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Boulder is using city’s racial equity plan to guide decisions, but there’s still work to be done


As vaccines became more readily available over the summer, Boulder started hosting mobile vaccine clinics targeting the city’s unhoused residents and communities of color.

These clinics led to 97 doses being administered at the city’s Atrium building near Central Park, more than half of which were given to unsheltered community members. An additional 352 doses were administered at Crest View Elementary School and Orchard Grove mobile home park.

It’s possible this work wouldn’t have happened, or wouldn’t have been as effective, without the city’s racial equity instrument, a six-step process used to make decisions that includes identifying desired outcomes, collecting data and determining who stands to benefit and who bears the burden of a particular policy.

“This really led to (conversations about) where to hold the clinic, how to improve outreach, how to reduce barriers that might keep people from participating, including not requiring advance registration and providing Spanish interpretation on site,” Engagement Specialist Ryan Hanschen said in Tuesday’s Boulder City Council study session.

In the first year of implementation of the city’s racial equity plan, Boulder has used its racial equity instrument in discussions about advancing racial equity, COVID-19 recovery, homelessness, housing and police oversight.

It guided the city as it selected members of Boulder’s police oversight panel and contributed to a decision to eliminate a six-month residency requirement for those looking to access homelessness services, according to a staff memo from Tuesday’s meeting.

Still, despite some of the racial equity work highlighted in Tuesday’s discussion, there is work to be done, particularly in terms of understanding the impact of the city’s efforts and the continued push to put racial equity at the forefront of policy decisions.

“It still feels at some times aspirational,” Mayor Pro Tem Rachel Friend said. “How do we get to the point where … we don’t even have to think about it or ask the question, ‘cause it’s just so incorporated into every aspect of what we do.”

Councilmember Bob Yates agreed, referencing something the Council opted against in 2019: a fee based on a vehicle’s fuel economy. After discussion, he said the City Council realized no one considered equity. Many of those who drive vehicles that are less fuel-efficient do so out of necessity, Yates said.

“It was kind of like an aha moment at the end of the discussion,” he said. “To Rachel’s point, I think what we’re trying to learn is how do we bring those types of conversations to the front of a policy decision as opposed to having that be almost an afterthought.”

Moving forward, all those who spoke in Tuesday’s meeting agreed they’d like to know more about the specific changes implemented as a result of the racial equity plan as well any successes related to Boulder’s racial equity work.

“I think that would help me to know what to reach for in the future,” Councilmember Tara Winer said.

Further, councilmembers said it would be helpful to receive a walkthrough of the racial equity instrument in use so as to better understand how it works. Likewise, it could be helpful to consider displaying the work being done and the progress that’s been made in an understandable way on the city’s website, councilmembers suggested.

The City Council will receive another official update around the first anniversary of the racial equity plan, adopted in February 2021.

There are a number of actions slated for 2022, including continued equity trainings for city staff, boards, commissions and City Council; creation of a racial affinity policy and groups for city staff; and improvement of processes for the city’s various boards and commissions.

It’s important for members of City Council to participate in the trainings and workshops in order to ensure they’re making decisions based on race and ethnicity data, Equity Program Manager Aimee Kane noted.

But that doesn’t discount the importance of qualitative data, according to Kane.

“I think it’s really important also that as policymakers, when you’re hearing testimonials from community members that you listen, you believe the stories,” she said. “It’s very easy to get focused on the numerical data, but the qualitative data is equally important and inspiring.”

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