Town Board Work Session: October 22, 2018

Town Board Work Session: October 22, 201812 min read

TL;DR: The Board discussed transportation improvement projects, and decided to prioritize an extension of the US 36 Bikeway when the Denver Regional Council of Governments puts out a call for projects to receive grant funding in January 2019. The Board also discussed alternative platforms to the CAC email listserv, and decided to pilot a Google Group and Superior subreddit while keeping the CAC for one more year.

Hi neighbors! Ballots came out last week, and there are two weeks left before they’re due back on November 6th. Have you voted yet? Remember – I’m “last on the ballot, your first choice!” 🙂 If you’ve already voted, thank you so much and please tell your friends to follow suit. Our Town Trustee race will likely come down to just a hundred or so votes, so even more than the big state / national races, every single vote can make a huge difference.

In the interest of getting updates out to you faster, I decided to split coverage of the Town Board Work Session and Town Board Meeting, even though they occurred one right after the other. Last night’s Town Board Work Session covered some topics that I am really passionate about, and have been talking about a lot on social media – so I thought it would be good to get this recap out ASAP even if I’m still working on the Board Meeting notes.

(As a side note, in order to provide thorough coverage of what happened in meetings, I watch each meeting anywhere from 2-4 times, plus replay certain key parts over and over. Add that to writing, editing, editorializing, and pulling in relevant links / materials from around the web, and a full meeting recap can take me 20+ hours to pull together! I am very hopeful that if I am elected, I can get the Town to start using machine learning to automatically generate meeting transcripts, and also create a student internship program that will help publish these even faster. Either way, I’m still beating the Town’s current average time to publish notes on their website – which is 46 days post-meeting. Yikes.)

On to the recap!

2018-10-22 Town Board Work Session Word Cloud

DRCOGS Funding

Every four years, the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) adopts a Transportation Improvement Program and evaluates funding for projects. In 2015, Superior had three projects approved and received $1.7M in federal funds: $423K for our Call-N-Ride, $600K to construct the trail from the McCaslin BRT / Park N Ride to the McCaslin pedestrian underpass and onto Coal Creek Trail, and $697K to construct the trail from the McCaslin BRT / Park N Ride to the US-36 pedestrian underpass at Davidson Mesa. (Details here.)

This year, DRCOG is changing its selection process, and has asked each county to set up a “subregional” forum allocate some of the funds. Superior is considered part of both the Boulder and Jefferson county subregional forums, with a call for projects expected in January 2019. The first part of the Board Work Session was designated to prioritize the potential projects up for consideration. Public Works Director Alex Ariniello presented five projects that Town Staff identified for consideration – see a map here, and my table cheat sheet below.

DRCOG TIP Proposed Projects

The first project identified is the creation of a Marshall Road Underpass – to allow people to get between Louisville and Superior without having to cross Marshall Road at a high-speed location. After speaking with our consultant for the Northwest Subarea Planning about the project, Director Ariniello believes it would benefit Louisville more than Superior, because there are more people coming inbound to Superior (and Marshall Mesa) than outbound – so while Staff is supportive of it, Director Ariniello believes that Superior shouldn’t take the lead on this project; it should be led by Louisville / Boulder County.

The second potential project is improvements to 88th Street, which the town has already budgeted for 2019. Improvements here would be the addition of a multi-modal trail as well as a bike lane. Staff also noted that the earliest this project could be completed with federal funds would be 2020.

The third project is improvements to Campus Drive – specifically, reconstruction of a two-lane bridge connecting Avista Hospital to downtown Superior. This would improve access from Louisville to downtown Superior, as well as access from downtown Superior to Avista Hospital and Monarch High School.

The fourth proposed project is a new multi-use trail along McCaslin – the Town would pave the current crushed gravel trail that goes from High Plains down to Coalton Road, and then extend the trail up the hill from Calamante to Indiana (which is part of our Parks’ Department’s long term plan.)

Finally, the fifth option is to extend the US 36 Bikeway (paved) trail. With this project, we’d construct a 12-foot wide concrete trail along the south side of US 36 from the existing US 36 Bikeway bridge (near Avista Hospital) east under the US 36/88th Street bridge and then east to
W. Flatirons Crossing Drive. And it was this project that kicked off the discussion, as Mayor Folsom said it was his favorite pick because he’s tried to get from the bikeway to 88th Street and had trouble doing so. Mayor Folsom also pointed out that this project is adjacent to the Toll Brothers property, and Director Ariniello said that he’s already been in touch with them about working together and having them fund part of the project.

With respect to the DRCOG grant, Trustee Lacis asked whether we are committed to the project if we apply for the grant. As he pointed out, the Campus Drive project is $15M; Trustee Lacis was concerned that even if we got the grant for $5M, we’d still have to fund $10M – and that’s a big decision to make quickly. Director Ariniello replied that realistically, he thinks we should look at proposing projects in the $1-2M grant range, since we are in competition with other municipalities like Boulder and Longmont for these grants.

Trustee Pennington said that Campus Drive is highly strategic and at the top of her list. However, Director Ariniello said he’s already had talks with Louisville and the Campus Drive project is at the bottom of their list. Since we would have to fund it jointly, this doesn’t bode well for the project.

Trustee Lacis says he is in favor of going after the projects that most benefit our residents, like the trailways and bikeways. He’s less in favor of the Marshall Road underpass, because that would primarily benefit residents of other towns who are passing through Superior.

Trustee Pennington pointed out that the McCaslin trail project already has funds set aside for it from the open space fund, so she would prefer to leave that item funded as-is and focus on other projects for this money. She also noted that while 88th Street is a priority, we already have developer funds for that.

