Columns » Outsider

'The voters will again push aside a weak, do-nothing state government and make their own laws'


News item: The metro area population has grown by nearly 100,000 souls in less than 10 years and is now the 80th largest city in the country.

News item: Two employment complexes with room for 7,000 workers are planned along the northern reaches of the Interstate 25 corridor.

News item: Classic Homes has purchased 1,000 acres near the Black Forest and plans to turn it into an upscale residential development.

OK, we're growing, and we're growing fast. What else is new?

What's new is this: The scale and pace of growth and development is such that existing governmental entities can't even begin to cope with it. We are a region, and a state, without any effective cross-jurisdictional planning.

The Pikes Peak region encompasses portions of six counties -- El Paso, Teller, Douglas, Elbert, Pueblo and Fremont. It's home to more than a dozen municipalities -- Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Woodland Park, Fountain, Cripple Creek, Victor, Monument, Palmer Lake, Simla, Manitou Springs, Green Mountain Falls, Calhan and Cascade. It's got multiple special taxing districts and a bunch of unincorporated suburbs.

Most of these jurisdictions scarcely talk to each other, let alone cooperate. There are always issues of turf protection, of differing electorates and of inherent inequality. The smaller cities figure, correctly enough, that the Springs just wants to tell them what to do, so they keep their distance.

County commissioners, elected to well-paying posts in partisan elections, regard the virtually unpaid, non-partisan Council members who make policy for Colorado Springs as bumbling amateurs.

And the well-paid, highly professional administrators who work for the city often regard their counterparts in other jurisdictions as unqualified know-nothings.

Meanwhile, the state Legislature, dominated for a generation by the Republican Party, has never wanted anything to do with regional, or statewide, planning of any kind. They've been perfectly content to leave things as they are and let the local pols fight it out among themselves. That's a policy that may have been appropriate in the past, but I suspect that we've outgrown it. Unless all of our quarrelsome governments are forced to cooperate, they simply won't do it.

Why? Because effective regional growth management will create winners and losers. If we, as citizens, decide that we don't want the I-25 corridor to become an unbroken wall of sprawl from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs, we'll have to change the laws that currently govern growth and development.

We'll have to create urban-growth boundaries and craft common water, stormwater and wastewater policies. If we really want to preserve what we most value about this region, we may need to enact policies that developers and property owners will characterize as harshly restrictive, burdensome and unfair.

Maybe not next year, but certainly by 2002, we'll see a citizens initiative on the ballot that will mandate regional planning and growth management. Like Doug Bruce's Tabor amendment, it'll be tough, uncompromising and unpalatable to the fat cats that run things. And like Tabor, it'll pass, because the voters will again push aside a weak, do-nothing state government and make their own laws, which, come to think of it, is exhilarating, hopeful, dangerous and fun. Unlike the Republican Party.

Former City Councilman John Hazlehurst wants us all to get along, despite rumors to the contrary.

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