Local Government

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Bitcoin mining operation shipping containers tumble in high winds

Posted By on Thu, Dec 5, 2019 at 8:39 AM

Remember the saga of the noisy neighbor up in the northwest part of the city? Things are still in turmoil, it seems.

We wrote about the bitcoin mining operation taking place in a building on Garden of the Gods Road last May, and again in July when the operator, 3G Venture, was having trouble complying with the city's noise ordinance, and again in August when the city decided not to cite the operator.

Now, the complaint — in addition to continued noise that a neighbor, Ron Graham Becker, says violates the city's noise ordinance — centers on potential danger from stacking shipping containers against the building to buffer the sound.

Some of those containers, stacked four high, came tumbling down in high winds on Nov. 29 and 30, as shown in this photo provided by Graham Becker.
screen_shot_2019-12-03_at_4.23.23_pm.png

Says Graham Becker in an email to officials with the city, Fire Department and Pikes Peak Regional Building Department: "As you may know, a wall of shipping containers came crashing down at Bldg 1625 — 3G Venture II — during the high winds of this past Friday and Saturday, 29 & 30 November, 2019. Fortunately, as far as I know, no one was killed or injured. Very fortunate, indeed."

Here's another photo supplied by Graham Becker.
screen_shot_2019-12-03_at_4.35.24_pm.png


Graham Becker reports that he reported the incident to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which has filed an informal complaint against 3G, whose owner, John Chen, must file a response within five days.

His complaint, he says, states that "Approximately 10 employees exposed to 'struck-by hazards' in that shipping containers, used to isolate noise, are resting on uneven surfaces, stacked up to 40 feet high, and leaning precariously toward occupied areas. Contrary to Section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act of 1970."

In response to Graham Becker's email, Colorado Springs Fire Department Fire Marshal Brett Lacy says the issue falls outside his purview.

We asked Regional Building about it, and got this response from RBD spokesperson Greg Dingrando, via email: "RBD would not be involved because the Building Code does not address, or regulate placement of shipping containers. A building permit is not required to stack shipping containers."

The Indy also asked the city to comment, leading to this statement from the city communications office:
The City of Colorado Springs Planning Department and Code Enforcement divisions have been in communication with the owner of 3G Venture II for the past several months. City employees made the owner aware approximately one month ago that a development plan must be submitted to our Land Use Review division by Wednesday, December 4th. This development plan should address the owner’s intent for noise mitigation, including plans to ensure safety on and around the property. If the city does not receive the development plan by December 4th, Code Enforcement can issue a summons.
Chen tells the Indy he restacked the containers within a day or so, and "Everything is back to where it was."

But Chen says he's getting just as tired of the complaints as the complainers are getting of making those complaints.

"At some point I think it's becoming — I don't know how to put it. Everyone is entitled to their thinking, it's becoming harassment," he tells the Indy by phone. "At some point, it's beyond reasonable."

Chen asserts the bitcoin operation complies with the city's noise ordinance, and it's cost him a bundle to achieve that, but the complaints continue.

"I'm doing everything I can to comply with everything. Every little thing they're calling everyone in the world," he says. "I think there has to be some reasonableness in the whole thing."

Meantime, we asked how his bitcoin mining operation is going, and Chen reports it's been successful.
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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Raises coming for 3 top city employees

Posted By on Wed, Nov 27, 2019 at 7:48 AM

City Attorney Massey: getting a big salary boost. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • City Attorney Massey: getting a big salary boost.
Just in time for the holidays. Three top-ranking city employees are in line for raises when City Council takes up the pay hikes on Dec. 10.

The biggest — almost $10,000 — will go to City Attorney Wynetta Massey. She's served in that role since April 2014 when appointed by then-Mayor Steve Bach at a salary of $192,276.

When John Suthers succeeded Bach in 2015, he kept Massey as top legal beagle, and upped her pay modestly to $196,723 in 2018. But this time, Massey will see her pay boosted by 5 percent, or $9,836 a year, to $206,650, effective Dec. 28. Massey reports to the mayor and also provides legal advice to City Council.

The agenda items background material noted that Massey's proposed salary "is within the range established for City Attorney/Chief Legal Officer in the 2020 Salary Structure, and is below the market average reflected therein for that position."

City Auditor Denny Nester, who's previous salary was $171,797 will get a 1.5 percent raise, or $2,577, bringing his new pay to $174,354. He reports to Council.

Another Council appointee, Council Administrator Emily Evans, will see a 5 percent, or $4,970, pay boost to $103,584.

Nester's and Evans' raises also will become effective Dec. 28.
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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Airbnb hosts projected to earn $1.3 million over Air Force football season

Posted By on Tue, Nov 26, 2019 at 2:46 PM

Airbnb says its hosts help accommodate visitors during the college football season. - U.S. ARMY PHOTO BY BRANDON O'CONNOR
  • U.S. Army photo by Brandon O'Connor
  • Airbnb says its hosts help accommodate visitors during the college football season.

As City Council debated new regulations for Airbnbs and other short-term rentals, Colorado Springs Airbnb hosts earned $1.24 million over five Air Force Academy football home game weekends this season — and are projected to bring in an additional $139,000 the weekend of Nov. 30, when the Falcons play the University of Wyoming.

