Local Government

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Colorado bill would close 'loophole' allowing sex offenders to skip treatment

Posted By on Thu, Feb 13, 2020 at 11:01 AM

  • Shutterstock.com
Currently, a so-called "loophole" in state law allows certain high-level sex offenders to enter community corrections before participating in behavioral treatment.

Colorado lawmakers aim to close that loophole with Senate Bill 85, which was approved by the state Senate (32 aye votes, 0 no votes, 3 excused) on Feb. 13 and heads to the House for consideration.

The legislation would make certain requirements for being released into community corrections the same as those for being released on parole.

Thus, an offender would have to have "successfully progressed in treatment" and be considered neither a threat to the community, nor likely to commit another crime, before they're sent to community corrections. The bill also requires the executive director of the state's Sex Offender Management Board to review the relevant criteria and give final approval before releasing someone into community corrections.

Community corrections, an alternative to incarceration in prison, combines residential supervision with special privileges. Offenders in community corrections programs may be employed and required to attend classes.

The loophole in the law applies to those who've committed so-called "indeterminate" sex crimes, which include: felony sexual assault, including drug- and alcohol-facilitated sexual assault; felony unlawful sexual contact by force; sexual assault on a client by a psychotherapist or sexual misconduct by a police officer; incest and aggravated incest; sexual assault on a child, including sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust; enticement of a child; and felony internet luring or internet exploitation of a child.

While those with "determinate" sentences have a maximum number of years in prison, those with "indeterminate" do not. Instead, they must remain incarcerated or supervised until they meet certain requirements.

More than three-quarters of indeterminate sex crimes are crimes against a child, according to a fact sheet (see below) in support of the bill released by the Colorado District Attorneys' Council.

But while these individuals must have progressed in behavioral treatment in order to be released on parole, they don't currently have to meet the same requirements before being released into community corrections, where offenders reside in a supervised facility but may be allowed to leave for work or when they're granted privileges.

"We tell victims of these crimes that the indeterminate sentence will be at least four years, and otherwise lifetime supervision and indeterminate, but in reality, these individuals may be released into the community in 16 months," bill sponsor Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, testified at a Feb. 10 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Over the past 20 years or so — since the Sex Offender Lifetime Supervision Act was passed — close to 150 sex offenders who received indeterminate sentences have transitioned into community corrections through the loophole, testified Amanda Gall, sexual assault resource prosecutor at the Colorado District Attorneys' Council.

Among those, Gall said, "there are folks ... who have gone on to commit new felony sex offenses."

"Allowing high-level sex offenders to return to a community setting without treatment is dangerous and unacceptable," bill sponsor Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, testified to the Judiciary Committee.
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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

UPDATE: City Council approves developer debt, public improvements to revive southwest downtown

Posted By on Tue, Feb 11, 2020 at 11:11 AM

Here's a map of the Southwest Downtown project. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy city of Colorado Springs
  • Here's a map of the Southwest Downtown project.
UPDATE: This just in from the city's economic development official Bob Cope about the lag in transferring city property to Nor'wood Development Group:

“The Cimino land exchange was originally approved by City Council on April 25, 2017. On October 23, 2019 City Council approved a Resolution allowing 25 Cimino and 125 Cimino to be conveyed separately. Since October 23, 2019 the parties have been conducting the necessary due diligence to complete the sale of 125 Cimino as the first leg of the transaction. We expect the transfer of 125 Cimino to occur in the very near future.”

——————-ORIGINAL POST 11:03 A.M. TUESDAY, FEB. 11, 2020—————————

City Council voted unanimously Feb. 11 to goose development of the long blighted southwest downtown by approving a "cooperation agreement" with the developer — Nor'wood Development Group — that pledges at least $20 million in public spending and allows a newly formed business improvement district to issue $50 million in debt.

The public money would be spent on parking, drainage, street upgrades, including an overhaul of Vermijo Street from the Olympic Museum to Wahsatch Street, utilities work and more.

As the agreement states:
The vision set forth in the Urban Renewal Plan is to create a world class urban neighborhood, comprised of new residential, office, retail, restaurant and hospitality uses catalyzing around the Museum, Hall of Fame, the [America the Beautiful] Park and their connections to the downtown core area and the City in general.
Before the votes, Councilor David Geislinger noted the city had conducted its due diligence, noting an "extensive, extensive, extensive" involvement by city officials "over the last several weeks or months."

The roughly 100 acres at issue has been designated for urban renewal for 20 years but nothing happened until the Olympic Museum project, at Vermijo and Sierra Madre Street, arose a few years back — it opens in May — along with plans for a stadium to host Switchbacks soccer club games a block or so south. It's slated to open in 2021.

Nor'wood's plan in the near term calls for building 300 residential dwelling units to the east of American the Beautiful Park, a multi-story office building of 180,000 square feet and a 240-room hotel. The 20-year build out will see construction of 4,500 residential units, 750,000 square feet of office space, 150,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space and 500 hotel rooms.

Here's a list of what will be funded with public money to help the developer get that ambitious redevelopment off the ground.

• $8.8 million from City for Champions state sales tax rebates. C4C is the tourism venture approved by state economic development officials in 2013 that also includes a new Air Force Academy visitors center, the museum, downtown stadium, Colorado College hockey arena, and sports medicine facility at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
• $12.25 million from the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority, funded with a 1 percent sales tax for regional road, bridge and trails projects.
• $1.55 million from the city's parking enterprise.
• $1.35 million from city stormwater fees collected from residents and property owners.
• $3.5 million from Colorado Springs Utilities.

Read the cooperation agreement here:
Here's file:///Users/pamzubeck/Downloads/SWD%20Infrastructure%20-Exhibit%20F%20(1).pdf" target="_blank">more about infrastructure costs.

Council also granted the Southwest Downtown Business Improvement created by Nor'wood authority to issue $50 million in debt to execute the first stage of development. Here's an artist's rendering of the area, with America the Beautiful Park on the left:

  • Courtesy city of Colorado Springs
Note the multi-story buildings immediately northeast of the park in this rendering. Those would sit on property at 25 Cimino Drive, which the city agreed to trade to Nor'wood in exchange for a small tract to the south that serves as a trail connection made necessary by the Cimarron Street interchange.

But that was three years ago and the land still hasn't changed hands.

The site is plagued with pollutants left behind by a coal gasification plant that sat there 100 years ago, and Nor'wood initially accepted the liability for cleanup. Now, the delay could signal the developer is trying to make a better deal. We've asked Nor'wood President Chris Jenkins about that and will update if and when we hear from him.

We've written about this issue here, and here and here also. It's also worth noting that the Cimino property gave rise to a lawsuit that remains pending, which we wrote about here.

We've also asked the city what the hold up is in transferring the land to Nor'wood but haven't heard back. We'll update when a response lands in our in-box.

To see the file:///Users/pamzubeck/Downloads/PowerPoint%20(1).pdf" target="_blank">presentation about the $50 million debt plans, go here.
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Friday, February 7, 2020

El Paso County commissioner calls for Senate bill to inhibit city annexations

Posted By on Fri, Feb 7, 2020 at 3:44 PM

El Paso County Commission Chair Mark Waller - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • El Paso County Commission Chair Mark Waller
A bill that would make it harder for cities to annex property is getting a lot of attention, especially in Colorado Springs where the city has shown interest in expanding its boundaries of late.

