Local Government

Friday, August 17, 2018

DA to brief "innocent bystander" Thomas Villanueva in fatal deputy shooting

Posted By on Fri, Aug 17, 2018 at 2:43 PM

Thomas Villanueva, with his mother, Sallie, and Father, Tom, during an Aug. 15 protest. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Thomas Villanueva, with his mother, Sallie, and Father, Tom, during an Aug. 15 protest.

The 28-year-old man who was paralyzed from the chest down by a bullet in a Feb. 5 shootout that killed a deputy will meet with District Attorney Dan May on Tuesday, Aug. 21.

Thomas Villanueva, described by Sheriff Bill Elder as an "innocent bystander," posted on Facebook that his meeting will cover "if the cops were unlawfully wrong in some way."

Villanueva also tells the Independent the DA's Office plans to publicly release its finding about whether the shooting was justified that same day, Aug. 21.

A DA's Office spokesperson said via email, "We’re still coordinating meetings, so I can’t confirm a day, but it’ll likely be next week. And the report from our office is being finalized."

Thomas, his parents and other relatives and a witness to the shooting, Michael DeRossett, staged a protest on Aug. 15 in front of the El Paso County Coroner's Office to urge release of the autopsy reports of Deputy Micah Flick and auto theft suspect Manuel Zetina, who were killed in the attempted arrest of Zetina by a multi-agency task force.

They also appeared outside the courthouse that same day.

Coroner Robert Bux has petitioned the District Court to have the autopsies sealed, citing grief of the Flick family, including Flick's widow, Rachael. There's no mention in Bux's petition of Zetina's family's grief. The Independent and Gazette have joined to oppose Bux's maneuver. A hearing is slated for Aug. 24.

Sheriff Bill Elder speaking to the media on Feb. 6, saying all officers involved in the auto theft operation wore police placards identifying themselves as police. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Sheriff Bill Elder speaking to the media on Feb. 6, saying all officers involved in the auto theft operation wore police placards identifying themselves as police.
Meantime, DeRossett's wife, Heather, tells the Indy that what she saw that day at Murray Hill Apartments, at Murray Boulevard and Galley Road, conflicts with official statements made by local law enforcement regarding the task force operation.

Both Sheriff Elder and Colorado Springs Police Department spokesman Lt. Howard Black have said all officers were wearing clearly visible police insignia at the time.

But DeRossett backs up the Indy's June 20 report that at least six police officers from the CSPD, Sheriff's Office and State Patrol participating in the mission didn't have on visible police insignia or give verbal warnings they were cops when attempting to arrest Zetina.
"It looked like a gang fight in the beginning," she says. "I saw a group of guys in plaid shirts. They didn’t yell out 'police' or anything. I saw them go after that one kid, and they were surrounding him. They threw him down on the ground, handcuffed him, and I saw five or six of them in a circle around him and [they] started shooting and shooting. They looked like they were holding him down, with his hands behind his back. I seen them fire. Like I said, I thought it was a gang fight, so I grabbed my kids."

DeRossett observed the shooting from her second-story apartment window about two car lengths from the action, she says. She also says a neighbor told her that Zetina had pounded on a woman's door just before the shooting happened, saying, "Somebody's after me. Somebody's after me." DeRossett says she didn't see Zetina pull a gun or fire any shots.

"He thought it was a gang, too, because they weren't wearing anything that says they were officers," Heather DeRossett says.

Heather DeRossett says the first officer insignia she saw was worn by SWAT officers who arrived two to three minutes after the shooting started.

Her husband, Michael, provided the Indy a photograph taken that day of Flick lying on the ground, wearing a plaid shirt, and another officer in a plaid shirt standing over him. Two other officers in uniform were knelt beside the fallen officer.

Heather DeRossett says she didn't know Thomas had been shot until after she returned to her apartment several minutes later after having grabbed her kids and fled into the hall because "bullets were flying everywhere." Then she noticed he was lying in the street.

Villanueva tells the Indy he was returning from a restaurant on the east side of Murray when he saw about six people, but no police uniforms. "They kept looking my way," he says in a Facebook message. He proceeded westbound in the parking lot where the lot makes an L turn. "Right away, shots fired," he says.
Deputy Flick's patrol cruiser parked outside the Sheriff's Office the day after he was killed. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Deputy Flick's patrol cruiser parked outside the Sheriff's Office the day after he was killed.
Villanueva has filed a notice of claim with the county and other agencies, a required step that preceeds a lawsuit. No other notices of claim have been filed with the county regarding the Feb. 5 shooting incident.

There's no word if or when the police investigative report will be released to the public. Although the CSPD and Sheriff's Office participated in the shooting, both agencies had a hand in investigating the incident and submitted a report to the DA's Office on April 13.

The Indy's June 20 investigative story and subsequent story about officer-involved shootings, based on interviews with witnesses and officers at the scene and those familiar with the shooting, reported there's no evidence the task force trained together on auto-theft operations, that higher-ups in all three departments were concerned with officers pointing guns at people and that that led to officers not having their guns drawn when they approached Zetina.

Officers, who didn't want to be named, told the Indy that Flick tried to grab Zetina from behind, prompting Zetina to produce a gun and fire behind him, striking Flick in the neck. Three other officers also were injured in the shooting.
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Thursday, August 16, 2018

The building department has too much money. Now it must give it away.

Posted By on Thu, Aug 16, 2018 at 8:00 AM

  • 401kcalculator.org
Here's something you don't hear a lot: A local government agency has collected so much money in fees that it now has to find a way to give away the cash.

More details the planned give-away by the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department were revealed at an Aug. 15 meeting of the Regional Building Advisory Committee.

The committee advises the Regional Building Commission, comprised of three elected officials from the region.

In an informal program, RBD gave away nearly $1 million in 2016 and 2017 from its reserve fund, which has topped $10 million. And that doesn't include cash that will flow in from building permit and inspection fees from the series of hail storms that have hit the area this summer, most recently on Aug. 6.
The criteria for the donations program include:

• Funds must be available to disperse without adversely affecting RBD's services.

