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.
Melanie Potyondy is running to represent District 4, which covers southwest Fort Collins. City Council members appointed Potyondy to temporarily fill the District 4 vacancy earlier this year, and the winner of the upcoming election will serve out the remainder of the term. The other District 4 candidates are Jessica Dyrdahl, Erin Hottenstein, Shirley Peel and Sidna Rachid. These are Potyondy’s submitted answers to our questionnaire.
Learn more about Potyondy at melanieforfoco.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?
In the immediate future, I believe our city must cooperate with the county, state and nonprofit organizations to be sure we are party to all relief options that will ensure stable housing, employment, health care and fulfillment of other basic needs for our residents. We then need to use all appropriate avenues to identify those who are eligible for aid and to assist them with applying for and accessing it. Areas in which the city might be most directly involved might include facilitation of rent assistance, provision of non-congregate options for those experiencing homelessness, reinforcement of mask-wearing requirements and continuing cooperation with the county to enable all residents to obtain a vaccine. Thereafter, the city needs to intensify actions to connect residents who exhibit lingering needs to appropriate resources for long-term recovery, such as employment coaching and retraining, community mental health options and academic remediation opportunities.
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?
Prior to completion of our vaccination schedule, our city must focus on identifying the acute needs COVID-19 has inflicted upon local government and businesses, as well as available resources for remediation (e.g., leveraging relief funding and supports available through the county, state and federal governments). Further, the city can participate in the Level Up program while continually publicizing the availability of local businesses and emphasizing the importance of patronizing them. Finally, the city might make data-based decisions about which commercial sectors have been particularly impacted by the pandemic to raise public awareness and build programming to increase consumer engagement in these targeted areas.
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?
Addressing the needs of the unhoused is an area in which our city needs to take especially assertive action. Fort Collins has already engaged in extensive, targeted data collection and community engagement around this issue. Now, we must move forward with addressing areas in our housing continuum that are insufficient or lacking altogether, as through establishment of 24-hour comprehensive shelter options and expansion of diverse housing options, such as supported and unsupported apartments, accessory dwelling units or tiny homes, deed-restricted units, subsidized housing for young people aging out of foster care, etc. We will need to leverage all possible funding sources to do this, including government programs, private donations, agency contributions and our city revenues. Similarly, the city should pursue concrete actions to identify and fund lagging support services that might enhance individuals’ and families’ chances of avoiding initial and/or recurrent homelessness (e.g., mental health services, substance abuse treatment, financial/employment counseling, job coaching, landlord/tenant mediation services, etc.).
4. How should the city respond to recent and projected population growth?
On council, I will advocate for purposeful planning/zoning that provides healthy and stable housing at all price points, with locations that are optimal for access to jobs, essential businesses, schools and nature. I believe, in making development decisions, that redevelopment should always be considered before new development and that new development proposals should be considered carefully to ensure exceptional value in line with the city’s long-term goals before being approved (i.e., not just more houses, but structures and resources that are fulfilling an identified and compelling need, and which provide marked benefits). I prefer construction that is as eco-friendly and energy efficient as possible, zoning that is mixed-use in nature (to minimize the need for residents to use/own a car) and maintenance of an appropriate balance of population to open space and natural areas.
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 am keenly interested in the prospect of redevelopment for affordable/achievable housing, especially in areas of the city that have easy access to business/jobs, schools and public transportation. I am a proponent of maximizing the variety of housing options available in our city (e.g., tiny homes, apartments, duplexes/triplexes, patio/townhomes, variety of sizes of single-family homes), which may require adjustments to our current planning and zoning. With reference to new development, I believe the city should be forthright in pursuing and incentivizing construction of the types and price points of homes we are lacking, versus more housing in general. Finally, for new development, especially that which is in the outer regions of the growth management area, I believe a closer look at the benefits of mixed-use development is warranted, as proximity of residential and commercial spaces both increases equity for individuals with transportation challenges and aligns with our climate action goals.
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 have publicly stated my support for Fort Collins implementing oil and gas regulations exceeding those required by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. This would, in essence, constitute a moratorium on drilling within the growth management area. I also support monitoring emissions from existing wells and increasing pollution mitigation measures if needed. The health and well-being of our Fort Collins citizens is my number one priority on council. Moving away from oil and gas and toward more sustainable energy sources is also in line with our climate action plan.
