Let’s Get a New Dog Park!

If you use the Nextdoor app then you are probably aware of the discussion concerning dogs off leash in Fort Collins. For the record, except for the official dog parks, dogs must legally remain leashed in public spaces in Fort Collins. Many of us “dog people” like to break this law because our four legged friends enjoy running around freely, and we enjoy their enjoyment. However, this behavior causes problems all too often because not all people and dogs (in spaces other than dog parks) are prepared for off-leash dogs.

There are 5 dog parks in town including the one owned by CSU on Lake Street. Unfortunately, the largest park is 2-3 acres at Spring Canyon Park. This park is often crowded and too small for many dog activities. The pond is more like a cesspool than a pond. It takes several baths to get the pond stink off of Olive. The Denver area has 26 dog parks. Chatfield Reservoir’s dog park is 80 acres with a few decently sized, clean ponds. Cherry Creek dog park is 125 acres. These places are great!

I’m gonna check into turning King Fischer Natural Area into a dog park. This is 147 acres on the southwest corner of Timberline and Mulberry. Prior to becoming a “Natural Area”, Kingfisher was an agricultural area and disposal ground for sugar beet waste. While history has made Kingfisher not the most natural of Natural Areas, the City’s restoration team has created a great space for recreation. The area is currently used for walking, biking, and fishing. There are 5 other Natural Areas in the immediate vicinity with about ten times the acreage as Kingfisher and many fishing ponds. So, I don’t think it’s too much of a sacrifice to convert King Fisher into a dog park. It will be a fantastic asset for us “dog people” and our furry friends. And, it might help to prevent off-leashing in public spaces.

What do you think? Should I get to work making this happen?

Electric Rates. Is this gonna be a problem?

The new Fort Collins electric rate structure is a big financial risk and doesn’t take in account our growing use of wind and solar.

The new structure increases rates during busy hours, or “peak hours”, of the day and lowers rates for the rest of the day (off peak). This is new to Fort Collins but other utilities have been doing it for years. The goal is usually to get people to reduce electric consumption (load) during peak times and shift their load to off peak times. This saves customers and the utility money.

Will you change the time of day that you use electricity to save money? You could blast the AC until 2pm and then turn it off to “coast” through the evening. You could run your appliances after 7pm. By doing just those things you could probably shift half of your load and save a decent amount of money.

That doesn’t sound too hard right? Well City Council doesn’t think you can do it. In fact, they are betting that people will not shift more than about 9% of their load. If they made a bad bet then our utility will not have enough revenue to meet the budget. This is a big risk. Our electric utility has been operating at a deficit for years. We already have 15% rate increases planned over the next 4 years. Customers of other utilities with Time Of Day rates have significantly shifted load. If Fort Collins customers do the same then we will be facing even higher rate increases.

The Time Of Day (TOD) rate is soooo 2015! Back then coal and gas were the cheapest fuel for electricity and TOD made a lot of sense. Wind and solar are changing the electric landscape. In California electricity is now often cheapest when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing. That is usually during peak hours. This will be the reality in Fort Collins before we know it. We will be getting over 50% of our electricity from renewable resources by 2021, and possibly 100% by 2030. Excel plans to get over 50% renewable electricity by 2026. There is a very real risk that wholesale electricity will be cheapest when our utility is charging us the most. It took Fort Collins Utilities four years to develop this rate structure. We need to get working on the next one now if we are going to ready for the renewable electricity reality.

What we want to do is set a rate that encourages a matching of demand to supply. This is often called “dynamic rates”. A simple dynamic rate can be timed to predictable wind and solar production times. If our wind and solar produces the most from 2-4pm (typically) then we set the rate low from 2-4pm every day. That wouldn’t change on a cloudy day, the revenue difference would be absorbed in the utility’s annual average. A “smart” dynamic rate would change every hour of every day depending on real-time wind/solar production. Electric cars could use this rate to micromanage charging times. A “smart thermostat” could turn the AC on and off to match solar production. Household batteries could charge during cheap times and discharge during expensive hours. You could micromanage your load and bill each day but it probably wouldn’t be worth the effort for the small stuff. And if you don’t have the cool new “smart”toys you will still save money compared to the TOD rate.

The point is that the Time Of Day rates are out of date because they will soon not reflect when electricity is cheapest. In addition, they could potentially cause huge rate increases. A few of us utility nerds have pointed this out and were basically told to shut up and don’t worry about it. If TOD goes as planned then I will be the first person to say that I am wrong. If it does turn into a disaster then I will be publicly calling for the resignations of those responsible.

What do you think?

You know what really Grinds My Gears?

