Writers, beware! If you craft a letter to the city's daily newspaper, and dare to disagree with them, you may be asking for a heaping serving of abuse and personal attack.
Just ask DeAnna Woolston, a Grand Junction resident who recently attempted to disagree with the newspaper's invariable libertarian perspective.
On May 17, the daily published an unsigned editorial arguing that Colorado's growth debate is really about affordable housing. If sprawl is outlawed, the G argued, then only outlaws (particularly politicians) will be able to own homes.
Woolston, who supports smart-growth legislation, saw the editorial and wasn't convinced. She responded, debunking the position as "ridiculous." Smart-growth management, she noted in a letter to the editor, does not result in raised housing prices.
Her intent, she says, was to provide another point of view: "We are here in Colorado for a reason, and want to make sure that reason remains." She also wanted to point out that many people on Colorado's Western Slope believe that Colorado Springs is poorly planned, sprawling and teeming with traffic. They don't, she said, want to make the same mistake there.
The next day, Woolston received an e-mail from the newspaper's editorial page editor, Dan Njegomir (roughly pronounced knee-go-meer) claiming that he couldn't run her letter to the editor because the newspaper does not publish letters from outside of the print edition's circulation area.
But then, in a letter that ran more than twice as long as Woolston's, Njegomir berated her for daring to have an opinion about growth that differed from his, which was therefore clearly wrong. Not only was she likely a "hard core no-growther" and therefore "unreachable," Njegomir wrote, but "patently irrational," "downright selfish" and lacking footing in "basic economics."
Njegomir condemned Woolston and her "ilk" as "disingenuous" with regard to a position on so-called smart growth (no such thing, Njegomir claims). He even suggested she might be a racist because her letter had complained of a poorly planned subdivision near Grand Junction that has substandard infrastructure and higher crime rates.
And he suggested a broader agenda for the smart-growth movement -- to restrict the number of people who move to Colorado.
"These are the nuts who believe in things like 'zero population growth' and 'sustainable living' and all that other leftover crackpot lefty silliness from the early '70s (remember earth shoes?)," Njegomir wrote. "Put another way, they simply hate people (except for those who can shell out $70 for John [Fielder's] latest coffee-table book on Colorado landscapes)."
Woolston, who has written plenty of letters to newspaper editors, was stunned.
"I've never had an editor do that before, ranting and raving; he just went crazy," she said. "I don't even know the guy and I didn't even write directly to him. I can't imagine that a newspaper would just assume I am racist and elitist -- I'm part Hispanic, I'm borderline poor, I can barely pay my bills."
Woolston didn't respond to Njegomir's attack. "I didn't know what to say," she said. "He was irrational and seemed, well, unbalanced, in a lot of his viewpoints -- I don't think his views on economics are sound. Clearly the people of Colorado Springs are not getting a fair shake on the growth issue if this is the way they respond.
"Why would a newspaper berate its readers and attempt to shut people up from speaking out? That seems so contrary to the purpose of a newspaper."
This week Njegomir, a self-avowed polemical-by-nature-kind-of-guy who loves a good dust up, says he regularly responds to letter-writing readers. It's his job, he said, to try to get people to think right. He considers it almost like missionary work and believes such proselytizing is important.
But why would Njegomir believe it appropriate -- as the editorial page editor -- to attack a stranger's opinion, give her a nasty tongue-lashing and suggest she is an elitist and possibly a racist?
"Heavens, you make me sound so wicked," said Njegomir, who, offhand, couldn't remember exactly what he had written to Woolston.
"I would have thought she was grateful that I took the time to read her views and admonish her for them," he said. "I was hoping she would get back to me and we could start some pen-pal correspondence."
Despite his refusal to publish her letter, Njegomir flatly denied that The Gazette, though decidedly conservative and anti-government, refuses to publish letters that do not agree with the newspaper's editorial position.
"Absolutely never, ever, never, ever ever," he said. "That would be no way to run a letters-to-the-editor section."
DeAnna Woolston's May 17 Letter to the Editor of the Gazette:
Your editorial about growth measures being about affordable housing to most home buyers was ridiculous. It IS possible to address the affordable housing problem, while providing tools to manage growth (not stop it). Developers certainly are not building affordable housing out of the goodness of their hearts. In fact, their haphazard tendencies toward sprawl, in the end do a greater disservice to citizens than proper planning. Home buyers and renters alike have to foot the expensive bill for infrastructure.
Those of us who want strong growth legislation have NEVER said that no building or even less building should occur--we are just saying the majority of new development should occur where there are services, sewer and existing roads. Such planning does not raise housing prices.