7. Many residents in the community struggle to afford the rising costs of child care. How should the city address child care affordability?
I believe many of the initiatives for affordable child care that have previously been explored/implemented have merit and might benefit from increased support from the city, county and state. These include, but are not limited to, the Child Care Assistance Program, efforts to fund training for careers in early childhood and programs to increase the number of substitute teachers in early childhood education. I am also in support of encouraging and/or incentivizing large employers to provide child care options for their employees, to free up slots in community child care centers, as well as working with the state to fund school-based preschool. Finally, I believe a long-term goal for Fort Collins (and more broadly) needs to be increasing wages for early childhood teachers to improve hiring, worker quality and retention in the field.
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 believe the city should continue to diversify and protect its stock of open space and natural areas and that continuing to expand our trail system will benefit residents and lend itself to the city achieving its climate action goals. In acquiring land for natural/open areas, I think the city should be responsive to equity concerns, to ensure all Fort Collins residents enjoy similar levels of access to high quality outdoor resources. The city should also be strategic in acquiring lands that preserve a buffer between our city and neighboring communities, as well as land that provides particular value, for instance as wildlife corridors. As with other city departments, our natural areas and parks departments will provide council with their budget priorities for the budgeting for outcomes process and council members will weigh proposals across departments, in order to meet all of our obligations to citizens before engaging in discussion of more discretionary funding.
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 the approved ballot initiative language, which will allow voters to voice their preferences about use of the Hughes property, is the right path at this time. Emotions about this particular parcel of land are strong, and I am invested in carrying out the plan the majority of our residents support. I believe, should the voters speak in favor of the city acquiring the property at fair market value, Fort Collins should make a good faith effort to acquire and restore it.
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?
I think cannabis delivery is an option worth exploring, since it might stand to decrease driving while impaired and/or difficulties that might arise from transport of cannabis products in one’s personal vehicle. Further, for individuals using marijuana for medical purposes, it might alleviate obstacles to access for those with significant physical or psychological symptoms.
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 envision this office maintaining frequent communication with individuals from various marginalized groups in our community to identify areas of strength and areas where we are falling short in our equity efforts. They could hold listening sessions and focus groups. I envision the office working to enhance leadership opportunities for residents from diverse populations, such as roles on board and commissions, City Council, volunteer opportunities and careers with the city. This might include addressing factors that make it difficult for some to engage in these activities, such as language, child care, income and transportation barriers, as well as the impacts of bias and discrimination. I would also be interested in them reviewing statistics about where our city’s historically underrepresented groups are most disproportionately struggling, so that we can better address these concerns through changes in policies and procedures. This office might also serve as a consultative body for vetting city initiatives through an equity lens. Finally, I see the equity office monitoring and advocating for legislative issues that help address shortcomings (e.g., immigrant legal defense fund).
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?
Our Fort Collins police chief has communicated his commitment to addressing disproportionalities and improper behaviors within our city’s police force. He has established avenues for outreach to underrepresented groups, to identify areas of concern. He has also been a champion of our police/mental health co-responder program, which I believe is crucial to diversifying the tactics that can be extended to individuals struggling in our community. The co-responder program might decrease negative interactions with officers, as well as bring down detention and arrest rates. I would love to see continued and expanded investment in this program, to divert a larger proportion of police calls to therapeutic and/or rehabilitative resources. Additionally, my hope is that FCPS continually pairs with the city to collect and review data and to engage in open and honest dialogue when systems are unfairly targeting individuals from marginalized groups. Both our city and our police department must remain consistently aware of the realities of implicit bias and systemic racism, to be assertive in changing and/or discontinuing policing practices that perpetuate these issues.
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 think there are merits to U+2. I support maintaining the character, safety and livability of our Fort Collins neighborhoods and believe every resident should be able to have pride in their neighborhood, maintain the value of their property and enjoy healthy relationships with their neighbors. However, historical data indicate our current U+2 policy and its strict definition of family have proven to be overly restrictive, thus preventing legitimate and potentially positive living arrangements that might free up housing stock and decrease costs for residents. I believe adjustments to U+2 over time, as through waivers for right-sized housing or an extended definition of “family,” might be warranted considering our current affordable housing crisis. Should we adjust the policy, the city would be wise to enhance or modify its existing programs for neighborhood mediation and code enforcement, to ensure that increases in occupancy do not adversely impact neighborhood quality. I am also in support of a system of owner registration to ensure an appropriate level of oversight regarding the management and quality of rental properties.