Senate Bill 147, proposed by Sen. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, would restrict which properties could be sucked into a city's limits. Now, an area can't be annexed unless one-sixth of the perimeter of the land area is contiguous with the municipality. Gardner's bill would enlarge that to one-third.

Gardner was urged to propose the bill by El Paso County Commission Chair Mark Waller, himself a former state lawmaker, who argues that under current rules, the city calls all the shots and the county has little say-so.

"As we have more pressure on the rural-urban interface, I think we need to have more collaboration in development and annexation policies," Waller tells the Indy by phone.

"Now, cities have complete control of what gets annexed and what doesn't," he says. "The county doesn't have any control. We need to have a seat at the table."

Waller says when the city annexes property without county input, it can end up leaving the county with a big bill to pay for roads requiring upgrades that are left in the county while abutting the city.

The poster child for this, he says, was the annexation of the Air Force Academy's site for a new visitors center, office space and hotel at the north gate. The annexation included Northgate Boulevard east and west of Interstate 25 but didn't include the interchange, leaving that to the county to pick up the $5 million to $10 million tab for an overhaul when the visitors center attracts larger volumes of traffic and makes the work necessary. Waller is quick to explain the county was able to resolve the issue by forfeiting county sales tax toward the project through the city's Urban Renewal Authority.

A map showing the city's annexation of property to bring the proposed Air Force Academy's new visitors center into the city limits. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy city of Colorado Springs
  • A map showing the city's annexation of property to bring the proposed Air Force Academy's new visitors center into the city limits.
"We got rid of the problem," he says, "but we gave up a lot of sales tax."

He calls Marksheffel Road on the city's east side "an absolute mess," and another example of the city's annexation maneuvers. The road flows in and out of the city, changing from two lanes to four and back to two.

Waller thinks a state law that forces more discussion might help, though he says at least one of his commissioner colleagues feels an intergovernmental agreement could accomplish the cooperation needed. Problem is, Waller says, nothing has materialized in the way of an IGA.

"I don't care how we do it," he says, adding that he hopes the proposed Senate bill will bring the city to the table.

That's far from certain, following what City Councilor Jill Gaebler describes as a contentious city-county meeting held last week. Gaebler agrees the city and county need to better-coordinate development, to avoid the city eventually annexing subdivisions that contain roads and other infrastructure built to lower standards than the city requires.

In a Feb. 7 email to the Indy, she says:
As you know, CSU [Colorado Springs Utilities] is currently working to establish an annexation policy that allows us to protect our current ratepayers' water access, while considering how we can annex new areas that are likely to be out of ground water in the short-term. We host our third water workshop next Wednesday before our CSU Board Meeting. These meetings have been open to the public and the County has been invited.

As Commissioner Waller stated in his State of Region address that he wanted more collaboration within our region, it is disappointing to know that he has secretly been working on a bill that would significantly harm Colorado Springs and the 270 other municipalities within our state. And he did all of this without any communication with us, or working with us to draft a bill that would benefit our entire region.
The city also is in the process of annexing more land in its northeast sector and has expressed interest in bringing the business district in unincorporated Falcon into the city to snare sales tax from those businesses.

The Colorado Municipal League is in Colorado Springs' corner on this one, posting an explanation of the bill and why it opposes the measure on its website, as follows:
SB 147 substantially modifies and changes the municipal annexation statue in title 31. Of note, major changes identified in the proposed legislation include:
1. Under current law, municipal annexation requires 1/6 contiguity in order for a parcel of land to be considered for annexation. SB 147 doubles the contiguity requirement to 1/3. This will significantly limit municipal authority to annex, creating a burden on property owners.

2. Would prohibit any annexation from crossing a county road or other county-owned property without consent from the county. This may severely limit an annexation and negatively impact a landowner who has requested to be annexed into the municipality.

3. Currently, municipalities adopt and regularly update a so-called “three mile plan” as a pre-requisite to annexation. SB 147 requires that the municipality put into place a comprehensive annexation plan for the area, and that the plan be adopted at least two years in advance of any annexation. It is unclear if the current requirement of a three mile plan and the new comprehensive plan would be duplicative of one another or two separate requirements.

4. As a new proposal, if at least 1/3 of the land proposed to be annexed has been used for agricultural purposes within the last three years, a county may challenge the annexation.

5. Under the proposed language, counties would be given authority to veto any county-owned land in an annexation absent an IGA. The bill also contains language suggesting that counties may use this power to force municipalities to enter into an “operations and maintenance agreement” before any county-owned facility can be annexed (this is not an enforceable principle and may result in additional litigation between the two parties).

6. SB 147 would require that an IGA between a municipality and county first be settled before a property owner may petition for annexation. This ultimately forces property owners to be responsible for the county-municipality IGA.

For several years, elected officials at the local level have successfully resolved disagreements surrounding proposed annexation. SB 147 proposes to make sweeping changes to the annexation statute without a significant demonstrated need. Prior to introduction, CML and its membership was not notified or consulted on the necessity for statewide legislation, and believes that if changes are to be made, robust conversations between stakeholders need to occur.
The fiscal note from the Legislative Council staff notes the bill would increase administrative workload for cities for annexations, including oversight and legal review. But counties, too, would see higher costs for administration in review of annexation proposals, the staff noted.
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Thursday, February 6, 2020

Updated: Arbitration reform bill moves forward

Posted By on Thu, Feb 6, 2020 at 9:20 AM

  • Shutterstock.com
——-UPDATE THURSDAY, FEB. 6 AT 12:40 P.M.——-

Senate Bill 93 passed second reading in the state Senate with a long list of amendments. View them online here.


A bill reforming the arbitration process in Colorado is close to passing in the state Senate, despite opposition from homebuilders and developers.

Senate Bill 93, also known as the "Consumer and Employee Dispute Resolution Fairness Act," was approved by Judiciary Committee on Jan. 29, after more than two hours of public comment. The bill awaits a Senate vote that's been delayed the past few days.

In an effort to add protections for individuals filing claims against businesses or employers in arbitration court, SB93 would establish ethical standards for arbitrators and increase transparency around the process.

It’s supported by the Colorado Consumer Protection Coalition and sponsored by Sens. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, and Stephen Fenberg, D-Boulder.

"This is an important bill because it really does deal with such a fundamental issue, and that is, that issue is access to justice that is based on fairness and transparency," Fenberg said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Jan. 29, where the bill was approved with minor amendments.

Most people have signed a contract that includes a forced arbitration clause, which often appears in employment contracts or agreements governing the purchase of goods or services. Such clauses mandate that customer or employee complaints are adjudicated in arbitration court rather than in front of a judge and jury. Often, the company gets to decide the terms of the arbitration process and may even be paying the arbitrator, and the public doesn't have access to the arbitrator's history.

The bill doesn't get rid of forced arbitration — only Congress can do that, Foote pointed out at the hearing — but creates changes that are aimed at leveling the playing field for someone suing a large corporation.

