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A group of centrist political strategists have moved into Colorado with the aim of installing enough independent lawmakers into power in next year’s elections to deny political parties a majority in the state legislature.

The Centrist Project, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that began by dedicating its resources to the U.S Senate, is now expanding its attention to the state level and recently transported its headquarters to Denver.  

With Republicans holding a one-seat majority in the Colorado Senate, and Democrats holding the House by 9, The Centrist Project sees fertile ground here for disruption. If just a handful of unaffiliated candidates gain seats in the legislature, the balance of power could shift to them.

That’s important, says project director Nick Troiano, because once elected, these independent lawmakers “wouldn’t be beholden to a small fraction of the base of their party or to leadership, but would be free to lead and help broker common ground agreements.”

Dartmouth professor and Centrist Project founder Charles Wheelan calls this the “Fulcrum Strategy,” which he laid out in his 2013 book  “The Centrist Manifesto.”

In Colorado, the group is looking to target at least five specific House and Senate districts. Staffers have been doing research here since last November’s legislative elections. Working out of a co-working space in downtown Denver, the Centrist Project staff of about a dozen has already reached out to hundreds of potential candidates across the state so far, Troiano told The Colorado Independent. He says the project’s largest donors come from its leadership team, and it accepts individual contributions.

The plan is to recruit, endorse, help fund, and offer campaign support to unaffiliated candidates, and then run them as a slate. While centrist efforts have popped up nationally before— think Unity08 or No Labels—  2018 will be the first time a national group makes a concerted effort to draft unaffiliated candidates into the Colorado legislature. Those candidates, Troiano says, will agree to seek common ground, follow the facts where they lead when voting on legislation, be pro-growth while fiscally and environmentally responsible, and socially tolerant.

Most importantly, though, they must be viable.

“Unlike sort of fringe third parties, we’re not here to make a lot of noise and just make sure someone gets on the ballot— we’re here to win elections,” Troiano says. “So we’re very specific about the kind of person and the kind of district that is able to win. Because this whole movement doesn’t go forward unless people believe in it and that it can produce actual elected officials.”

Colorado, whose electorate is nearly evenly split among Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters, has never seen an unaffiliated legislative candidate run and win, even though the state’s largest voting population chooses not to identify with a political party. As with most things in politics, the ability to raise money— especially without the support of major party machinery— often plays a role.

In last year’s legislative elections, Al White, a Republican from rural Colorado, dropped his party affiliation to run against a sitting GOP state senator named Randy Baumgardner. White was no local gadfly or crank, either. He previously won races for the Colorado House and Senate. He never saw himself as someone to cowtow to leadership and he bucked his party when he felt doing so would benefit his district.

“The concept of being able to serve independent of party influence or partisan influence was really attractive to me,” he says about it now.

But while bolting from his party to run as an independent certainly drew attention it didn’t draw dollars. Not even from some of his Republican friends.

“What I found was the guys that had given me literally thousands of dollars in the past in campaigns wouldn’t even return a call for a few hundred bucks,” White says about his aborted indy run. It became clear quickly he wouldn’t gain financial traction in the donor world and he didn’t want to self-fund his effort. So he dropped out.

White says he hasn’t heard from anyone at The Centrist Project yet, but he approves of what they’re trying to do.

“I think it’s time for something along those lines and I think Colorado is really perfect for it,” he told The Independent.

For such a strategy to to work here, though, it would likely have to be well-funded and smartly focused, says David Flaherty, CEO of Magellan Strategies, whose public affairs and polling firm has researched the state’s unaffiliated voters.

“Depending on their resources, I believe it’s completely possible,” he says of The Centrist Project effort.

Flaherty pointed to a survey his firm conducted in April showing 63 percent of voters in Colorado do not believe the Republican Party understands them, and 60 percent say the same about the Democratic Party.

“What is constant and has been there for years in our surveys among likely general election voters is the fact that, without question, the will is there for a middle way,” Flaherty told The Independent. “I would not rule it out at all.”

One of the reasons The Centrist Project chose Colorado as its testing ground is because research shows it has the most polarized legislature in the nation.

But University of Denver political scientist Seth Masket points out in his own research that hyperpolarization in state legislatures doesn’t always mean gridlock like it might at the national level. In Colorado, in particular, a narrative that emerged immediately after the latest legislative session, which ended in May, was one of bipartisanship, compromise and productivity— at least in comparison with the most previous sessions. One major reason was fresh leadership blood in both chambers.

Still, at the close of the session, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper floated the idea of dragging lawmakers back to Denver because of big-ticket issues that went unaddressed, specifically the state’s tangled transportation woes and the fate of Colorado’s energy office.

Troiano points to that as one reason to angle for a more moderating influence at the Statehouse

Masket, however, offered a contrarian take.

If the Fulcrum Strategy takes hold in Denver, it would empower new independents with quite a bit of leverage to negotiate with the other parties, he says. But it also could create quite a bit of chaos.

“If no one knows which party is in charge at any given time— if you have one member who is essentially in a position to cut deals with one of the parties over whom they’re going to vote for for the chamber leadership— it makes it a lot harder to predict how the chamber is going to behave, it makes it harder to work through compromises with the other chamber,” Masket says. “I think there’s just as much possibility that it creates a less functional legislature.”

Regardless, the perennial bellwether of Colorado will at least provide yet another test tube for the nation in 2018 with how this effort’s fortunes play out.

“The mission of The Centrist Project is to be a catalyst for bringing both sides back together to address the really large and long-term challenges facing our communities, our state, and our country,” Trioano says. “We see Colorado as having both a need and an opportunity to prove that’s possible.”

Why Colorado could use a big drought.

Without the conservation ethos embraced by other states, Colorado will run out of water in 2050.

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There’s nothing like a drought to turn everyone’s attention to water conservation.

Colorado’s last major drought was from 2001 to 2002. It wasn’t the length of the drought that was striking, but the extreme lack of rain and snowpack – so bad that one writer referred to it as a 300-year event.

That drought triggered discussions on how Coloradans should conserve water, as well as new laws that eventually led to the formation of statewide roundtables – groups representing water providers, cities, towns and counties, as well as environmental, recreational and agricultural users – that focused on Colorado’s water future.

“There was tangible willingness of ordinary people to listen to what we were trying to say about water use,” says Russ George, a former Speaker of the House from Rifle who currently serves as chair of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the state agency charged with coming up with Colorado’s first statewide water plan.

But that was then – a two-year surge in Coloradans’ water conservation consciousness that waned when snow and rain levels started returning to normal. Though Colorado has proven in the past that it can save water, it has yet to embrace, long-term, many of the tools that have framed a conservation mindset in neighboring states to the southwest. The ethos is born of the kind of thirst that Colorado hasn’t experienced for 15 years. But that thirst is looming over the next three decades, driven both by climate change and population growth. The state’s population is expected to grow from about 5.5 million in 2016 to as many as 10 million people by 2050.

Colorado’s first statewide water plan, released in 2015, was spurred by that looming shortage. Chief among its talking points is conservation, the idea that at least part of the solution to the state’s future water woes lies in encouraging everyone to use less water. When Gov. John Hickenlooper ordered the creation of the water plan in 2013, he famously said that “every conversation about water has to start with conservation.”

Just a few months later, however, he vetoed a bill championed by conservationists to leave more water in the Colorado River. The bill, aimed at requiring agriculture to move to more water-efficient irrigation, drew opposition from the farming and ranching community and from water providers. Conservationists called Hickenlooper’s veto “a failure to lead.” Hickenlooper said that deciding to veto the bill was a “close call,” but added that the lack of consensus that divided the water community would have made implementing the policy too difficult.

The water plan sets a lofty goal for conservation. It calls for cities, towns and businesses statewide to cut annual usage by some 400,000 acre-feet of water, enough to supply water to about eight million people per year. But, the plan lacks a clear, measurable path forward to achieve it.

John Stulp, the state’s water czar who was instrumental in helping put the plan together, said the conservation target is a “stretch” goal, meaning it’s aspirational rather than a hard and fast number. He also pointed out that the goal didn’t come from the water plan itself, but rather from water providers. It’s up to those providers, he said, to figure out how to conserve that water. Colorado’s local control laws often block the state from telling local governments what to do. That, Stulp said, applies to water, too.

Becky Mitchell, who leads water supply planning at the CWCB, said the state is taking more of a carrot approach in working with local governments on conservation. Since 2010, a state law has required that water providers develop water efficiency plans. Some 95 percent of water utilities and companies are doing so annually (the other 5 percent, very small water providers, aren’t required to develop those plans). The data collected from these plans will help the state in its water supply planning for the future, according to the CWCB website.

Two years into the process of implementing the water plan, Stulp said it’s still too early to come up with definitive conservation numbers that water providers would have to meet. He’s hoping that the data from the water efficiency plans will help the CWCB come up with those numbers.

Stulp pointed to Greeley as an example of where the planning is headed. The town has been analyzing water use for every property, based on square footage. Every property, be it a home or business, is then assigned a water budget. Enforcement of water use is then done through tiered water rates. “Water hogs will pay considerably more for going outside the boundaries,” Stulp said.

Reaching the statewide conservation goal won’t be easy. “The water providers will have to push hard,” Mitchell said.

But even as the CWCB says that water providers have to take the lead on conservation, some in the water community say they want more leadership on the issue from the governor’s administration as well as from the General Assembly.

“We need some leadership from the state, and strengthening conservation and water efficiency requirements would be one step,” said Jim Lochhead, executive director of Denver Water, the biggest municipal water supplier in the state.

Democratic Sen. Matt Jones of Louisville says the time has come to update the state’s water conservation laws, and he’s most interested in adding statutes that apply to developers and land-use planning.

Colorado’s looming water shortage is projected to be about one million acre-feet of water per year. A family of four, on average, uses about a half-acre foot of water per year, or about 163,000 gallons of water per year. So a million acre-foot shortage would impact virtually every Coloradan and in every way of life: farmers, city dwellers, businesses, oil and gas drillers, environmentalists, birders, anglers, rafters, kayakers and everyone else who values the health and vibrancy of Colorado’s rivers.

