December 18, 2017

Let the Legal Wrangling Begin: the Beltway Lawsuit Gets Underway

The beltway lawsuits is off to a colorful start ...

The first of the proceedings in the lawsuit challenging the beltway proposal kicked off last week with a hearing on the lawsuit schedule. Scheduling conferences are usually dull affairs, but Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar made it interesting: he made a highly unusual (perhaps unprecedented) bid to address the court as part of the hearing. It was a pretty strange move, since VIPs (even if they are cabinet secretaries) don’t usually get special opportunities to weigh in during legal proceedings, in addition to drawing even more attention to the backroom politics that have characterized the beltway and Rocky Flats issues from the beginning. Secretary Salazar withdrew his request before the judge ruled on it.

Check out the Denver Post article (“Jefferson Parkway opponents decry Salazar’s attempt to weigh in on court case“) for more details.

Golden, Superior, and two conservation groups (Rocky Mountain Wild and WildEarth Guardians) filed the lawsuit earlier this year, challenging the federal government’s attempt to sell land that is now part of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge for use as a toll highway. We

In the meantime, Golden resumed its discussions with beltway proponents about a potential agreement to the dispute. As far as I know, the City Council’s position hasn’t changed appreciably since January: a willingness to consider an agreement that truly protects Golden from transportation projects that might occur outside our city limits. One thing that has changed: Colorado seems to be moving more definitively toward a transportation funding regime that relies heavily on toll lanes and toll highways across the state. Councilor Fisher provided some useful context in his newsletter last week:

While it is quiet on the PR and communications front, Council is actively engaged in working with and expanding the conversation on a Beltway. At the same time, the changing landscape of Colorado road funding means big, big changes in how CDOT and surrounding counties look at transportation. Specifically, I’m starting to sense that Coloradans are about to see a lot of new toll and “managed” lanes in the state over the next 10 years on major roads like C470, I-70, and possibly highway 93 in sections.

The basic math is this: Nobody appears interested in paying taxes, so if any roads are going to be built or maintained it’ll require tolling. Unfortunately, we’re getting what we as a society have asked for. More to the point, however, it means there are a LOT more interested players in seeing roads in and around Golden and the Metro area affected and connected. I partially see it as our role to understand how not to get run over by this massive shift in road policy here in Colorado and ensure we do get the mitigations and protections that keep Golden connected as a single, small and unique community with safe, slow roads, pollution reduction, and neighborhood strengthening.

I strongly encourage everyone to keep an ear to the ground as this challenge continues to be on our radar even when it may appear to go on the back burner. It affects all of us, and the more folks aware and involved, the better the outcome we can craft.

Radio Golden #5: the beltway, Golden’s charter schools, tobacco, & more!

Episode 5 of Radio Golden is in the wild … I wasn’t able to join this time, but Pamela and Matt covered the beltway bill, what’s happening at the community garden, the tobacco regulation measure that City Council just passed, and more. They also had an interesting and provocative conversation with Jami Boarman, the principle of one of Golden’s public charter schools.

Radio Golden Episode #4: The “My Eminent Domain is Bigger Than Yours” edition, special guest Nathan Richie of the Golden History Museums, youth access to tobacco products, and more.

We published Episode #4 about a week ago. We had a great time, focusing mostly on the latest shenanigans and on a terrific interview with Golden History Museums director Nathan Richie.

We also experimented in this episode with a different format. In response to a listener suggestion (thanks Eric!), instead of a shorter episode with a separate extended interview, we recorded everything in a single podcast. The show is longer (about 50 minutes) but we didn’t break up our conversation with our guest. Let us know what you think!

On episode #4 you’ll hear:

  • 02:03 – Jeffco’s beltway shenanigans at the State Legislature
  • 14:21 – GURA’s new parking lot
  • 18:12 – Windy Saddle’s request for a liquor license for their outdoor seating
  • 22:35 – A conversation with Nathan Richie, the director of the Golden History Museums
  • 40:45 – Getting Involved
  • 44:00 – The Mailbox
  • 44:37 – Community Chatter

And here are some links related to some of the issues we brought up during podcast:

Jeffco’s Toll Highway Bill: DOA

This is the sort of thing I suspect Jeffco would like to build through Golden. Photo by Flickr user Hytok.