Nancy Burgess, a Highlands Ranch resident who testified in support of the bill, said she'd been hired as an independent contractor by a large company that imposed unfair conditions.

"The work was long and grueling and the pay was atrocious," Burgess said. "...My wages frequently fell below...the Colorado minimum wage."

When she considered pursuing legal action, Burgess realized she'd signed a contract that included a forced arbitration clause. Her contract said she had to go to Texas for arbitration and suggested she could end up having to pay the company's attorney fees should she lose her case.

Notably, the bill would not allow companies to require that arbitration take place more than 100 miles from where the consumer or employee lives or where the contract was executed. It would also bar either party to the dispute from choosing the arbitrator, a common practice that proponents of the bill argue stacks the odds in the favor of a business or employer.

Several people who testified on behalf of builders and developers, however, said the bill could have the unforeseen consequence of limiting the state's affordable housing supply.

To understand that reasoning, we have to look back at Colorado's history with "construction defects" litigation.

Prior to 2017, it was relatively easy for people to file expensive class-action lawsuits against developers of townhomes or condominiums for problems with construction. That limited developers' willingness to build such multifamily housing projects in an affordable price range — because insurers didn't want to work with developers who could end up on the hook for huge settlements.

Then, a Colorado Supreme Court decision in 2017 and a state law passed that same year somewhat improved the landscape.

"Over the last several years...we've gone from a market where many insurers wouldn't even write in Colorado, particularly for multifamily projects, because of the dramatic uncertainty in both litigation costs and exposure, to a market where insurers are now writing more proficiently and more prolifically within Colorado," Scott Wilkinson testified on behalf of the Colorado Association of Home Builders.

Wilkinson said builders were worried that SB93 would undermine their ability to develop affordable housing as townhomes or condos, because insurers would be less willing to cover possible costs arising from dispute resolution in a more uncertain arbitration process.

The 2017 changes "put construction cases, which are highly technical, in front of arbitrators who were knowledgeable in this subject — which meant you had verdicts that more closely resembled the cost necessary to compensate the victims, as opposed to outlier verdicts that might not have been related to the actual harms," Wilkinson said. "What this bill does is it takes that progress we’ve made and it now gives the plaintiffs’ attorneys an excuse for attacking it and introducing additional uncertainty."

The bill sponsors said they were willing to tweak the bill's language to appease those who testified in opposition.

In closing remarks, Foote acknowledged that arbitration has a "very valuable spot" in dispute resolution.

"But when you have an imbalance of power," he added, "when you have a big corporation that's represented by counsel versus a consumer that's not, when you have a student loan corporation versus a student... that's an imbalance of power."
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Wednesday, February 5, 2020

DA Dan May wants his credit from county commissioner

Posted By on Wed, Feb 5, 2020 at 8:59 AM

  • Images taken from El Paso County's meeting video
  • May with his backup crowd.
District Attorney Dan May was nonplussed when he sat through the Board of County Commissioners Chair Mark Waller's Dec. 12 State of the Region address, sponsored by the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC.

That's because Waller apparently didn't mention the DA's Office, and May took that as a personal affront.

Instead of doing a little investigating as to why, May jumped off the deep end and on Dec. 17, he marched as many people from his office as he could muster over to the County Commissioner meeting.

Nevermind that the theme of Waller's address was overseen by County Administrator Amy Folsom, who says the goal was to name certain departments that rarely get attention, including the Department of Human Services and the Department of Public Health. No slight, intended, she said.

Regardless, May had a point to make, especially since he opposes Waller's bid to replace him as district attorney in this year's election. May favors his own Deputy DA Michael Allen for the job. Both Waller and Allen are Republicans, as is May.

May, who's term-limited, made attendance at the meeting mandatory for everyone who wasn't due in court that day, according to insiders. So they all trouped over in a parade of sorts from the DA's office at 105 E. Vermijo St. to Centennial Hall, a little over a block. The employees then sat through May's 20-minute speech of why his office should have gotten accolades from Waller in the State of the Region speech.

Insiders report nobody knew why the 100 or so employees — judging from video of the meeting — were being forced to swamp the commissioner meeting. Even May admitted in his opening remarks that "nobody knows why we're here except a couple of people." The DA's office has  234 employees.

"I put together a quick presentation," May said. "I want you to see, to confirm that you know we do exist."

The crowd dutifully applauded when called upon to do so as May read the many reasons why Waller should have exalted his office. Those reasons include:

• His office does more with less. Its budget is $15 million a year, compared to $20 million in other large counties, including Denver and Arapahoe counties.

• 125 volunteers give some 18,000 hours of work per year.

• Several prosecutors have won distinguished awards.

• His office prosecuted 160 illegal pot grow cases last year. (Waller mentioned the Sheriff's Office's enforcement but apparently omitted the prosecutorial part of that.)

• His office files about 33,000 cases per year, 7,000 of them felonies, the most in the state.

• His office collected $6.2 million in restitution last year, the most of any office, and handed out $1.8 million to victims of crimes in victim compensation.

May making a point of the greatness of his office.
  • May making a point of the greatness of his office.
You get the idea.

The three commissioners on hand that day — Stan VanderWerf, Longinos Gonzalez Jr., and Cami Bremer — made a point to lavish praise on May.

"I appreciate everybody coming over here," VanderWerf said. "I just want you to know I was not part of the development of that [Waller's] presentation. I deeply appreciate the work that you all do."

Bremer thanked May for the presentation, adding, "Any opportunity we have to celebrate the successes of the county, whatever form that might take ... I think we should celebrate our successes."

Folsom then cleared the air a bit, saying she might have been the only one in the room who had "intimate knowledge" of how the speech came together.
Folsom: Setting the record straight about why the State of the Region speech omitted any mention of Dan May.
  • Folsom: Setting the record straight about why the State of the Region speech omitted any mention of Dan May.

"I want to echo the comments that you all do fantastic work," she said, adding she wanted to dispel the idea that "there’s a nefarious thing going on."

Rather, she explained, "We made a conscious decision to mention departments we’d never mentioned before." Those include human services, where social workers and others look out after the interests of thousands of children each day.

"Nobody made a decision [of] don’t include the district attorney's office," she said.

Folsom left the group with this thought and advice: "Think big. Celebrate your success and don’t care who gets the credit. That’s my ask of you today."

We asked Waller for his take on all this and received this comment in an email:
"One of the themes of the speech was a quote by Ronald Reagan, “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.” Unfortunately, our District Attorney completely missed that point.

As a former deputy district attorney myself, I certainly understand and appreciate the important role the district attorney’s office performs regarding public safety. In this speech, we wanted to highlight others in the county doing great things. For example, our coroner, Dr. Leon Kelly, is doing innovative work to prevent teen suicide, and the citizens should know it.

With over 2,850 employees and numerous agencies in the County, we couldn’t mention them all. It’s disappointing our District Attorney fails to recognize that, and it’s disappointing he fails to understand the importance of President Reagan’s simple leadership lesson."
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Friday, January 31, 2020

City prepares to replace North Cheyenne Cañon Park bridges

Posted By on Fri, Jan 31, 2020 at 4:07 PM

This bridge is located near Middle Columbine Trailhead. - PHOTOS COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Photos courtesy City of Colorado Springs
  • This bridge is located near Middle Columbine Trailhead.
The city plans to spend upwards of $4 million replacing three bridges in North Cheyenne Cañon Park, with the help of federal money routed through the state.