Some 86 percent of water in the state is used by agriculture, the state’s number two economic driver. Yet the plan doesn’t include a conservation goal (agriculture prefers to call it “efficiency”) for the farmers and ranchers. The plan notes that setting strict conservation requirements for the agricultural sector would be tricky because it could have consequences on water rights under Colorado water laws. It also notes   that water use by agriculture is expected to drop into the low 80th percentile due to agricultural water rights being bought by municipal and industrial users.

James Eklund, who headed the CWCB until this spring, said that setting a goal for agriculture wasn’t necessary because agriculture is already pretty efficient in its water usage; most water either goes to the crop or it goes back into the water source (a stream or ditch) to be used by the next farm in line for that water.

Those tasked with meeting the municipal and industrial conservation goals so far face a losing battle to stop growing water-hungry Kentucky blue-grass lawns in the semi-arid West.

Coloradans’ prickliness about grass was the subject of a recent news report about a hateful postcard sent to a resident of Harvey Park in southwest Denver whose lawn hadn’t been cared for and which drew a nasty response from an anonymous neighbor. While most of the comments expressed sympathy for the family with the unwatered lawn, one comment also showed that fervor to keep lawns green in semi-arid Denver wasn’t isolated to that one postcard. Brad Klafehn of Harvey Park noted that he had let his lawn die in preparation for xeriscaping, which earned him similarly nasty postcards telling him to either water his grass “or get out of the neighborhood.” Even after xeriscaping, neighbors filed complaints with the city of Denver for the next five years over his “unkempt vegetation. The inspector knew what we were doing and never cited us,” Klafehn said.

 

Denver’s conservation efforts

Denver Water serves 1.4 million customers in Denver and eight other Front Range communities – about one out of every four Coloradans. It reduced its water usage by 22 percent between 2002 and 2016 through conservation efforts. Centered around its Use Only What You Need campaign, average consumption is about 165 gallons per person per day, down from 211 gallons prior to the 2002 drought. The utility is cited as a model for getting water customers to conserve.

Denver Water is shifting its focus from conservation to water efficiency. Lochhead said that many of its customers are doing a pretty good job limiting water use, whether by using more efficient water fixtures or reducing outdoor water use, which is Denver Water’s biggest consumption during the summer. The next step, he said, is a water efficiency plan, currently under a public comment period, that will “target those customers who aren’t being as efficient,” and which will direct Denver Water’s conservation efforts into the next five years.

Lochhead said the idea is not to rip up lawns – a measure pushed in the California’s recent drought – but to show people that “landscaping can be beautiful and highly water-efficient at the same time.”

But there are obstacles that need to be overcome in order to move forward, including a disconnect between land-use planning and water utilities.

As Lochhead sees it, state law is “soft” on rigor for water efficiency.

“County and municipal governments approve development plans that may not be the most water efficient, and then turn to the utility and say, ‘provide water service to this development,’” he said. “We can’t dictate development. We have to try to work with our customers.”

The CWCB’s Mitchell said her agency is working to bridge that disconnect between land use and water utilities. The agency recently held a series of webinars, attended by more than 300 people working on land-use planning, as well as some homebuilders, to encourage that municipalities’ zoning codes and landscape requirements take water conservation into account. As a local control state, Colorado can’t mandate zoning codes for local communities, but Mitchell said state government can serve as an advisor to city and county governments. “Those are the folks who make that successful,” she said.

Lochhead’s wish list includes more use of “graywater” – the mostly-clean water that comes from baths, sinks, washing machines and dishwashers – and “green infrastructure,” which which uses stormwater runoff to irrigate natural vegetation. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, stormwater runoff in urban areas “carries trash, bacteria, heavy metals, and other pollutants from the urban landscape,” and heavy rains can “cause erosion and flooding in urban streams, damaging habitat, property, and infrastructure.”

Lochhead said that the state Department of Public Health and Environmental could move forward on regulations that would approve new technologies on reuse and recycling of rainwater, graywater, and blackwater, meaning water that comes in contact with human waste. Those technologies are already in use just about everywhere except Colorado. In Arizona, New Mexico, California and Texas, for example, graywater can be used without a permit, depending on how much is needed per day.

In the meantime, Denver Water is redeveloping its 6th Avenue and I-25 operations complex to make it the most sustainable water site in the state. The facility, which will have its own wastewater treatment system, will be a model for demonstrating highly efficient irrigation. Eventually, the water district hopes to irrigate the entire administrative complex with rainwater

 

Where Colorado lags, Las Vegas and Phoenix lead

Efforts to increase conservation through legislation has had only limited success.

In 2014, Republican Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango and Democratic Sen. Mary Hodge of Brighton pushed for a bill that would require local governments to approve plans for new construction only if the municipality also adopts a resolution limiting the amount of irrigated grass on residential lawns to 15 percent of total acreage. The Colorado Association of Homebuilders strongly objected, and lawmakers backed off. The bill was watered down into a recommendation that the legislature’s water resources committee come up with a list of best practices that could be turned into “reasonable” legislation that could lead to “measurable conservation of municipal water used for outdoor purposes.” Even with that watered-down language, the bill drew opposition from a few water utilities who deemed such efforts unnecessary.

In 2015, the General Assembly passed a bill, signed into law, requiring CWCB, with $50,000 in state funds, to set up training programs for local governments on land-use planning that incorporates water conservation practices.

All one needs to do is look at communities in perpetual drought to see what tools might be lacking.

Phoenix “is built for drought,” according to that city’s water utility. Water conservation is promoted as a lifestyle in the city, and “we encourage customers to think about water every time they use it,” according to the website of a city now in its 15th year of drought.

Phoenix’s Water Use it Wisely program – now a national model for conservation – developed more than 100 ways for people to conserve water. They included tips such as washing fruits and vegetables in a pan of water instead of under running water, or putting ice cubes dropped on the floor into a plant instead of dumping it down the sink. Another idea, not allowed in Colorado, would allow a plumber to reroute plumbing so that graywater can be used for landscaping. That’s only legal in Colorado for new development, not existing homes. The city is also setting up “savings accounts” for water, Bracken said. That’s a system for reclaiming wastewater by putting it back into underground aquifers, treated, with the hope that, in a decade, it will be reusable, although not for drinking purposes.

Conservation efforts there have reduced per-person water consumption by 25 percent since 1994, down to about 101 gallons of water per day per person and about 158 gallons per day for business and commercial uses (compare that to Denver Water, at 165 gallons per day). And that’s with a population increase of about 340,000 people during that same time period.

In Las Vegas and surrounding communities in Clark County, Nev., residents and businesses used on average about 123 gallons of water per day in 2016, down 38 percent from 2002, during a time when that area’s population increased by about 600,000 residents, according to the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Water conservation has been the rule rather than the exception for Clark County since 1991, with what water officials there call record-breaking results: 1.4 billion gallons of water saved by businesses, another one billion gallons saved by residents, and 181 million square feet of grass removed. The water authority also has mandatory watering restrictions, limited to watering twice a week during the summer, and on car washing. Golf courses that use more than they’re allotted can be hit with heavy surcharges, up to nine times their normal water rates. Golf courses also have to submit water use reduction plans. Even the resorts (think the Bellagio, with its famous fountains) reuse water multiple times before the water heads off to treatment and then to Lake Mead.

The water authority also has in place what Colorado has for years been trying to do through legislation: a partnership with home builders to build “water smart homes” with water-efficient landscaping and plumbing fixtures. Entire neighborhoods can be certified as water-smart under the program. “A Water Smart Home may save as much as 75,000 gallons of water each year compared to homes built in the 1990s,” the agency boasts.

The authority strictly enforces turf restrictions. No new turf is allowed in the front yards of single-family homes. Period. Building codes also limit the amount of grass that can be grown to 50 percent of side and backyards, or 100 feet, whichever is greater. Grass isn’t allowed at all on commercial developments, with exceptions only for schools, parks and cemeteries.

For those willing to give up what they already have, the Southern Nevada Water Authority offers rebates for conversions to water-smart landscaping.

Turf rebates are also offered in southern California where, in the midst of a four-year drought, Gov. Jerry Brown in 2015 announced statewide conservation targets to reduce urban water use by 25 percent from 2013 use levels. Water conservation needs to be a way of life in California, according to an executive order Brown issued last year.

During the peak of the drought, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Southern California’s largest water utility, responded by reducing its water deliveries to its 26 member agencies, including water service to Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties. The 15 percent reduction required communities that hadn’t enacted water conservation efforts to either crack down on outdoor watering or pay as much as four times more for their water.

“Met,” as the agency is known, also expanded its turf removal rebate program from $20 million to $450 million, “funding the largest single investment in water conservation incentives in the nation’s history.” The program was expected to remove 175 million square feet of lawns, but actually removed only 35 million square feet. An audit later blasted the program for poor planning and oversight and cost overruns.

Brown announced this spring that the state was no longer in drought, although the US Drought Monitor reported this month that more than 10 million people in southern California are still affected by drought conditions.

California, Arizona and Nevada all have experienced population increases over the past few decades, and water agencies there have passed policies requiring growth to pay for growth. That comes mainly in the form of tap fees in which municipalities or water agencies charge developers fees to hook up a new home or business to a water line. Those fees can be reduced for homes that use low-water landscaping.

Denver and Aurora both have adopted this conservation tool, changing their tap fees in the past decade from a flat rate for a new home, no matter how big, to one based on the size of the home and the amount of water its residents are expected to use.

“Tap fees have a lot going for them,” said Doug Kenney, director of the Western Water Policy program at the University of Colorado School of Law. “It imposes the new cost of development on the new arrivals, and if the tap fees are high enough, it would discourage builders from building in communities that are short on water.”

But tap fees also have been lowered in order to encourage development, rather than encourage water conservation. A couple of years ago, a developer cited a decision by the Colorado Springs City Council to lower its tap fees as an incentive to build, not as an incentive to conserve water. Two years later, another builder cited the city’s tap fees, nearing $18,000, as a cost to consider for those wanting to live in the city.

