Wednesday, April 11, 2012

My Suggestions to the Soda Springs Park Safety Task Force.

Citizen Strategy Recommendations for Perennial Issues in Manitou Springs, CO.

First, admit that this is a town-wide issue.  We had a murder on El Paso, and we are constantly hearing about car break-ins on Crystal Park Blvd.  Incidence of crime is by no means centered around the park.

Second, understand that homeless and transient people are a symptom of the current economic conditions we all live in.  Local policies will not effect a national crisis unless they are policies that also help alleviate the true crisis:  poverty.  Criminalizing all signs of poverty and developing legal tools to banish the poor from town will not address the issue.

The main trouble that comes around Soda Springs Park and gives it a bad name is in the form of homeless, travelling youth.  Not all homeless youth are part of this problem.  Many are employed and clean-cut, and they blend well into the population.  At the same time, the culture of Manitou allows a person to be unkempt, so dirty clothes or greasy hair are not necessarily signs of homelessness.

This town has already criminalized homelessness to the fullest extent that it can.  A person can be arrested anywhere in city limits for sleeping, whether day or night, for camping.

This town has also already criminalized aggressive panhandling to the fullest extent it can. 

It is not in our best interests to criminalize poverty as well. 

What we are moving toward, in the public perception, is a criminalization of all activities except dining and shopping.  We see a series of economic moves being made that will drive all affordable housing out of Manitou, and we see these laws as a way to mop up any stragglers.

If all activity aside from shopping and dining are banned aside from government sanctioned events, what does that mean?

If the point is to curb the behavior of the "undesirables," who gets to decide who that is?

There are a lot of people that I see as undesirable, but I have no right to tell them they can't live here.  Neither does anyone else.

What we need is clearer communication between the city and its people about what we expect from life in our town.  That said, we also think the city needs to understand that whatever decisions are made here will inadvertently effect a large portion of the citizens of this town.

Matt Carpenter has said directly to me, "I have to deal with people like you, and citizens like this that I represent."

I am a citizen, as are all of the "people like me."  I have lived in or around Manitou for most of the last 24 years.  I spend money at local businesses every day.  There is a portion of my budget called "minimum daily spending" that is devoted entirely to local business.  This is something that a lot of "people like me" do.

 I'm not quite sure who it is he represents, and I know that people out here, even people who are not "like me," would like to know just who he represents.  We'd also like to know just what people are trying to stop here.

What we are going to do centers on a few simultaneous activities.  In order to crack down on something and actually succeed, you need to find positive outlets for some of the percieved problems.

ISSUE 1:  Crowds of young people at Manitou & Ruxton.

    Hold a daytime summer concert series highlighting local musicians and performers.  This will draw the crowd into the pavilion, and the formalized setting and amplified sound will help the tourists understand what is going on.

Public menace or cool scene created by a thriving business?  Almost every person here has a job.
    Post signs saying, "Take a hike!" with arrows pointing out some of the awesome trails near the park.  If the kids have a reminder of the beauty in the area, they will go take a walk.  The concerned crew at the park has already been promoting hiking to the kids again.  It is a great place to meet up for adventures, and we need to focus on that and bring it back.  The park really is a social hub, but the turf wars that resulted from the bum wave of 2007-2011 caused a lot of people to stick around the stage to make the bums feel unwelcome so they'd leave.  We're over that now, and we, the users of the park, have a desire to revive the cultural phenomena that had us fall in love with the place to begin with.

    We still feel that it is culturally beneficial to have people "holding it down" at the stage.  It creates a remarkably welcoming setting for people who are brave enough to say, " hello".  At the same time, it keeps the pulse of the town.  We get newsflashes every day just by coming down to the park.  The street news in the park covers everything from global and national politics, health food crazes, local politics and current events, and issues people have like weirdos and bums.

    It would be beneficial for the city to continue the liaison program that Roger Miller has pioneered.  By having such a direct line of communication with a civilian member of city government, we are able to hear the concerns of the city and brainstorm how to get through.  This conversation is the best interaction between a government and its people that I have seen or heard of, and it would be great for it to continue.

ISSUE 2:  Panhandling.

    What we generally do with panhandlers has a lot to do with our individual personalities.  The tendency to say, "Fuck off, bum, get a job!" is strong, but we need to be a little more straightforward when we handle them.  From now on, the central group of concerned citizens is going to actually have talks with the bums and tell them that you can't do that here.

We have a few homeowners that are setting up open-source gardening projects to help these people find constructive activities that require them to stay sober.  When we meet travelling kids who truly want to change their lives, we can bring them into open source gardening projects and test their mettle as workers while training them in marketable, rewarding skills that they can use in the future.

These open source gardening projects are connected with employers in the area, and we can help some of these troubled youths get jobs, houses, and try to beat their addicitons in the process. 

