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News briefs from the Front Range

Anti-affirmative action measure makes ballot

The group trying to end affirmative action programs in Colorado with its so-called "Civil Rights Initiative" has the signatures needed to put the measure on November ballots, Secretary of State Mike Coffman announced this week.

Supporters of the measure, associated with Ward Connerly and his anti-affirmative action efforts in California and elsewhere, submitted more than 128,000 signatures. An estimated 86,000 are valid, which is more than the 76,047 signatures required.

Opponents say the signature-collection efforts mirrored those in Michigan in 2005 and 2006, when some residents complained they were told false information about an affirmative-action measure before signing. A federal judge who reviewed the matter in 2006 wrote: "The Court finds that [the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative] and its circulators engaged in a pattern of voter fraud by deceiving voters into believing that the petition supported affirmative action."

The measure still passed in Michigan that fall. AL

Council backs diversity festival

Apparently, City Council is ready to counter Colorado Springs' reputation as one of the least tolerant cities in the nation.

On Tuesday, council gave permanent support to the "Everybody Welcome" diversity festival, the inaugural of which took place downtown last August. More than just a gesture, the endorsement gives the festival thousands in freebies in rental and police costs.

Last year, some City Council members initially opposed the parade because they said it would indicate political support for gays and lesbians. JAS

You're invited to NORAD's 50th

North American Aerospace Defense command, or NORAD, will celebrate its 50th anniversary in May, with a ball at Broadmoor Hall, air shows across the United States and Canada and a public essay contest.

NORAD is also selling T-shirts and coffee cups. There will even be a red, white and blue Colorado license plate honoring NORAD as it celebrates its role in "guarding the things you value most."

Although U.S.-Canadian forces at NORAD began round-the-clock watch for air attacks in 1957, the alliance didn't become official until May 12, 1958. NORAD operated at the former Ent Air Force Base, now the U.S. Olympic Complex, before moving inside Cheyenne Mountain amid concern of vulnerability to bazooka attack.

Now, commanders at NORAD and U.S. Northern Command, the homeland-defense command created after 9/11, are in the process of moving NORAD operations and personnel to Peterson Air Force Base. That transition is set to be complete by late May.

The ball is open to the public, but at $140 a ticket. (Military discounts are available.) For information, visit MdY

Planning meetings set for controversial dirt bike park

The master planning process for a controversial dirt bike park on land east of Colorado Springs starts with a public meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 1.

The planning process begins after the proposal, championed by El Paso County Commissioner Jim Bensberg, encountered stiff resistance from neighbors and open space advocates who believe the rocky area of hills known as Corral Bluffs should be preserved as park land open to everyone.

The county has tentatively set two other planning meetings for April 15 and 29, both at 7 p.m., on the third floor of the county office building at 27 E. Vermijo Ave. Park opponents and supporters are posting updates at their Web sites, and, respectively.

Lee Milner, a leading opponent of the plan, has argued the plan is flawed because of potential noise impacts, county budget woes, possible legal costs and the apparent lack of consideration of alternative sites. AL

Arson victims file suit

They lost pets and photo albums, car keys and Social Security cards, in the January 2007 fire that killed two people and destroyed Castle West Apartments in east-central Colorado Springs. Many took months to put their lives back together. Others struggle still to do so.

Now, nearly 90 of those residents have joined a lawsuit claiming the managers and owners of the complex were negligent for, among other things, failing to maintain locked security doors that might have blocked a man suspected of pouring and then igniting gasoline in the building's hallway. Derrick "Nicky" Johnson, 24, is in jail awaiting trial on charges of murder and arson.

The suit names property owner Coolidge-Castle West Equities, two company officers and Urban Property Management Inc. as defendants. Attorney Ken Jaray says he and partner David Webster have added plaintiffs to the suit "one by one," as they've been contacted. AL

Bus-ting at the seams
After shunning an ambitious plan to modernize city transit by 2035, City Council this week told Transit Service Division Manager Sherre Ritenour to draft a Plan B.

Mayor Lionel Rivera, echoing the concerns of many on City Council, asked Ritenour to come back with a "intermediate-term plan" that would look at solutions for the next five years. Council also expressed concern that transit was looking for more money even after receiving millions more annually from the voter-approved Pikes Peak Regional Transportation Authority tax.

The long-term transit plan, put together by a consultant, had suggested that transit be funded by a separate sales tax. Ritenour said PPRTA-funded improvements to transit had greatly increased ridership. But as costs for operating transit continue to rise, even maintaining the current system will be out of the city's reach. Transit officials expect millions in city budget shortfalls over the next five years. JAS

Compiled by Michael de Yoanna, Anthony Lane and J. Adrian Stanley.

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