Fort Collins City Council election: 20 questions with Shirley Peel, District 4 candidate

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Shirley Peel

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.

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

Learn more about Peel at voteshirleypeel.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?

I am deeply concerned about the social, public and economic impacts the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our community. I have watched the social, mental and financial effects of the pandemic on my friends, neighbors and the community as a whole. I believe the city should continue to partner with Larimer County officials as they address the social and health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, not underestimating the toll the pandemic has taken on the mental health of our community.

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 government should take the lead on addressing the economic impacts by helping businesses safely open to their fullest capacity. and by exploring options to help mitigate the economic fallout from businesses being closed or operating at reduced capacity. Not only are our businesses hurting, their employees are struggling to survive financially because of a reduced or lack of income, so making business recovery in the 2021 budget a priority is crucial for not only our businesses, but for our friends and neighbors who need to return to work. Some options to help our businesses are diverting discretionary spending to aid them, deferred payments or payment plans for business taxes, licenses and permit fees, helping negotiate with landlords for rent payment plans and suspension of late fees, press the state for more help and search for grants for business recovery. (Editor’s note: To adhere to our word limit, we included the rest of Peel’s answer to this question in the final “additional comments” question.)

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?

There are approximately 450 people experiencing homelessness in our community. Seeing people without a place to call home is heartbreaking, and community action is needed to help alleviate the situation. The Homeward 2020 initiative highlighted the needs of people experiencing homelessness, and the city should continue to pull together all of the organizations that work with our homeless and provide leadership to develop a single strategic plan to help those who have found themselves in a homeless situation. Many of these people are in need of services such as a temporary safe place to stay, mental health counseling, job training and temporary financial help and a solid strategic plan could help connect them to these services. I think the city has and should continue to provide leadership and incentives to boost the efforts of those organizations that are currently working with the people suffering from homelessness in our community. 

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

Simply put, people want to live in Fort Collins. Our beautiful city with our parks, trails, and open spaces, our majestic views of the foothills and our lively local scene are all draws to the area. Accommodating the projected influx of people while still maintaining the vibe of our city will be no easy task, so our city will need a very strategic, smart growth plan to provide that balance. Close collaboration with developers, and community members to ensure a systematic, comprehensive growth plan is key. The plan should address new developments’ water needs and need for water storage, and the implementing of common-sense zoning practices and land use that adapts to our community’s changing structure. The continued use of metro districts should be used in the vision for peripheral spread, and development of infill sites. Our transit system, including Interstate 25, should be built out. Balancing the growth of our city with keeping the desirable elements that make this a great place to live is so very important and we need to get this right.

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?

Strategies to increase the availability of housing in Fort Collins include partnering with charitable organizations like Habitat for Humanity and the church community to help build starter homes. I support repealing the U+2 ordinance as well as taking a look at our zoning laws to allow manufactured home parks within reason and higher density building. I also support the adaptation of the land use code to the changing needs of our city in order to provide for more innovative options in the housing market. Seeing to the economic health of our business community is the best way to address the housing issue; allowing employers to pay their workers a wage that will enable them to live where they work as well as being able to offer incentives like a first time buyers saving account matching funds or actually building starter homes made available to their employees similar to what CSU is suggesting for the Hughes Stadium development. The city can and should be instrumental in removing barriers to attainable housing for many in our community.

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?

At the moment, I don’t believe this should be one of our greater concerns in regards to Fort Collins as most of the oil and gas industry is located elsewhere in the state and I believe the last well drilled in the Fort Collins area was in the early 1990s. The proposed setbacks coupled with industrial zoning changes the availability of drilling sites from less than 1% to 0% and from 13.4% to 1.3% without industrial zoning.  I believe the city should at the moment abide by the guidelines set forth by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and leave it at that until further conversation is needed.

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

Being a mom of four children, I know too well the expense of raising them and affordable child care is a worry for working moms. Creating a strong economy where workers are able to earn a living wage and afford child care is the best way for the city to address the rising costs of day care. A strong economy also encourages business owners to explore innovative ways to help such as providing onsite daycare for their employees. I have been involved with starting up a licensed Pre-K program, and some of the expenses incurred due to city requirements were heavy and burdensome. The city should examine the barriers that make starting up and maintaining a child care facility expensive and streamline and simplify the development review process to bring down the cost of child-care.

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?

Our parks, open spaces and trails have been a blessing to my family as my children were growing up in Fort Collins. During the pandemic, being able to be outside in these spaces was a big boost to people’s mental health, including mine. Parks, open spaces and trails are an integral part of what makes Fort Collins an extremely desirable place to live and as we recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic, I am hopeful that recovery will be such that we will be able to support the continuing care of our parks, trails and open spaces and the development of many more as these spaces are an integral part of who we are as a city.

