Into the landfill

Suppose for the moment that the garbage industry controlled local politics. Let's imagine that eight of nine city council members and all five county commissioners had gotten most of their campaign contributions from the garbage guys.

Worse still, imagine that most of the commissioners/council members either worked in the garbage biz or had extensive business/social connections to garbage. And imagine further that all of these folks -- the "garbagemeisters" and their handpicked elected officials -- were decent, hardworking, civic-minded people who sincerely and genuinely believed that what's good for garbage is good for Colorado Springs. It's easy to figure out how their beliefs would translate into public policy.

For starters, city government would massively subsidize the garbage industry, by operating free landfills and incinerators. Daily pickup would be mandatory, and recycling would be illegal (we need more garbage, not less!). Waste disposal firms would be immune from lawsuits, and their vehicles would always have the right-of-way. Private companies would have all the contracts, but the taxpayers would pick up the tab, via cleverly disguised charges on their utility bills. And if anyone bitched about it, they'd be shouted down by the industry and their pet politicians/community leaders.

Don't you understand? they'd ask patiently. We're the cleanest, most garbage-free city in America. That's why we prosper. Why, the garbage industry is the very basis of our growth. Tens of thousands of jobs are created, directly and indirectly, by garbage. A few extra dollars on your utility bill is nothing compared to the chaos that would result if people stopped paying their monthly garbage surcharge. New business would stay away from "America's Cleanest City," the economy would collapse, you'd lose your job, and your house equity would evaporate. So shuddup already!

Sound familiar? Just substitute "real estate" for garbage and that's our local government. And as we follow the debate over taxpayer/ratepayer building/growth subsidies, just remember that old Republican mantra: It's your money. If you don't like coughing up hundreds, even thousands of dollars annually to make life easier for the real-estate powers-that-be, you have to do something about it.

And that means electing some actual anti-tax conservatives (or maybe liberals) to local office, rather than the sincere, community-minded and hopelessly misguided nice guys that we voted for last time.

Meanwhile, I'm sure that we're all surprised that the downtown block that contains the City Auditorium has been declared "blighted" by the Leland Consulting Group. And why is it blighted? Simply because one of the property owners on the block knows that, with a blight declaration, he can get some very sweet redevelopment financing.

Never mind that, given the criteria used to make a finding of "blight," a new Wal-Mart would qualify. Just like the downtown block in question, most of Wal-Mart's property is given over to parking lots; ergo, it's blighted! Better tell Leland's principal, Anne Ricker, that there's lotsa new business there.

So what's going to happen to the City Aud, which, once again, is in play? Again, that depends on us.

Council would like for some community group, or some quasi-private outfit like the Colorado Springs Conservatory, to step up to the plate and bail 'em out. Having ignored this urban treasure for decades, they'd rather pretend that it's old, it's outmoded, it's underused, and to hell with it. They know that they can't sell it to developers (just a little too unseemly ... ), but they'd rather not acknowledge their responsibilities to the community, to the past, and to the future, and to spend the money to fix it up.

Taking care of half a century's worth of deferred maintenance, plus doing some renovation, would be surprisingly cheap -- probably around $3 million. And if you don't think that's cheap, imagine that the City Auditorium didn't exist, and some insanely charitable person made this pitch:

I'll build, on a prime downtown corner, a City Auditorium, a multi-use civic center adaptable to almost any use. I'll make a clear-span, steel-framed building faced with brick and granite, sparing no expense, and using materials and techniques that are absolutely unaffordable today. It'll last for a thousand years. I'll deliver it spick and span, with sparkling new paint, new wiring, and new HVAC systems. It'll be debt free, ready to go and complete with authentic Works Project Administration-era entrance murals. Cost to build: $40 million-plus! Cost to the city: $3 million!

Lady and Gentlemen of the Council, I know you'll take this offer -- you'd be insane to refuse it.

But how does the song go? "Still crazy, after all these years ..."

-- johnhazlehurst@earthlink.net


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