The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, July 18, on much-needed jail work being on the horizon:
It took a class-action lawsuit filed by inmates alleging overcrowding at the old Mesa County jail for a new one to get built in 1992.
When the new jail opened at the site of its current location, it featured 192 beds. A quarter-century later, the jail’s average daily population current hovers around 586 inmates.
Jail personnel have gotten creative in making the most of space. The jail’s capacity today is actually 611 beds, thanks to a reorganization and the addition of a dormitory. But it’s clear that an expansion is needed and it’s not going to take a lawsuit to make it happen.
We’re seeing a renaissance of law and order in Mesa County, with both the Mesa County Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s office making use of voter-approved funds earmarked for public safety to tackle crime in a more proactive manner.
The jail is certainly part of that equation. The long-term goal of any public safety campaign is to reduce crime by aggressively policing for it and prosecuting it. Eventually, this pro-active approach should lead to a decrease in jail population numbers. But in the interim, jail stays might actually lengthen if local officials succeed in targeting the worst offenders.
That’s already a complicating factor in the jail’s surging population. More than 90 percent of the inmates in the jail this week were being held on felony charges. The jail isn’t just nearing capacity, it’s disproportionately brimming with people accused of more violent crimes. Those cases take longer to work through the system, which means people considered less dangerous are often released on bond after their initial arrest.
A crowded jail poses hardships for everyone involved. Inmates going through alcohol or opioid withdrawal may not get the attention they need. Detention personnel are overwhelmed with a higher-than-average officer-inmate ratio. Despite an increase in full-time detention jobs - thanks to the 0.37 percent sales-tax hike that Mesa County voters approved in November - there are still about 32 inmates in the Mesa County Jail for every security deputy. That puts Mesa County near the top of list of the most overburdened large jails in the state.
But county leaders are prepared to invest in two more pods, each with 80 beds, and a medical observation unit. In May, commissioners approved a contract with an architectural firm for design engineering work on an expansion. As the Sentinel’s Gabrielle Porter reported Sunday, it will be several months before designs begin or before the sheriff’s office has an idea of a building timeline or costs for the addition.
Ultimately, the best way to fight crime is to be a prosperous community with access to good jobs, good education and upward mobility. Part of achieving that is to have a coordinated law enforcement presence. With a commitment to improving the jail, local officials are taking one more step in the right direction.
The Denver Post, July 17, on Denver’s housing crisis:
Welcome to the Mile High City where rents are as high as the elevation and homeownership is soaring out of reach. But it’s a really nice place to live if you can afford it.
Mayor Michael Hancock was right to focus much of his State of the City address Monday on the economic pressures felt by those who call Denver home.
“I believe our progress must be measured by the intangibles,” Hancock told a crowd inside the brand new Carla Madison Recreation Center. “What changes lives, builds up people: social justice, access to opportunity and promoting equity in our communities, particularly in times of prosperity. That is the full measure of a city on the rise. That has been my administration’s mission over the last seven years.”
It’d be easy as the mayor of a boom town to focus on the tangibles - after all Hancock’s administration is rolling out $937 million in public improvement projects over the next 10 years. The voter approved, property- tax-funded bond issues will mean new recreation centers, expanded libraries, more bike lanes, connective pedestrian bridges and paved roads.
Much more difficult is solving the ongoing displacement of longtime Denver residents and low-income families because of rapid gentrification. In fact it’s a nearly impossible task. Experts on affordable housing frequently note that no city can really claim success on the issue.
Hancock’s administration knows that first hand.
In 2016 Hancock launched the new Office of Housing and Opportunities for People Everywhere (HOPE). We were cautiously optimistic about the move but a year after Denver hired a director for the office he resigned and HOPE was absorbed into another department.
This year Hancock announced the start of yet another new program with an equally catchy acronym: the Neighborhood Equity and Stabilization Team (NEST). It sounds promising. Each neighborhood in Denver has its own unique challenges and the city will put boots on the ground to meet those needs.