That's according to booking data from Airbnb, which announced the projected totals Nov. 26.

Airbnb hosts in Colorado Springs earned the most money of any Air Force home game weekend this year Sept. 27 and 28, when the Academy hosted San Jose State University. They brought in $391,000 from 4,080 guest arrivals, according to Airbnb booking data.

More recently, Airbnb hosts earned $155,000 from 2,380 guest arrivals the weekend of Nov. 1 and 2, when the Air Force played the Army.

(Those numbers represent Airbnb totals for the game weekends, not necessarily just people who visited Colorado Springs for the purpose of attending a football game.)

"This college football season is a great example of how Airbnb expands lodging stock to help cities like Colorado Springs welcome an influx of visitors for big events," Laura Spanjian, Airbnb
senior policy director for Colorado, said in a statement. "Fans and alumni can find a comfortable, affordable place to stay, while hosts and small businesses are receiving an economic boost from this expanded tourism economy."

The announcement went out the same day that City Council was set to hold a public hearing on proposed new requirements governing the occupancy and density of short-term rentals, or STRs, within city limits.

The public hearing, which would not have included a formal vote, was postponed due to a snowstorm. Update Dec. 4: The hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 5 during the City Council meeting that begins at 8 a.m.

City staff had devised four potential options for an ordinance regulating STRs. The hearing Nov. 26 would have solicited public feedback on the different options:

Ordinance options A, B and C define an "owner occupied" short-term rental as a property that is occupied by the owner for at least 180 days out of the year, with exceptions for deployed military service members.

Option A mandates that no non-owner occupied STR could be located within five lots of another non-owner occupied STR in any direction.

Option B includes the same five-lot spacing requirement as Option A, but also bans non-owner occupied STRs in single-family zones.

Option C includes the same five-lot spacing requirement as options A and B, but requires that applications for non-owner occupied units within single-family zones be reviewed by the Planning Commission at a public hearing.

Option D, city's staff's recommendation, defines an "owner occupied" short-term rental as occupied by the owner for at least 210 days out of the year, with exceptions for deployed service members. Other than that, it's identical to option B: It requires non-owner occupied STRs to be spaced five lots apart, and also bans non-owner occupied units in single-family zones.
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Friday, November 22, 2019

Pete Lee, Juaquin Mobley talk criminal justice reform

Posted By on Fri, Nov 22, 2019 at 9:23 AM

Juaquin Mobley directs Colorado Springs Works. - BRYAN GROSSMAN
  • Bryan Grossman
  • Juaquin Mobley directs Colorado Springs Works.
As the director of Colorado Springs Works, Juaquin Mobley works to transform crime prevention and anti-recidivism efforts in Southeast from The Community barbershop.

The work — which involves everything from career preparation to cognitive behavioral therapy to acupuncture to something called Drug Dealers Anonymous — aims to "enrich our communities and reestablish our greatness and confidence," he says.

Mobley says those efforts have helped reduce recidivism (the percentage of offenders returning to jail or prison) among his program's participants to 1 percent, compared with the state average of nearly 50 percent.

They're made possible in part by the work of state Sen. Pete Lee, a Colorado Springs Democrat who's pushed for criminal justice reform at the state Legislature. A bill that Lee sponsored as a state representative in 2017, titled Justice Reinvestment Crime Prevention Initiative, reduced the amount of time inmates can serve for technical parole violations.

With the money saved, the bill created the Transforming Safety grant program to fund efforts designed to keep people out of the criminal justice system in Aurora and Southeast Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs Works, a chapter of the nonprofit Community Works, received a $193,000 grant in 2018.

Mobley and Lee came together Nov. 19 for an event at Colorado College titled "From Incarceration Nation to Opportunity for All."

Sen. Pete Lee champions restorative justice. - CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent
  • Sen. Pete Lee champions restorative justice.
Lee began by discussing his work in restorative justice. That includes sponsoring five bills aimed at diverting people from jails and prisons and reducing recidivism — in part by fostering dialogue between offenders and their victims.

Restorative justice can "transform our criminal justice system from one of retribution and punishment to one of responsibility, accountability, restoration and healing," Lee said.

But despite a diversion pilot program showing shocking success rates in terms of reducing recidivism (an 8.8 percent recidivism rate among 1,000 juvenile offenders), and legislation making widespread adoption possible, district attorneys have failed to adopt restorative justice practices on a bigger scale, Lee said.

That includes El Paso County District Attorney Dan May, Lee said, who sends more people to prison than any other judicial district in Colorado.

But Lee pointed to Mobley's efforts in Southeast as a successful example of finding community-based solutions to crime that don't include incarceration.

Mobley has his own history in the criminal justice system.

Serving years in prison for a 2006 armed robbery showed him that crime was a "community issue," and inspired him to make a difference.

"You have to understand that the kids I grew up with were equally as ambitious as Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, but without a community that knows how to support that unbridled ambition, that ambition can turn toxic for us," Mobley said. "So we start looking for other avenues ... to become entrepreneurs or become the next Mark Zuckerberg."

