This forum is a sounding board for a range of issues facing eastern Boulder County. I will prompt discussions with my posts and elected officials can tap into the concerns of citizens here, and explain their rationale on decisions. Follow along with the latest discussion by checking the list of recent comments on the right. You can comment with your name, a nickname or anonymously if you wish. You can become a contributor as well. Thank you for your comments!
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Friday, September 28, 2007

East BoCo Candidate Forums

Here are details to various candidate forums I've found for East Bock:

The League of Women Voters sponsored a forum on Saturday, September 29, it will be televised live on Cable Channel 8, and rebroadcast throughout the weeks leading up to the election.

The Lafayette Youth Advisory Committee held a forum on Saturday Sept. 29 at Canon Mine Coffee; hopefully they'll be some coverage Wednesday in the Lafayette News.

Council Candidates have been invited to participate in a forum sponsored by the Community Foundation Serving Boulder County and the Human Service Alliance on Friday October 5, 11:30 AM - 1:30 PM at the Lafayette Public Library, 775 West Baseline Road, Lafayette, CO 80026.

On Thursday, October 18 the League of Women Voters will sponsor a Candidates Night at City Hall in the Council Chambers at 6:30 pm. Candidates will have an opportunity to answer questions and share their opinions. This event is open to the public and will also be televised on Government Access Cable Channel 8 and will repeat throughout the weeks leading up to the election.

(From the TimesCall)The Longmont Area Democrats organization is devoting its monthly meeting to a candidates and issues forum from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday October 3 at the City Public Works Building, 375 Airport Road.

At 6:30 p.m. Oct. 11, voters can meet St. Vrain Valley school board and Longmont City Council and mayoral candidates at the 2007 Longmont Candidates Forum in the Albert E. James Auditorium at Longmont High School, 1040 Sunset St.

The mayoral and council candidates also have been invited to discuss their views on the Longmont area’s nonprofit organizations, and how local government can support such groups, during a Thursday luncheon sponsored by the Community Foundation Serving Boulder County. That 11:30 a.m.-to-1:30 p.m. Thursday forum will be at the Longmont Museum & Cultural Center’s museum classroom, 400 Quail Road.

What do you think of forums?What is the best format? My dealings with the 22-person/seven seat race in Boulder leads me to believe we need much higher signature thresholds to get on the ballot.

Louisville Council Considers Resolution Defending Itself

Louisville's citizen petition-borne ballot issue 2A seeks to switch authority for revitalization efforts (specifically financial decisions) currently given to the Louisville Revitalization Commission back to City Council. The opponents argue that's how things are already set up, proponents see an appointed body having control of millions of dollars. So besides the public getting two versions of the truth, the City Council last week debated passing a resolution in opposition to 2A, an interesting effort - can a Council make a formal resolution against an issue to which it is a party? I guess so. But isn't it redundant? If they agreed with the ballot supporters point, they would have done what they asked. By the ballot issue's own existence, Council has shown its opposition, so what's the point of taking time making it official? There was going to be clarifying language in the resolution regarding Council's ultimate authority; they'll take it up again next week.

Of course this plays into the conspiratorial assertions of the ballot supporters. I can't see the distinction being made by the ballot proponents. It appears to me the City Council has final approval power over any of the LRC's decisions. Check out the voluminous detail on why that interpretation is wrong at www.preservelouisville.org.

(The Louisville City website is down this morning, I couldn't create any links to topics)

Lafayette Candidates Need Better Questions

Lafayette's City Administrator Gary Klaphake's job performance has somehow become a highlighted election issue, as opposed to the goals, successes and vision of the current and future Council itself. In the Lafayette News this week, two candidates are spotlighted, Alex Schatz (whom we know well) and Bob Brown (anybody have context on Bob?) . As I read through the articles I see the typical "What qualifies you for Council" question, an open ended (and hyperbole-inducing response by Brown) question on key issues, then a specific reference to Councilor and candidate Kerry Bensman's suggestion Klaphake should be replaced, and what do the candidates think of that.


