordable housing increasingly hard to come by and many are suffering as a result. We need to focus on looking at the Land Use Code and making sure we are making the best use of the land we are working with. We must make it clear to developers that our top priority is building safe, sustainable and affordable housing. On council, I will make sure we are designating adequate zoning for affordable housing development. Growth also impacts our natural areas, traffic patterns and access to resources, and the city needs to continue to plan for decades ahead while solving current challenges.

5. The city’s Housing Strategic Plan lays out a vision for strategies to increase the volume or 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 facilitated numerous Home2Health Conversations with members of the community and was pleased to see how those conversations contributed to the Housing Strategic Plan. One focus that encompasses a few strategies is taking a further look at our Land Use Code, as it has not been audited since 1997, and removing some of the barriers to increase overall supply. One challenge we have with affordable housing is limited supply, so any way we can increase the number of units available will help to offer affordable and attainable housing. I think we also need to look further into right-sized occupancy limits as another way to increase the supply of housing in Fort Collins.

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 order to reach our goal of 100% renewable energy by 2030, we need to make big decisions in the next few years. Knowing there are not many oil prospects within the city limits and we have not had a new well since 1992, I agree with the council’s recent direction. CSU is one of the most sustainable universities in the nation, and I’ve seen firsthand the effectiveness and efficiency of renewable energy. Fort Collins is a strong community, which means that we’re able to build our community in a way that allows for generations to come to live in a healthy environment. Fighting climate change has to be one of the top priorities of the City Council, because the wildfires last summer made it clear that climate change won’t wait for the federal government to act. Together, let’s take care of our homes and our community.

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

Far too often, parents have to make the choice between taking care of their kids or being able to work, as many times a large portion of their paycheck goes to cover child care. Parents are often asked to do too much, and access to quality, affordable child care is often hard to come by, especially as many Northern Colorado residents are living paycheck to paycheck. The city should continue to partner with the Early Childhood Council for Larimer County as well as provide support for after school programs.

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?

Ensuring our parks and trails are preserved should continue to be one of the top priorities, as it currently is in the City’s Strategic Plan, and we should increase access to trails and open space wherever possible. Our access to natural areas is one of the top reasons community members share as their reason for living in Fort Collins, and parks and trails should continue to be top priority. In terms of creation of new parks and trails, we must ensure they are accessible and inclusive for all residents in the community.

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 appreciate how Fort Collins always encourages and incorporates community engagement in the decision-making process and provides pathways for community members to share their perspectives, which has been highly utilized when it comes to the future of the Hughes Stadium site. I support expanding open space but would recuse myself from any Hughes-related decision due to my employment at CSU. (Editor’s note: Dyrdahl is assistant director for CSU’s student government.)

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?

As marijuana has been proven to have not only health but economic benefits, I would be in support of exploring a delivery program here. We currently have alcohol delivery in the city and seeing how the pandemic has changed many people’s approach to utilize more delivery services, I would be open to the possibility.

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?

An office of Equity and Inclusion is a great idea, and ensuring that the city’s staff reflects the values of Fort Collins is a high priority, in addition to making Fort Collins a more equitable and inclusive place to live. However, we have to ensure that the office itself is not the only one working on promoting equity and inclusion. It really has to be the work of all involved in city management, and the work starts internally. The office and the city as a whole need to focus on dismantling the institutional and systemic impacts of race and oppression. One prime example is access to affordable housing in the city. Many residents list it as a concern, but it disproportionately impacts BIPOC (Black, Indigenous  and people of color) and low-income households.

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’m proud of the steps Fort Collins Police Services has taken to reduce bias and conflicts within our community, but we have to go further. I am proud of the efforts of FCPS in often being at the forefront of making progressive changes, such as banning chokeholds years before other communities. However, seeing the disparity of the number of arrests of non-white residents compared to white residents means additional progress is needed. Larimer County has a Democratic District Attorney for the first time in 50 years, which means opportunities for reform and to hold police accountable when necessary. Working together, we can ensure a more equitable and accountable criminal justice system, and policing, in Fort Collins.

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?

Any policy that helps make housing more affordable and attainable needs to be looked at, and no option is off the table. I would support looking into moving toward right-sized housing while at the same time addressing the concerns some residents have who would like to see the U+2 ordinance remain. Some concerns surrounding U+2 are parking- and noise-related, which can be addressed specifically by the City. I also want to catalyze action and awareness surrounding the origin of U+2, which was enacted in 1964 to target European immigrants.

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 believe we need to strengthen our goals to ensure targets are being met. The wildfires last summer made it clear that the time to act is now, and that the cost of inaction far outweighs the costs of making our city more sustainable, and fighting climate change. I do support the climate goals to ensure that we are doing our part in protecting our planet for future generations. Our Climate Future has laid out primary strategies, and I believe City Council should support the new approach as an adaptive, ongoing process that aligns with the budget cycle to ensure we are hitting smaller benchmarks to achieve our 2030 and 2050 goals. One move I am excited about is a community-wide organic waste diversion, as over 50% of items in our landfills are organic waste.

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?

I love our great outdoors, and it fills me with great sadness seeing plastic and waste polluting our forests, rivers and open spaces. In order to meet our waste goals, we must consider moving away from plastic toward more sustainable resources to ensure our community reduces waste and keeps our outdoors beautiful. We need to really focus on Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (in that order) when promoting ways the community can help out. The city can also work with companies to reuse or recycle materials from industrial activities and see if other companies in Northern Colorado can put them to use to reduce the amount of waste.

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?

One drastic impact on air quality came recently from the wildfires, many that were started by individuals. Therefore, I would advocate for continued education and outreach regarding ways to mitigate wildfires. Another big component is vehicle idling. It is great that we have signs at various areas of towns that intersect with the railways, and I would advocate for additional signage. I would encourage residents to look at the City’s Healthy Homes program for indoor air quality as well, as many are low cost or no-cost solutions. Increasing access to public transportation, tighter regulations and investing in our sustainable future will all aid in increasing air quality.

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?

I’m proud to support a clean, healthy, free-flowing Poudre. River cleanup must be a top priority, and similar to our problems with air quality, we must approach it as both an individual responsibility and a community focus. We are lucky to have numerous community organizations that are proud of the Poudre’s status as a Wild and Scenic River and are committed to keeping it in quality condition. Knowing the study in 2017 was the first time conducting a health assessment of the river, it helps to give us a baseline to improve upon. One thing I would do on council is reassess where the river is at in 2022, to see how the river has improved (or declined) in a five-year time span.

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

Investing in public transportation benefits every member of our community, and I support increasing access to transportation and public roads. There are areas in Fort Collins that are currently inaccessible with public transportation, so I would work with Transfort to see if there are alternatives to current routes to help meet the needs of residents outside of the current route infrastructure. For roads, I would spread more awareness of the Pothole Patrol Hotline, as potholes are a safety concern and once reported are generally filled within two business days.

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 city should be as transparent as possible about any public good, including Connexion. When I have been talking with residents in District 4, one of the most common questions I receive is, “When is Connexion coming to my house? The trucks were here months ago.” I always give the answer I am familiar with, of six to nine months from when the trucks are first seen in the neighborhood. Currently on the Connexion website, there is very limited information about the service offered or the process, and I believe there could be more transparency without compromising competitiveness.

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.

Knowing that a high percentage of our residents are survivors of sexual assault and/or interpersonal violence, I would ensure the city is providing more resources to survivors and that perpetrators are held accountable. For additional information, please check out my website at www.jess4foco.com.