These projects do not pay money, and there's not much guarantee beyond an honest day's work and a full belly.  This helps them stay off the street and keeps them from buying booze.

ISSUE 3:  Obstruction

No Police contact, obvious and prolonged obstruction.
    Moving the benches in the pavilion was a wonderful start, and getting rid of the triangle planter is a great next step.  We do need to take a closer look at what is called "obstruction," though, and realize that just because someone is "undesirable" does not constitute a real obstruction.

    The sidewalk in front of Patsy's is constantly obstructed, yet the law is never enforced there.  I am not suggesting that we start to crack down on Patsy's, I am only suggesting that we be honest with ourselves.  No one has raised any major concerns, yet a true obstruction is present.  Likewise, the Custard Shop often has lines that stretch back to block the sidewalk on busy days, and it is followed immediately by the bottleneck in the sidewalk next to Shoshone spring.

    Remember what the sidewalks were like before they got redone?  This whole City should have gotten daily obstruction tickets for its design.

    We are aware of the concerns of business owners on Ruxton Avenue who feel that business on their street is adversely effected by people hanging out in front of the Mate Factor.  Take a look from a visitor's perspective, though, and you might see something else entrely.

People get ticketed for this, but these are "desirables."
    The drops in business on Ruxton Avenue coincide with the bum wave, but they also coincide with the renewal of the sidewalks throughout downtown.

    We now have a homogeneous "business district" look that stretches from City Hall to Ruxton Avenue.  At Ruxton, the "business district" look goes away.  When you head further west on the Ave or back up Ruxton, it looks to an outsider like the business district is over.  As the improvements continue to the end of the Ave and up Ruxton, business will rebound, and most likely surpass pre-2007 levels.

    This will also be tied to more domestic travel as we come out of the recession.  We've all got to admit that when the bubble burst in 2007-2008, everybody got pinched a little bit.  It took longer than some than it did for others, but soonder or later, we all got our chance to feel it.

    For some, the only way that they feel the recession is by seeing poor people.  This is unsightly to them, and the impulse is to take action to get this unpleasant fact of reality out of sight.  This can not work for longer than a short while.  As the global economy shifts away from oil, the United States is going to fall from its #1 position, and we are all going to feel a change of status.  Believe it or not, this is most likely going to happen in the next decade, and we will all be affected by it.

    One point to remember is that as long as we have a tourism centered economy, we will have panhandlers.  We should think about diversifying our economy, and there is a coalition of citizens working towards a sound proposal to bring forward to council.  We are envisioning a legislative framework that will enable us to move beyond oil and tourism, and we will bring this forward as the years go by.

    Many people feel as though obstruction is a discriminatory tool that is used to crack down on certain segments of the population.  We have photographic evidence of obstructions being committed by "desirables" that are not prosecuted,ticketed or even warned.  This includes people sitting on the bridge, standing in the roundabout, and even on hands and knees on the street.

    If an "undesirable" does any of these things, they are ticketed, searched, handcuffed, and oftentimes arrested.

    No one is above the law.  If these laws are to stand, they need to be enforced evenly.  If they are not to be enforced evenly, they need to be repealed.  Remember that as lawmakers, you have the equal power and responsibility to protect people's rights as you do to take them away.

ISSUE 4: Graffiti

    Let's look at this in a historical context.  If you register to climb and go up the rocks in the Garden of the Gods, you will find settler graffiti from the 1800's.    It is a piece of history.  It is a human impulse.

    If you go further back, you can see cave paintings done thousands of years ago.  They are archaeological treasures.  They were probably done by teenagers, and their parents were probably pissed.

    It's a human impulse, and it is not going away. 

    Let's find a way to work with it.  The stage stayed unvandalized for a very long time.  At that same time, the Mate Factor used to have a table that all of the graffiti ended up on.  That was destruction of property, but it worked.

    Let's have a few designated graffiti areas.  Post signs that say, "If you want to tag, do it over there"

    If people have a place that they are allowed to tag and they know it, that's where they're going to do it.  The contemporary graffiti artist understands the ephemeral nature of their work, and they know that it will be gone over. 

    As far as the specific incident involving orange spray paint and horrible vilgarity, let's admit that the park was closed, and so was the Mate Factor.  If the Mate was open, there would have been a cooperative, credible witness.

    If the park was open, someone would have seen it and possibly tried to stop it.

    Because it wasn't, no one knows who did it to this day.  There are rumors, but there are rumors about a lot of things in town.  That is hardly actionable intelligence.  If law abiding citizens were allowed to be around, they would have been able to point the finger.  People who hang out at the park were extremely angry.  We would love to know who did it, and we would love to see them brought to justice. 

    There is no code of silence.  If we see a true crime, we report it.  If we see activity that prude moralists disapprove of, however, we don't say anything.  Weirdness should not be punished.  Even if a certain somebody doesn't represent "people like that."

