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When the chief of police says his department cannot respond

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The quote was buried in a local TV news story, and you would have missed if you didn’t read carefully. Pueblo’s Police Chief Luis Velez admitted the department had reached its breaking point in responding to calls after two officers resigned.

Chief Velez said to KRDO on March 2, “We’re at a point where we cannot keep our calls for service and stay on top of them.”

While the Pueblo police staffing issue isn’t new, the chief’s comment that the department has reached its breaking point is frighteningly blunt.

This is the third time and the third law enforcement official to call Pueblo’s police at a breaking point. District Attorney Jeff Chostner, on February 29, told the Pueblo Chieftain, “We’ve reached a breaking point in this community.”

Deputy Police Chief Troy Davenport said on March 15, he’s never seen a point like this in his 15-year career.

Velez’s quote is more than just budget shortfalls numbers and the staffing issues that follow. The highest-ranking police officer in Pueblo saying the department cannot respond to the number of calls it receives — is a public security crisis.

PULP reached out to the Pueblo Police Department for clarification on Velez’s statement but did not receive a response.

What changed for Pueblo, was the February murder of Devin Clark at the Iron Horse Bar on Main Street.

Thirteen murders, four of them unsolved, in 2015 pushed the dialogue on gangs and helped advance the tax debate in early 2016. But the death of Clark, a popular Puebloan from a family with deep connections to the community, has changed even the tone of law enforcement.

I have never seen a point in recent memory where officials have offered such a brutal assessment of their departments.

Pueblo is entering a new state of public safety. Officials have given the standard response they are doing their best to manage the lack or resources and public security but their words remain about the state of Pueblo’s police.

Currently, the department is staffed at roughly between 80–85% depending on media outlet reports.

On Monday, March 21, Pueblo will enter another tax debate whether to tax residents to pay for more cops on the street. Pueblo’s City Council has been reluctant to adopt Chostner’s plan. Using a half-cent tax to pay for 30 to 50 more officers and raising roughly $7.5 million wouldn’t see an impact until late 2017 or well into 2018.

While council members and the district attorney debate a tax, what is undebatable are the three top law enforcement officials going public that the lack of resources at 200 South Main Street is breaking the department and threatening public security.

It should be the breaking point for the community because this is now a full blown crisis.

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.

Thoughts on Home

Pueblo, A City for the Creative

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Much of this doesn’t exist…

It’s Sunday brunch time and the new local coffee place is filled  with a few college students trying to finish the last of their term papers before they leave for break as well as a few professionals on their laptops pretending to work while watching YouTube.

The menu is sparse for a coffee shop and the prices are well, Oregonian in nature, but the place is full on a Sunday.

The low winter sun shines on a nice young couple just off a morning hike in Beulah who stretch with purpose as they get out of their Subaru. They drove down from Monument for the day to hike and then to amiably walk around the downtown.

On the agenda a bookstore, the clothing shop, the silkscreen poster shop, the local pottery and then off to a brew pub for a quick pint before heading back up. Maybe they’ll stop off at the Italian deli in Bessemer that they heard about on public radio station just last week.

It’s open now on Sundays because there are people everywhere after the story on the new food culture of Pueblo was shared like wildfire on social media.

“Finally! The recognition Pueblo deserves is getting more play in Denver and Colorado Springs,” the new mayor of Pueblo says to herself.

“All that hard work of spending close to $1.5 million in tourism dollars is working.”

She was panned heavily by the Pueblo Chieftain for advocating for a big increase in tourism dollars but over the last year with the city working closely with the creative arts and tech industry, focusing less on heavy industry and more on creative ones, properties once thought too expensive to own now boom with new businesses.

The new plan worked as a new paper goods place has just opened in Bessemer. A few years ago, these storefronts were embarrassingly vacant considering they near a highly travelled portion off Interstate 25. Thousands of cars a day ignored the exits and kept going for a few more hours until reaching Santa Fe.

Now the inexpensive buildings are seeing new tenants — artists, jewelry makers, coders — young professionals needing inexpensive rents to fuel their new start-ups.