What a lousy tone and topic to inject into a candidate debate. I know Kerry's felt strongly about this, and that's fine. He should pursue that as he sees fit. But for the paper to champion the cause of one candidate as an across the board campaign issue is way off base. This isn't a policy or vision question, as Councilors should address, it's a potential personnel choice, with an undercurrent of scape-goating and mis-applied responsibility. It's not even and off-base topic people know much about, like should Silver Mine Subs stay open late, or do we need another cop on Hwy 287, or where the heck's the Cheese Importers? Just asking the question asserts a premise most people aren't qualified to evaluate. I want to know what Councilors intend to achieve, not who they intend to hire and fire. It should be a solid assumption of the citizens the Council will direct staff and move people in and out as necessary to achieve their goals. The Lafayette News needs better questions.

New Board Member Imminent In Erie

When Erie Trustee Dave Callahan announced this week he was moving to Denver he also resigned from the Board; the Board now gets to appoint his replacement and will likely do so October 23. This technique is far more efficient than Boulder's recent 14-candidates-for-one-three-month-long-Council-seat special election in July, however in the past Erie's appointment process exploded in accusations of impropriety (Although Callahan's appointment to a Board vacancy wasn't).

From the history files, an excerpt of my Yellow Scene column from February 2002:

The “good ol boys” image was highlighted in February, when Trustee Jennifer Engelbrecht resigned unexpectedly at a regular Board meeting. Trustees Haglin and Steve Skapyak were not present. When the remaining three Trustees (Martinez, Bob Stremel and Lynn Morgan) and Mayor Van Lone decided to appoint a replacement from the crowd in attendance, some cried foul. Nancy Jo Wurl, a temporary Trustee from 1998 – 2000 was asked to step in until the April election.

Typically, although not always, vacancies are announced and candidates are interviewed before being appointed. “I’m just not sure the Ruling Party in Erie understands this whole democracy thing”, said Reed Schrichte, whose wife may run for a seat on the Board. Although there was no legal requirement to fill the vacancy, Van Lone explained that for certain decisions to be made at least four Trustees are required. “We’ve been having attendance problems, and Mrs. Wurl had the experience to step in and contribute. It’s our job to keep the government of Erie functioning.” He adds: “I don’t see how she could turn the world upside down in three meetings.” Because of the controversy, two days later Wurl notified the Board she was declining their temporary appointment.

These “shenanigans” as Schrichte called them, give citizens the sense that the Board is trying to avoid accountability. In a letter to the Erie Review, Bruce Cohen lamented the “blatant attempt by an axis of developers to pack the Board with a sympathetic vote”. To these comments, Van Lone replied: “What does that mean? I don’t know what great conspiracies some people think we have going on here”.

The town is accepting applications for the position, the application deadline is 5 p.m. on October 9. Who shall step forward? My guess is several single issue, pet-peeve-motivated folks. Wouldn't it be coo instead to see someone generally civic-duty minded, wanting to assist the things that are working for Erie? Is that too much to ask?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Longmont Ballot Issues

Here are some anonymous opinions sent to my site about three ballot issues in the upcoming Longmont election.

AGAINST Longmont Issue 2C: Open Space Sales Tax Extension
Extending this tax until 2034 would be the height of fiscal irresponsibility in view of the tight city budget. Longmonters are already heavily burdened with three open space sales taxes from Boulder County. The last thing the city needs is to go into $31 million more debt with repayment costs of $59.5 million to buy bonds for additional open space. There are far greater spending priorities. This tax was narrowly passed by voters in 2000 with a term of 20 years. The issue should be brought back to the taxpayers when it expires in 2020, not now.

AGAINST Boulder County Issue 1A: Open Space Sales Tax Extension
After 89,000 acres purchased, three sales taxes and nearly $200 million debt, it's time to put the brakes on Boulder County's runaway open space program. The commissioners have devoted far too many resources toward open space, resulting in money being siphoned away from vital county services such as infrastructure, public safety and social services. Excessive open space in Boulder County has proved to have many unintended consequences, most notably unaffordable housing in Boulder. The average sale price of a 3-bedroom home in Boulder is more than $525,000. Boulder also has a weak business climate due to high sales taxes and stifling environmental restrictions. The new Twenty Ninth Street retail center performed poorly in its first year. Broomfield formed its own county several years ago to allow dynamic projects like FlatIrons Crossing and the Broomfield Event Center to flourish. Defeat of Issue 1A would allow this portion of open space sales taxes to expire at the end of 2009 and help to reduce the stranglehold that open space madness has on the county economy.

