Local Government

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

10 local stories making headlines this week

Posted By on Wed, Aug 21, 2019 at 12:20 AM

  • Gribov Andrei Aleksandrovich / Shutterstock.com

The city proposes to require bear-resistant trash cans west of Interstate 25. Have your say at public meetings, which begin at 6 p.m. on Aug. 22 at Fire Station 18, 6830 Hadler View, and Aug. 29 at Westside Community Center, 1628 W. Bijou St.

Former Gov. John Hickenlooper ended his presidential bid on Aug. 15 and now is being eyed to take on Republican Cory Gardner in the U.S. Senate race in Colorado.

On the heels of the city closing Prospect Lake due to blue-green algae, Colorado Springs Utilities announced Aug. 14 that Pikeview Reservoir tested positive for the algae. Humans and pets are banned, though fishing is still allowed.

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office announced that 16 deputies graduated from its training academy to work in the crowded Criminal Justice Center, which has made headlines for assaults and inmate deaths.

Colorado Springs Airport received a $9,000 grant from the Colorado Energy Office to build a Level 2 dual-port electric vehicle charging station, to be completed in early 2020.

The Rocky Mountain Vibes baseball team will bury a time capsule next month, after the final home game of their inaugural season. The time capsule will be opened April 27, 2069, (the birthday of mascot Toasty).

The Bureau of Land Management anticipated no significant impact in Fort Carson’s request to use 43 sites in Teller, Fremont and Park counties to practice helicopter landings.

Planned Parenthood said Aug. 19 it will forgo federal Title X funding, which helps low-income people access contraception, rather than comply with a Trump administration-imposed “gag rule” it called “dangerous, unethical, and harmful to patients.” The rule prohibits the agency from providing abortion referrals.

A bat with rabies was found at the Rainbow Falls Historic Site on the western edge of Manitou Springs, El Paso County Public Health reports. If you know of a person or pet that came in contact with a bat in the area call 578-3220 immediately.

The city will host an open house at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 27 at the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum to present a draft historic preservation plan update, HistoricCOS.
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Manitou Springs hires interim city administrator

Posted By on Wed, Aug 21, 2019 at 12:10 AM

Denise Howell will serve as an interim city administrator for Manitou Springs. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Denise Howell will serve as an interim city administrator for Manitou Springs.

It took more than a year and a half, but Manitou Springs City Council appears to have finally found a new city administrator. Or at least an interim.

Council offered the city’s top job to four others, all of whom turned them down, before announcing that Denise Howell will serve as an interim through Jan. 30, 2020. Howell was formerly a customer service manager with Fountain’s utilities department and a community liaison with Colorado Springs Utilities, the Pikes Peak Bulletin reports.
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Road tax and TABOR question likely to appear on city ballot

Posted By on Wed, Aug 21, 2019 at 12:10 AM

Voter-approved sales tax 2C funded removal of a median on North Carefree Circle. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy City of Colorado Springs
  • Voter-approved sales tax 2C funded removal of a median on North Carefree Circle.

City voters are likely to be consulted on two tax measures in the Nov. 5 election.

Referred unanimously by City Council on Aug. 13, one issue seeks extension of the city’s 2015 voter-approved sales tax for roadwork for another five years, at .57 percent — lower than the current .62 percent.

Mayor John Suthers has vowed to tackle residential roads with the tax, if approved. The current tax raises about $50 million per year.

Voters also will be asked to allow the city to keep $7 million in 2018 excess revenue to spend on parks. The Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights requires revenue collected above a certain cap to be refunded unless voters allow the government to keep it. In this case, the measure’s failure translates to $30 per household refunded on utility bills. Council referred the measure 7-2, with Councilors Andy Pico and Don Knight opposed.

Second reading for both is slated for Aug. 27.
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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

City and EPA say they're working on "a global settlement" to end the stormwater lawsuit

Posted By on Tue, Aug 20, 2019 at 12:58 PM

An example of the city's stewardship of drainage canals, viewed in 2017. - PHOTOS BY PAM ZUBECK
  • Photos by Pam Zubeck
  • An example of the city's stewardship of drainage canals, viewed in 2017.
Look for the city of Colorado Springs and environmental regulators to reach a "global settlement that encompasses an agreement on relief for all violations" in the Environmental Protection Agency's 2016 lawsuit against the city for failing to comply with Clean Water Act regulations.

That "global settlement" also could come with higher stormwater fees, because the stormwater fee measure voters approved in November 2017 contains a clause allowing the city raise the fees to satisfy a court judgment.

On Aug. 19, parties to the case filed a statement in federal court saying they've "made significant progress toward settlement" but not revealing the details.

Rather, the statement said, "For the past nine months, the Parties have been working toward a global settlement that encompasses an agreement on relief for all violations alleged [in the lawsuit].... and are continuing their work."

Considering the statement says a settlement could cover all violations, it wouldn't be surprising to see Colorado Springs agree to spend more to correct its long-neglected stormwater system.

On July 24, the court granted a motion to vacate further litigation deadlines and stayed the lawsuit until Nov. 22.
A stretch of drainage way running through the city, as seen in 2017.
  • A stretch of drainage way running through the city, as seen in 2017.
A status conference was to take place Aug. 20 in U.S. District Court, Denver.

The EPA and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment sued the city in November 2016, alleging violations of the city's Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System (MS4) Permit, which befouled creeks and, ultimately, the Arkansas River.

Pueblo County and the Lower Arkansas Valley Water Conservancy District later joined as plaintiffs.

A trial in September 2018 ended with a ruling from U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch, now deceased, that the city did violate the permit by improperly waiving permanent stormwater best management practices (BMP), failing to oversee and enforce temporary BMP requirements, and improperly approving the design and installation of and failing to ensure the long-term operation and maintenance of a detention basin. The allegations were specific to certain sites. (Senior U.S. District Judge John L. Kane apparently has replaced Matsch in the case.)