However, at least a couple of Colorado cities are tying their tap fees to both growth and water conservation. In Fountain, the fees are part of an incentive program that allows for lower tap fees when a home is built with a lawn with water conservation in mind. A 2012 report by the Alliance for Water Efficiency, co-authored by the city of Westminster, notes that water conservation efforts have kept tap fees lower for new development, since conservation in that city has produced less wear and tear on wastewater treatment facilities.  

Increased water conservation among downstream Colorado River states is important to Colorado, which is bound by multi-state compacts with Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California to keep the river full. The river already is overtapped, required to provide more water than it produces. The southern states have first priority on river water, and a longstanding treaty with Mexico gives that country the right to a significant amount of water, as well. The more that’s done downstream to conserve river water, the lower the risk of what’s called a “call” on Colorado to lower its water use.

 

Agricultural conservation

Seemingly the most obvious sector that should embrace water conservation is the sector that uses the most water: agriculture.

Like in Colorado, the vast majority of California’s water – 80 percent – goes to agriculture. But, unlike Colorado, agricultural conservation hasn’t been left out of the Golden State’s policy-making.

By the time its drought started around 2012, California already had a water management plan in place for agriculture, dating back to 2009. That initiative requires agricultural water suppliers to submit water efficiency plans based on the number of irrigated acres. In 2015, 53 water providers with 25,000 acres or more were required to submit those plans; water districts of 10,000 to 25,000 acres also submitted plans; and smaller districts had financial assistance from the state to develop their own plans.

For example, a plan submitted by the Browns Valley Irrigation District, one of the state’s oldest agricultural irrigation companies with more than 1,500 agricultural customers, showed that it has been building pipelines to move water rather than using unlined ditches, which lose water through seepage and evaporation. More than 20 miles of ditches have been abandoned thanks to those efforts. California makes available about $30 million per year for grants to agricultural water providers for water conservation efforts. The money comes from a voter-approved initiative, passed in 2014.

The Colorado water plan’s chief attempt to glean agricultural water savings is a goal that agriculture transfer 50,000 acre-feet of water to cities and towns, but as an effort to find water for thirsty cities, not as part of the plan’s overall water conservation goal. The plan notes this is to accommodate population growth, but getting farmers to adopt some of these new methods has been a slow starter.

Colorado’s lack of reliance on conservation from a sector that’s consuming most of the state’s available water stems from a couple of reasons. The first is a legal one based on fears Colorado farmers and ranchers have about losing their water rights. Colorado’s byzantine system of water laws ties the amount of water allotted in part on historical consumption. If a farm or ranch doesn’t use all of its water right, the amount of water they’re entitled to can be cut. That becomes a disincentive to decrease water use through conservation.

A second reason is recognition that Colorado farmers and ranchers are already working to improve water efficiency. George, who formerly headed Colorado’s Department of Natural Resources, pointed out that Colorado agriculture has been moving from flood irrigation, where crops are irrigated by flooding fields, to sprinkler systems.

Flood irrigation is the oldest and cheapest but least efficient way to irrigate crops. According to the US Geological Survey, in 2000, about two-thirds of all crop irrigation in Colorado was done with some form of flood irrigation, and the last third with sprinkler systems. Drip irrigation systems, with below-ground piping, applies water slowly and more directly to the plant roots rather than from overhead, and that allows for more precise watering, which sometimes means less of it. Both of these methods (pivot and drip systems) are gaining ground in Colorado agriculture, George said.

“There’s a general recognition that ditch linings, piping and sprinkler systems are efficient. All of that is good for everybody,” he said.

An irrigation ditch lined only with earth or even concrete can lose as much as 50 percent of its water through seepage into the ground, according to the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University. Modern linings include synthetic materials that don’t crack, unlike concrete. The CWCB has for at least a decade provided loans through its various funding sources, mostly money that comes from severance taxes, to irrigation companies and reservoirs to swap out less efficient earthen linings for concrete linings or more modern synthetic ones.

Even with these changes, the Colorado Water Agricultural Alliance said in a white paper that “[t]here is a perception that if only farmers would do a better job of conserving water…we would have plenty of water to meet the anticipated gap. The reality is that while there are opportunities for agricultural water conservation, opportunities for producing significant amounts of transferable water for municipal uses are constrained by certain legal, physical, and economic factors.”

Other ways farms and ranches could help meet statewide goals for water savings are being funded by the state Department of Agriculture, which for two years has helped farmers upgrade irrigation systems, using small hydropower, to save water and energy.

Sam Anderson, the program’s director, said there are two different ways to use hydropower on the farm: Hydro-mechanical, which uses a hydraulic pump to run an irrigation system; and hydro-electric, which works in a similar fashion to the way a solar panel system works on a house, through a meter. Anderson explained that the both systems get their energy from the irrigation water as the water flows to the sprinklers. “Water efficiency is the goal of the program,” Anderson told The Colorado Independent.

These programs, Anderson said, can cut water consumption by as much as half and still achieve the same crop yields. He noted that it’s a much more precise delivery of water, and is even good for water quality, since this type of irrigation is also more environmentally friendly, with less chemical and salt runoff. The ACRE3 program currently has four projects in place, another three ready to come online this year, and grants to fund 12 more this year and another 12 in 2018. These efforts are not included in the water plan.

Bart Miller, who leads the Healthy Rivers Program at Western Resource Advocates, pointed out recently that many of the ditches and canals delivering water to Colorado’s farms and ranches are now approaching 80 to 100 years old. By lining them or improving headgates, which control the water flowing through them, “there would be a huge benefit to local streams” and agriculture would use only the water that’s needed, he said.

 

Photo by Susan Greene.

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As more young adults move to Denver and the cost of housing skyrockets, some city neighborhoods are seeing drops in the percentages of people of color and children.

Those changes affect Denver Public Schools, which has been the fastest-growing urban school district in the country. But that growth is slowing. Birth rates are down and many of the new transplants responsible for Denver’s population boom don’t have kids.

In addition, rising housing prices are pushing families out of some neighborhoods. A recent report by the Colorado Children’s Campaign found that the 92,000-student district is more racially segregated now than it was ten years ago. (DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg has said he doesn’t necessarily agree with that claim.)

A new committee created by the Denver school board got a closer look this week at population changes and demographic shifts in Denver’s 78 neighborhoods.

The Strengthening Neighborhoods Initiative committee is set to spend the next six months studying how gentrification is impacting schools. The 42 members are tasked with suggesting ways to increase racial and economic integration in DPS schools and address the declining number of school-aged children in certain parts of the city.

The data provided to the committee at its second-ever meeting Monday night includes a lot of numbers, and a link to them is at the bottom of this story. But we’ve pulled out some highlights.

Five neighborhoods where the number of students who attend a DPS school declined from 2010 to 2015.

1. Highland in northwest Denver, down 21 percent.
2. Marston in southwest Denver, down 14 percent.
3. Lincoln Park in west Denver, down 13 percent.
4. Jefferson Park in northwest Denver, down 12 percent.
5. Sunnyside in northwest Denver, down 6 percent. Bear Valley in southwest Denver and Clayton in central Denver also saw 6 percent decreases.

Five neighborhoods that saw big demographic shifts from 2010 to 2015.

1. Northeast Park Hill in near northeast Denver, where the percentage of black residents shrunk from 55 to 42 percent and the percentage of white residents grew from 11 to 20 percent.

2. Baker in northwest Denver, where half the residents in 2010 were Hispanic. By 2015, white residents were the majority: 56 percent compared 34 percent who were Hispanic.

3. Whittier in central Denver, where 40 percent of residents in 2010 were black and 38 percent were white. In 2015, 24 percent of residents were black and 50 percent were white.

3. Globeville in central Denver, which saw its Hispanic population decrease from 80 percent to 61 percent and its white population increase from 15 to 33 percent.

5. A few neighborhoods saw increases in the percentage of residents of color and decreases in the percentage of white residents, though white residents remained the majority. They include Hampden in southeast Denver and Washington Virginia Vale in near northeast Denver.

Five neighborhoods that saw big changes in the percentage of families living in poverty from 2010 to 2015.

1. Baker in northwest Denver, where the percentage of families living in poverty fell from 47 percent in 2010 to 17 percent in 2015, which is the citywide poverty rate.

2. Jefferson Park in northwest Denver, where the percentage fell from 48 to 24 percent.

3. Lincoln Park in northwest Denver, where the percentage fell from 47 to 26 percent.

4. West Colfax in northwest Denver, which saw the sharpest increase from 20 to 35 percent.

5. College View in southwest Denver, which saw an increase from 29 to 38 percent.

The data shows that many of Denver’s neighborhoods are racially segregated. Here are the neighborhoods where 80 percent or more of residents in 2015 were of one ethnicity.

Westwood in southwest Denver, 80 percent Hispanic
Elyria Swansea in central Denver, 83 percent Hispanic
West Highland in northwest Denver, 80 percent white
Civic Center in northwest Denver, 82 percent white
City Park in central Denver, 81 percent white
Congress Park in central Denver, 82 percent white
Cherry Creek in central Denver, 87 percent white
Speer in southeast Denver, 86 percent white
Washington Park West in southeast Denver, 85 percent white
Washington Park in southeast Denver, 90 percent white
Belcaro in southeast Denver, 93 percent white
Cory-Merrill in southeast Denver, 86 percent white
Platt Park in southeast Denver, 89 percent white
University Park in southeast Denver, 84 percent white
Wellshire in southeast Denver, 92 percent white
Southmoor Park in southeast Denver, 87 percent white
Hilltop in near northeast Denver, 90 percent white
There were no neighborhoods where 80 percent or more of residents were black.

The committee is set to meet next in August to discuss DPS’s existing integration policies.

Click here to view a copy of  Denver Public Schools’ Neighborhood Update for spring 2017.

 

 

This story originally appeared on Chalkbeat on June 21, 2017.

 Chalkbeat intern Marissa Page contributed information to this report.