Colorado Springs Works, along with a sister chapter in Aurora, hopes to "restore vitality to these neighborhoods that have been discarded and referred to as hopeless and incorrigible."

Mobley's team does that not only through teaching "hard skills" through career preparation programs, but by providing emotional healing through therapy and acupuncture. It also finds ways to work directly with the community.

For example, the "Drug Dealers Anonymous" program provides a way for participants to apply skills they may have gained through selling illegal substances to instead selling bowties and T-shirts in the community. And The Community barbershop holds public events such as cornhole matches, art therapy and Cypher Saturdays, an open mic-style event for rappers, singers and poets.

"Overall, we help remove all barriers and impediments that are placed in a participant’s path to greatness and redemption," Mobley said. "...Our methods will enrich our communities and reestablish our greatness and confidence."
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Thursday, November 14, 2019

Grand jury declines to indict CSPD officers in De'Von Bailey shooting

Posted By on Thu, Nov 14, 2019 at 10:08 AM

De'Von Bailey turns to flee police. - CSPD BODY WORN CAMERA
  • CSPD body worn camera
  • De'Von Bailey turns to flee police.
A grand jury has returned "no true bill" in the officer-involved shooting death of 19-year-old De'Von Bailey, meaning the Colorado Springs Police Department officers won't be charged with crimes.

The finding led Police Chief Vince Niski to issue a letter to the community, which said, in part:
There's is no doubt that the community of Colorado Springs has been tested over the last few months. What happened on August 3, 2019, is something neither police officers nor citizens ever want to experience. The loss of a son, a friend, a community member, is a devastating event that impacts all of us.

Please know that our officers and I do not take our responsibilities to our citizens lightly. It is our duty to serve everyone in our community with integrity, humility, and excellence.
The shooting spurred protests from the southeast Colorado Springs area where the shooting occurred, with Bailey's family and friends alleging racism played a role and demanding an independent investigation.

(An Indy analysis of nearly 20 years of officer-involved shootings in the Pikes Peak region largely discredited the institutional racism argument.)

Bailey's supporters contend the El Paso County Sheriff's Office, which investigated the incident under state law requirements, couldn't be unbiased toward the CSPD because Undersheriff Pete Carey used to be CSPD chief and other personnel have crossed over between the departments.

Even Gov. Jared Polis urged an outside look, though Mayor John Suthers accused the governor of politicking with the case and expressed support for the traditional procedure, which places the case in the district attorney's hands unless it's handed off to a grand jury.

On Oct. 4, DA Dan May referred the Bailey case to a grand jury, which meets in secret, meaning the public can't know what evidence was presented that led to the decision to clear the officers, Sgt. Alan Van’t Land and Officer Blake Evenson.

Video of the event, released 11 days after the shooting, showed officers questioning Bailey and his cousin regarding an armed robbery reported minutes before the encounter. As officers instructed both to keep their hands up, one officer moved to search them, but Bailey bolted, drawing fire from both officers. He was struck three times in the back and once in the arm. Officers found a handgun in his pocket.

To arrive at a decision to clear officers, grand jurors must find that officers reasonably believed it was necessary to defend themselves or others from what they saw as an imminent use of deadly force. Or, they believed lethal force was needed to effect an arrest or prevent the escape from custody by a person they believed had committed or had attempted to commit a felony using force or threat of force with a deadly weapon. Officers also are justified in using lethal force if a suspect is attempting to escape using a deadly weapon or is likely to endanger human life unless apprehended without delay.

Read the grand jury report:

"The family is very disappointed," Maury Newman, the lawyer for the Bailey family told KKTV Channel 11 News following the release of the grand jury's finding. "It's no surprise, it's the exact result you can expect when a tainted investigation is presented by a biased prosecutor. This is precisely the reason we have been calling for an independent investigation and an independent prosecutor from the very beginning."

Protesters also questioned why the officers were allowed to return to duty three days after the shooting, which is explained in the Indy's follow up story regarding psychological impacts on police officers.

It's not clear what comes next. The Bailey family could file a lawsuit alleging wrongful death.

We've reached out to community leader Pastor Promise Lee for his take on the grand jury's finding and will circle back when we hear from him.

Chief Niski's letter to the community:
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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Inmate dies by suicide in El Paso County jail

Posted By on Tue, Nov 12, 2019 at 1:10 PM

COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
A male inmate in the El Paso County Criminal Justice Center was found attempting to kill himself by hanging on Nov. 12 and, despite efforts to resuscitate him, the inmate was pronounced dead, Sheriff Bill Elder's office said in a release.

It's the third suicide in the jail since July 2009 and the second this year.

The Sheriff's Office's account:
On Tuesday November 12, 2019, at approximately 1:42 AM, a medical emergency was declared in a male housing ward at the El Paso County Jail.

A male inmate was found in his cell attempting suicide by hanging. When additional deputies responded to the ward, the inmate was not breathing and had no pulse. The deputies initiated cardio pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and used the automated external defibrillator (AED) with the assistance of responding El Paso County Jail medical staff and American Medical Response personnel.

After approximately 30 minutes of resuscitation efforts which incorporated CPR and defibrillation, the male's vital signs failed to return, and he was pronounced dead.
The office didn't identify the inmate, give his age, say why he was being held or reveal which ward he was housed in. The jail has a designated ward for inmates with mental issues, including those who are at risk of completing suicide.