AGAINST Boulder County Issue 1B: Transportation Sales Tax Extension
Issue 1B is an unneeded extension of a redundant transportation tax. A hefty 1.0% Regional Transportation District (RTD) sales tax is already assessed in Boulder County for transit needs. Road projects are also funded from state and federal sources. In the 2007 Boulder County budget, the commissioners granted a disproportionate $46.2 million for Open Space Funds compared to only $15.2 million for the Road Fund. County voters soundly defeated a similar "transit and trails" sales tax a year ago. The same should be done for this unnecessary sales tax extension.

Imminent Ranting...

Okay, faithful EastBoCO readers, its been an especially crazy week. I'll return tomorrow with several items, from many towns. Hang in there and re-read the posts and comments you missed before - Only a couple weeks til the mail ballots go out...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Lafayette A Model For Others Part 2

After Wayne Laugesen's chiding of Boulder and kudos to Lafayette as an example of municipal decision making (the Silver Mine Subs scenario), I see that Lafayette's single stream, city-wide recycling program has caught the attention of Louisville's new City Manager Malcolm Fleming. At the Louisville City Council study session earlier this month, Councilor Dave Clabots mentioned Louisville could see how Lafayette’s program worked and possibly use it as a guideline.

So, at the risk of pushing unsolicited advices, what else is worth copying in Lafayette? And don't go negative and say "I'll tell you what isn't worth copying, blah blah blah.." We cover that stuff nearly every day.

By the same token, what should Lafayette copy from others? What are the municipal best practices out there? I like Louisville's highlighted reminder to turn off cell phones, the public meeting detail equivalent to keeping the potholes filled around town. Little things can go a long way.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Trouble In WalMart Land

WalMart's gentleman's agreement in Longmont to build a Sam's Club along with a new SuperCenter is reported in the Times Call to be off the table, making city planners a bit anxious and threatening hardball.

The Sam's Club part of the deal struck in March is said to have been the sweetener that made the deal fly. Now WalMart corporate refuses to commit to the Sam's Club component, leaving Longmont in the position of refusing to fund public improvements as punishment. Too bad the city's agreement with them wasn't all or nothing. Meaning, too bad they don't have veto power over the SuperCenter given the apparent flipping off WalMart corporate is sending in lieu of the Sam's Club.

Friday, September 21, 2007

County Tax Overview: Commissioner Will Toor's Comments

Boulder County Commissioner Will Toor submitted the following comments to add to our discussion of County ballot issues 1A and 1B for open space and transit improvements, respectively. Comments?

I have read with interest the exchanges on this blog on county ballot issues 1A and 1B. I would like to provide my perspective on why both issues benefit all of Boulder County, and urge your support for these issues.

On issue 1A:County Question 1A enables Boulder County to continue preserving, improving and maintaining important open lands around the county. It continues an existing l tenth of a cent sales tax, or 10 cents on a $100 purchase. It does not increase taxes above the current rate, it simply carries forward an existing small amount.

The preservation of open lands is vital to sustaining our quality of life in Boulder County. As urban sprawl from Denver encroaches on our way of life, there is much to do in terms of managing growth and protecting wildlife habitat and agriculture. Critical wildlife corridors and significant parcels of land will be available for open space purchase in the immediate future. If 1A passes, we will be able to safeguard these lands for future generations. If not, we'll see more development throughout rural Boulder County.

We live in a region with significant growth pressures. State planners estimate that Colorado's Front Range - from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins - will grow by more than 3 million people in the next 25 years. This rapid growth intensifies the need for preserving our remaining open spaces. Further, Boulder County's economic health is directly linked to how well we protect our environment.

Without the continuation of this tax, Boulder County won't be able to purchase additional open space for many years and will face real limitations on funds needed to build new trails and facilities. Current open space taxes only generate enough revenue to pay for the land that has already been acquired. If 1A passes, Boulder County will be able to buy and preserve key parcels now before they're bought up by developers and while prices are still affordable.

The remaining land that should be preserved includes wildlife habitat in the mountains and plains; urban buffers between communities; working farms and ranches; and trail linkages. These parcels are often adjacent to or surrounded by other open space land. If we fail to conserve these lands, the impact on current open space will be significant.

Question 1A also provides funds for maintaining and improving the land we have. It will help pay for weed management, wetland and riparian area enhancements, trail and facility construction and maintenance, forest management, wildlife habitat improvements, agricultural management and more.

