Stirrin' Up the Fire

April 05, 2001

Colorado Springs has a newly formulated City Council, and we're hoping some new blood will stir things up over at City Hall, at least enough to raise an issue or two of concern to a large number of Springs constituents.

Like the fact that our city's growth planning still tends to favor automobiles over people and institutions over neighborhoods.

Sure the traffic situation has worsened as more and more automobiles (and their drivers) have made the region home, but when's the last time you heard a city official admit that bigger, better roads simply continue to make room for more single-occupant vehicles churning tons of carbon dioxide into the thin, dry air of the Pikes Peak region?

And when's the last time you heard a Councilperson demand that neighborhood integrity be protected above the rights of drivers or the proclaimed "needs" of a moneyed institution (think Mill Street, Mesa Heights)?

There may not be big, urban troubles in River City, folks, but our town is like a gangling adolescent on the verge of its biggest-ever growth spurt -- awkward and uncertain what it wants to be when it grows up.

The overwhelming victory of Sallie Clark over incumbent Linda Barley reflects a few things: 1) Barley's district boundaries were redrawn which, no doubt, hurt her race; 2) Clark's the better campaigner -- tireless, energetic and determined; and 3) Springs citizens want an outspoken citizen activist who will challenge the status quo on board at Council.

Mayor Mary Lou Makepeace's mantra of "let's all just get along" may well be relegated to the background in the next few months, and that's fine with us.

This doesn't mean acrimony and head-banging are in-evitable. It simply means that Council discussions will be livelier (hopefully) and new priorities may be set (knock on wood).

All the newly elected candidates -- Clark, Margaret Radford and Charles Wingate -- are ardent public safety advocates looking for increased funding for fire and police operations. We can't deny the need for that, but we hope they and their mates on Council -- Richard Skorman, Ted Eastburn, Lionel Rivera, Jim Null, Judy Noyes and Mayor Makepeace -- might be so bold as to ask the question: What kind of city do we really want to be?

Do we want to embrace the needs of the homeless and near-homeless of our community or do we just want them off downtown streets? Do we want our city to help provide quality housing for low-paid service workers or do we want only to be a bedroom community for an upper-income echelon?

Do we want to be able to see Pikes Peak, clear and pink in the early morning sun, or do we want to strain our eyes for a hint of its snow-packed pinnacle through a soup of lingering automobile fumes?

Do we want to be one of those American cities that subscribes to only one housing model -- suburb upon suburb upon suburb ad infinitum -- or do we want to catch up with progressive areas of the country where its has become clear that new urban models are warranted, mixing commercial and housing interests in an urban village model?

Two years ago, Council elections yielded enlightened discussion of quality of life issues that were quickly submerged by the difficult business of running a fast-growing and financially strapped city. We hope that this time around, Council will listen to the concerns of the people who live here and understand: We don't really care if you all get along so long as you actually get something done and so long as you stand by the avowed principles that got you elected in the first place.

The majority of Councilpersons now in place characterize themselves as fiscal conservatives. We hope that means they will carefully prioritize spending and will look for the best bang for the buck. We also hope that the Bruce anti-tax rant of the past decade will subside to a benign whisper in light of the very real needs of our growing city.

This group is going to have to grapple, almost immediately, with the urgent $1 billion backlog of infrastructure and capital improvement needs and how to convince citizens to fund them.

The sound defeat of SCIP-01 should send a clear message: Citizens are not willing to vote for a tax with no sunset clause, and the method of identifying projects in an all-or-nothing package doesn't work. We hope the new Council will affirm the need for funding and will work together to convince citizens that funds will be spent wisely and carefully once raised.

We're eager to hear a new tone at Council, we congratulate the winners in the election and we throw our hats up in awe and celebration of the challenges to come.

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