Enough is Enough! Even This Boulder Co. Town Wants to Move on From Radical Anti-Fracking Proposal
Members of the Lafayette City Council on Tuesday pushed back against an extreme proposal that would have essentially shielded anti-fracking protesters from legal consequences for lawbreaking civil disobedience, like setting up blockades or trespassing.
As promised, city council member and founder of anti-fracking activist group East Boulder County United (EBCU) Merrily Mazza continued her push to add a “direct action” provision to the city’s “Climate Bill of Rights” (BOR) and requested the council put the measure up for a vote during their next meeting. The only problem is, the council unanimously voted to strip that language from the BOR one year ago when the measure was originally passed — and for good reason. As the Boulder Daily Camera reported, the “direct action” provision would “allow protesters almost unprecedented immunity from arrest or detainment.”
While Lafayette has humored Mazza and requests from anti-fracking activists in the past, the council shut down the discussion during last night’s meeting. No members agreed to put the provision up for a vote nor to slate time for further discussion.
After Mazza introduced the measure — which was the last item for discussion at the end of a several hours-long meeting, Mayor Christine Berg made clear her position on the matter:
“The language… I don’t think it’s enforceable, the language is loose, it’s hard to interpret, I don’t think it needs to be in our code.”
While Mazza pushed her fellow council members, who were clearly against the idea from the get-go, she made the argument that adding “direct action” to the BOR would mark “a very powerful political statement for our community.”
Though multiple council members expressed sympathy for the position of the activists, they all unequivocally shut down the latest proposal and took issue with the motivation of acting for political purposes. Councilmember Jamie Harkins admitted to protesting herself in the past, but disagreed with the “direct action” provision just the same:
“I want to make sure we do this the most effective way as possible. As someone who has many years under my belt of developing city policy I found the language, though well-meaning, really vague and the definition of direct action, to me that could, how it reads, sanction things that… definitely things that are not non-violent.”
Councilmember Alexandra Lynch expressed a “frustration” that so much time and resources were being poured into this singular issue.
“I would also point out that making a political statement and at the same time potentially there are unintended consequences, it puts our police department in an odd position, and there is a lack of specificity around what that protection means… and how It could be truly applied and have standing…
“… There is a certain frustration for me in this portion of the constituency’s perception that we’re either talking about fracking or trivial things like snow removal… it isn’t trivial stuff or fracking, it’s affordable housing, it’s the comp plan, it’s preparing ourselves for redevelopment…it’s a lot of really important stuff that keeps getting delayed and delayed and delayed because nothing comes up on the agenda until it’s about 9:30 [p.m.].”
Instead, members agreed to examine the city’s criminal code and asked the city attorney for suggestions on how to do so.
Though Mazza accepted the reality that her motion had been unanimously shut down, her cohorts at EBCU did not.
As the Boulder Daily Camera reported, EBCU’s attorney sent a letter to Lafayette threatening legal action if the city authorizes oil and gas activities in the municipality. The attorney, Karen Breslin, is also an environmental policy and politics professor at the University of Colorado-Denver. The letter claims that language in the city’s current “Climate Bill of Rights” bans such activity and alleges that if the city doesn’t restore the BOR to its original form (with the “direct action” provision included) or allows oil and gas permits in the town, then legal action would be looming. No matter that the Colorado Supreme Court has already ruled that local bans are illegal, rendering any action by Lafayette mute.
Councilmember Mazza doesn’t maintain much distance between her role as a public official and the group she founded. Her son is one of EBCU’s current leaders. Ahead of last night’s City Council meeting, Mazza left a video message on EBCU’s Facebook page, letting members know she was pushing for the provision for the second time in a year.
EBCU has also been extremely active in supporting efforts by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) to entice Lafayette to enter into meritless and costly litigation that would fight for a local ban on oil and gas development, much like what EBCU and Breslin are advocating for.
So, as Mazza is unable to exert her influence on the City Council, she is turning to outside means in order to achieve the same result. For the time being it appears that Lafayette is standing its ground, but we will wait and see how far EBCU is willing to push the city.