A news release said the investigation is continuing and no further information would be released at this time.

On June 4, a female inmate was found in the jail trying to kill  herself by hanging. She was discovered without a pulse and, after deputies used CPR and a defibrillator with medical staff's help, was taken to a hospital where she died on June 9, the Sheriff's Office previously said in a release.

The jail has come under fire for a range of issues from bad food, which spurred a riot, to its inability to deal with an inmate's medical condition which led to his death. The jail also has seen violence against deputies more than a few times.

It's unclear what, if any, consequence the office will suffer from accrediting agencies. The facility faced accreditation issues in the past regarding its medical contractor. The contractor has given notice it won't continue providing services at the jail beyond the end of this year.
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Thursday, November 7, 2019

Manitou Springs arts and cultural tax edges to victory by three votes

Posted By on Thu, Nov 7, 2019 at 4:36 PM

BRYCE CRAWFORD/FILE PHOTO
  • Bryce Crawford/file photo
Natalie Johnson, Manitou Art Center executive director, found out what a difference a couple of days can make, especially with election results.

The day after the election, Nov. 6, early unofficial results showed the Manitou Springs Arts, Culture and Heritage (MACH) sales tax measure had been defeated.

But on Thursday, Nov. 7, El Paso County released the final unofficial results showing the tax, which would raise $400,000 a year, passed by a mere three votes.

"We're feeling very hopeful," Johnson says, noting the county will canvass the vote later this month.

If the vote spread remains tight, within a half a percentage point, an automatic recount will be triggered.

When the results came in on election night, Johnson felt saddened, she says. "You can't help but feel it was a loss for the community. Then there's my personal feelings just knowing I've spent 60 to 80 hours a week working toward these things, and feeling the community didn't think it was important, that all my work didn't matter."

But now, when it looks like the measure was adopted after all, she's eager to show the community why it's a smart move to invest in the Carnegie Building, Miramont Castle, Manitou Art Center, Manitou Springs Heritage Center and Hiawatha Gardens property.

"We're going to have to do our best to make everyone proud and feel it was worth it," she says.

In another reversal, Fran Carrick appeared to have won a Fountain City Council seat on election night by a mere two votes, but the final unofficial results show her losing by 89 votes to Detra Duncan.

Still outstanding, however, are military and overseas ballots that needed to be postmarked by Nov. 5 and received by Nov. 13. So stay tuned.
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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

UPDATE: City proposes incentive for company it will not name

Posted By on Wed, Nov 6, 2019 at 3:32 PM

BY PAM ZUBECK
  • By Pam Zubeck
UPDATE: City Council voted unanimously on Nov. 12 in favor of the code-named Project Beach tax incentive but refused to disclose the name. It's unclear when its identity will be officially revealed.

—————————-ORIGINAL POST WED, NOV 6, 2019 AT 3:32 PM—————————-


Welcome to the stealthy world of economic development incentives where deals are made without the public knowing who's getting the city's money.

For a mere $14,310 in sales and use tax breaks, the city of Colorado Springs hopes to reap a tax benefit of $1.25 million over four years from a company whose identity it's keeping secret.

Given the code name Project Beach, the company is described in agenda materials for City Council's Nov. 7 meeting as "a rapidly growing communications technology company that makes it easy for businesses to build relationships with customers through videos in email, text, and social media."

The city goes on to say Project Beach operates in 40 countries and sends more than 126 million minutes of video through its products annually.

When asked for more information, city spokesperson Kim Melchor told us by email, "Project Beach is confidential at this time. We will be glad to obtain and provide additional information once this is no longer a confidential project. Currently all of the information is included with the City Council Agenda Item."

Even Council is being kept in the dark. We asked Councilor Andy Pico about Project Beach, and he says via email, "... code names are used for potential projects that are in consideration and not firm. So in order to protect confidentiality of potential companies before they make decision and public disclosure, they are code named. And no, I do not know who it is."

Regardless, Mayor John Suthers wants Council to approve rebates on sales tax and use tax related to expanding the company's headquarters from 18,700 to 28,700 square feet, which the city says would total $14,310.

That expansion will bring new employees, but how many isn't clear. The agenda backup says Project Beach employs 121 people company-wide and plans to hire an additional 186 in the next four years. Of those 40 would be relocated here.

"With creation of these new full-time jobs, Project Beach desires to invest in business personal property, including communications equipment, and construction materials for its facilities expansion," the agenda materials say.

According to the Dec. 20, 2018, meeting minutes of the Colorado Economic Development Commission, the state granted an incentive of $293,660 to "Project Beach," or $1,372 for each of 214 new full-time equivalent jobs the employer plans to create over a five-year period.

That presentation stated that Project Beach needed to "nearly triple" its workforce by adding 250 jobs by the end of 2024.

"This incentive is contingent upon the creation of up to 214 net new full-time jobs at a minimum average annual wage of $48,100, 100% of El Paso County’s AAW [average annual wage], in support of this project," the minutes say.

Pico didn't know whether the state incentive was directed at the same company, but the city's economic development official Bob Cope attended that meeting.