The city's stormwater ballot measure, which imposed residences $5 per month via their utilities billings and non-residential properties $30 per developed acre starting in July 2018, included this provision:

"... such fees may be thereafter increased by City Council by resolution only to the extent required to comply with a valid court order, federal or state permits, federal or state laws, and intergovernmental agreements [IGA] of the city entered into before June 1, 2016." (The only IGA that qualifies in that provision is the April 2016 agreement with Pueblo County to spend $460 million over 20 years on the city's stormwater drainage system.)

Read the Aug. 19 court filing here.
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El Paso County will sue over ACLU victory on ICE holds

Posted By on Tue, Aug 20, 2019 at 12:56 PM

Sheriff Bill Elder at a news conference last November regarding drug busts. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Sheriff Bill Elder at a news conference last November regarding drug busts.
El Paso County announced Aug. 19 it will appeal a district court judge's ruling from last December that bars Sheriff Bill Elder from holding illegal immigrants in the Criminal Justice Center at the request of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

You can read about that judge's ruling and its history here.

But now, the county will challenge that decision, noting in a news release that its appeal "underscores how strongly both El Paso County Commissioners and the Sheriff feel that appellate courts must provide clarity."

Although the news release doesn't state which court the appeal will be submitted to, it would likely go before the Colorado Court of Appeals.

The release:

The Board of El Paso County Commissioners has directed the County Attorney’s Office to appeal an ACLU lawsuit ruling last year regarding the Sheriff’s policy of holding inmates for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The ACLU initiated the lawsuit against Sheriff Bill Elder (18CV30549) Cisneros vs. Sheriff Bill Elder.

“As a Board, we’re absolutely united and committed to pursuing appeals as far as the Courts will allow,” stated Board Chair Mark Waller. “This is about standing together for the safety of our community and doing the right thing. By the judge’s own admission, higher courts need to weigh in on this in order to provide certainty. That is why we need to follow this through.”

“I’ve been supportive of an appeal since the ruling last year,” Sheriff Bill Elder said. “I truly believe my office did the right thing by cooperating with ICE officials. I believe an appeal will show my officers acted lawfully. I sincerely hope our actions will be vindicated by a successful appeal.”

Judge Eric Bentley previously granted a permanent injunction prohibiting the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office from holding undocumented individuals under an ICE hold. After this ruling, the legislature adopted—and the Governor signed— House Bill 19-1124, prohibiting state and local law enforcement officials from arresting or detaining an individual on the basis of a civil immigration detainer request. The mere fact the legislature passed new law on the matter highlights how unsettled the legal system was when the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office was enforcing ICE holds. 
We've asked for a comment from the ACLU and will update when we hear back.
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Friday, August 16, 2019

Council debates adding new short-term rental requirements

Posted By on Fri, Aug 16, 2019 at 6:05 PM

Some councilors say more regulations are necessary to prevent renters from throwing large, noisy parties in residential neighborhoods. - GOODSTUDIO VIA SHUTTERSTOCK
  • GoodStudio via Shutterstock
  • Some councilors say more regulations are necessary to prevent renters from throwing large, noisy parties in residential neighborhoods.

Colorado Springs City Councilors recently engaged in yet another spirited debate over short-term rentals (STRs), which are usually booked through sites like Airbnb and VRBO. This one addressed occupancy and density, two issues have been repeatedly brought up by residents who desire more restrictions on the rentals.

There was no consensus among Council at the Aug. 12 work session — other than the decision allow an opportunity for the public to comment on the proposed changes.

The meeting began with Principal Planner Morgan Hester explaining staff's proposal for regulating the number of occupants an STR can have. Under city code, no more than five unrelated people can stay in a single-family residence at any given time. And through a combination of housing and fire codes, code enforcement can say no more than 16 related people can occupy a residence. But in a short-term situation, these regulations become difficult to enforce, Hester said.

So, staff proposed limiting the number of people over the age of 12 who can stay overnight in an STR to two. There would be no limit on younger children.

That proposal got a mixed reception from councilors.

Councilor Don Knight suggested the age should be lowered to 2 years old, the age "when you go from a crib to your own bed," he said.

Councilor Wayne Williams agreed. "Otherwise you wind up that the neighborhood has, in this two-bedroom house, a couple [Boy Scouts of America] Scoutmasters, and 30 11-year-old scouts, which has a significant impact on the neighborhood," he said.

But Councilor Andy Pico said he was "queasy" about adding an occupancy requirement that could be difficult to enforce, and Councilor Jill Gaebler was staunchly opposed.
"I think [the proposed ordinance] is completely complicated and unenforceable," Gaebler said. "...We’re being completely inconsistent across housing types."

"If I have a two-bedroom house and somehow have five, six, seven, eight, nine, kids, should I be able to live in my house? Should I be able to visit a house that has two bedrooms?" she asked.

Councilor Bill Murray suggested instead adopting a regulation like one he said he had experienced while staying in Breckenridge, where any complaint against an STR that led to a call to law enforcement simply incurred a fine. Councilor Yolanda Avila agreed with that suggestion.

Staff's second STR proposal would add density requirements; namely, that only a certain number of STR permits could be issued to homeowners in a particular area.

City staff's recommendation was that "no short term rental unit shall be located within five lots along the same block face of another short term rental unit." But Hester presented Council with two other options.

One would be to issue short-term rental permits only to residences outside a 500-foot buffer surrounding the closest permit holder. Another would be to only issue one permit per block face. (Existing permit holders would be grandfathered in under all three proposed options.)

"This is unwieldy, to say the least," Councilor Murray said of the density proposal. "It picks winners and losers. It really doesn't, I think, resolve the overall problem of concern of misuse of the particular property at the disadvantage of your neighbors."