The choice is clear. We can pass 1A and continue to protect our quality of life and our rural lands or we can defeat 1A and risk development and sprawl. We can protect wild places for wildlife or we can allow wild places to sprout new houses and attract widespread development.

Boulder County is known statewide and nationally for our land preservation efforts, for our trails, our preservation of historic structures and our efforts to manage growth. 1A maintains a very small tax that allows us to continue these efforts.

In response to questions that have been raised on this blog: Boulder county currently has only $12 million left for land acquisition. This may sound like a lot, but at current rates of land acquisition this will last less less than one year. 1A will generate $4.2 million annually. Of this, $3.2 million will be bonded, providing $40 million in bonds for land purchase; and $1 million per year will be available for land management and trail construction. Dr Bombays' statements that county open space funds are primarily invested in the Boulder area are incorrect; he may be confusing County open space with City of Boulder open space. Major County open space purchases over the last few years have included large parcels near Lafayette, Superior, Lyons, Longmont, and one major purchase in the foothills west of Boulder (near the Betasso open space).

Boulder County Ballot Issue 1B - .10% Transportation Sales and Use Tax Extension will allow Boulder County to continue to provide better roads, safer pedestrian crossings, an expanded network of regional trails, and continued high quality transit service for Boulder County - all key components of a balanced and well-maintained transportation system that provides residents and visitors safe and convenient travel choices throughout Boulder County.

Voting Yes on ballot issue 1B will not increase the current sales tax rate. 1B continues an existing one-tenth of a cent sales tax to be used for fifteen years towards the construction development, maintenance and operation of our vital transportation system.

In 2001, the citizens of Boulder County voted to fund improvements to the County's transportation system. Most of these improvements have been implemented, including 42 miles of shoulder and intersection improvements to County roads, implementation of popular transit routes, and major roadway construction of the Valmont Road and Airport Road bridges.

As growth in the County continues, there is a continued need to invest in transportation improvements. If we are to sustain the high quality of life that makes Boulder County such a desirable place to live, work and play, we must continue to support our first class transportation system.

For only a penny on every $10 purchase, 1B will help provide for these important projects and services:

* Roadway Reconstruction, Road Safety and Maintenance Projects (over 40% of funds), including ten critical roadway and intersection improvements throughout the County and funding for ongoing maintenance of our roadway system. This funding will also help construct key underpasses and sidewalks in areas that present barriers to walking or biking safely and conveniently to key community destinations.

* Road/Bike Shoulder Projects (25% of funds), including thirteen different roads that require wider shoulders to improve safety for both drivers and bicyclists.

* Transit Projects that support Senior Transportation programs, Eco Pass programs for neighborhoods and businesses, and continued support for important transit routes throughout the county (approximately 16% of funds). Passage of 1B will mean continued support for transit service between Lafayette, Erie, Louisville, Superior, Longmont, Lyons and Boulder, as well as improved connections between communities in the southeast county to the U.S. 36 corridor.

* The completion of our Regional Trails system (15% of funds). This program will complete the final sections of the Coal Creek and Rock Creek Trail system, implement the planned St. Vrain Greenway Trail between Longmont and Lyons, continue work on the Feeder Canal Trail and the UP Rail Trail, and provide Nederland and Lyons with additional trail connections. The trails fund would also pay for the Boulder County sections of the U.S. 36 Bikeway to link Boulder with Superior, Louisville and on to Westminster and Denver.

Lastly, by leveraging these funds with state and federal dollars, we can complete an even greater number of projects than could otherwise be implemented.

You can find Will's biography and contact information on the Boulder County website.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Turn Off Your Phone

My email alerts from Louisville City Hall have recently included this line at the top of meeting agenda notices:

"Please turn off all cell phones and other electronic devices prior to entering City Council Chambers."

Anymore is this just an annoyance, or should people be kicked out of meetings for letting their phone go off? Some people get pretty ticked when a phone goes off. I don't think the phone ringing should be cause for absolute banishment. I say the chair of the meeting makes a judgement call on the ring itself - banishment by subjective analysis. When someone has a version of Achy Breaky Heart blast into a meeting because they actually chose that for a ringtone, they should be asked to leave.

