Wednesday, July 1, 2020

AG to investigate Elijah McClain death

Posted By on Wed, Jul 1, 2020 at 10:26 AM

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser

Gov. Jared Polis has appointed Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser as a special prosecutor to investigate the death of Aurora resident Elijah McClain, a 23-year old Black man who died while in the custody of the Aurora Police Department in August 2019.

Polis’ appointment, made by executive order June 25, directs Weiser to investigate and, if there are supporting facts, criminally prosecute law enforcement officers or others whose actions caused McClain’s death. 

McClain was confronted by police, placed in a chokehold and was later injected with ketamine, a tranquilizer, by a fire department medic. He stopped breathing and suffered a heart attack en route to the hospital. He was taken off life support six days later.

In the order, Polis acknowledges that the state rarely gets involved in such matters, but says, McClain’s case is “truly exceptional” in that widely reported facts are not addressed in any current investigation, warranting a supplemental evaluation of the case.

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Housing gets a boost

Posted By on Wed, Jul 1, 2020 at 10:08 AM

NEDNAPA / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Nednapa / Shutterstock.com

Affordable housing in Colorado Springs got a shot in the arm recently with the opening of a renovated apartment complex — Rocky Mountain — and the city’s establishment of HomeCOS.

Rocky Mountain, 2812 E. Bijou St. welcomed its first tenant June 22 at the one- and two-bedroom complex, which also offers two units that are Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant. The building offers an enclosed courtyard, playground, community garden and a “Grab-N-Go” library — located with bus route access, according to a news release issued by nonprofit Greccio Housing, the owner. 

On June 23, the city unveiled “HomeCOS, Housing our Future,” a plan to add affordable housing. Strategies include infill development, a new development fee structure, federal incentives, Low Income Housing Tax Credits, supplemental down payment programs, Accessory Dwelling Units and adaptive reuse of existing buildings, as well as engaging with the faith and philanthropic communities.

The plan stems from Mayor John Suthers’ goal to add 1,000 affordable housing units per year. See the plan at coloradosprings.gov/HomeCOS.

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11 stories making headlines this week

Posted By on Wed, Jul 1, 2020 at 9:58 AM

CHRISTIAN MURDOCK
  • Christian Murdock

The Air Force Academy welcomed the Class of 2024 on June 25, with Academy personnel and the newly arrived inductees wearing masks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ACLU of Colorado and Arnold & Porter law firm on June 25 sued the City and County of Denver on behalf of Black Lives Matter 5280 and individuals injured by police.  Police used tear gas and other measures against protesters.

A Denver-based nonprofit free online news source, Newsline, was to launch July 1 to cover state government and policy with a staff of five, including former Indy reporter Faith Miller.

Gold Hill Mesa, a Westside residential development, announced additional geotechnical engineering testing shows the master-planned community has no geologic hazards that would preclude adding more homes. The study was triggered by requests from the Colorado Geological Survey.

The Division of Motor Vehicles raised fees by 10 percent July 1 for driver’s licences, instruction permits and identification cards, and their renewals. Cost of a standard driver’s license rises from $28 to $30.87, an ID card, from $11.50 to $12.67.

After suspending bus service in March due to COVID-19, Bustang and Bustang Outrider will operate with modified schedules starting this week. For details, ridebustang.com.

El Paso County Sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Rogers has been fired and charged with two misdemeanors, third degree assault and official misconduct, stemming from a May 16 incident involving a Criminal Justice Center inmate. Rogers, 24, was hired in 2016. The Colorado Springs Police Department investigated the case.

Pikes Peak Library District resumed limited indoor services on July 1 at most facilities and mobile libraries. 

Prospect Lake will remain closed for the foreseeable future, while it’s treated for toxic blue-green algae.

Colorado’s Supreme Court unanimously upheld the state’s large-capacity magazine limit law, signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper following the deadly 2012 Aurora theater shooting.

COURTESY GREEN BOX ARTS
  • Courtesy Green Box Arts

The Green Box Arts Festival, which occurs each summer in Green Mountain Falls, has been reimagined in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Fewer events have been planned; most will take place online. Multiple new art installations will be available to view in Green Mountain Falls, including “Heartmouth” by Pard Morrison, above. See a full schedule at greenboxarts.org.  

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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Hickenlooper leads in Democratic Senate primary, Waller trailing Allen in DA race

Posted By on Tue, Jun 30, 2020 at 7:48 PM

Tuesday, voters appeared to opt for Hickenlooper to face off with Republican Cory Gardner in the U.S. Senate race. - STATE OF COLORADO
  • State of Colorado
  • Tuesday, voters appeared to opt for Hickenlooper to face off with Republican Cory Gardner in the U.S. Senate race.
Based on early returns, former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper was defeating former Colorado State House Speaker Andrew Romanoff by 19 points (59 percent to 40 percent for the Democratic nomination in the U.S. Senate race. At 7:20 p.m., 19 of 64 counties had reported, and both candidates together tallied less than 500,000 votes. But that deficit would be difficult for Romanoff to overcome.

In El Paso County, Hickenlooper was capturing 64 percent of the vote to Romanoff's 36 percent with only 64,000 votes counted.

If Hickenlooper pulls out a victory, he'll face incumbent Republican Senator Cory Gardner, who political pundits have labeled as occupying one of the most vulnerable seats in the nation as the Dems try to take control of the upper chamber.

2020-electionbug-01-withshadow-bg.jpg
Meantime, Deputy District Attorney Michael Allen was running an advantage of 54 percent to 46 percent over El Paso County Commission Chairperson Mark Waller in the Republican primary for district attorney in the 4th Judicial District. Because no Democrat is running, the primary winner will take the seat. Only 77,000 votes had been counted.