Time will tell if it’ll be effective; obviously, we hope so.
And the mayor is putting money toward the effort too, asking that $150 million in marijuana tax revenue over the next 10 years be added to the city’s affordable housing fund.
We supported the initial dedication of $150 million a year in property taxes to affordable housing. Results from the initial investment have yet to be seen - it’s too early - but Hancock makes a compelling case for bumping up spending immediately while acknowledging the city cannot build its way out of the housing crisis.
“Through our partnership with Denver Housing Authority we are taking a more measured and appropriate approach,” Hancock told us Tuesday. “This will allow DHA to expand their current developments so we can deliver on units faster. They are ready for construction.”
Hancock undoubtedly will be accused of simply bowing to political pressure on this issue; he faces some serious challengers in 2019 who accuse the mayor of not only being lackluster when it comes to relieving the pressures of gentrification but of actually turning up the heat on neighborhoods with his developer friendly administration.
But this board has been following Hancock’s dedication to equity since 2012 with the launch of a large gentrification study, annual housing summits in Denver and eventually the very successful Denver day labor program.
The reality is, unfortunately, that this current housing crisis is so intractable those efforts haven’t been enough.
The Gazette, July 16, on Colorado Springs mayor signing ‘Fix Our Damn Roads’ petition:
Mayor John Suthers last week signed a petition for the “Fix Our Damn Roads” ballot measure, which would fund swift improvements to Colorado highways without a tax increase.
Voters would force the state to bond $3.5 billion to fund widening of I-25 and a list of other critical highway and bridge construction, maintenance and repair projects identified as most critical by the Colorado Department of Transportation.
State leaders, in a rush to fund Medicaid and other non-essential government programs, have neglected transportation for decades. While doubling state spending, transportation funding remains static. The Legislature spent 10 percent of the budget on roads a decade ago, and today spends about 6 percent.
The public understands the political dynamics that led to this. State politicians have an insatiable appetite for taxpayer money. They claim poverty, even when the economy generates a billion-dollar revenue surplus. By allowing roads and bridges to crumble, politicians assume taxpayers will agree to a tax increase for transportation.
That is why another proposed ballot measure, promoted by the Denver Chamber of Commerce, seeks a 21 percent increase in the state sales tax to fund transportation.
If voters pass the Denver proposal, Colorado Springs will have among the highest combined sales tax rate in the country. Meanwhile, the tax increase would be of little use to the Springs or surrounding region. About 45 percent of the money would pay for transit and bike paths, or get diverted for special interest projects in select cities and counties.
“Instead of $50 million, we’d get about $18 million for local roads,” Suthers told The Gazette.
Suthers last week urged the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Corporation to oppose the Denver Chamber’s tax increase, and support Fix Our Damn Roads.
The Colorado Legislative Council estimates the recent federal tax cuts will generate nearly $900 million in new annual revenue for Colorado by 2024. If voters pass Fix Our Damn Roads, that surplus will help pay for transportation. If they don’t, we can expect state politicians to spend it on an assortment of other, non-essential government programs.
Fix Our Damn Roads is likely to pass, if it gets on the ballot. A Magellan Strategies survey of likely voters found 73 percent support the measure, and only 20 percent oppose it.
The challenge is getting enough petition signatures.
Petition gatherers are increasingly unwelcome at summer public events. Organizers of the Greeley Stampede ordered them to leave Island Grove Park and the streets and sidewalks in and around it. Successful liberal civil rights attorney David Lane will represent the Independence Institute, which promotes Fix Our Damn Roads, in a lawsuit against the Stampede.
Lane and the institute are likely to succeed. State and federal courts consistently place the right to petition above authority of private parties leasing public property for private events. Lane successfully represented the institute in a petition-related lawsuit that cost state government hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.