Not a serious political topic, but its been a long day. And I don't see this request online with the agendas, just in the emails. Maybe we email alert folks are a rude ringing bunch.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

County Taxes On The Ballot

The Boulder County Commissioners have certified ballot titles for two county and two district issues to appear on this fall's ballot. There will be a transit funding and open space funding tax request; Ballot Issue 1A asks for an extension of the .10% sales and use tax for open space until 2030 and Ballot Issue 1B asks for an extension of the .10% sales and use tax for transit improvement projects until 2024.

Vote for the 20-year (appreciation in property values) open space acquisition and maintenance tax please. I'm still reading the transit tax details; no opinion yet.

Official ballot title language and information on the November 6 mail ballot election is available on the Boulder County Clerk & Recorder's Web site at www.voteboulder.org/.

Lifebridge Debate On The Radio

Last week Longmont's Lifebridge annexation was the subject on Colorado Public Radio’s Colorado Matters program. Longmont Mayor Julia Pirnack describes the project and why she voted for it, and she makes it clear she believes the development will “pay what’s required in terms of taxes”. She perceives a long-term net positive benefit to the city. Resident Jen Gartner who is leading the petition to challenge the annexation is interviewed as well. Interesting public policy themes addressed here – check it out online, it’s about ten minutes long.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Longmont Won't Pay To Study Sharing

I had this one in the back pocket for comment, as it came down right before the Labor Day holiday. Longmont City Councilor Mary Blue switched her vote from and earlier informal tally in August regarding Longmont's participation in a regional revenue sharing study. All the other east BoCo communities and Boulder and the County are chipping in $7000 each to determine if there's any "there" there. The Councilor's rationale was that there wasn't enough money to participate, which really means the money we have doesn't need to go towards this. An especially easy decision when everyone else is paying and the study will go forward regardless.

The discussions on this before don't lead me to believe there is any there there, however I respect the vision of the rest of the groups to at least vet the idea a bit more deeply before succumbing to pessimism. Longmont's dismissal shows how deeply the city distrusts anything championed by Boulder and Boulder County; perhaps they're more afraid of the answers that will be presented.

The version in the Times Call.

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Whole Realm of County Trends For Debate

Every two years the Community Foundation pulls together and overview of trends in Boulder County, the latest report just came out. You can find plenty of topics in there to seed this blog. Here are reports in the Louisville Times, the version of it by the Camera, Times-Call and Jerry Lewis' editorial in the Boulder County Business Report.

How about these two stats that touch on our open space debate:
84 percent of county housing is priced at more than $200,000 and 65% of Boulder County land is publicly owned. That's not a misprint.

10 percent of local residents do not have health insurance. Nearly 70 percent of the local workforce commutes alone to work. There are aging demographics, a rising disparity between wealthy and poorer residents and only 5% of us regularly use public transportation.

So what should be brought up in each community's Council election debates and forums?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Lafayette Budget Request

The Discussion over the speeding tickets as revenue generator topic grew into a larger budget debate, and I'm just starting this post to offer a clean beginning. The comment by Anonymousish about coming forward with a whole recipe not just one ingredient to grow the pie was clever. I know on the state level, aw, that's another topic. Anyway, what kind of bundling of budget items could be the "perfect world" scenario? Essentially, how to we rank spending priorities? Can a Council ever truly be expected to be that corporate-minded?

Town Talk Worse Than A Blog?

We all get into it here somewhat, and several of us reveal our true identities, while others create at least some type of running reputation and consistency through their nicknames. In the various Hometown News papers, the "town talk" section is this blog-like printing of various rants that are unattributed and often get personal. I can't quite understand the value beyond sensationalism for such a section, especially one that so dominates the amount of space on the editorial pages.

In today's Lafayette News (this stuff isn't available online) I noticed someone pointing out that "Kerry Bensman is complaining about traffic on Baseline Road backing up for miles in the morning." It goes on from there.

I don't think a newspaper should indulge in printing someone's unattributed comment that specifically identifies another person. At least on this blog, there is a method of challenging people back and forth with comments, defending your point and adding more facts (ideally!) as much as you want. The fly-by nature of Town Talk doesn't even serve the vicarious thrill of debate like we have here. It is just a blast, and move on back into the shadows.

