The Percy Report

That's how it is. Period.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Boulder County running up huge debt buying open space

But first: Saving the environment by living where we work. . .

(To meet space limits, a redacted version of this letter appeared in the 3-8-11 edition of the Longmont Times Call.)

Do we really believe in practicing insofar as possible the concept of living in the same community where we work?

I think Longmont is fully capable of determining its own destiny, therefore its civic leaders should not be buying so readily—both financially and philosophically—into *PLAN-Boulder County’s (People’s League for Action Now) anti-growth strategy of strangling our community with open space and irrevocable easements to kill future housing projects that might become necessary to accommodate any realistic increase in economic activity (jobs) around here.

At stake right now is the possible site for the proposed Aerospace and Clean Energy Manufacturing and Innovation park (ACE), which would create an estimated 10,000 jobs. In the race for this economic prize, according to the Daily Camera, are Erie, Greeley, Longmont, Louisville and Loveland. Noticeably, Boulder doesn’t seem to be interested, probably because it’s out of land for housing and is already overflowing with commuter-dependent industries.

One of ACE’s qualifying requests was for the availability of an existing industrial building of 300,000 to 600,000 square feet. Another request was for a 200-to-400 acre greenfield, shovel-ready with freeway access.

Amateur economist that I am, I’d pick Loveland as the best bet. Longmont made a mistake years ago by not annexing clear out to I-25 and is now forever cut off by you-know-what, but otherwise seems well qualified. Erie has direct access and plenty of room for housing, but has been slow to develop infrastructure for its interstate frontage. Louisville faces Boulder’s end game of buildout and what space is left is ultra-expensive. Since proximity to the University of Colorado as well as the federal establishments already operating in Boulder will be of importance to ACE, Greeley seems a bit distanced from the action.

Having said all this, politics as usual will dominate the selection process. You can count on that.

Percy Conarroe

Longmont CO 80501

*PLAN-Boulder County was launched in 1959 as PLAN-Boulder by two CU professors, Al Bartlett and Bob McKelvey, now retired. This powerful behind-the-scenes anti-growth group controls politics in the city of Boulder and now its influence permeates county government. PLAN-Boulder takes credit for imposing Boulder’s famous “blue line” growth barrier but let NCAR puncture it in 1961 with a facility built on a 500-acre site on Table Mountain. Likewise, in 1964, it let in IBM (located near Niwot, Boulder annexed it by flagpole) but in 1980 drove away Systems Dev. Corp. and its potential 4,000 jobs. PLAN-Boulder County fought the expansion of nearby Superior but was strangely silent when the city of Boulder sold some of its Big Thompson water allotment to the town to spur its housing development. McKelvey has since moved to Montana but Bartlett is still active in the group.

IN ANSWER TO A CRITIC

In his response to the above letter two days later in the 3-10-11 edition of the Times-Call (my, what a quick turnaround!), Mr. Gregory Iwan, who identifies himself as an expert economist, urban planner and real estate appraiser, claims that Longmont already has 4,000 vacant residential lots platted that are “growing tumbleweeds” and, at 1.7 jobs each, those would be sufficient for ACE’s employees.

His equation conveniently ignores the housing that will also be needed to accommodate the increased service, commercial and retail job opportunities that ACE brings. I don’t know where he expects those people to live in order to be near their work place (as I suggested).

Oh, and the owners of those platted lots that are “growing tumbleweeds” do indeed contribute taxes to help fund our schools, county and local governments, including fire and police protection. Perhaps Mr. Iwan can quote some statistics on how much his preferred government-owned open space pays in taxes to help fund these essential public services.

Boulder County, founded in 1861, covers roughly 485,000 acres of which 34 percent or 167,761 acres were already set aside as public land. (Source: Colorado Year Book, 1962-64.) To those 167,761 original acres add the approximate 95,000 acres purchased by Boulder County, the 45,000 acres added by the city of Boulder, and the 2,000 acres added by the city of Longmont, and the grand total of open space acreage totals around 320,000 acres, meaning that roughly 65 percent of the land area in Boulder County is now owned by the government. Conservation easements account for only a tiny portion of the total acreage.