The city's agenda materials assert that Project Beach's 186 new hires will be paid an average of  $82,642 a year.

It's doubtful Council will approve the incentive on Nov. 7, because the briefing takes place during a work session, which traditionally does not include official votes.
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State measure CC fails, Colorado Springs tax measures get thumbs up

Posted By on Wed, Nov 6, 2019 at 12:32 PM

Pete Lee: Back to the drawing board on state funding. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Pete Lee: Back to the drawing board on state funding.
The results of the Nov. 5 election in Colorado mean the state won't "start fixing things" any time soon, it appears.

That was the tagline used by backers of Proposition CC, which went down in flames — 55 percent to 45 percent — unlike two local spending measures, which were approved by Colorado Springs voters. More on that later. (El Paso County voters defeated CC by a margin of 62-38.)

CC would have allowed the state to keep money collected in excess of caps imposed by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights (TABOR). That excess, which could reach billions of dollars over years to come, will continue to be refunded to taxpayers, unless the state seeks voter approval again to retain it.

The CC money, if retained, would have been spent on infrastructure such as transportation, education and higher education.

Sen. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, tells the Indy that so far there's not a fallback plan beyond Gov. Jared Polis' proposed budget for the next fiscal year, which was issued recently and does not include money from the CC retention measure.

"There was optimism [Proposition CC] might pass," he says. "We have not developed an alternative plan. The budget was submitted last week, and it was premised on the idea of existing revenues..., so we are proceeding with a budget that does not include the $300 million that CC would have provided."
Colorado's roads won't get an infusion of cash after voters defeated Proposition CC. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Colorado's roads won't get an infusion of cash after voters defeated Proposition CC.
Given the dire condition of the state's transportation system and the rising $9 billion to $10 billion backlog of projects, Lee says an infusion of cash is needed to fix roads.

"The gas tax hasn't gone up since, what, 1992, which is the primary funding mechanism," he says. "We also are constrained by TABOR and other spending limitations."

The failure of CC, he says, sets up a competition among the state's top priorities: health care, transportation and education. Another demand comes from the criminal justice system, on which the state expects to spend $1 billion next year, he says.

"There's only a limited amount of resources," he says, adding that Democrats will be willing to work with Republicans to find ways to fund those priorities, including discussing a massive bond issue. "I think all options are on the table. I don't think we should preclude anything."

The other state measure, Proposition DD, which directed taxes on sports betting to the state's water plan, edged out a win by the slimmest of margins, 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent, according to unofficial results on the Colorado Secretary of State's website. (El Paso County voters defeated it by a 54-46 margin.)

While supporters contended DD would generate about $27 million toward the state's water plan, Coloradans for Climate Justice said that amount is "tiny" and gives citizens a sense of false security that the state's water needs will be met.

The group said in a statement:
The supporters of Prop DD spent about $2.5 million in this election. We spent zero dollars opposing DD. We opposed DD out of the principle that the public taxpayer should not pay for climate damage to our rivers and water supply caused by fossil fuel corporations. The damage caused to our water supply and economy by climate change will likely be in the billions of dollars. Further, the amount of money DD would raise for the Colorado Water Plan is tiny, and it will likely only replace money that was already allotted for the Colorado Water Plan, not add to it. So let the betting begin, but betting against climate change is a bad bet that only a lousy gambler would make.
The Colorado Sun reports only 36 percent of registered voters in the state cast ballots.

El Paso County voter turnout was the same, but unlike statewide, voters were in a generous mood when it came to Colorado Springs. They handed Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers two victories to continue his undefeated record for several tax and fee measures he's proposed since taking office in 2015.
Mayor Suthers: "Thanks, citizens!" - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Mayor Suthers: "Thanks, citizens!"

Measure 2C, approved 65-35, continues the special tax to fund street improvements, but lowers the tax to .57 percent from .62 percent enacted by voters in 2015 for five years. The new tax takes effect Jan. 2, 2021.

Measure 2B, which allows the city to keep $7 million in TABOR excess money to spend on parks, passed by a lesser margin — 57-43. City officials have previously said the money would be spent on various projects, including overhauls of three downtown parks: Alamo Park, Antlers Park and Acacia Park.

Suthers issued this statement:
On behalf of the Council and myself I want to express our gratitude for the confidence and trust the citizens of Colorado Springs have placed in our efforts to improve critical public infrastructure. In 2015 we had an infrastructure deficit of $1.5B – primarily, our roads and stormwater system. We could not have solved the problem without the cooperation of our citizens, but we have secured the citizens’ support and we are solving the problems. And as we predicted, the public investment in our city is being matched by massive private investment.

Other local balloting results, all of which can be found here:

Manitou Springs
• Only 24 votes kept a sales tax increase measure from passing in Manitou Springs. The new money would have funded improvements to Manitou Art Center, Manitou Springs Heritage Center and Miramont Castle, among other projects.
• But voters overwhelming approved, by a 76-24 margin, allowing the city to spend $182,000 from the public facilities fund on downtown projects.
• John Graham defeated Alan Delwiche in the mayor's race by a 52-48 margin.