There was also an argument in support of Louisville's ballot issue 2A. It was a solid argument that should be printed with the advocate's name. There was a letter getting into it about the wrongs of assisting illegal immigrants - does the debate advance when the writer is left anonymous?

I know this blog isn't the perfect debate forum, however those of us who have maintained a certain identity consistently make it worthwhile. Where is Spicoli, anyway?

As a side note, I love the police blotter from Erie: "A 26 year old woman reported to Erie police a series of strange events ...which culminated in the woman finding corndogs on her car."

Erie Gets A Dump

The Erie Board of Trustees has approved on a first reading to annex the Denver Regional Landfill from Weld County. If ultimately approved, the 346-acre dump will become a source of revenue for Erie (a portion of dump fees will go to the town) and the town will have some level of oversight regarding operations. The town has decided the headache of taking on management complaints from wealthy residents who moved in next to a dump is worth the cash. The Landfill managers must be thrilled.

AS I'm going to say going forward, here is one "version" of the story in the Camera.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Longmonters Stirring Up Action

As has been referenced in comments earlier, there is a website called What's In It For Longmont? that focuses on the whole Lifebridge annexation issue. Details go back to April 2007. That one issue can provide the energy for so much rebuttal by one source is worthy of a story itself. Some fans of planning issues would likely be intrigued at the concurrency request of the developers - approve all exemptions in a sweeping decision, instead of individual vetting as issues came forward. Asking Longmont to pay for their $5 million firehouse? Exemptions from affordable housing requirements? What IS in it for Longmont?

That's not all that's happening in the realm of activists Longmonters.

Paul Tiger, a candidate for Longmont has recently written an article extolling the necessary virtue of recognizing you can vote, registering to vote and then actually voting. Plus his passionate challenging of a construction flagger made the Camera's editorial page, highlighting his more libertarian views regarding handgun possesion. (Update: felony menacing charges dropped; misdemeanor is the plea.)

The site Wrongmont.com continues to flare up with comments about both local and national issues. (You may have noticed occasional postings by Wrongmont on the East BoCo blog, here's the most recent.) The details to topics have become more and more pertinent and interesting, such as the Longmont 2007 election info and its subsequent link to another Longmonter's website, and his overview of the candidates in Longmont.

In today's Times Call the outgoing Mayor Julia Pirnack is on the front page describing her need to step away and "regain her faith in the public process and in people." (But holy cow I loathe sending anyone to that website...)

What else, Longmonters? Where is is the debate alive on the internet? Who you going to vote for?

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Erie's Plans Are On The Table, Anyone Else?

Kudos to Erie Mayor Andrew Moore for trying to make more clear the plans and intentions for his town's economic development strategy. This type of outreach just stands out - I can find the main pieces and general statements of support in various communitites, but this is a bit more intentional in its message. Here's the news from Mayor Moore:

As many of you know Erie is working with a Board appointed adhoc committee to ensure our Economic Strategy is sound, thorough, and fits the needs of our community for the long term. Trustee Tina Harris and I are participants along with members from the Chamber of Commerce, Erie Economic Development Council, Planning Commission, development community, business community, and members at large. The group is lead by Upstate Colorado President, Larry Burkhardt.

Through my participation on the economic adhoc committee I came to realize that Erie's current economic strategy was not broadly understood. Although I've written and presented on this topic many times, up until now I had not put the pieces of Erie's economic strategy together in one easily accessible document.

With that in mind I dusted off a paper I started many months ago but never published because of the length, concerns with sharing our competitive plans, and complexity of the message. With input from the Board of Trustees and members of the adhoc group the document was refined for readability and to ensure the message was clear. The document on our strategy can be found here:

You can read more of his message and related comments at http://www.mooreinfo.us/. I'm curious what the readers of this blog think of the scope of the info presented, and its more layman's terms.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

A World of Special Interests

I've become intrigued by the argument over whether visitability is a special interest that raged in the Green Building Meets "Silver" Building post and comments. So I've been researching the term "special interest" and how it is defined and applied. I'm at a loss to find much consistency or clarity in the term; it appears anyone in opposition to an idea can attempt to dismiss said issue as a "special interest".

I think the term is thrown around so often and with such malicious, broad-brush techniques that it has lost any depth of meaning. If you're involved in politics in any way, you'll know the things you like are of course worthy social goals to be pursued for the greatness of the state, blah blah blah. (I know it doesn't always sound like that in your head, but if you listen more closely...) and the things you don't like are the selfish narrow, unethical society-warping and unrealistic ideas of the "special interests".