The park's master plan was developed in 2018 in partnership with the community. The park has seen a surge in visitors in recent years, and the city wants to protect the park's historic and natural resources, city spokesperson Kim Melchor says.

"Efforts to replace historic bridges in the park, which began in 2012, is a proactive effort for continued safe access to the park and surrounding community and to better facilitate emergency vehicle access to serve park users and residents," she says via email. "It is important to note that there are no plans to initiate a shuttle system in North Cheyenne Cañon Park. If at any point in the future safety conditions require significant traffic reduction measures, there will be an open public process to consider such measures."

Some residents of the area have expressed concerns that the project is being undertaken to somehow benefit The Broadmoor resort and hotel, which owns Seven Falls. But city officials deny that, noting the project has been in the pipeline for a long time and predates by four years the 2016 transfer of city-owned Strawberry Fields open space to The Broadmoor in a land swap.

Aaron Egbert, with city engineering, notes that city fire engines exceed the 20-ton posted load limit of the bridges, though he says the city hasn't cited the fire department for violating the limit.
The work will include making a wider mouth for water to flow through, including at this bridge near Colorado Springs Utilities' intake structure.
  • The work will include making a wider mouth for water to flow through, including at this bridge near Colorado Springs Utilities' intake structure.

Donna Strom, who lives near the park, attended a Jan. 28 public meeting about the bridge project. "I asked if anyone could provide documentation of any incident that had gone badly specifically because of the bridges and got no answer," says Strom, who wonders if widening the bridges is a precursor to widening the roads to handle larger buses for tourist trips, which she has concerns about.

Besides shoring up the bridges to withstand greater loads, Egbert notes in an interview, "My goal is to replace these structures before we have a large storm event and we might lose one to flooding."
The new bridges will have wider spaces to allow for greater "hydraulic adequacy," he says.

Funding for the project will come from nearly $2.9 million in grant money from the Colorado Department of Transportation, which came from federal funds (the city will fund $558,501 of that amount), and $1.2 million from the Rural Transportation Authority, which gets its money from a 1 percent sales tax.

Egbert says state engineers have assigned the bridges sufficiency ratings based on structural integrity of 48.2, 52.3 and 62.1 on a scale where 100 is a perfect score. The other three bridges in the park will be replaced at some point, but for now the city has no funding for them.

So far, the city has completed about 30 percent of the design work and hopes to start construction next fall.
The third bridge is located upstream from Mount Cutler Trailhead.
  • The third bridge is located upstream from Mount Cutler Trailhead.
"I do believe we’ll have to close the park down during the winter," he says. "We would start in September and open back up in April."

The reconstructed bridges will be of natural stone to maintain the historic look of the park, Egbert says. "We are going to do the best we can to match the rock look as we go up the canyon," he says.

According to the city, the bridges will be designed to:
• Enhance safety for all North Cheyenne Cañon Park users;
• Provide appropriate bridge location adjustments where needed;
• Blend with the character of the Park;
• Minimize impacts to the natural surroundings during construction and beyond;
• Accommodate and convey larger rain events;
• Accommodate emergency services during construction and beyond; and
• Meet Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) and City standards.

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City looks to link North Nevada Avenue with downtown

Posted By on Fri, Jan 31, 2020 at 11:48 AM

A crowd gathered Jan. 29 at Tap Traders to discuss the city's plan to route hundred of bus trips through the Old North End to link North Nevada Avenue with downtown. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • A crowd gathered Jan. 29 at Tap Traders to discuss the city's plan to route hundred of bus trips through the Old North End to link North Nevada Avenue with downtown.
A plan to route hundreds of buses per day through the Old North End to link North Nevada Avenue with downtown got pushback from residents who oppose a plan they say would bring polluting exhaust and noise through a historic neighborhood.

Here's the reason the city is looking into a new transportation plan for North Nevada:
The North Nevada Transit Connectivity Study will evaluate the feasibility of alternatives transit services to serve the needs of the North Nevada Avenue corridor and connect the UCCS [University of Colorado at Colorado Springs] campus to downtown Colorado Springs. The project will build on previous studies and by using existing transit operations, forecast demographics, and community input, will define the transit needs of the North Nevada Avenue corridor. Through definition of need, the project will select and define a preferred transit technology, alignment, and operational characteristics that best responds to the defined mobility needs of the corridor. Importantly, the project will develop these aspects of a transit service consistent with federal funding requirements including consideration of environmental constraints.
Residents who showed up at a Jan. 29 open house at Tap Traders on North Nevada, one of several meetings held in a process that dates back months, seemed skeptical at best and opposed at worst.

"I've lived here since 1948," one woman, who wouldn't give her name, said. "I grew up on Wahsatch [Street] and Nevada. The noise and pollution will increase. There are school kids crossing Nevada. This will negatively impact that. After attending three meetings ... [city officials] say it's already been decided. They're shoving it down our throats."

The city disputes that an exact route — which would run from 5 to 20 miles — and method of conveyance has been chosen, though several have been proposed.

The least expensive, at $2 million to $5 million per mile, would be to simply add local buses to existing routes in the corridor. The buses would run every 15 to 60 minutes and carry up to 5,000 people a day.

The most expensive option would be to build light rail transit, at $50 million to $100 million per mile, running every five to 15 minutes. It would carry up to 50,000 passengers per day.

David Schwartz, whose home faces Nevada, says adding buses to the four-lane street will cause more congestion. He notes one plan would add express buses that wouldn't stop between the UCCS campus and downtown. He's opposed to that because those buses would zip by, bring pollution and noise but not serve the neighborhood, he said.

Schwartz also notes that some years ago, the city ended Nevada as a designated truck route. "So why are they putting large vehicles back on the road?" he asks. "Why are they reversing that decision?"

Adding more transit vehicles, he says, would "change the nature of the area that's of historic importance," as well as place children and older adults who live in the neighborhood at risk.

Peter Franz, a member of the Old North End Neighborhood board who also serves on an advisory committee for the project, says the Old North End advocates that the route be placed on Interstate 25, which is designed for high volumes of traffic. He recalls that in 2004, the city tried to do the same thing with a route through the North End but scrapped the idea after North End residents swamped a City Council meeting.

This time it might be different. When the neighborhood caught wind of the project, residents asked for wording in the project's scope that said, "a high-frequency transit line should avoid neighborhoods of single-family homes." Planners agreed to add that language, but then tacked on "when possible," Franz says.

If the city adds one additional bus in both directions every 15 minutes, that computes to 125 additional bus trips, he says. "I think it's excessive," he says. "It's primarily meant to address growth in the North Nevada area and UCCS students."

Buses up and down Nevada now carry about 900 passengers per day, Franz says. The new route would carry up to 5,000 per day.

While it might be hard to imagine the number of riders increasing that much, Franz says they'll come from a new network of high-frequency routes that will feed into the Nevada route. Those will come from Woodmen Road, Austin Bluffs Parkway and Garden of the Gods Road, he says.