Credit Family Guy

Here is a mini-series of things I see about town that kinda get under my skin. It’s meant to be a fun way to vent frustrations. These are things that we can do something about with seemingly simple actions. Feel free to submit your own “Grinds My Gears” in the comments section.

You know what really grinds my gears?

…Seeing little plastic bags of dog poop along the trail! I know the people who leave them there have good intentions. I mean they went through the effort of picking up the poop to begin with. But then they just leave the bag laying there on the trail. I assume they think they will pick it up on their way back but I see way more bags of poop then people on the trail at the time. I know it is kind of a pain in the ass to carry the poop (I’m carrying a poop bag for about a mile as I dictate this post) but nobody wants to see, or perhaps step on, your dog’s poop bag. Maybe you can rig up a little bag on a sling to put the poop bag in. Or just carry it. It’s part of being a responsible dog owner.

And this has been, “You know what really Grinds My Gears?

Lockers for the folks experiencing homelessness at Mennonite Church

It may have been long time since this many people attended a planning & zoning board hearing. Last night the board approved a minor amendment to allow lockers at the Fort Collins Mennonite Church on Mathews and Oak, and the room was packed. The lockers are to provide 20 people access to their stuff whenever they need it. Lockers at the Murphy Center are only accessible from 9am-5pm Monday through Friday. This is a problem, as you can imagine, for anyone who needs their stuff after regular business hours. One person testified that he works construction and needs to get his work gear before 9am. His gear has been stolen several times because he doesn’t have a secure place to store it. 

There were also folks there who were afraid to walk their children past the church, for harassment from “homeless people”. Complaints of litter, laundry, bodies on sidewalks, and feces were heard. Homelessness is having an impact on the neighborhood. Not as big an impact as it’s having on those experiencing homeless, but an impact that we need to address.

Clearly we need to do a better job, as a community, working with the problem of homelessness.

In the end it turns out that this hearing was more about the paint job of the lockers then religious rights or social justice. The City’s argument against the lockers came across as a poor attempt to suppress a problem rather than uphold the zoning codes. The church didn’t have an architectural drawing of the western relief of the building with color palette. The board was obviously frustrated by the whole thing.

The board ruled in favor of the church, entrusting the church to manage the program wisely. The public outpouring made this decision possible. It is now up to us to make sure this project works.

One enormous outcome of this hearing was dozens of people coming together, with three minutes each, to share their emotions, and compassion for our fellow humans. Since so many people did such a good job of that, I decided to talk about how the humanity wasn’t the issue.

You plus two

U+2 is a law passed in the 1960’s to stop hippies and “undesirables” from living together. It says that no more than 3 unrelated people can live together. Family size is not limited.

Obviously we need to protect the quality of our neighborhoods. Nobody wants problem neighbors. That’s why we have a very robust nuisance code. It doesn’t matter if two unrelated people are the problem neighbor or if it’s eight rowdy cousins living together. A problem neighbor is a problem neighbor and the problem needs to be dealt with. We might need to better enforce our nuisance codes. We might need to institute progressive fines and stricter penalties. We do not need to infringe on peoples’ rights to co-habitate.

On some issues I identify as a libertarian. If you’re causing no harm, then you’re alright with me.

Bike and petty theft

Bike theft is out of control! This is a problem in many communities around the country and it is a bigger problem than it appears on the surface.

My bike was stolen last February and I started researching the topic. I started with a call to FCPD. I asked if the police were doing anything to stop bike theft. The officer on the phone literally laughed and said, “No, it’s too prevalent. There’s not much we can do.” Needless to say I was not satisfied with that answer so I did some more research.

That’s when I learned that bike theft is often tied to drug abuse, other crime, and national theft rings. My bike may have been on the East Coast within days of losing it. This is a big problem for a few reasons. 1.) Bike theft funds other crime. 2.) When criminals see how easy it is to steal a bike they are encouraged to steal other things. 3.) Bike theft rings bring bigger criminals to town.

There is a very easy way to crack down on this problem. The cops could set a sting with a dozen bikes around town implanted with GPS trackers. The cops could sit at their favorite …coffee shop… and wait for the trackers to move. When the trackers move and/or converge on a location, BAM, move in bust the mothathievers!  Do this enough times and the ring leaders will get the message that FoCo ain’t the town for them.

Affordability

We are in danger of loving ourselves to death. We have done such a good job as a community that everyone wants to live here. That is something to be proud of, but it also brings challenges that, if ignored, will turn Fort Collins into Boulder. This is a problem that requires creativity, collaboration, and execution. I have several ideas to discuss to improve the affordability of living in town:

1) Remove the “You + 2” ordinance that limits the number of unrelated people that can live in a house. First of all, it is discriminatory to say that a family of four can live in a house but not four unrelated people. Secondly, the fastest way to reduce rent is to bring in more roommates. This also relieves demand pressure on our housing stock. We have laws on the books to prevent the problems that “You + 2” is supposed to address. It is redundant and a perfect example of government overreach and intrusion on personal liberty and rights.