• Applicants must be an active 501(c)(3) with an IRS nonprofit designation.

• Requests must be directly related to the construction industry in El Paso County or directly related to construction activity or promote the education, knowledge and awareness of the industry.

• Proposed projects must demonstrate a benefit to the public in El Paso County.

• Applicants must submit an annual budget and other financial information.
The program will be closed to endowments, individuals, organizations that don't have fiscal responsibility for the proposed project, religious programs, requests for overhead costs, programs designed to influence a legislative purpose or political race, programs to produce media projects, or any programs outside El Paso County.

"Unless something changes, we're good," Advisory Board chair Darren Tiffany said.

Jina Koultchizka, RBD's attorney, said the proposed policy, in draft form at this time, would be submitted to the Regional Building Commission at its Aug. 29 meeting.

However, Commission member Mark Waller, who's an El Paso County commissioner, has said he wouldn't support the measure until all jurisdictions covered by RBD have had a chance to weigh in.

The advisory board also reviewed a 2018 budget amendment and the proposed 2019 budget. A 25-percent fee reduction effective Aug. 1 through year's end would be extended through 2019 under the budget proposal, as would a licensing rewards program that waives licensing fees for all contractors who have had a clean record for three years.

The idea is to chip away at the growing reserve fund, which is supposed to be no more than 50 percent of budget under the intergovernmental agreement with seven member agencies — Colorado Springs, Fountain, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls, Monument, Palmer Lake and El Paso County.

But due to a July 2016 hail storm and an uptick in economic activity, the reserves have ballooned.

RBD plans to hire 14.5 positions this year to deal with growing work demands, which will eat up $629,242 in fees, while next year's spending will exceed revenues by roughly $1 million, reducing the reserves.

But RBD doesn't yet know how the hail storms will impact revenues, so it's possible reserves could grow.
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The Springs is big with small businesses

Posted By on Thu, Aug 16, 2018 at 6:00 AM

  • Pixabay

According to Thumbtack.com, Colorado Springs has lots of little reasons to celebrate.

Between last year and this year, the city bumped up its "B" score in "overall friendliness" to an "A+" on the site's Small Business Friendliness Survey, which ranks 57 cities based on factors such as licensing requirements, tax regulations, and labor and hiring regulations.

Colorado Springs outshone many of its peers, coming in at No. 4 nationwide. (Though it's government websites got a big, fat "F." Ouch.)

The survey is based on the input of 7,500 small business owners across the country, Thumbtack.com says.

Here's the city's full report card:

Employment, labor and hiring: A
Licensing: A
Tax code: A-
Training and networking programs: A-
Ease of hiring: B
Regulations: B
Ease of starting a business: C+
Government websites: F

The city, clearly, still has some studying to do on a couple of subjects (*cough* technology *cough*) but notes in an Aug. 14 statement that "Recognizing usability challenges, the city launched a redesigned website in the spring."

TBD whether that makes a difference next year — if so, Colorado Springs could climb even higher. This year, Fort Worth, Texas, topped the list, followed by San Antonio, Texas, and Columbus, Ohio.

The state of Colorado earned a "C+" in overall friendliness, and Denver got a "C-." We're unimpressed.
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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A map of the red-light camera locations chosen by the city

Posted By on Wed, Aug 15, 2018 at 1:39 PM

  • Walter Baxter
After analyzing factors like collision data, traffic volume and speeding, the city has chosen four intersections for red-light cameras:

• Northbound Academy Boulevard at Carefree Circle
• Eastbound Platte Avenue at Chelton Road
• Westbound Briargate Boulevard at Lexington Drive
• Southbound Academy Boulevard at Dublin Boulevard

Violators caught by cameras will be fined $75, not including court costs.

It's not the first time Colorado Springs has taken a swing at red-light cameras. The first, short-lived attempt began in 2010 before Steve Bach's tenure as mayor. Cameras were placed at four intersections (completely different from the newly selected ones) for about a year. But the project got the red light in October 2011, just over a year later, when the city found it was "not meeting safety expectations" and Bach called for an end to the unpopular program.

"According to data supplied by program partner, American Traffic Solutions, Inc. (ATS), while there was an overall modest (30 percent) reduction in red-light running violations through September, results varied widely," reads a 2011 release from the city announcing the shutdown.

"For example, the program had a 22 percent increase in violations at the north-bound approach on Nevada Avenue at Bijou Street. In addition, preliminary information from the City’s Traffic Engineering and Police Departments showed the program had no impact on dangerous front-to-side collisions at program intersections."

Colorado Springs Police Department Chief Pete Carey supported shutting down the program in 2011. “A review of the data after one year shows conflicting information at best," he's quoted in the city's release. "We discussed the program with Mayor Bach and determined citizens would be best served if we reassigned personnel to other priority functions.”

However, Carey last fall argued for reinstating red-light enforcement, saying cameras were necessary because of an officer shortage and a rising number of traffic accidents and fatalities.

This year is set to break traffic fatality records in Colorado Springs. Last year, there were a total of 39 accident-related deaths, the most ever. This year, there have already been 32 (compared with only 22 at this time in 2017).

“If [installing cameras] saves lives and prevents hospital visits, I think we should do it," Carey said at a public forum last year.

But whether they do is still an if. Studies have shown mixed results as to whether red-light cameras actually make people safer. Some show that installing cameras results in fewer T-bone crashes, but more rear-ends.

There's also the "training effect" on drivers.

