Tuesday’s city election comes at one of the most opportune times ever for us voters.
Right as our city is on the cusp of a rebirth after COVID, we have a chance to take the newborn Springs into our arms and carefully shape its future. The timing of this election may give us more influence than we’ve ever had on how our city will grow up. We get to pick midwife and parents of that New Baby Springs after a difficult 12-month incubation.
The people we pick out of the 21 candidates vying for the six district council seats in the April 6 election will decide what our 150-year-old city starts to become in the next 150 years. I can’t imagine a more important time to vote.
Should we build hundreds and hundreds of new houses to meet the demand out there and try to keep prices from continuing to skyrocket, or should we slam the brakes on growth so we maintain our small-town biggest little city in America vibe?
Do we rush headlong into transforming our city into a hub of renewable energy and electric cars and public transportation, or do try to manage the risk of this grand experiment in changing our energy sources and protect the state’s oil and gas industry from too much disruption too fast?
Do we do all we can to spur developers to build affordable housing for lower-income and homeless residents, or do we insist they prioritize more open space and parkland in the neighborhoods of the future?
The Gazette and KOAA-TV recently hosted Zoom forums for candidates in all six council races up for grabs, and the issues those candidates highlighted as most important were pretty universal.
Sustainable and responsible growth. Renewable energy. Affordable housing.
With city coffers severely depleted by COVID relief, the candidates we pick will have to be incredibly smart about tradeoffs in what we pay for. Tradeoffs like: Do we prioritize fixing neglected infrastructure such as roads and bridges, or do we spend that money instead on better police and fire services for all?
Candidate Justin Hermes noted the supply of homes on the market has dwindled from 3,600 homes about six years ago to less than 300 now. It's a problem that will affect business growth because companies need affordable housing for their workers, he said.
Other candidates like District 3 candidate Henry McCall want to battle urban sprawl in the Springs by calling for a one-year moratorium on annexing additional property into the city.
District 2 candidate Dave Geislinger reminded our readers that the city is working on an annexation agreement with the county that would require developers interested in annexing into the city build to city standards. For example, those developers could include sidewalks and gutters in their development plans.
"Growth is not a city problem, or a city challenge. It is a regional problem and a regional challenge. ... We need to have growth by city standards," he said.
More renewable energy is coming, all candidates acknowledge, but how much to bet on renewables and how fast we convert to them are decisions this city council will absolutely have to make.
District 3 candidate Richard Skorman said the state is targeting dramatic carbon reductions by 2030 so the city doesn't have much choice in its pursuit of renewables right now.
Other candidates such as Garfield Johnson in District 6 are worried that renewables haven’t proven themselves reliable enough to depend on exclusively, and energy costs for consumers could soar.
The cavalcade of candidates running for City Council is a sure sign of how much is at stake right now.
But increased interest from candidates hasn’t translated necessarily into increased interest from voters.
As of Tuesday, only 13.76% — or about 42,596 — of the 309,635 registered voters had returned a ballot, city clerks office data showed. In the last City Council district races, 31.7% of the active and registered voters in town participated.
What I’m saying is the big changes looming should make every single person in the city want to vote. We need the smartest city council we’ve ever had to manage the coming years, so we need as many people possible vetting those candidates with their votes.
Tuesday’s a day you’re going to remember as a citizen. It’s your chance to be present at the rebirth of a 194 square-mile babe.