"I would rather us concern ourselves with performance — are you trashing up your neighborhood? ... Instead of sitting here and saying, 'Well, you can have [a permit], but I'm sorry, you're 500 feet away, you can’t have it,'" he added.

Councilor Tom Strand, who was also skeptical about the proposed occupancy requirement, thought the density restrictions could be problematic.
"I think we have to decide: Is this a problem that is in search of a solution, or the reverse?" he said. "[The density requirement] might work in some neighborhoods where it would allow people to have, you know, a reasonable use of their property, and in other neighborhoods it would be too restrictive."

Councilor David Geislinger seemed open to both the density and occupancy proposals, more aligned with Knight and Williams than the other councilors.

Council President Richard Skorman proposed having a public meeting on the proposed occupancy and density requirements in September, and starting that meeting earlier than normal to accommodate plenty of time for comment.

When City Council last passed an ordinance regulating STRS in September of 2018, City Council Chambers were overflowing with impassioned residents on both sides of the issue.

The ordinance that ultimately passed (and went into effect Dec. 31) limits the number of STRs per lawful dwelling unit and per property; bans STRs in trailers, tents and other mobile or temporary structures; requires that neighbors be given an emergency contact available 24/7; allows the city to shut down or suspend nuisance rentals; requires an annual $119 permit and the payment of applicable taxes (those who use sites other than Airbnb need a sales tax license); and sets forth a variety of other standards and rules meant to enhance safety and promote neighborhood tranquility.

Opponents, led by the Neighborhood Preservation Alliance, had hoped for changes to the proposed ordinance that would have banned non-owner-occupied STRs and capped the number of STRs in the city.

The Neighborhood Preservation Alliance's leader, Michael Applegate, told the Indy in July that he was still pushing for those additions, as well as a guest registry (so police can track STR users) and better enforcement of a limit on unrelated people staying in the same home.
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Thursday, August 15, 2019

In a strange turn-about, two Colorado Springs parkland measures appear doomed

Posted By on Thu, Aug 15, 2019 at 5:03 PM

On Aug. 13, it appeared voters would get a chance to decide two, competing measures to protect the city's parkland from being sold or traded away at the Nov. 5 election.

Two days later, it appears they'll get no chance.

That's because both measures that Colorado Springs City Council referred on Aug. 13 won't make it past a required Aug. 27 second reading, according to changes in sentiment by City Councilors along with the expected absence of a key "yes" vote on one measure.
Councilor Jill Gaebler: expected to miss second reading vote. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Councilor Jill Gaebler: expected to miss second reading vote.

The first ballot question, known as Protect Our Parks, would require voter permission before the city completed any parkland transfers to private hands through sales or exchanges. It's genesis lies in the 2016  Council-approved trade of city-owned Strawberry Fields open space to The Broadmoor in exchange for about 400 acres of wooded lands and trail easements.

Opponents formed the advocacy group Save Cheyenne and filed suit, but lost in fall 2018. In January, Save Cheyenne asked Council to refer its POPs measure to the April city ballot. Council declined and called for a working group to be formed to come up with a mutually agreeable ballot measure. That effort involved a wide range of representatives.

The proposed measure from that effort won approval on Aug. 13, on a 5-4 vote. President Richard Skorman and Councilors Yolanda Avila, Bill Murray, Tom Strand and Jill Gaebler favored it, while Wayne Williams, David Geislinger, Andy Pico and Don Knight opposed it.

The second measure referred to voters on Aug. 13 calls for no voter decision on land exchanges, but imposes a mandate that parkland transfers win a 6-3 supermajority vote of Council. That vote on Aug. 13 was 6-3 with Avila, Murray and Gaebler opposing it.

When second reading time rolls around on Aug. 27, Gaebler will be in Europe on a trip that's to begin Aug. 22.

By law, second reading must take place 10 days after the first reading, which would mean the earliest date for second reading is Aug. 23, a day after Gaebler leaves. Her planned return is Sept. 8, two days after the last possible date Council can take action on ballot measures and still secure a place on the coordinated election ballot, handled by El Paso County.

Councilor Don Knight plans to vote "no" on both measures on Aug. 27. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Councilor Don Knight plans to vote "no" on both measures on Aug. 27.
That made Save Cheyenne scurry to see who might be willing to change their vote on the POPs measure, or the supermajority measure. (Save Cheyenne would rather see nothing on the ballot than see the latter question submitted to voters by itself, says spokesman Kent Obee.)

Obee called Gaebler's planned absence "fatal results for us," because now it's likely the vote will be a tie at 4-4, meaning the measure will fail.

It's unclear whether the supermajority measure will prevail. If Skorman and one other Councilor switches their "yes" votes to "no," that measure, too, would fail on a tie vote. (Skorman didn't respond to the Indy's request for comment.)

There are early signs that the supermajority measure is doomed.

"I anticipate I will not be supporting either measure at second reading, and hope to work on a measure that more/all of Council and Administration can get behind for a later election," Geislinger tells the Indy via email.

Pico says he thinks all the variations of the parkland measures need work. "In my opinion," he says via email, "none of these are really ready for the ballot and there are many issues that should be far more clear before going forward to a charter change. In particular, what many people think is in Option 1 is in reality not the case."

Knight says he'll now vote against the supermajority  m
Councilor Andy Pico: None of the parkland measures are ready for primetime. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Councilor Andy Pico: None of the parkland measures are ready for primetime.
easure as well to give the city time to "get it right" by drafting a ballot measure that's "not confusing to the voters."

So that means both measures are likely to be voted down on Aug. 27.

"It's been an emotional rollercoaster," Obee says, adding that Save Cheyenne supporters entered into the working group at the city's invitation and aren't prone to trust yet another process aimed at settling on ballot language.

