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A View from the Valley’s Growth Summit

Article by Marcia Darnell

Growth – June 1995 – Colorado Central Magazine

Gov. Roy Romer’s fifth Smart Growth Summit in Alamosa began with the introduction of an obscure journalist named “Ed Quillian,” who presented a compelling argument for his assertion that Chicago won the Mexican War.

It was the most cerebrally stimulating part of the summit.

The crowd consisted of about 175 San Luis Valley residents representing business (of course), local government, human service agencies and, presumably, regular people.

I was present under the “Other” category, as the owner of a sole proprietorship and occasional volunteer. Since the Alamosa City Council is made up largely of owners of retail businesses and construction companies (i.e., growth proponents) I felt a need to provide some balance in representing the area.

After Ed’s speech, we were given instruction in conducting the “county breakout groups,” to be led by “synthesizers.” (Who names this stuff?)

The Alamosa County group had to wait in the hall while our meeting room was arranged. I thought that didn’t bode well for a planning summit. Once inside, we spent several minutes jockeying for position and commenting on the absence of our county commissioners. Then the meeting began.

IT WAS REMARKABLY COURTEOUS. Everyone with a comment to make waited politely until the previous speaker was finished and the comment had been recorded. It was obvious that there were several single-issue people: the group from Adams State who wanted an investigation into problems at the college; environmentalists asking for open space and better development planning; and those interested in an atmosphere more conducive to business.

It was courteous, but boring. Participants focused on their own concerns, and there was little discussion of the issues. I’d been expecting an intense brainstorming session and got something that could have been done by mail.

There was more interaction when the groups reunited in the auditorium. Each county’s representative reviewed its area’s need and strengths to the whole. The San Luis Valley’s diversity meant that while Alamosa County wanted to preserve clean air and water, Costilla County was concerned with getting reliable electricity and paved roads. Mineral County’s rep pointed out that with 95 percent of the county’s land being national forest, there is no room for growth in Creede, and it seems Conejos County feels disenfranchised from the rest of the Valley and the state.

Common concerns included preserving cultural diversity, clean air and water, and open space, while improving communications, transportation, and infrastructure. The words “sustainable” and “vision” were bandied about frequently.

“Next Steps,” the subsequent item on the agenda, was nothing original: more community involvement in planning and sustaining, more communication between government entities, and of course, more meetings.

The summit ended with an appearance by the Guv, whose speech touched on crime, education, and the concealed weapons bill (for which he took a straw poll) — in short, everything but growth.

Then Romer took questions from the audience, which steered the discussion back on track, and he wrapped up his presentation by assuring us that government is there to work for us. He urged citizens to demand more from their elected officials, since (as everyone knows) that’s how things get changed.

After the summit, I headed toward the corner where Romer was holding court, then I saw Ed sneaking out the back. I knew who the better conversationalist would be, so I wound up outside, in the sun, discussing growth and its prevention with a few interested (and interesting) individuals.

Maybe that’s the answer. Instead of meetings with government officials, we should hold neighborhood salons. Such a system could lead to the elimination of politicians, elections, and even taxes. We could solve the problems of our towns, the nation, the world!

Next meeting’s at Ed’s house. Bring your own beer — and vision.