Photo credit: Marissa Page of Chalkbeat

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

The Home Front: Criminal case against ex-CU assistant football coach stalls over cell phone access

Your morning roundup of stories from the front pages of Colorado newspapers

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“The criminal case against Joe Tumpkin, the former University of Colorado assistant football coach accused of assaulting his ex-girlfriend, has stalled as attorneys fight over how much access his defense team should have to the woman’s cellphone records,” reports The Boulder Daily Camera. “Tumpkin, 45, is charged with five counts of felony second-degree assault, and was scheduled for a preliminary hearing Thursday in Broomfield. But that hearing was canceled after Tumpkin’s attorneys asked the Colorado Supreme Court to weigh in on their conflict with the prosecution over evidence in the case — a move that could hold up proceedings for months.”

“Prosecutors have asked a judge to dismiss two of the nine counts against ex-El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa, paring down his case less than a week before his trial on corruption charges begins,” reports The Gazette in Colorado Springs. “A motion to dismiss charges of kidnapping and false imprisonment, both felonies, was filed Tuesday ahead of trial, scheduled for June 27, according to a source with access to the information. A restricted court record shows no evidence that 4th Judicial District Judge Larry E. Schwartz has officially tossed the charges, though experts say such an order is likely a formality.”

“EPA Superfund officials trying to stop toxic mine contamination of the Animas River headwaters are preparing to close an underground dam, aiming to block a 300 gallon-per-minute discharge equal to a Gold King Mine disaster every week,” reports The Denver Post. “Shutting this Red and Bonita Mine bulkhead has emerged as a huge test on mountains here, where miners who penetrated fissures and groundwater pathways left behind the geologic equivalent of Swiss cheese.”

“An off-duty nurse, a pregnant surrogate mother, an Army veteran, a natural gas worker, a machinist, a high school student and a McDonald’s employee were among a crowd of good Samaritans who saved lives and homes after a horrific wreck on Interstate 70 Tuesday afternoon,” reports The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. “Many of the details of the wreck remain unknown, but police said a man driving a passenger car the wrong way in the eastbound lanes of I-70 collided with a sport-utility vehicle near the 27 Road bridge west of the Horizon Drive exit.”

“About seven weeks ago, residents in the area of Ogallala Road — a few miles south of Longmont and north of Boulder along Left Hand Creek — started noticing a whole lot of ladybugs,” reports The Longmont Times-Call. “We all thought, ‘Gee, there’s a lot of ladybugs this time of year.’ They were everywhere,” said Mike Janeczko, who lives on 15 acres right near the creek. Then the ladybugs started voraciously munching his cottonwood trees and his willows. “Turns out they’re not ladybugs, we realized,” he said.”

“The Colorado Supreme Court will not hear Adams County’s appeal over a recreational marijuana tax case that pits the county against three of its cities, but local government officials say the case does not impact Pueblo County because of a new state law signed last month,” reports The Pueblo Chieftain. “The court’s decision upholds a 2016 ruling by the Colorado Court of Appeals, which concluded that Adams County had been improperly collecting a 3 percent tax on recreational pot sold in Commerce City, Aurora and Northglenn. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1203 in May, which calls for counties and municipalities to come to agreements on sharing pot tax revenue.”

“When MyCherie Hickman heard the news of an accidental shooting in the Red Feather Lakes area, her heart dropped,” reports The Coloradoan in Fort Collins. “The Berthoud resident spent the weekend in a dispersed camping area there with her husband and friends and heard gunshots throughout the day and night. What she saw concerned her. Details about the non-fatal shooting remain murky, and the Larimer County Sheriff’s Office hasn’t identified any suspects. But a helicopter and law enforcement officers were dispatched to the unassuming dispersed camping area in the woods Saturday night.”

“An 18-wheeler semitruck carrying loads of garbage crashed in the Big Thompson Canyon on Wednesday afternoon on its way from Estes Park to the Larimer County Landfill,” reports The Loveland Reporter-Herald. “The semi’s driver suffered minor injuries in the single-vehicle rollover accident that occurred near mile marker 69 on U.S. 34 at about 12:45 p.m.”

“The man who allegedly set another man who was sleeping in his car on fire in March has requested a sanity evaluation be ordered,” reports The Cañon City Daily Record. “Michael Scavarda, 34, of Cañon City is being charged with criminal attempt to commit murder in the first degree, assault in the second degree, two counts of assault in the first degree, reckless endangerment, first degree criminal trespass, fourth degree arson and six counts of committing a crime of violence. According to a news release from the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office, Scavarda allegedly broke the glass out of Jason Crowder’s back window while Crowder was asleep to throw gasoline on him.”

“Forensic firearm examination, as this process is known, is nothing new. But southern Colorado law enforcement were able to use new access to a national database, set up by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, to track the suspected guns across multiple shootings,” reports The Greeley Tribune. “This collection, known as the crime gun intelligence center, gives smaller police departments access to the ATF’s computer system, which tracks guns the way DNA databases track people. It’s a new collaboration, and police have used it in Denver and Colorado Springs for a few years. The system will soon become available to police in northern Colorado as well, and the Greeley Police Department is the first local agency to begin work with the ATF on the project.”

 

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The Senate health care bill will finally go public today, but The Washington Post got an early look at what will certainly be a divisive document, and that’s just within the Republican Party. Some, uh, highlights: Deep cuts into Medicaid funding, big tax cuts for the wealthy and an end to funding for Planned Parenthood.

If you want to know why the Senate bill has been kept under wraps, all you need to know is this: It’s said to be about 70-to-80 percent the same as the extremely unpopular House version, which even Donald Trump has pronounced as “mean.” Via The Washington Post. Writing for New York magazine, Jonathan Chait says that, in fact, the Senate version of Trumpcare is just as mean as the House version.

One insurance company CEO has come to Washington to lobby against TrumpCare, and he doesn’t understand why the rest of the companies, all wary of the bill, aren’t there with him. Via Vox.

If you can recall as far back as the 2016 presidential campaign, you might remember the emphasis Trump placed on America’s opioid-addiction crisis. That’s why it may be surprising how little Trumpcare would do to address the issue. Via The New Yorker.

Democrats are, of course, unhappy about their loss in the Georgia special House election, and some of them are pointing the finger at Nancy Pelosi. Via The Washington Post. But not everyone sees it that way. Writing in Vox, Matt Yglesias says that while Democrats are 0-for-4 in special elections since Trump’s presidency, they have overperformed each time, which could mean that Republicans are in more trouble than it seems for 2018.

California Republicans love Karen Handel, especially in Orange County where four GOP congressman are being challenged in districts that look very much like Georgia’s 6th CD. If Democrats can’t win those targeted seats in Orange County, they have almost no chance of retaking the House. Via Politico.

Ross Douthat: The big question, he says, is if Republican economic plans are unpopular and the country is moving increasingly to the left on social issues, why do Democrats keep losing elections. He thinks he may have found an answer. Via The New York Times.

In a lawsuit filed by prisoners tortured by the CIA, depositions from participating psychologists, obtained by The New York Times, reveal new details about the brutal interrogations and the psychologists’ role in planning them.

From The National Review, Elliott Abrams explained how the Saudi king scrambled the line of succession by naming his son as crown prince, which isn’t the way it usually works there, and what it all means.

Two former chief White House ethics lawyers, one for Barack Obama and one for George W. Bush, explain why Trump is right to be scared to death of Robert Mueller and why he’d better not try to do anything about it. Via USA Today.

Photo by Images Money, via Flickr: Creative Commons

 

 

 

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The money necessary to continue most of the operations of the Colorado Energy Office, which has been instrumental in promoting non-fossil fuel energy for the past decade, will ratchet down on July 1 after legislative budget writers on Tuesday failed to agree to fully fund another year of the office’s programs and staff.

The Joint Budget Committee, which is made up of three Republicans and three Democrats, deadlocked along party lines on a request from Gov. John Hickenlooper to fully fund the energy office for the 2017-18 year.

During the recently-concluded legislative session, the energy office became a political football between Senate Republicans, who wanted to change its mission to focus more on fossil fuel promotion and away from renewables, and House Democrats, who wanted its work to continue mostly as-is. The Energy Office director, Kathleen Staks, agreed during the session that some of the renewable programs offered weren’t working as intended and was in favor of allowing some of those programs to shut down.

The stalemate over the funding continued this week, when Hickenlooper asked the Joint Budget Committee to put $3.1 million into the office for 2017-18, which would continue all of its operations for one more year. The request was backed by JBC staff analyst Kevin Neimond, who said that one of two things would have to happen: either the General Assembly would bring up the issue again in the 2018 legislative session, or that the office needed to be fully funded for another year in order to prepare to shut down some of its operations and lay off most of its staff. Neimond explained that the office had been authorized by law to operate and that new legislation would be required to shut it down.

Even if the JBC refused the request, the office would need funding to pay for “close out costs” such as unemployment and vacation leave accrued by the staff of 24. The state is still obligated to pay those costs although there isn’t any money authorized for those purposes in the 2017-18 budget, Neimond said.

The office is slated to receive $6.5 million in federal funds in 2017-18 to continue to operate a weatherization program that modifies homes for energy efficiency owned by low-income Coloradans, and another $313,000 to operate natural gas stations throughout the state. Those operations will continue with the remaining staff, which under the 2017-18 budget could be cut from 24 to eight.

Rep. Millie Hamner, a Dillon Democrat who is vice chair of the JBC, pointed out that the General Assembly had set aside the $3.1 million necessary to fund the office for one more year, and raised the possibility that the JBC could revisit the issue in September, but she questioned whether the office could stay open at its current staffing levels until then. While the money had been set aside by the legislature, the JBC must authorize its spending when the General Assembly is out of session. The question of what happens on July 1, when funding for 16 staff ends, remains unanswered.

Republican Rep. Bob Rankin of Carbondale, a JBC member, said that to Republicans, the energy office’s mission has been “controversial for years” and hoped that 2017 legislation would have come up with a “more acceptable definition of its job,” meaning a greater focus on fossil fuels.

The committee’s deadlocked 3-3 vote means the issue of the office’s purpose remains unresolved, at least for now.

