Fort Collins City Council election: 20 questions with Susan Gutowsky, District 1 candidate

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Susan Gutowsky

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.

Susan Gutowsky is running for reelection to represent District 1, which covers northeast Fort Collins. She has represented the district since 2019. The other District 1 candidate is Nick Armstrong. These are Gutowsky’s submitted answers to our questionnaire.

Learn more about Gutowsky at susan-gutowsky.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 the council to do differently in this space?

Considering the probability that a new variant strain of the COVID-19 virus will present itself in our community, we must continue to strictly follow the science and use the Larimer County Health Department’s guidelines to direct our response to health issues as they arise. Our community has been amazing in its support of wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing and avoiding gathering in groups other than your own “bubble.” I know that people are worn down from this pandemic and our mental health is suffering; however, it is imperative that we maintain our level of vigilance. Also, we must not forget that music and art are food for the soul. I enthusiastically support the city’s financial support of Fort Fund, which, through its grants, helps sustain numerous groups that contribute to the music, art, and culture of Fort Collins.

2. What should the city do to address the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic? Is there anything you’d like the council to do differently in this space?

The pandemic turned our status quo upside down. Our Economic Health Office met the challenges head on and have been agile and innovative in their efforts to regenerate the customer base of our retailers, restaurants/bars and breweries. City Council will continue to support the excellent work of our staff and I encourage our community to also lend your support in whatever way you choose and at a level you feel is safe to do so. We should extend the “Keep NOCO Open” campaign. We should promote shopping in the downtown area rather than online. We should support Great Plates, thereby generating revenue for the Larimer County Food Bank. Partnerships like the city’s partnership with NoCo Nosh can keep food delivery economically sustainable when dine-in is not an option. And we should encourage and support creative ideas such as the “ghost restaurant” concept. Together we can bring our economy back!

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. A recent city effort to explore a centralized campus for a homeless shelter and services resulted in no concrete action on a related note. What do you think of these two approaches, and do you have any other specific suggestions for addressing homelessness in Fort Collins?

As a member of the City Council, I have pledged to do whatever I can to ensure that everyone in our community has an opportunity to thrive, whether they be housed or homeless. We need to ensure that our programs do not place an unfair burden on any single part of the city. I fully support collaboration between the city, our service providers, and the county. Together, we can find the resources necessary to provide care and Housing First to reach our goal of making homelessness rare and short-lived.   

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

First, we need to make sure that growth pays its fair share to provide the streets, sidewalks, trails, energy, water and other critical basic amenities. Current innovative building designs can create neighborhoods that embrace a sense of community, open space and connectivity while adhering to our high standards of energy efficiency, sustainability and quality construction. We must ensure that everything aligns with our Climate Action Plan and our Housing Strategic Plan. In addition, high-quality city services will provide the framework where local businesses can thrive.

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?

Due to the large number of older homes in District 1, I am extremely concerned about the process of gentrification going on in our neighborhoods. I have pledged to advocate strongly for clean, safe and livable neighborhoods, yet my constituents are being priced out of their neighborhoods. Homeowners who once could afford their property taxes are experiencing financial difficulties as the assessed value of their homes continues to rise due to gentrification of the surrounding homes. If they choose to sell their home, the high median price of a home in Fort Collins leaves them with nowhere else to go. I support creating a map illustrating the displacement and gentrification threats at the neighborhood level so we can address this problem.

6. Council recently directed staff to draft regulations on oil and gas activity to serve as a de facto ban on oil and gas activity within city limits. Do you agree with this approach? Why or why not?

I agree with this approach. We must protect the health and safety of the residents of Fort Collins. 

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

Child care is an issue that is crucial to our economic health and family stability. During the pandemic, many working mothers have left their jobs to become teachers and daycare providers, keeping them from fully participating in the labor force. The pandemic has changed how the city uses its buildings. I want to explore the possibility of providing city buildings to house community child care services.