SWIMMING IN DEBT and the newspapers won’t report it. Boulder County, in its frenzy to buy land, has run up a debt of over a quarter-billion dollars. It uses voter-approved sales tax revenues as seed to leverage big, long-term bonded indebtedness. According to the Boulder County Finance Department, this debt totaled $267,852,665 (principal and interest payable) as of its most recent audit report of 2009. How the county commissioners could run up a debt of this magnitude under TABOR should at least be worthy of a news story.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Initiative process already complicated

As if the process is not already complicated enough, Democratic state Sen. Brandon Shaffer of Longmont wants to make it harder for the people of Colorado to initiate their own laws. Surprisingly, the Times-Call agrees.

Our First Amendment right to petition our government is involved here and considering the glut of laws the Colorado Legislature passes every year, mostly to control our lives, the number of initiated proposals adopted by the people pales in comparison. A state web page titled “Session Laws of Colorado 2010 Second Regular Session, Table of Enacted House Bills” shows 431 bills were passed with four vetoed; a separate table of enacted Senate Bills shows 217 were passed with no veto. Total bills enacted, 644?

In contrast, in 2008 only four of 14 proposed amendments passed and in the 2010 election, only one of seven was approved. Don’t underestimate the wisdom of Colorado voters.

Some of Shaffer’s ideas:

--Require a 60 percent majority statewide vote to pass an initiative. (Okay then, to be fair, every law passed by the state legislature should require a 60 percent majority vote in both houses.)

--Require initiative petition signatures to be gathered in each of the state’s seven congressional districts; increase the number of signatures needed. (These steps won’t have much effect on discouraging the moneyed interests but will hamper the process for the common people.)

The basis for most of this ongoing bluster over constitutional amendments is TABOR. Instead of huffing and puffing over that law which has been on the books for nearly 20 years now, why not simply write an amendment to repeal it, gather the necessary signatures and put it to a vote of the people? The same can be said of the Gallagher Amendment and Amendment 23.

Really, are we incapable of governing ourselves?

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Opinion piece regarding the Colorado Press Association

As the cliché confirms, the arrangement could not have gone on forever, but the alternative will never be the same. I’m referring to the Colorado Press Association abandoning its long tradition of holding its prestigious annual convention in one of the World’s most prestigious venues—Denver’s grand old Brown Palace Hotel.

I see in the association's in-house newspaper, the Colorado Editor, that after a continuous run of 51 years at the Brown Palace and despite a healthy increase in attendance this past year, the CPA board of directors decided to move the whole caboodle down the street a few blocks. Whether the Associated Press which usually meets concurrently with the CPA will follow was not mentioned.

Memories to some of us are trivia to others. So be it. The shiny new place no doubt has a fancy bar where friends can hoist a few, but I doubt the ambiance will match that of the Ship Tavern. As the new, greenhorn prez of CPA in 1981, I met there with a feisty fringe-group of journalists known as the “surly malcontents” to find out what they had on their minds. Led by Ed Quillen and Bob Cox, their main protest was that the CPA was “run by and for the fat cats.” No, I told them, if that were true then a little guy like me, who started out with absolutely nothing, would never have been allowed to rise to the top. After the second round or so in this inimitable setting, we all got along just fine.

But back to the present: I wish the CPA leaders would have explained the issues in more detail to the members before cutting these historic ties. Have contest awards become the only reliable drawing card? If so, small wonder anyone needs overnight lodging.

As CPA president Jeanette Chavez said in announcing the change of venue, talk of moving the convention was not new. Yes, it’s been moved several times prior to settling comfortably into the Brown Palace. Debra Faulkner, historian at the hotel shared this information:

The first time CPA booked its convention into the Brown Palace Hotel was in 1924. From that year through 1958, CPA utilized four different hotels: the St. James, Albany, Cosmopolitan and finally the Brown Palace.