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 it is imperative that the city of Fort Collins be aggressive in its efforts to address our climate action goals. I support continued expansion of our clean-running city bus system and would like to see continuous service options like the MAX be expanded to key east/west corridors. I also support expanding our emphasis on alternative transit options and believe the city should pursue planning/zoning and infrastructure investments to promote use of alternative transit methods. In making development decisions, I believe the city should focus on redevelopment first, then new development options that minimize the need to commute by car. It would behoove the city to continue to incentivize hybrid or electric vehicles and increase the number of e-charging stations in town. I believe the city needs to encourage and support residential and commercial solar and wind energy systems. Finally, I support higher safety/emissions standards for existing oil and gas wells, higher emissions standards for industrial and manufacturing businesses, and assertive pursuit of alternative energy sources for the city.
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 am in support of reducing single-use plastics, including bags, straws, cutlery and expandable foam, and am also a strong proponent of municipal composting. Municipal composting would allow consumers and businesses to get their container needs met through a transition to sustainable take-out packaging, while diverting a large amount of residential and commercial waste from the landfill. Likewise, year-round curbside organic waste collection would allow for residents to engage in more sustainable practices across the city through composting of their paper products, food scraps, natural fibers, bioplastics, etc. For grocery stores, a push for package-free food options should be made and the city should advocate for grocers, farmers and companies to minimize packaging and/or package in compostable materials. Ideally, a shift toward less packaging, including the use of plastic film, would extend into commercial and industrial settings, as well.
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 residential/commercial development and transportation planning, we must always be looking through a lens that allows us to increase walking and biking opportunities and decrease driving, as through expansion of bike trails, creation of safe intersections and pursuit of mixed-use development. Likewise, we must increase our fund of achievable housing options in the city to de-incentivize commuting into Fort Collins from adjacent, less expensive communities. For situations that are not conducive to zero-emission forms of transit, we must both expand and improve our public transportation options and incentivize their use; it is imperative that we make less polluting forms of transit easier than and preferable to driving. Finally, incentivization of electric vehicles for both city and personal vehicles is critical. I am also in support of continued expansion of alternative energy sources. This should include improvements to city facilities to make them carbon neutral over time. Further, I have publicly stated my support for implementing more stringent oil and gas regulations and I maintain interest in pursuing higher emissions standards for industrial/manufacturing facilities.
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?
Measures that might help to improve the health of the Poudre River would be improving infrastructure to better divert polluted stormwater from roads and other urban runoff, pairing with agricultural property owners to assess and mitigate their farms’ impact on the river, and capitalizing on opportunities to increase overall flow rate (in order to dilute contaminants).
18. If you’re elected, what would be your top priorities in regard to roads and transportation in Fort Collins?
Overall, in their long-term planning, I believe Fort Collins needs to shift its lens away from the requirements of car travel and toward more sustainable transportation methods. We must invest in and expand our bus routes; incentivize biking, walking and ridesharing; and advocate for enhanced public transportation options along the I-25 corridor. As we redevelop and build new developments, I would like to focus on arrangements that allow residents to meet the bulk of their daily needs via walking or biking. I also believe Fort Collins should continue to provide and promote city-funded resources for alternative transportation, such as scooter and e-bike shares, should data show that these programs are efficacious and well-utilized.
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?
This issue requires maintenance of a delicate balance. We must keep shareholders informed as appropriate; they are investing in Connexion and are anxious to be knowledgeable about its progress. However, it is also important that we ensure a competitive roll-out of this crucial municipal utility. To close the feedback loop, I believe we should identify the key questions percolating that might be openly addressed and respond to them in an official capacity. For those questions that cannot be answered, honesty seems the best option and, if possible, projected deadlines for updates might be provided.
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 am highly invested in expanding employment options in our city to maximize all residents’ earning potential and job satisfaction. I see particularly glaring deficits around training and employing folks in the skilled and unskilled trades and would love to see our city assertively pursue creation or enhancement of vocational training and/or apprenticeship programs.