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 ballot initiative is creating a worrisome precedent for property owners. Forcing a landowner to either choose between using the land as directed by the government or sell is troubling to say the least. The development site in my opinion is not suited to be turned into an open space that is up to the high standards that our community has come to expect in a recreation area. The plan CSU has put forth to build a neighborhood includes 671 dwelling units, 462 single-family homes, duplexes and townhomes as well as 200 apartments, a daycare, an urgent care, transit center and 70 acres of open space. I believe this meets more of the goals put forth by the city in the strategic planning than simply making the area an open space. Saving our money and efforts for more suitable open space areas seems wise to me.

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?

Because marijuana dispensaries are a part of the business community, I believe the city has a responsibility to listen to their needs as a business and respond in a manner that treats them in line with how other similar businesses are treated; for example, allowing them to have same services as a liquor store.

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?

All people are created equal and have intrinsic value because they are human. I am sure the new Equity and Inclusion Office is based on that principle and this is the message that I would like to see communicated and I would work with them to promote that idea across our community to ensure that Fort Collins is a safe and welcoming place for all people.

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?

The death of George Floyd was a tragedy that was entirely preventable and racism and lack of equity in policing is never acceptable. With that said, I believe Fort Collins Police Services is very aware of the need for equity in their policing practices and they provide training to address this need and avoid the attitudes and practices that led to the death of Mr. Floyd. I believe our police department is very forward-thinking and will always be looking for ways to do things better so that all people are treated equally and with dignity and respect.

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?

While living in Fort Collins the past 20 years, I have experienced all sides of this issue. As a mom with a young family, I have had college students living around me in a family neighborhood. As a mom with college-aged students, I have known the headache of trying to find off-campus housing as well as paying high rent prices simply for a bedroom and a bathroom. I think repealing the U+2 ordinance is one tool that we can use to help make housing more attainable for our community members as well as give our college-aged and young adult community more options for housing. I think repealing the ordinance would require the city to be more diligent in enforcing noise and nuisance ordinances to keep the quality of our neighborhoods intact.   

14. Fort Collins adopted climate action goals to reduce community greenhouse gas emissions by 20% of 2005 levels by 2020, 80% by 2030 and 100% by 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 think the new City Council needs to assess these goals and make sure they are attainable in that time frame and not make big, systemic changes in order to meet a deadline and miss important things that need to be considered. I believe they need to understand the transition phase of these goals as well as understand what if any unintended consequences the climate action plan might have on our area and our citizens, and then plan from there.

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?

As a young mom living in Texas, I was fanatical about diverting waste from the landfill. I would reuse so many items, even going so far as to rinse and reuse plastic baggies until they fell apart. I would also painstakingly sort all my recyclable items and drive across town to the recycle center once a week and my husband and I would repurpose many toys for our children instead of buying new ones. Instead of mandates and policies, I believe education and incentives are more effective ways to encourage zero waste as well as making it easier for people to divert things from the landfill. I would like to see construction waste managed better by creating a central place for these items to be picked up for repurposing. We also need to help our businesses find better, economical ways to divert things from the landfill.

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?

I think the most important action we can take to improve air quality is to reduce the number of commuters on the road by enhancing our public transportation options as well as keeping our economy strong in order for people to be able to afford to live where they work and avoid a long commute.

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?

When relatives visit from out of state, the Poudre is the must-visit spot on their vacation list. Of course our beautiful river needs to be a priority and the health of the river must be maintained.  The city should partner with the county as well as private landowners to insure adequate downstream flow that supports the natural ecosystem around the river.  Paths, streets and trails need to be evaluated for their impact on a healthy riparian area. Creating a partnership with the community and educating them on keeping the Poudre healthy can be accomplished by widely reporting the results of the Poudre River Report Card and emphasizing the section in the report card which lists practical ways to protect our river.

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

My priorities, not necessarily in this order, would be the completion of the Interstate 25 (North)  Project, maintaining the integrity of our existing roads and expanding and creating new ones to handle the influx of new people to the area. Expanding our public transportation options would be high on my priority list.

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 is a double-edged sword because to be successful, Connexion needs to be competitive, but since this is funded by the issuing of bonds, transparency is key. The public has the right to know how their money is being spent. The underwriting of the project through bond sales provides a competitive advantage for the service compared to competitors who had to use company funds to build out their infrastructure. I believe transparency needs to take the front seat in this instance, because this is a public utility and our community needs to know how Connexion is managing the public’s business.

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.

City government needs to ensure that considerable city staff is devoted to finding programs and sources of revenue to help in the (economic) recovery process. Because our hospitality industry has been hard hit, the city will need to ensure they develop a plan to bring people back to our restaurants, bars and lodging places in the near future. Getting our businesses open and people back to work is the key to overcoming the effects of this pandemic.