Alas, it is difficult for some of us to wave goodbye to this long-time, faithful friend of Colorado newspapers.

--Percy Conarroe

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The lowdown on RTD FasTracks

(Letter to editor, published 12-26-10 in the Longmont Times-Call.)


I agree with former Longmont Mayor Fred Wilson’s astute assessment in his recent letter in the Times-Call that, although we are paying dearly for it, the ultra-expensive RTD FasTracks passenger rail service will never reach Longmont. And, I would add, if through some miracle of miracles it does happen to reach here, the cost to ride it will be so high that few people will use it.

The concept is not new. Although Longmont was not hooked into the original interurban passenger rail service which began operating between Denver and several points in Boulder County and Adams County over a century ago, this service continued for 18 years before it finally went broke. Here are some excerpts from author Carolyn Conarroe’s account of this historical transportation service (a.k.a. The Kite Route) in her book, “The Louisville Story,” published in 1978 (www.conarroe.com).

"In 1908 the ultimate in convenient transportation, the (electric-powered) interurban, began operating. The Denver Interurban Co. used the Colorado and Southern RR tracks to operate 16 trains a day into and out of Denver . . . serving Boulder, Louisville, Lafayette, Marshall and Eldorado Springs. (Other stops indicated on a map accompanying the text include Globeville, Westminster, Standley Lake, Broomfield, Fairview and Superior.)

"The interurban system was set up because its financial backers expected a population boom that didn’t occur and the line went into receivership in 1918.

"Service continued, but a tragic collision of two interurban trains in 1920 just out of Globeville in Adams County claimed 13 lives and led to legal damages which pushed the ailing interurban into bankruptcy.

"The company reorganized and tried to continue but couldn’t attract enough riders and in 1926 finally had to shut down."

To quote Yogi Berra: “This looks like déjà vu all over again.”

Saturday, December 25, 2010

BoCo Commissioners keep hassling church


(Letter to editor, published 12-09-10 in the Longmont Times-Call.)

As if it’s not questionable enough for the Boulder County Commissioners—after being foiled by a federal judge and jury whose verdict of unequal treatment was upheld at the appellate level—to dig deeper into the taxpayers’ pockets to take their fight against the Rocky Mountain Christian Church’s expansion project to the Supreme Court, other tax-supported groups are joining the fray.

Two of the more familiar organizations filing supporting briefs as to why the Supreme Court should hear this case are Colorado Counties, Inc. and Colorado Municipal League. For those of us who live in incorporated areas, lucky us: we get to pay dues into both the CCI and the CML. There is no law against their filing of briefs, but the quid pro quo seems clear: “You send us your membership dues and we will scratch your back.”

The commissioners defend the considerable legal costs involved in trying to stop the RMCC expansion--a project that appears to be of little or no harm to anyone or anything--as being covered by insurance. But there are many other expenses to the county besides legal fees, and any premiums or cash contributions by the county into an insurance pool (or company) would still have to come from the taxpayers.

Local governments have the authority to write and enforce building codes, but there is no guarantee against their making mistakes or overreaching. That’s where the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act enters this picture and makes it doubtful that the Supreme Court will take this case.

Since the church in question is located at Niwot, is its site rural or urban? Remember that the county itself built a rather large office building/vehicle storage facility in a rural setting just west of Longmont with neither a whimper heard nor a lawsuit filed.

Flood threat is real


(In response to an article titled "City updating flood map," published 11-10-10 in the Longmont Times-Call.)

There is no simple way to prepare for flooding of the kind that roared down the Big Thompson canyon in 1976. The National Weather Service reported that besides wreaking havoc, that storm caused 150 deaths, a new high in Colorado’s recorded history. (100 people died in a flood near Pueblo in 1904.)