In a post-session press conference in May, Hickenlooper pledged to find a way to keep the office open and that the 16  employees, who are not part of the state personnel system and are at-will, would not be laid off.  

Yesterday, the governor expressed his disappointment at the JBC’s refusal to fund the program for at least one more year, stating that he believed the request was going to be approved.

“Based on my conversations with leadership, I had hoped for a different result. The Colorado Energy Office plays a vital role in promoting innovative production and efficient consumption practices for all energy resources…We will continue to explore all options to fund this important work.” He did not address what would happen to the 16 employees.

Sen. Ray Scott, a Grand Junction Republican who authored the rewrite of the energy office mission during the last session, said in a statement that the ”future of the governor’s Energy Office was extensively debated during session and is neither urgent nor unforeseen,” and blamed House Democrats for refusing to compromise or to consider alternative futures for the energy office. His views were shared by Senate President Kevin Grantham of Cañon City, who said the Senate Republicans would hold fast to their views on the energy office as expressed by the 2017 legislation. He added that the governor’s request on Tuesday was an effort to circumvent the General Assembly’s final decision to halt additional monies for the office.

But he did indicate a willingness to continue talking with Democrats, stating that bipartisan conversations were still in progress for a bill on the energy office for the 2018 session.

JBC member Sen. Dominick Moreno, a Democrat from Commerce City, said he was disappointed in the 3-3 vote, but added he also is optimistic about continued discussions around the energy office and its mission.

Outside the Capitol, the vote was also met with disappointment from the conservation community.  Conservation Colorado’s Jessica Goad said in a statement that “Republicans’ refusal to simply restore funding to this critical office means that Colorado’s status as a clean energy leader could be jeopardized, not to mention the ripple effects on our booming clean energy economy.”

 

Photo by Zak Zak, via Creative Commons license, Flickr

 

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Coloradans from across the globe gathered on the steps of the State Capitol in downtown Denver yesterday to celebrate World Refugee Day, a time to honor the millions of refugees and displaced people around the world.

Participants danced to the beat of Montbello High School’s drum line and held signs welcoming refugees. They prayed together for peace. A flashmob performed a Bollywood-style dance.

Throughout the event, a variety of speakers took to the podium to address the crowd. Travis Weiner, an Iraq veteran, gave a powerful argument for the admittance of refugees into the United States.

“I participated in the Iraq War for two years, and that war, more than anything else, is responsible for the massive humanitarian crisis we see in that country today,” he explained. “Iraqi and Middle Eastern refugees are fleeing governmental collapse and humanitarian catastrophe capitalized on by ISIS that would not have occurred if we had not intervened in the first place.”

Weiner added, “As a nation, we can never replay them and those like them for what we have done to their homeland, but the least we can do is allow them to start over in this country.”

Gov. John Hickenlooper also spoke, reading a proclamation in which he noted the resiliency of the refugee community. Since 1980, he said, Colorado has welcomed more than 57,000 refugees from dozens of countries.

Photographer Daniel Sauvé brought his camera to capture the highlights of the day.

 

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All photos by Daniel Sauvé.

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Don’t fall for the spin. Karen Handel’s five-point win in the Georgia special House election was a crushing defeat for Democrats, who learned, once again, that the great majority of Republicans are more than willing to ignore that strange odor coming from the White House.

Yes, Democrat Jon Ossoff came close in an overwhelmingly Republican district that Democrats routinely lose by 20 points or more and have been losing since Jimmy Carter was fighting off rabbits in his fishing boat. Doesn’t matter. This is also an affluent, highly-educated suburban Atlanta district that does not like Donald Trump. This is a district Trump carried by little more than a point in 2016 while Rep. Tom Price, now your anti-Obamacare Health secretary, was winning it by 23.

You get the idea. In this solid-red district, an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll put Trump’s approval rating at, ahem, 35 percent. No wonder the cash poured in, making this the most expensive House race in history. No wonder this was seen as the place where a breakthrough was possible. No wonder — and this is the hard part for the Democratic faithful — Democrats were so willing to believe again and to risk having their spirits crushed again.

If the Democrats thought they could win this special election — and they did — it wasn’t because the district had suddenly turned blue. It was solely because of the disaster that is the Trump presidency, which, historically, should mean energized Democrats and dispirited Republicans. So much for history. No wonder they teach it differently in red states.

And that’s why the result is so troubling. Trump is a disaster. The Russia affair, however scandalous it may or may not turn out to be, generates devastating headlines by the day. Trump’s poll numbers are historically low. The Republican Obamacare replacement bill is so unpopular that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s game plan has been to keep it secret even from his own members and probably from his wife.

And yet, with all this, enough Republicans stuck with the party in Georgia’s 6th CD to lift Handel past Ossoff, the young movie documentarian who hadn’t bothered to move into the district. What happened to the Trump Effect? And why in Trump’s name isn’t it more effective?

You see, another thing Ossoff didn’t bother to do was to make the election all about Trump. That wasn’t an accident. His strategy was to be civil, which, we know, almost never works. It was the plan for him to avoid mention of Trump nearly as assiduously as Handel would. This would be basically a non-Trump zone in an election that was, after all, supposed to be a referendum on the president.

It’s easy to figure out why. Democrats didn’t want to force Republicans to feel that relentless attacks on Trump were, in effect, attacks on them. But, of course, that’s what happened anyway.

This is the point, we’re told, where partisanship gives way to tribalism. Trump has his base — and we can join the argument about how much that base is motivated by economic populism and how much by ethnic resentment and how much by a mix of the two — but Trump also has non-base Republicans, who mostly stayed with their team.

The message voters heard from Handel and from the outside money that joined the fight was that, if elected, Ossoff would be a pawn of Nancy Pelosi and Hollywood. (And there was the particularly ugly ad from an outside group saying Democrats were cheering the Alexandria baseball shooting, but, hey, who didn’t expect that?) Handel, though hardly a great politician, was relentlessly on message. And it worked, too, or it worked well enough. And while going anti-Pelosi may not work quite as well outside the South — are Colorado Republican children sent to bed with scary Pelosi stories? — it was a case of the best bogeyman available. In that same Journal-Constitution poll, by the way, 6th District Republicans disapproved of Pelosi by a staggering 91 percent.

The strange thing about the night was that there was another special election, in South Carolina, and the Democrat there came as close as Ossoff did. It was a four-point race in a district Trump had won by 18. Obviously, Trump cost the Republicans there, but, again, not quite enough. And one working theory is that Trump cost them more there because of the lack of attention and lack of money and lack, therefore, of the need for Republicans to, you know, come to the aid of their party.

It’s a theory. Democrats have come close or, at least, closer than expected in Kansas, in Montana, in Georgia, and now in South Carolina, all Republican strongholds. But if they’re going to win back the House in 2018, they have to pick up 24 seats. According to people who have done the math, there are 26 seats now held by Republicans in districts where Hillary Clinton scored better than she did in Georgia’s 6th. But the 6th seemed like a setup. These were the disaffected Republicans who were being asked to send Trump and Washington Republicans a message.

But the message for Democrats was that the Trump Effect has its limits. If there’s anything that Democrats were supposed to have learned from the Clinton defeat is that being anti-Trump is not sufficient to win. Dems are famously divided now on message, between the Bernie/Warren faction and the Democratic establishment. But I don’t think that divide mattered at all in Georgia. What matters is that Democrats still don’t have a defining message, and they’re in desperate need of one that works.

But it’s early. And the wise heads say despite the four losses in four Republican strongholds, the vote still shows a significant Democratic lean, which could portend well in 2018. Or, of course, not.

What Democrats need now is reassurance (read: victories) to confirm that the Trump disaster is, in fact, a political disaster. Political sabermetrics are fine, but this is not fantasy politics. And there’s the risk that expectations work only so long as there are rewards.

Or as Huffington Post’s Sam Stein put in the best tweet of Election Night: “Democrats are destined to lose every race from here to eternity by margins just close enough to maintain some hope for the future.”

 

Photo by Heather Kennedy, via Flickr: Creative Commons

The Home Front | Hickenlooper to refugees: ‘Whatever else is happening, Colorado is here for you’

Your morning roundup of stories from the front pages of Colorado newspapers

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“Colorado’s governor, refugees and the volunteers who help them re-create their lives marked World Refugee Day on Tuesday with a state Capitol celebration tempered by a dose of uncertainty,” reports The Loveland Reporter-Herald. “Colorado’s refugee arrivals are rapidly decreasing under a Trump administration order that more than halved the number of displaced people who are being allowed in the U.S. this year. ‘Whatever else is happening, Colorado is here for you,’ Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, told dozens of refugees and their supporters. ‘Colorado is going to remain a welcoming state.'”

“At least four employees of the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art have resigned after alleging the museum’s executive director violated labor laws and was abusive toward staff,” reports The Boulder Daily Camera. “Museum officials released a statement on Tuesday saying five employees sent a letter to BMoCA in March complaining of labor violations, improper financial practices and a pattern of abusive behavior by Executive Director David Dadone. An official reached at the museum on Tuesday afternoon declined to comment other than to say the museum would be issuing a statement on the matter.”

“Six-month-old Elena Odenbaugh’s face shined in a bright smile last week when her mom dropped her off at preschool,” reports The Greeley Tribune. “Her mom, 16-year-old Oliva Odenbaugh, smiled, too. For the past three months, Oliva has had her daughter in Colorado Early Education Network’s preschool program at Jefferson High School. The nonprofit uses federal Head Start grant funds to provide half-day and full-day preschool for families in poverty. Head Start provided full-day preschool to 10 percent of its families, but just earlier this year Colorado Early Education Network Director Scott Bright learned the nonprofit would receive the funding to expand its full-day preschool to about 30 percent of its kids.”

“Carbondale trustees have approved rezoning the home of KDNK from residential to ‘historic commercial core,’ allowing the community radio station more flexibility in using its space and hopefully leading to additional revenue,” reports The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent. “The station’s property has been used commercially since the 1980s, despite the residential designation, said Janet Buck, Carbondale senior planner. So, even though the station has approached the town on numerous occasions, KDNK has been prohibited from having temporary special events, she said. Gavin Dahl, KDNK’s station manager, on Tuesday talked with the Post Independent about a variety of uses that he envisions for the station and how they can help bring in money.”