Both candidates had issues leading up to their political careers, as we previously reported. And then there was the residency controversy involving Waller, who was later cleared of allegations that he had moved out of his commission district and responded by lashing out at his opponent and those who stirred the waters over the residency issue.

Regardless, Waller leaves his commission seat in January, while Allen would take a step up to DA that same month if his lead held through final results.

In the interest of disclosure, the Indy endorsed Romanoff and Allen.

In early returns, Rep. Scott Tipton, Republican congressman in District 3, was trailing in a primary with Lauren Boebert. On the Dem side, Diane Mitsch Bush was defeating James Iacino. Congressman Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, didn't have primary competition.

In State House District 20, the Democratic primary saw Meg Fossinger defeating Susan Crutchfield by a margin of 63 percent to 37 percent. The winner takes on Rep. Terri Carver in November.

As for who made their voices heard, 796,467 Democrats statewide had cast ballots by noon, compared to 511,789 Republicans. Unaffiliated voters casting Democratic ballots outnumbered Republicans 275,015 to 104,033, according to the Secretary of State's website.

Far and away the biggest voting bloc were ages 55 to 74, with females age 65 to 74 tallying the highest number, 170,503, and males 18 to 24 turning in only about 25,000 ballots.
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District 11 lands $15.5 million in CARES Act money, gives $1 million to charter schools

Posted By on Tue, Jun 30, 2020 at 3:09 PM

Colorado Springs School District 11 received $15.5 million in federal money to fund needs due to the coronavirus pandemic. - PAM ZUBECK / FILE PHOTO
  • Pam Zubeck / file photo
  • Colorado Springs School District 11 received $15.5 million in federal money to fund needs due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Of the $500 million allotted to school districts in Colorado through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, roughly $60.5 million went to the nine major school districts in the Pikes Peak region.

Here's those allocations:

Harrison 2: $8,312,348
Widefield 3: $4,773,916
Fountain 8: $4,439,961
Colorado Springs 11: $15,543,743
Cheyenne Mountain 12: $2,090,333
Manitou Springs 14: $704,733
Academy 20: $10,141,025
Lewis Palmer 38: $2,576,488
District 49: $12,245,771

Colorado Springs District 11 received the largest amount, from which it allocated nearly $1 million to its six charter schools, which was required by the CARES Act.

"They’re part of our pupil count," says D-11 chief financial officer and deputy superintendent Glenn Gustafson. "We’re just a flow-through mechanism."

See below for a complete list of school districts and CARES Act allocations, as well as the distribution by D-11 to its charter schools in column M.
Regarding the $15.5 million from the CARES Act, Gustafson called it "gigantic."

"We’re losing interest income, specific ownership tax on vehicles, facility rental fees. It’s the difference between bad and devastating," he says. "Without this funding we would have had to slash and burn our budget."

As it is, D-11 has cut up to $8 million from the coming year's budget, less than it otherwise would have, thanks to the CARES Act money and reliance upon the district's reserve fund.

District officials hope those sources will "buy us time" until the economy recovers, he says.

Among the district's expenditures with CARES Act money: $5 million for laptops and Chrome books for kids to accommodate distance learning as well as classroom instruction. Districts are not allowed to use the relief money to backfill losses to their regular budgets due to the pandemic, he says.

The more controversial allocation due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is the ESSER program, Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. Congress set aside about $13.2 billion of the $30.75 billion allotted to the Education Stabilization Fund through the CARES Act for ESSER. The ESSER grants are to be used to provide relief to schools, including charter schools, to address the impact of COVID-19.

"People were surprised we had to share the ESSER money with the private schools," Gustafson tells the Indy, adding the district has been told it will get $6 million but hasn't received it yet.

Charter schools and private schools, including those run by churches, are supposed to get a portion of the money.

"We’re still working through the logistics of that formula," Gustafson says. "All this is just in process. We haven’t determined the form of distribution but it will be equitable." A couple of private schools in D-11 have declined the money, which carries a set of federal rules that must be followed, he says.

District 20, which has the largest student enrollment of any Pikes Peak region district, received a total of $10.1 million, of which $1,338,231 went to The Classical Academy charter school (TCA) and $216,571 went to New Summit Charter Academy charter school (NSCA).

As for ESSER money, D-20 received a total of $861,970, of which TCA received $113,749 and NSCA, $18,408.
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District 38 school board member's Nazi salute vacation picture draws outrage

Posted By on Tue, Jun 30, 2020 at 2:48 PM

UPDATE:
This statement is just in from Lewis-Palmer School District 38 spokesperson Julie Stephen:
Our community and country are in the middle of a season that has provided extensive opportunities for growth and awareness around systemic racism and discrimination. D38 remains committed to non-discrimination in relation to race, creed, color, gender, ancestry, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, age, and/or disability. We support our students, staff, families, and community with equity. We will not tolerate harassment or discrimination of students and/or staff based on the aforementioned areas.

A picture appeared on our School Board president’s personal Facebook page. Its content was offensive. It was taken down when Mr. Clawson saw it, and he has issued a public apology on his Facebook page. You may also view it on his D38 profile page
—————ORIGINAL POST 2:48 P.M. TUESDAY, JUNE 30, 2020————————————-

A photo purportedly of child's play involving the Lewis-Palmer School District 38 board of education president and his kids has created a dust-up in the D-38 community, including a demand that the board chairman resign.

Matthew Clawson won't resign, but he issued a lengthy explanation and apology, assuring the public the photo, which showed two people mimicking the Nazi salute, doesn't represent his personal views.