Headwaters of both the Big Thompson river and the north branch of the St. Vrain river (Longmont's major stream) lie in roughly the same territory, which tells me (and I’m no expert on this subject) that, by a quirk of Nature, the 12 inches of rain that fell in five hours over the upper Big Thompson canyon could just have easily hit the St. Vrain runoff instead.

Fortunately, because of its distance from the mouth of Big Thompson canyon, the city of Loveland escaped most of the wrath of the 1976 flood. Longmont holds a similar advantage, but its flood mitigation efforts are complicated by the fact it straddles two major drainage basins: the St. Vrain river and Lefthand creek, which originates in the northern Indian Peaks Wilderness area.

Possibly most vulnerable to a 100-year flood is the city of Boulder. Unlike Loveland and Longmont’s distance factor, Boulder’s downtown sits right at the mouth of Boulder Creek canyon, with Barker Dam at Nederland providing about the only protection. Also flowing through Boulder is South Boulder Creek, downstream from Gross Reservoir.

I’m glad our city officials recognize Longmont’s vulnerability to flooding. But in this county, for reasons I don’t understand, the public seems to be much more anxious to buy land to look at, rather than investing in flood mitigation to save lives and property.

We can fight and argue over chickens, trains and airport runways. But unlike flooding, those issues are hardly of life-threatening proportions. (And no, I don’t live on a floodplain.)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Letter published 10-20-10


The Longmont Times-Call has long been recognized as the conservative voice of Boulder County politics, but it’s hard to find much evidence of that attribute in the choices it’s making in the current election. (Re: T-C editorial, 10-15-10).

Some examples: For county commissioner, the T-C recommends incumbent Democrat Cindy Domenico over Republican Dick Murphy. Domenico already has enjoyed a nice, long run as county assessor, and there’s no reason she can’t step aside to make room at the power table for a Republican who might at least ask questions from a different point of view. Does it not bother the T-C to realize the conservatives have no representation in the county’s policymaking processes?

For county clerk, the T-C likes incumbent Democrat Hillary Hill. She has done a credible job, but there’s nothing that indicates Republican Daniel Martin could not step in and do even better.

For county treasurer, the name Bob Hullinghorst (the T-C’s choice) faithfully reflects the good ol’ boy Boulder syndrome, which is all Democratic--first, last and always. Isn’t it enough that Bob’s wife, Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, a lobbiest for the county for 22 years, is now the representative in State House District 10? Republican Marty Neilson is perfectly capable of running the treasurer’s office and in all fairness deserved the T-C endorsement.

Finally, the T-C chooses to roll over another capable candidate, Republican Joel Champion, to endorse Democratic incumbent Jerry Roberts for assessor. Champion, of Longmont, possesses a credible resume’ and having a Republican installed in that office—along with changes in the other county offices every few years--can only result in better government.

Look for the names Murphy, Martin, Neilson and Champion on your ballot.

One-party rule is upon us in Boulder County and we conservatives must work together, including the local newspaper, to resist it.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Letter submitted to The Denver Post, not published


For the sake of transparency, candidates nowadays are expected to surrender their income tax filings for five years to The Denver Post staff for review and comment.

To be fair and for the sake of transparency, The Denver Post should release its company’s five-year income tax filings to any candidate who requests them, along with the income tax records of each political reporter or commentator.

Letter submitted to the Daily Camera, not published


I noticed in attorney general candidate Stan Garnett’s letter to the Open Forum (Camera, 8/20/10) that he apparently has no qualms about inviting people to use his office’s email address to contact him for political discussions. He also needs to clarify the funding and usage of the direct telephone line he mentioned as also being available. Is this a standard fixture in the District Attorney’s office, or is it an extra line paid with campaign funds?

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Retired in 1998 after a 50-year career of editing and publishing Colorado small-town weekly newspapers. He served as president of the Colorado Press Association in 1981 and was awarded an honorary lifetime membership.