One plan calls for two bus stops to be built — at Penrose Hospital and at Uintah Street — which means the bus traffic isn't likely to serve much of the population living along the corridor itself, he says.

"We don't think it belongs on any neighborhood street," Franz says.

City Councilor Don Knight, who represents the northwest district that lies north of Fillmore Street, notes when he drives home from downtown, he takes Weber Street because it's wide and not as busy as I-25 and Nevada. He also called Weber "not as aesthetic" as Nevada and noted there's no boulevard between the north- and south-bound lanes as there is on Nevada.

"I'm going to be a little bit heartless," he says. "That [Nevada] is [U.S. Highway 115] and has been for a long time. I bought [a house] on a cul-de-sac because I didn't want a lot of traffic."

Addressing a rumor floating in the room that the city might set up a special taxing district to fund the new route, Knight says he hasn't heard anything about that. He adds that any new tax would require voter approval.

Gary Casimir, who is retired from the Navy, says he keeps his eye on city business, adding the city needs to answer a lot of questions before adopting any plan that would place additional buses on Weber, Wahsatch or Nevada. Among those:
1) Will the existing streets be re-built (not milled and a layer of asphalt) to handle the extra weight plus wear and tear on the streets?
2) Where will repair funding come from? What other neighborhoods will be shorted to maintain the streets?
3) What will be the cost per mile to run these additional buses? What is the current cost per mile? (methodology-historical data)
4) What is the maintenance cost per hour for the buses including the new articulated buses? (methodology-historical data)
5) Will the maintenance of the new buses be done in-house or out-sourced?
6) What is the break-even point of putting a bus into service? (methodology-historical data)
7) Who picks up the difference between actual cost to operate and actual monies derived from ridership?
8) Is the city preparing for autonomous buses?
Have your say in this survey. The city invites residents to complete it by Feb. 14. The study will wrap up in July, after which Mountain Metropolitan Transit officials will search for funding for its preferred alternative.
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Monday, January 27, 2020

COS to award money to nonprofits for minority scholarships

Posted By on Mon, Jan 27, 2020 at 4:15 PM

  • Shutterstock.com
Proposals were due Jan. 20 from nonprofits interested in obtaining money from the city of Colorado Springs for scholarships for minority college students.

Who knew the city was in the scholarship business?

According to the posting by the city's procurement department, the city will make a donation to a nonprofit of up to $3,000 "to be used solely to fund one or more college scholarships." The total awarded per fiscal year is capped at $6,000, and the awards are being handled in an informal selection process allowed under the city's procurement rules for contracts of less than $200,000.

Here's the eligibility criteria:
• Nonprofit organizations (501(c)3) located in El Paso County which are in good standing in the state of Colorado and have previously awarded college scholarships for at least three consecutive school terms.
• Nonprofit organizations that provide financial aid to assist underserved students who have demonstrated a need for financial assistance to either enter college or need continued funding to pursue their college degree.
• Students must be a high school senior and slated to graduate in the year that the scholarship is awarded or are currently enrolled in a college or university in good academic and disciplinary standing at the time that the scholarship funds are awarded.
• The nonprofit organization must not discriminate on the grounds of race, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, age, pregnancy status, religion, creed, disability, sexual orientation, genetic information, spousal or civil union status, veteran status, or other status protected by applicable law in awarding the scholarships.

Asked why the city does this, city spokesperson Jamie Fabos says via email:
The City has a budget of $50,000 (2020) in the Human resources diversity fund. As part of the Equity, Diversity & Inclusion program, $6,000 has been donated to local non-profits who assist underserved Colorado Springs residents with college tuition via a scholarship program in each of the last four years. This is one small way that the City is investing in the community. In the past, the City has worked with El Cinco de Mayo, Inc. and Urbanites Leading the Pikes Peak Region.

These scholarships have typically been awarded to lower income students by the chosen non-profits. These organizations must sign an agreement stating they will not discriminate based on race, gender, etc. in the awarding of the scholarships.
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Friday, January 24, 2020

City, feds team up on air tanker base at COS airport

Posted By on Fri, Jan 24, 2020 at 5:23 PM

  • Shutterstock.com
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service and the city of Colorado Springs announced on Jan. 24 they would team up to build a permanent air tanker base at Colorado Springs Airport to fight fires in the Rocky Mountain Region and the West.

Mayor John Suthers hailed the announcement, noting increasing forest fire activity.

“We want to do everything we can to protect our beautiful state and our residents," Suthers said in a release. "As wildland firefighting continues to be a priority for western states, we continue to embrace our leadership role and we look forward to completion of this vital asset."

The project, the base and a ramp will cost $20 million and be shared by the airport and the USDA. The USDA has budgeted $37 million for Aviation Safety Modernization Projects.

From the release:
The one-and-a-half-acre base will initially house six reload pits for any type of contracted airtanker, including Very Large Airtankers that can hold more than 5,000 gallons of retardant—making it the largest base in the region, with the ability to serve a 600-mile radius. The base will support even the largest airtankers and will allow multiple airtankers to reload at once. This will allow an increased amount of retardant to be sent to a wildfire faster and with greater efficiency. It will also help the firefighters on the ground and protect communities from the approaching threat of wildfire. By being able to service aircraft of all sizes and capabilities, the base will also reduce the total number of flights needed to fight a wildfire, reducing the risk to additional flight crews and other regions.
Not connected with that announcement but worth noting is that the so-called "supertanker" that carries 19,200 gallons of water or retardant also is based in Colorado Springs. It recently was called upon to assist in battling fires in the Amazon.

“This project is a perfect example of how we can work within all levels of government to promote shared stewardship,” the USDA's Acting Regional Forester Jennifer Eberlien said in the release. “I am excited to see it unfold and to see what it will mean for supporting communities during peak fire year activity.”

The tanker base will serve a 600-mile radius, which includes Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska. The base will also provide support to southern Montana, southeastern Idaho, eastern Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, the Texas Panhandle, Oklahoma, western Iowa and western Missouri.

The release also noted the eight-acre ramp will be located near the airport’s main 13,500-foot runway and adjacent to the U.S. Army-operated ramp. During the winter months, when the Forest Service is not using the ramp, the airport will use it as a de-icing area for commercial aircraft. Groundbreaking is slated for spring, and the project is expected to be completed in 2021.

Of course, hosting an air tanker base doesn't guarantee that air tankers will be on-hand when they're needed. During the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire, the Forest Service had only nine tankers under contract, compared to 44 a decade earlier.
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El Paso County Sheriff's Office releases video in death in custody case

Posted By on Fri, Jan 24, 2020 at 5:18 PM

The video shows Clark bursting out of a holding room. - EL PASO COUNTY
  • El Paso County
  • The video shows Clark bursting out of a holding room.
On Jan. 24, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office released the video of an inmate's episode that led to his death in custody.

Brian Clark, 44, who was being held at the Criminal Justice Center, on a warrant for indecent exposure, died on Jan. 17 after struggling with deputies after he pushed his way out of a room in the medical ward, the video shows.