The photo at issue is to the right.
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Clawson issued this statement to the Indy, as well as to several other patrons of the school district who expressed outrage on Facebook:

I owe this community a sincere apology.

During a recent family vacation, a couple of my children participated in a birthday celebration. Sometime during the party, the children were acting silly and performing skits while wearing old Charlie Chaplin and Groucho Brothers type mustaches. The children posed and took pictures during the event. I did not see them do this. After being home from vacation for about a week, I was asked when I was going to post pictures from our vacation. I then allowed a family member to post photos to my Facebook account.

After an hour or so, I reviewed the photos posted and ran across a photo that was inappropriate and offensive and immediately took one picture down. Although the photo was taken in children’s play and without awareness it was nonetheless inappropriate and offensive. This type of picture has no place in our society.

The removal of the offensive picture resulted in significant family conversations. Unfortunately, the photo was on Facebook long enough for it to be viewed by a few of you in the community, despite the fact that it was removed before I was contacted by anyone expressing concern over the picture. My public service role means that my family and I are watched closely. I am sorry that we were not more sensitive to the effect this picture would bring.

I have spent decades fighting for religious freedom and the rights of all — irrespective of race, color, or sexual orientation. I want to take this opportunity to say that I support racial equality, social justice, and equity for all. I do not support the suppression of anyone or acts of racism.

In no way do I take the example I set lightly. I am grieved that this photo may have been construed as a reflection of my beliefs. This unfortunate incident is never appropriate at any time, but during these times it is extremely insensitive. Please accept my apology.

Sincerely,
Matthew Clawson
Not good enough, says Corey Grundel, a former employee of D-38 who also has two children who attend D-38 schools.

"I just don’t think our community can have him on the school board, especially as president," Grundel tells the Indy.

"While I appreciate [his apology], it falls short, because we can’t explain hate as child’s play," she says. Grundel notes that Clawson's apology addresses the mustaches as being reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin but doesn't address the arms raised in what has become almost exclusively associated with Adolph Hitler's Third Reich and Nazism.

"He’s supposed to represent all the families in the district. If his children are doing this and he didn’t see a problem, that’s not play. It’s certainly not play for people who are Jewish or people of color," Grundel says. "I would rather he take responsibility."

Grundel says she actually campaigned to get Clawson elected, which is why the incident has been heart-wrenching and has kept her up at night.

"I kept making excuses and tried to justify it," she says. "Then I thought, 'There's no justification for this.' This is where we need to say, 'Hey, we can do better.'"

Grundel has contacted the superintendent of schools, who is out of town and not available, seeking further action.

If no action is taken, Grundel says she might attempt to recall him from office.

"He is a public figure, and there is a higher standard," she says.

As of mid-afternoon June 30, Grundel's post of the photo had drawn 93 comments. Among them:

"School board president thinks it’s OK to have his kids post with the Nazi salute and Hitler mustache? 🤯🤬 I realize that people have been hypocrites since the beginning of time but it is amazing to me how many people still don’t understand what it means."

"Nothing is surprising anymore but still... so disappointing."

"Whoa."

"...this is one of the worst things I’ve seen on social media recently... and considering what’s going on in the world that’s saying a lot. Absolutely disgraceful."
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El Paso County eyes sales of property, including downtown tract

Posted By on Tue, Jun 30, 2020 at 10:55 AM

This large home at 701 E. Boulder St. houses the Family Visitation Center. County commissioners are considering selling it, according to an agenda item on the June 30 meeting. - EL PASO COUNTY ASSESSOR'S OFFICE WEBSITE
  • El Paso County Assessor's Office website
  • This large home at 701 E. Boulder St. houses the Family Visitation Center. County commissioners are considering selling it, according to an agenda item on the June 30 meeting.
El Paso County commissioners were to go behind closed doors today, June 30, to discuss selling four properties the county assessor values at nearly $4 million combined.

The properties and their market values, according to the Assessor's Office:

• The long-vacant former county Public Health building at 301/305 S. Union Blvd., $2,978,129.
In 2016, the county sought bids to remodel the building for evidence storage and other purposes. In 2017, the property was listed for sale at $1.5 million. Public Health moved to the Citizens Service Center, 1675 Garden of the Gods Road, along with many other county offices, in 2011 and 2012 in a massive $62 million "strategic moves" initiative.

• A half-acre parcel on the southwest corner of Vermijo Street and Cascade Avenue, $551,387. This tract sits immediately south of Centennial Hall and east of a parcel owned by an entity controlled by Nor'wood Development Group, which is the master developer of the Southwest Downtown Urban Renewal Area that contains the Olympic & Paralympic Museum and Hall of Fame and America the Beautiful Park.

• Two properties used by the Department of Human Services — the Center on Fathering and the Family Visitation Center, $411,142. Read the news release about the sale of these properties.
Here's the agenda item:
Pursuant to C.R.S. § 24-6-402(4)(a), (b) and (e), the County Attorney’s Office is requesting an Executive Session with the Board of County Commissioners concerning the sale of multiple County-owned properties located at 301/305 South Union Boulevard, 310 South Cascade Avenue, 325 North El Paso Street, and 701 East Boulder Street in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to include addressing the following: 1) The transfer or sale of any real, personal, or other property interest as stated above; 2) Conference with the County Attorney’s Office for the purpose of receiving legal advice on specific legal questions, to include discussion of a possible contract amendment concerning 301/305 South Union Boulevard and legal questions related to the disposition and sale of real property; and 3) Determining positions relative to matters that may be subject to negotiations; developing strategy for negotiations; and instructing negotiators, specifically as to offers received as to 310 South Cascade Avenue, 325 North El Paso Street, and 701 East Boulder Street, and a request for a possible contract amendment related to 301/305 South Union Boulevard. (Emphasis added)
Commissioners weren't expected to take action in open session following the executive session.

