My part in the Salida plan

Essay by Martha Quillen

Planning – January 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine

AS FOR MY PART IN ALL THIS, I obtained a copy of the plan and read it before the first meeting. In truth, I couldn’t figure out how Salida could implement such a plan — since it offered an astounding amount of contradictory advice, and it frequently used language that was vague and confusing. The plan suggested housing where only rattlesnakes dwell, and proposed development on slopes that only a mountain goat could negotiate.

Moreover, the committee had obviously been encouraged to apportion roads, trails and open space with little regard for what was already on the land.

Technical and grammatical errors abounded throughout the document. And the cost of implementing the plan — which included a college campus, numerous neighborhood schools, an eight-million-dollar investment in additional water, and “gateways” into the city — would have stymied a city as large as Pueblo.

So I aired my concerns at the introductory meeting, which happened before the public hearings.

— And it was a pretty miserable experience. A representative of the consulting company actually asked, “Do I have to answer questions from this person?”

I felt a little better when Dave Potts said she did.

But then the mayor actually started yelling at me.

To this day, I’m not sure what prompted the mayor’s reaction. But I’d gone with a friend, and every time I’d offered a few objections, she’d offer a few more, and then I would think of some more, and I suspect everyone was getting a little worried that we would keep them there all night.

Yet I absolutely believed then, as I do now, that the plan was unclear, contradictory, and highly open to interpretation, and therefore, if anyone ever tried to implement it, Salida would end up in court — because that’s the American way. Confusing proposals like the Tabor Amendment and that plan eventually get translated by lawyers and judges.

That night, however, I decided not to say anything at the public hearings.

And I didn’t say anything (although perhaps that was only because other people offered more objections than I’d thought possible). I had, however, already written an uncomplimentary review of the plan, detailing my concerns about it (that we printed before the hearings).

From the beginning to the end, the people who presented the plan were willing to make significant changes. They willingly deleted an entire section of action plans and readily axed a proposed bypass.

But most of the complainants didn’t believe a mere snip here or a cut there could fix things. They didn’t like the maps. They didn’t like the idea of new zoning. They didn’t like the tone of the work.

In the following weeks, Mayor Sanger categorized those who objected to the plan as people with “a different agenda,” as people who were “not community oriented,” and as “a loud minority.”

She insisted people who didn’t like the plan didn’t have any right to complain about it since they hadn’t come to the planning sessions. (Even though, as it turned out, their attendance probably would have required holding those sessions in a dance hall.)

And she made it clear that she considered complaints about the plan an insult against those who had worked on the planning committee.

At meetings, some of the opponents were vociferous — since they clearly regarded the plan as a direct threat to their property and livelihood, and thus shouted accordingly.

But in all honesty, Mayor Sanger sometimes made me feel decidedly guilty — since I’d never really viewed the planning committee as being responsible for the final plan. I knew they hadn’t typed it, or made the maps, or formulated the action plans. I knew they hadn’t invented that crazy, modern tendency to generate long, wordy, circuitous documents that obscure the meaning of whatever it is the document’s supposed to be about.

In actuality, a couple of people who attended those planning sessions later admitted that the plan hadn’t turned out the way they thought it would, either.

But nonetheless, the conflict over the plan escalated — until it was finally sent back to the committee.

From the very first, Salida’s comprehensive plan seemed to be instilled with too much emotion and too little research.

Although the plan’s proponents obviously believed a comprehensive plan was necessary, I never actually heard anyone defend the proposed plan. Instead, I merely heard criticisms of the opponents — along with repeated assurances that the plan could be adjusted later.

And therefore, in the end, when all was said and done, I wasn’t at all sure whether the different sides actually disagreed on what they wanted for the future of Salida. But all in all, their survey responses indicated the proponents wanted pretty much the same things the opponents said they wanted.

Instead, I suspect the struggle was more a matter of faith. Some people believed the proposed plan could be promptly and expeditiously fixed, and some people believed it couldn’t.

So maybe the next time around it will be easy.

But I sure can’t say I’m looking forward to it.

Martha Quillen edits Colorado Central, and hopes that it will be a while before she need to read another comprehensive plan.