8. If you’re elected, what would be your approach to open space preservation and the creation of new parks and trails? How would you prioritize this value in relation to other city priorities, particularly when facing budget constraints?

We have dedicated taxes and fees to pay for new natural areas and parks. We should continue to ensure that we spend money the way voters intended. We should focus the Conservation Trust Fund on new trail construction, especially in underserved parts of the city. Much needs to be done to connect the northern neighborhoods with the rest of the city. I believe it should be a council priority to focus on infrastructure in the northeast quadrant of the city as our growth appears to be headed in that direction. 

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 look forward to hearing the voice of the people on April 6.

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?

Not at this time. 

11. Fort Collins is creating a new Equity and Inclusion Office to promote those values at the highest city management levels. 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?

As a result of the work of the Community Impact Ad Hoc Committee (of which I am a member) the Office of Equity and Inclusion was born. The city of Fort Collins has since adopted the framework of “equity for all, leading with race” that aligns to the Government Alliance on Race and Equity’s (GARE) methodology for advancing equitable outcomes for all. The Office of Equity and Inclusion will be proactively focused on developing concrete strategies for creating a safe community where a person’s identity does not impact their ability to thrive. Also, we will make sure every department of the city government embraces this commitment. I am totally committed to supporting the future work of this new office!

12. Conversations about policing practices came to the forefront this summer after the 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?

We know that our residents do not always experience equitable treatment. Our leadership in Fort Collins Police Services is responsive to council’s direction to improve police accountability. I support and encourage these efforts, including community policing and co-responders.

13. What is your stance on possible changes to the “U+2” occupancy ordinance? If you support changes, what would you like to see precisely, and how would you catalyze action? 

 I do not currently support changes to U+2. 

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 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 move aggressively to make sure we meet our climate goals. As a regional leader, we can use our partnerships with the Platte River Power Authority and regional governments to reach our goal of 100% renewable electricity by 2030. These efforts will also create local jobs and opportunities for people to learn 21st Century skills. We should also strengthen our multimodal transportation options. Also, we must find ways to help owners and tenants of older buildings increase energy efficiency, reducing their ongoing costs.

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 the council to support meaningful reductions in the volume of waste sent to landfills?

We need to keep strong goals in place to reduce our waste. We must continue to work with our regional partners to build composting and recycling facilities. We should also improve the “circular economy,” which can feed our post-consumer products back into the local economy — like bottle reuse and construction materials.

16. Fort Collins has relatively poor air quality than other parts of the country, particularly regarding ozone levels. How would you work to improve community air quality?

We need to work with state and federal authorities to implement regional ozone-reduction programs. We must develop a more effective multimodal transportation system that connects Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont and Denver’s downtown areas. 

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 the council to improve the health and quality of the Poudre River?

We must increase in-stream flows in the Poudre River with a combination of city funds and regional partnerships. We should continue to oppose projects such as NISP, which would destroy the Poudre River as we know it, and continue to improve the floodway to allow more natural seasonal flows and wildlife migration. We should continue to increase the city’s inventory of natural areas by purchasing lands from willing sellers.

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

We need to continue working to provide a safe and reliable multimodal transportation network for all residents and advance mobility solutions to increase walking, bicycling, transit use, and environmentally sustainable modes. Paying particular attention to connectivity to all areas of the city that have been disconnected, such as bicycle and pedestrian connectivity to northeast Fort Collins and expand our transit grid. 

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 must greatly expand our quarterly reports to the community to provide transparency to residents regarding our progress. 

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.

As your District 1 representative, I am committed to representing your values on City Council. We have been through a lot together as this year has presented challenges we have never before experienced. And, we have met those challenges head on. I am the only progressive in this race. I understand the needs of our district and what our constituents expect of our city government moving forward. I believe I have the experience and the proven track record to continue to be your strong voice on City Council. My whole reason for being your representative is to serve YOU. Please vote for me so I can continue to work for you.