Byars on Carbondale mayoral bid: ‘I’m made of this place’
Editor’s note: This is the first of three stories on Carbondale mayoral candidates. Ed Cortez will be featured Thursday and Dan Richardson on Friday.
In a year of unusual upheaval on the Carbondale Board of Trustees, Katrina Byars hopes to bring continuity in her bid for mayor.
At a little more than two years into her first term, she is the second longest serving trustee on the current board. She’s also a Roaring Fork Valley native who went to Basalt and Carbondale public schools and received her associate of science and bachelor’s of sustainability from Colorado Mountain College.
“I’ve been here my whole life. I raised my family here,” she said. “I’m made of this place. I’m in love with it.”
Self-described as “part cowgirl, part hippie, part civil planner,” Byars calls becoming a mother at 17 the best thing that ever happened to her.
“You start to see the world through fresh eyes,” she said. “It gave me a clarity of purpose and a desire to make the world a better place.”
She initially ran for trustee in an effort to protect the watershed — particularly the Thompson Divide where she grew up camping and hiking. She is also fond of rafting, bird watching and downhill skiing. She doesn’t see municipal government as too small to make a difference on the environmental front.
“We basically need to invoke rights given to us by the state and federal government to say what happens in our source water protection area,” she said.
Her ultimate platform, however, is broader than her motivating passion. In particular, she hopes to bring town parks into compliance with disabilities access, see more official publications printed in Spanish and help seniors get consistently nutritious meals.
“Everyone pays sales tax. It should benefit everyone,” she said. “You can’t only serve the people access is already granted for.”
While she can do some good as a trustee, Byars feels the mayorship would help her bring equality to the forefront.
“Essentially, the mayor says what we talk about and how we talk about it,” she said. “There are some things I can do if I’m the mayor that maybe won’t happen if I’m not.”
She also sees herself as a representative of the working class.
“Our family relocated several times, driven really by rent. I have been a housekeeper, a dishwasher, a baker,” she said. “I know that it’s a struggle for working people to make ends meet because that has been my experience.”
Indeed, she made headlines around the country for being briefly homeless while doing her best to stay inside city limits. It’s not the first time she chose to stay put despite better prospects elsewhere — she opted not to relocate her kids, now 15 and 18, in order to go to school for alternative medicine — but it was the most public. Although she didn’t relish the attention, she was glad her plight drew attention to the national and local housing shortage.
“My hope was that it would show that everyone is affected and no one is immune. Now I get to show that we can make it through,” she said. “We still have to address the problem, but this community really took care of me.”
Now, she’s the manager of Dandelion Market, formerly the Carbondale Food Co-Op, using skills she learned working with Gina Stryker of Gina Cucina.
Unsurprisingly for a woman who used to make her own clothes, she’s disinclined toward “plastic campaign signs from China,” and instead is hosting sign-crafting parties with reclaimed cardboard. She also broke with tradition by telling the Post Independent’s editorial board that she probably won’t seek a second term. If elected, she would serve as mayor only for the duration of her current trustee term, which expires in a year and a half.
In the end, she believes both environmental and social justice come down to looking back and looking ahead.
“A big part of why we have what we have is because of the long-range thinkers who set us up,” she said. “It’s up to us to make sure it stays that way.”
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