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Let's take a little walk down memory lane, back to those misty, half-forgotten times in the late 80s and early 90s, when the Colorado economy was in tatters, developers were broke and powerless, and a lot of folks were mad as hell about taxes.

The antitax right had found an energetic, credible leader. California transplant Douglas Bruce, the master of memorable sound bites (politicians = "pond scum"), threatened/warned the Colorado Springs City Council and the state Legislature that if they refused to limit their own power to raise taxes, they'd face draconian, Bruce-authored initiatives aimed at radically transforming government.

We all know what happened. The politicians (and I was among 'em) jeered at Bruce, fought his initiatives, and managed to hold him off a couple of times. Finally, the voters wised up and realized that the pols would never voluntarily limit their powers of taxation, and passed, both locally and statewide, the Dougster's tax initiatives.

A decade later, everything's different and nothing has changed. We're not particularly concerned about taxes anymore, but we're dismayed and concerned about the consequences of runaway growth. The development community has gone from penury to power; their campaign contributions have helped elect a fresh crop of unresponsive politicians. Chanting the real estate community's favorite mantra -- "property rights, property rights" -- both the state Legislature and local elected bodies have been unwilling to deal with the rapid, destructive change that runaway development has brought.

So now we have a tough, take-no-prisoners constitutional amendment on the ballot, and the real-estate moguls and their elected lackeys are putting together a multimillion dollar smear campaign to defeat it. Forget the stated rationale for voting against it; the core of the proposed amendment gives the voters the power to approve or deny developments around a city's periphery. Developers hate this idea; they prefer to move swiftly, silently and surgically through the comforting maze of planning commissions, staff approvals, and City Council hearings. They know they're among friends; after all, they elected the pols who hire the staff and choose the planning commissioners.

Ours is a system with inherent biases toward speedy growth and untrammeled development. It was appropriate for a struggling economy but it creates glaring excesses in a boom. You'd think that developers, who as individuals are some of the smartest people in the state, would have forced their legislative stooges to enact some sensible restrictions upon growth, which would have given ordinary citizens some say in determining Colorado's future.

Alas, like the pols of a decade or so, both developers and legislators were determined to preserve the status quo. It may be too late; as Doug Bruce instinctively understood, the voters will always empower themselves if given the opportunity to do so.

Meanwhile, we're about to enter into the mother of all land development battles right here in Colorado Springs. The prospective owners of Red Rocks, the majestic, largely pristine square mile of canyons and foothills between Colorado Springs and Manitou on the west side, will seek annexation by the city.

This will be a defining moment in the history of Colorado Springs. If Council approves the annexation of the property, and its subsequent development, it will deprive the citizens of this community, now and for all time, of what could be the greatest urban park system in America. Imagine adding Red Rocks to Bear Creek Park and Section 16, and then creating a trail system linking this pristine acreage to the JL Ranch and the Garden of the Gods. You can see it all now, from the high point on the Garden of the Gods loop road; an unspoiled vista that literally takes your breath away. So here's the question: Will Council have the moxie to come up with the big bucks and acquire Red Rocks, for us and for all the generations to come, despite the probable opposition of the developers whose campaign contributions put 'em in office?

I dunno, but here's a story about a long-forgotten politician that might stiffen their spines.

Half a century ago, Texas democrat Sam Rayburn served as Speaker of the House. Mr. Sam, as he was known, was tough, smart and persuasive. One day, a first-term congressman came to him, and asked to be excused from voting with the party on a particular bill on the grounds that his biggest contributors back home opposed.

Rayburn thought for a minute, and then said evenly, "Son, if you can't take their money, drink their whiskey, screw their women, and then vote against 'em, you don't deserve to be here."

He voted with Mr. Sam.

-- johnhazlehurst@aol.com

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