No word on how the money from these sales would be spent.
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Monday, June 29, 2020

Local agencies push cash to businesses during COVID-19 pandemic

Posted By on Mon, Jun 29, 2020 at 3:36 PM

COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy city of Colorado Springs
The response to aid local businesses weather the COVID-19 pandemic storm resulted in 422 businesses and nonprofits receiving $5.43 million in grants and loans. That help, in turn, according to a Summit Economics study, propped up nearly 8,000 jobs, $757 million in annual economic output and $5.5 million in annual local sales tax revenue.

But it's a drop in the bucket when you consider there are 4,469 business described by researchers as "most at risk of closure" due to the virus, and represent 43,848 jobs, $4.8 billion in annual economic output and $33.8 million in local sales tax revenue annually.

Those most at risk include hotels, food service, arts/entertainment/recreation venues, doctors offices, personal services, and retail trade, except food and drug stores.

Still, Mayor John Suthers had positive words at a June 29 news conference for four organizations that mounted fundraising campaigns to help local businesses.

"I know I speak for Colorado Springs and the business community when I express gratitude to these four organizations," he said. Those are Exponential Impact’s Survive & Thrive, Pikes Peak Community Foundation, Downtown Development Authority and El Paso County.

The Survive & Thrive program provides direct support through low-interest loans.

“Over 90 percent of storefront businesses Downtown are locally owned, and we proudly boast the largest concentration of locally owned restaurants in all of Southern Colorado," Susan Edmondson, president and CEO of the Downtown Partnership, said in a release. "Our DDA [Downtown Development Authority] Small Business Relief grants helped 95 businesses during a critical time, and now it is up to everyone to continue patronizing independent restaurants and local retail shops, salons, fitness centers and more throughout the year.”

El Paso County Commission Chairperson Mark Waller said at the news briefing the county has spent $1.4 million on direct help to small businesses through supporting the Downtown Partnership, the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC, and others. He also said the county plans to pump another $7.6 million directly into local businesses using money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.

The county received about $127.5 million from the CARES Act, and shared a good portion with towns and municipalities.

"I appreciate the way this community comes together, whether government, nonprofit, small business or individual," Waller said.


Read the study:
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Friday, June 26, 2020

Utilities Board votes to retire coal at Drake by 2023

Posted By on Fri, Jun 26, 2020 at 6:45 PM

The coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant came online in 1925. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • The coal-fired Martin Drake Power Plant came online in 1925.

The Colorado Springs Utilities Board has made its decision: The public-owned utility will retire coal-power generation at the century-old Martin Drake Power Plant no later than 2023.

That's 12 years ahead of schedule, as the board previously voted in 2015 to retire the plant by 2035. As Utilities developed its 2020 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) — a blueprint for energy generation over the next five years — clean-air activists have demanded an early closure for the benefit of the community's health and the environment.

The chosen plan will not require building a new natural gas plant to replace the Ray Nixon Power Plant, the option that had been recommended by an advisory committee.

"Your decision will chart a course to sustainable, continued growth," Mayor John Suthers told the Utilities Board (which is composed of members of City Council) before they voted on a plan June 26.


Both of the IRPs considered by the board that day would have retired coal at Drake by 2023, and at the Ray Nixon Power Plant by 2030. They would also have both retired the George Birdsall Power Plant (which runs on gas, and is used infrequently) by 2035.

"This will attract new business, increase residential development and strengthen our brand as one of the most desirable cities in America to live," Suthers said.

The other portfolio under consideration, Portfolio 16, was recommended by the Utilities Policy Advisory Committee, or UPAC, which reviewed and evaluated many different options over the past year. That option would have replaced Drake with temporary gas generators and involved constructing a new gas plant to replace Nixon in 2030.

The chosen portfolio, Portfolio 17, was added to the mix of options in recent weeks — after the draft portfolio options were presented to UPAC in late April, but ahead of the June 3 meeting where the committee decided on which portfolio to recommend to the Utilities Board. It will also require temporary natural gas generators, but replaces Nixon with non-carbon resources, such as wind and solar energy, and battery storage.

"Portfolio 17 says that once we add the 180 megawatts that we're going to be doing very soon, that is the end of fossil fuel that we will be relying on, and we don’t need to add gas in 2030 when we get ready to shut down Nixon," Colorado Springs Utilities CEO Aram Benyamin said in an interview after the meeting.

That plan, approved by a 7-2 vote of the Utilities Board (with Board Members Andy Pico and Don Knight opposed), was also endorsed by Benyamin, the Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC, and the Downtown Partnership.

Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, praised the move to close the plants.

“This bipartisan decision is a strong step for the Colorado Springs community, for our state and for our planet," Polis said in a June 26 statement. "Colorado continues to set an example for the rest of our country when it comes to renewable energy and climate action, and this announcement comes in the wake of numerous electric utilities across the state committing to a transition to clean energy."

Utilities Board Chair Jill Gaebler says she felt comfortable voting for Portfolio 17 after reviewing detailed information from Utilities, and hearing from many people who spoke at meetings and submitted comments over the last year — many of them young adults who advocated for renewable energy over coal and natural gas.

"Through the public process, we really heard, from  ... people from all over the community, but I think I really focused on [and] a lot of your board members looked to the voices of our future, and our younger folks who really do want to have a cleaner energy future," Gaebler said in an interview following the decision.