Voters need options for correcting our transportation infrastructure. Toward that end, registered voters should look for Fix Our Damn Roads petitions and sign them. Supporters can also help ensure this makes the ballot by donating to the petition drive at: https://www.freedomfy.com/projects/fix-our-damn-roads .
Our highways and bridges are a dangerous mess. Let’s ensure voters have an option to fix them that doesn’t raise taxes.
Coloradoan, July 12, on Fort Collins needing to ban plastic bags:
The plastic drinking straw appears to be headed toward extinction. Single-use plastic bags shouldn’t be far behind.
As reported by Jacob Laxen in a recent Coloradoan story, a few Fort Collins businesses are moving away from providing plastic straws with their icy drinks or choosing to switch to straws made from biodegradable material.
Starbucks has announced it will do away with plastic straws at its 28,000 stores worldwide by 2020.
In terms of overall pollution associated with plastics, that’s a small but positive change. The world is realizing how long certain types of plastic litter hang around and pollute the environment before breaking down.
For a polypropylene plastic straw, it’s about 200 years.
It’s time for another change. The Coloradoan editorial board supports a ban on single-use plastic bags in Fort Collins in the name of environmental stewardship.
We can already hear the groans of city staff, council members and residents over the prospect of going through another battle over plastic bags. The last was just four years ago over a proposed fee on disposable bags.
It was long, emotional fight that resulted in the council repealing an ordinance it approved that imposed a 5-cent fee on all single-use paper and plastic bags. The repeal came after a citizens group opposed to the fee collected enough signatures on petitions to force council to reconsider its action.
The council faced a choice of repealing the fee or putting it on the ballot for voters to decide. Given the resistance to the proposal, council members went with a repeal. At the time, members said they didn’t care to talk about bag fees, taxes or bans again.
That was then; this is now. It’s time to take another look at the plastic bag issue.
While we doubt the current council has time or interest in revisiting plastic bags, we think it would be worth a discussion leading up to the council election in April 2019. Perhaps a bag ban would be a topic for council candidates to take up as a campaign issue.
The city’s 2014 proposal for a bag fee came after two years of staff research on the topic and various proposals for administering a fee program. The final version and the structure for collecting and distributing fee revenue was overly complicated, the victim of council members trying to appease residents, businesses and trade associations. In the end, no one was happy.
The next proposal, if it happens, should be kept simple: Just ban single-use plastic bags.
It would be good for the planet and its waterways, which are awash in plastic garbage, and save precious space in the local landfill, although admittedly not much.
Bans on bags have been implemented around the country and the world, reducing litter and causing no dire consequences. In Colorado, Aspen, Carbondale, Avon, and Telluride banned plastic bags and imposed taxes or fees on paper bags. Boulder, Breckenridge and Nederland have 10-cent fees on plastic bags.
In 2014, city staff estimated 52 million disposable bags were used each year in Fort Collins, with 60 percent of plastic bags distributed by grocery stores.
We would prefer stores take voluntary steps toward ending the practice of distributing plastic bags, but we don’t see that coming any time soon from major retailers. Until the market and public demand a change, Fort Collins would do well to take a leadership position by taking legislative steps to promote a sharp reduction in the distribution of plastic bags.
The impact on shoppers need not be dramatic: It’s just a matter of changing habits. Grocery retailers already encourage customers to take advantage of reusable bags made of cloth or other sturdy materials. A few don’t supply bags or charge customers for them.
Individual actions are making a difference, too. Plastic bags have become relatively easy to recycle in Fort Collins, either through collection bins at stores or at the city’s recycling center on Timberline Drive. The recycling center handles an average of 2,000 pounds of “film” plastic every month, according to the city, and the amount is growing.
We understand that many people get more than a single use from a plastic bag. They line trash cans at home or pick up after their pets with bags picked up at the store. But we still see enough plastic bags blowing around town and littering public spaces to know more needs to be done to address the short- and long-term environmental impacts that stem from bags.
As a community, we can do better. If change can be stirred by plastic straws, it can happen with throwaway bags.
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