Friday, December 17, 2010

Citizenship At Work -
Persigo Perspectives

This has been a fairly extraordinary week in terms of local citizens influencing government over and above the traditional method at the polls. These efforts ranged from grassroots activism and community organization to using the available tools to obtain relief from the actions of elected representatives. In the end, both seemed to echo the will of the people, or at least the will of a people determined to get their point across, and knowing how to do it.

I'll get into the first example today.

Monday's Grand Junction City Council meeting involved hearing the appeal by residents of the unincorporated 29 3/4 Road area on Orchard Mesa of the City's decision to allow the construction and operation of a gravel pit on annexed land at the end of the roadway.

Council's decision to overturn the Planning Commission approval is laudable. The residents of this area saw the problem, did their homework, worked the system, and put their arguments forward in a clear and forthright manner. They still got caught between a rock and the Persigo Agreement.

They then sought legal representation and put together an appeal (click on Attach 8) impressive in its scope and historical perspective, which now appears to have transcended the convoluted and unsteady alliance that is the manner in which the City and County have agreed to allow growth to occur.

I must give the City credit for the extraordinary availability of public records online. To be able to view City Council meetings live or via archived video is excellent in and of itself. Additionally, the perspective that can be obtained from these online records is also extremely interesting when comparing the past to the present. Consider the minutes of a joint County Commissioners / City Council meeting on October 13, 1998, the date that the Persigo Agreement was approved and signed by both bodies.

In these minutes, several of those testifying are documented as stating that they had just seen or just been made aware of the agreement's existence. This included then-State Representative Matt Smith.

One citizen brought up Section 42 of the Agreement:
"Any zoning or land use decision undertaken by the City whose persons who own property within the area of the City’s standard notification, and which is not within the City’s limits, shall be entitled to the same rights of appeal and participation in the land use review process as City residents."
This would appear to be what allowed the residents of the 29 3/4 Road neighborhood the ability to appeal the gravel pit decision. It would seem that Persigo giveth, not just taketh away.

Then-County Commission Chairman Jim Baughman, the only member of either body to cast a "no" vote on the agreement, also objected to the apparent haste with which the agreement was being considered, and was also prescient in his analysis of the impacts:
"(The) biggest disadvantage is that it continues and makes a bad situation worse. It continues the erratic, irregular municipal boundaries of the City of Grand Junction for decades. The hop-scotch method of delivering municipal services and defining the boundary of the City of Grand Junction and Mesa County will be inter-dispersed for years to come."
Contrast the above with minutes of the May 10, 2010 joint meeting of City Council and the County Commission, AKA "the Persigo Board", specifically to deal with Persigo-related issues. At this particular meeting, both of the applicants for inclusion into the 201 Sewer District withdrew their applications, leaving the most interesting part of the meeting; a discussion of the processes surrounding the Persigo Agreement in the wake of the adoption of the city's Comprehensive Plan.

The discussion as documented in the minutes illustrates what feels to me like a disconnect between the two governing bodies, as well as a validation of concerns that I've expressed here previously.
Here are some excerpts:
"Commission Chair (Craig) Meis said that he would like to see the lines better correlate with where growth is taking place and to reduce further checker board annexation that is now inside the 201 Boundary. The Persigo Boundary is causing the checker board annexation now inadvertently. There are disconnected service patterns because of the checker board annexation and it would be helpful to look at this to ensure that services are not being duplicated in adjacent areas.

Councilmember (Tom) Kenyon agreed with the checker board pattern description but said it is an operational issue. It is disjunctive and dysfunctional for the service providers and he would like to see that being made more efficient but it is a challenge because of the people who do not want to be annexed.

Council President (Teresa) Coons said that it does sound like a discussion on how to best provide service is necessary and they can put it on a future agenda to continue that discussion.

