- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The (Colorado Springs) Gazette, April 23, on affordable housing in Colorado:

It seems like everyone wants to live in Colorado, for obvious reasons. The climate. The culture. The great outdoors.

Colorado Springs has become so attractive that a U.S. News & World Report survey identified it as the large city most people would move to if given unlimited options, second only to Honolulu.

Despite all this, Colorado no longer ranks high on lists of places bringing in the waves of young professionals ready to create wealth and bring up kids. There’s only one reason.

We lack affordable housing.

Without affordable housing, young people cannot move here while paying off student loans on Harvard MBAs or vocational certificates from trade schools.

The median home price is pushing $400,000 in Denver and $300,000 in Colorado Springs. The average cost of a Boulder home surpassed $1 million last year, and Realtors this year found only one home in the city valued at less than $300,000.

Millennials may want ski slopes and hiking trails, but they will happily embrace Oklahoma City, median home price $115,000, if it means a home that fits within the budget.

It appears the Legislature and governor may finally be on the verge of facilitating affordable housing, with likely passage of legislation known by the esoteric and boring title “construction defects reform.”

Colorado law has long facilitated plaintiffs’ attorneys in predatory lawsuits against builders who produce efficient condominiums and townhome complexes. They look for defects in walls, ceilings and foundations and then run to the courtroom to file class-action suits that include every occupant of a housing complex.

Builders and their insurers typically settle for large amounts, as the law is stacked so heavily in favor of plaintiffs. They seldom have the option of simply correcting construction problems before having to pay disproportionately large punitive settlements or fines.

The result has been insurance premiums and potential liabilities that discourage builders from producing affordable, entry- level housing. They prefer the lower liability associated with expensive detached, single-family and luxury homes. A decade ago, condominiums made up 20 percent of Colorado’s housing starts. Today, because of the liability conundrum, they account for only 3 percent.

Republicans have pushed for reform and enjoyed the support of some big-name Democrats. Among them are Gov. John Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. Democratic leadership in the Legislature has faced a dilemma, in the form of lobbyists for trial lawyers. Legislative Democrats may want affordable housing, but don’t want to cross a loyal constituency of wealthy attorneys who are traditional party benefactors.

For five years, affordable housing “construction defects” bills have hit impasses. This year, as reported by ColoradoPolitics.com and The Denver Post, House Bill 1279 has enough momentum to reach the governor’s desk. Hickenlooper, a longtime advocate of affordable housing, is expected to sign it.

As explained by reporter Peter Marcus at ColoradoPolitics.com, House Bill 1279 would “require a majority of homeowners in an association to approve a lawsuit and provide disclosure to homeowners of a proposed suit.” The bill would provide a 90-day voting and disclosure period as a homeowners association decides whether to sue.

The law would prevent the practice of one lawyer or law firm convincing a homeowners association to instantly include every owner/occupant of a multifamily development in a lawsuit, as the only foray into resolving a defects complaint.

A better bill, less likely to survive, establishes a process of arbitration and other resolution measures in advance of litigation.

House Bill 1279 is not perfect, but it is a good step toward assuring builders they aren’t merely setting themselves up for instant lawsuits by creating affordable housing. It just may get them building again. Democrats and Republicans should do this, then celebrate a bipartisan victory for young families seeking to make their homes in Colorado.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2oJ7mco

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The Durango Herald, April 22, on cuts to firefighting and wildfire mitigation funding:

In southwest Colorado this past winter, high country snowfall was abundant - overly so, from the viewpoint of mountain dwellers who had few breaks during the season of snow removal. The snowpack is well above the long-term average. Rivers are running high, reservoirs will fill and water users are assured of having enough, at least for this year.

The outlook for the 2017 wildfire season also is positive. While parts of the state are drier than this region, the state Division of Fire Prevention and Control says Colorado can expect an average to slightly below average wildfire season.

The wildfire picture is changing. Snowfall in recent years has ended early and abruptly, giving wildlands more time to dry out. As the climate continues to change, summers are likely to be hotter, drier and perhaps windier.

To further complicate predictions, few Colorado wildfires have natural causes - only 7 percent in 2016 - and human-caused fires can behave differently and catch hold faster than lightning-strike fires.

So, in a time when the president is proposing deep budget cuts and the GOP-controlled congress is likely to agree with many of them, it is essential that federal wildfire mitigation and firefighting funding be preserved. Elected officials should think of it as defense spending, because that’s really what it is.

If 2017 plays out as a year with few catastrophic wildfires, budgeters casting about for cuts will mistakenly believe that the wildland fire budget is overfunded and can safely be cut. That’s an easy mistake for someone sitting in Washington to make, especially those with a small-government philosophy and a bias against climate-change data.

But one strong argument against transferring those lands to the states is the problem of firefighting. Local agencies can’t do it. A federal firefighting force will always be needed, and funding wildfire efforts on a federal level only makes sense. These wetter, safer years will be a time to work on prevention.

Congressional delegations from western states should push hard to ensure that the firefighting equipment is upgraded, firefighters are paid, and funding is in the bank for the next year of big fires.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2pd4LdO

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The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, April 26, on oil and gas drilling in urban areas:

The Denver Post recently opined on the need for greater compromise regarding oil and gas development in the state - especially in light of plans by public companies to ramp up drilling operations to the tune of $4 billion this year.