“Boulder County commissioners on Tuesday night approved allowing limited elk hunting on the Rabbit Mountain Open Space area northeast of Lyons later this year,” reports The Longmont Times-Call. The first hunting season will run from Mondays through Wednesdays, starting the week after Labor Day and running through Jan. 31. It is part of what the commissioners called a “multi-pronged,” multi-year effort to reduce the size of the growing elk herd that has made about 500 acres on the county-owned open space area a permanent home.”

“The state’s revenue might have been much higher if numerous Colorado taxpayers hadn’t chosen to delay earning income from investment gains in hopes of favorable changes in the federal tax code, state economists told legislators Tuesday,” reports The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. “As it was, however, the state’s economy is expected to increase by a robust rate through this year, the economists told the Legislature’s Joint Budget Committee in outlining the latest quarterly economic and revenue forecast. And while the state has the lowest unemployment rate of the entire nation — 2.3 percent — that has led to stalling some employers’ plans to expand, said Natalie Mullis, chief economist for the Legislative Council, the nonpartisan staff for the Colorado Legislature.”

“Donavyn Nailor-Lewis graduated from Central High School last month. And like most students across the country, he applied for scholarships to help with the ever-increasing cost of higher education tuition,” reports The Pueblo Chieftain. “Tuesday, he was awarded a not-so-ordinary scholarship — one derived from Pueblo County’s marijuana excise tax. Nailor-Lewis was one of 210 students to receive a $2,000 scholarship this year. The $2,000 will be split up into the school year’s two semesters.”

“Exuberance that accompanied an $86 million state tourism grant awarded in late 2015 is waning, but Loveland, Windsor and Estes Park officials say they have not lost hope that a handful of projects will bring thousands of new visitors to their communities,” reports The Coloradoan in Fort Collins. “There has been little movement to realize an ambitious roster of new attractions in the 18 months since Go NoCO, the multijurisdictional group that submitted the Regional Tourism Act application, won the competitive grant.”

“Promoters of a trail maintenance endowment fund in Northwest Colorado are trying to figure out how to get more cyclists, horseback riders and hikers to pitch in and help keep their beloved trails open and free of ruts,” reports The Steamboat Pilot. “Yampa Valley Community Foundation Marketing Manager Helen Beall said the fund, which was launched last year to help keep area trails in tip-top shape, is lacking grassroots level support. ‘What’s missing is the small donor,’ Beall said. ‘I only have about 20 donors this year who gave less than $100.'”

“The Durango Business Improvement District has a new tool to blast away unsightly stains that pockmark downtown sidewalks as a result of gum chewers who can’t find a trash can to spit their cud,” reports The Durango Herald. “The gum blaster, as it is called, uses a mix of steam and non-toxic, biodegradable soap that dissolves the black stains that freckle city sidewalks.”

“One year into working with the readers who need the most help, the Cañon City School District is seeing gains in just about every area it’s tackling with an early literacy grant,” reports The Cañon City Daily Record. “The grant, which was implemented in May 2016 through Colorado Department of Education funds, allowed the district to purchase new literacy materials, including a reading program for all elementary students called Journeys. For its struggling readers, though, the district began using Lindamood-Bell, an intervention program that uses brain science to help students early in their schooling.”

 

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The Denver school board voted unanimously Monday to revise its student discipline policy to limit suspensions and expulsions of preschool through third-grade students.

Although some Denver Public Schools teachers and staff expressed concern about receiving too little district support in handling extreme behavior from young students, board members spoke of the importance of disrupting the so-called school-to-prison pipeline.

“We are telling our students they are here in school to learn and that’s where we want them to be,” said board member Rachele Espiritu.

Advocates say the policy changes, which will take effect for the coming school year, put DPS on the forefront of efforts nationwide to change early childhood discipline practices and address the disproportionate use of suspensions and expulsions on young boys of color.

They also say removing kids from school for disruptive or aggressive behavior results in lost learning time, contributes to long-term school disengagement and doesn’t work to change behavior.

The approval of the policy changes comes just two months after legislation that would have established similar suspension and expulsion limits statewide died in a Republican-controlled Senate committee.

DPS officials say $11 million from a recent voter-approved tax measure is earmarked to help schools support students’ mental health. On average, district-run elementary schools will receive $47,000 from that pot next year.

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Ann Schimke on June 20, 2017

 Chalkbeat reporter Melanie Asmar contributed to this report.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

Photo Credit: Daniel X. O’Neil  via Flickr Creative Commons

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The Georgia special-election House race has, as expected, turned into a referendum on Trump and on Trump’s chances to push his domestic policy through Congress. Via The Washington Post. But as Nate Silver notes, the results really should not set the political narrative, especially if they’re as close as they’re expected to be. But they will anyway. And that’s why they matter, even if they shouldn’t. Via fivethirtyeight.com.

One reason why the Georgia results will matter: If Democrat Jon Ossoff is elected, it could be the last best chance to stop Trumpcare. Via Huffington Post.

Georgia’s 6th CD is one of only 15 congressional districts in which more than half of adults have a college degree. And the solidly Republican district is the only one of the 15 that went for Donald Trump. But Trump won it by only 1 1/2 points whereas four years earlier, Mitt Romney won the district by 23. Via The New York Times.

It’s the costliest House race in history, but that’s not all. As expected, it gets very ugly as we head toward the end. Via Reuters. 

It seems inevitable that someone in the White House inner circle will eventually turn against Trump and his practice of one-way loyalty. So the question, asks The New Yorker’s David Remnick, is who will be Trump’s Alexander Butterfield.

As the danger from North Korea grows ever greater, Mark Bowden looks at the possible options for dealing with the nuclear problem. There are options. The problem is that all the options are bad, which is not to say, though, that they’re all equally bad. Via The Atlantic. And it’s not just nuclear warheads. The death of Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student who had been held by North Korea, could lead to a travel ban. Via The Washington Post.

From The National Review: America’s war against a crumbling ISIS could be leading to an invasion of Assad’s Syria. Without Congressional approval. Without any real debate.

How two academics devised a plan to get the Supreme Court to take another look at gerrymandering. Via Vox.

Joy-Ann Reid: The lesson of the Philando Castile verdict and the disturbing twin truths underlying the justice system: It works very well at putting black and brown people behind bars and very well at keeping cops outside them. Via The Daily Beast.

Bill Cosby’s trial ended in a hung jury, but it’s still fair to ask, even as prosecutors will almost certainly go for another trial, what is left of Cosby’s legacy. Via The Washington Post.

Photo by amslerPIX, via Flickr: Creative Commons

 

This church is offering sanctuary to immigrants in one of America’s most conservative cities

“Basically, ICE has agreed not to carry out enforcement actions in those locations. Now, could that change? Maybe.”

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A national movement of clergy in the Trump-era offering their churches as safe harbors for immigrants has taken hold in Colorado’s second largest city— and one of its more conservative ones.

On Monday, under the vaulted ceilings of the All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in a leafy downtown neighborhood of Colorado Springs, a new coalition of immigrants rights activists christened the place as the first sanctuary church in the area.

If an immigrant who is in the country illegally fears deportation, he or she now can seek refuge in the church in the hope that immigration officials won’t try to barge in.

While All Souls is the only church publicly offering a physical sanctuary in the Springs, three other congregations in the city have linked arms to support it. They are the First United Methodist Church, the First Congregational Church – United Church of Christ, and Colorado Springs Friends Meeting, a Quaker organization.

“We are troubled that the need for such a coalition even exists,” said Candace Datz, who directs a youth and adult ministry at the First Congregational Church. The coalition, she said, will be uncompromising in its commitment to immigrants and their families during a time of what she called “racist and exclusive immigration laws and policies.”

The coalition chose the day after Father’s Day to announce its plans as a nod to the idea of keeping families together. The move comes just days after President Donald Trump’s Department of Homeland Security announced it will keep an Obama-era program that protects some younger immigrants from deportation, but will scrap one that would have protected parents.

Related: In Colorado, Trump administration’s move to keep DACA for immigrants brings relief, frustration, and determination

While immigrants used churches to block potential deportations under the administration of Democratic President Barack Obama in Colorado and elsewhere, their use as sanctuaries doubled following Trump’s election in November, according to a representative of Church World Service. About a week after his inauguration, Trump signed executive orders that expanded the power of immigration officials with the aim of ramping up deportations.

In the following weeks, Colorado became an early flashpoint in the Trump-era church-as-immigrant-sanctuary narrative.

In February, fearing deportation, Jeanette Vizguerra made national news when she sought refuge inside the First Unitarian Society in Denver— one of the first immigrants to do so since Trump’s election. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials had denied her a stay of removal for the first time since she pleaded guilty to using a fake ID for work in 2009, so she felt at risk. In May, ICE granted her a stay for two years, and Vizguerra left the church.

In April of this year, Arturo Hernandez, a Mexican man who stayed for nine months in the basement of the same church in 2014 under threat of deportation by the Obama administration, was detained by ICE on his way to buy something for work. He was later granted a stay until 2019.

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, it is improper for anyone to knowingly harbor an undocumented immigrant “in any place, including any building.”

But churches have become sanctuaries for immigrants who fear deportation because of a 2011 ICE policy that designated churches, schools and healthcare centers, among others, as “sensitive locations,” where agents are unlikely to make arrests.

But, “it’s policy, it’s not law,” said Alex McShiras, an immigration attorney at the Joseph Law firm in Colorado Springs.

“Basically, ICE has agreed not to carry out enforcement actions in those locations,” he said. “Now, could that change? Maybe. I guess it technically could.”

But McShiras also said he had personal assurances from the ICE field office director in Colorado that agency agents are respecting the current policy.

“Despite who is president, despite who is the head of DHS or the head of ICE in Washington, D.C., he is the field office director in Colorado that covers the entire area of Colorado,” McShiras said. “He says that that is still what they’re doing and they’re not going to change that.” (The ICE website confirms the policy is still in place.)