The Gazette quotes Mayor John Suthers as saying the cameras will help, because people "forget exactly which intersection it is, so it has the effect of making people a lot more careful within a radius.”
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Shooting victim Thomas Villanueva demands public records hidden by coroner

Posted By on Wed, Aug 15, 2018 at 12:17 PM

Thomas Villanueva, paralyzed from the chest down, made an appearance outside the El Paso County Coroner's Office on Aug. 15 to protest an effort to close autopsy reports from a Feb. 5 shooting of Deputy Micah Flick and an auto theft suspect. From left, Thomas' mother, Sallie, Thomas, his father Tom Villanueva, and his friend Michael DeRossett, who observed the shooting. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • Thomas Villanueva, paralyzed from the chest down, made an appearance outside the El Paso County Coroner's Office on Aug. 15 to protest an effort to close autopsy reports from a Feb. 5 shooting of Deputy Micah Flick and an auto theft suspect. From left, Thomas' mother, Sallie, Thomas, his father Tom Villanueva, and his friend Michael DeRossett, who observed the shooting.
Thomas Villanueva, the innocent bystander gravely wounded in a Feb. 5 shootout in which El Paso County Sheriff's Deputy Micah Flick was killed, staged a protest with family members and friends on Aug. 15 outside the El Paso County Coroner's Office.

Coroner Robert Bux has petitioned the 4th Judicial District Court to keep autopsy reports of Flick and an auto theft suspect that Flick and other officers were attempting to arrest, Manuel Zetina, closed from the public. (Zetina was also killed in the shootout, and three officers were injured.) Bux cited grief of Flick's family as the reason for his petition, along with an ongoing investigation. The Independent, the Gazette and other media have opposed the petition, for which a hearing has been set for Aug. 24.

"Public records — that's what they are, public," Tom Villanueva, Thomas' father, said. "What's going on? We don't know. But we need answers." The Indy published an exhaustive investigative report about the shooting on June 20, quoting officers and witnesses who said the task force that attempted to arrest Zetina gave no verbal warnings they were cops, didn't have badges or police insignia showing and didn't have their guns drawn. Thomas Villanueva was caught in the crossfire in the parking lot of Murray Hill Apartments as he walked back to his apartment at Galley Road and Murray Boulevard from eating at a restaurant across the street.
Thomas Villanueva's relative, Derik Dubbel, and others moved the protest to the courthouse later on Aug. 15. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Thomas Villanueva's relative, Derik Dubbel, and others moved the protest to the courthouse later on Aug. 15.
Tom Villanueva questioned whether proper protocols were followed and whether officers had the proper training for what turned out to be a botched operation, which involved the Colorado Springs Police Department, El Paso County Sheriff's Office and State Patrol.

"We need transparency," he said. "That's the No. 1 thing. We're waiting for the police records to be released. It's taking a long time. We're just waiting. We're here for Thomas, and to make sure that doesn't happen to anyone else."

Michael DeRossett, who saw the shooting happen, repeated his previous comments made to the Indy that police didn't identify themselves, give a warning to others or look like police officers. They were wearing "plaid and flannel," he said, not placards identifying them as cops.

"There were children out at play," DeRossett said. "There's a playground 50 to 100 feet away. There should be protocols in place to make it safe [to attempt an arrest] in a populated area."

He added he hoped the protest would help with Thomas Villanueva's "fact-finding mission," but added, "It feels like they have something to hide."

The police report, compiled by the CSPD and the Sheriff's Office, the very agencies involved in the shooting itself, was submitted to the District Attorney's Office on April 13 but DA Dan May's office has yet to issue a finding of whether the shooting was justified. (State Rep. Joseph Salazar has said he wants to revisit a law that calls for independent investigations of police shootings.)

Other information — about who shot whom, how many shots were fired and the like — would be contained in police reports, but it's unclear if those will ever be released.

Thomas, who is paralyzed from the chest down from a gunshot wound, told reporters he's having a hard time paying for his treatment, noting that Medicaid pays for only 12 physical therapy sessions per year. A GoFundMe page has provided some money but likely not enough to pay for his care and treatment, which will last his lifetime.

"They say I really don't have a chance of walking again, or get my bladder back," Thomas said.

His father, who was there with Thomas' mom, Sallie, said the shooting was life-changing for the entire family.

"It's been a roller coaster," he said, "a nightmare. We're caregivers now. We're glad he's alive. It's been life-changing, life-altering."
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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

A single protester showed up to a "rally" against county shooting secrecy

Posted By on Tue, Aug 14, 2018 at 3:36 PM

A few media and one citizen were the only ones to show up at the rally. - PAM ZUBECK
  • Pam Zubeck
  • A few media and one citizen were the only ones to show up at the rally.
Media, including the Independent, are fighting to know exactly how the shootings went down at the Murray Hill Apartments. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Media, including the Independent, are fighting to know exactly how the shootings went down at the Murray Hill Apartments.
One person showed up at a rally on Tuesday, Aug. 14. Michael Varney was there to express his concern that city and county officials aren't pumping enough resources into public safety.

The intended purpose of the rally was to protest Coroner Robert Bux's desire to keep autopsies of Deputy Micah Flick and auto theft suspect Manuel Zetina, killed in a Feb. 5 shootout at an east-side apartment complex, secret.

Thomas Villanueva, who lived at the complex at that time, was shot during the shootout and paralyzed from the chest down.

But late on Aug. 13, rally organizer Michael DeRossett posted a message on Facebook, saying:

I regret to inform that Thomas has been advised against  the protest.. I will have to step back in the organizing of any further activities Due to I can not pursue something that might effect Thomas in his situation. HOWEVER FEEL FREE TO SUPPORT Thomas Villanueva AND YOUR RIGHTS TO TRANSPARENCY. I step down from here Thomas. I wish you luck
Then, Sallie Villanueva, who's relationship with Thomas wasn't made clear, wrote, "The advisement of our lawyer we have decided not to go we still want people to show up to help support Thomas we still want the records open."

Varney says he lives a mile from where the shooting happened. "I came down here to see what this is all about. I go by that apartment complex all the time. There's always a lot of shady stuff going on. I want to see better attention to public safety issues."

A second rally slated for Aug. 15 at the coroner's office is reportedly still a go.

————-ORIGINAL POST 12:01 P.M. MONDAY, AUG. 13, 2018————————————

A rally will be staged at 9 a.m., Tuesday Aug. 14 outside the El Paso County Courthouse at 270 S. Tejon St., to urge Coroner Robert Bux to release coroner reports for Deputy Micah Flick and alleged auto thief Manuel Zetina.