"A number of us had said this is the last time we're going to try to work with the City Council," he tells the Indy.

It's unclear if Obee and others will give it another try, aiming for the November 2020 election. The group could ask Councilors, once again, to place the measure on the ballot, or the group could try to petition the measure onto the ballot.
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Officer-involved shooting update: Police release body cam footage

Posted By on Thu, Aug 15, 2019 at 1:21 PM

A group gathers in front of City Hall Aug. 5 to protest the shooting death of De'Von Bailey. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • A group gathers in front of City Hall Aug. 5 to protest the shooting death of De'Von Bailey.

The Colorado Springs Police Department has released the body cam footage from officers involved in the Aug. 3 shooting of De'Von Bailey. WARNING: Graphic material.

CSPD OIS August 3 2019 from COS Police Department on Vimeo.

—————-UPDATE TUESDAY, AUG. 13—————

The Colorado Springs Police Department and El Paso County Sheriff's Office have committed to releasing the body-worn camera footage by the end of the week, in the following joint statement from Aug. 9 (emphasis added):
Following the Sheriff’s Office’s announcement on the pending conclusion of its investigation in the Devon Bailey case next week, CSPD anticipates releasing body worn camera footage from two responding officers at that time. The footage scheduled for release captured the moments leading up to, including and immediately following the shooting. As the releasing authority, CSPD has committed to releasing the footage only at such a time when it will not jeopardize or compromise the investigative or judicial process. We thank the community for its patience as we work through the process required to effectively investigate an officer-involved shooting.

New developments emerged in the death of De'Von Bailey, a black teenager shot by at least one Colorado Springs Police Department officer Aug. 3.

Mayor John Suthers released the following statement Aug. 6 (emphasis added):
The City of Colorado Springs and CSPD recognize the concerns of many citizens of our community following the officer-involved shooting of Devon Bailey on Saturday night. It is in the best interest of everyone involved, and our entire community, to ensure that the incident is fully and effectively investigated and an appropriate conclusion is reached. We know that there can be frustration with the time this takes, but we cannot compromise the investigation by failing to spend the appropriate time gathering the facts; that would serve no one.

We pledge that the City and CSPD will work cooperatively and diligently with the investigating agency, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, to ensure a thorough evaluation of the evidence, and there is a robust process in place to accomplish this. The evidence gathered by the EPSO will be provided to the district attorney who will review the evidence and apply the Colorado law regarding use of force by police officers. The DA can decide whether or not to bring charges or refer the matter to a Grand Jury to make the determination. If the DA decides not to charge an officer with criminal conduct, he is required by law to issue a public report explaining his findings. A Grand Jury, in its discretion, can issue a report concerning its decision.

A credible investigation and charging decision takes time and I ask the community to exercise patience as we allow the investigative and judicial process to work.

On Aug. 7, the Gazette published surveillance video that appears to show the shooting. In the video, a black man is seen running away from two white officers before he collapses and slumps forward.

A third officer picks up an unknown object from the ground and takes it to Bailey.

While the officers were reportedly wearing body cameras, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office will not release body-worn camera footage at this time, nor is it the agency that will release the footage, says Natalie Sosa, a sheriff's office spokesperson.

"Once we complete our investigation, we turn those findings over to the district attorney's office," Sosa says.

After the DA makes a decision about the officer-involved shooting, the police department could decide to release the body-worn camera footage, says Lt. James Sokolik, a police department spokesperson.
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City introduces draft historic preservation plan

Posted By on Thu, Aug 15, 2019 at 10:11 AM

A mid-20th century postcard depicting The Antlers hotel (in its second iteration). The building, which replaced The Antlers hotel that burned down in 1898, was torn down in 1964. - BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY
  • Boston Public Library
  • A mid-20th century postcard depicting The Antlers hotel (in its second iteration). The building, which replaced The Antlers hotel that burned down in 1898, was torn down in 1964.

Colorado Springs residents first mobilized to preserve the city's historic character in the 1950s, notes the city's new HistoricCOS draft plan.

When a 14-story hospital was proposed at the northern edge of the Old North End neighborhood, at North Cascade Avenue and Madison Street, residents successfully opposed the construction in an effort to maintain the character of their community.

The original First National Bank Building, The Antlers hotel and Ute Theater buildings were not so lucky — these historic properties were demolished around the same time, according to HistoricCOS.

The 80-page draft plan (presented to City Council at a work session Aug. 12) chronicles some of the city's historic preservation efforts over the years, and provides a blueprint of sorts for how city government and elected leaders should work to preserve the city's character into the future.

"Colorado Springs will be a community knowledgeable about preserving its unique history and cultural heritage," the plan's vision statement reads. "We will be a community proud of its past and ready to share its heritage story with residents and visitors. We will actively protect and utilize our irreplaceable historic and cultural resources as part of our ongoing economic and community development strategy."

The city's effort to update the last historic preservation plan from 1993 started in late 2017. A team of consultants led by Stan Clauson Associates (a landscape architecture, planning and resort design firm) met with neighborhood organizations and other groups, and asked community members what they'd like to see in terms of preservation.

The $60,650 project was funded mostly through grants, including $29,900 from the State Historical Fund.

The draft plan still has a ways to go before it's finalized. Staff will present it to the Planning Commission in September, and once again to Council in September or October.

Like PlanCOS and neighborhood master plans, HistoricCOS doesn't explicitly commit Council to funding certain initiatives, but it does provide a vision for how to preserve the past as the city grows.

In that vein, the plan lays out a series of recommended tasks for the city. Here are just a few:

- Survey the public on which properties should receive historic designation.
- Determine which city-owned properties are historic (normally buildings that are at least 50 years old, and meet other criteria) and institute a documentation system so that the city can add new properties as they're acquired, or as properties age.
- Expand historic overlay zones, which require new development in those zones to meet certain design requirements.