It is a meaningless term that is insulting on two levels. First, anyone who votes could be labeled as supporting a special interest by someone else. That the term has no deeper context required other than disagreement with an idea makes it sloppy, generic and insulting. Second, the only reason it is used is because that works. That people in general are willing to be swayed by the rest of a political message that throws in the accusation of "special interest" involvement is insulting to me as an intelligent American.

I think if an idea I champion is accused of being a special interest, I'll take it as a compliment. And tell that person I assume there are a few specific ideas they'd like to see implemented and in principal I'll support their right to champion their special interest. However, if I don't see their idea positively affecting enough people, I'll tell them to kindly keep their idea out of the government's hands and drum up their own non-profit or whatever to manifest their idea. And if they want to tax me or regulate my life to manifest their idea, I'll need to believe it affects at least 51% of the residents. If it does and I still don't like it, I'll have to decide if the idea is so awful in the scope of my life that I should move.

Or I'll pick my battles, choose my special interests and debate them with you all, here, late at night, after my Silver Mine Sub shows up at 2:30 AM.

Lafayette Decision Making a Model for Boulder

We went around on this before, and had some more agitated exchanges, but I want to bring it up again because the more well read folks in Boulder are now aware of the Silver Mine Subs issue from a source beyond the (yawn) Camera.

The Boulder Weekly's Wayne Laugesen has highlighted this recent topic as a way to chide Boulder's leadership for their proclivity to take "strange little anonymous complaints seriously and reacting with authority. In doing so, they empower mean-spirited oddballs, turning their silly pet peeves into menacing pit bulls that cause pain."

Wayne's versions of things are often fast and loose with context and he rarely fleshes out all the facts, especially if they would water down his argument. But his point in this week's column is that Boulder's officials could learn from the Lafayette Planning Commission's decision reversing the staff reaction to a noise complaint. He quotes Commissioner Alex Schatz: “A complaint alone is nothing, You need a finding of fact.”

Wayne continues: "Did we hear that correctly? Have we ever before, in modern times, heard a city official question the sanctity and credibility of an anonymous complaint? Not in Boulder, to be certain, but Lafayette apparently hasn’t completed the process of full Boulderization."

Of course the complaint wasn't anonymous; that just makes for a more solid gripe. Read the full smackdown here. Wayne's take is similar to the the point I made in my post - one person's gripe can set into motion huge changes by bureaucrats and officials alike, who take complaints at face value and without contextual analysis as to the scope of the problem. For East BoCoers who like to point at Boulder and make fun, Wayne's article will be a treat. Better yet, recognize when such indulgence of a single complainer happens and a whole new policy is created in your town. And gripe accordingly.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

$300K Short in Traffic Tickets?

The Lafayette News reports that the city's budget has been impacted by a nearly $300,000 decrease in expected revenue during 2007 from a particular source: court fines. Depending on the version you read, or heard or saw, there may be some expectation that the city police department needs to and can "step it up a bit"(my words) to help make up lost ground.

If I take the explanation for the decrease at face value, the alternative would presume the police should have been and/or always were involved in mighty prolific traffic ticket writing. On the surface, it just doesn't seem to square with how I imagine the cops spending their days. At $50 a ticket, (and I don't even know if that's a proper assumption), that would mean year-to-date the city is short writing about 6000 tickets - more than 600/month less than predicted? nearly 20 a day, every single day?

I bring it up because I feel the newspaper article stops short of truly analyzing the quotes included in the article. If it is true, I'm guessing the Hwy 287 corridor should be recognized as its own money-generating entity, regardless of the commercial development on the sides.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

LifeBridge Petition Challenge

From the Denver Post:

A group of Longmont residents begin today to try to block a massive church-sponsored housing and retail development they claim will tarnish the city for generations. They hope to collect 4,021 valid signatures in 21 days in an effort to overturn the LifeBridge Christian Church's 348-acre Union project. The City Council approved the annexation and development of Union on Aug. 14.

But if enough credible signatures are presented to the council by the end of September, council members must either repeal its earlier approval or put the church's plan before voters in a special election. "Longmont has never really had a successful referendum, but at the least, we are hoping the City Council notes what we're doing here," said Jen Gartner, a petition-drive organizer.