There were several questions about how the decision is made as to which projects to fund, and which criteria are used. This surprised me, as the high-level selection criteria were already listed in the cover memo. In the meeting, Director Ariniello noted that one criteria is that the project should affect multiple jurisdictions.

With that in mind, Trustee Kevin Ryan said his top three picks are the 36 bikeway extension (since it currently adds 1.5 miles to the trip), 88th Street improvements, and the McCaslin Trail. He said that he’s okay waiting on the Marshall Road Underpass and Campus Drive, and Trustee Lacis agreed with that prioritization.

The Board decided to prioritize the fifth option, the US 36 Bikeway Extension, because it affects multiple municipalities, is something the community has been asking for, and is also a reasonable cost for us to decide to go in on now (the proposal is for $500K from Superior, $2M in grants).

CAC Email Listserv Alternatives

For the second half of the Work Session, Town Management Analyst Emily Clapper presented alternatives to the current CAC listserv provider. For those who aren’t aware, the CAC began in 2000 as a way to communicate with residents around development proposals; it’s evolved over the years to become an all-purpose discussion board for Town residents. Members are verified as residents by Town Staff before being added (a plus, in my opinion), though can post by any name (I would rather see full legal names required to limit trolling). Today, the CAC reaches 479 residents at a cost of $1,300/year. This cost does not include archiving; messages are not publicly viewable outside of the emails, which in my opinion is a major flaw. More on the history of the CAC here in the Work Session cover memo.

Analyst Clapper kicked off with an overview of Google Groups, noting that Google Groups does not require any kind of account to read the post. However, you must have an account to write a post. Similarly, Yahoo Groups requires you to have a Yahoo email address in order to post, though you do not need a Yahoo account to read the messages. I don’t think needing to create an account in order to post is an issue, but if we’re choosing between the two, Google accounts are much more ubiquitous in today’s modern age. (For a laugh, see: The Oatmeal.)

Finally, Analyst Clapper looked at Reddit as another possibility. For those who aren’t aware, Reddit is an online forum rather than an email mechanism, but it has the advantage of using “upvotes” (when people click to like something) and “downvotes” (when people click to dislike something). This would resolve some concerns around moderation, because the community would be somewhat self-moderating. Any post with more downvotes than upvotes wouldn’t be censored or disappear entirely, but it would fall to the bottom of the thread and be less visible. Although of course trolls can still pop up, Reddit’s structure tends to avoid fanning their flames. (For some bonus reading, here’s an interesting long-form article on how Reddit has struggled to set rules around content.)

Trustee Lacis said that he thinks the CAC has served its purpose and it’s time to move on to modern technology. He said that when he lived in Denver, he was a user of the r/denver subreddit (for non-Redditors, a “subreddit” or “sub” is a topic / community; this is what the Town would create), and that it worked well even without formal moderators. Trustee Lacis also pointed out that with today’s CAC, when people write helpful posts, they aren’t archived; with Reddit, everything is archived forever and easily searchable. I agree – whether we go with an email-based solution or not, one of the requirements needs to be the presence of an online archive.

Personally, I am a regular user of Reddit, and especially love r/orangetheory for discussing and comparing workouts with internet friends around the country. Even in that sub, it’s really helpful to be able to search the archives from years ago for information that is still relevant today – and that would be even more applicable to Town topics. The search function on Reddit is reasonably robust, and would allow users to either search within specific time periods or search the entire history of the sub, helping to avoid repetition. Furthermore, we could have a few “pinned” posts as an FAQ for newcomers, and could also make use of the announcement feature to let people know of important Town events and meetings.

Trustee Lacis suggested that the Town create both a Google Group and a subreddit, and see which one takes with the community. However, he cautioned that whichever solution we choose, we need to make sure to publicize it and encourage people to use it. I like the idea of launching both as a pilot experiment, then getting feedback – it is exactly what I encourage my clients to do rather than going all-in with one solution only to find out it doesn’t work as intended. In some cases you do need to migrate big bang to something, but in this case, it’s free and relatively easy for us to do both and see which is better.

In the meantime, the Board decided to wait at least a year before shutting down the CAC. This allows time to test a new solution and migrate CAC user base over, without cutting people off immediately from something that has been around for so long. For $1300, it’s a small price to pay to ensure we have a better solution before moving off our current platform.

Trustee Hammerly pointed out (and Trustee Pennington agreed) that it would have been ideal if we could have had this conversation in a few weeks when the new Board members join, because several candidates are very adept with social media. That’s me! 🙂 If elected, one thing I’d like to push for quickly is more Town communications / information on social media. I think it’s important for us to go out to where people already are (e.g., Facebook) rather than requiring them to put effort in and come to us (e.g., digging through the Granicus files on the town website).

In general, our Town puts a lot of information out there, but we bury it and make it onerous for residents to find out what’s going on. While Thornton is a much bigger city than ours, I love their “Thornton 360” videos – ten minute clips that provide info on what’s going on in town and what the City Council is doing. I don’t think we should spend money on a fully-produced TV program like this, but I’d like to see us leverage social media to create informal two minute videos / recaps of what’s going on. Rather than requiring residents to come to the Town for information, let’s meet them where they already are. (More on this idea in my blog post here.)

Getting back to the Work Session, Trustee Mark Lacis closed by noting that there is a pending lawsuit against a Thornton councilperson who allegedly deleted comments she didn’t like from her Facebook page (more details here), and that we’ll need to be careful to define our rules for moderation. He also added that the Board should have a conversation about whether users should be allowed to be anonymous or not, and how we feel about anyone in the world being able to join. Analyst Clapper said that while Reddit itself will not moderate, there is still a possibility of creating a private community with local moderators.

Before I sign off from this recap, I’ll note that the Daily Camera covered this Reddit discussion here, if you’d like to give it a read.

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