May 11, 2014 Updated: May 11, 2014 at 10:35 am
As other Front Range cities surge past Colorado Springs, making Colorado's second-largest city appear stuck in the '80s, the City Council plans to waste time Tuesday on the silliest issue to come along in years. The council will discuss a proposal to prevent the council from confiscating private property for economic development. That's right, the measure would control those who pass it.
Maybe we need a law protecting baby seals from the possibility of a council poaching expedition. Maybe the council should dig holes just to fill them in.
The "Don't-Steal-Grandma's-House" rule is the inspiration of Councilman Joel Miller, who specializes in constructing false dilemmas and offering faux solutions with populist appeal. He's also the council member who frequently votes to prevent private property owners from making reasonable use of what they own, thus advocating government control of private land.
The proposed law isn't even a real solution to a false dilemma. If the council should desire to declare blight and take homes for economic development, it could merely rescind the ordinance. It's like proclaiming a new diet by hiding a cookie jar within easy reach.
Of course, few would argue with the philosophy of the councilman's proposal. Eminent domain should have no purpose beyond resolving extraordinary blight or acquiring property for essential public works projects - such as roads and pipelines - in a manner that protects buyer and seller through judicial process. Even for the Southern Delivery System, a water pipeline essential to the community's future, city leaders did somersaults to avoid eminent domain proceedings because this community respects private property.
Our city has no history of sinister condemnation. If it did, the problem would emanate from the council. Fox, guard the henhouse, please.
Miller's pretend dilemma might be harmless if we didn't have city politicians who meet for 14 hours at a stretch without accomplishing much of value for taxpayers. Or, if we didn't have pressing problems such as a power plant shut down by fire.
Miller has spent 83.25 hours of city staff time, involving six on-staff lawyers and three other staffers, on this only-for-show proposal. In addition, city government owes outside attorney Ed Blieszner for more than 13 hours of work on Miller's idea. This needless exercise has cost $11,216.20 in staff time alone, based on information obtained by The Gazette. That's only to date, as more is likely. City employees could have worked on real problems and new policies to make this community friendlier to businesses that create good jobs. We don't have the luxury for months-long academic discussions about imaginary conspiracies. It looks ignorant and counterproductive.
"Out-of-town talent won't come here when they see cities like Austin, Boulder, Boston, San Diego, Silicon Valley, heck, even Fort Collins," wrote local high-tech CEO Andy Meng, in a letter pleading with Miller to drop the showboat proposal. Meng would prefer the City Council get to work bringing the city up to speed, rather than conducting ideological gab sessions.
"Please do whatever it takes to create an economic environment that welcomes new businesses who will invest in our beautiful city. With a dynamic downtown that is home to corporations that provide high-paying, skilled employment, issues such as fixing potholes and maintaining basic infrastructure wouldn't become the crises that they become now. They would simply be routine maintenance projects."
He's not the only employer dismayed by Miller's proposal. The Board of the Downtown Partnership voted unanimously against it, explaining that state law already regulates blight declarations that precede most eminent domain endeavors. Lest anyone think City for Champions might confiscate grandma's house, rest assured state law prevents any condemnation associated with tax rebates awarded under the Regional Tourism Act.
City Council, get real. Tell Miller to stop grandstanding and wasting your time. Move on to something of substance.