Both were killed Feb. 5, 2018, in a shootout after a task force consisting of the Colorado Springs Police Department, El Paso County Sheriff's Office and State Patrol attempted to arrest Zetina, reportedly without having their guns drawn, their police insignia showing or announcing who they were.

Wounded in the crossfire was Thomas Villanueva, a passerby who is now paralyzed from the chest down and has filed a notice of claim saying he could file a lawsuit against the county, the city and others. Three officers also were wounded.

Michael DeRossett, who was quoted in the Independent's June 20 report, "Officer (let) down," (at the link above) is organizing the event.

From a Facebook page about the rally:
Join us in our protest of the sealing of public records. Protest with us support Thomas Villanueva in our fact find mission and our search for answers on the 14th and 15th of August. The public deserves answers!

This is a media firestorm! Join us and be a part of the fight for our right to Autopsy records that are supposed to be public record! Do they have something to hide in this case? Who's responsible for all those stray bullets! Who shot who? Did they follow protocol? We demand TRANSPARENCY. We want answers. Our condolences to officer Flicks Family. We do not mean to rehash it all for you. But we must stand for the rights of others as well.
The Indy, the Gazette and other media have challenged Bux's proposal to keep the autopsies sealed forever. Here's what our news editor, J. Adrian Stanley, had to say about his effort.

The group also plans a similar rally outside the Coroner's office, 2741 E. Las Vegas St., at 9 a.m., Wednesday, Aug. 15.

The official report of the shooting hasn't been released, and District Attorney Dan May has yet to issue a finding on whether the shooting was justified.
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Monday, August 13, 2018

CSFD firefighters defer collective bargaining request

Posted By on Mon, Aug 13, 2018 at 2:00 PM

Colorado Springs firefighters who belong to the International Association of Firefighters Local 5 won't seek City Council approval of a ballot measure for the April 2019 city election until November, the association said in an email. Local 5 had intended to ask Council to refer the measure during the Aug. 14 meeting.

The Colorado Springs Professional Firefighters Association has requested a deferment to City Council on the non-binding resolution concerning a Collective Bargaining ballot initiative scheduled for the 14th at Councils formal meeting.

We believe that broadening and improving our education to the public during our signature gathering campaign will ensure that City Council representatives know that their constituents are well informed. We have appreciated the work that City Council has done in working with this issue and we will continue to keep them up to date.

We will look to revisit the agenda item in November when Council will have an opportunity to actually place the measure before the electorate in the April municipal election.

Council President Skorman has accepted the request for deferment. 
We previously reported last year that Local 5 would push for a ballot measure, which would contain a clause prohibiting a strike in a case where Local 5 and city administration couldn't reach agreement.

Mayor John Suthers has expressed opposition to collective bargaining.
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Thursday, August 9, 2018

Officer still in critical condition after Aug. 2 shooting

Posted By on Thu, Aug 9, 2018 at 10:14 AM

  • Colorado Springs Police Department
Colorado Springs Police Department Officer Cem Duzel was still in critical, though stable, condition five days after allegedly exchanging fire with a suspect east of the Olympic Training Center, according to an Aug. 7 police statement on Facebook.

"Cem’s family would like the community and the department to know that our prayers and positive thoughts for Cem are helping them stay strong and positive," the statement reads.

Duzel, a five-year veteran of the police department, was "gravely wounded" after responding, with other officers, to a "shots fired" call early Aug. 2, according to a statement from the El Paso County Sheriff's Department. The officers encountered an armed suspect, Karrar Noaman Al Khammasi, and a gunfight ensued.

Al Khammasi faces multiple charges including attempted first-degree murder, the sheriff's department says. He suffered a non-life-threatening injury.

The Associated Press reports that Al Khammasi is an Iraqi refugee who once faced deportation, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
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Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Councilor looking into Regional Building Department, following give-aways

Posted By on Wed, Aug 8, 2018 at 12:27 PM

Vehicles sustained severe damage on Aug. 6, killing two animals at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and damaging thousands of vehicles in the area. - COLORADO SPRINGS FIRE DEPARTMENT
  • Colorado Springs Fire Department
  • Vehicles sustained severe damage on Aug. 6, killing two animals at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo and damaging thousands of vehicles in the area.
Back in October, we reported that the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department had been doling out money to charities, due in large part to an overflowing reserve fund caused mainly by a devastating July 2016 hail storm that triggered the issuance of more than 50,000 building permits to repair damage.

We report in this week's edition an update to where RBD stands in adopting a donations policy and how the recent damaging hail storms are likely to further pad the reserve fund, now at about 70 percent of the agency's annual budget.

But RBD also faces other issues. City Councilor Jill Gaebler has been looking into the agency.

She says she's been trying to get more information about the agency but adds, "I still don't think we're getting much feedback from Mr. [Tom] Strand," she says, referring to Council's representative on the three-member Regional Building Commission.

She suggests making the RBD board more robust by giving the city more seats, considering that a majority of permits issued by RBD involve work being done within the city. While there's been no official move in that direction, Gaebler says she thinks she's gained support for at least adding an alternate member. This would prevent the RBD Commission from postponing meetings because it doesn't have a quorum.

Gaebler also wants Regioinal Building Official Roger Lovell to provide reports to Council quarterly as specified in the intergovernmental agreement.

Meantime, the commission has started reviewing a draft proposal for giving donations. That document is being kept a secret. Regional Building attorney Virjinia V. Koultchitzka tells the Indy via email that the document, though it was discussed during an open meeting, is protected from disclosure:
With regard to the agenda items, which were discussed during work session(s), such are not available for disclosure and are subject to work product privilege(s). The subject documents are an internal work product in progress and not final product(s). They are intra- or inter-agency advisory or deliberative materials assembled for the benefit of the advisory and governing body(ies) of PPRBD, have not yet been placed on the public agenda, and do not yet express final decision(s). As a result, in accordance with CRS 24-72-202, et seq., PPRBD asserts any and all available privileges and exceptions, including, but not limited to work product privileges, in response to your request.
The Colorado Open Records Act contains numerous definitions for work product, including one that describes a work product as "Preliminary drafts and discussion copies of documents that express a decision by an elected official."
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Monday, August 6, 2018

Controversial subdivision in Colorado Springs wins court decision

Posted By on Mon, Aug 6, 2018 at 12:16 PM

Archer Park subdivision can now be developed following a court ruling in the developer's favor. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Archer Park subdivision can now be developed following a court ruling in the developer's favor.
This blog has been updated to reflect Dr. James Albert's position on the development itself.

