Fort Collins City Council election: 20 questions with Tricia Canonico, District 3 candidate

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Tricia Canonico

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.

Tricia Canonico is running to represent District 3, which covers southeast Fort Collins. The other District 3 candidate is Gavin Kaszynski. These are Canonico’s submitted answers to our questionnaire.

Learn more about Canonico at triciaforfoco.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 most important action we can take as leaders is to ensure the public is educated about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines. Our residents need access to accurate, comprehensive information so they can make an informed decision about receiving the vaccine. This educational program must include, and be sensitive to, communities of color. Overcoming vaccine hesitancy and offering equitable access to the vaccines is a priority. The program must also emphasize the mitigating safety guidelines promoted by national and state leaders. Reopening the city safely and gradually under the guidance of health officials is critical.

Due to the pandemic, our need for behavioral health resources has significantly increased. We need to effectively communicate to our community how behavioral health services can be accessed through county and partner organizations. City Council has been thoughtful in their COVID response, including consistently following county health guidelines, and I support their actions. 

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?

The city must continue to be creative and strategic in allocating stimulus money to support local businesses. We need to build on the impactful actions already taken, including code variances that allow businesses to operate outdoor dining areas and temporarily eliminating restaurant delivery fees for NoCo Nosh. City Council needs to continue to look for these opportunities while working with county, state and federal sources to make sure businesses are aware of all available financial resources.

The city needs to provide leadership to overcome the economic fallout experienced by so many individuals and families due to COVID-19. The community must be informed and connected to available, equitable resources that will help them remain in their homes and stay employed. When this crisis finally ends, we need to carefully examine how we can keep our community resilient and viable to ensure all people recover and thrive.

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?

Homelessness should be rare, short-lived and non-recurring. To address this community issue, the city must first identify the reasons people are experiencing homelessness. With that knowledge, we can create relevant solutions through existing resources or create new programs as needed. Although I support an adequate and sustained stream of resources to address homelessness, in this time of decreased tax revenue, I do not know if that is a realistic outcome. As for a centralized campus, I believe the Blue Spruce shelter has allowed those experiencing homelessness to access needed services in one place. However, its placement is less accessible to public transit and is of concern to the northern business district. The opening of Mason Place was a positive step forward in addressing homelessness. I want to see more deeply affordable housing made available. Additionally, I will recommend that the city partner with more businesses to tailor training programs to those experiencing homelessness.

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

Growth will continue in Fort Collins, but we need to be smart, strategic, thoughtful and balanced in that growth. We will continue to thrive only if we incorporate resources that make our city unique — open space, trails, parks and natural areas. Those assets are at the heart of why Fort Collins is continuously named one of the most livable cities in the nation. Planning for future growth allows us to be value-led in how we grow and ensures the challenges facing Fort Collins are addressed equitably. I will keep the city’s climate goals at the forefront of all growth and expansion decisions. We need to shift to more high-density development that is centrally located with nearby amenities and accessible to public transportation and bike routes.

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 appreciate that the Housing Strategic Plan incorporates racial equity and recognizes that housing affordability issues in Fort Collins disproportionately impact indigenous and people of color, as well as low wage retirees. One strategy that has my full support is updating the Land Use Code in recognition of our need for additional affordable housing. An update should allow for greater leeway with greenfield development, allowances for high and more dense development and a recognition that affordable housing should ideally be situated near public transit and other amenities. I also support the Metro Down Payment Assistance program to assist low-to-middle income households with down payments, increasing the mandatory affordability terms on affordable housing and exploring avenues for increasing funding for the city’s Land Bank program.

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?

Yes. The state, through SB 19-181, has put in motion adoption of strict regulations on oil and gas emissions. It has also given municipalities substantial authority for self-determination through “local control” provisions. While Fort Collins is currently working on drafting local regulations, any new regulations adopted should exceed state requirements with regard to oil and gas development to improve our air quality. 

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

We all rely, directly or indirectly, on affordable, quality child care. Supporting working families is vital to a stable workforce and fosters economic prosperity. COVID-19 has vividly illustrated the shortcomings of our child care options in Fort Collins and Larimer County. I serve on the board at the Family Center, one of only two nonprofit child care centers in the county. On City Council, I will work to expand child care options including development of incentives, public-private partnerships and other creative solutions. I will also work with local businesses to incentivize more affordable and accessible on-site child care options. An additional hurdle to affordable, quality child care is finding and paying adequately trained staff. I’m excited Future Labs will commence an early childhood education track in the fall that can accelerate training for future teachers. We must focus on motivating teachers to enter and remain in the field and create opportunities to earn a sustainable living wage.

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?

On City Council, I will prioritize the maintenance and expansion of our open space, natural areas and trails system. I recognize the significant costs of maintenance, especially as our parks and recreation infrastructure grows. City Council needs to manage those costs so we continue to protect those properties as community assets. The quality of experience to those who use the properties — especially if trails and parks are expanded — will continue to be high if we can create a reliable funding stream for day-to-day costs along with new growth. We also need to be more intentional about leveraging existing resources, including a knowledgeable volunteer base for growth and ongoing operations. We should consider “friends of” groups to help with ongoing maintenance of the system to alleviate some of the economic stress of maintaining the network. Equity also needs to be central to how we think about incorporating new parks and trails.

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 welcome the opportunity that may exist for additional open space with the former Hughes Stadium greenspace on the April ballot. However, the need for a greater inventory of affordable, attainable housing is certainly a competing need. I believe that our resident voters must have a voice in this debate to determine which is the overarching priority for the use of this property. On council, I will work to honor their decision and support the voters’ choices.

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?

In 2012, Colorado voters legalized marijuana and I respect the will of the people. I would support the city of Fort Collins exploring the possibility of allowing legal delivery of marijuana.

