City of Colorado Springs Ballot Question 2C protects our parklands while still providing the ability to respond rapidly and cost effectively on opportunities to enhance our park system. Question 2C was placed on the ballot by the majority of City Council and protects our parks by adopting a City Charter requirement that a super-majority of seven of the nine council members must approve parkland exchanges. It does not require a costly election (up to $350,000), the alternative proposed in Question 2B.
When opportunity knocks for our parks, trails, and open spaces in Colorado Springs, it has always benefitted the citizens to be able to act quickly. When the City has exchanged parkland for other property it has increased acreage, created access to signature sites, improved connections, and expanded services to improve our parks, trails, and open spaces.
Most of us have taken visiting friends and family to the magnificent Garden of the Gods and its Visitor and Nature Center. The Center exists today because the City traded five acres from the Garden of the Gods Park and received 40 acres for the Mesa Valley Open Space. This exchange allowed the Visitor and Nature Center to be constructed – a center whose revenues provide support for the care of the incomparable Garden of the Gods Park. Question 2C would have allowed the transaction; Question 2B would have prohibited it without a costly election – if an election could even have been held quickly enough to make the deal. And 2C doesn’t allow out-of-state donors to try to buy an election.
The fact is our City takes its parkland decisions very seriously, taking to heart that this City was founded by General William Jackson Palmer on the expectation that our magnificent scenery and park spaces would be a central attraction of the City. Nearly 150 years later, our parks, trails, and open spaces continue to make our City one of the most desirable places to live, work, and play. In every case where the City traded any park land, it has always considered whether the trade would substantially enhance the park system.
Question 2C would protect against decisions in the City bureaucracy without imposing 2B’s costly election requirement on everyone's pocket book. In cases where the Parks Department has an opportunity to trade, an additional check and balance would be provided at the City Council level with a Charter Amendment requiring a public process and the affirmative votes of 7 of the 9 City Council members. This provides extra scrutiny, allows the City to seize opportunities, and saves money for the City and its citizens. The public process includes public meetings, the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Advisory Board, and open City Council meetings which all allow for public comment without asking the residents to fund an election for the same consideration.
This past June the two of us helped cut the ribbon on a new 9-mile loop trail in the Black Forest. After the 2013 fire burned through the area, destroying the trees that would have shaded the planned trail, a land swap was negotiated by the county that allowed much of the trail to pass through unburned shaded areas, providing another example of the type of transactions that sometimes need to be made to enhance our community’s trails.
That’s why Mayor John Suthers and groups like the Trails and Open Space Coalition, Visit COS, the Colorado Springs Chamber, and the volunteer citizens serving on the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Advisory Board, all support Question 2C as the preferred method to protect our City’s parks.
Susan Davies serves as the Executive Director of the Trails and Open Space Coalition which has championed trail, park and open space projects throughout the region for the past 33 years.
Wayne Williams is an at-large member of the Colorado Springs City Council and has helped add more than 2,800 acres to our community’s parks and open spaces.
Question 2C was placed on the ballot as a “spoiler” measure by City Council opponents of Question 2B which, if passed, would require voter approval for conveyances (i.e., sale, trade, etc.) of city-owned parkland to a private entity.
2C leaves approval of parkland conveyances firmly in the hands of the City Administration and Council. It does raise the bar for a parkland sale or trade from a 5-4 simple majority to a 7-2 super majority, but nothing else changes. Under the provisions of 2C, the citizens of Colorado Springs, who are the true owners of our parks, would have no more say in parkland conveyance matters than they do now.
Approval of 2C would also mean that the same powerful political and economic interests that can (and do) now influence land use and public land preservation decisions would continue to have essentially the same playing field – a small group of elected officials open to highly targeted influence and persuasion.
Arguments that 2C will give the city extra flexibility in making complex parkland deals and save the city the cost of special elections simply aren’t borne out by the experience of the vast majority of Colorado cities which have had voter protection of their parklands for years without problems. Whether under State Statue or provisions in their city charters, in the case of “home rule” cities, voter protection is the norm. As one city administrator in a neighboring city said, taking parkland conveyance decisions out of the hands of bureaucrats and politicians has kept us from doing “stupid stuff.” In fact, as noted in the “pro” statement above for Question 2B, Colorado Springs has a less than stellar history of parkland acquisition and conveyance decisions made by elected officials.
As also noted above, Colorado Springs itself has required voter protection for parkland and open space acquired through the voter-approved TOPS (Trails, Open Space and Parks) program. No TOPS-purchased properties can be sold without voter approval – and in the over twenty year history of the TOPS program this hasn’t been a problem for city management – and has been a plus for the citizens whose tax dollars bought the TOPS lands.
Proponents of Question 2C argue that in our system of “representative government” we entrust decision-making to our elected representatives. However, our system of government also comes with a number of checks, balances and constitutional safeguards for issues deemed too important to be left in the hands of politicians. In Colorado with the TABOR amendment to the state constitution (and city charter), we have determined that a tax increase has to be approved by the votes – not the elected representatives. A tax increase can be repealed, but parkland given away is parkland gone forever.
A final reason to vote “no” on 2C is that of the two “rival” parkland protection measures on this ballot – and even if both get more “yes” votes than “no” votes – only the one that gets the greatest number of “yes” votes will go into effect. Don’t let 2C be a spoiler for 2B – the real “Protect our Park” charter amendment.