I live in Grand Junction and sprawling, unincorporated Clifton is right next-door. That poorly planned area is becoming subdivided faster than a developer can buy Rep. Stengel. Yes, the housing might be cheaper, but Clifton also does not have the infrastructure that Grand Junction has and they have a higher crime rate. The subdivisions are voraciously eating up prime and unique farmland and leaving the area with cookie-cutter houses that as a low income person--I would not want.
Coming up with good growth management law is about affordable housing and much more--it is about creating a future for Coloradans that we want to live with. Have you been stuck in the Springs traffic lately? Well, we don't want that for Mesa County.
GAZETTE EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR DAN NJEGOMIR'S MAY 18 RESPONSE:
Thanks for writing. Unfortunately, we don't publish letters from outside our print edition's circulation area. There's just not enough space.
While I have the opportunity, though, I'll rise to the challenge and attempt to set you straight -- though, from reading between the lines, I could venture a guess you're a hard-core no-growther (that's right, not a "smart-growther" or an "advocate of better planning" or any of those other euphemisms; there's no such thing) and therefore unreachable. Here goes anyway:
1. You're right; developers aren't building affordable housing out of the goodness of their hearts. Just as grocers, clothes retailers, farmers, auto dealers, doctors, lawyers, etc., etc., don't provide you their respective goods and services out of the goodness of their hearts. They're simply vying for a slice of the market and must offer the best at the cheapest, to the extent they can, in order to win business.
2. One of the most elementary fallacies of your ilk is your statement, ". . . we are just saying the majority of new development should occur where there are services, sewer and existing roads. Such planning does not raise housing prices." Please don't take this personally, but that statement, reiterated ad nauseum by the anti-growth lobby up in Denver, is badly in need of a dose of Economics 101. By definition, to limit where housing is to be built -- second-guessing those who know that business best -- is to limit the supply of available and most economically feasible land, and therefore is to raise the price of real estate. It's as axiomatic as the laws of physics, math or chemistry: Limit supply amid unabated demand, and prices rise. Period. Amid the public-policy folly you propose, the only way "to address the affordable housing problem," as you put it, is to do what the folks on Mars, er, Boulder are doing: raise taxes to put up public housing!
3. Which long ago led me to the conclusion that -- and be prepared to get REALLY hacked off, sorry -- those who argue as you do either lack the aforementioned footing in basic economics or are being disingenuous. I'm sure of this much: John Fielder and his fellow travelers in the likes of the Colorado Environmental Coalition are patently disingenuous. They know that the long-run effect of the "good growth management law" you seek is to limit the amount of people who can move in. They just don't want to admit it. Indeed, they'd like about a million people to leave Colorado but don't want to admit that, either. That's all part of their broader agenda. But then, these are the nuts who believe in things like "zero population growth" and "sustainable living" and all that other leftover crackpot lefty silliness from the early '70s (remember earth shoes?). Put another way, they simply hate people (except for those who can shell out $70 for John's latest coffee-table book on Colorado landscapes).
4. And that, in turn, leads me to your statement, "Yes, the housing might be cheaper, but Clifton also does not have the infrastructure that Grand Junction has and they have a higher crime rate. The subdivisions are voraciously eating up prime and unique farmland and leaving the area with cookie-cutter houses that as a low income person--I would not want" -- in which you not only concede my point about affordable housing, but also let slip your own elitism. Your cry is the same as that of other no-growthers: I've got mine, and to hell with everyone else, regardless of their income level. Of course, if you were a low-income person, you'd have a very different set of priorities than those you insist on forcing upon those of modest means. By the way, is your "higher crime rate" reference your way of saying you'd rather not live near people who might not look quite like you and me ... nah, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt on that one.
5. Yes, DeAnna, in case you haven't guessed by now, I'm every bit as weary of and put off by your kind of Coloradan as you are by mine. And I'm every bit as righteously indignant as you are. So, you see, we have something in common. But there's an important, even day-and-night difference between us: I don't claim to speak for you; you, by contrast, seem to want to put words in my mouth when you spout the shopworn (and utterly empty) rhetoric about "a future for Coloradans that we want to live with." Which Coloradans would those be?
Again, nothing personal, but I no longer can be diplomatic about my exasperation with the patently irrational and downright selfish position you and so many others assert. It's time for you to crack open an economics text. Then, look in your heart and ask if you're as open-minded -- yup, I'm being sanctimonious here and justifiably so -- as you think you are about your fellow human beings.
Best regards all the same,
Editorial Page Editor
The Gazette in Colorado Springs