Nori Rost, the minister of the non-denominational All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, said her congregation is leading the effort in the Springs because Unitarians have a strong commitment to providing sanctuary. Two of its sister churches— one in Denver and one in Nevada— are also sanctuary congregations. 

Ringed by five military installations and home to a network of religious nonprofits including Focus on the Family, where Vice President Mike Pence is scheduled to speak later this week, the Colorado Springs area has earned a reputation as a conservative stronghold with a moderate-to-progressive city core. El Paso County went for Trump over Hillary Clinton by 65 percent to 34 percent.

Rost said turning her church into a sanctuary for immigrants is something she has considered for years. “But in light of this new administration and these policies that we are seeing coming down it took on a new urgency,” she said. 

The Colorado Springs Sanctuary Coalition, a new group made up of the four churches, community members, lawyers, professors, nonprofits and others, will screen those requesting sanctuary in the church.

The group hadn’t yet had an official request on its first day, but a 10-year-old girl who only gave her first name, Karina, said she is “always nervous” her parents might not come home from work.

“I don’t know if I can trust people in authority like the police or my school,” she told a small crowd in the Unitarian church Monday. “I don’t trust anyone who shows up at my doorstep.” Beyond that, she said she enjoys living in the Springs.

“The immigrants in our community are hard working, like my parents,” she said. “They came here to give their children, like me, a chance at a better life. I want people to know us and trust us. I don’t want to live in fear. I want to go school, and play, and grow up to be a psychiatrist.”

Outside All Souls on Monday evening, 25-year-old Emily Starkey, who lives in a house across the street, was wondering about all the news trucks parked on her corner. She, for one, says she’s happy to hear about her neighbor’s new plans.

“I think it’s great to provide a safe place,” she said.

 

Photo by Corey Hutchins
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One 6-year-old Denver student told his pregnant teacher he was going to kick her to kill her unborn baby. A first-grader tried to stab her teacher in the eye with a sharpened pencil. Another young child threw a classmate against a brick wall and gave her a concussion.

Such jaw-dropping incidents — detailed in dozens of comments submitted to Denver Public Schools in recent months — illustrate the tightrope walk district officials face as they consider a policy change that would dramatically curb suspensions and expulsions of preschool through third-grade students.

Advocates hail the proposal as a key step toward early childhood discipline reform and a way to combat the disproportionate use of harsh discipline tactics on young boys of color. But many educators are wary — saying that the district already provides too little help in managing the most explosive young students and that the new policy will only exacerbate the problem.

The policy, scheduled for a school board vote Monday, would reserve suspensions of preschool through third-grade students for “only the most severe behaviors impacting staff or student safety” and they would be limited to one day. Expulsions would be allowed only if young students bring guns to school.

Debate about the district’s new policy comes as school districts nationwide grapple with efforts to reduce racial and gender disparities in early childhood discipline, and a few months after state legislation to reduce suspensions and expulsions in preschool through second grade died in a Senate committee.

At a Denver school board meeting last month, at least a dozen people spoke in favor of the district’s proposed changes, including two state representatives, as well as leaders from the Denver NAACP, the Urban League, Democrats for Education Reform, and the advocacy groups Padres & Jovenes Unidos and Advocacy Denver.

They argued that suspensions don’t work to change bad behavior, that they set children back academically and increase the risk of future suspensions.

But a number of educators — even those who support the move philosophically — are skeptical.

Pam Shamburg, executive director of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association, said she worries the proposal is an example of district officials adopting a stance that “looks wonderful but doesn’t put the appropriate supports in place.”

“I have some trepidation about DPS always wanting to be the first and a ground-breaker without thinking about how it affects the classroom,” she said.

In response to an open records request from Chalkbeat, DPS provided 66 comments — with names, school names and contact information redacted — received through a special email address for public feedback about the proposed policy.

Most respondents were district staff, a few were parents and one was a district official from Pittsburgh, which is considering a moratorium on suspensions for preschool to second grade students.

Only a handful of the 66 commenters favored the proposed policy change, which would take effect for the coming school year.

One parent wrote, “As a father of two current DPS Black male students, I am writing to support the proposed policy … The current practice/policy is out of sync with the mission of DPS.”

A school psychologist also wrote in support, saying, “In much the same way that we wouldn’t attempt to expel a student who lacked essential academic knowledge or skill, we should not attempt to expel young students who lack essential behavioral knowledge or skill.”

More often, educators expressed anger, frustration and disappointment over the proposal — painting a picture of teachers, students and sometimes whole schools at the mercy of a few violent young students.

One third grade teacher wrote, “Students have no fear of breaking rules. I have had students who attack others regularly, throw chairs at students’ heads, punch students and teachers in the face, choke others, stab at necks with fists full of pencils, curse violently, run out of the school, elaborate on their plans to harm others at the school or get them to commit suicide — and those are just my students.”

Eldridge Greer, the district’s associate chief for student equity and opportunity, said the proposed changes are targeted at eliminating suspensions for children whose behavior is “in some ways more irritating than threatening.” Children who show extremely violent or aggressive behavior could still be suspended, he said.

In the 2015-16 school year, the district suspended about 500 kids in preschool through third grade. None were expelled.

A number of DPS staff members who provided written comments said current practices — including regular lessons on social and emotional skills and efforts to use restorative justice — don’t work in the most extreme cases.

A second grade teacher wrote, “These ‘restorative’ conversations lead absolutely no where and have close to zero effect as the same students are continuing to repeat these same behaviors and they become more extreme and regular.”

But district officials say a new infusion of cash approved by voters last November will provide extra help to educators — in the form of extra staff or other services devoted to students’ mental health and social and emotional needs

Greer said $11 million from the district’s mill levy will be divvied among schools based on enrollment, number of low-income students and other factors. Principals will be able to pay school social workers, counselors or psychologists to work additional days, partner with local mental health organizations or propose other ideas, he said.

Three-quarters of district schools would receive $30,000 or more from the $11 million pot.

Shamburg said on a per-school basis it’s not much money.

Greer said, “I think it is a good chunk of support when you think an average elementary school may be able to increase by one, two or three days of mental health coverage.”

Some commenters on the proposed policy urged the district to create new specialized programs for the most challenging children or find such slots outside the district. A couple commenters who previously worked in other districts voiced their surprise at the lack of social and emotional help available in their DPS schools.

A former Aurora teacher gave a plug for universal mental health screenings. Others urged smaller class sizes and more recess time.

Some commenters — including a school social worker and school psychologist — reported instances of school staff not reporting or misreporting discipline cases to make their schools’ rates look better, and expressed concern that the practice will persist under the new policy.

District spokeswoman Nancy Mitchell said of the assertions, “We’re not doubting that people are telling us their experiences when they give us comments.” 

Greer said the district holds monthly trainings to help administrators implement the district’s discipline policy and document discipline incidents. The district also works with Padres and Advocacy Denver to address parent concerns about inappropriate discipline reporting.

A district special education teacher wrote of mixed feelings about the proposed early childhood discipline policy: “I am happy that DPS is nationally recognized but I hope this recognition does not come at the expense of scared children, injured children and hopeless staff and personnel.”

 

 

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Ann Schimke on June 16, 2017

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

Photo by Oteo, via Creative Commons license, Flickr

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After years of wrangling and weeks of trial, a jury says a huge chicken farm can stay put in western Colorado. This complicated trespass case pitted Susan Raymond, a local veterinarian, against her neighbor, Edwin Hostetler, who operates a 15,000 hen egg-laying facility.

Raymond claimed that her health, her veterinary business, and the value of her property had suffered as a result of emissions from Hostetler’s farm.

The decision marks a major moment in a tense five-year conflict. In the fall of 2013, the Delta County District Court ordered the Board of County Commissioners to issue a cease and desist order for the facility, deeming it “incompatible with the neighborhood.” But the Colorado Court of Appeals later overturned the verdict, allowing the chicken house to reopen.

A disagreement between neighbors on Powell Mesa in rural Delta County — where there are no hard zoning regulations — may seem minor. But it has significant implications for the rights of farmers and individual property owners. The Delta County Farm and Livestock Bureau has been actively involved, hosting fundraisers for Hostetler’s defense and galvanizing members to support his cause. “We determined, long ago, that they were a good, well run outfit and a family farm,” Olen Lund, the president of the Delta Farm Bureau, told me after the verdict.

Susan Raymond, a local veterinarian, and Edwin Hostetler, who operates a 15,000 hen egg-laying facility, are neighbors on Powell Mesa in Hotchkiss, Colorado. Brooke Warren/High Country News

In March, Lund, who is also a former Delta County Commissioner, wrote to Forrest Lucas, an oil executive and the founder of a nonprofit called Protect the Harvest, which opposes “animal rights groups and anti-farming extremists.” In his letter, Lund requested financial support for the Hostetler defense and help getting the word out. If Raymond were to win, Lund wrote, “a disgruntled neighbor, or purposeful activist group, would have precedent to single out a single operator and legally ‘hound’ them to their demise.” In a recent interview, Hostetler agreed. “This is an issue that’s far-reaching,” he said.

Lund’s letter spurred Protect the Harvest to post a call to action on its website: “We need to pull together to help support this family. Please spread the word, and if you can, donate.” The post included Lund’s letter in full, as well as an address to send checks directly to the Delta Farm Bureau. According to Lund, the Farm Bureau has received donations from “dozens if not hundreds” of people, though these contributions cover only “a pretty small fraction” of Hostetler’s legal fees.

Citing concerns about the Farm Bureau’s influence and negative treatment by the local media, Raymond attempted multiple times to have the trial moved to another county. “I’m not fighting my neighbor,” Raymond told me. “I’m fighting the Farm Bureau.”

Raymond testified on May 24, neatly dressed in a gray blazer and a black-and-white patterned scarf. She explained that she moved to Powell Mesa, a patchwork of farms and residences along a partly paved road with clear views of the West Elk Mountains, with her family in 1964 when she was 10.