The new IRP will have a marginal impact on customers' rates, according to an economic analysis conducted by Utilities staff. It also achieved the highest score (out of any of the 17 portfolio options) for reliability, which CSU customers had rated as the most important plan attribute in a customer survey a few months ago.

Burning natural gas produces about half the carbon emissions of coal, but it's not carbon-free. Clean-air advocates balked at the idea of building a new plant as Portfolio 16 would have required.

During the virtual meeting, around a dozen residents spoke in favor of Portfolio 17, and none suggested they would have preferred UPAC's recommendation.

"The Martin Drake Power Plant is a glaring example of environmental injustice and systemic racism in Colorado Springs," said Mercedes Perez, who along with several others mentioned that coal plants, gas plants and fracking facilities are often built near communities of color, who face the brunt of dangerous health effects from polluted air.

Several Utilities Board members brought up a decision several years ago to pay Neumann Systems Group $110 million to install pollution control equipment at Drake (instead of just moving toward closing the plant earlier).

"I think that we [would be] taking a much bigger risk by having to build a gas-fired plant and leaving a stranded asset," Board Member Richard Skorman said of Portfolio 16. "I mean, we made that mistake with the Neumann scrubbers and look where we are today."

Knight said he feared that Portfolio 17 was too risky, because it foresees adding significant battery storage in 2030 to replace Nixon's generation.

"[Portfolio] 17 is based on wishful thinking that 400 megawatts of battery technology is going to be there," Knight said. "[Portfolio] 16 is based on proven technology."

Utilities develops a new IRP every five years, so the energy blueprint could change before Nixon's planned retirement in 2030.

Once Drake's coal-fired units are retired in 2023, Utilities will begin using six trailer-sized temporary natural gas generators that can be controlled remotely, Benyamin says. They'll be set up at the Drake plant until Utilities sets up transmission elsewhere (Benyamin isn't sure where as of yet).


These generators save costs because running them requires only about four people to occasionally do maintenance, Benyamin says.

"About 80 people run a coal plant, because we have to have trains, we have to have a big dozer to get the coal off, we have to get the coal on a belt and then go crush it and then feed the boiler," he says.

Still, Utilities doesn't plan to fire any of the 200 employees who currently work at the power plant — they'll be employed elsewhere, according to Benyamin.

By 2024 or 2025, Drake will be a brownfield site — "like a park," he says.

What else could go there?

"Almost anything would be better than a coal power plant, to be quite honest," says Gaebler, an advocate on Council for downtown improvements. "I'm sure that there will be a robust process that many people will want to engage on as we begin to have those conversations, and I hope to be a part of that."
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Colorado Springs, Public Health launch #MaskUpCOS as COVID-19 explodes in U.S.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 26, 2020 at 3:41 PM

If people won't take it upon themselves to help suppress the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, perhaps they'll listen to a Penrose Hospital emergency room doctor, an oncology nurse from UCHealth, a mom with an immunocompromised child, a nursing home worker, a retired Army soldier, a paralympian, a business owner and a pastor.

At least that's the hope of Colorado Springs and El Paso County Public Health officials as the virus spreads across the country, with some states marking in recent days the highest numbers yet for new cases of COVID-19.

Colorado's numbers have remained more moderate, but they're still on the rise.

Officials, including Mayor John Suthers, a Republican, launched the #MaskUpCOS campaign on June 26, hoping to stem the spread of a disease for which there is no treatment and no cure — a disease that's claimed 1,475 lives in Colorado, including 121 in El Paso County. The virus has killed more than 127,000 people across the United States — more than the entire population of Pueblo.

Check out the latest number of cases in El Paso County.

EL PASO COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH
  • El Paso County Public Health

The MaskUpCOS campaign will rely on social media, other media, editorial pitches and video and tell stories of local residents at risk or those at risk of infecting others.

As city spokesperson Jamie Fabos says in a news release: “There’s been so much information out there about infection rates, hospitalization rates, shifting data, that the whole pandemic has started to feel really sterile and impersonal. But we know the impacts of this virus are actually the exact opposite."

She adds that the spokespersons chosen to make pleas to the public include local residents.

“We’ve been sending the message that wearing a mask may not be about protecting yourself, but if you are able to reduce the risk for just one person — you could have a much bigger impact than you know,” Dr. Robin Johnson, Medical Director for El Paso County Public Health, said in a release. “Also, when you look at our spokespeople, it should strike you that they don’t look vulnerable or unhealthy, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t, or that they don’t have contact with those at very high risk.”

"My colleagues need for you to help us prevent the spread," Dr. Michael Roshon said during a news conference on June 26.

Suthers, who consistently wears a mask in public, warned citizens that it's impossible to know who's at risk of becoming a COVID victim and who might be a spreader of the disease, but it's up to everyone to help the community stay safe "in these uncertain times," he said.

"We’re prioritizing this messaging in an effort to protect our community," he said, reminding people that state and county public health officials as well as those with the federal Centers for Disease Control say masks provide a layer of protection for those around you.

While someone might not feel sick, they can be a carrier of the disease and not know it; by not wearing a mask, they run the risk of spreading the disease, health officials have said.

El Paso County Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly, who also serves as deputy director of Public Health, said there's no secret of how to stop the spread.

"Very simple: wash your hands, don’t gather in large groups, stay home when you’re sick and wear the mask," he said.

Meantime, El Paso County Commissioners have pushed to reopen the economy and get permission for groups of up to 175 to congregate.