Colorado Springs School District 11 voters elected incumbent Mary Coleman, Darleen Daniels, Jason Jorgenson and Parth Melpakam to the school board.

Fountain
• Voters defeated a 10-year road tax by a 58-42 margin.
• Only two votes separate third and fourth place finishers in the race for two at-large City Council seats. Richard Applegate won a seat handily, but neighborhood activist Fran Carrick edged out Detra Duncan by only two votes for the other seat. 

Teller County
In Crippler Creek, 54.3 percent of voters elected to recall Timothy Braun, the Cripple Creek-Victor School District president. Mary Bielz, the founder of a Cripple Creek nonprofit, will replace him.

The recall followed efforts by a group called Hear Us: For Better Schools to unseat three school board members who it claimed had violated state statutes and district policies. The other two targeted school board members, Treasurer Dennis Jones and Secretary Tonya Martin, resigned in June.

Schools and fire
While three school districts — Lewis-Palmer 38, Miami Yoder JT60 and Calhan RJ1 — saw debt measures defeated, Tri-lakes Monument and Stratmoor Hills fire protection districts won approval of their tax measures. Two other fire districts, serving Peyton and Hanover, saw tax measures defeated.

As for various marijuana issues across the state, the Colorado Municipal League reports:
BAYNARD WOODS
  • Baynard Woods
• Mead voters said no to medical marijuana businesses and retail marijuana establishments. Center and Loveland’s questions allowing cultivation, manufacturing and testing in addition to sales were also defeated. Loveland voters also turned down a tax on marijuana sales.

• Craig voters approved three marijuana questions: to allow retail sales; to allow cultivation, manufacturing, testing and storage; and a tax on marijuana sales.

• An initiated ordinance passed in Alamosa banning the outdoor growing of personal marijuana and overturning outdoor growing regulations previously adopted by the city council.

• Louisville voters opted to permit retail marijuana cultivation facilities within the city’s industrial zones, as well as the corresponding retail marijuana cultivation facility excise tax.

• A retail marijuana sales tax also passed in Las Animas.
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Monday, November 4, 2019

Vote now! Election Day is Nov. 5

Posted By on Mon, Nov 4, 2019 at 9:33 AM

Fine a ballot box near you and vote. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY CLERK AND RECORDER'S OFFICE VIA GOOGLE
  • Courtesy El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office via Google
  • Fine a ballot box near you and vote.
Tomorrow, Nov. 5, is Election Day, so hurry your ballot to the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder's Office.

Voters in the Pikes Peak region will decide issues that include taxes for roads, parks funding and two state issues, while also electing a mayor of Manitou Springs and members to various school boards.

From the election office:

All ballots must be returned to the Clerk and Recorder’s Office by 7:00 p.m., Election Day, Tuesday, November 5, to be counted. Postmarked ballots that arrive after the deadline cannot be counted. Please urge citizens to return their voted ballot early in advance of Election Day.

§ There will be 7 Voter Service and Polling Centers open in the county. Voters can use any VSPC in the county. Click here for a list and map of VSPCs and hours of operation.

§ We have added 10 additional secure 24-hour ballot drop boxes totaling 26 throughout the county. All boxes are open until 7:00 p.m. Election Day.

§ Click here for a list and map of all ballot drop box locations.
Results will be released from the Citizens Service Center, located at 1675 W. Garden of the Gods Road, starting at 7:15 p.m. for ballots counted through 5 p.m. on Election Day. Updated results will follow at 8 p.m., 8:45 p.m., 9:45 p.m. and 10:45 p.m., although that could change depending on election operations.

Final unofficial results will be released eight days after the election.

To check in on results, click here.

More from the Clerk and Recorder's Office:
Results and the Possibility of a Recount:
• Unofficial election results may change slightly after the final post on election night. Some reasons for that include the fact that military and overseas ballots are afforded extra time for delivery after Election Day, and voters with signature or identification issues have time to resolve their issue. Voters in those categories have eight days after the election to resolve their issue or return their ballot.

• The Clerk’s Office will not “call” a race for a candidate or issue. Certainly some results will not be in doubt, but the Clerk’s Office does not consider results to be official until after the bipartisan canvass board validates the results.

• There is always the possibility of an automatic or requested recount. Under Colorado law, an automatic recount is only triggered when the vote margin between two candidates or an issue is 0.5% of the next closest candidate or issue result. This is not the same as there being a 0.5% margin between two candidates.

• Should an automatic recount seem possible, the Clerk and Recorder’s Office will release additional information about the process, cost, and recount timeframe. 
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Thursday, October 31, 2019

Westside block proposed for facelift

Posted By on Thu, Oct 31, 2019 at 4:23 PM

If you have something to say about the redevelopment of this Westside block, do so before Nov. 8.

An Austin, Texas, firm, Hickory Pass LP, plans to overhaul buildings at 2306 to 2318 W. Colorado Ave. from an "eyesore" into shops, a rooftop restaurant and a "self-improvement center." (One of the buildings used to be home to Junior Achievement, which now is located at 611 N. Weber St., Suite 201.)

There's no plan to enlarge the buildings. Rather, developers plan to create new facades and awnings to "break up the flat facade and give the visual effect of several small storefronts instead of a monolithic brick wall," as it says in the application.