The city will host an open house 5:30 p.m. Aug. 27 at the Colorado Springs Pioneer's Museum, located at 215 S. Tejon St., with a meet-and-greet, presentation and Q&A session on the draft plan.
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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Colorado Springs Council refers two measures to voters to protect parkland

Posted By on Tue, Aug 13, 2019 at 6:14 PM

Garden of the Gods Park - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Garden of the Gods Park
In a "unprecedented" move, Colorado Springs City Council moved to refer competing measures to the Nov. 5 ballot on August 13.

First, Council voted to refer a measure that would allow citizens to decide whether they want a chance to vote on future sales or trades of city parkland. The measure comes in the wake of the city's controversial 2016 land swap of city-owned Strawberry Fields, a 189-acre open space tract next to North Cheyenne Cañon Park, to The Broadmoor. (In exchange, the city received about 400 acres of wildlands and trail easements.)

Council also voted to refer a competing measure that would leave those decisions in Council's hands and require a 6-3 majority to approve such conveyances, either through sales or trades.

Favoring the first measure were Council President Richard Skorman and Councilors Jill Gaebler, Tom Strand, Bill Murray and Yolanda Avila. It was opposed by Councilors David Geislinger, Wayne Williams, Andy Pico and Don Knight.

The 6-3 measure was opposed by Avila, Gaebler and Murray.

"Welcome to messy democracy," Skorman said after the vote at 5:35 p.m.

But Council must vote a second time in order to refer each measure. That vote is expected next week, and it's unclear whether both measures will ultimately come before voters.
That's because City Attorney Wynetta Massey told Council the city has never had two competing measures on the same ballot, and she wasn't sure how to reconcile the two. She also said she would be "uncomfortable" trying to decipher what message the voters intended if they approve both measures.

Kent Obee, leader of nonprofit Save Cheyenne which advocated for voters weighing in on parkland conveyances, said he was "delighted and relieved" by Council's decision to submit the Protect Our Parks (POPs) measure, which would allow voters a say in conveyance of parkland to other entities.

That relief comes after nearly four years of advocacy by Save Cheyenne, which formed amid debate over the controversial trade of city-owned Strawberry Fields.
North Cheyenne Cañon Park - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • North Cheyenne Cañon Park
Save Cheyenne challenged the deal in court but lost in late 2018, triggering efforts to get the POPs measure on the ballot. In January, Council refused to refer it to the April city election, but told backers to participate in a city working group to come up with a mutually agreeable measure. That group included city officials, Council members, the Trails and Open Space Coalition, League of Women Voters, Sierra Club and others and spanned about four months.

In late May, Councilor Williams suggested a substitute measure that would keep trades and sales in Council's hands but require a 6-3 majority to dispose of parkland.

In a twist, during the Aug. 13 debate, Williams said that the Council supermajority measure wouldn't necessarily have to replace the POPs measure, should they both pass. Instead, he called the dual measures a double layer of protection for parkland transfers and added that offering both measures "gives voters an opportunity to decide." (A marked change from his earlier stance that voters shouldn't get a say in parkland transfers.)

Mayor John Suthers told Council he opposes allowing voters to weigh in on parkland exchanges or sales, saying, "I think you are wholly capable of deciding what's in the best interest of the people." He also said there might be urgency to a swap that would be undermined by having to take the deal to the voters for approval.

Murray called Williams' push to get the supermajority measure on the ballot, favored by Suthers and the Parks Advisory Board, "subverting the majority of this Council."

The discussion grew contentious several times as POPs opponents — notably Williams and Geislinger — repeatedly argued against referring it to voters, saying not enough definition had been given to which parks would be subject to a vote of the people should a sale or swap proposal arise and that a longer and wider public process is needed.
Reminding the audience he's a lawyer, Geislinger said Council could enact a parks preservation list following the Nov. 5 election that contains a fraction of the parks that POPs backers hope to protect.

"It’s not every park; it’s the parks City Council elects to put on the list," he said. "I don’t know what parks I would take off the list. I don’t know what parks other members would take off the list. I don’t know what parks the Parks Department say should come off the list. I am a lawyer. People know I’m a lawyer. Language matters."

He also said, "We haven't talked to the citizens about what they want."

(It's worth noting that during an Aug. 12 work session on the POPs measure, Parks Director Karen Palus said the city held many public meetings spanning "eight or nine months" about the city's trade of Strawberry Fields. But that process actually spanned just over four months. The exchange was introduced by a news release issued Jan. 14, 2016, and Council voted 6-3 to approve the swap on May 24, 2016.)

Williams disputed that constituted a robust public process. "There's a very large difference in an interested stakeholders meeting and a public meeting."

He also said decisions on parkland should remain with Council, not the voters. "I believe in the constitutional principles this nation was founded on, and I don’t think a representative democracy is a bad thing," he said. He noted the POPs measure wasn't supported by the Parks Advisory board or the Trails and Open Space Coalition, which instead supports the 6-3 Council majority option.

Others countered Geislinger's and Williams' arguments, saying POPs supporters were invited by the city itself to participate in the working group and that the City Attorney's Office and Parks Department fashioned the wording that defines which parks are subject to voter protection.

Responding to Williams', Geislinger's and mayor's Chief of Staff Jeff Greene's pitch for a longer public process, Obee noted that Council referred a sales tax measure for roads and a Taxpayer's Bill of Rights retention issue to the ballot earlier that day after virtually no public meetings.

"Parks belong to the citizens," Obee said. "What we’re asking you to do is just consult with the citizens if they would like to have a say in the disposition of their parkland. Maybe they’ll say they don’t. I do think here in Colorado there are some issues that are so important you do need to go back to the voters. This is one of them."

