At the end of each calendar year, we take time to update some of the stories that have stuck out, for one reason or another, during the previous 12 months or so. This issue brings the final of three installments.
Waldo fading away
A year ago at this time, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa was primed to investigate how dozens of agencies interacted during the Waldo Canyon Fire. Gov. John Hickenlooper's office seemed interested in participating. Even Colorado Springs, whose problems were documented by the Independent ("Misfire," cover story, Dec. 12, 2012), put up $100,000 for such an effort.
But nothing's happened, and nothing's likely to.
"I don't have the data on the Waldo fire or control over it to enter into [an after action report] with a neutral authority on my own," Maketa says via email. "It would require a more cooperative approach by the main local agencies involved."
On June 26, 2012, the Waldo Canyon Fire raced into the Mountain Shadows subdivision. Though local officials had been tracking it for days, duty reports reveal that Springs firefighters often didn't know who was in charge of the firefight, what they were supposed to do, and how to communicate with others. Two people died, and nearly 350 homes were destroyed.
Both Maketa and the city issued their own reports, then confabbed with other agencies. Those meetings led to better coordination during the Black Forest Fire in June, Maketa says. But Waldo has, as Maketa puts it, "taken a back seat" to Black Forest; Maketa himself is focused on his Black Forest review, due soon.
Springs Emergency Management Director Bret Waters says via email that the city's $100,000 is "still appropriated for this purpose and will remain so into 2014." He adds that the city has already cooperated with two federal efforts: one looking at the fire's behavior ("Waldo Canyon Fire spreads in the scientific community," News, March 6), and one reviewing mitigation practices in a post-fire environment.
Waters notes that findings from the city's review have been incorporated into training and exercises. The city has also conducted evacuation drills; hammered away in media campaigns on flood and wildfire preparedness; and adopted a citywide emergency communications plan.
But neither Waters, nor Maketa, nor the governor's office can speak to anything being done regarding a Waldo review. — Pam Zubeck
Baby steps in sex ed
When we wrote about House Bill 1081 on Feb. 27 ("Bananarama," News), the Colorado House had approved it on a party-line vote. Democratic Rep. Crisanta Duran, its sponsor, said she aimed to create more inclusive standards for comprehensive sexual education in public schools, while also providing a grant program for school districts that wanted to teach to that standard.
At the time, Duran was hoping the bill would encourage schools to teach comprehensive sex ed. The bill itself didn't mandate such standards, allowing school districts to opt for abstinence-only programs that are still supported by federal grants dating to the George W. Bush era.
The bill did eventually pass, and was signed into law. But Sarah Mathew, director of health and wellness for the Colorado Department of Education, says it underwent some changes along the way. In its final form, the bill doesn't require districts to teach sex ed. However, she says, "If they choose to teach sex ed, they must meet the standard, which is a comprehensive approach."
The new bill also calls for a grant program for schools that want to implement comprehensive sex ed. But those grants have never materialized, and Mathew says it doesn't appear they will any time soon.
There was some concern that the bill might hamper efforts by private nonprofits and other entities that teach abstinence-only programs in schools, but Mathew says that isn't likely the case. Teaching abstinence is a part of a comprehensive approach, and thus programs that teach only abstinence can still run in schools — so long as districts supplement such programs with other programs. — J. Adrian Stanley
Between May 1, the day Colorado's civil-unions law went into effect, and Dec. 18, 238 civil unions were certified locally, according to the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office. One of those joined 39-year-olds Lauren Fox and Dara Hoffman-Fox, with whom we spoke in February ("Actually, it's just love," cover story, Feb. 13).
Dara, a licensed professional counselor, and Lauren, a nonprofit executive director, had already done everything they could to be "as legally binded together" as they could be in Colorado. So completing the civil-union process on Day 1 really took on different importance.
"It really did feel more like we were doing it, especially on the actual day that it had become legalized to do so, [as] a combination political statement, combination being part of something exciting," Dara says. "But it did not feel at all as exciting as the day that we actually had our wedding in October 2010."
There is one thing that has shifted significantly for the couple: Dara's name. In February, she explained that she'd had numerous issues trying to change her last name since their wedding. But within weeks of May 1, she was able to go from "Facebook official" to legally official.
"It just feels very right to have that there. And it's definitely not for patriarchal reasons," Dara says, laughing. "It's just, I really like it as a way to show my commitment to my partner. And especially for being a same-sex couple, it adds a certain amount of legitimacy to it."
Lauren is also pleased with the change, but admits that she still worries about the political climate.