Just over the bridge into the Eiler’s Neighborhood is a new block-house design building. It’s a start-up investment firm taking a chance on the new renewable energy firms relocating to affordable Southeast Colorado after a few counties banded together to lure satellite offices of the largest renewable energy businesses in the world to the region.

It’s a unique marriage among renewables, the cannabis industry,  cryptocurrency businesses and surprisingly Evraz, who all need the same thing — cheap, affordable energy. Just years ago Pueblo had the highest energy rates in Colorado; now with the focus on renewables, Pueblo offers the cheapest energy rates in the state.

At least on Main Street none of this matters today. It’s a warmer day, and the “Pueblo-made” sign on the jewelry store has drawn in the customers. It was another great weekend of business for the boutique. It doesn’t hurt that former Pueblo Community College trained chef, who had a stint at the Broadmoor, has returned home to open his dream kitchen offering new takes on Pueblo favorites.

The menu is filled with adjectives blending the names of local farms around the region with Southwest favorites. The restaurant has spurred on a rejuvenation around the downtown core because of last year’s profile in the New York Times about how Pueblo is reinventing its culture not by trying to be a franchise city, but by locals — creatives seeing potential in rust belt cities.

The long-lines, constant customers and curious parking situation have been a mixed blessing. A few, who moved back into Pueblo from Pueblo West to be closer to the action are buying up the downtown lofts and signing the leases on the new apartment buildings going up.

With the new development Pueblo has become a three-crane city but now some are worried the surge in energy and growth will strip Pueblo of its feel.

Rumbles of gentrification surround the growth. But on the east side, the spread of success slowed at the Fountain Creek.

The old Safeway still sits empty. For a time, there was talk of housing a new creative collective for the workspace. In would have been copied from the fantastical Meow Wolf art collective in Santa Fe since that profitable art space was fashioned out of a bowling alley. Then there was the East Coast grocery chain that was bandied about but it never came to fruition.

But with the creatives moving in generating the demand for more college educated jobs, Colorado State University – Pueblo finally consumed more of the northside and the eastside. Student housing, student pubs and cafes generate energy that are seeping over Highway 50 into 8th street.

Some look back and wonder what happened, what was the change. The answer was Pueblo realized the enormous creative talents that existed in Pueblo and rewarded them.

Pueblo said to itself, no company is going to come in and save us but the people that build things, make things, bake and cook things, paint and mold things — the people that create an experience, a dream, a song, a feeling of nostalgia — we want to be those people and we want others to come here to see what we create. And we want to be a place that when one leaves here, they leave with a piece of something that was made in Pueblo and inspired by the Steel City.

Much of this should.

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
Continue Reading

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Enough is Enough: Sexual Harassment at the Colorado State Capitol

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If there is a moment to drop politics and have a human moment then I’m going to spend the rest of the editorial struggling with what we printed last month.

Thirty some odd days ago, our nation and our state was different. In that time Colorado saw for the first time that even those sitting in the high seats of Colorado State Government can be targets for harassment and assault.

The State learned that sitting State Representatives were harassed, groped or pursued in ways that were unacceptable.

It started with Rep. Daneya Esgar who told us that she was groped by a man she “regularly worked with.” Then Rep. Faith Winter told a Denver Radio station she was harassed by Rep. Steve Lebsock.

Then other aides, interns and lobbyists came forward to oust Lebsock, and other legislators, both Democrat and Republican, of alleged inappropriate behavior and harassment.

Before Thanksgiving, Rep. Lontine said she was also groped by a legislator but didn’t disclose a name.

This all may be the beginning of more accusations coming to light but the current tally of those with allegations leveled against them beyond Lebsock are Rep. Paul Rosenthal, Senators Jack Tate and Randy Baumgardner, one unknown legislator and the individual who touched Esgar.

Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran and Senate Majority Leader Kevin Grantham have pledged, twice now, to introduce reforms to allow victims and the alleged perpetrators of harassment to have due process but also to enact stricter punishments.

Incredulously, the old process allowed the leadership in both houses to be investigator, jury and judge. And there’s no real way for a legislator accused of this indiscretion to be removed.

This whole thing, beyond the harassment, is frustrating and disgusting to watch as it plays out.