Breaking news in the beltway department: State Senator Betty Boyd and State Representative Vaad decided not to introduce their beltway bill. The bill, which was crafted and pushed by the Jefferson County Commissioners, would have created a super-powerful but unaccountable highway authority that could condemn any land it wanted in Golden in order to build their proposed toll superhighway. This was a wildly inappropriate piece of legislation written by some county commissioners who claim ideological integrity except when it’s inconvenient. It’s all the more ironic because the Jeffco commissioners claim to be such proponents of property rights and local control, yet here they were crafting and aggressively pushing a bill that was a blatant attack on both.

From my perspective, it’s unfortunate that we weren’t able to reach an agreement back in December with Jeffco, Arvada, and Broomfield (after months of intense negotiations). We came close, but they ultimately insisted on language that would have undermined Golden’s ability to protect itself from highway projects being forced on us. For me, and for the City Council at the time, that was a line we simply would not cross.

I’m very glad that Mayor Sloan, the City Council, and the City of Golden staff worked as hard as they did to kill this bill. A reasonable solution that respect’s everyone’s needs is one thing; a situation where some communities can force something on another community is something else. I continue to support an agreement that truly protects Golden, and I hope City Council continues to support this two-pronged strategy: work hard for a reasonable agreement, but fight hard against anything – like this bill – that places an unreasonable burden or risk on our community.

Councilor Fisher published a good newsletter post on this issue as well; it’s worth a read.

Radio Golden Episode #3: the Beltway Lawsuit, Jeffco’s Emergency Notification System, Downtown Liquor Licenses, and More

Radio Golden Episode #3 features an interview with the executive director of one of the environmental groups suing the federal government to stop the proposed toll highway north of Golden. We also cover Jeffco’s emergency notification system, Golden’s Community Wildfire Community Protection Plan, downtown Golden liquor licenses (and especially outdoor seating), and more. Check out the main podcast (Episode #3) and check out the extended interview with Josh Pollock.

The City Manager’s State of the City: 2012

City Manager Mike Bestor presented his annual “State of the City” address last week to the Chamber of Commerce. The short version of Mike’s talk: the city is in great shape.

He spent some time highlighting city efforts from last year that he was particularly proud of, including the Golden Police Department’s role in breaking open a very difficult multi-state serial rapist case (the rapist was recently sentenced to 327 1/2 years, an outcome for which GPD gets a lot of credit). His highlights included the USA Pro Cycling Challenge (40,000 visitors in Golden!), wrapping up the Golden Vision 2030 project, and the national recognition earned by multiple city departments (including the Parks and Recreation Department’s “Gold Medal” award).

He mentioned some issues that are likely to take some time later in the year, including medical marijuana, the beltway fight (“a legal rodeo that will go on most of this year”), and the Blue Ribbon Panel’s upcoming work on Golden’s economic future.

Nothing particularly controversial and no surprises.

Jefferson Tollway Negotiations End

Looking west over the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge area where the beltway proponents hope to build the Jefferson Parkway toll highway.

For two decades now, Golden has been fighting proposals to build a beltway through our community. We have been successful so far: there is no beltway plowing through Golden, and a couple of years ago CDOT set aside its own plan to push a six- or eight-lane high-speed superhighway through town. But the proponents – primarily Jefferson County, Arvada, and Broomfield – came up with an alternative plan to build a ten-mile toll highway north of Golden (not through Golden) using private investment dollars.

We’ve been fighting that proposal as well, but it’s much tougher for us to stop because it isn’t within our city limits and because it doesn’t directly rely on public funding. And, moreover, Golden has very real transportation challenges – congestion, air pollution, safety problems, highway noise – that we probably can’t solve while Golden is fighting with these other jurisdictions. In fact, Golden will experience substantial increases in traffic over the next couple of decades with or without the Jefferson Parkway. Golden’s own “Golden Plan” spells out our own vision for appropriate transportation improvements: four lanes limited to 45mph, strict noise limits, replacing traffic lights with grade separated interchanges (designed with pedestrians and bikes at the forefront). With improvements like these, even if the Jefferson Parkway is built, Golden will fare better than we are faring today, with less congestion, reduced noise and air pollution, dramatically improved safety for vehicles and everyone else, and improved connections between our western neighborhoods and the rest of town.