After more than a year of haggling over a subdivision in the Broadmoor area, the developer has gained a District Court win that will enable the project to move forward.

At issue is a plan to build seven high-end homes on 4.7 acres on land now occupied by horse corrals and pasture. Called Archer Park, the subdivision spurred opposition from neighbors, who alleged the development's inadequate drainage provisions would cause flooding in their neighborhood during heavy rains.

The city approved the drainage plan in January, over objections from neighbors.

The matter went to court on two fronts. In one case, Delesk sued neighbor Dr. James Albert, alleging he interfered with Delesk's effort to obtain financing for the project. That case was decided in Albert's favor in February, with Judge David Shakes awarding $49,200 in damages to Albert from the Newport Company and developer Richard Delesk.

In the other, Albert and his wife, Bette Ann, challenged City Council's authority to approve the development absent an approved drainage plan. Judge Thomas Kane ruled in favor of the city and the developer on July 26.

"It's been a long battle and we're very happy with this outcome," Delesk tells the Independent via email. "Now that we're finally able to move forward we'll file and record the final drawings and begin pre-sales. All very exciting."

But Albert, who says he doesn't oppose the development itself, isn't excited about the prospect of the land next door to him being converted into homes says in an email, "All I can say at this point is that we are disappointed and completely disagree with the ruling. We are seriously considering appealing the decision."

Here's the July 26 decision:
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Friday, August 3, 2018

Mayor: No vote needed for stadium to use tax funds

Posted By on Fri, Aug 3, 2018 at 3:28 PM

Suthers Says Citizens Should Get a Vote_Medium from Colorado Springs Independent on Vimeo.

The announcement on July 25 that a new stadium and arena would be built in Colorado Springs using City for Champions money allotted from state sales tax increment money, via the Regional Tourism Act (RTA) caught the attention of Joel Miller.

Miller, a former City Councilor, opposes using local tax money for the tourism venture, and tried to make that an issue in the 2015 mayoral campaign in which he and two others were defeated by John Suthers.

At a mayoral forum sponsored by the Council of Neighbors and Organizations, Miller asked Suthers if he would support a vote of the people if local tax increment financing were proposed as a way to fund City for Champions, which includes the stadium (and now an arena) and three other projects — a sports medicine center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, the Olympic Museum and a visitors center at the Air Force Academy.

Suthers replied, "Yes. If any city sales tax increment or other city tax increment is used, it should go to the voters."

Says Miller via email, "He said clearly on the campaign trail that voters should get a say."

But now, there appears to be no plan to submit the stadium project to voters for their approval, although it's a virtual certainty that city sales, and possibly property, taxes will be used through the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority (URA) to fund infrastructure needs to accommodate the stadium project. For background on the project, go here.

That vehicle is called tax increment financing, or TIF, which is tax money collected beyond a base amount established prior to project construction that is generated due to that project. For example, if the city now collects $1 million a year in sales taxes from the area in which the project would be built, it would still collect that money in the future. But if tax revenue increases to, say, $5 million after the stadium is built, up to $4 million of that could be funneled to infrastructure necessary to accommodate the project. These could include streets, utility relocations, curb and gutter and the like.

The stadium property, called CityGate, is located south of Cimarron Street and between Sierra Madre and Sahwatch streets. Urban Renewal Authority executive Jariah Walker reports that the site is not yet included in an urban renewal area.

Noting the video of the forum, provided by Miller, the Independent asked the mayor for a comment.

In response, we got this rather evasive email message from communications director Jamie Fabos:
First, I think you know this, but just to be sure - RTA funding is state TIF, not City TIF.

Second, that question, in context, referred to economic development incentives that are sometimes directed to projects to encourage businesses to locate here, large stores to locate here, etc, and that are approved by Council. That is not the case here. There is no economic development incentive here over and above the existing URA considerations, which are the same that would be available to any developer or business that chose to build in this blighted area.

Finally, it’s worth noting that URA funds are not used for the projects themselves, but are dedicated to infrastructure and improvements surrounding these developments. This is nothing new, and the URA zones were drawn as long as 17 years ago – long before the State created City for Champions.
But none of these comments really answer the question we asked. Yes, the stadium is getting state RTA funds, but that has little to do with local TIF funds. And yes, we all understand that TIF funds go to public infrastructure, but that hasn't changed since the mayor made his comment back in 2015.

And her comments about the URA were simply confusing. The stadium site is located outside the current boundaries of the Southwest Downtown URA, according to Jariah Walker, URA executive director.

URAs exist for 25 years. It's likely the stadium developer will seek a URA designation for the area in question. It's common for the URA to issue bonds to be repaid with TIF money.

Which gets us back to our first question: Will the mayor request a public vote for local TIF funding of the stadium?

Upon receipt of Fabos' response, the Indy pressed for a clear answer to the vote question, saying:
To be clear, we need to know if the mayor will seek to have a vote of the people for “local tax increment financing” for the stadium/arena projects. This is what he said at the forum, that if “any city tax increment” is used, it should go to the voters. Will he stand by that comment and seek a vote of the people if city tax increment financing is used?
Fabos responded: "Already addressed in statement."

The Indy pressed further:
Your response did not address the question. The question is about the mayor’s statement that if local tax increment financing was used for the stadium, it would be put to a public vote. This is what he said at the mayor’s forum. Your statement doesn’t address whether the mayor wants to see a public vote on the tax increment financing of the stadium.