As Suthers and the others urged, won't you join in helping to protect your fellow citizens, like these:
PHOTOS BY  LAUREN MACKENZIE
  • Photos by Lauren MacKenzie
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Thursday, June 25, 2020

COVID-19 update for June 25: Large gatherings discouraged for 4th of July

Posted By on Thu, Jun 25, 2020 at 5:08 PM

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Gov. Jared Polis is urging Coloradans to celebrate safely and avoid big gatherings around the 4th of July holiday.

At the June 24 update on Colorado’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Polis said it “remains critical Coloradans continue taking steps to protect themselves and others.” He said the state’s successes in fighting the pandemic come from individual efforts such as social distancing and mask wearing, which must continue to avoid an increase in cases.

“As we continue to reopen, more of the responsibility is placed on the individual to do the right thing,” Polis said.

“I’m proud of how Coloradans have responded during this pandemic and believe we can continue to make the right choices moving forward. As we plan to celebrate our nation’s birthday on July 4th and enjoy the summer, Coloradans should make plans in a safe way, with just their own family or one other family.”

In a statement summarizing his remarks, Polis’ office addressed the risk levels associated with different activities, encouraging Coloradans to enjoy the state’s outdoors and participate in low-risk activities like camping, hiking, biking and outdoor exercise.

To decide on activities, Polis’ office advises taking into consideration:
  • how many people will be participating in the activity,
  • whether the activity is outdoors,
  • how long the activity will take,
  • whether they feel 100 percent healthy,
  • how they will travel to and from the activity,
  • whether they live with someone in a high-risk population, and
  • the value of the activity compared to the risk of participating.
The state has put together a risk assessment page on its COVID-19 website, which is here.
Colorado has seen 31,479 cases as of June 25 (the most recent data available); 5,386 people have been hospitalized, and 299,772 tests administered. The death count stands at 1,475 for those who died from COVID-19, and 1,669 for those who died with the disease but not necessarily because of it.

In El Paso County, there have been 2,173 cases and 120 deaths from COVID-19.


In other developments:

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released guidance on Wednesday that allows outdoor visitation at residential care facilities, aiming to minimize the potential spread of COVID-19.

Under the guidance:
  • facilities may not offer visitation if there have been recent positive cases or outbreaks at the facility and it has not completed a required 14-day isolation,
  • all visits must be scheduled,
  • visitors must be greeted outside at a designated area by facility staff and undergo a temperature check and symptom screening.
Other measures are in included in the full list of guidelines, which is here.


The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment reported today that initial claims for regular unemployment fell below 10,000 for the first time in three months.

The agency reports 9,882 claims were filed the week ending June 20th and there were 10,385 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims filed for the same week.

Over the past 14 weeks, a total of 466,645 regular unemployment initial claims have been filed and a grand total of 588,988 claims, including federal PUA benefits, according to CDLE.

The department also announced it has paid out about $2.7 billion in unemployment benefits since March 29, which includes regular unemployment benefits, as well as PUA claims and claims for Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation, which provides eligible claimants an extra $600 in federal benefits each week.


The Space Foundation Discovery Center, run by the nonprofit Space Foundation, announced Thursday it will reopen June 30.

It will be a phased reopening with the first week (June 30-July 3) exclusively for Space Foundation Discovery Center Passport Members and Colorado Springs health care workers, first responders and their families.

The Discovery Center will reopen to the general public on Tuesday, July 7. Museum visits must be reserved in advance. Visit discoverspace.org.


The Colorado Office of Emergency Management announced Friday that Prologis, Inc., a global logistics real estate company, has donated 64,491 square feet of warehouse space to the State Emergency Operations Center. The space will be used for storage and distribution of critical personal protective equipment and COVID-19 resources supporting state and local efforts through the end of the year. The donation is valued at more than $300,000.


Despite the pandemic, AAA is forecasting Americans will take 700 million trips between July and September in its latest analysis of economic indicators and survey data.

That’s a 15 percent drop in trips from 2019, marking the first decline in summer travel since 2009, but AAA says the data shows Americans are making travel plans — though they likely differ from those in the past.

AAA forecast travelers will take 683 million car trips during the summer travel period — representing 97 percent of all summer travel. Year over year, car trips will decrease in total volume by just 3 percent. Air travel will decline by about 74 percent over 2019, while rail, cruise ship, and bus travel will slide by 86 percent.

If the pandemic had not occurred, AAA projected a total of 857 million trips would have been taken during the third quarter of 2020, which would have been a 3.6 percent increase over last year. By AAA’s analysis, the pandemic wiped out nearly 150 million personal trips this summer.
Travelers are also increasingly exploring trips to Denver — AAA reports that Denver is its top-searched city destination.

The complete AAA/IHS Markit forecast is here.
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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Drought task force activates, Colorado Springs Utilities looks to reservoirs

Posted By on Wed, Jun 24, 2020 at 3:37 PM

The U.S. Drought Monitor is produced through a partnership between the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
  • The U.S. Drought Monitor is produced through a partnership between the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

As drought conditions deepen, Colorado Governor Jared Polis on June 23 sought activation of the state's Drought Task Force and Phase 2 of the State Drought Mitigation and Response Plan.

The governor's office said in a release the drought spans 81 percent of the state, with severe and extreme conditions affecting a third of the state, including El Paso County.

Colorado’s Drought Task Force includes officials with the departments of Agriculture, Natural Resources, Local Affairs and Public Safety, and the Colorado Water Conservation Board. The second phase of the plan means the task force will assess initial damages and impacts of drought in areas experiencing severe or extreme drought and recommend mitigation measures. In addition, the Agricultural Impact Task Force is activated to make an assessment on physical and economic impacts.

Meantime, there doesn't appear to be any plan to further restrict water use in Colorado Springs where customers have been under restrictions since May to water their lawns no more than three times a week.