ISSUE 5:  Skateboarding & Bikes in the Pavilion

    This is something that people are starting to feel is a discriminatory policy.  It is similar to the obstruction issue in that it is only enforced against "undesirables".  We often times have mountain bikers come down from Williams' Canyon who ride through the pavilion at high speeds, and they are not ticketed, even if police are on foot patrol. 

The law doesn't say, "If you dress the right way."
    We have photos and videos of "desirables" riding bikes and skateboards in the pavilion with impunity, while "undesirables" can be ticketed for standing next to a skateboard.

    This is discrimination.  It is illegal.  There is no dress code, and no dress code can be enforced by binding law.  Using other "tools" to enforce the dress code is illegal.

    Breaking the law to get one's way is called crime.  There is a mountng body of evidence that systemic discrimination is happening, and we would like to reverse the tide instead of pressing the issues in courts.

    We recommend either evenly enforcing the law, whether or not a person is "desirable", or repealing or softening the law.  One proposition is to open limited bicycling and skateboarding in the pavilion, but to limit grinding and ollieing off the stage.  Another possibility is to develop a mini skate park in the mid town area.  The other skate park is too remote from downtown, and skaters who live in the city center WILL skate there.  If we give them a downtown spot, they will feel like they have a vested interest in the whole thing, and they will behave in a manner that will protect their new-found privilege.  Skateboarding is not a crime, but using a skateboard in a manner that destroys public property is.  We need to find this distinction, or we need to enforce the law equally.

    Again, no one is above the law.  I have had major issues with runners being rude and shoving people out of the way.  I do not want to see running banned, though.  This is the same as skateboarding or riding a bicycle.  If liability is the issue, though, I highly recommend a ban on long distance training.  There are so many marathon trainers at some point that I have a hard time walking down the street.  Some of them are exceedingly rude and condescending, and they hog the trails as though they are their own.

    You can see where this is headed.

    What is the difference?

This is a little long winded, no doubt, and I hope that you read through it enough to understand where this is all coming from.  The first couple meetings of the Task Force were held in violation of the law.  There are many other things that are happening that are violations of both state and federal law, and I think we need to step back from the brink.

We don't have a problem as much as we have a vocal minority with an agenda that does not include a good portion of the citizens of this town.

People have confused their square footage with their percentage of representation in our democracy.  I hope that some on council have the courage to consider everyone.  The number of single unit dwellings in five inner city blocks far outnumbers the number of single unit dwellings in Crystal Hills.  The people have not registered to vote because they were happy with how things are going.  This Task Force has raised more hackles than one might realize.

We all know how certain economic strategies in the right legislative framework can run all of the poor people out of Manitou. 

Keep in mind that you will be running the soul out as well.  The country club atmosphere is full of envy, backstabbing and mistrust.  Those people who you view as first-class citizens view you as second-class.  These economic and legislative moves will cause major demographic shifts, but when they're done, you will be the poor people.

They may consider you the "undesirables."  Using a ratcheting down effect, they  can use the precedents that you are setting now to run you out of town.

Living next door to a rich guy doesn't make you rich. 

Either way, they will be smug and condescending towards you, just a certain legislator is toward us.

As of now, we consider you "people like us".  We don't see a situation of "us" and "them".  It's just us here.  We really hope you can work with us so we can all stay here.

I don't mean saying, "We've all got to make sacrifices," while making policies to target certain people.  That is empty rhetoric, and while it is the neo conservative style these days, we, the "other" people of Manitou Springs, expect better from our elected officials.


  1. Excellent read, Adam. Very well done. Not to be too discriminatory, but I see a huge majority of the park problems coming from the "juggalo population." I never saw the unemployed sit outside of a restaurant like The Loop and wait for tourists to come out carrying boxed leftovers and then begging them for it until they showed up. I've seen them get violent towards other locals, tourists, and even to each other. It's such a shame.

  2. Good read... yes, from an observer's standpoint, they do target specific groups of people. With a little leadership and role-modeling, I see the "park kids" as a resource... OUR youth. If they have a damn problem, give us a better place to chill, out of their way. Give us something to do, everybody there loves this town. There's only so much self-motivation for clean-ups and such. Do something other than make no place and nothing for the local Manitou youth.

  3. If you want to sit in the middle of the street than your an idiot and should get hit by a car. If you you want to tag and graffiti than move to some big city shit hole were no one cares instead of painting or writing on historic sites and mother nature. And some homeless asshole almost burned down the hillside because he was to lazy to make it to the shelter. Go shit and piss and paint in some one else backyard.

  4. I think it is the current society that lets these scum bags take over our park. The tax paying residents that pay for this park and their children wont even go in the park. What the heck is that. These lame assholes sit there selling and smoking their weed out in the open 30 feet from where infants and children play. They should be eraticated like the cockroaches they are!