And because of the way transportation dollars are allocated, Golden almost certainly can’t get the improvements we need in town until we reach some sort of agreement with Jeffco, Arvada, and Broomfield. In other words, we can keep fighting the Jefferson Parkway, but it’s a tough fight to win and doing so basically precludes us from getting the improvements we actually want. This has been our basic dilemma as a community for a long time.

Last February, City Council unanimously adopted an updated position on the Jefferson Parkway based on an intensive three-month community input process. A majority of the community supported striving for an agreement to end the dispute but only if the protections for Golden were much stronger. That’s the position Golden took: the city would be willing to drop its opposition to the Jefferson Parkway (but not the beltway) if, in return, Golden gets the improvements we need and the protections we deserve.

After an intensive negotiation process spanning many months now, we came close to reaching an agreement that we felt would truly protect Golden from the impacts of growth and development north of town. But ultimately we were unable to agree on provisions we believed would protect Golden from tolling or lane widening being forced on us. An agreement that might result in tolling or lane-widening being forced through town has always been unacceptable.

We appreciate the Governor’s effort to help these neighboring communities resolve a multi-decade dispute, and we appreciate the effort everyone – Jeffco, Arvada, Broomfield, CDOT, and the facilitator – put in to try and get there. But in the end we were unable to reach terms that worked for everyone.

We will continue taking the steps we believe necessary to protect Golden, but we remain open to a continued discussion with our neighbors about a solution that truly meets the needs of all of the communities. I also believe that it’s time for a major update to the Golden Plan (which was first adopted as the Muller Plan in 2003), and I am encouraging the new City Council to kick off a community process for doing just that in 2012. This will be a chance for everyone to think through what improvements we want and how to prioritize them.

I would have been pleased to reach an agreement that ended two decades of war between neighboring jurisdictions before my term ended; the fight is expensive, it limits our ability to make the improvements we need, and it makes it very difficult for Jefferson County communities to collaborate on other important issues. I still believe a good agreement would be better for all of the communities involved. But I have no qualms rejecting something that doesn’t truly protect Golden.

This will remain a very challenging issue for our community. The proponents are not likely to give up their tollway ambitions, and growth and traffic increases in northern Jefferson County are going to impact Golden regardless of whether the Jefferson Parkway is built. I wish the new Council the very best of luck in navigating between less-than-ideal options, and I look forward to contributing as a member of the Golden community to the discussions we will no doubt continue to have in the years ahead.

Jefferson Tollway Update

Councilor Bob Vermeulen posted an update to his email list. I’ll just repost it here. We’ll have more information next week.

All,

As you all know by now, the past number of months Golden, Jefferson County, Arvada, Broomfield and CDOT have attempted to negotiate the terms of an agreement to address future traffic impacts on state highways within the City of Golden, in the context of the Jefferson Tollway. The parties strived to reach agreement on specific terms but were unable to do so. While unsuccessful in the short term, the Parties have outlined a roadmap that may be useful in the future.

We have some very real time lines that we are bumping up against with the transfer of the right of way along Indiana looming in January. Council will need to decide how best to protect the city very quickly. As always, as soon as I can share any information I will get it out.

One idea that came out of the process the past 12 months is that we may need to update our vision for transportation in and through Golden. I believe we will explore updating the “Golden Plan” over the next year and set strong priorities for the traffic mitigations and how we want future improvements to look for the near and long term.

This process hasn’t been easy and we know that we alarmed many in the community with our announcement of a possible agreement. It is always our priority to get the information out as soon as possible and that will mean at times we may need to backtrack or have nothing to present. I would rather we have these occasional stumbles than withhold information at any time.

That is all for right now, more information will come out over the next week and months to come. I am proud of our mayor and city manager for they have fought and protected Golden in the most honorable manner and they never forgot our core principles as a community.

Enjoy your time with loved ones over the Holidays and I look forward to serving the community in 2012.

Bob

Special City Council Meeting on the Beltway, December 15

As we reported at the City Council meeting on Thursday night and widely by email and web on Friday, last Thursday afternoon we reached agreement on general terms with the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority jurisdictions and the Colorado Department of Transportation about the Golden Plan for transportation improvements in town and about the Jefferson Parkway. The agreement would implement the direction that City Council unanimously adopted in February after a three-month intensive community input process: much stronger funding assurances (funding for the first three Golden Plan projects before JPPHA is permitted to break ground), agreement with CDOT on Golden’s design principles, non-complete protections, dust mitigation obligations near Rocky Flats, and agreement to collaboratively explore funding options for all of the other Golden Plan projects (especially rebuilding the rest of the intersections).