Garfield County commissioners have the opportunity to lead the way on what compromise looks like, but they’re off to a rocky start. They’re dealing with an issue more common on the Front Range - urban drilling.

Ursa Resources has begun drilling for natural gas in Battlement Mesa, an unincorporated development of several thousand residents near Parachute in Garfield County.

The company, to its credit, has undertaken site-specific measures - some voluntarily - to reduce impacts on residents who live near the well pads. As the Sentinel’s Dennis Webb reported in Tuesday’s paper, Ursa offered tours to participants of an energy symposium hosted by Garfield County and Colorado Mesa University’s Unconventional Energy Center to show how drilling can co-exist with residential life.

The company is using a smaller-than-normal rig, thus reducing its footprint. It’s also using a sound wall to muffle noise and downward hooded lights to reduce glare at night. It’s testing for air pollution, limiting noisy operations to certain hours and tapping electrical lines to limit use of diesel-powered generators, among other practices.

An Arapahoe county commissioner came away from the tour so impressed in Ursa’s investments that she wondered how the company could afford to drill.

Ursa clearly has worked hard to be a good neighbor and the company’s efforts should serve as a template to resolve conflicts when other large-scale operations are proposed in urban areas. But it’s only drilling in a residential area because the state is compelled to honor the property rights of mineral owners.

Ursa wants the county’s permission to pursue a wastewater injection well, too. It even makes a decent argument why this is a good idea: It would reduce the need to haul away groundwater produced by the wells. Less hauling would mean fewer truck trips through Battlement Mesa. It would also eliminate the need for another pad near the golf course.

But residents are largely opposed and that should be the end of the conversation. If compromise is the key to reducing conflicts, here’s the perfect opportunity. Garfield County commissioners have already approved a zoning change by a 2-1 vote, but have yet to approve a special-use permit for the well.

Commissioner Tom Jankovsky, who voted against the zoning change, has the right idea. He said he’s been a fairly strong supporter of oil and gas development in the county, and the county’s decision to let Ursa drill in Battlement Mesa reflected the fact that mineral rights are a property right.

“There are not property rights for injection wells,” he said.

Battlement Mesa residents have put up with a lot - no matter how innovative and accommodating Ursa has been.

Whether an injection well actually serves to reduce impacts from traffic should take a back seat to whether the people of Battlement Mesa want one in their backyard. They’ve earned the right to say no to yet another development-related imposition.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2p5b5nh

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The Greeley Tribune, April 22, on addressing homelessness among veterans:

As a country, we’re failing our military veterans.

From suicides to a high unemployment rate and a frustratingly persistent problem with homelessness, far too many of those who served us are not being served by us when they need help.

Despite heroic work by many, that’s as true in northern Colorado as it across the country.

Recently, charitable agencies in Weld and Larimer counties have begun to work together collaboratively to tackle the issue of homelessness among vets in the region. The group started its effort this past year. In a little more than 12 months, the organization identified 261 homeless veterans in Weld and Larimer. They’ve managed to find places for 121 of them. From January through March this year, the group identified 43 homeless veterans and managed to house 28 of them.

We’re glad to see many organizations in Weld trying to help veterans. The effort to coordinate services across county lines is a big step, and it’s worthy of praise. Events such as the Veterans Stand Down Days, which bring together a host of services for veterans in need, offer an excellent example of some of the meaningful work that’s being done.

But overall, as a society, the issue of homelessness among veterans highlights just how far we’ve fallen short. As a country, we’ve made the choice numerous times in living memory to send our soldiers to war, but we haven’t made the choice to adequately take care of them when they return.

Of course, the problem of homelessness among veterans is complex, as it is for all those who are homeless. Many factors contribute to it, and not all homeless veterans served in combat. But veterans - probably more than their counterparts in the rest of society - often don’t want to ask for help. They feel ashamed, or afraid. They’ve been trained to take care of themselves.

Still when veterans do seek help, they often don’t know about the resources available to them. Many veterans also say the military that trains them for war doesn’t do a good job of preparing them to re-enter civilian life.

At its core, though, the pervasive problem of homelessness among veterans has its roots in another of our national failings: our inability to address mental health. Not all veterans who are homeless - and not all homeless people - have untreated mental illnesses. But many do. That’s especially true for veterans. Many are dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. But even veterans who didn’t come home with a mental or physical injury can find mental health issues cropping up once they’ve returned. In fact, the assumption a veteran might have PTSD or might be close to “losing it” can cause its own problems. Veterans often feel an acute sense of isolation. That can start its own vicious cycle.

We’re thankful for all the work so many do to help our veterans. But more must be done. In particular, the federal government must do more - and invest more - to solve this problem. The resources must be made available to ensure all veterans learn how to successfully re-enter civilian life after they’ve served their country. And they must know what resources await them should they need help. We also must ensure mental health care is available for veterans and for all Americans.

Beyond that, though, we must be mindful each time we consider military action of the long-term costs. It’s worth noting many veterans who are homeless today served during the Vietnam War, which ended more than four decades ago. It’s a good bet 40 years from now many soldiers who are returning today from America’s far-flung combat zones will still need our help.

We must ensure they have it.

Editorial: https://bit.ly/2pA9Tda

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