Updated: January 15, 2014 at 10:39 am
A City Council majority that spent 2013 accomplishing nothing of substance, while obstructing opportunity, plans to spend time on a problem that does not exist. The lowest-performing council in memory has found another way to manufacture conflict.
Councilman Joel Miller floated an idea Monday that creates a false appearance. In his crusade to crush an option for new primary jobs and tourism—a feat that would cost our community $120 million in state tax relief—the councilman wants a new law that further restricts city government's use of eminent domain to acquire property.
Miller argues that downtown home-owners are frightened because the city might need their properties for an anticipated downtown arena, stadium and Olympics museum he opposes. The desired projects are part of City for Champions, which would also build a new Air Force Academy visitors center and assist with a state-of-the-art sports medicine clinic at a new branch of the University of Colorado Medical School.
The law would limit city government's authority to take property, through the courts, for anything other than "traditional public purposes." Those include transportation and infrastructure.
It sounds wonderful. The councilman wants to save ordinary citizens from "crony capitalists" who occupy a smoke-filled room at City Hall. If that were the case, we would happily cheer him on. Eminent domain should be the final option, even for projects that unquestionably fulfill public needs. Most good people hate condemnation, but without it society cannot build roads and pipelines that traverse private property over tens, hundreds or thousands of miles.
Do not be had by the bread-and-butter sentiment Miller's proposal evokes. Eminent domain is not an option for acquisition of City for Champions property. It is not in the universe of becoming an option. Period. Here's why:
- State law prevents condemnation for anything funded through the state's Regional Tourism Act, under which City for Champions will receive tax rebates. Miller knows it. If he didn't, Councilwoman Jill Gaebler cleared things up for him Monday.
- State law prevents even the city's Urban Renewal Authority, which has broad eminent domain latitude, from using it for anything receiving funds under the Regional Tourism Act.
- If it were an option, which it is not, city policy already imposes severe restrictions on eminent domain. Proceedings cannot begin until city officials document three years of exhaustive negotiations with property owners. Again, that restriction doesn't matter because condemnation is not legal under Miller's imaginary dilemma.
- Mayor Steve Bach, an ardent supporter of City for Champions, contacted all available property owners in one of the possible locations identified for the downtown projects long before Miller proposed his law. "I have told them there will be no condemnation and apologized for any confusion," Bach said. "There can't be condemnation. It's not legal. If it were legal, I would oppose it."
Needless laws, such as what Miller wants, typically come with unintended consequences. The politician's desire to grandstand could someday prevent an essential pipeline or road deemed "nontraditional" or "nonessential" by anti-growth activists. Think Southern Delivery System. A law is force and must be crafted with responsibility and caution.
A council majority gave Miller the go-ahead nod to pursue his ordinance, which targets a nonissue invented for show. So here we go again. While others strive to create jobs and better futures for younger generations, the council has us locked in a boring Kabuki theatre performance of one politician tilting at the boogeymen. It's all about council politicians, never the community.
This latest concocted internal conflict is another desperate grasp for power and control at a cost to the people city government should serve. It does nothing to inspire, enrich, employ or otherwise strengthen this community. Alas, such behavior has become the norm.