This money from the local tax increment is general fund money that, through the URA, would be diverted to public improvements for the project. Without URA TIF designation, that money would go straight into the city’s general fund.
It took a day, but Fabos responded with this:
What you are asking by suggesting a public vote, is for the mayor to redefine the URA boundaries to specifically exclude this project by vote. URA boundaries are not set by vote under state law, so the suggestion is impossible. What the mayor was stating in the debate was that he didn’t foresee providing economic incentives prospectively to fund the stadium. He did not mean to suggest that URA law would be overturned specifically for this project or that the public could extract portions of an existing URA zone by vote. This is supported by Section 7 of Resolution 10-15, which specifically excepts URA TIF from any requirement for a vote. The resolution is attached here.
So, basically, no, the mayor will not seek public approval.

The resolution to which she was referring:
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Friday, July 27, 2018

Manitou Springs declares local disaster after flooding

Posted By on Fri, Jul 27, 2018 at 9:24 AM

The aftermath of a storm July 23 in Manitou Springs. - J. ADRIAN STANLEY
  • J. Adrian Stanley
  • The aftermath of a storm July 23 in Manitou Springs.

In spite of the July 23 flood event that resulted in around $1.5 million in damage — about 15 percent of Manitou Springs's general fund — Mayor Ken Jaray wants everyone to know the city is still "open for business."

But Jaray says the aftermath of the storm, which dropped more than 2 inches of rain and hail in 30 minutes, inundating the streets with debris and damaging infrastructure, is more than Manitou Springs can handle alone. He's declared a local disaster emergency, which will allow the city, residents and businesses to be eligible for state and federal relief funding.

Jaray says tourists are as welcome as ever in Manitou Springs.

"We didn’t want people to think that with that declaration that somehow we were not operating normally, and we are operating normally," he said at a press briefing July 26. "We did it because it opens the door for funds, but it wasn’t to dissuade anybody from coming to our town."

Major issues after the July 23 flooding "include Serpentine Road repairs, Schryver Park parking lot, park and bridges, Soda Springs Park, Pawnee Avenue, storm water system repairs, street and bridge repairs, facility repairs, and sediment and debris removal throughout the City," Jaray said in a statement. "We do not have current estimates of the cost to local residents and businesses."

Monday's storm shared some eerie similarities to the catastrophic flooding in 2013 after the Waldo Canyon Fire, which resulted in almost $14 million in damage to city-owned infrastructure, according to Crystal Abeyta, the city's grant administrator.

But since then, the city has completed a range of flood mitigation projects, helped along by state and federal grant flooding, that alleviated much of the danger to residents and businesses.

In 2014, Manitou received $580,000 in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Relief funding for projects such as a $78,000 wall to protect the foundation under City Hall. The National Resources Conservation Service also awarded over $500,000 in grants to Manitou for flood mitigation and repair projects in 2015. The Department of Local Affairs gave Manitou $643,300 to hire five employees to help with flood projects for two years.

In 2015, the city received $4.9 million more in CDBG Disaster Relief funds, allowing it to replace a damaged pipeline, install a new culvert at Serpentine Road, put in a new culvert under Manitou Avenue at El Monte Place, replace an aging and undersized water line in the Peak View Subdivision for better fire protection, and complete a project in Williams Canyon to protect downtown from flooding.

The city's also received relief over the years from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Manitou Springs Police Department Chief Joe Ribeiro says those projects helped save the city from a repeat of 2013's devastation, even though there was more precipitation this year.

"I think what we saw yesterday was on the scale or larger than the 2013 floods," he says. "If you recall, in 2013, we didn’t have any of our mitigation work done. The Williams Canyon [mitigation project] really did its job in my observation, and it made a significant difference."

Shelley Cobau, the city's public service director, was instrumental in obtaining much of the grant money for the city's dozen or so flood mitigation projects. She says that despite a couple of floodgates that didn't work properly, the "facilities functioned as designed."

"We had a debris net up in upper Williams Canyon that stopped tons and tons and tons of wood and debris from reaching Manitou Springs," Cobau says. "Businesses were just cleaning up water instead of mud and other detritus from their businesses."

There were still some issues. Cobau says a floodgate on Canon Avenue didn't work because of a problem with its structural design, so engineers are planning to fix it. Another gate didn't appear to function because a car was parked over it, one of Cobau's crew members told her. A third gate on Park Avenue also needed adjustments to compensate for road elevation, Cobau says. And some storm drains were clogging.

Much of the federal funding to repair flood damage came as a result of presidential disaster declarations. Ribeiro says the city is in talks with partners at the state who say there's a good chance the damage this year is extensive enough to warrant another presidential declaration, or at least one at the state level.

Ribeiro stressed that the city was committed to making sure flooding wouldn't affect tourism. He says the police department works closely with businesses to make sure they're safe for visitors who may not be used to storm events like Monday's.

"The analogy I use is we treat it a little like an airplane," Ribeiro said. "You get on the airplane, the crew on that airplane’s responsible for your safety. We ask the business community and our residents to help out in that sense, that if a flood warning’s issued and things are going on, that they help people who aren’t from around here to know where it is, what it means to go high and get away from the creek, what the siren means when it’s going off."

Here's the full text of the city's resolution declaring a local disaster:

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Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Colorado Sports and Events Center stadium, arena to host Switchbacks, Colorado College hockey downtown

Posted By on Wed, Jul 25, 2018 at 2:35 PM

Digital rendering of the proposed outdoor downtown stadium. - CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • City of Colorado Springs
  • Digital rendering of the proposed outdoor downtown stadium.

The city's new stadium project, which has been in the works for years and generated debate over funding, will consist of two separate facilities — an outdoor downtown stadium that will host the Colorado Springs Switchbacks soccer team and an event center for the Colorado College ice hockey team, the city announced July 25.

The Colorado Sports and Events Center project, one of four elements of the City for Champions plan, will be funded by a mix of public and private money.

State Regional Tourism Act sales tax dollars to the amount of $27.7 million are designated for the stadium. The Colorado Springs Switchbacks will contribute $10 million, and Weidner Apartment Homes will pay $40 million to build an adjacent mixed-use development project, according to a statement from the city. The total cost for the stadium and development is estimated at $60 million.

The indoor arena will cost around $39 million, and will be paid for by $9.2 million from the state and the rest from Colorado College.

