Paying any attention to the state Legislature? Of course not; the legislative processes up in Denver are glacially slow, full of arcane parliamentary maneuvers, and terminally boring. That's fine with all of the participants, who would just as soon their antics be neither understood nor observed by the voting public.
Imagine, if you will, 99 elected legislators, few of whom are either smart or well-informed, being patiently tutored by lobbyists and the interest groups they represent -- yeah, the "special interests," who don't particularly care what the Legislature does, as long as their particular oxen remain ungored.
But sometimes the Legislature actually appears to consider real issues, e.g., growth and what to do about it. It's an illusion; this year's crop of bills will make no difference, regardless of which, if any, actually makes it to the governor's desk.
Why? Because they're all feeble variations on the same theme: Let's mandate regional cooperation and cross-jurisdictional planning or urban growth zones, or whatever. They're simply vague, unfunded mandates, flowing from the state bureaucracy to the city/county bureaucracies, setting up a few mildly pesky hoops for developers to jump through. With or without them, cities will continue to grow, sprawl will accelerate, traffic will worsen, and the local pro-growth porkers will keep on oinking for higher taxes.
Don't believe me? Let's look at the multi year, cross-jurisdictional regional planning process that governed development along Academy Boulevard from Woodmen Road to Briargate Boulevard. A dozen years ago, it was a neighborhood of five-acre estates, part of the unincorporated county, without a single commercial enterprise facing Academy.
Development pressures mounted, task forces were convened, planners were hired, neighborhood associations labored for years, and both city and county governments cooperated in an effort to create appropriate plans for future development. From the outset, it was clear that nobody wanted the kind of noisy, ultra-busy, high-traffic retail uses that characterized much of Academy. No, we'd make something special: upscale apartments, maybe some offices, a medical center ... uses that would be at least minimally compatible with the existing low-density residential development. Note that this is precisely the process that the current crop of growth mitigation bills would mandate.
And what did we get? High-intensity development that makes most of Academy look like a quiet country road. Home Depot! Strip mega-centers! REI! That particular stretch of Woodmen/Academy was so desirable to big-ticket developers that the puny barriers created by the planning process were simply swept away. In retrospect, it's hard to imagine that Academy would look any differently had there been no planning at all -- no master plans, no zoning, no planning commission, no City Council.
I found myself complaining about these kinds of phenomena to my pal, the all-knowing political consultant. She looked at me with amused condescension, before setting me straight.
"John," she said quietly, "I'm going to let you in on a little secret." (pause -- cold, level stare) "You can't keep the money out."
Indeed. Money, real money -- Wal-Mart money, Home Depot money, Bed, Bath & Beyond money -- is just as powerful and irresistible as the Mississippi's cresting flood. It will prevail in the future, as it has in the past. It has overwhelmed us in Colorado Springs, conquered Denver and seduced Fort Collins. Of all the cities and towns in our once-bucolic state, only one has successfully resisted. Only one city has managed to preserve its history, protect its historic neighborhoods, and prevent sprawl.
Boulder, of course. And that's only because, more than a generation ago, a progressive coalition was able to create municipal ordinances that actually regulated growth, not to mention well-funded programs for the purchase of open space.
Boulder is often criticized for creating an elitist enclave from which people commute to Denver or Longmont. That's not exactly what happened.
What Boulder did do was to create a city whose publicly funded amenities (trails, parks, open space, etc.) and humanly scaled development disproportionately benefited existing homeowners. If you held on to your house near Chautaqua that you bought for $50K in 1975, you could probably sell it for $750K today.
But while development policies in Boulder benefited the little guy, and left the big players out in the cold, it's exactly the opposite everywhere else in the state. Here in Colorado Springs, the big bucks flowed to those who owned and developed land on the city's expanding periphery. And while our homes increased in value, we lost precisely what many of us most valued: that beautiful little city nestled beneath Pikes Peak that we so loved.
You can't keep the money out.