"I am always concerned that things will just change, with this election or this overturn. Is this really gonna last? ... I always feel like nothing's really permanent. That those rights — if the right person got in the right position — could be taken away as fast as [they were] given. And I don't know if that's right or wrong, but that's how it feels to me." — Kirsten Akens
No more minutes
Even as City Council claims it strives for transparency, its members hold subcommittee meetings for which no minutes are taken or recordings kept ("Subbing out," News, Aug. 21). So unless you hang out at City Hall for hours several times a month to watch these subcommittees in action, you can't know what happened.
Nor can you know how discussions unfold during "work sessions" in a City Hall conference room 90 minutes before every formal Council meeting. Again, no minutes or recordings are made.
And that won't change.
Citing a city attorney's opinion that says no minutes are required by law for meetings where no action is contemplated or taken, Council Administrator Eileen Gonzales says anything that's discussed in subcommittee meetings "ultimately results in action by the Council ... in a regular meeting that's recorded" in written minutes and electronically.
So Council subcommittees on Budget and Strategic Planning, Office of City Council Staff, and Boards and Commissions will remain undocumented, meaning that if the groundwork for a major decision is laid during subcommittee meetings, there's no way the public can reconstruct that. (Meeting notices, however, are posted ahead of time, as required by law.)
Asked to address the issue, Council President Keith King notes via email that Council will focus on three things next year: "our vision to serve our neighbors," the legislative agenda, and procedures. "Among those issues we will discuss is how we can be more transparent and work with our neighbors better," he writes.
On a related point, Council has implemented a city attorney recommendation that councilors document gifts they receive ("Present but unaccounted for," Nov. 27, 2013), in accordance with the Ethics Code. That means that councilors must file reports within the first 60 days of the year showing "any gift or thing of value related solely to the [Council member's] duties and responsibilities on behalf of the city" in the prior year.
A spokesperson for Mayor Steve Bach says Bach also will follow the reporting rule. — Pam Zubeck
Holding pattern at ranch
Earlier this year, Ultra Petroleum of Houston stunned the community when it bagged oil- and gas-drilling efforts on 18,500 acres it owns on the city's east side, commonly called the Banning Lewis Ranch. The company said exploratory work done there had proven to be "disappointing."
With that, speculation began regarding who might jump in and buy the land, which Ultra had bought out of bankruptcy by a developer in 2011. But in early June, Ultra vice president Doug Selvius told the Indy that Ultra wasn't actively trying to sell the ranch, wasn't soliciting offers, and hadn't retained a broker.
He did say Ultra was open to entertaining offers, "preferably for the entire ranch." Those offers, he said, would need to afford a decent profit on the company's $20 million investment.
When we checked in with the company on Dec. 11, director of investor relations Kelly Whitley told us, "Ultra does not have anything new to report on the Banning Lewis Ranch."
So it appears the ranch is once again stagnant, except for construction underway on part of the 2,600 acres bought in 2012 by Oakwood Homes. In other related news:
• Council deadlocked 4-4 in a vote on oil and gas regulations in March. But with little happening at Banning Lewis, the legislative body — now featuring six new members added after the April election — hasn't revisited the issue.
• A group of citizens, under the banner "Colorado Springs Citizens for Community Rights," has carried on with a lawsuit that seeks to ban hydraulic fracturing within the city; that case is pending.
• Ultra remains at odds with the city in bankruptcy court over the 1988 annexation agreement, which saddles developers with roughly $900 million worth of public improvements. Proceedings have been stayed until Jan. 14, when a status report is due. — Pam Zubeck
Gold Room still coming
The Gold Room at the Mining Exchange, a Wyndham Grand Hotel, was just a month or two from completion when hotel owner Perry Sanders talked with the Indy at summer's end ("High-altitude Austin," cover story, Sept. 4). Sanders said he planned to invite singer-songwriters and comedians to perform in what had been a vacant Utilities Building directly south of the hotel, envisioning a place for "intelligent, high-end entertainment."
However, as of December, the Gold Room was not finished. Now Sanders says he's shooting for the end of January.
"We do have a liquor license," he says. "It took forever to get all the plans finalized. The nature of doing these really old buildings is that it's complicated and creates a lot of additional work for the architects ..."
Sanders adds that the building's plans are about to be permitted and that there isn't much build-out left to do. He's also gotten a firm confirmation from musician Larry John McNally to perform there and to work with Sanders on an online singer-songwriter broadcast.
After the Gold Room is completed, Sanders will start by booking local acts, and then move on to bigger names once all the building's kinks are ironed out. — Edie Adelstein