Here's an artist's rendering included with the submittal to the city for a "minor amendment to  non-existent development plan."

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As compared to what the buildings look like now:

PHOTOS BY PAM ZUBECK
  • Photos by Pam Zubeck

The developer plans to upgrade the parking lot in back of the building with new fencing to replace the chain link in use today. Here's what it looks like:

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A sign posted in a window says comments are being received through Nov. 8 and should be directed to Tasha.Brackin@coloradosprings.gov, 719-385-5369.

She says that under city code, decision rests with staff.

We've reached out to the developer with a few questions and will circle back if and when we hear something.

Here's the proposal as submitted to the city:
Meantime, Front Range Barbeque in that same block plans to begin renovations on the restaurant sometime in the next year, as the Indy reported recently. Owner Brian Fortinberry says he will connect the current restaurant to the house next door, add a new kitchen, enclose their patio and more.
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Monday, October 21, 2019

Construction of pedestrian bridge from Olympic Museum appears at hand

Posted By on Mon, Oct 21, 2019 at 4:00 PM

An aerial view in an artist's rendering of the bridge linking to America the Beautiful Park. - COURTESY DILLER SCOFIDIO + RENFRO
  • Courtesy Diller Scofidio + Renfro
  • An aerial view in an artist's rendering of the bridge linking to America the Beautiful Park.
It's hard not to miss the progress made on the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum and Hall of Fame at Vermijo and Sierra Madre streets. Officials have previously said it will open in early 2020.

Now, the pedestrian bridge that will link the museum with America the Beautiful Park is about to get underway, according to a resolution due to City Council for consideration on Oct. 22.

The resolution, if approved, would hand over the property beneath the bridge's landing spot to an entity controlled by Nor'wood Development Group, which is helping to fund the bridge and has major designs on that entire area of lower downtown.

The $11 million contract to build the bridge was awarded earlier this year, and now the city must transfer the property to enable the work to begin.

Or, as the city put it in backup materials for the Council's Oct. 22 action, "The construction of the bridge is imminent, thus the conveyance of 125 Cimino [Drive] is urgent."

In those materials, the city says Nor'wood will build the bridge's landing, staircase and elevator at a cost of approximately $2.6 million while also donating cash for the bridge.
Looking east from America the Beautiful Park where the pedestrian bridge will connect with the museum. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Looking east from America the Beautiful Park where the pedestrian bridge will connect with the museum.
The resolution, which can be read below, doesn't change the commitment Nor'wood made in early 2017 to clean up remnants of a coal gasification plant located at 25 and 125 Cimino that left carcinogenic coal tar beneath it, says city spokesperson Kim Melchor.

After signing off on the deal to clean it up and take possession of the property, Nor'wood and the city have failed to close the land transaction. As of today, Oct. 21, the property remains in the city's hands.

From an earlier Indy story:
Records show the city and Nor’wood have postponed the land transaction a dozen times, and that Nor’wood might have second thoughts about assuming responsibility for the Cimino property cleanup, which a city contractor, LT Environmental Inc. of Arvada, estimates will cost $4.5 million.

In a Nov. 1, 2018, email to Nor’wood’s attorney, a senior city attorney wrote, “The City’s position is that Council wanted Nor-wood to assume the costs of cleaning the property, no matter what they were. So, at this point, we won’t be agreeable to a change in the agreement that would allow Nor’wood the option to decline assuming responsibility for any required cleanup.”
The resolution:
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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

District attorney candidates bring in the cash

Posted By on Wed, Oct 16, 2019 at 5:32 PM

Commissioner Waller leads the fund-raising race. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Commissioner Waller leads the fund-raising race.
The battle for the Republican nomination for top prosecutor in the 4th Judicial District is shaping up to be a well-funded race on both sides, according to campaign finance reports filed Oct. 15.

El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller has brought in $35,895, of which $10,000 was a loan by the candidate and has $33,583 on hand.

Waller's backers include a number of developers, including Vince Colarelli, Gary Erickson, Mark Long, several employees of Classic Homes and Danny Mientka. So it's not surprising that he's also won support from the Housing & Building Association of Colorado Springs.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Michael Allen - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Senior Deputy District Attorney Michael Allen

Waller also drew contributions from former State Sen. Bernie Herpin and his wife and fellow Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez Jr.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Michael Allen, who's not held elective office before, has raised $21,750 and has $14,928 on hand.

Notables in Allen's camp include downtown developers Sam and Kathleen Guadagnoli, former CEO of the El Pomar Foundation Bill Hybl and El Pomar board member Thayer Tutt Jr., downtown entrepreneur Perry Sanders, Mayor John Suthers, City Councilor Jill Gaebler and the Colorado Springs Police Protective Association.

So far, the two Republicans are the only ones seeking to succeed DA Dan May, who's held the seat for three four-year terms and is term-limited from seeking a fourth.
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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Roads tax "vote yes" effort draws thousands of dollars in support from contractors

Posted By on Tue, Oct 15, 2019 at 3:12 PM

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All the usual suspects — road contractors, local developers and construction companies — have poured money into a political action committee formed to urge voters to approve the city's 2C road tax measure.