The frustrating part is seeing elected officials stay quiet on harassment. I fully understand that as a female legislator, staffer or intern, if your accusation isn’t a guaranteed political career ending kill shot, the blowback can burn you more than the harasser. If Colorado didn’t know that before this scandal, it should now.

We are seeing that play out in the accusations made and the responses at the State Capitol.

Lebsock defended his actions, saying it wasn’t true and that he wasn’t going to resign. This was after calls from the Governor and other Democratic legislators. On the other side of the aisle, two Republican State Senators accused of wrongful behavior, Baumgardner and Tate, have largely stayed silent on their accusations and the State Senate GOP has pressed that it’s important for due process to take place.

For all the campaign promises and self-promotional talk of “district first” this whole process just reeks of district last.

Let’s just concede staffers, interns and lobbyists don’t have the luxury or power to come out more forcefully. There’s a power dynamic here and it disadvantages anyone not elected.

And let’s just concede that Esgar, Lontine and Winter are also right that merely coming forward and blasting out names may make things worse for them because of the current culture facing women and victims.

So that leaves the rest of the legislators on the hook for standing up for the victims, against the harassers and saying we will not tolerate in Colorado for constituents.

I can’t even believe I have to try to sell the fact that constituencies should know if their elected State Representative or Senator is a harasser.

We all can agree we don’t want to unfairly level accusations against innocent men or women without due process. But let’s be real about what was happening. Harassment at the state capital wasn’t a secret. Democratic leaders knew of the Winter-Lebsock incident. Staffers and lobbyists knew certain members of the legislature, Democrat and Republican, were not safe to be around. People knew and it wasn’t until the media asked questions did they move on this.

And I say all this because I go back to what started all this — Daneya Esgar’s admission that a colleague inappropriately placed his hand on the inside of her thigh at a public event. Why her incident is so egregious isn’t just because of the act, but rather because of who she is, where she was and the moment, while brief, illustrated harassment so clearly.

Let’s call this for what it was. This was about power through sexual aggression. It should bother you, it should bother the legislative leadership (it didn’t as they appeared lukewarm to her statement), it should enrage the constituents of House District 46 knowing someone violated their elected representative (full disclosure Esgar is my Representative) and it should rally fellow legislators to say, “No more.”

Sadly, just like in D.C., we are watching political expediency rule over moral authority. Remember there are six legislators, some named and some not, accused of harassment. No one has resigned with just over a month to go before the new session.

What’s needed now is for victims saying no more silence, and their colleagues, who profess to be proponents of the victims, to not tolerate one more incident of harassment towards Colorado Legislators and those who work at the capital. What’s more important now is not to enable perpetrators even if it costs your party the seats.

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
Continue Reading

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Editorial: Reset the RTA?

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Pueblo’s RTA bid was always an odd duck. The “Heritage of Heroes” seemed little more than jumbled pieces on the Riverwalk — a Professional Bull Riders University, an aquatic park, the expansion of the Pueblo Convention Center and piecemeal odes to veterans. Now it’s stalled because the state wants a strong commitment from the bull riders.

A half-decade later, and what seemed like jumbled tourist pieces weren’t so jumbled after all.

Pueblo desperately wanted to expand the Pueblo Convention Center at all costs. Officials and the city saw it as their great unfinished project, the capstone in the Riverwalk project and a “true” tourism driver.

The state of Colorado wanted the PBR training facility to be a unique landmark in this state- funded project to satisfy their guidelines.

Those two competing wants by the city for the convention center and the state for the PBR University are driving Pueblo’s RTA bid to the brink of collapse.

What’s different this time is that the facade of Pueblo’s RTA bid has eroded to show a project that doubles-down on the weak links on the Riverwalk. And it shows a loosey-goosey tourism attitude by state officials that could hurt Pueblo’s project, if it ever gets built.

The PBR, owned by WWE/IMG, is hesitant to commit to their own training facility in Pueblo. Why? WWE/IMG’s reluctance should not be a surprise as PBR has been timid on training facility all along.

In 2012, as city officials needed the PBR University to serve as the unique element of their bid they rolled in the PBR training center. PBR was reluctant to sign off on the facility, where the city, as we are told by a city official, had to craft the letter for PBR. The same city official told the PULP the training facility could have been built “on their own.” It raises the possibility that PBR didn’t need state funds to build their University.