The Southern Delivery System (SDS), which was activated in 2016, guards against the city running dry. However, the city needs to add other water projects and water resources in years to come to meet the need of an estimated population forecast of 770,000 by 2070, says Pat Wells, Colorado Springs Utilities general manager for water resources and demand management. The utility now serves just under 500,000 people.

Asked why the $825-million SDS doesn't negate the need for restrictions of any kind, Wells says, "A foundational component of our water conservation program for the past couple of decades is focused on outdoor water use and reshaping outdoor water demands — to get people to use the right amount of water."

Wells calls efficient water usage "a foundational practice for water managers throughout the western United States. What we’re trying to do here is set a new normal and create a culture of responsible stewardship."

But usage here continues to climb. According to a report given to the Utilities Board on June 17, usage in May averaged 87.5 million gallons per day (MGD), or about a third more than last May. That pushed up year-to-date demands to an average of 48.7 MGD, which is 7.9 percent more than last year at this time. Also, temperatures in May were 3.6 degrees above normal, and precipitation in May was only 57 percent of normal. So far this year, the region's precipitation ranks at 73 percent of normal.

Colorado Springs currently has more than two years' worth of water in storage, which is good news for gardeners, because more severe water restrictions wouldn't be triggered until the amount in storage falls to a 1.5-year supply, Wells says.
Homestake Reservoir is one of Colorado Springs Utilities essential storage facilities. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Homestake Reservoir is one of Colorado Springs Utilities essential storage facilities.
But things can change. Prolonged drought could deplete that storage. Then what?

"Storage is the cornerstone," Wells says.

Utilities recently completed land acquisition for the 30,000-acre-foot Gary Bostrom Reservoir, the second phase of SDS, which is planned for construction near Bradley Road southeast of the city in the next decade. Another project, called the Eagle River project in the mountains, will create another reservoir, hopefully by 2040 to 2050, Wells says.

"Our system has extreme variability," he says. "We manage that with storage and our complex water system. Even with SDS online there was never any guarantee that Mother Nature wasn’t going to throw us a curve ball."

Some years, snowpack fills reservoirs to the brim and rainfall reduces demand, but not every year.

"What we’re seeing is a lot more variability in the swings," Wells says, noting that water managers study tree rings, climate change models and other data to try to predict what lies ahead.

"While our demand has flattened and we’re serving more customers with the same amount of water," he says, "our supplies are becoming more variable."

As Wells quips, quoting baseball legend Yogi Berra, "The future ain't what it used to be."

Take the Colorado River, which provides water to multiple states and Mexico. It's been in drought conditions for 20 years and provides 60 to 70 percent of Colorado Springs Utilities' supply.

"We are going to reach a point, as demand continues to grow in the West and supplies become uncertain, we’re going to have to use water more efficiently and cut back some of our demand on the Colorado River," he says.

At present, Utilities is capable of delivering 95,000 acre feet of water on demand, but that demand is forecast to rise to 136,000 acre feet in the decades to come.

That's why Utilities is pursuing a multi-pronged approach to expanding its water supply.

"With a growing population, we have to bring in more supplies," Wells says. "Our storage needs grow as our cities grow."

The city spent $1.75 million for water storage in this former gravel pit near Lamar. - COURTESY COLORADO SPRINGS UTILITIES
  • Courtesy Colorado Springs Utilities
  • The city spent $1.75 million for water storage in this former gravel pit near Lamar.

Besides storage, Utilities wants to work more deals with agricultural users like it did in the Arkansas Valley in 2018. Another strategy might be to expand the number of non-potable systems used for irrigation. But ultimately, Utilities, like other water providers in the West, likely will be confronted with re-treating and recycling water back into its domestic delivery system.

"In the next 30 to 50 years it may become more technically feasible to do direct potable reuse," he says, noting that the Colorado Water Conservation Board has approved a grant for a Utilities reuse demonstration project in partnership with Aurora, Denver and Colorado School of Mines.

On June 17, the Utilities Board was advised that temperatures are expected to rise above average across the state at the same time when there are no guarantees precipitation will match or exceed a normal year.

And the Drought Monitor, produced by a collection of agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has this to say about the current drought:
Although rainfall deficits only date back a few weeks to a few months, other factors are making things worse, specifically abnormal heat, low humidity, and gusty winds. High temperatures approached triple-digits as far north as South Dakota. All these factors led to broad areas of deterioration in eastern Colorado, southern Kansas, Wyoming, the Dakotas, and adjacent parts of Nebraska. Notably, extreme drought (D3) expanded to cover a large part of southern and eastern Colorado, and adjacent parts of Kansas.
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Two proposals compete for police watchdog group

Posted By on Wed, Jun 24, 2020 at 11:48 AM

Council President Richard Skorman: Overseeing formation of a police watchdog group. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Council President Richard Skorman: Overseeing formation of a police watchdog group.
UPDATE:

On June 23, City Council adopted an ordinance on first reading that establishes a Law Enforcement Transparency and Accountability Commission (LETAC).

The LETAC's purpose is "to advise and recommend areas and topics of study related to police operations, best practices, and resource allocation, solicit public input, and promote improved relationships between the citizens and the Police Department."

Specifically, the panel will be tasked with:
• Assisting City Council with budget, appropriation, and resource allocation recommendations utilizing data-driven audits of law enforcement performance;
• Providing a conduit to share the concerns and needs of both citizens and the Police Department;
• Analyzing and providing feedback to Council with policy recommendations, and
• Promoting improved understanding and relationships between the Police Department and the public.

The 11-member commission must include at least one member from each of six Council districts and live in the city.

