Fort Collins City Council election: 20 questions with Kelly Ohlson, District 5 candidate

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Kelly Ohlson

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.

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

Learn more about Ohlson at kellyohlson.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 city government should take a more active and visible role to help address the social, economic and public health impacts of COVID-19 so that we can return as soon as possible to some form of normalcy. Most importantly, we should cooperate and coordinate with county, state and federal agencies to maximize positive outcomes and efficiency. Once the immediate health crisis is mostly behind us, we need to focus on medium and long-term community recovery. Some of the areas needing attention are small business and employee assistance, K-12 and higher education normalcy, mental health services, and food security, among others. I am hopeful and confident that, together, we will get better — even stronger and more resilient than before. We may also appreciate each other more and understand how important human interaction is to many of us.

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?

I would like the city government to more clearly communicate what specifically they are doing and have done to address the economic impacts of COVID. Again, we should work closely with county, state, and federal agencies to maximize positive outcomes in an efficient and fiscally responsible manner. We should also work with human service not-for-profits and business advocacy organizations to make sure all reasonable ideas and proposals are thoughtfully considered. The specific action items will vary based on federal actions and as we move to medium and long-term economic recovery.

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?

If solutions to the complex issue of homelessness were easy, we would have done them by now. No community has found simple and effective solutions. We should still keep trying to improve the situation with pragmatism and empathy. There are many reasons for and categories of homelessness. One size fits all does not adequately address this complexity. There are many competing needs for tax dollars, and the people of Fort Collins and Larimer County will need to prioritize what those are. The main challenge to a centralized location for a homeless shelter and services will be finding an acceptable and functional location. One geographical area of our community should not have a disproportionate burden placed upon them. We must also be careful to serve our local residents in need, without becoming a regional magnet for homelessness. Like I said, if it was easy, we would be doing it.

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

The city needs to do a much better job of addressing the negative consequences of rapid population growth. They sometimes pretend these negative impacts don’t exist. They do exist. We have worsening air quality, more congestion and crowding of all kinds, dirtier water, and continuous loss of open spaces, natural areas and western landscapes. We continue to drain our rivers, destroying our riparian habitat and wildlife. Taxes also go up with continuous growth. I will work on and support responsible measures to more adequately address the negative impacts of growth. Otherwise, we will end up with a less desirable and unsustainable future.  

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 and attainable housing is another one of those complicated and not easily solved issues. As the city’s own Housing Strategic Plan states, “no single community in the United States has yet solved their housing affordability issues.” Some of the strategies I support are more creative partnerships like that at 140 E. Oak St. (Housing Catalyst/Downtown Development Authority/city) and the proposed Odell project; policies to preserve existing affordable housing; and additional financial resources to assist affordable builders, buyers and renters. Increase minimum affordability periods up from 20 years in city policies and add some flexibility and creativity with building fees as long as the reduced fees are guaranteed to be reflected in a lower price to the renter or buyer (because cost does not equal price). Lowering fees does not result in a lower price unless required to do so. Otherwise, the price will be at market rates.

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 with drafting regulations on oil and gas activity to protect the health and safety of our residents. We must also protect our air and water quality and property values. It is a primary job of a City Council member to help keep our residents safe.

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

Affordable child care is a growing issue in our community and needs the combined efforts of state, county and city governments, as well as not-for-profit and business involvement. Deciding what the proper role of government is in helping provide child care is the tricky part. Historically, the city has provided some capital funds for renovation and expansion of sliding scale, not-for-profit child care providers to be able to care for more children.

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 have been a leader of eight open space campaigns that have protected 75,000 acres in Fort Collins and Larimer County. I received the prestigious national E-Town Award for those efforts. During COVID, these lands have proven even more important as people seek refuge, renewal, escape, and enjoyment outdoors and close to home. As a result of this increased use, they are under threat of being damaged. A way to mitigate this is to continue our land conservation program at an accelerated pace, before the desired open spaces are lost forever. The next 10 years are critical ones. The funding comes from two dedicated revenue streams approved overwhelmingly by votes of the people of Fort Collins and Larimer County. The city has impact fees in place to pay for the construction of parks. Trails have a variety of funding sources and will continue to be constructed as appropriate. The city’s parks, trails and natural areas define Fort Collins as much as anything.