If this is on the Times-Call's website, I couldn't find it in the sea of multi-colored/sized/shaped ads they've chosen to be the focus of their recently revamped online presence.

The Impact of Open Space

I'm finding various studies on the impact of open space on property values from around the country. Here is a long article for all you academics out there which looked at the analysis of 20 studies in aggregate - although my reading of it shows the focus is more on "parks" I believe, than large swaths of wilderness/agricultural open spacelike we tend to have here. Proximity, not mere existence, appears to be the driving force behind appreciation. An excerpt:

The premise that parks and open space have a positive impact on property values derives from the observation that people frequently are willing to pay a larger amount of money for a home located close to these types of areas, than they are for a comparable home further away. If this observation is empirically verified, then owners of the enhanced property are likely to pay higher property taxes to governments because of the increase in the property's appraised value.

In effect, this represents a "capitalization" of park land into increased property values for proximate land owners. Conceptually, it is argued that the competitive market will bid up the value of property just equal to the capitalized value of the benefits that property owners perceive they receive from the presence of the park or open space. Economists refer to this approach as "hedonic pricing." It is a means of inferring the value of a non-market resource (a park) from the prices of goods actually traded in the market place (surrounding residential properties).

Here is an analysis on the impact of open space, and another and another. I love the website name of this last one: www.embraceopenspace.org. There are other studies on their website too.

Green Building Meets "Silver" Building

Lafayette City Council passed a building code ordinance last night requiring 25% of all new home construction to meet relatively strict design standards meant to provide easier access for disabled residents. This was reduced from the original 85% metric originally proposed. While there are exemptions for various scenarios, such as multi-story , multi-unit developments and homes built in areas of steep grades I'm torn between the notion that Lafayette is either incredibly visionary or proudly micromanaging the market for a special interest. Can you be both?

It's a policy debate, not so much a personal one (As is my forte - my uncle in Denver with MS has retrofitted part of his 1920s home to handle the needs of a wheelchair, so I'm not clueless to the challenges of disabled people.) If the "silver tsunami" does hit Lafayette in the future, will the homes ultimately being built under the ordinance be affordable to most of the intended residents? That's just one of several question that come to mind. Plus the cash-in-lieu loophole is always a fascinating hedge on a supposed smart idea. It is the quiet, ultimate compromise.

Like the concept that energy efficiency should be mandated to some level in design and construction, this visitability ordinance addresses another societal value. Fair enough, it was vetted at Planning Commission and passed Council unanimously. Yet energy efficiency can be extrapolated to affecting the planet; visitability doesn't resonate as being quite so "global" a concern. Design mandates are a slippery slope. The special interest-ness of this ordinance may be why only a couple Colorado communities have anything even close to it.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Primary Jobs Analysis

A good long weekend off. I hope you all were able to get outside too. Daily computer visits can rot your brain!

I found the overview of Longmont's economic vision described in the Times Call to be very prompting to look at other East BoCo communities' methods of economic planning. I have found the notion of "primary employers" to be lost on most people - not always as much on employees of primary employers, but certainly on employees and even owners of non-primary employers. Worse, I've found the notion to be foreign to members of Planning Boards and Councils.

The idea of maintaining a certain ratio of such jobs in a town as a way to have a sustainable local economy is fascinating. There are so many variables, so many macro economic factors at play and yet local efforts - fee waivers, tax rebates, incentives and just plain personal rapport and interest - can make a huge difference.

Longmont has had a request to research the impact of "underemployment"; the people making wages too low t be able to easily afford living in that city. That deserves another post; I'll save that one for later.

Tonight, Louisville's City Council will review and vote on various Business Assistance packages for certain developments. In Lafayette, the deals to retain WalMart are well known; the failed re-location of the Cheese Importers here shows how tenuous such deals can be. Erie is debating how much it should charge in impact fees with a mini-uprising of dissent on that front.

All these discussion are great because they tend to jar even the most barely aware citizen out of their fog and they start to ask questions about where "the money" comes from and how it is prioitized to be spent. Just like they do at home. And having that awareness is a big step towards having a viable community. Look for the given candidates in each Council race to show some level of understanding of this concept- otherwise, you'll vote in "one-hit wonders" with an agenda and a short list of interests.