About 600 people have applied. Deadline for applying is 5 p.m. on July 1. To apply: coloradosprings.gov/policeaccountability.

————————-ORIGINAL POST 12:11 P.M. MONDAY, JUNE 22, 2020————————-

When City Council takes up creating a new police accountability committee, members will be looking at two proposals. One came from a group that traveled to Austin, Texas, earlier this year to attend a conference on such matters. The other emerged from a grassroots effort that's been endorsed by a wide range of people.

The former, labeled President's Commission on Police Transparency and Accountability (PCPTA), defines its purpose as:
PURPOSE: This Commission will research and recommend "Best Practices,” procedure changes, new regulations or policy shifts for the Colorado Springs Police Department to the City Council, the Mayor and Police Chief. President Skorman will also bring this work to the El Paso County Commissioners and El Paso County Sheriff’s Department in order to accomplish the following:
• Officer and Department accountability
• Zero tolerance for racial profiling
• Police Department transparency and public records releases
• Internal investigations
• Officer "use of force" and officer shooting procedures, training and policies
• Policies on how police handle protests
• Racial-bias training techniques and procedures
• De-escalation techniques, practices and procedures
• Officer mental health issues policy recommendations, practices and procedures
• Recruitment practices to including more diversity recruitment goals, impediments to recruiting a more diverse police force including civil service exam and other barriers
• Community relations best practices and improvement plans
• The study of and compliance with all pertinent Federal, State and Local laws as they apply to the issues being discussed
• Examination and re-imagining of public safety infrastructure
• Evidence-based recommendations for other positive practices to improve transparency, accountability and relationships between law enforcement and the community
• Police Department budget and resource allocation funding.
The commission would be comprised of "community members and issue experts that represent communities most impacted by harm and/or bring broad expertise in the form of knowledge of the issues and options."

Here's that proposal:
The other proposal, labeled Citizens Accountability Advisory Board (CAAB), calls for the appointment of 11 members for three-year terms chosen like this:

Each council member shall appoint (1) member from their district, and the council as a whole shall appoint (5) at large members from communities disproportionately impacted by policing procedure (e.g. people of color and individuals with lower income.)
Members would have to be registered voters in Colorado Springs and couldn't have ties to law enforcement within El Paso County.

The aim would be to gather data and then make policy recommendations based on that data. As explained in the proposal:
Establish and maintain a system of audits (including an independent external audit) and reporting. Work in collaboration with CSPD and City Council to advise on formation of data dashboard for use by council and for public transparency.
Data shall include, but not be limited to:
Hiring Practices
Training Procedures
Budget
Certifications
Aggregate Data including arrests, disciplinary action, location, demographics, use of force.
Here's that proposal:
Council was to discuss further details of the advisory board today and take action tomorrow, June 23.

This blog has been updated to correctly attribute the proposals to the groups who proposed them.
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Diversity University opens enrollment: Uncover your bias

Posted By on Wed, Jun 24, 2020 at 11:39 AM

Regina Walter will speak during the Diversity University session. - PHOTOS COURTESY EDUCATING CHILDREN OF COLOR
  • Photos courtesy Educating Children of Color
  • Regina Walter will speak during the Diversity University session.
In this week's issue, the Indy takes a look at racism in the classroom, and while some progress is being made, it's a steep road.

One of the voices in the story belongs to Regina Walter, who launched Educating Children of Color, Inc., a nonprofit that strives to assure minority students receive equal opportunities in learning.

She and Dr. Regina Lewis also present training for educators and others through their Diversity University, enrollment in which has soared amid public outcry over Black people being killed by police officers.

If you're interested in signing up, here's the latest information from a press release:

Dr. Regina Lewis
  • Dr. Regina Lewis
Educating Children of Color Inc. is hosting their annual Diversity University from July 27 – 31, 2020 via Zoom. Educating Children of Color will also host one day sessions the week of July 13 – 17, 2020. Speakers during both programs are Dr. Regina Lewis, Judge Regina Walter, Inside Out Youth Services, Silas Musick, Bev Sencenbaugh, and the Youth Documentary Academy.

The purpose of this institute is to improve the ability of professionals and the community to respond to the needs of a culturally diverse population. Diversity University is designed to help individuals address their biases and leverage their power to address problems of disparate treatment of individuals within their work environment.

Normally the program is $50, however, for these session we are waiving fees. A donation is being requested. All donations given from June 22 – August 1, 2020 will be matched up to $5,000 by Nunn Construction. The money raised through our collaboration with Nunn Construction will be used to support the 2021 Leadership Academy and a new program starting this summer to provide free scholarship workshops for students throughout the Colorado Springs community.

Should you be looking for more information, all questions and media inquiries should be directed to Judge Regina Walter by email at regina58walter@gmail.com or calling (719)640-6633.
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Survey: Homeless population at 5-year low

Posted By on Wed, Jun 24, 2020 at 1:00 AM

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The number of people experiencing homelessness in Colorado Springs decreased from 2019 to 2020, and is the lowest it’s been since 2015, according to the results of an annual survey.

The city’s homelessness prevention and response coordinator, Andrew Phelps, presented those results from the Point-in-Time homeless count — conducted annually on a single night in January for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development — at the Planning Commission’s June 18 meeting.

Volunteers conducting the survey this year counted 1,116 people experiencing homelessness. That’s a 28.5 percent decrease from 2018.

Though the Point-in-Time survey is generally considered to be an undercount, Phelps called the decrease “substantial.” 

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what caused it, but Phelps named the city’s new Homeless Outreach Court, which refers people cited for homelessness-related violations to case management and behavioral health services, as one potentially helpful factor.

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