Judith Rice-Jones with the League of Women Voters reminded Council of numerous instances over the years in which Council wanted to dispose of key parklands but were blocked by citizens via lawsuits or opposition actions. Among those: elected officials' desire to tear down the old courthouse, which today is the Pioneers Museum; a move to sell Rock Ledge Ranch; attempts to use a portion of Monument Valley Park, and later, the Fine Arts Center property, for road extensions.
Strawberry Fields open space - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Strawberry Fields open space
"Honor the vision of Gen. [William] Palmer," she said, referring to the city founder's bequest of hundreds of acres as parkland. "Vote for option 1 [POPs}."

As to which parks would be covered by a vote of the people, Skorman recited the city's definition as stated in the ballot measure and noted, "It’s every park that’s been dedicated and is in use. Why all of a sudden does Council want to go back and change, add and delete? The work has been done and it’s been done in all the other places that have put this in place. When a new park is in use, it will be put on the list."

Skorman also noted voter protection already exists for land purchased using Trails, Open Space and Parks tax money, because that provision was contained in the ballot measure.

POPs supporters noted 80 to 90 percent of cities in Colorado have vote-of-the-people protection for sales or trade of parkland.

Donna Strom said she couldn't "for the life of me" understand how all those cities could make parks protection work through a vote of the people and Colorado Springs insists it cannot.

Avila made short work of the debate over how much public process is enough, saying, "By putting it on the ballot, we are doing the ultimate public process."
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City says steady drone of cryptocurrency operation won't be prosecuted

Posted By on Tue, Aug 13, 2019 at 12:03 PM

Shipping containers line the backside of a building on Garden of the Gods Road where Bitcoin mining is under way and fans used to cool the computers generate noise in a neighborhood about 350 feet away. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Shipping containers line the backside of a building on Garden of the Gods Road where Bitcoin mining is under way and fans used to cool the computers generate noise in a neighborhood about 350 feet away.
It's noise as usual in the Chelsea Glen neighborhood just south of Garden of the Gods Road.

After months of wrangling with the city to demand that a Bitcoin mining operation comply with the city's noise ordinance, neighbors received bad news Aug. 12 from city Planning Director Peter Wysocki.

He wrote in an email to neighborhood resident Ron Graham Becker that the city won't issue a citation.

From his email:
On July 30, 2019, Neighborhood Services staff reviewed the evidence collected on the aforementioned inspections with the Prosecution Division of the City Attorney’s Office. Upon conclusion of this meeting, the Prosecution Division did not feel there was sufficient evidence to warrant prosecution at this time.
Wysocki also advised the city hasn't closed the case, however, and more testing will be conducted in September, after 3G Venture owner, John Chen, finishes installing other devices to muffle the sound.
As expected, all that doesn't sit well with Graham Becker. First, Graham Becker says testing that averages the readings isn't valid. Second, the city never tested the noise over a long period of time, notably through the night when residents report the hum continues unabated and in violation of the city's 50 decibel limit.

Says Graham Becker:
The City's decision not to prosecute was not surprising. It was a predictable volley and I expected as much. Regardless, it was a disappointing blow and I feel the City of Colorado Springs has let the neighborhood of Chelsea Glen down tremendously. Mr. Chen's business continues to violate noise ordinances during nighttime hours almost 100% of the time, according to my readings. Mr. Chen has played the City for about a year, without incurring consequences for his actions. However, the residents of Chelsea Glen will keep fighting this until he is in compliance with the law. I suspect that there is a lot more to this case than meets the eye.
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Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Springs Utilities employee survey: Fewer feel engaged than three years ago.

Posted By on Tue, Aug 6, 2019 at 3:32 PM

This shows the breakdown of which category was nated by employees in response to the question: What makes you want to continue working at Colorado Springs Utilities? - COURTESY ARTHUR J. GALLAGHER & CO.
  • Courtesy Arthur J. Gallagher & Co.
  • This shows the breakdown of which category was nated by employees in response to the question: What makes you want to continue working at Colorado Springs Utilities?

Fewer Colorado Springs Utilities workers feel engaged in their jobs today than they did three years ago, a new survey shows. But more employees, compared to a previous poll, said they were being treated fairly by supervisors at the city-owned enterprise.

The survey was conducted by Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., a global firm based in Rolling Meadows, Illinois.

Unlike the city of Colorado Springs, Springs Utilities released the survey to employees, Utilities Board members and the Independent, which submitted a records request for the report.

Conducted from June 3-21, the survey drew responses from 1,316 (73 percent) employees. The highest response rate came from Administration (100 percent) and the lowest, from Energy Services (59 percent).

The survey used a scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 6 (strongly agree), with variations in between.

Overall employee engagement rated at 4.75, or .17 lower than the 2016 survey and .29 lower than the national norm. Administration workers felt the most engaged, 5.61, and regulatory and compliance employees (those dealing with government rules and regulations) felt the least, 4.31. In fact, 19 percent of those working in regulatory and compliance said they felt "strongly disengaged."

Workers who'd been there the least amount of time felt more engaged than those who've served for 11 years or more.

Utilities lost ground sightly from the 2016 employee survey in these areas:
• Recommend employment at this organization
• Feels part of our mission
• Effort affects the organization's success

The survey also showed decreases since 2016 in employees trusting those they work with, the effectiveness of performance evaluations, and opportunities to use their talents at Utilities.

It gained ground in employees feeling confident officers manage the political environment in the interest of stakeholders, trust in leaders adhering to CSU's values and being treated fairly by supervisors.

Utilities Board Chair Jill Gaebler says she's "very pleased" with the results of the survey overall.

"We had more employees take the survey," she noted, than the previous survey in 2016. "I'm especially interested in how employees felt the survey would be used to make improvements. They're expecting changes in leadership will lead to improvements."

