A Different Frame for Co-op Debate


To:  All Members of Boulder City Council

Re:  Co-op Proposal

We urge you to look at the co-op debate in a different frame. This is not a choice between your co-op idea and NIMBYs. Those of us who oppose co-ops because they will erode the joy of our homes and the stability of our neighborhoods cannot be dismissed as NIMBYs. We are ecosystems. We’re interlocking fingers of many hands. We are networks—long term relationships—with each other, with the love of our homes, with the city that we want to trust and with its dependable zoning laws, the real stabilizing force of any city.

The life of our ecosystems cannot take more crowding. Co-ops would increase the destructive forces of thoughtless developments that are already bulldozing our ecosystems. If you bulldozed Boulder Canyon, put the creek in a tube and overran the riparian zone with apartment buildings would you justify it by calling the ecosystem you destroyed a NIMBY?

The pro co-op forces vilify as NIMBYs the very neighbors they hope to join. Name calling people NIMBYs offers no answer to our objections, no evidence, no data and no “cooperation.” Dismissing and trying to overrun objections as NIMBYism does not justify bad policy. It’s a false justification for bullying. It blames the victim.

The supporters of co-ops in low density neighborhoods are spinning it with Orwellian doublespeak: There’s no such thing as a “rental co-op.” It’s a rental. There’s no such thing as “gentle infill.” It’s forced cramming. There’s no such thing as a stable “equity co-op.” They are risky, unstable ventures with multiple players who might barely know each other and quickly change individual life plans. There’s no such thing as co-ops “stabilizing” a neighborhood that’s already stable. They de-stabilize it. There’s no such thing as “density being the new environmentalism.” It’s the jam-packing of conflict. There’s no such thing as a permit system giving neighbors the “comfort” of a license renewal period. It’s abrasive from the very start.

As a positive alternative, you need to buck up and stop letting developers buy their way out of the affordable housing problem. And you need to stop selling Boulder out to runaway businesses that take no responsibility for housing their people.

Perhaps a little satire would help clarify the issue:

  • If this co-op idea is such pure gold, why aren’t you pressuring developers to build their projects with every third unit being a co-op? We wonder how those developments would sell.
  • Maybe you could install co-ops onto two floors of every one of the ugly, oversized apartment buildings that you’ve already given waivers to. That would “gently infill” them. We’re sure the big-money developers would feel all “stabilized.” If they don’t, call them NIMBYs.
  • Instead of pressuring neighborhoods, you could pressure the university to provide housing for their constantly growing populations of students that have already pushed our neighborhoods to the max. Maybe they could do “gentle infill” by putting co-ops into the luxury corporate boxes at Folsom Field or into their bloated administration offices. Maybe it would “stabilize” them.
  • Or you could pressure our firefighters and police and teachers and nurses to move their families into city staff offices. Just call them co-ops. If staff objects, just call them NIMBYs. Problem solved.

You’ve let growth get out of hand. So, you’ve created a ravenous wolf. And you’re holding it by the ears. We understand. It’s hard to ride it. And it’s hard to let go of it. But what you may not do, if you have any ethics or decency, is to turn that wolf loose on other people.

This plan is not the solution. We urge you to vote no. We urge you not to betray the promise and public trust of zoning laws and occupancy limits.

Support the lifeblood and security of our healthiest neighborhood ecosystems and their residents’ investments in love and treasure. Stand up for the true stability of Boulder, which is “housed” in its zoning laws and present occupancy limits.


John Roberts and Elaine Kohler, University Hill