“Today’s announcement is the culmination of a lot of hard work and incredible collaboration between a number of private partners," Mayor John Suthers is quoted in the statement. "While this project represents a significant benefit to our city’s economy and cultural and sports offerings, we have remained committed to the desire of our voters to accomplish this feat through private partnerships and investments and not with local general fund tax money.”

The stadium, which will accommodate audiences of up to 10,000 for sporting events and up to 20,000 for concert events, will be located on the CityGate property downtown, bordered by Cimarron Street to the North, Moreno Avenue to the South, Sierra Madre Street to the West and Sahwatch Street to the east, according to the city's statement.

The Switchbacks will allow Weidner Apartment Homes to name the stadium and assume a minority ownership position at the soccer team, Greg Cerbana, the company's vice president of public relations and government affairs, said at a press conference July 25.

The Switchbacks' current home at Weidner Field has a 5,000-seat capacity, and average attendance was around 3,500 last season, according to James Ragain, the team's executive vice president.

Josh Keller, vice president of business development for United Soccer League, pointed out the league's growth — nationwide, attendance increased 50 percent since last year, to an average of 5,000 visitors per game — and lauded the city's support of the stadium project.

"USL views soccer-specific stadiums as one of the key drivers of growth," Keller said. "We’ve witnessed how a new stadium can energize both a city’s fan base, as well as the local community."

Digital rendering of the proposed Robson Arena. - CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • City of Colorado Springs
  • Digital rendering of the proposed Robson Arena.

The indoor arena will feature 3,000 permanent seats. Named for Colorado College alumnus Edward J. Robson, it's planned for the block bordered by Nevada Avenue and Cache La Poudre, Tejon and Dale streets.

Representatives from Colorado College emphasized that the arena would continue the school's commitment to sustainability with environmentally friendly architecture, and would include state-of-the-art equipment.

"While it’s been a great two decades at Broadmoor Arena, we need to recognize that Colorado College has sponsored Division 1 hockey for almost 80 years but has never had an on-campus home of its own,"  added Ken Ralph, the school's director of athletics. "And our student body has never had the on-campus athletic experience our peer schools enjoy."

The city's proposal isn't final, and still has to go before the state's Economic Development Commission for approval in September.

"Our downtown...is undergoing a dynamic transformation, and these projects will only add to the vitality of the heart of our city," Suthers said at a press conference July 25.

City and college officials say they've looked into parking and traffic feasibility near the two facilities. Bob Cope, the city's economic development manager, says the city is "strongly looking into" building a 900-stall parking structure for the stadium across the street from the Olympic Museum. There's currently 8,000 spots within three-quarters of a mile of the stadium, he says.

Colorado College commissioned a parking and transportation study that showed even when the students were in session, there were 50 percent more spaces than necessary for the proposed project, Ralph said in an email. He added that arena parking would primarily be college lots, with some street parking. The college doesn't plan to build a parking structure.

Ralph says the school would also run shuttles to downtown from "a few different spots" and provide incentives for people to use ride-share apps.

"Even though we have enough parking we would still like to utilize multiple options to get people to the site to stay as congestion-free as possible and provide a positive experience for people coming to events," he wrote.

Jeff Greene, the city's chief of staff, said planners believed changing traffic patterns on Cascade Avenue could actually "enhance" the project.

The city plans to downsize several streets in the Old North End neighborhood, including:

• narrowing Cascade Avenue this year to two lanes (from four), adding buffered bike lanes and parking in each direction.
• narrowing Fontanero Street, between El Paso Street and Wood Avenue, to two lanes, adding buffered bike lanes, and a center turn lane in 2019.
• narrowing Weber Street, between Colorado Avenue and Jackson Street, to two lanes, with a center turn lane and bike lanes in 2020.

The City for Champions project, pursued by local leaders since 2013, consists of four planned projects: The United States Olympic Museum, Colorado Sports and Event Center, USAFA Gateway Visitor Center and William J. Hybl Sports Medicine and Performance Center.

In an interview last week with the Independent, Suthers mentioned that tax-increment financing could play a role in the project. (That local tax money allows developers to apply increases of sales tax revenues in excess of the existing base in the urban renewal area to public infrastructure that enables development of the project.)

However, there was no mention of that type of financing in the official announcement.

More details on funding from the city:

Economic Benefit

Economic impact of the Sports and Event Center project is forecasted at $32 million annually and $1 billion over 30 years. The project is also estimated to generate $1 million dollars in new city sales tax revenue each year and is anticipated to generate over 650 new jobs.
This project impact is a vital part of the combined impact of the four City for Champions projects, which are forecasted to:

· Boost the region’s $1.35 billion annual tourism industry
· Attract about 1.2 million visitors each year
· Add more than 500,000 new out-of-state visitors annually
· Increase retail sales by $140 million each year
· Increase gross metropolitan product by $217 million annually
· Add $4.4 million in new sales tax revenue for the city annually
· Add $2 million in new sales tax revenue for the county annually
· Leverage a $120.5 million state tourism improvement rebate
· Allow 23 local TEAM USA National Governing Bodies to host Pre-Olympic and World Championship events here
City for Champions will brand Colorado Springs as Olympic City USA, and invite national/international sports performance and medicine entities to the city–to compete in events and do business.


The State RTA funding will be approximately $27.7 million over 30 years. Two-thirds of the revenue, approximately $18.5M, will be dedicated to the outdoor stadium and will support a bond of approximately $10M. One-third of the revenue, or approximately $9.2M, will be dedicated to the indoor arena and will be distributed to Colorado College as the revenue is received. Private investment from the project partners will make up the difference to complete the projects.

Downtown Stadium

The cost of the outdoor stadium is estimated at approximately $20 million plus a mixed use development project costing approximately $40 million for a total of $60 million. In addition to the $10 million in state RTA bond funding, the Colorado Springs Switchbacks will be contributing another $10 million and Weidner Apartment Homes $40 million.