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 fully support the creation and development of this new office. I commit to work with existing city departments, external partners, and community members to dismantle institutional and structural barriers that have impeded the progress of many Fort Collins residents for too long. The office reinforces the commitment to creating a more equitable Fort Collins where race, ethnicity, disability, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, income, religion or neighborhood are not a measurement of success. An equitable and inclusive Fort Collins is one where all thrive. It requires city government’s policies, services, and distribution of resources to account for the distinct histories, challenges, and needs of all of the communities it serves. Establishing antiracism policies as the goal for this new office will require collaboration with city departments, community partners, and other institutions to understand institutional racism, eliminate racial inequity, and improve outcomes for all. 

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?

Fort Collins, like many cities throughout the U.S., has come face-to-face with the inherent issues encompassed in racism and the criminal justice system. It is important to review existing practices and policies to ensure equity in policing. I want to advocate for policies and training designed to build relationships with different communities within the city. I applaud the creation of our police department’s new Mental Health Response Teams to respond effectively to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. I look forward to working toward the enhancement of policies created by a joint task force, including community members, that will increase safety and justice for all residents and members of law enforcement.

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?

Yes, I support possible changes to U+2. On City Council, I would support a move to explore how “Me+3” could work in our city as another tool that can help ameliorate the issues of affordable housing. A pilot program of Me+3 in an area of town where there are currently more waivers for U+2 would be the ideal area to start. A pilot program would allow the city to assess the concerns of homeowners and neighbors concerning crowding, noise and parking requirements, while exploring best practices to make a potential new ordinance workable for all. I would also look to provide additional safety and health regulations to protect renters, and consider equity issues involved in U+2, including possibly revising the definition of family in the ordinance. 

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 fully support the city’s Climate Action Plan. The goals are aggressive, but so are the climate threats we are facing. I will work to identify where the city fell short of its goals and push to prevent future shortfalls. Additionally, we have the ability to make a significant impact on the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Fort Collins — electricity — by further incentivizing conversions to solar energy. 

Fort Collins’ Epic Home Loans program makes switching to solar a straightforward process (I speak from experience, my husband and I installed a solar system in 2020). The city’s rebate for a solar conversion dropped in 2021 from $1,500 to $1,000. As a City Council member, I will prioritize returning the city’s rebate to $1,500 per installation and finding creative ways to make solar systems, as well as home batteries, more attractive to our utilities customers.

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

I absolutely support Fort Collins’ goal of zero waste by 2030 and believe we need to implement a year-round curbside organic waste collection program as well as more aggressive recycling programs. Those goals are reasonable and attainable. Not only will additional compost and recycling programs lower the cost associated with disposal and help us reach our zero waste goal, they can create new jobs and economic activity with new recycling services such as building material diversion, a small sawmill to divert wood products waste and new local recycling businesses. Additional benefits of a compost program can be improved local soil and less emissions from organic waste in the landfill. I would also support a program to incorporate volunteer Recycling Block Captains that help educate neighbors about composting and waste prevention, creating better outcomes. 

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 among U.S. cities according to The American Lung Association. This has a negative effect on the health and quality of life of residents. As such it is an issue that City Council needs to address. Air quality is a regional problem and it is important that Fort Collins collaborate with our neighbors for effective regional measures while also taking steps to reduce harmful emissions within our city limits. Council must work to provide and incentivize use of alternative transportation including public transit and bicycles, effective traffic management, monitoring industrial sources, supporting green space and tree planting, and moving to electric vehicles to improve air quality in our city. I am in favor of and will advocate for a multipronged approach that employs all of these, as well as new technology in the pipeline.

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 Cache la Poudre River is Colorado’s only designated wild river and is already overworked. It is a vital resource for our region, and we must protect its future health. In order to preserve the river’s health, I will support all current city water conservation activities. I also support enhancing programs aimed at residents that educate and incentivize water conservation like the City’s Xeriscape Incentive Program. 

As far as water projects are concerned, I support the Halligan Reservoir and its potential to improve flows on the North Fork through mitigation. I was pleased to learn of the recent court decision pertaining to the Thornton Pipeline project upholding the Larimer County commissioners’ permit denial. Ultimately, I hope Thornton will agree to run the water down the Poudre River through Fort Collins. 

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

Within the city, I would advocate for more MAX routes running east to west to help ease congestion within the city (West Elizabeth and Harmony Roads) and to increase ridership on MAX. I will advocate for the city to continue to prioritize the building of a bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure that also provides direct links to public transportation service.

Additionally, I would support and work with all partners to advocate for a Front Range commuter train. With a likely federal level emphasis on infrastructure, I believe we can expect to see greater support for Amtrak and for new routes. The Front Range has been identified as a high priority area in an Amtrak expansion and I believe we need to be working towards making this a reality. 

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?

It’s been exciting to follow the progress Connexion has made across the city this year. According to Fort Collins interim chief financial officer, Travis Storin, Connexion will comfortably make its first repayment installment in December 2022. Council members are aware of the challenges Connexion has experienced and the corrective steps that have been taken. Connexion is accountable to both City Council and staff, which I believe is adequate. The public understandably wants to know when they can expect service to roll out in their area, especially as many are now working and studying at home due to COVID-19 restrictions. However, as a city-owned service competing against established commercial providers, Connexion has a fiduciary duty to limit the release of proprietary information. We expect Connexion to be successful and to be an asset to Fort Collins — which may mean less transparency.

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’m ready to serve our community as your next Fort Collins City Council member representing District 3. With my educational background in comparative politics, my professional background as a small business owner and my experience as a volunteer, advocate and fundraiser, I’ll bring a fresh and creative mindset to City Council and will champion Fort Collins’ vision for livability, sustainability and community.