Employees expressed concerns regarding performance reviews, using their talents and measuring success, which Gaebler finds encouraging.

"People want to work for a winning organization," she says, adding she hopes the Utilities Board can find a way to work with the CEO to provide an optimistic and hopeful outlook for employees.

Gaebler also said CEO Aram Benyamin "has a mandate" to make changes in response to the survey.

In October 2018, Benyamin replaced former CEO Jerry Forte, who retired in mid-2018.

The survey's "not to exceed" cost was $40,000.

Here's the survey:

In mid-February, the Indy submitted a records request to the city of Colorado Springs for employee surveys, but the request was rejected. In denying access, the city cited provisions of the Colorado Open Records Act that protect "confidential, commercial and financial data" and "work product of an elected official."

The city paid OrgVitality of Pleasantville, N.Y., $17,225 for the survey.

First Amendment attorney Steve Zansberg, Denver, said after the city survey was denied that the first exemption cited can't be applied "because the information in the survey and results were not 'obtained from' a private person," as cited in CORA. The second exemption is more nebulous, he said, noting he'd have to know to whom the results were distributed to determine if it's a lawful citation for withholding the document.

Asked about that at the time in late February, city spokesperson Jamie Fabos wrote, "Certain managers employed by the City were granted access to some of the metrics pertaining to their departments as a whole, in order [to] produce additional information for the elected official which is also protected from disclosure by both statutory sections cited above."
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Friday, August 2, 2019

Mountain View Electric sues El Paso County over land-use code requirements

Posted By on Fri, Aug 2, 2019 at 12:10 PM

  • Photo by Todd Aarnes on Unsplash
El Paso County is flexing muscle it doesn't have by trying to require Mountain View Electric Association to move infrastructure to accommodate roads, according to a lawsuit filed by Mountain View in March.

All that could cost Mountain View tens of millions of dollars, the lawsuit says.

Mountain View sued the county and its planning department, alleging its Land Use Development Code illegally controls where utility lines are located and constitutes a "taking" of property owned by Mountain View.

The lawsuit seeks an order from a judge saying either the Land Use Development Code can't be enforced regarding siting of certain utility lines, or that the code essentially constitutes a "taking" of its property for which the county must compensate Mountain View.

The Land Use Development Code, adopted in 2013 and amended in 2015, includes a chapter that addresses "site selection and construction of major facilities of a public utility," the lawsuit says. Code provisions bar electric transmission lines and pipelines from being built, relocated, enlarged or upgraded within 105 feet of the centerline of any county road that's currently or proposed to be classified as an arterial or expressway.

Without that section in force, utilities can build infrastructure closer to the road and, if the road is ever expanded in the future, the county bears the cost of moving the utilities.

By adopting the new code, the lawsuit contends, "the County is attempting to place these relocation costs on the utilities [costs that are in turn paid by utilities' rate payers in the form of higher rates] by forcing the utilities to incur the cost of relocating certain infrastructure that they might seek to rebuild or upgrade."

In many cases, Mountain View says, this part of the code means it would have to acquire right of way "across and/or through existing buildings and other improvements" that might have to be moved to make way for utility lines at some undetermined time in the future to accommodate a wider road.

Much to Mountain View's chagrin, the county's Major Transportation Corridors Plan classifies dozens of roads as current or proposed arterials or expressways, many within Mountain View's service area. That area lies north, east and southeast of Colorado Springs and covers 5,000 square miles.

Most of the utility easements were obtained prior to adopting of the new code, Mountain View says.

In mid-2017, county officials told Mountain View they interpret the new standards as applying both to high voltage transmission lines and low voltage end-user distribution lines.

Amid efforts in 2018 to clarify what the county would or wouldn't allow, the county told Mountain View it planned to "dramatically increase" the number of roads covered by the regulations by including areas 45 feet from the centerline of roads classified as current or proposed "collector" streets, which handle traffic volumes lower than arterials and expressways.

Mountain View contends the county is illegally regulating the utility's siting of distribution lines. (Mountain View acknowledges the county has powers through 10-41 permits to review transmission lines.)

The dispute, Mountain View says in the lawsuit, has created "a cloud of uncertainty" over its rights and planned projects, which could impact "tens of millions of dollars in investment."

In answer to the lawsuit, the county states, "The Board of County Commissioners complied with the correctly and reasonably applied applicable statutes, case law, its land use regulations and the applicable El Paso county Master Plan elements including its policy plan and applicable small area plans."

The county declined to comment when contacted by the Independent.

A case management meeting is set for Aug. 22.
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Wednesday, July 31, 2019

El Paso County looks to join discussion about urban density

Posted By on Wed, Jul 31, 2019 at 9:31 AM

El Paso County Commission Chair Mark Waller: Wants to be a partner in "healthy growth." - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • El Paso County Commission Chair Mark Waller: Wants to be a partner in "healthy growth."
In this week's Independent, we report the conundrum the city of Colorado Springs faces in whether to annex property before or after developers build homes, businesses, roads and utilities.

We weren't able to reach County Commission Chair Mark Waller before our press deadline but have since heard back from him. Via email, he tells us:
The County has long sought to be a responsible partner in the healthy growth of our region. We’d welcome the opportunity to have a honest conversation about this issue with our partners at the City.

This is part of the reason why the County is currently engaged in a comprehensive Master Planning process through our Community Development Department. We strongly encourage everyone — from citizens to other elected officials — to participate in that process and have their voice heard by completing the Master Plan survey available on our website.
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New Protect Our Parks ballot measure might be in the works

Posted By on Wed, Jul 31, 2019 at 9:27 AM

Strawberry Fields open space gave rise to the movement for the Protect Our Parks ballot measure. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Strawberry Fields open space gave rise to the movement for the Protect Our Parks ballot measure.
City officials are scurrying to draft a hybrid Protect Our Parks ballot measure that would blend the original POPs measure with a last-minute version, which some suspect is designed to enable the city to convey certain city parkland to developers, according to parks advocate Kent Obee and City Councilor Bill Murray.