Events Center

The indoor events center will cost approximately $39 million with $9.2 million funded by the state RTA bond proceeds. The balance (approx. $30 million) will be provided by Colorado College.
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Friday, July 20, 2018

Downtown stadium project to be announced soon

Posted By on Fri, Jul 20, 2018 at 11:55 AM

Mayor Suthers is on the verge of a big announcement regarding the downtown stadium and arena project. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Mayor Suthers is on the verge of a big announcement regarding the downtown stadium and arena project.
During a recent interview, Mayor John Suthers mentioned that a stadium and arena will be the centerpiece for downtown development. The stadium project, one of four funded through the Regional Tourism Act via state sales tax money and called City for Champions, has never gotten off the ground. (The other projects are a sports medicine center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, an Air Force Academy visitors center and the downtown Olympic Museum now under construction.)

About $27 million of the $120.5 million award from the state Economic Development Commission (EDC) would apply to the stadium, but substantial progress has to be demonstrated by mid-December or the city will lose access to those state funds.

Turns out, an announcement is in the offing, likely on July 25.

Here's what Suthers had to say on the topic:

Indy: You mentioned the stadium. What can you tell us about the status of that project, and who are you meeting with to move this forward, and to what extent are you using your influence to spur progress on that project?

Suthers: Well, obviously it’s a project I want to have happen, so I’ve met with a lot of people. I won’t tell you who I’m meeting with, because you would have a scoop that would make the rest of the city very angry, and we’ll make that known at a public event. When I say public event, all we’re going to say at that public event is, "Here’s the plan that we’re taking forward to the state EDC and asking them to approve."
I mean, it won’t be a done deal at that point, but we’re going to say, "Here’s how we’re going to do the arena, here’s how we’re going to do the stadium, and this is what we’re taking forth to the EDC and ask them to find substantial progress and let’s move forward." But, the whole key to the thing was to find substantial private investment and I think we found it.

You have?

Uh hum.... People are doing conceptual drawings. Architects are involved and all that kind of stuff.

Has the site been chosen?


Is it Citygate, located at the southeast corner of Sahwatch and Cimarron streets?

Citygate is certainly one of the things that’s been seriously considered.

It sits next to Drake Power Plant, however.

It does. Any of this downtown development, whether it be a stadium, whether it be a museum, I think, I can’t speak for the [City] Council and Board of Utilities, but I think that’s all weighing in favor of certainly not delaying [Drake's closure], with the date they’ve got in the sand right now is 2035. I would be surprised if it did not move up, and I’m pretty positive it’s not going to move back, because it would be of help to downtown development for Drake to close. Keep in mind when we’re talking closed, we’re only talking about power generation. There still would be a transmission facility. But it won’t have the smoke stack.

You’ve said no city tax money would be involved in the stadium project. Is that still part of this formula?

Yeah. Yeah. The only way any public dollars, any remotely public dollars would creep in, most of that area down there is in the urban renewal zone, so anybody who built would be able to take advantage of their tax in the urban renewal zone. Obviously there’s the state TIF [tax increment financing], right? As I say, that’s going to be $15 million between the two projects, present value [of the $27 million awarded], and then in that urban renewal zone, they would undoubtedly ask for some portion of the city sales tax. Typical has been 1.5 percent. University Village [urban renewal area] got 2. You’re not going to get a waiver of PSST [Public Safety Sales Tax].

(Suthers was referring to tax increment financing using local tax money, which allows developers to apply increases of sales tax revenues in excess of the existing base in the urban renewal area to public infrastructure that enables development of the project.)

But even a portion of city sales tax or property tax through TIF, that’s still local tax.

Yeah, but this is an area desperately needing redevelopment, and it’s an appropriate urban renewal area, and I don’t see that [TIF] as any public investment other than if anybody built down there they would have the advantage of that.

I guess you found a local investor or a group of local investors?

Not necessarily a local.
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Monday, July 16, 2018

Cog deal community meeting announced, ballot measure petition possible

Posted By on Mon, Jul 16, 2018 at 4:37 PM

  • Courtesy Visit COS
On June 11, Manitou Springs City Council gave preliminary approval to a 50-year tax subsidy to the Pikes Peak Cog Railway, which is owned by Philip Anschutz, a Denver-based oil, gas, and entertainment billionaire. He also owns The Broadmoor hotel, the Gazette newspaper and Seven Falls.

Two weeks later, the deal was done.

That's too fast, says John Weiss, a Manitou resident who owns the Independent, Colorado Springs Business Journal and the Pikes Peak Bulletin.

Weiss says he was away from the area on a family vacation during the run up to and the final action on the subsidy. But since he's returned, he says he's been contacted by numerous residents, including some past City Council members and mayors who expressed concern at the speed under which the matter was proposed and decided.

"This was passed in 15 days," he says. "It was changed up to the morning of the [June] 26th. This is not a way to make public policy for 50 years."

So Weiss and the Bulletin will host a public meeting from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, July 18, at the Briarhurst Manor Estate, 404 Manitou Ave.

Mayor Ken Jaray has agreed to attend and answer questions, Weiss says.

At issue is a deal in which the city agreed to cap its excise taxes on the Cog Railway, which could mean the city would lose out on many millions of dollars from ticket sales over the years. The Cog closed abruptly in late October 2017 and didn't reopen in March as usual. Cog officials said the railroad needs a major overhaul, which could cost up to $95 million. It will be closed for at least another year, and the Cog has agreed to pay the city $500,000 this year and $500,000 next year to replace the estimated excise tax customers pay.

Weiss notes that residents' concerns don't focus on the question of whether or not the Cog Railway should be rebuilt and remain part of Manitou Springs. "We are in favor of the Cog," Weiss says. "We are not against having the Cog. But we think a 50-year subsidy to a corporation without doing due diligence could have negative unintended consequences that have not been thought through."

Weiss also says citizens would like to see the study of economic impact upon which the Council and mayor relied in supporting the measure.

Weiss says citizens could mount a ballot measure to reverse Council's action by gathering roughly 300 signatures, but that effort won't begin until Jaray has a chance to address questions raised by residents.

To learn more about the Cog issues, go to here to see the Bulletin's coverage.
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