Sharon Sullivan

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March 14, 2013
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Part 2: City Council candidates answer pressing questions

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - Registered voters are asked to vote for four Grand Junction city council members - one candidate for each of the four open seats.

Incumbent Tom Kenyon is competing with Phyllis Norris in District A. Three candidates are vying for the District D seat: Bonnie Beckstein, Martin Chazen and Grand Junction Mayor Pro Tem Laura Luke.

Harry Butler, Duncan McArthur and Robert Noble are running for the District E seat. Competing for the At-Large seat are Rick Brainard and incumbent Bill Pitts.

Ballots were mailed out Monday, March 11, and they must be in the possession of the Elections Division no later than 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 2.

The Free Press asked each of the candidates to respond to six questions on issues affecting the community. Part one ran in last week's Free Press. Two candidates, Harry Butler and Robert Noble, preferred talking by phone or face-to-face. The other candidates responded by email. Some answers were edited slightly for brevity. Here's what they had to say in Part 2:

Bonnie Beckstein: The city works with developers that want to add affordable housing by working with the development of the streets, sanitation and water to absorb or defray some of the costs that occur with this type of development.

Rick Brainard: This is an important issue in our community that I'm still learning about, but on the surface it appears that there are efforts being made to address it. I'm eager to learn more.

Harry Butler: The city is already working with the Grand Junction Housing Authority on building affordable housing. The city is connected by contributing to the housing authority.

Martin Chazen: The construction industry, and housing in particular, is traditionally a big economic driver for our community. The city council can encourage this sector with flexible planning, a speedy permitting process and a policy that encourages a relationship between the city and developers built on trust and respect.

With regard to affordable housing, the city can encourage developers who want to build in this segment of the market, but the city should stay clear of any arrangement that puts the city in competition with apartment owners.

Tom Kenyon: We need to support the housing authority and those that provide housing inventory. We can and have channeled our federal CDBG (Community Development Block Grants) funds to housing.

Laura Luke: Grand Junction has a deficiency when it comes to adequate living accommodations within our city limits. However, thanks to some wise and strategic efforts to leverage funding by Grand Junction Housing Authority director Jody Kole and its board (including our own council member Teresa Coons), they're making strides to close a wide gap.

City Council has been very supportive of projects that not only produce jobs during building phases, but also focus on affordable housing which is vital to the livability of our community. That effort helps many, some of whom include seniors, working families and veterans, not to mention our community as a whole.

Duncan McArthur: What can the city do to facilitate affordable housing? They must be aware the impact land-use restrictions have on the housing market. Affordable housing is a function of the value of the land as the "sticks and bricks" of housing development are relatively consistent. It is the land values that drive the cost of housing to fluctuate and drive the prices out of the reach of lower-income families.

One of the unintended consequences of the Persigo Agreement between Mesa County and the City of Grand Junction was to create an artificial supply of land available for development of higher density projects. When the housing market heated up in the early 2000s, the cost of land was driven to unsustainable levels because the demand was being met with an artificial low supply.

When the housing boom ended, housing prices fell precipitously because the market just could not support those values given the income levels in the market. Now, many families find themselves upside down owing more on their mortgages than their houses are worth. Many families find they are unable to sell their houses without having to pay substantial amounts to pay off the mortgage which has resulted in a low supply of houses being listed for sale. This is leading to a rebounding of house values to some extent.

Robert Noble: This question ties in with the next question. There are folks who have need for low-cost housing, particularly in these times when people are out-of-work and under-employed. The city gets a community development block grant that they apply to a variety of needs for low-income housing for veterans, the homeless, the disabled. The city is trying to address these various housing needs; it's such a multi-layered problem.

Phyllis Norris: Currently, the percent of open rentals in the market has risen, however, affordable housing continues to be a problem. The City Council should continue to work with and support the housing advocacy partners to align the demand with supply.

Bill Pitts: Real Estate is a little slow at this time. The council responds to public input.

Beckstein: Truly homeless individuals and families need the support of the community to aide in finding housing and jobs. We need to work with agencies to help give them a hand up, not a hand out.

The HOT program is mainly for the transient population who reside here. This program aims to get them to find jobs or relocate them to families, or get the medical/mental help they need. The program has been successful in this approach.

Brainard: This is a sensitive issue. I, for one, think the homeless people and the exits of the freeways and around town are horrible first impressions to visitors to our city. However, we also cannot turn our backs on the problem and hope it will go away. These homeless are citizens in our community. I was glad to hear that Grand Junction's efforts to address the situation were significant enough to get the attention of the State. We have a long way to go, but it's a start. So, yes, I believe we should reinstate the HOT program.

Butler: You're always going to have homeless individuals. This valley has shown there is help for the homeless. There are amenities here for them to tap into. The city collaborated with other entities to build housing for homeless veterans (St. Martin's Place).

The HOT team should continue, although sometimes funding shortages cause programs like that to be postponed.

Chazen: The city should create a business environment that creates jobs for families that need work and direct people with mental and/or substance abuse problems to programs that provide help. I believe the HOT team was an effective method of protecting both the citizens of Grand Junction and the homeless population, and I would be in favor of re-funding this program as budget dollars become available.

Kenyon: I support the HOT team and solutions that reduce taxpayer costs in dealing with the homeless.