But the parks director disputes a hybrid measure is in the works.

The original POPs, crafted by a committee of stakeholders over a five-month period earlier this year, would require a vote of the people before the city conveys parkland, either through sales or exchanges, to another entity, corporation or individual.

The last-minute version, proposed by Councilor Wayne Williams on May 28, would allow City Council to convey parkland on a 6-3 vote. (This is the measure which appears to be favored by a majority of Council, based on a June 22 meeting.)

Kent Obee on a hike in Stratton Open Space. He says Council and the mayor are trying to defang a parks protection measure. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Kent Obee on a hike in Stratton Open Space. He says Council and the mayor are trying to defang a parks protection measure.
A 6-3 Council vote in 2016 approved a controversial swap in which the city traded its 189-acre Strawberry Fields open space to The Broadmoor in exchange for 400 acres of largely wilderness land and trail easements. The Strawberry Fields deal gave rise to the nonprofit Save Cheyenne, which gave birth to the POPs measure after a protracted legal battle failed to overturn the Strawberry Fields exchange.

Council is due to consider on Aug. 13 which measure to refer to the Nov. 5 ballot — one that would allow Council to convey parkland on a 6-3 vote or one that would require voter approval of all transfers, which is favored by Save Cheyenne.

Now, Obee says, he fears the third option will arise during an Aug. 12 work session one day prior to the vote to refer a measure to the ballot.

"I think they're trying to defang it," says Obee, who notes he learned of the new proposal from a couple of Council members.

Obee says his group opposes the hybrid proposal, which would create two classes of parks — one, which likely would include smaller neighborhood parks, that wouldn't have voter protection, and another, including regional and community parks, that would have voter protection. But Obee admits he doesn't know which parks would or wouldn't be protected under the third hybrid option.

No other city in Colorado relies on such a hybrid plan, Obee says, although many cities have adopted measures that mirror POPs by requiring voter approval to convey parkland.

The hybrid, Obee says, "undercuts our basic premise that the parks belong to the people and the people should have the final say when parkland is conveyed."

Parks Director Karen Palus tells the Independent via email there are only two ballot measures Council will consider at its Aug. 13 meeting.

Asked about Palus' denial that a third hybrid measure was in the works, Obee says via email, "For what it is worth, I believe the folks on the city staff who were asked to draw up the hybrid version were the City Attorney's office, not the Parks Department."

Obee cites another reason for concern for park advocates. He says in recent days, Save Cheyenne supporters noticed the POPs measure's list of parks subject to a vote of the people doesn't contain Jimmy Camp Creek Park, 700 acres as yet undeveloped as a park on the city's northeast side adjacent to Banning Lewis Ranch.
Jimmy Camp Creek Park lies in the city's extreme northeast sector. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy City of Colorado Springs
  • Jimmy Camp Creek Park lies in the city's extreme northeast sector.

Most of BLR belongs to Nor'wood Development Group, the region's biggest developer that's owned by David Jenkins.

"On the original list, it was there," he says.

That leads him and others to wonder if the city is negotiating a deal to convey Jimmy Camp property to someone.

"Don’t wonder," Murray tells the Independent via email, "that is the plan."

"In an attempt to block POPS from appearing on the ballot to likely success, the mayor is throwing a lot of chaff to confuse the issues," Murray says. "Most [Front Range] cities have this protection. I would suggest an ulterior motive. There are developers who are interested in current park lands for development. And the mayor is supporting these developers."

The city obtained Jimmy Camp Creek 20 years ago from the developer that owned the property at that time. Budget restraints have prevented its development into a park. Land around the creek was acquired by Colorado Springs Utilities for a possible reservoir as part of the Southern Delivery System water pipeline project, but the site was abandoned for several reasons, including its harboring of one of the best exposures in the world of the Cretaceous-Tertiary (K-T) boundary, which marked the end of the Mesozoic Era, or the Age of Reptiles (dinosaurs), some 66 million years ago.

But Palus says there's no pending deal to transfer Jimmy Camp Creek Park or any part of it. She says it's not on the list of parks that would be voted on by the people under the POPs measure, because it hasn't been developed. The protection list, she notes, doesn't include any land acquired from developers through the city's Parkland Dedication Ordinance that hasn't been developed into a park, which includes Jimmy Camp, a provision with which Save Cheyenne agreed.

"When that parkland is developed, that parkland would then be added to the [POPs protection] designation list," Palus says.

Dismissing plans to trade away a portion of Jimmy Camp, Palus says, "There are currently no pending transactions with Jimmy Camp Creek at this time."

However, Mayor John Suthers, who opposes giving voters a chance to vote on parkland transfers, hinted that a deal might be pending regarding Jimmy Camp Creek during a May 28 meeting with Council, as we reported in our cover story on July 17:
“It’s very conceivable to me that some rich person is going to offer us a deal that needs to close by the end of the year for tax purposes,” Suthers said. “He wants an acre, and he’s going to give us 400 acres, and we’re going to say, ‘Sorry, we have to take it to a vote [of the people].’”

Although parks officials say there’s no significant land transfer currently under negotiations, Suthers may see one on the not-too-distant horizon.

During the May 28 meeting, the mayor hinted that POPs could obstruct a land exchange in the Jimmy Camp Creek vicinity in east Colorado Springs. That land is adjacent to property owned by Nor’wood Development Group, the region’s biggest developer, which has indicated a desire to work a deal with the city for a portion of its 18,500-acre Banning Lewis Ranch.
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