"Inmate Clark continued to resist deputies up until the point he was put in the chair. At that time, he suffered a major cardiac event, was wheeled into a trauma room where life saving efforts were performed, yet unsuccessful," a statement with the video says.

The Sheriff's Office also released names of the sergeants and deputies involved in the incident:

Sergeant Amy Ward, date of hire: 03-17-2008, assigned to Security Division.
Sergeant Lene Lipford, date of hire: 12-15-2010, assigned to Security Division.
Deputy Alexander Yakovlev, date of hire: 05-31-2016, assigned to Security Division.
Deputy Araceli Valle, date of hire: 08-29-2016, assigned to Security Division.
Deputy Candace Bradburry, date of hire: 06-10-2019, assigned to Security Division.
Deputy David Divine, date of hire: 08-27-2018, assigned to Security Division.
Deputy Elmer Ibarra, date of hire: 09-06-2016, assigned to Security Division.
Deputy John Vela, date of hire: 05-14-2018, assigned to Security Division.
Deputy Kyle Shelhamer, date of hire: 04-04-2011, assigned to Security Division.
Deputy Lisa Webster, date of hire: 05-31-2016, assigned to Security Division.

All sergeants and deputies have returned to full duty, the Sheriff's Office said.

The incident is under investigation by the Colorado Springs Police Department.

Accompanying the video was this description:
This video is from the Medical Section at the El Paso County Jail on Friday, January 17, 2020 at approximately 9:18 PM. Inmate Clark rushed deputies, as they attempted to switch out a defective safety smock. A call for assistance was made over the radio, and several deputies responded to Medical and assisted in restraining Inmate Clark for his safety and the safety of the deputies.
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Garden of the Gods draws controversy for fees, drainage project

Posted By on Fri, Jan 24, 2020 at 3:16 PM

Here's an example of a photo shot by a professional photographer using the Garden of the Gods as a backdrop. - COURTESY AMANDA ROBERTS WITH THISTLE AND PINE PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Courtesy Amanda Roberts with Thistle and Pine Photography
  • Here's an example of a photo shot by a professional photographer using the Garden of the Gods as a backdrop.
By now, it's old news that the city has decided to impose fees for commercial use of Garden of the Gods.

The charges reportedly caught some people by surprise, though the city had posted signs throughout the park last May that a fee was coming. Photographers expressed outrage at the idea of paying $500 a year to use the park as a backdrop for family portraits, wedding photos and the like.

"Five hundred dollars is more than any place in the entire state of Colorado," says professional photographer Amanda Roberts. "Rocky Mountain National Park charges $300."

She notes a petition opposing the fees on change.org drew 20,000 signatures. "We finally got a response back from the city saying they were not implementing it but would be putting a permit process in place. It was like we won but didn't win."

Another thing that rankled some residents was the idea that the Garden of the Gods Visitors Center would collect the fees. The Visitors Center is a limited liability company owned by the nonprofit Garden of the Gods Foundation.

The Visitors Center has had a contract with the city to run the center since 1993 and when the contract renewed last year, the commercial permitting task was added last year and will run 25 years, says city spokesperson Vanessa Zink.

More from Zink:
PRCS and VNC staff collaborated to implement a new process for administering commercial use permits, beginning this year, for commercial entities operating within the park. The new process requests that entities generating revenue from their operations within the park apply for a commercial use permit. Revenue collected from this permit will go back to the park for maintenance, programming and projects.

PRCS and VNC collaborated on these guidelines and application materials based upon the existing PRCS Private Outdoor Fee-based Activities (POFA) permit used to manage fee-based activities throughout the department. This permitting process includes an application fee along with a varied fee structure based upon whether the applicant is a nonprofit or for-profit and whether the use is a single use permit, annual permit or a group bus tour.

Park staff began to inform commercial operators of the new permitting process in May 2019 with signage installed in the park that informs operators about how to join the permitting process, more of which can be found on www.gardenofgods.com/permits. Additionally, a letter about the new process was recently sent to the nearly 200 commercial operators we know of, inviting them to join in the permitting process to help give back to the park.

In addition to providing revenue to the park, under the new permitting system, PRCS will have better oversight over what commercial entities are operating within the park, ensure those permitted have appropriate insurance, follow park rules and that their commercial use falls within the mission of the park and is in accordance with the Master Plan. VNC is administering the program closely with park staff to review applications and answer questions about the process.

Garden of the Gods Foundation President Jan Martin notes the Parks Advisory Board gave the permit program the green light in October. Responding to criticism that the family who bequeathed the park to the city required it to be free to the public, Martin notes, "Anybody can go to the park free. This is really for operations that are charging to take people into the park, like a tour bus company." Others who will pay the fee include hiking expedition companies, stables that offer horse-back riding, and Broadmoor bus tours of the park. In addition, the park, which hosted more than 5 million visitors last year, is used by companies to hype products, including cars.

While Martin notes that many cities in Colorado charge such fees in their parks, she acknowledged that none she's aware of entrust collection of the fees to a nonprofit or a for-profit company, as is the case with the Garden of the Gods fees.

She says a goal of the program is to discover how the park is being used. "The city knew there was a lot of this going on — people charging for use of services," she says. "They're hoping to get a better sense for how the park is being used, and this is one way to do that."

But Martin disputed the fee program is a way to amass piles of money. "It's not going to be a bonanza," she says. "You can make the argument if people are using the park for commercial purposes, then this is a way for them to give back to the city to help maintain the park."

Martin says there won't be any active enforcement, but rangers will ask people to produce their permit if needed. Neither the Visitors Center nor the city plan to add employees to handle the fee program.

Roberts says she hopes the city moves quickly to make a decision on the photographer fee, because photographers work months, even a year, in advance. She also hopes the fee is substantially less, because a $500 fee would pose a hardship. "We don't make enough to pay $500 for use of Garden of the Gods," she says.

Roberts notes after she and others asked for a town hall meeting about the issue, they were told to attend City Council meetings and make their wishes known during the public comment period. Council has no say in the fees, however, which fall under the purview of Mayor John Suthers, who has administrative oversight of city operations.

Zink says a professional photographer fee policy is being worked out and may apply in all city parks.
A dam on the northeast side of Garden of the Gods Park is part of a massive stormwater drainage project disrupting the park. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • A dam on the northeast side of Garden of the Gods Park is part of a massive stormwater drainage project disrupting the park.
Another controversy swirling in the Garden of the Gods Park centers on a massive detention pond and dam being built to control drainage and remove the Pleasant Valley neighborhood from the flood plain.

Former Councilor Scott Hente, for one, raised objections more than a year ago, saying other steps already taken render the project unnecessary.

But the city proceeded, and now at least 20 acres on the park's northeast side have been dug up.

As one resident, Eva Syrovy, tells the Indy via email, "They have utterly destroyed that entire area. It's close to bighorn sheep habitat. More, the foothills trail, a vital bicycle link in the westside community, has been closed for several months, supposedly to reopen on 12/31."
On the north side of the dam, earth moving equipment continue to dig and reshape the terrain. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • On the north side of the dam, earth moving equipment continue to dig and reshape the terrain.
Martin acknowledges the project doesn't make for a pretty sight, but eventually it could revert to a more natural look.

