Daily Camera guest opinion: Guest Sina Simantob: An expansive view of CU South

·4 min read

Sep. 20—By Sina Simantob

Spend just two minutes. Dedicate two full minutes to really look at, even meditate on, the expansive picture of CU South from the City of Boulder website https://bit.ly/3zqgTZv.

The picture, of course, is of the plot bounded by the Boulder turnpike and Table Mesa/South Boulder Roads. There at the bottom left is Table Mesa Park-N- Ride. Just below that and outside the frame is the major intersection with Foothills Parkway. In the middle of the picture you'll see a larger body of water along with two smaller ones all fed by South Boulder creek. Now imagine the view of this same property from the vantage point of one driving from Denver, cresting the turnpike at Davidson Mesa, then dropping down for the first view of the city. Wow, you say, this seems to be more of a town than a city, all nestled cozily within natural beauty. This pictured plot, of course, is what's known as CU South.

CU purchased the property in 1996 after the city turned down the opportunity. The plot remained county, not city, property. As such, owners have no current access to Boulder's amenities, like municipal water supply, fire/police protection, etc. The issue out there today is all about changing that relationship, to have CU South "annexed" by the city. As such, it would be subject to rights, responsibilities, limitations, and benefits as set forth in an annexation agreement.

CU apparently plans at some point to develop the property into another campus, though the specifics about such development remain undefined. What's driving the process at fever pitch right now is the city's need for flood control/mitigation. The city requires access to CU South to accomplish any long-term flood control solution. CU is quite aware of how important this is to the city. That element has the city panting at the bargaining table.

There may, of course, be other matters of possible mutual interest. Fine, serve them up and let the voters evaluate them on their own merits in the fullness of time. The problem is there is no fullness of time within this artificially compressed timeframe. Don't insult the voters with some song-and-dance story about packaged wonderfulness. The effort has the look and feel of a shotgun wedding and everyone knows it.

Rushed processes often lead to "suboptimal" outcomes. Just read the last draft agreement and visualize the enabled buildout — construction of a brand new campus along with third-party development, including non-campus housing and straight commercial. Look beyond the seductive words and fancy visuals of the P.R. firm and recall the refrain "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

"Rushed," you say?, "this matter has been in the works for some time now." Yes, the parties have been on a seemingly arduous climb over many years, sometimes outside the public eye. One may climb a tall ladder only to find, upon nearing the top rung, that the ladder has been leaning against the wrong wall all along.

There is then some effort to frame the whole thing in terms of "morals." Individuals have morals . . . entities have contracts.

All in all, the most troubling aspect lies with the hurried process. City Council seems hell-bent on approving the agreement at its meeting tonight. That rush seems curious given the parallel citizen-initiated Referendum, scheduled mere weeks thereafter, that would clarify the citizen stance

Representative government rests on the notion that the representatives purport to represent the will of the constituency. Yes, and the voter attitude regarding CU South will be registered in early November, not only with respect to the referenced Referendum but in the election of a new council, whose members, almost by definition, are most aligned with current voter sentiment. There seems to be some confusion on the part of the council as to how it sees its role i.e. to represent the constituency or to sell it something.

Where we find ourselves today may be attributable to a sunk cost fallacy, the well-established behavioral phenomenon describing a tendency to continue on an endeavor in which one has already invested time, effort, and money whether or not the current and prospective costs or efforts outweigh the benefits. At the risk of making the process sound cynical, perhaps it's time for fresh eyes and a fresh perspective.

CU South annexation should be tabled pending the results of the November election. An alternative would be for any approval to be contingent on the results of the Referendum, not only as a show of good faith, but to avoid the protracted legal battle that would otherwise certainly follow.

Sina Simantob is the founder of Highland Institute, a Boulder-based advocacy group for the advancement of humanity.

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