The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade’s—the agency approving the RTA applications—guidelines state, “that in the absence of state sales tax increment revenue, the project is not reasonably anticipated to be developed within the foreseeable future.”

Also at issue is the slow growth by PBR in Pueblo. PBR was billed in 2006 and again in 2015 as the “The fastest growing sport in the U.S.”

But it’s not growing in Pueblo. To attract PBR in 2006, Pueblo Economic Development Corporation and the City of Pueblo offered $6 million in half-cent funds for a building and $2.5 for a parking garage. The city would put $5.2 million to PBR’s administration offices and PBR would agree to pay for a first floor restaurant and patio area. PBR would agree to hire 76 workers by 2007 and 180 by 2012.

PBR never hit those job numbers forcing, in 2012, the city to renegotiate PBR’s job commitment to the 2007 level of 76 workers. The deal also returned the restaurant and patio section of the PBR building to the city which was being used as storage.

At the other end of the Riverwalk is Pueblo’s baby, the expansion of the convention center.

The Pueblo Convention Center has been hemorrhaging money since it was built. It also rarely meets its attendance and event goals. Yet proponents of the convention center are quick to point out an expanded convention center will allow it to compete regionally.

Local officials have little information to back up this claim and the state and Pueblo disagree on what is the biggest attraction of the RTA project. The city believes the convention center will draw 40,000 people a year, the PBR University will attract 30,000, and the aquatic center will bring 60,000. The state estimates Pueblo will only bring in 11,250 (convention center), 30,000 (PBR), and 7,500 (aquatic park) visitors respectively.

If the Pueblo Convention Center builds bigger but doesn’t attract more people, city taxpayers will pay for those losses.

Proponents are also quick to point out that Pueblo will compete on price and location because it’s the only facility like this in Colorado. Well, it was until COEDIT approved the GO NOCO project in Windsor.

On paper, GO NOCO is nearly the same as Pueblo’s project. The PeliGrande Resort and Convention Center is expected to offer 58,500 square feet of space compared to Pueblo’s expanded size of 54,800 sq. ft. The PeliGrande will have a 300 room hotel compared to 163 rooms at the current Pueblo Marriott. If you add in the recently built Cambria Suites then Pueblo has 268 rooms close to the Riverwalk. And PeliGrande will build an aquatic park, a whitewater park, and a golf course that already has commitments from the Senior PGA.

How does this compare to Pueblo? Pueblo once had its own championship golf course. Walking Stick Golf Course, once rated as one of the best public courses in America by Golf Digest, hosted USGA events but couldn’t attract bigger tournaments. The city has since let the links slip in “championship” quality.

The city built a whitewater course on the Arkansas River but not a championship whitewater course. And, Pueblo’s RTA will build an unspecified indoor aquatic park with a championship pool for competitive meets.

As for the unique aspect of GO NOCO, that’s a convenient 43 miles away in a “Film Center” in Estes Park not Windsor.

Should the reset button be pressed on this whole project?

No, the RTA project shouldn’t be forced to start over. But this does provide the city and state an opportunity to get the project right. The state should demand more reassurances that Pueblo’s build can attract tourists and not lose money.

Pueblo should demand answers on why COEDIT is approving projects that threaten the success of Pueblo’s current tourism assets such as State Fair which now has to compete with the National Western Stock Show Complex RTA, in Denver and Pueblo’s Riverwalk which has to compete against Windsor’s Peligrande.

And that’s the real issue. How is Pueblo, who went first in the state’s RTA funding experiment, going to grow tourism by facing the stiffest competition not just from other states but other tourism projects receiving the same Colorado money?

One more thing...

Local and independent journalism is under threat in the West and you change that.  With corporate raiders slashing newsrooms across the West, the PULP is one of the "Last Locals" in Colorado to produce original, compelling journalism missing in today's profit hungry world. But that costs money, time and hard work. We don't believe in spamming you with ads or putting up restrictive paywalls and that's why we need your help.

For every contribution, we put 100% back into producing original and amazing journalism. That's a promise only a local and independent newsroom can promise. Take heart because you will fuel stories just like this one and the future of journalism.
Continue Reading

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