"It was something that needed to be done," Martin says. "The home owners in Pleasant Valley are pleased, because this will remove them from the flood plain. They [city officials] say when it's done, they’ll reseed it with natural vegetation and you won’t know it’s there, but that’s hard to believe when you look at it today."
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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Where do Colorado Springs residents want to move?

Posted By on Wed, Jan 22, 2020 at 9:52 AM

Apartment List's latest migration report suggests Pueblo is a popular option for apartment hunters looking to move from Colorado Springs. - GREGORY HOWELL
  • Gregory Howell
  • Apartment List's latest migration report suggests Pueblo is a popular option for apartment hunters looking to move from Colorado Springs.

According to a new report, about a quarter of Colorado Springs residents hunting for apartments are looking to move elsewhere. Meanwhile, out of the people looking for a place to live in Colorado Springs, slightly over half are from outside of the metro area.

That data comes from Apartment List, an online listing platform that also follows rental housing trends, which released the results of its latest Renter Migration Report on Jan. 22.

The proportion of apartment hunters within Colorado Springs who were looking to move outside the metro area was slightly lower than in June 2019, when Apartment List reported that 31 percent of searches from people living in the city were for apartments elsewhere. But the percentage of people outside the city looking for an apartment in Colorado Springs remained unchanged, at 54 percent.

Taken together, those two factors suggest that the city is growing in population.

About 15.5 percent of the people from outside Colorado Springs who were looking to move here lived in Denver, according to the latest report. Washington, D.C., residents represented 8.3 percent of inbound searches, while Chicago residents made up 3.8 percent. Last summer, those same three cities were the most likely to include people looking for apartments in Colorado Springs.

As for outbound searches — people in Colorado Springs who wanted to move to a different city — about 30 percent were looking in Denver. Pueblo was the second most popular destination, drawing 5.2 percent of outbound searches, and 3.9 percent of outbound searches were for Phoenix listings.

That's a significant change from June 2019, when the three most popular destinations were Denver (34 percent), Phoenix (4.3 percent) and Boulder (3.5 percent).

It could reflect that Colorado Springs residents are increasingly looking to Pueblo as a more affordable option. Apartment List's latest report on Colorado Springs rents showed that median rent grew 3.4 percent between December 2018 and December 2019, the fourth-highest such increase among metro areas in the U.S.

Median rent for a two-bedroom apartment was $1,270 in December, according to Apartment List numbers for Colorado Springs. In Pueblo, median rent was just $800.

It's also clear that Denver remains a popular place for apartment hunters looking to move to a different city.

Apartment List's latest migration report showed that 48 percent of people looking for listings in Denver lived outside the city. By that measure, the city is attracting more outsiders than any other metro area in the country. A typical two-bedroom apartment costs about $80 more a month in Denver than in Colorado Springs.
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Thursday, January 16, 2020

CSPD commander, cited for careless driving, retires

Posted By on Thu, Jan 16, 2020 at 12:30 PM

Commander Rafael Cintron - COURTESY CSPD
  • Courtesy CSPD
  • Commander Rafael Cintron
Colorado Springs Police Department officials are downplaying an incident in which Commander Rafael Cintron, a 34-year CSPD veteran, was cited for careless driving after crashing his personal vehicle into a trash container and being observed with the smell of alcohol on his breath.

Cintron, 57, served as the staff duty officer at the time of the crash, about 6 p.m. on Dec. 15. That means he was the commander in charge of any major incident, such as an officer-involved shooting, and would be called upon to oversee the incident as well as brief the police chief and the District Attorney's Office.

Facing a March 20 hearing in El Paso County court and an internal affairs investigation, Cintron recently retired. He's still listed on the CSPD website as commander of the Metro Vice Narcotics and Intelligence Division.

CSPD spokesperson Lt. Jim Sokolik tells the Indy a DUI officer conducted a field sobriety test and found him unimpaired. But a neighbor tells the Indy that Cintron was "yelling at everyone" after the crash and proceeded to drink two gallons of water at neighbors' homes as police arrived and perused the scene. Deputy Chief Adrian Vasquez, who signed Cintron's citation, drove Cintron home that night, according to a source who spoke on condition of anonymity due to fears of retaliation.

The incident has raised questions among the ranks about why Cintron was granted what they perceive as special treatment not afforded to any other cop, not to mention any member of the public.

Former CSPD officer John McFarland believes Cintron got special treatment via the ride home and for not being charged with a more serious crime. He also alleges the deputy chief helped in an attempted cover-up of the incident. Sokolik says there was no special treatment.

"I strongly believe in holding police officers, whether street cops or senior management, to the highest standards," McFarland wrote in an email to his friends that was shared with the Indy. "A cop who 'departs from the truth' (the oft-repeated euphemism for being a liar) deserves to be fired and criminally prosecuted. For this reason, I feel morally compelled to act. I cannot simply look the other way and sleep at night."

If someone detected alcohol on an officer's breath, that officer would be given a portable breath test. If it came back positive, the officer would immediately be suspended and an internal affairs investigation launched, a police source says. Motorists under suspicion of DUI aren't allowed to drink water, eat or chew gum, the source says.

Sokolik disputed that, saying officers who smell of alcohol aren't automatically suspended, because there must evidence of intoxication to impose sanctions. He also disputed that motorists under suspicion of DUI aren't allowed to drink or eat. He said if probable cause exists of a DUI, then there is a period of time called observation during which a suspect isn't allowed to eat or drink but other than that, suspects could drink water. Moreover, Sokolik took issue with the idea that drinking water would impact a person's blood alcohol level. He says it does not. "Intake of liquid has nothing to do with it," he says.

Careless driving is a class 2 misdemeanor traffic offense and carries a penalty of three months to 364 days in jail, a fine of between $250 and $1,000 or both  10 to 90 days and a fine of $150 to $300 or both.

We've requested the police report of the incident, but haven't yet received it.

Sokolik tells us in an email that "somebody [is] leading you down the wrong path on this."

"Cintron was involved in a traffic crash and received a ticket, he was evaluated after a witness stated that they smelled alcohol, but he was not impaired," Sokolik writes. "It was well known that he was retiring sometime in the first half of this this year .... It is not unusual at all for someone to move that date around. I don’t believe there is any link between his retirement and the traffic accident."

Cintron, a Widefield High School grad, joined the department in 1985 and was promoted to commander in 2012. He couldn't be reached for comment.

Read more details in the Indy next week.

This blog post has been updated to reflect changes and additions made based on information provided by the Police Department.
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Tuesday, January 14, 2020

COS Councilor given "Climate Meltdown Award"

Posted By on Tue, Jan 14, 2020 at 2:10 PM

Amy Gray holds an award for Councilor Andy Pico for his belief that climate change is not a crisis. - CITY COUNCIL MEETING
  • City Council meeting
  • Amy Gray holds an award for Councilor Andy Pico for his belief that climate change is not a crisis.
Colorado Springs Councilor Andy Pico was awarded a "'Climate Meltdown Award" on Jan. 14 by 350 Colorado, an environmental watchdog group, for his position that climate change hasn't been proven to be human caused and does not pose a crisis.

