October 19, 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.

The June 7 City Council Meeting Agenda and Other Upcoming Events

June 1, First Friday Street Fair
It’s summertime in Golden … from 5 – 10pm in historic downtown Golden you’ll find inexpensive food, beer, music, kid-friendly entertainment, horse-drawn carriage rides, and more.

June 2, Coffee With a Councilor
You’ll find City Councilors from District 1 (South Golden), including Saoirse Charis-Graves and other members of the City Council at Read, Write and Brew starting at 9 a.m. It’s a great informal opportunity to chat with your City Council representatives about issues on the City Council agenda or whatever else is on your mind.

June 7, City Council Business Meeting
City Hall at 7 p.m. The agenda tentatively includes Economic Development Commission and Community Marketing Fund Stakeholder Committee appointments, design of the city’s new official flag, and potential changes to the rules on special permits for animals. You can view the agenda about a week before the meeting and watch the live screencast on the city’s website.

June 14, City Council Business Meeting
City Hall at 7 p.m.

June 22, Golden Schools Foundation First Annual Golf Tournament
This fundraiser for Golden Schools Foundation is up at Fossil Trace with breakfast and registration starting at 6:30am and the shotgun start at 7:30am.

Through June 29, U.S. 6 Closure
U.S. 6 through Clear Creek Canyon is closed now every Sunday night through Friday morning for a fiber optic cable installation and work on rockfall issues. The project is scheduled to run through June 29.

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.

Golden Companies Win Awards, and a FasTracks Train Test on the West Corridor

RTD photo.

Mayor Sloan wrote about a few things of interest in her newsletter on Friday:

  • Kudos to ERA and PharmaJet, two Golden-based companies that were recognized with Industry Awards by the Jefferson County Economic Development Commission.
  • The Golden Public Library’s One Book, One Golden program featuring the Craig Barnes book “Growing Up True: Lessons of a Western Boyhood.”
  • A shout-out to city staff by 3GL.
  • The first test run of a light rail train car on the West Corridor.

Check out Marjorie’s website for the full update (and photos of the light rail car!).

Legislature Kills Max Tyler’s Bill to Prohibit Non-Compete Agreements

Should "congestion guarantees" for toll road investors be legal? (Photo by Flickr user Joming Lau.)


Among the many problems with privately financed toll roads is the frequent inclusion of congestion guarantees. The investors often insist that local governments take steps to increase congestion on local roads in order to push traffic onto the tolled roads in order to boost toll revenues. It’s a great deal for the investors but often a lousy deal for local residents. The agreement between the Northwest Parkway Public Highway Authority and Brisa (the Spanish company that bought out the Northwest Parkway, saving it from bankruptcy), for instance, requires Broomfield to compensate Brisa for any revenue lost as a result of Broomfield building or improving local roads within its own city boundaries. If they build or improve a road that gives their local traffic any sort of improved alternative to the Northwest Parkway, they’ll have to pay Brisa for every vehicle that uses it even if improving or building that road would have been good for Broomfield residents. And because the agreements often last decades (99 years in Broomfield’s case), communities with congestion guarantees are often saddled with restrictions like these for generations.

Golden’s representative in the Colorado State House, Max Tyler, introduced a bill this session to prohibit the use of “non-compete agreements,” which is one of way creating a congestion guarantee. As Representative Tyler explained in his newsletter, “For the proposed Jefferson Parkway, for example, this bill would have made sure that local governments would still have the option of improving Highway 93, as well as Indiana and McIntyre.” Despite his best efforts, however, the Republicans on the Transportation Committee voted against the bill and it died on a party line vote. Jefferson County opposed the bill.

City Council’s Retreat: Setting the Agenda for 2012-2013

The first priority on City Council's list for 2012-2013 is supporting Golden's schools and libraries.


The Golden City Council held its biannual retreat earlier in February, focusing on their work plan for the next two years. They identified nine general areas they want to focus on: (1) supporting Golden’s schools and libraries; (2) improving public space; (3) promoting a healthy community; (4) moving the ball forward on key transportation issues; (5) strengthening Golden’s neighborhoods; (6) fostering a strong relationship with Colorado School of Mines; (7) supporting a strong economy; (8) improving on the city’s capital improvement plan; and (9) meeting the city’s sustainability goals. It’s a great list but also a pretty expansive one, and I’m looking forward to learning more about how Council is planning to prioritize among those goals.

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.