City leaders have grown the Colorado Springs parks system to more than 9,000 acres and an additional 500 acres of trails over the past 150 years. We are home to Garden of the Gods municipal park, which has been rated by travel agents and publications as the best park in the country — sometimes topping Central Park in New York.
People from around the globe visit our city and move their families and businesses here because of the amazing public lands that are well-maintained and easy to use.
Just this week, the Springs emerged in first place in a ranking of cities to visit for enjoying fall foliage. The study, sponsored by Lawn Love, analyzed foliage and the availability of outdoor spaces to visit while maintaining safe social distancing amid the coronavirus pandemic. The ability to maintain social distancing means we have parkland adequate for everyone to share.
It is safe to say this about Colorado Springs: In terms of parks, it ain’t broken.
Despite our community’s amazing parks system and the process that has grown and managed it for 149 years, a faction of well-meaning community activists wants to “fix” it. To mess with a proven success story, they came up with Ballot Question 2B.
Question 2B goes too far. Passage would force city officials to put to a citywide vote any sale, trade, or other conveyance of parkland to a private purchaser or trader.
On the surface, this sounds like a good idea. It means we use democracy to determine real estate deals. Voting is no less American than pumpkin spiced latte in the fall.
But there are good reasons the vast majority of public policy decisions are not made at the ballot, and instead are decided by elected leaders representing the public. Pure democracy does not work, and land transactions provide the perfect example of why.
Property transactions require buyer and seller, or trader and trader, to make nuanced and timely decisions. Often the city finds itself able to get exactly what it needs because it can trade for something another party needs in a timely fashion. The value of a property might go down by half if a delay in the transaction runs into a recession.
For countless reasons, mutually beneficial transactions require nimble flexibility on both sides. Timing is always a key factor. Subjecting every trade and transaction to an election on the horizon would prevent the city from trades and acquisitions that take advantage of the moment — the kinds of deals that have grown our parkland assets strategically.
There’s another problem with putting every transaction to a vote. Often voters are not well-appraised of the complicated pros and cons of a transaction and make decisions on an emotional basis. Imagine trying to sell and/or buy a home, but first having everything wait for thousands of people to learn about the deal and give it a “yay” or a “nay.” The offer might seem off, but not everyone marking a ballot knows the foundation is cracked and the ground oozes radon.
We know of only one major real estate deal the city put to a vote, and that was the Houck Estate near UCCS Park. If city leaders had managed the transaction, it might be a park today the size of Palmer Park. Instead, voters — who weren’t well-informed about the benefits of preserving the land — let it go for private developers to build another subdivision.
Though putting every transaction to a vote would be overkill, proponents of 2B have a sincere and legitimate concern about the city’s public lands. They worry about a simple majority on the council making a catastrophic mistake and trading away a precious piece of property for something less valuable to the public. The quality of any council majority changes with each election, so anything is possible.
Question 2C gives voters an almost perfect compromise. Passage would amend the City Charter to require a supermajority approval by the council for a transaction involving the conveyance of city property to a private party. That means seven of nine council members, not just five, would have to agree to any sale or trade. If three members object, the transaction could not occur.
A proposal of council member and former Secretary of State Wayne Williams, supported by Mayor John Suthers, 2C stands for something we don’t see much of these days. It respects two sides of an issue and proposes a fair solution that falls squarely in the middle of competing positions. In this space, the public is often best served. That is why 2C has the support of the Trails and Open Space Coalition, the Colorado Springs Chamber and Economic Development Commission, Visit COS, and the volunteer citizens serving on the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Advisory Board.
The Colorado Springs parks system is envied by much of the world. The system isn’t broken, so voters should reject the overhaul proposed by 2B. Meanwhile, they should welcome 2C as a reasonable improvement to a system that has served the community well for generations. Vote no on 2B and yes on 2C. Vote to make a good process great.
The Gazette Editorial Board