The tax, known on the ballot as 2C (an initiative the Indy has endorsed), proposes to extend by five years the city's tax for road improvements that was adopted by voters in 2015, but would lower the rate from .62 percent to .57 percent. The tax would raise more than $50 million a year.

Dubbed "Building COS," the committee has raised $135,090 and spent $90,815, most on radio ads and mailers.

The biggest donation came from Colorado Springs Forward, a business activist group that's donated to several campaigns supporting tax and fee increases in recent years.

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But given that it's unknown if the nonprofit even has an executive director — the most recent post on its Facebook page is dated over a year ago and its website is inaccessible — someone might wonder, Is this still a thing? Google shows it's shut down, or "permanently closed," as illustrated to the right.

But CSF apparently it is very much still a thing, because it ponied up $50,000 toward the road tax "vote yes" effort.

The "vote yes" committee has drawn many small donations, including $250 each from Mayor John Suthers, who proposed the measure, and his Chief of Staff Jeff Greene.

But the big money came from those involved in the construction industry, as follows:

  • $1,000: Trax Construction, Kathy Loo of High Valley Group, Ray Nunn of Nunn Construction, Developer Danny Mientka, and Vivid Engineering Group, all of Colorado Springs.
  • $2,000: Businessman Phil Lane and Nunn Construction, both of Colorado Springs.
  • $2,500: Jim and Laura Johnson (owners of GE Johnson) and Phil Long Dealerships, Inc., both of Colorado Springs.
  • $5,000: Gaylord Smith of AA Construction, GE Johnson Construction, Church Community Builder, Nor'wood Development Group, and the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs, all of Colorado Springs; Colorado Asphalt Pavement Association, Centennial; Western Milling LLC, Grand Junction; A-1 Chipseal, Denver, and Even-Preisser, Inc., Monument.
  • $20,000: Work Zone Traffic Control, Inc., Pueblo.
Against the 2C measure is SpringsTaxpayers.com, which has announced it launched a radio ad this week.

Run by political operative Laura Carno, the organization is "committed to holding local government accountable," she says.

Says Carno in a news release:
We oppose the passage of 2C, the renewal of the pothole tax. Even outside of the annual income from the current pothole tax, and from the Stormwater Fee, the City of Colorado Springs has record revenue, and record spending. City government can prioritize roads, bridges, and public safety today. It doesn’t need to renew a sales tax to prioritize these important expenditures.
She also notes in the release that voters should keep in mind those projects on which the city spends money that might not be considered a high priority by voters, such as bike lanes, neighborhood traffic-calming projects, legal bills for a City Council member, and the $16 million subsidy for retailer Scheels.

SpringsTaxpayers.com has also published a report on how the original 2C money was spent, reporting that only 53% went to paving and potholes.

As for the other city measure on the ballot, 2B, a group called "Vote Yes for Parks" hasn't raised or spent any money. The measure asks voters to allow the city to keep $7 million in money in excess of limits imposed by the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights and spend it on parks.
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Help the city, plant a tree. City kicks off Tree Challenge.

Posted By on Tue, Oct 15, 2019 at 12:13 PM

Mayor John Suthers, second from left, joined others, including Parks Director Karen Palus, right, and Councilor Yolanda Avila, second from right, in planting a tree on Oct. 15 to kick off the city's Tree Challenge that will span the next two years. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Mayor John Suthers, second from left, joined others, including Parks Director Karen Palus, right, and Councilor Yolanda Avila, second from right, in planting a tree on Oct. 15 to kick off the city's Tree Challenge that will span the next two years.
In a 25-minute ceremony on Oct. 15, Mayor John Suthers and other city officials kicked off a program that could have results that span several lifetimes.

They gathered at Alamo Square outside the Pioneers Museum to launch the city's Tree Challenge. The goal is to plant 18,071 trees (the number chosen to represent the city's founding year of 1871) by the end of 2021 to mark the city's sesquicentennial celebration.

As a stout breeze chilled onlookers, Suthers reminded those on hand of the city's founder Gen. William J. Palmer's dedication to creating a tree canopy by planting 600 cottonwood trees. He also saw to it that Monument Valley Park hosts at least one of every tree native to Colorado, many of which survive today.

"While this tree will make our city a little bit better," Suthers said, referencing the Ohio Buckeye he and others helped plant, "together we can accomplish a whole lot more."

He said the city and Colorado Springs Utilities will partner to offer credits to those who plant trees, details of which will be announced at a later date.

City forester Dennis Will noted that a recent assessment of the city's tree canopy set the value of the trees at $900 million. Those trees gobble 2.7 million tons of pollution per year, an added value of $100 million.

If the city were to simply buy 18,071 trees, the bill would come to $5.4 million, he said. Thus, it's important to make sure the trees that are planted during the city's Tree Challenge are given the best opportunity to thrive. that means planting at the right time — spring or early fall — and making sure trees are place in the right locations, outside the domain of power lines and not too close to sidewalks, for example.

Read all the points for planting and growing trees, including rules for planting in city rights of way by going here. You can track the tree you plant or donate to the effort if your living space isn't conducive to adding trees.
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