Luke: Our homeless population is really made up of a collective group that find themselves homeless for a variety of reasons. It's more than a reflection of society in recessionary times, and it speaks to a problem that requires we approach it from many different angles.

The Grand Valley Coalition for the Homeless brought together several local organizations and individuals to enact their 52-page 10 Year Plan to end homelessness a few years ago. Council member Coons participated in meetings and the city works in unison with other partner organizations to continually address issues facing the homeless. City Council supports the effort through various means, including allocation of CDBG Funds.

The HOT Team did an outstanding job of reaching out and connecting with many homeless in the valley. They effectively earned trust, and helped to resolve problems by identifying criteria specific to the individual and customized solutions accordingly. Staffing of officers is based on funding and, at present, the City of Grand Junction has more officer candidates in training. The sooner the city is able to reinstate its HOT program, the better.

McArthur: The homeless situation is a difficult issue to solve. The fear is if you do a lot to assist the homeless more of them will come to Grand Junction, but it is difficult to watch people suffer even when it is a result of poor choices on their part.

I do not believe the city is in a position to resolve this issue, (but) should support the organizations that have programs in place and are prepared to assist, such as Catholic Outreach, Homeward Bound, Salvation Army, etc. The community as a whole should support these organizations.

It is my understanding that the police department's HOT program ceased due to budget constrictions. The city should consider reinstating the program as funds become available and at the police chief's discretion.

Noble: We need to get a handle of what proportion of the homeless are full-time residents and what percentage are transients. While the transient population may need a shelter for a few days, the permanent residents who are homeless need more services that include addressing health needs and preparation for returning to the workforce. The use of block grants is one way to address this.

The HOT team should be reinstated. It was a creative and effective tool that the police force developed.

Norris: The HOT program was having success until officer availability required the program to be dropped. Unfortunately, the budget for 2013 will continue to put a strain on the safety in our community. Until our budget places public safety as one of the top priorities, we will continue to lose critical units like the HOT team in our police department.

Pitts: The City has dealt with the homeless issue as much as economically possible. As shifts and funds become available we will reinstate the regular HOT teams.

Beckstein: We need to take a slow and thoughtful approach on how the renovation is to be done. Again, we need to stay focused on the needs and minimize the wants at this time.

Brainard: I think we may have moved a little too quickly. I question whether we set our sights too low. The community is changing, evolving, growing. I think we could have set our sights higher. That said, I am a supporter of the arts and recognize its value in our community's economic growth; yes, we need more venues. I just wonder if the Avalon is enough.

Butler: I was born and raised here. The Avalon Theatre is a historic landmark worth preserving. It can be a draw for the symphony and other organizations. You do need arts and culture in cities. People do look for that.

Chazen: It should be noted that the Avalon was built and operated for many years as a private enterprise and became a city-owned property only when it was at the end of its economic life.

That being said, the Avalon has become a cultural fixture in our community and is worthy of renovation under the right circumstances. If the Avalon Theatre Foundation can raise and bank, in advance, a substantial portion of all the funds needed to complete the project, than I could see leveraging the private money with public funds.

Kenyon: I voted against the $3 million city contribution. I have concerns that the remainder of the funds that is needed is too much to fundraise and that the city will be asked again to spend more taxpayer dollars. In general, I would like to see the private sector or a nonprofit own and operate this kind of an enterprise. I would not want to subsidize the operations in the future.

Luke: City Council has valid concerns about the city owning a property that has been somewhat neglected and is not up to ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant standards. We really have a responsibility to all our citizens to provide safe and accommodating facilities. Many in our community (including myself) appreciate the history of the building and have fond memories that are tied to it. There's no doubt it has the potential to fill a niche that our community plans to put to good use. The director of The Cornerstone Project, Robin Brown, has been working hard in a collaborative effort with others to help ensure its success. The City Council has seen fit to support the renovation of the Avalon Theatre, and as with any capital project, we have an obligation to see the investment through to completion.

McArthur: The city has committed funds to the redevelopment of the Avalon Theatre so reversing that process is probably not plausible. However, I believe the budget process should set priorities based on our "needs" and "wants."

The Avalon Theatre is a "want" in my opinion and I would have preferred committing those funds to a new fire station. This is a "need." There are those that may suggest that we could do both but, if that were true, would it have been necessary to take $1 million out of the reserve fund to balance the budget while supporting the Avalon Theatre?

Noble: I am very much in favor of the Avalon renovation. It will be a second anchor on Main Street (complementing Two Rivers Convention Center on the west end). Events there will create a flow of traffic down Main Street. Artist renderings show a dramatic addition on the east side, with the face of the historic theatre preserved. It will be stunning, once built; I think it's a very positive project for the city.

Norris: I have been a supporter of renovating the Avalon Theatre since the project started. In fact, I believe my name is still on one of the old seats in the theatre. I believe the city should continue to budget the renovation of the theatre, however, it should fit in with other priority demands.

Just like the Riverfront Trail, we can complete these important projects and continue to work within our budget by doing these projects over a few years rather than all at once.

Pitts: The Council approved a bunch of dollars for the renovation of the Avalon.

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The Post Independent Updated Mar 14, 2013 01:25PM Published Mar 14, 2013 01:22PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.