This agreement is much stronger than what we considered back in February and consistent with what we heard from a majority of Golden residents: an agreement would be a good move if it provides stronger funding assurances and stronger protections for Golden.

Is it perfect? Of course not. Does it have trade-offs and risks? Of course it does. All of our options have flaws and trade-offs. But based on the extensive community process earlier this year, the community and City Council clearly said that a stronger agreement was a better option than litigation (leaving our fate in the hands of a judge, as Councilor Sloan put it).

We expected that the attorneys would complete the writing of the final agreement yesterday, but that didn’t happen so we will not consider or decide on the agreement at the special City Council meeting on Thursday night (and, contrary to one of CINQ’s many colorful rumors, of course City Council won’t vote on an agreement that isn’t written yet). We will still have the Council meeting, however, and brief the community on the status of the negotiations, describe the agreement, and listen to public comment. Assuming the lawyers can work out final language that does what we expect it to do, we’ll probably have another Council meeting near the end of the year to review, listen to public comment, and make a decision. I will share with you the final agreement language and the timeframe as soon as I have them.

The deadline for the agreement is basically the end of the year (there may be a little wiggle room on the exact date). There is a separate open space protection deal taking place, which amounts to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service transfering the right-of-way on the east side of the Refuge to the highway authority in exchange for a key piece of open space and wildlife habitat on the southwest side. Golden isn’t a party to that other deal, but our agreement is contingent on it. Because a key appraisal tied to that open space acquisition increases by $1 million on January 1, if they don’t close that transaction by December 31 the entire agreement falls apart.

I’ve been an ardent, aggressive opponent of the beltway for a long time. We have worked extremely hard to keep the beltway out of Golden while also advancing our vision for appropriate transportation improvement – the Golden Plan – to protect Golden from the traffic increases that will occur with or without the Jefferson Parkway. If there were a reliable strategy for killing the beltway and securing the improvements we need in Golden, I’d support it. There isn’t. We can litigate, but that comes with huge and serious risks. We might win, and might delay or kill the Jefferson Parkway, but we wouldn’t be any closer to funding the projects in town that so many neighborhoods need, and losing a legal fight would have serious long-term consequences. Fighting the legal fight, win or lose, would have serious long-term consequences as well, for that matter.

There are real risks with an agreement, as well. An agreement removes a hurdle for construction of the Jefferson Parkway (although it adds one, as well, the $57 million required to build our first three projects). Even with the strongest possible enforcement mechanism (and this one has a strong mechanism), somewhere down the line the other parties might find a way to renege on the agreement.

In other words, our options all have very real trade-offs and risk. And the community spoke very clearly in the first part of the year: if we can’t reach a strong agreement, we should take the fight to court, but if we can that’s a better option than litigation. City Council took that seriously, and we negotiated an agreement that we believe meets the principles we adopted in February. If the final agreement – when the attorneys are finished – does what we expect, we’ll have an agreement that I believe is worth supporting. If not, then we won’t support it.

Golden is home. I will live with the outcome of this fight just like everyone else in town will. Contrary to another one of the colorful rumors that CINQ is circulating, I’ve not been offered a job by Governor Hickenlooper and I’m not interested in working for him or any other political figure of any kind. My exclusive focus is on what I believe best serves Golden’s interests, which is my responsibility and obligation as mayor. I also care a great deal about what happens because Golden is and will remain my home for a long time.

Councilor Fisher and Councilor Sloan wrote thoughtful comments about the agreement. I encourage you to read them.

We’ve posted a more detailed explanation of the agreement on the City’s GetTheFactsGolden web site. I encourage you to review it. I and the rest of the City Council welcome your feedback and your questions, and if you can join us on Thursday evening at this special City Council meeting (beginning at 7pm at City Hall), please do so, or send in your thoughts by email.

Council Considers Agreement to End Jefferson Parkway Fight

After another long negotiating session yesterday, Golden, the Colorado Department of Transportation, and the Jefferson Parkway jurisdictions reached a tentative agreement to end the two decade-long beltway fight. We’ve got details up on the city’s web site.

City Council will be considering and probably voting on the potential agreement at a special meeting on December 15. Please review the information on the site (and we’ll post more details as soon as we can) and share your thoughts in writing before or in person on the 15th.