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 believe that if I had been (or if I am) on City Council, we could resolve the issue so all interests and parties win. The land would be conserved as public open space. CSU would be fairly and appropriately compensated. We would then partner with CSU and others to provide more workforce housing units at a more affordable price than the current proposal. The housing would be in a more appropriate location — close to employment, transit and shopping. We could also involve local developers and builders. More open space — and more workforce housing at a lower price and at a better location.

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?

Your question is would I support exploring the possibility. Explore — yes. We should study and learn from any communities that have implemented the policy and examine the results. The community benefits would need to outweigh any potential downsides.

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 new Equity and Inclusion office should help all of us learn more about these issues and recommend any solutions or improvements for polices or procedures. The city’s data-informed approach will assist us to more effectively mitigate barriers to inclusion and equity. Some areas of focus should be economic opportunity, employment and criminal justice. All people should be encouraged and allowed to take part in our community on a level playing field. I have spent decades working on social justice issues and hope to continue that work on City Council.

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 pleased with the changes and improvements that the city of Fort Collins and Police Services (under the leadership of Chief Jeff Swoboda) are making. Some of these changes include a new mission statement that reads, “Safety and service for all.” Police Services has also shifted two officer positions for a new Mental Health Response Team. All individuals and organizations should continually work on improving their performance. With diverse involvement, we can have a safer, better and more united community. We’re all in this together.

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 occupancy ordinance has had very positive impact in the neighborhoods of District 5 and Fort Collins. It was carefully studied and implemented. Properties are better maintained; streets are quieter and safer; and property rights are protected. Before U+2, neighborhoods saturated with over-occupied boarding houses were rapidly deteriorating. Families were fleeing, and schools like Beattie Elementary were scheduled to be permanently closed. Since U+2, families have been able to rent and purchase homes at a more affordable price because they don’t have to compete with commercial enterprises.

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 these goals. These goals have been agreed upon by a number of city councils of various political flavors. The city needs to commit the resources (human and otherwise) necessary to achieve these goals. The city should focus on our emissions from electrical, natural gas, ground travel and large corporations.  

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 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?

I have worked on recycling issues in Fort Collins since the 1980s, including playing a role in the creation of all three iterations of the city’s recycling center. For these efforts, I received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Colorado Association of Recycling. I was active in the development of the Road to Zero Waste Plan, and the city should not change the goal — rather, they should increase their efforts and improve their outcomes. The city needs to collaborate and partner with the county, state and private entities to achieve the goals outlined in the original 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?

In 2020, Fort Collins’ air quality was ranked 19th worst in the United States. I will work with the federal and state entities, as well as working to get our own house in order. Ozone should be one of the key focal points of our air quality action plan. Air quality or lack thereof can literally be a matter of life or death for some people. We can and must do better.

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 most important thing the city could do would be to stop NISP now. The project is an environmental disaster and a financial boondoggle. We cannot continue draining our rivers. It severely damages our riparian ecosystems. NISP will also destroy a beautiful and ecologically significant valley. 

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

Intersection improvements are always a winner. Completing I-25 in a timely, ecologically and financially responsible manner is another priority. Finally, the city of Fort Collins, along with its residents, should decide on its goals and routes for bus transit and implement them in a financially responsible way.

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?

Connexion could have been handled better from the very beginning. The citizens voted for and want a public (city of Fort Collins) option for broadband. They also want openness and transparency with their local government. The citizens deserve this. Quality of product, price and service, which I’m hopeful Connexion will have, will win out in the end. Most of us are rooting for Connexion to succeed. Please, Connexion, share more information with us.

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.

In these challenging and uncertain times, now more than ever, we need experienced leadership. I have had the great privilege of serving the people of District 5 and Fort Collins from 2005 to 2013 as your City Council member. I would like to serve you again. I am asking for your support and your vote. I will work hard for you, listen to you, and govern with integrity, pragmatism and empathy.