Commission Chair Meis said that they either need let it die and look at future amendments to the Boundary or make a request for information that would demonstrate the issues. Discussions on this have continued far too long.
(Former) County Administrator (Jon) Peacock said that what is unique with the Comprehensive Plan is that they planned significant urban areas that are outside the 201 Boundary. There is a lot of land planned for future urban development that will fall under the County’s land use jurisdiction and it would take a long time for appropriate infrastructure to get to those areas. That will likely result in property owners asking for development which may create situations where the landowner must wait for development to get to them. If it is left as business as usual, it sets up future decisions outside the Comprehensive Plan. They are also wrestling with the questions of annexation patterns and checkerboard annexation patterns and the confusion it creates with the public. The question is if there is a more rational way to step out with either annexation or service delivery."
So there is a sensitivity toward the effect of patchwork, or "checkerboard" annexations on service delivery efficiency and general public confusion as to who governs what. This is heartening to see. I miss Jon Peacock. I hope he enjoys Aspen.

So what is to be done? It doesn't seem that there's a great deal of consensus about that:
"Council President Coons agreed that it is frustrating to keep postponing discussion so she asked Staff if they have a suggestion on a better way to proceed.

County Administrator Peacock said that they have not spent time analyzing alternatives but there probably are a set of alternatives that could be developed if Staff is given direction to do so.

City Manager (Laurie) Kadrich said that Staff has brought forward what has been asked, no forced annexation, only if the property owner wants to be included. Options have not been discussed because they have not originated from the property owners.

Council President Coons said that it takes Staff time and resources to develop alternatives and asked if there is the capacity to do that.

County Administrator Peacock said from the County’s perspective, given the slow down, even with staffing reductions, there is no better time to do that with the current low level of development.

City Manager Kadrich stated she has a different perspective; the City Planning and Public Works Department has been reduced by 29 positions in the last nine months. They are looking at a different model of operation for implementing the Comprehensive Plan and Zoning and Development Code. Some of the wisdom is to leave the Comprehensive Plan alone for a period of time. The City is in a different spot as far as staffing and resources."
Up to this point, my concerns about the effects of annexation have centered on the effects of expanding City boundaries on existing public safety services. I've written and/or spoken to Council on the subject numerous times. Even in an economic slowdown when development is minimal, there should be a level of preparedness for the possibility of the resumption of development in response to improvement in the energy sector, for example.

It sounds as if the City has gutted those departments responsible for managing the process and impacts of development that isn't here right now. How do they expect to be ready when it comes back? The Grand Valley will again be in a reactive posture, and behind the curve.

This isn't to say that our elected officials aren't sensitive to some issues surrounding development. They proved as much with the reversal of the gravel pit approval. They do seem to have some differences in perspective that translate to frustration:
"Council President Coons said her concern with having rigid (annexation) guidelines. Although they are not seeing a lot of development right now, when economy changes that could result in requests being automatically denied.

Commissioner (Janet) Rowland said that the Board just needs to look at the guidelines, to see what there is now, and what should be changed.

Council President Coons said the guidelines can be distributed as they are written now and asked the Board if they want to set a date for a future discussion.

Commissioner Rowland stated that the Board always agrees to continue to say they will talk about it but they never talk about it."
Fellow blogger Gene Kinsey, who as a City Councilmember voted for the Persigo agreement, has written in the past that cooperation between city and county elected officials had been hard to come by before the agreement, to a point that a discussion like the one above may not have even been possible. He was critical of a post I wrote last year that placed most of the responsibility on City Council and not enough on the Commissioners to get things moving on Persigo revisions and annexation reform - before the next wave of growth is upon us. A
fter reading these accounts of government in action, I'm in agreement with Gene - both sides have an equal responsibility to work together.

If you're interested, read the full text of the minutes of the two meetings that are summarized above. Our key elected officials have had 12 years to figure out that something is broken - one predicted it, and all appear to admit it now. What will it take to effect the kind of changes necessary to assure that responsible, efficient growth is the rule, and not the exception?

It feels to me that these officials are in an airplane set to automatic pilot, in level cruise flight east over the Grand Valley at around 9500 feet. The 10,000-foot Grand Mesa is looming in the cockpit window - but no one wants to change any of the controls.

Have a good weekend.

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