Her family’s farm — then 80 acres, close to 60 now — was “a playground,” she told the court. She left to attend college and veterinary school, but after her father passed away in 1983, Raymond returned to live on the property. She opened a veterinary practice on the premises and raised two children. She’s lived there ever since. “My farm is my life,” she said. “It’s my livelihood.”

Raymond spoke with pride of the prize-winning horses she used to breed. Around the same time she began that enterprise — the mid-1990s — Edwin Hostetler, a tall man with a tuft of gray goatee who appeared in court wearing a button-down shirt and vest, bought a neighboring property, where he and his wife began raising cattle. Their relationship was fine, Raymond said; he was a good neighbor.

Raymond heard about Hostetler’s chicken farm plans in late 2010 and grew concerned when she learned of the proposed operation’s size. She asked Hostetler if he’d consider building somewhere “more suitable.” Hostetler’s organic, free-range egg-laying facility, which lies about 1,000 feet from Raymond’s property, began operating in April 2012.

An aerial view shows Susan Raymond’s property (upper right) and Edwin Hostetler’s chicken barn (lower left). Google Earth

Soon after, Raymond noticed a change in air quality. The airborne emissions from the egg-laying operation cast a “haze” over her property, she told the court. She described white dust coating surfaces in her veterinary clinic and home, and tiny white feathers floating in the sunbeams that streamed through the windows. Raymond often slept with her windows open to keep cool, and sometimes, she claimed, she woke up to an odor wafting over from the facility. “It was so overpowering I would feel like I wanted to retch,” she said. On some mornings, she awoke with feathers stuck to her face.

The intrusions Raymond and her lawyer identified in court went far beyond feathers: They described a plume of particulates and biological materials (bacteria, mold, fungal spores) emanating from the chicken farm and reaching Raymond’s property. Several of Raymond’s horses became ill after the chicken facility opened; a few had to be put down. Raymond herself came down with physical symptoms she attributes to the chicken operation: itchy eyes, trouble breathing. Her stamina suffered, too. “I used to be able to keep up with any 20-year-old,” she said. “Now I run out of air.” Raymond’s voice shook as she described having to stop performing long surgeries because flies and dust in her clinic increased the risk of infection.

Much of Raymond’s testimony was refuted during cross-examination by Hostetler’s lawyer, Brandon Jensen. Couldn’t the road be the source for the particulates on her property? Why were there no photos of the fine white powder in the house? Why wasn’t the dust tested? The feathers were never tested either; was it possible they’d been there all along? Might Raymond’s loss of stamina be age-related?

In his closing argument, Jensen contended that not only was Raymond’s exposure on Powell Mesa “inconsequential,” but it “could’ve come from virtually anywhere.” The jury concluded that there was not sufficient evidence to say trespass had occurred.

For Hostetler, the issue comes down to the practical necessity of large-scale farming: “It’s just important that we realize where our food comes from,” he told me. “It doesn’t come from a grocery store; it comes from the farm.” Eggs from the Hostetler farm are distributed to chains like King Soopers and Whole Foods, mainly within Colorado.

From the perspective of the Farm Bureau, Hostetler’s facility is a family farm operating in good faith, and should therefore be protected by what’s known as the Right to Farm statute. Designed to protect farms from conflicts with neighboring land uses, these statutes vary significantly from state to state. Colorado’s is somewhat vague about when it can apply. But in attempting to protect farmers who are being sued, Right to Farm statutes might tip the scales in their favor.

“That’s been one of the issues about Right to Farm statutes from the very beginning,” Rusty Rumley, senior staff attorney at the National Agricultural Law Center, said. According to Rumley, this case could set a precedent for other Right to Farm litigation in Colorado. It could also be cited in cases elsewhere, though judges would not be bound by it.

Amid all this tumult around farmers’ rights, Raymond still wonders where her rights and her property fit in. Raymond, after all, is a farmer, too. “I’m not against ag,” she told me after the verdict, which could be appealed. “Just put it where it’s not going to hurt people.”

 

This story originally appeared in High Country News

Header image via Wikimedia Commons

The Home Front: Boulder is hiring the city’s first Diversity Officer

Your morning roundup of stories from the front pages of newspapers across Colorado

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“Boulder is deciding among three finalists for the position of ‘diversity officer,’ a new role the city created to increase diversity and inclusivity within its workforce,” reports The Boulder Daily Camera. “The human resources position replaces that of “learning and development specialist,” which featured work in training with a partial focus on diversity, city spokeswoman Sarah Huntley said. “When the incumbent left the city earlier this year, the city reclassified the job to Diversity Officer to focus more directly on diversity and inclusion strategies and initiatives,” Huntley said. The finalists are May Snowden, a consultant and facilitator who once served as vice president for global diversity for Starbucks; Frederick Davis, who has held numerous roles related to diversity and also once worked for Starbucks, as a human resources manager for global diversity; and Renata Robinson, the former vice president for human resources with Teach for America.”

“A year and a half into one of Greeley’s most ambitious road repair projects, the city is making progress on its great shame: More than half of the city’s roads don’t meet quality expectations,” reports The Greeley Tribune. “The city shifted priorities that doomed Greeley to drop from 83 percent of roads warranting an excellent rating to just 47 percent in 2015. The scale is 0-100, and a 65 rating is considered excellent. Greeley officials believe that bleak number is improving thanks to voters who approved $12 million annually in taxes for roads by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin in November 2015.”

“Fake but colorful flowers populate some arrangements on a buffet table at Two Rivers Convention Center,” reports The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. “The main hallway, with wood and metal decoration, harkens back a few decades. It’s clear technology upgrades are needed at Grand Junction’s 43-year-old convention center, as well as a number of other fixes to bring the facility into the modern age. At minimum, the city is tasked with an estimated $2.3 million in upgrades to fix deficiencies — including roof repairs, the domestic water distribution system, kitchen items, overhead doors and exterior repairs such as windows, doors, soffit and concrete.”

“Medical calls at Hanging Lake are straining limited Glenwood Springs Fire Department staffing bandwidth, and the fire chief hopes that instituting a fee for the trail will provide some relief,” reports The Glenwood Springs Post-Independent. “Glenwood Fire Chief Gary Tillotson said three types of calls to the department require the most staffing: structure fires, swiftwater rescues and Hanging Lake calls. ‘Lots of people hike that trail who aren’t well-equipped, who don’t have good footwear or who are just not in shape for that kind of grueling hike. So we run into a variety of issues,’ said the fire chief.”

“James Gaspard points to a pile of charred logs, burned in the 2013 Black Forest fire, and says, “What else were they going to do with it?” reports The Loveland Reporter-Herald. “What else, he means, than shred the 50 truckloads of trees, cook the wood at 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit and sell it as a high-quality carbon product called biochar, which is what his Berthoud-area company does. Biochar Now, which the Loveland resident founded with local serial entrepreneur Bill Beierwaltes in 2011, has 40 large steel kilns operating on the 17-acre property it leases southeast of Berthoud.”

“On Tuesday afternoon, Boulder County commissioners will review their Parks and Open Space Department staff’s proposals for reducing the size of the elk herd that’s become a year-around fixture of Boulder County’s Rabbit Mountain Open Space area east of Lyons,” reports The Longmont Times-Call. “The staff’s recommended elk management plan includes permitting the limited hunting of elk on Mondays through Wednesdays between Labor Day and Jan. 31, as well as using fencing, hazing and other techniques to encourage the elk to resume seasonal migrations into and out of the county property.”

“They keep their eyes peeled, searching for life. They are quiet, focused intently on the job in this remote pocket of the Pike National Forest, this area where signs of death are everywhere – from the bloody deer leg on the steep slope to the valley below, where the black and naked trunks of ponderosa pine and Douglas fir still standing sway soundlessly with the wind,” reports The Gazette in Colorado Springs. “Most of the once proud conifers lay flat on the scorched earth. Five years after the Waldo Canyon fire, there are other signs, too. And that is why Jennifer Peterson has come here along with colleagues from the Rocky Mountain Field Institute, the local nonprofit that has helped the U.S. Forest Service restore some of the 18,000 acres eaten by that historic blaze. The task on this day is to count the 900 willow trees planted a summer ago, to check on their progress.”

“Fort Collins resident Jed Link was shocked when he received a letter from the Larimer County Assessor’s Office valuing his home at $552,300,” reports The Coloradoan in Fort Collins. “Link and his family bought their home in south Fort Collins nine days before the cutoff for new appraisals at almost $30,000 less than what the Assessor’s Office valued the home. So, he decided to protest. Link isn’t the only one appealing his increased tax bill. The county Assessor’s Office saw a 25 to 30 percent increase in the number of protests this year.”

“U.S. Senator Cory Gardner toured the FEDC TechSTART on Saturday and participated in a morning roundtable with innovation business leaders and tenants from the co-working space,” reports The Cañon City Daily Record. “Senator Gardner met with more than 15 tenants in their offices to learn about their unique offerings in the tech space, ranging from software development to web and creative design, social media support, legal services, program management, and many others.”

“The Denver metro area is home to some of the most segregated school districts in the state — and the nation — not because of Jim Crow-like laws but deep-rooted economic and racial schisms that keep white, black and Latino students separate but not equal,” reports The Denver Post. “Fissures have run through Denver Public Schools for decades, caused by housing segregation and the way school boundaries are drawn, school officials say. Those conditions often force students of color into high-poverty schools where teacher turnover is high, fewer teachers are licensed and advanced coursework is limited. The district has announced a new initiative to address the issue and promises to consider all possible solutions. Two decades of court-ordered busing of students and other actions, including enlarging school boundaries through enrollment zones, have done little to help integrate Denver’s K-12 campuses.”

“Officials from La Plata and San Juan counties and Durango were assured last week during meetings in the nation’s Capitol that funding for the Superfund site near Silverton would continue,” reports The Durango Herald. “The group met with elected delegates and Environmental Protection Agency officials because President Donald Trump cut the budget for Superfund, a nationwide environmental cleanup program, by 25 percent. Durango City Councilor Dean Brookie said the meeting was successful and that everyone was on board for the continued financial support of the project to clean the Animas River watershed.”