The award, presented by 350 Colorado volunteer coordinator Amy Gray, opened a can of worms at the City Council meeting, with several councilors defending Pico's right to embrace a different viewpoint without being chastised for it.

It's worth noting the award grew from Pico's admonishment to students campaigning for effective countermeasures to combat climate change. When a student invited Pico to participate in the Climate Strike event on Dec. 6, he wrote back:


At the Jan. 14 meeting, Gray told Council the signs of climate change are "irrefutable" and accused climate change deniers of "sit[ting] on their high horse while the planet burns" and ignoring their constituents' "fight for a better future."

Besides the "Climate Meltdown Award" certificate, Gray presented Pico and Councilor Don Knight with lumps of coal.

Other residents also spoke, expressing concern over the city's plan to keep running the downtown coal-burning Drake Power Plant until 2035. One woman who lives in southwest Colorado Springs noted a marked decline in birds who visit her heated bird bath and the appearance of "a chemical film" on the bath's water, which she said "has to be coming from Drake."

Scott Anderson told Council the city should do more to invest in renewable energy. "When I go for a walk, I get tired of smelling it," he said of Drake's emissions.

One speaker accused climate change deniers of sacrificing the health of the planet and its residents to greed.

Stephany Rose Spaulding, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully against Congressman Doug Lamborn two years ago, termed climate change "the justice issue of our time."

"It will not resist attacking any one of us," she says. She urged Council to formulate a sustainability plan, especially in light of predictions the local population will balloon to 1 million in a few years. "We do not have the infrastructure for this many people... . We have to be serious about the work of the environment. We can’t afford an apology later."
A Springs Utilities solar array at Clear Springs Ranch south of Colorado Springs is one way the city is moving toward renewables, although the downtown coal-fired Drake Power Plant isn't slated for retirement until 2035. - COURTESY COLORADO SPRINGS UTILITIES
  • Courtesy Colorado Springs Utilities
  • A Springs Utilities solar array at Clear Springs Ranch south of Colorado Springs is one way the city is moving toward renewables, although the downtown coal-fired Drake Power Plant isn't slated for retirement until 2035.

Councilor Bill Murray chimed in noting that Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, the world's largest money manager overseeing $7 trillion in assets, said in his annual letter to CEOs published Jan. 14 that "Climate change has become a defining factor in companies’ long-term prospects. … But awareness is rapidly changing, and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance.”

After about an hour of commentary, Pico finally weighed in, saying that "comments about denialism really are insulting."

He produced several graphic slides based on NASA research that he said defies climate change hysteria. "This is coming from a data source that you all are using to say we have an emergency," he said. "You need to have an open mind. If you hear about a consensus, there's no such thing as consensus in science."

He attributed many of fires in Australia to arson, not climate change, adding he has no "secret motivation."

"I'm looking at this from reality," he added.

Councilor Knight jumped in to defend Pico, saying Australia's fires have more to do with failure to mitigate for years than global warming, and scolded citizens for criticizing Pico, saying it's unfair for them to "attack a Council member just because they don't agree with that Council member." He described Pico as honorable without "vicious motives."

Councilor Wayne Williams noted the state is curtailing highway money to the region based on air quality, meaning air quality has improved, with the implication being that it's OK to keep Drake cranking for years. Drake, he noted, produces electricity cheaper than renewable sources do.

Council President Richard Skorman said he disagreed with Pico on climate change but agreed "we should have a respectful conversation."

Councilor Yolanda Avila said she's in the corner of environmentalists, and challenged Williams' point about air quality, saying, "One can argue whether those [regulations] are stringent enough."

But she, too, went to bat for Pico, characterizing him as a "man of integrity."
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Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Air Force Academy to city: Don't foist your stormwater problems on the Academy

Posted By on Wed, Jan 8, 2020 at 4:27 PM

Stormwater work on Monument Branch in the Northgate area — Voyager north of Middle Creek Parkway. This project was listed under the Intergovernmental Agreement with Pueblo County, which is designed to significantly reduce the amount of sediment entering Monument Creek and involves some work to address runoff concerns at the Air Force Academy. Phase 1 of this project was completed in April, 2017. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy City of Colorado Springs
  • Stormwater work on Monument Branch in the Northgate area — Voyager north of Middle Creek Parkway. This project was listed under the Intergovernmental Agreement with Pueblo County, which is designed to significantly reduce the amount of sediment entering Monument Creek and involves some work to address runoff concerns at the Air Force Academy. Phase 1 of this project was completed in April, 2017.

Development within the city's northern reaches has caused "costly infrastructure damage" to the Air Force Academy's drainage ways — a cost that "should not be borne solely by the Academy," according to a recent letter from the Academy to the city's stormwater manager Richard Mulledy.

The letter comes on the heels of several similar letters in response to development proposals in which Academy officials bemoaned the city's lack of stormwater controls, which have caused stormwater to overflow onto Academy property. The city has either approved those projects or they remain under review.

But the Academy's concerns coalesced in its December 23, 2019, letter from Air Force Col. Brian Hartless to Mulledy, in which Hartless noted:
...the cumulative effect of all new and proposed development will be a significant alteration of the volume, duration, and frequency of stormwater events conveyed across the Academy's eastern boundary. Furthermore, this situation is being replicated in virtually all of our other eastern drainage ways.... 
The letter goes on to note the city's Drainage Criteria Manual requires developers to release stormwater at "historic rates" and that downstream drainage ways undergo stabilization as necessary.

In other words, the problems being caused by the city's continual approval of development in areas within the city limits, which border the Academy, should be dealt with by the city, not the Academy.

"Unfortunately, the Academy's experience is that little to none of this is being implemented or enforced along our property boundary," the Academy's letter says.

Mulledy tells the Indy in an interview that problems stem from development that occurred prior to adoption of the manual in 2014, the first update since 1991.

"What's happened to the academy, things have been developed over decades and we didn't have full spectrum detention," he says. (Full spectrum detention is that which holds back water from drainage ways and releases it gradually, so as not to overwhelmed channels.) "That wasn't a requirement until 2014. Since 2014, we've always made them [developers] do it. Even though you have detention [requirements] back in the older criteria, you still ended up with impacts. Those impacts may be miles away and don't show up that day and may show up 10 years later."

He adds, "What we've always required developers to do is build and implement detention on their site and do channelization to city limits. But the city doesn't believe it can require a property owner to do work on federal property."

Mulledy says the city has worked with the Academy to construct stormwater projects. He also plans to meet with Academy officials soon to "continue to develop that relationship," though he says he hasn't yet responded to the Dec. 23 letter.

Noting the runoff that empties onto the east side of the Academy ultimately flows into the city, Mulledy says, "Of course we want to mitigate that. It's in our best interest to make it right."

One example of the city's efforts is on display via the Monument branch, part of a larger project that Mulledy says is about half-complete.

"We're not turning a blind eye to it," he says, "trust me."

It's worth noting the city is entangled in a lawsuit filed by water quality regulators, including the EPA, in 2016, alleging the city failed to provide adequate stormwater controls and granted waivers to developers giving them a pass from installing such controls. Mulledy says the issues raised by the Academy don't involve any such waivers and that developers in that area have always met city-imposed criteria.
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