Greenwashing is the act of making false claims or providing misleading information about the environmental benefits of a project or product. We have all seen it many times when an obviously unsustainable product like a diesel car or bottled water labels itself “green.” Fearmongering is the act of deliberately arousing public fear or alarm for political gain. Neither is a good thing.
When it comes to the CU South annexation and the 100-year flood mitigation proposal, CU and the city are engaged in both — stoking fears of past and future floods and pretending an unnecessary non-residential development will be green.
First, CU doesn’t need a new campus and non-residential buildings in Boulder and would be better off repurposing what it already has. CU’s greenwash involves selling Boulder on 750,000 square feet of new non-residential development and a new 3,000-seat stadium specified in the CU South annexation agreement. CU has not agreed to cap enrollment at the Boulder campus which topped 36,000 in 2022. If CU’s recent annual growth rate continues, the Boulder campus will top 45,000 students by 2030 with no end in sight.
Second, CU’s proposed development is not a housing solution and will likely make the situation worse. The non-residential development and stadium at CU South could add 1,900 — 3,900 more unhoused residents to Boulder by adding jobs and classroom space for 3,000 – 5,000 non-freshman students, faculty and staff but only 1,100 housing units. It is not a real housing solution for Boulder. Furthermore, all but around a hundred of these housing units will be market rate, not affordable.
Repealing the CU South annexation sends a clear message that CU’s endless growth must be curbed.
CU and the city are also greenwashing the open space story at CU South. The amount of dedicated open space at CU South has shrunk considerably over the years. In 1981, the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan listed 220 acres for future Open Space, leaving 88 acres as suitable for development. Under the current annexation agreement, CU has the ability to develop 129 acres. The land for Open Space and flood mitigation was reduced to just 155 acres, and virtually all of this land is in the South Boulder Creek floodplain and could not be developed in any event.
The flood risks associated with South Boulder Creek and the CU South property have been known for decades, yet CU owned this property for 25 years without offering up its land for flood mitigation. Then in 2019 when Boulder City Council tentatively approved a 500-year flood mitigation plan, CU wrote a letter opposing the proposal and effectively killing it, because the plan used too much of CU’s developable land. The truth is, CU has never been in any rush to assist the City with flood mitigation at CU South until it smelled the long-awaited opportunity for annexation.
When it comes to climate change, we all know there is no Planet B, which is why our actions today are so critical. When it comes to South Boulder Creek, there is no other natural floodplain and once it is developed, and the natural floodplain destroyed, there is no going back. But if we vote yes and repeal the annexation agreement a different path forward that recognizes climate change and respects the floodplain is possible. The city received a wise set of recommendations for CU South in 2001 from Prof. Gilbert White.
In 2001, White convened a panel of international experts who studied the South Boulder Creek floodplain and the CU South property. The independent review panel’s report (available at www.repealcusouth.org) recommends early warning, evacuation planning and education first and foremost. It also recommends protection against floods up to and exceeding 500-year recurrence.
White’s 1942 University of Chicago doctoral dissertation “Human Adjustment to Floods,” challenged the notion that natural hazards are best addressed by engineering solutions like the proposed flood dam at CU South. Instead of engineered solutions, White found that loss of life and damage from floods and other natural disasters may be better avoided by modifying human behavior to reduce potential harm. “Floods are ‘acts of god,’ but flood losses are largely acts of man,” he wrote.
Climate change is very real and that means Boulder will likely experience bigger and different floods than in the past. Repealing the CU South annexation is the path toward protecting the entire natural South Boulder Creek floodplain, preserving additional high-value open space and implementing mitigation that protects against 500-year floods as was originally intended for this former gravel mining site. “Yes” to repeal opens the door to actually protecting public safety, acknowledges climate science and protects and restores the environment for people and Open Space resources.
Peter Mayer is a PLAN-Boulder County Board co-chair and one of the five original petitioners for the CU South annexation repeal. email@example.com