2) Improve the water and energy efficiency of our buildings. Housing cost is more than rent or mortgage. The average home in America can reduce energy bills 20% through efficiency investment. Many places to rent in FTC can save more like 50% on bills through efficiency. Our current efficiency programs are helping the wealthier residents in town. We need to prioritize lower income households for efficiency improvements. New construction needs to be held accountable to a higher efficiency standard.

3) Remove the tax on food. Food tax is regressive, hurting those who can least afford it. We can replace it (as well as tiered electric rates) with a progressive energy tax or a different tax that doesn’t effect low income residents.

4) Improve public transportation. A vehicle is expensive! Transfort has greatly improved since 2008 when I first worked on a project to create a better transit system in Fort Collins, but we have a long way to go. A dedicated transit district (like the library or fire department) might be needed to secure funding that doesn’t compete with the general fund. This would also free up money in the general fund for things like a pool in South East FTC or an additional rainy day fund.

5) Out of town landlords are a huge drain of dollars from our economy. We need to discuss how to keep those dollars in town. Investment property tax? Rent control? This is a big conversation that isn’t happening.

6) Last and maybe most importantly, we should be relieving immigration (and price) pressure by helping other communities to be as attractive as we are. Let Pueblo get some development and high paying primary employers. Help Hays Kansas to become “Tree City, USA”. We don’t need all the awards and write ups.

As of July 2018 it appears that the city is doing little besides planning a few subsidized housing projects. This will be great for the relatively few residents who will live there. What about our thousands of restaurant and service industry workers who are spending over 50% of their income on housing?

If you have comments or other ideas, please share. Thank you!

 

Full-Time City Council

Link to Fort Collins Full-Time Council

Did you know that a council member only gets paid $9,801 per year? That pays for about seven hours of work per week (at average FTC wage). When Fort Collins was a small town that might have made sense. These days, the idea of working under ten hours per week as council member is laughable (and sad). Between research, meetings, travel, constituent concerns, and community events a council member’s workload SHOULD easily reach 40 hours per week. It is unfair labor practice to pay our city leaders so little and the low salary keeps many good candidates from applying for the job. About half of city council has other jobs that preclude them from doing the best they can with council. Paying our city council the Area Median Income (currently about $57,000/yr, the same as a maintenance tech or bus driver) would attract more talent and competition and give our council members the time needed to do a top notch job. All of the challenges we face will be better addressed by having a full-time council.

Is that something that you agree with? Leave a comment to voice your opinion.

Leadership from the Community

Fort Collins is awash with talent and knowledge in our community, yet the City is losing it’s leadership edge. We need to harness the power of our citizens and businesses to propel Fort Collins into the future and to become a beacon for others to follow. It is not only an opportunity afforded to us by our highly educated, talented, and driven citizens; it is our responsibility to maximize this power for good.

Climate Action Plan

The Climate Action Plan (CAP) is the city’s plan to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to do our part to mitigate climate change. It is an enormous undertaking for the city that encompasses everything we do. I think in the future we may look back and laugh that we called this the “Climate Action Plan” and not the “Community Action Plan”. My agenda to pursue transparency, integrity, and performance will be put to the test with this project and I will put city staff to the test to ensure that we are doing this efficiently and effectively to the benefit of Fort Collins citizens.

My greatest hope for this plan is that it will cause us to think differently about our everyday practices as a city and make the rational decisions and take the rational actions that we know we should take regardless of the CAP. Example: Making our lower-income homes more energy efficient (insulation, lights, appliances) will prevent economic leakage by using money that is currently wasted on excess natural gas and electricity to instead pay local contractors to fix older homes. It will make living spaces more comfortable and occupants more productive. It will also reduce our climate impact. But it requires high performance work from our city staff and I intend to make that happen.

My biggest fear is that the CAP will become a bureaucratic bog where good ideas sink in despair and valuable tax dollars are wasted on unnecessary study and inept execution. Example: Instead of actually making lower-income houses more efficient we spend all our resources updating carbon models and subsidizing unnecessary remodels for wealthy home-owners. As of April 2016 this is what is happening. If we can’t change this direction then I will advocate for scrapping the Climate Action Plan all together and pursuing a different avenue to achieve our objectives.

The Climate Action Plan is going to require vigilance from a strong city council to ensure that staff is living up to expectations and serving the community in the best way possible.

Is that something that you agree with? Please comment below.